Tom Rogers - Tom at 101 owner tries his hand at bee-keeping... despite the allergy
- Credit: Archant
Tom Rogers loves living dangerously, whether he’s on his motorbike or in the garden
The owner of the enduringly popular Tom at 101, the award-winning restaurant, bar and grill and live music venue in Stockton Heath, is no stranger to adrenalin rushes. The driving force behind the successful rendezvous, now in its 10th year, gets his kicks from driving a high-powered motorcycle.
Astride his red, 160mph BMW S1000R – ‘as quick as a superbike and arguably more fun’, according to a national newspaper reviewer – adrenalin comes with the territory. But when Tom pursues his other down-time passion, keeping bees – at first impression an altogether gentler pastime – the adrenalin comes in an auto-injector ‘pen’ he keeps close at hand. It could be a life-saver.
For several weeks ago, Tom was stung three times by his bees, not an uncommon occurrence, and for the first time suffered a severe allergic reaction. ‘I had my fully protective suit on, but as I bent down my veil was touching my chin and three bees managed to sting me through the veil,’ he said.
‘I’d been stung before, it happens around once a month or so, but it never really bothered me. This time was different. I carried on what I was doing but I suddenly felt queasy and had to lie down. I was itching, sweating, sick and suffering stomach cramps and nausea. I was in anaphylactic shock; the doctor said it was ‘a bit close’ so now I carry my kit with the adrenaline pen with me and I’m ready to dial 999.’
Despite the incident being ‘a bit close’ and friends asking ‘why do you keep bees?’ Tom is determined to continue with the pursuit he took up a couple of years ago. He has four hives and around 65,000 bees at a friend’s farm, seven miles down the road from Stockton Heath at Lower Whitley.
A successful chef in hotels around the UK before realising a long-held ambition and launching Tom at 101, he said: ‘When I was a kid, my dad kept bees in the garden of our house in Farnborough, down south. He didn’t wear protection at all! So it was something I always wanted to get back into – bees are not only fascinating, but are incredibly important to us.’
‘A queen bee can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day for her entire life and more than 40 per cent of the food that reaches our plates is only possible because of the abundant existence of bees pollinating plants and trees. So keeping bees and being in the business I’m in feels like making a difference,’ Tom added.
‘Each hive has a different personality. Some are very passive and you can do almost anything you want with them and they give you no hassle. You can take out a comb covered in bees and they are not bothered. I have three hives like that, but the fourth, that’s very aggressive and that’s the one where I was stung. I think it comes down to the make-up of the queen and sometimes people will replace a queen with one of a gentler temperament. But I’m not going to do that because the bees in that hive produce fine honey.’
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He is fascinated by how the bees send out ‘scouts’ to find good sources of pollen, return to the hive and ‘communicate’ with the workers who gather it. The process begins in earnest when the first blossom of spring appears and Tom says that was noticeably early this year.
‘They fill the comb with nectar and reduce the water content,’ he explains. ‘Once it falls below 20 per cent it’s officially honey and they seal the comb. When you see that you know it’s nearly ready to use.’
Depending on the conditions, Tom takes between 30lb and 70lb of honey each year. He is developing a new cocktail with honey, featuring honeycomb on his dessert menu and saving the rest in jars.
‘You have to look after the bees,’ he says. ‘They are subject to various ailments and numbers are declining. The latest alert is over the Asian hornet, which has apparently reached Paris. They can eat 50 bees a day.’
But if Tom is worried about Asian hornets getting his bees, or his own bees getting him again – the people most likely to be allergic to bees are bee keepers – there’s always the bike to fall back on to take his cares away.
‘Bikes have been a passion all my life since I got my first when I was in my 20s. Whatever problems may be going through your mind, riding a high-powered motorcycle requires absolute focus all the time and if you’re concentrating 100 per cent on that, everything else goes away completely.’