New Forest honey maker The Noble Bee creating a real buzz
IF there is one thing New Forest beekeeper Simon Noble knows, it’s the importance of buying local honey.
A third generation apiarist, Simon looks after 70 hives located across the national park and on his farm in Hythe, from where he produces raw wild flower honey and New Forest heather honey.
The superior taste and amazing variation in flavour of the honey he collects is a good reason to buy local, says Simon, while other incentives include helping to increase the local bee population by supporting those who nurture them.
“I always make sure I leave enough honey stored in the hive to see the colony through the winter,” said Simon. “And when I collect the honey I use a one-way board to very gently clear the bees from the frames.”
Simon’s father Deryk was a beekeeper for many years, selling the honey from a shop on the farm, but he became allergic to bee stings in the 1980s and was subsequently advised by his doctor to give up the craft.
Simon’s interest in beekeeping was sparked by the discovery of a storm-damaged beech tree that contained a wild bee colony.
“I contacted the New Forest Beekeepers’ Association, which sent out an experienced beekeeper called Jan Roper to rescue the colony,” explained Simon. “Watching her was fascinating, and I went on to enrol on a course.
“I took over the three hives left by my father in a secluded apiary in the woods – 25 years on bees were still thriving there.
“They were transferred to new hives, and I went from three colonies to 70. It has been quite an adventure and I never thought I would go on to make a living from a chance moment.”
In the early days of his career before setting up The Noble Bee, Simon spent some time in New Zealand, working with a beekeeper responsible for 3,500 hives.
“With that came a realisation that I didn’t want to keep bees on that scale,” he continued. “Having that many takes away the romance.
“The aim is to get around the hives as quickly as possible, harvesting as much honey as you can; it is more like bee labouring than the traditional craft of beekeeping.”
Capitalising on a growing interest in bees, Simon launched beekeeping experience days, which he holds once or twice a week at Furzedown Farm throughout the spring and summer.
As well as getting their hands on an active hive, visitors can enjoy honey tasting, making their own beeswax candle, a talk on beekeeping, lunch by the pond, advice on helping bees and other pollinating insects and a jar of Simon’s delicious honey to take home.
With apiaries dotted around the Forest, Simon boasts a range of honeys that all have their own distinct flavour, colour and texture.
By special arrangement with Forestry England, he also takes his hives out onto the heathland during August for the mass flowering of the heather, when the bees produce New Forest heather honey.
“Even from the same apiary, no two batches of polyfloral honey are the same because the flavours reflect the local flora growing at the time,” said Simon. “You won’t get that if you buy generic, processed honey from the supermarket.”
From the point it is harvested, there is minimal interference with Simon’s honey, and unlike commercial honey which is heated, ultra-filtered and often pasteurised to create a cleaner and smoother texture and prolong shelf life, his goes into the jar in almost the same state as it came out of the hive, albeit with some coarse filtering to remove any detritus.
The Noble Bee honey is stocked at various shops and cafés including the National Motor Mesuem’s gift shop, Shappen Stores in Burley and Braxton Gardens tea room in Lymington. His beeswax candles can be bought from Fairweather’s Garden Centre in Beaulieu and Shallowmead nurseries.
Raw honey is a superfood that has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties, while local honey that is untreated contains a blend of local pollen, which is believed to strengthen the immune system and reduce pollen allergy symptoms.
Bees are the world’s most important pollinators, fertilising a third of the food we eat and 80% of flowering plants, but since 2006 populations have been steadily declining from colony collapse disorder, reduced habitat, lack of economic sustainability and climate change.
The future of the honey bee is crucial because their existence largely impacts and influences human food production.
To buy Simon’s honey, candles or beeswax wraps, or to book an experience day, go to www.thenoblebee.com