Nurturing Bees With a View

The New York Times     By Hannah Olivennes      4/3/14

LONDON — The honeybees on the roof of the luxury department store Fortnum & Mason are living the life.

The four hives, which overlook Piccadilly, have sweeping views from the Shard to Big Ben. They were made of English oak by the Welsh carpenter Kim Farley-Harper, painted in the famous Fortnum “eau de nil” turquoise and topped with gold leaf-covered finials shaped like traditional bee skeps.

Most important of all, since they arrived in 2008 the bees have had the attention of their keeper, Steve Benbow.

Mr. Benbow, 45, is an urban beekeeper who clearly loves what he does. “I live my life by my bees,” he said, his expression conveying his enthusiasm. “I get grumpy when I don’t see my bees for a while.”

On this particular day atop Fortnum & Mason, he is wearing a waistcoat over an orange shirt, jeans and a flat cap — a dapper outfit nothing like the veiled hats and gauntlet gloves used by some beekeepers.

“It’s nice to beekeep without gloves because you can be more tactile — and you can make sure you don’t squash anyone,” he noted. “You get stung quite a bit but only when you’re clumsy.”

Although, he added, “you become immune to it, and you don’t really notice it most of the time.”

Mr. Benbow opened the hives carefully and removed the 10 or so frames inside each one, taking a look at how the bees’ early efforts at creating honeycombs were coming along. Bees are very sensitive creatures, he noted. “You’ve got to be quite gentle with them, you don’t want to be banging around.”


Order: THE URBAN BEEKEEPER: A Year of Bees in the City