Words: VICKI RAVLICH-HORAN | Images: supplied

Did you know around one third of our food comes as a direct result of honeybee pollination? Honeybees can fly at a speed of around 25km per hour and beat their wings 200 times per second!  They can detect nectar two kilometres away and fly up to 5 kilometres.

Funnily enough the worker bees are all females and their job, or should we say jobs, is to collect honey, pollen, water and propolis, build new comb, take care of baby bees (called larvae), and clean as well as defend the hive. The drones, on the other hand, are all males and their purpose is to mate with the Queen. Come winter, when the hive goes into survival mode, the drones are kicked out!

Fascinated? It turns out you’re not alone. Hannah O’Brien from Hunt & Gather Bee Co, says they get all sorts of questions at the farmers market on bees, with lots of people wanting to visit their ‘bee farm’. Hannah’s husband Rory, the head beekeeper, can understand the curiosity as bees had fascinated him for years before he took up bee keeping.

With this in mind, earlier this year this enterprising couple created Beekeeping Experiences, a chance for you to don a beekeeper’s suit and get up close and personal with thousands of buzzing bees. The first hurdle in creating these experiences was the fact that there is no such thing as a ‘bee farm’. Like most beekeepers, Hunt & Gather have hives dotted around the Waikato, some in very remote spots. The solution was found in Rory’s parents farm just up the road.

Next, the only time they can really hold such events is in the summer. In the winter the bees are hibernating and it’s too cold to disturb them. But summer also happens to be the busiest time of the year for a beekeeper. Unphased by the work, this busy couple with three young children launched the experiences with great success.

Hannah saw a growing demand for food tourism in New Zealand and the beekeeping mornings were listed on Airbnb Experiences. “Not many Kiwis have discovered Airbnb Experiences,” says Hannah, “which saw us host lots of overseas tourists.” With no internationals around, the pair still believe there is a demand for such experiences among Kiwis and have 11 dates scheduled for this summer, with some dates already booking up. They also see the mornings as a great excursion for garden clubs, team building or work dos or teachers from schools keen to pass on the importance of bees to their pupils.

The mornings start off with coffee and casual chat, a little honey tasting and a look at an empty beehive. Then it’s time to suit up and head off to see the real thing. You’ll get to spot the Queen, her eggs, see the honey in the hive, where the pollen is stored and have “lots of time to ask questions” says Rory. Purposely casual, the morning is designed to make guests feel relaxed and comfortable so they can ask away and learn, and enjoy the morning. The events are rounded off with a good old-fashioned morning tea before guest’s head home or on to Raglan to enjoy the rest of the day.

“Bees have such a positive effect on the environment and make such a natural product,” comments Rory on why they chose to be beekeepers and why sharing this with others is important. Creating a sustainable business is built into everything Hannah and Rory do at Hunt & Gather including making beeswax wraps as an additional product to sell with their honeys.

Hunt & Gather Beekeeping Experiences are $95pp ($75 children).
Go to www.huntandgatherbeeco.com for more information.

Keen to keep bees at your place?
Rory is quick to point out that their Beekeeping Experiences are not a how-to in beekeeping. While it is a great introduction, if you want to have a beehive at your place here are his tips to get you started.

Join a beekeeping club or get a mentor to help you learn as much as you can.
It is a legal requirement for all beekeepers and hives to be registered, so find out your legal obligations, including the need to get your honey tested.
If you are going to have one hive, have two. This means if one colony starts to suffer, the other can help rebuild or strengthen it.
Ensure there is a plentiful food and water source ie: if you are surrounded by pasture there can be little for the bees to eat.
Just like looking after any animal, you need to have a degree of commitment. With bees you will be caring for 10–60,000 creatures, and while the commitment isn’t proportional to the number in your care it does require a lot of learning.
Honeybees are the only insects that produce food that is eaten by man.
The hexagonal shape of the honeycomb is the most efficient shape in our world. The pattern allows for the cells to be packed with no empty space in between. Though the wax is thin and delicate, the structure of the hexagonal cells can hold a tremendous amount of weight.

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