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Immersive Beekeeping Experience

A Day in the Life of a Hiver Beekeeper

We were recently invited to write a blog for our BEErilliant partners Virgin Experiences. From Queen Bees to the best beer in the world, we knew we had a lot to say about beekeeping and brewing so got to work on writing all about our immersive experiences.

What do beers and bees have in common?

Did you know the beekeeping season runs from April - September? That isn’t to say that bees hibernate the rest of the year - in fact in the winter months they’re still wide awake. It’s just that they only head outside on days above 7 degrees, which is not very often and so the rest of the time they’re in a tight cluster, keeping the Queen Bee warm in the centre. 

Much like their fuzzy friends, beekeepers need to be more hands-on from early Spring. After the autumn and winter honey harvest season, they dust off their suits, collect their recently built frames and refill their smokers. The day in the life of a Hiver beekeeper is busy, buzzy and brimming with brilliant people who want to learn more about our BEEs…fondly known as our BEEsties! 

As a craft beer brand, you might wonder why we run activities for bee lovers? Well, that’s because we’re as much about bees as we are about beer. We work with beekeepers to create craft beers and cider that use locally sourced honey. This led us to set up both rural and urban, London beekeeping experiences to connect people with bees through a fun nature experience, tell the story of the provenance of our ingredients and how they come together to make beer, as well as increase awareness around how to support our bee and pollinator populations. The Hiver Experience is a hands-on beekeeping session, followed by a craft beer tasting. 

I asked Debra, Hiver’s Beekeeper, what a day in her life is like during the summer season. Here’s what she said:

9am Arrive at the apiary

Whether it’s at our Sussex location, Albourne Estate, or at Greyfriars Vineyard in the Surrey Hills, the day starts by walking through the vineyard to check on the bees. The Hiver Experiences run once a week so when the weekend rolls around, there’s lots of prep to do, ahead of our guests arriving. Our visitors are going to support a hive inspection so we need to set the area up and make sure equipment is to hand.

“At this time I’m checking that the bees are happy and I may add in a Super if there are signs that the hive is getting crowded with food stores in the brood box, and there’s not enough space for the Queen to lay. I might also need to re-mark the Queen as the Worker bees nibble off the marking!” (The Super is where the bees store excess honey that we can harvest, always leaving enough for the bees to survive the winter. The brood box is where the Queen lays eggs and the colony lives).

9:30am Prepare the barn

It’s back to the barn, the Hiver store and tasting room to prepare the day’s kit and beekeeping suits.

“We provide all guests with suits and gloves to ensure a fun and safe inspection and  I’ve also got to organise my “bee bag”. This includes my hive tool, smoker and fuel.  My hive tool of choice is an S tool. It helps me to open up hives and lift frames. Much like the smoker, a hive tool is vital for a professional beekeeper.”

10am Welcome to the Hiver Experience 

It’s time for the guests to arrive! 

“I’m suited and booted by this point and ready to sign everyone in with the support of my colleague, the Hiver Beer tasting Host. There’s often a real variety of people: some who are already keen beekeepers and want to learn more, others who have never been near a beehive in their life. Some people are there as the plus one on a day out for two and others as avid beer drinkers!! If people are a bit nervous (the beers come after the bees so no dutch courage yet!) I try to put everyone at ease - we’ll run through top tips and in no time at all, everyone is eager to get stuck in. I truly mean it when I say there is nothing to be frightened of, we’d be a lot worse off without bees - they’re the crux of the human race continuing.”

It’s then time for everyone to don their beekeeping suits. “At this point, I take on my role of unofficial photographer to make sure everyone has a picture in their suit - 12 people all dressed as Beekeepers for the Day is quite a sight! I then handover to my colleague to welcome everyone to Hiver’s Rural Beekeeping and Beer Tasting Experience.”

10:30 am An introduction to beekeeping 

Let’s get going! 

“There’s so much to learn about bees, and I could talk for hours, but I try to keep the introduction to beekeeping short and succinct. I take the guests through the life cycle of a bee, as well as looking at posters of brood cells so everyone knows what we should be looking for in the hives. I also open up discussions around current issues regarding pollinators and pesticide spraying that are having a huge impact on bee population in the UK.”

Then it’s time to make sure everyone understands the health and safety of the site, before taking them through what they’ll be looking for when we open up the hive. 

10:50 am The Hive Inspection 

We stroll through the beautiful vineyards, taking in the incredible rolling hills of Surrey or the magical lake of the Albourne Estate grounds with Sussex Downs in the distance. It’s such a wonderful spectacle. 

“As we walk, there also tends to be a lot of excitement and questions which I really enjoy answering. It’s wonderful to be partnering with another independent British producer and have the chance to share our beautiful beehives with our guests.”

11am Hello Bees!

Now the moment we’ve all been waiting for! It’s time to open up the hives and begin the hive inspection. There’s the chance for everyone to hold the frames and pass them around as we look for and check up on the eggs, larvae and sealed brood. (Don’t know what that is? You’ll have to come to the experience to find out!) 

“I’ll also be looking for the ‘marked queen’. She’s a very valuable asset so we don’t pass her around but there’s lots of chances to take pictures and get as up close and personal as you like!”

11:30am Close up the hives

Soon enough it’s time to close the hiv up again and let the bees get back to their BEEsiness. 

“Often opening up the hive leads to more questions which I am delighted to answer as we head back through the vineyard and to the tasting room.

“At this point, it’s time to take off our suits as I pass the guests back to my colleague who takes them through a hugely informative honey beer and honey tasting. For me, I sort out the beekeeping suits and get ready to welcome the next set of guests. I love sharing my knowledge of bees and seeing people get an insight into these fascinating creatures. The best part is when we have people return to experience the day all over again. It’s the greatest testament to what we do!”

Time to have a well earned drink (or three!)

Whilst Debs preps for the next group, our guests enjoy a relaxed tutored beer tasting guided by our expert host. During the hour, we sample 3 honey beers - each made with honey from local beekeepers - and learn about the brewing process as well as the ancient traditions of honey beer. There’s also the chance to try different honeys and compare the flavours, textures and appearance. The host is there to answer all your beer and bee questions and there’s ample opportunity to get some to takeaway with you at the Hiver store too. 

In the 10 years that Hiver has been running we have welcomed over 12,000 people to our beekeeping and beer tasting experience. It’s a unique and memorable day in nature and the most thoughtful gift whether a bee lover, a beer boffin, or both! 

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