Searching in the attic last summer for a lost suitcase, we were struck by a distinct sweet perfume that filled the air of the very dusty 17th century roof space. Venturing deeper, we saw a few bees at the far end searching for a way out. We opened a small window to let them escape, but intrigued by the incongruous sweet scent, we investigated further.
To our amazement it became clear: the end wall which consists almost entirely of a huge old chimney stack, smelt sweet, aromatic and delicious … the wall smelt of honey.
Every year, we see bees streaming out of the old chimney, high up on the roof and untouchable and every year we leave them be, watching with affection. They have been in that old chimney space for many years, kept warm in the winter by the aga flu from the kitchen, they have thrived and the honey over time has infiltrated into the stonework. These same bees swarm in the gardens and so it is from this original colony that all our bees originate. Recently a rare black honey bee, thought to have been extinct, was rediscovered in a Northumberland church steeple. Claudio, our forager, tells me our bees are special, small, quite feisty and wild. I rather like to believe him.
All our bees were out in force the first week in March, their exuberant and happy buzzing remarkably loud and clear as they celebrated the start of spring with the abundant and very early blooms of purple colchicum. Almond blossom is also particularly good for bees as it is also amongst the first blossom to appear in the spring garden.
This spring we are planting a simple little nuttery. We have chosen almond ‘ Robjn'; walnuts 'Broadview 'and ‘ Buccanneer'; sweet chestnut ‘Belle epine' and ‘Marigoule’. All are carefully chosen by Bunny Guinness, recent varieties that should do well in our climate and although these new varieties will self pollinate, they will welcome the help from one or two of the new bee hives which we hope to establish amongst the nut trees this year.
We will only have to wait a few years to tuck in to the first nut harvest and look forward to that as we know it will be good for us. The The Harvard Nut Study, a 30 year long important study into the health benefits of eating nuts showed that a handful of nuts a day leads to a significantly longer and healthier life. Those that participated in the study were an amazing 20% less likely to have died of cancer, heart and respiratory disease than those who avoided nuts.
Here is a recipe for our homemade granola, full of almonds and honey, it is served every day for breakfast at Thyme. So, Why not stay at Thyme? enjoy our kitchen garden breakfasts, eat some nuts and then take a tour of the gardens and meet our bees ...