Last weekend the Jetman and I were lucky enough to not only taste test delish London brewed honey beer by Hiver but also get some hands-on experience learning about urban bee keeping – it was bloody amazing and I don’t use that word lightly.
Despite the heat wave I donned denim and trainers and headed over to Kennington park for our 3.30pm start. The Bee Urban centre is easy to find via google maps and right next to the café in centre of the park.
At the appointed time we got suited-up and taken around to the hives. I expected to be more nervous but actually the experience of getting up close and personal with the bees was really relaxing, you need to be chilled and take things slowly – also they’re all zonked from the smoke. Apparently it’s an instinctive reaction to smelling smoke, they gorge themselves on honey in preparation to move the hive in the instance of fire. So basically, they’re feeling all mellow and nappish after a big feed.
I can’t tell you how cool it was to hold a plate of brew chambers up close as they’re crawling with a thousand bee’s going about the business of making honey and raising young. The faint smell of bee’s wax and the humming eddying masses are natures magical kaleidoscope.
Which brings me to the wonders of bee biology. It turns out that bee biology is astounding, did you know….. the worker bee’s make another Queen if she’s sick/old and not laying well or the hive is getting too big and they need to split the hive? They take a normal worker bee (female) larvae and pop it in a special roomy queen cell then feed her royal jelly and vwallah hey presto when she’s cooked 16 days later a queen bee emerges, theeeen the virgin queen takes off and leaves the hive, she flies as high and as fast as she can, being chased by the lazy arse male drone bees (their only job is eat and wait for the queen been to get frisky, which only happens once) so there she is like a big lush trophy that only the fastest drones can win to mate with her. So the lucky Drones then proceed to shag her until they die, at which point their peckers fall off inside her, and off they go to bee heaven, job well done. Queenie mates with about 20 drones and that will keep her going with sperm for up to 5 years, she can lay up to 2000 eggs per day, it only takes her 20 seconds to pop one out. That’s impressive don’t you think?!
Anyway, I digress – once queenie has had her shagfest, she goes back to the hive and rests up for a bit, then if the purpose is to take over for an old queen she get’s on with the business of producing young or, she takes off with who ever wants to join her (it’s called a swarm) and they go find a new home.
Another of my favourites bee facts was that the lazy arse drones don’t have it all sweet; they get one free-loading summer then at the end of it the women worker bees kick them out into the cold and seal off the hive so they freeze to death. How terribly pragmatic.
We were super lucky, there happened to be a swarm while were were beer tasting. There I was concentrating on listening to Seb (our charming tasting guide) when the intense sounds of bee buzz filtered in to my consciousness, our bee keeper then jumped in with jazz hands and told us to look up – there high up in the trees silhouetted by a beautiful blue late afternoon summer sky were thousands of bees swirling in a living pulsating vortex-like mass. It was truly mesmerising. Then just like ‘that’ they were gone again.
It was pretty hot in the bee suits so were all dived in gratefully to the beer tasting. Naturally this was also fun (swam upstaging aside) we tasted 2 different beers along with the honey used in them, both were soooo different and that coupled with toasted and non toasted barely has me beginning to understand the complexity of craft beer brewing.
Hiver use honey from the hives in Kennington park and around London in there Lager and heather honey for their ale if you’re curious to try it but not into the bee thing I hear Ocado sell it and if you’re in London and want to experience this for yourself or even volunteer to help at Bee Urban in Kennington Park check out the links below. I have a lot of good days out but this is one I’ll never forget, I can’t recommend the experience highly enough – educational, captivating and fun.