Twenty years ago Helen Griggs taught herself how to keep bees. That first year at her home in Newcastleton the sun shone and the honey yield was high resulting in her giving away many jars to friends and family. She quickly realised there was a demand for Cumbrian honey. It coincided with her having her daughter Kate, returning to her full-time job as a secretary at Edinburgh Woollen Mill wasn’t an option so she researched setting up her own business. Fast forward two decades and now she sells on average 5,000 jars of Nook Farm Honey a year, supplies more than 30 outlets including most of Cumbria’s best-loved food shops and looks after more than 1million bees in the height of summer.

Helen lives at Nook Farm where she and her husband Duncan have about an acre of land which they share with chickens and a couple of elderly sheep including a pedigree Jacob, the last of the flock which her husband used to breed. “We moved here 22 years ago from Leicestershire and my husband started breeding pedigree Jacobs so I got a hive as a hobby,” she says. She joined Carlisle Beekeeping Association – she’s been the treasurer for many years - and after taking advice from Cumbria Chamber of Commerce they sourced grants from Distinctly Cumbrian to buy equipment, set up a website and turn an outbuilding into a workshop and bottling room.

She now has 30 hives at four apiary sites within five miles of her home, each with about 50,000 in each hive. “Bees fly up to three miles so they need a good range to forage on,” she says. Depending on weather and other conditions the hive can yield between 30lb to 100lb of honey. “50lb per hive would be good,” she says.

“Honey has become more trendy recently as people try to eat more healthily and buying local with more traceability and from sustainable sources,” she says. Her bestsellers are her Cumbrian honey, but says the heather is also extremely popular.

To keep up with demand she sources honey from other beekeepers in the UK to complement the 500 to 800 jars she makes each year from her own bees, mainly single flower honeys like borage and balsam. “It’s really all dependent on the weather…some years we don’t get any honey, that happened a few years ago,” she says.

She is a one-woman business although she uses a courier service to deliver the honey to outlets in Cumbria, Yorkshire and southern Scotland. Apart from that she does everything herself, looking after the hives, collecting the honey, filtering it, bottling, labelling and selling at Carlisle and Brampton farmers' markets. Also dealing with the online orders which make up about 50% of her £30 to £35,000 turnover a year.

Her honeys have won Great Taste Awards and she has been stocked in shops in London, but these days prefers to sell locally. “I prefer to keep it local, less food miles, but I post honey across the UK to people who want high quality honey.”