Ian Wilkinson from The Heyford Park Apiary is industriously filling jars with local honey from almost 50 hives dotted across the Cherwell valley when we finally catch up.
He is busy getting the Infused Honey Company’s produce ready for the launch of the provenanced food centre Happerley England in Banbury, their range having really taken off during lockdown.
Ian and his wife Julie launched their apiary business in Upper Heyford three years ago, and thanks to the support of customers, other local businesses, and of course their bees, it is now a raging success.
Ian said: “The pandemic has been a cloud with a silver lining and gave us time to concentrate a lot more on the bees, as well as open our online shop, so that we can touch base with our local community a lot more.
“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.”
So why bees? “My grandfather was a hill farmer in Northumberland and kept bees. 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 here as the farmland around here is 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.”
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 also have close connections with a Sioux Indian farming cooperative in America who have helped us to develop our infusions.”
Becoming a member of the Bee Farmers Association in January, things have moved swiftly, considering Ian started with just seven hives.
So why has The Infused Company’s honey proved such a success?: “Our honey infusions are only made with natural raw honey from our hives, infused with organic natural fruit and spices all made in small batches, so each batch is unique. It’s one-of-a-kind honey.”
Among the delicious range 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.
Honey is also notoriously good for us, something Ian takes great pride in:
“The raw honey has not been heated so it preserves 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 also antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal as well as being highly nutritious,” he adds proudly, ” as well as containing significant amounts of B2, B3, B5, B6, C, magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium chlorine, sulphur, and phosphate,” he explains.
The jars of honey are finished with a golden bee logo, 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.”
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.”
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. Next year we are breeding our own Queen Bees and hope to have 100 plus hives.”
For more information about the bees, the honey and to order go to www.theinfusedhoneycompany.co.uk