Recently the Year 4 teachers asked if I could speak to the children about bees as part of their Science unit on lifecycles.
I have never shared my interest in bees with anyone but my family and colleagues and found it to be a very enjoyable experience. Given that, I thought I would say a bit more about my hobby for the wider school community.
I took up beekeeping almost three years ago and started with a swarm that came from my wife’s uncle — himself a beekeeper since the 1970s. I refer to that hive as the Wahroonga hive as that swarm came from Uncle Geoff’s property where he has 11 hives! Last October I picked up another swarm from fellow beekeepers who live in Marrickville – they just didn’t have enough room for another hive in their small yard. They may look the same but two hives are different. The Marrickville bees are much more aggressive and will bump you if nearby. Earlier in the year I thought I could garden side by side that hive (at the time it was by the side of my house but I have since moved it to the back of the property to be near the other hive), but after a sting and many more attacks I had to suit up to continue with my weeding. The Wahroonga hive is completely placid and the girls seem to mind their own business. On one occasion a bee flew into my head and then kept on going, not bothering to sting me (only the female worker bees have stingers). I suppose the same goes with our kids at home – some a more predictable (feisty) than others!
By observing your bees you can notice a lot. When they repeatedly fly in to the hive’s entrance with pollen stuck to their hind legs, you know they are feeding the brood chamber – a great sign as the queen is laying eggs. When you hear a nice ‘roar’, especially at night, you know that it indicates the intense activity of fanning that day’s nectar collection. From this fanning and the adding of enzymes, we finally get our honey stores.
Honey also changes in flavour and colour depending on the forage. When there are lots of flowers out, we call it a honey flow and the bees are feverishly out collecting nectar to store in the cells of each frame. I back on to a Blackbutt forest in Pennant Hills but am also surrounded by a lot of Turpentines, Sydney Red Gum and Tallowwood trees which all blossom in the warmer weather. With last summer’s heat, bushfires and eventual rain in February, I noticed a significant change in flavour with my honey. The ‘smoky’ April batch is exquisite. I have attached a photo so you can see the colour difference. Usually in Sydney, the colour of honey is more golden whereas over the ranges it is more amber in colour.
Honey in the supermarkets has received a lot of attention in the past year with companies being accused of adulterating their honey by adding in alternative sugars such as rice syrup into the mix. My honey is entirely raw. When I extract it from the hives, it sits in a 15L bucket until I need to bottle it. NO heat is added. Supermarket honey is heated to an inch of its life to ensure it maintains a consistent state. The heat kills many beneficial enzymes and nutrients. My biggest problem is preventing it from candying, or crystallising in winter. This is where the viscous honey hardens in the cooler weather. Honey consists of a lot dextrose and the cooler weather changes the state of the dextrose, in particular when the temperature falls below 14c. It is not an easy sell because most people identify honey as being liquid and runny, making it harder to drizzle on bread, cereal or the like. However, I find the flavour intensifies when it candies and you get a lovely burst or popping in your mouth by the sugars. Delicious! You can change the state of the honey by quickly zapping in the microwave or dipping your jar in hot water.
I sell my 500g jars of honey for $10. If you are interested in buying a jar or two, please send me an email or send your child up to my room. I had intended to sell at this year’s Art & Craft show.
Finally, my label, ‘Sticky Lips’ has a touch of St Thomas. When I asked the lovely, and now ex St Thomas mum, Mireille Carey to design my label last year she happily obliged. I must have gone through 30 revisions with her, mainly with small changes to do with the wording on the back panel but we finally got there. There are a whole lot of rules about what you can and can not put on your honey label, but that is for another time. Suffice to say I learnt by doing.