Oxleas Wood Apiary
Oxleas Wood

The Oxleas Wood Apiary is to be found tucked in behind the gabled wall of the terraced garden of the now demolished Jackwood House (off Castle Woods Lane).  Comprising at the height of the beekeeping season around 30 or so hives, the Apiary offers courses in practical beekeeping, Queen rearing, and workshops in traditional straw skep lip-work.  For those seeking some ‘hands-on’ experience of managing or, for the inquisitive,  just an informed glimpse into the wonderful world of the honeybee, there  are a number of ‘Taster Days’  at key dates highlighting different tasks and activities throughout the beekeeping season. 

The Apiary sits within 77 hectares of ancient woodlands Oxleas Wood to the north of Eltham, along with neighbouring Jack Wood and Castle Wood, is a surviving fragment of London's old countryside being a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) collectively known as Shooters Hill Woodlands. The area includes ancient woodland some of which is at least 8,000 years old, dating from the Ice Age.

Oxleas Woodlands and the nearby Woodlands Farm with its 90 acres of farm fields, including wild flower meadows, hedgerows and orchards, together with the general Shooters Hill locality 'green' environment, all make up a rich diversity of nectar and pollen for Oxleas's foraging bees. The Oxleas Wood Apiary is self-sustaining, yielding seasonal crops of honey and other hive natural products, and it breeds and raises its own strains of replacement Queen bees in smaller nucleus hives that can be seen dotted around the Apiary.

The annual late-Summer Honey Harvest results in an almost boundless hubbub of aerial activity by the bees as they discover the Apiarist purloining their prized honey.  Even so they remain mild-tempered seemingly totally preoccupied by the clouds of pheromones released as the sealed honeycomb frames removed from the hives are first uncapped and then spun in a radial extractor to retrieve the honey.  Because the bees from each of the hived colonies focus on just a single source of nectar at any one time, those uncapping and extracting the honey harvest have the rare opportunity to taste the various Oxleas Woods honeys just as the bees intended.  In previous Honey Harvest years a great favourite has been the highly aromatic and nutty flavoured honey from the Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa), although now the blight has struck the Sweet Chestnuts in Shepherdleas Wood this unique, local honey might well disappear from the Apiary’s honey menu in near future years.

Each year a few of the aspiring beekeepers attending the Apiary’s Introduction to Beekeeping Course rear their own colonies of honeybees in the Apiary, moving and rehousing these at the end of the beekeeping season in their own garden, allotment, etc.  Thus Oxleas Wood Apiary propagates a series of satellite apiaries that spreads the genetic characteristics of its Queen rearing activities around the locality – thriving colonies of Oxleas Wood Apiary bees can be found locally in Greenwich, Plumstead, Charlton, Woolwich and further afield in the Vale of Kent and Yorkshire.

There is much concern about the survival of nature’s insect pollinators, including the pollen basket carrying bees such as bumble and honeybees.  Many other insects, including the sometimes much decried wasps and hornets feral to Oxleas Woodlands and the surrounding areas, are equally important in maintaining the natural ecological balance.  Domestic colonies of honeybees, however, are tightly managed and observed by the beekeepers and this is why they rank foremost as indicators of any deleterious change in the natural environment – in this important respect the Oxleas Wood Apiary, together with its satellite colonies, and other local beekeepers, play a vital role in keeping a check on our natural environment.

Honey Tasting