The birds and the bees
When the flowers blossom, the bees will come, they say. Well, we all surely hope so. But we need to provide a healthy habitat for them too. We have planted a lot of lavender (at least 5 types), and with our recent Provence inspiration, we have even more cuttings developing in the greenhouse. In between our vines and edible forest we have also planted bee-friendly plants. A lot of the beneficial companion plants that we have planted are bee-attracting, like comfrey, calendula, borage, Echinacea, tea tree (3 types), grevilleas (about 6 types – many of these are autumn flowering), geraniums, sage (four types), bottlebrush and many more. All the open areas and paths at Dreamland are thickly inter-sowed with clover too. For water they have the pond and two shallow bird baths.
The fact that we constantly have bees buzzing around makes me think we are doing OK in creating a good bee-friendly habitat. (Sure, I know you can always improve, and we will as we go on.) But now we want to focus on getting some honey. As mr Holmgren says, we need to “obtain a yield” too. Especially considering that we don’t use any refined sugar, our honey and pure maple syrup consumption is sky high. After all, our children are sweet-toothed too, like any child of that age, even though they are on a healthy natural organic diet. So instead of buying in more buckets of local honey, we need to start producing it ourselves. So part of my errands on that rainy misty day was to get our beehives.
Up to now I have been consulting with Sam from Geelong Honey Source and he has been amazingly helpful. But Sam supplies compressed polystyrene beehives and although I appreciate the better insulation for our cold winters and harsh warm summers, I still can’t get my head around letting bees live and work in compressed Styrofoam. (I know I shouldn’t down-talk something I haven’t investigated thoroughly, but that’s what the connection in my brain calls it.) So natural wood it would be for our bees.
So a bit of a search on the Geelong Beekeepers Club Inc website led me to the Beehive Company right here in Lara. A few discussions and messages exchanged with John Webb and we were all set. A late afternoon drive through the acreages on the other side of Lara as the sun started breaking through got me to John’s place. What amazing free-range chicken holdings there are out there; John himself has got quite a few going too. Anyway, so I got our two hives with two boxes each, queen dividers, suit, gloves, smoker and hive tool. Not a cheap hobby this beekeeping, and we don’t even have the equipment to spin the honey out yet! But you know what I forgot? Yes, I forgot to take photos of John and his setup. Maybe I’m just too shy to ask, but in this case I think I was just too preoccupied by all we have to learn about beekeeping. There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Life’s funny, but I guess that happens in any country. Here we can keep 48 “fowl”, noisy cocks included, under whatever circumstances we want, with no questions asked, but our two hives sitting quietly along the fence must be registered, inspected regularly and we have to fill in a pile of paperwork like clockwork. Beekeeping is way more formalised and controlled. So on said rainy day we were also registered as registered beekeepers.
OK I’m side-tracking now, but is that why the Geelong Beekeepers Club Inc is registered as an Inc.? I quote from smallbusiness.chron.com: “Inc. is the abbreviation for incorporated. An incorporated company, or corporation, is a separate legal entity from the person or people forming it. Directors and officers purchase shares in the business and have responsibility for its operation. Incorporation limits an individual’s liability in case of a lawsuit.” I know honey is valuable, but purchase shares in a beekeeping club? Or is it about the liability in case someone gets stung by a bee? Surely you take responsibility for your own actions?
Well, one thing I’ll tell you, even though it’s more controlled, it’s way, way easier to get bees and bee supplies in this area than heritage breed chickens. I won’t even start talking about the run-around I had on that rainy day to try and locate a heat lamp for our brooder… and 20 of the 24 eggs are scheduled to hatch on a cold and rainy day (more rain, yay!) while I’m away on a course next week. O, I did start talking about it… well, more about the birds and bees in subsequent posts.
Interesting that beekeeping is so controlled there. Usually it’s to do with protection of livestock or people. Do you have varroa mite in Victoria? I looked into beekeeping but my husband is definitely not keen, and when I ‘helped’ a local beekeeper and got stung I ended up looking like one of the aliens in a science fiction film! – the bridge of my nose was huge for a couple of weeks. She had to give up since she developed an allergy and has to carry an epi-pen in case now, and I wondered if I might do the same. Skye’s not great for bees anyhow – too wet and windy to get much of a yield. I do have couple of bumble bee nests (had to leave some black plastic sheeting where one lot had decided to nest) and we seem to get quite a few oil beetles which are a sign of a good bee population. I quite fancy trying tree sap though – Only the original sycamores are big enough to try tapping, although kiwi and grapes are also possibilities to look into.
My dad used to keep bees – I think if you are full protected when opening the hives etc. you shouldn’t end up becoming allergic. Like anything though, it would be another job to juggle and maybe encouraging bumblebees is more worthwhile. Certainly, in terms of both biodiversity and pollination they are very important.
Helen, we are a bit concerned about the stings (as we are total newbies) and Patricia is a bit allergic, but she is getting a “full suit” later this week, before our delivery and mentoring session.
If Patricia has an allergy, that is a concern. I hope the suit will be fully protective.
Varroa mite has been detected in isolated places in Victoria, but it hasn’t spread. The whole Australian ecology is very sensitive – including the native bees – so they’re just being very precautionary. It’s not a bad thing – in fact for us as newbies, regular inspection and mentoring (which we’re subscribing to) can only be a good thing. The tree sap sounds interesting? We wondered about maple syrup as we have a few very young trees (maybe the kids should wonder about it 🙂 ) but we don’t have enough freeze hours.
Interesting post Martin! I believe the taste of raw honey is quite different than the stuff you buy at the supermarket.
I like the hive with the sense of humour 😆
It tastes very different, and it’s also much healthier if you spin it out, instead of heating it up. Ha ha, that handle “hole” was just calling for a bit of impromptu “kids art”.