Bees at Heyford Park Apiary are keeping Ian and Julie Wilkinson in business, and when I catch up with them they are busy getting ready for the launch of the provenanced food centre Happerley England in Banbury industriously filling jars with local honey from almost 50 hives dotted across the Cherwell valley.
Ian and Julie launched their apiary business in Upper Heyford three years ago, and during lockdown their infused honey range has really taken off, thanks to the support of customers and other local businesses.
Ian said: “The pandemic has been a cloud with a silver lining and has given us time to concentrate a lot more on the bees and open our online shop so that we can touch base with our local community a lot more. There are a lots of small businesses round here and lots of little bits of support go a long way. We love working with other small businesses and hope to do more of that in the future. Happerley is also a very exciting project and we have been very busy getting ready to run our own stall there – we have been given their gold standard and it’s a great way to promote and support local producers.”
He added: “Our honey infusions are only made with natural raw honey from our hives, we take pride in creating one-of-a-kind honey infusions and craft raw honey infused by combining organic natural fruit and spices all made in small batches, so each batch is unique. The raw honey has not been heated preserving all the naturally occurring vitamins, enzymes and nutritional elements. One ounce of raw unfiltered honey contains approximately 20 vitamins, 18 amino acids, 16 minerals, and a ton of antioxidants and phytonutrients. Raw honey is an antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal substance. It is also highly nutritious. It contains significant amounts of B2, B3, B5, B6, C, magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium chlorine, sulphur, and phosphate.”
Ian has strong connections to agriculture and spent many years looking after 350 weather stations across the UK. He explained: “The weather stations provided weather data which helped growers manage potential threats to their crops. My grandfather was a hill farmer in Northumberland and kept bees, I was always interested in insects and I loved it. My brother started keeping bees when he moved to Canada and when I moved to Bulgaria my neighbour was a beekeeper, so I got involved. When we moved to Upper Heyford we found plenty of places to keep bees as the farmland around here has fantastic wide margins full of wildflowers, which is just what the bees need. Bees are instrumental to farming methods and our local farmland is very supportive of wildlife.”
The jars of honey are finished with a golden bee, Ian added: “Our golden bees are a constant reminder of how important they are to us, how hard they work for the environment and how they put food on our plates.”
Between 30,000 and 60,000 bees will be in an average hive in summer, consisting of one Queen, a few hundred male drone bees and the rest female worker bees.
Ian added: “A worker bee only lives for 18-22 days but in her lifetime will produce a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey, will visit 1500 flowers, beat her wings 200 times a second and fly the equivalent of one and a half times the circumference of the earth at 15mph. It is hard to imagine a food system without bees, if our pollinators were to disappear it would cost UK farmers £1.8 billion a year to pollinate crops manually according to The Soil Association.”
The Infused Honey Company was born out of Heyford Park Apiary, which became a member of the Bee Farmers Association in January having started with just seven hives. Ian added: “Infused honey is delicious! We use it in cooking and local catering company Croxfords have been trying it out for us in some of their recipes. We have close connections with a Sioux Indian farming cooperative in America who have helped us to develop our infusions.”
Before lockdown Ian and Julie were regulars at local markets and food festivals, Ian added: “Our online shop has done really well and we are pleased with the number of orders we have taken, but we love talking to people about our bees and our infused honey so we are looking forward to getting back to events.”
Among the delicious range of honey produced by Ian and Julie’s bees, are hazelnut and lime wood smoked honey, Bees Nuts – a combination of walnuts, almonds and cashews packed into a jar of honey, and fruit infusions such as strawberry, lemon, rose , chilli and lime and sour cherry, rhubarb and blackberry.
Ian and Julie have developed a few recipes including chocolate chip banana bread with orange and vanilla infused honey, grilled salmon with blueberry infused honey, and asparagus with lemon infused honey.
As well as the honey, Ian and Julie take wax from the hives, render and clean it and make it into wax food wraps.
Ian added: “We have had a very busy time during lockdown, and we are grateful for all the support from our customers. We will be getting the bees ready for winter soon and making sure we leave enough honey in the hives for them.”
For more information about the bees, the honey and to order go to www.theinfusedhoneycompany.co.uk