Tall, broad and bearded, Fairfield’s resident BBQ truck owner and beekeeper Andre Cardona looks like he could easily play the dread pirate Blackbeard in a Hollywood movie, but I found his gentle demeanor and open attitude immediately disarming.
AF: Thanks for meeting with me today! Why don’t we start with you introducing yourself…
AC: Ok, I’m Andre and I’ve been running Cardona & Son for about 12 years now. We were initially a BBQ outfit, a BBQ truck, and our passion has grown with honey bees, so yeah – we’re now running corporate bee projects. And the end of last year we moved on to Hitchin Honey Gin.
AF: Honey gin? Oh wow, that sounds amazing!
AC: You’ve heard of it, haven’t you love?
AF: I have, although I don’t think I’ve tried honey gin but it sounds like it would be delicious!
AC: Yeah, it’s really good! We’re really proud of it. Try it in our cocktail recipe!
AF: So what made you go from running a BBQ truck to keeping honey bees? It doesn’t seem like a logical jump…
AC: So, I kept bees at boarding school – I’ve just always kept bees – so it wasn’t much of a jump.
AF: I find it really interesting that you kept bees as a kid…
AC: At boarding school, I was best found round the farm looking after animals, away from the other kids probably. So we had bees at my school. And the funniest thing is we used to have to cross a field of rams and sheep, and I just remember the rams being a lot worse than the bee stings! Kids would get rammed by the rams, it was almost like that Tom & Jerry moment! Haha! But never did we ever have an issue with the bees. So about 10, 15 years ago we started pursuing the good life and looking into animals. We kept pigs and sheep, veg patches and so on. I started off with a hive and collecting some swarms and it’s all led on from there. My wife calls me a bit of a bee geek now! I suppose I could be called worse things than a bee geek…
AF: There is an interesting kind of respectfulness in that process. What you’re describing to me sounds like there is a nod to mother nature…
AC: Well, it’s good being aware of things – I’ve met kids where if you ask them where a chicken comes from, they’ll tell you it comes from Sainsbury’s off the bottom shelf. We want to educate our children. Hence why we’re back here and away from the city. I want to educate my kids so they know where the chicken comes from or how to rear an animal. It’s good for the soul to be around animals.
AF: So do your kids help you?
AC: Yes, Santi, my oldest – he’s 12 – he’s been on and off helping with bees since he was five. He’s not as passionate as me, but he’s a good help.
AF: In your introduction you spoke of ‘corporate bee projects’, what does that mean?
AC: I basically manage honey bees for corporate clients, so they don’t have to get their hands sticky. And we consult on the best way to bring back the ecosystems to our environment.
AF: Is that what the main thrust is – it’s not necessarily the making and selling of honey?
AC: It’s not necessarily always about the honey – it’s about us reintroducing bees to our local habitats. Perhaps where our clients have done a lot of work locally or on a site – built factories and so on – and they’re trying to give back a little bit to the environment, rebuild the ecosystem where it might have been damaged.
AF: Why are bees so important to an ecosystem?
AC: It’s just the start of biodiversity, so if we start with bees then everything tends to follow behind it: more birds will come to the local area and will pollinate local flower species and hedgerows and so on and that will basically give more diversity to the environment locally. And if we don’t look after the bees, we’ll struggle to eat, ourselves, in the future.
AF: Absolutely, because they’re essential to the whole pollination process, right?
AC: If we lose our pollinators, our crops will have a hard time. Albert Einstein said four years after the last honey bee flies, we’ll all be dead ourselves. So last year a friend of mine, one of my neighbours, said, “Oh Andre, you do all this stuff with bees but you’re putting all your eggs in one basket. What happens if they die?” I said, “If they die, we’re all dying anyway”. So hopefully, with us being guardians of bees, we can help keep them going. They’re having a hard time with pests… our biggest problem in the UK is varroa destructor which is a mite that attaches itself to the bees – this little mite that ends up in their cells and starts weakening them before they’re even born.
AF: Is it a parasite?
AC: Yeah, it’s a parasite. And just last year we saw the Asian Hornet make its way into the UK. It’s come all the way from the south coast of Europe and now it’s made its way to the UK. They’re predators so they eat the honey bee. Just a few hornets are able to destroy an entire colony of honey bees, almost within 24 hours… there are some crazy videos on YouTube showing a few Asian Hornets, just literally sitting there, munching munching… So that’s going to be another big problem.
AF: You clearly know a lot about this…
AC: Yeah, I told you I’m a bee geek!
AF: Haha! Thank you so much for chatting with me today Andre!
Amber Fortier moved to Fairfield Park in 2017 with her husband and three young children. She is originally from New York.
Find out more about Andre at www.cardonaandson.co.uk