Matthew Hayden loves the sweet taste of home-grown honey and in episode three of his show he meets Trevor Weatherhead from the QLD Beekeeper’s Association to get the buzz on keeping bees.
About Trevor Weatherhead
Trevor has been commercial beekeeping for about 22 years and has over 300 European honey bee hives.
Beekeeping is one of Australia's oldest primary industries, stemming from the 1800s.
Queensland's honey production alone is valued at $14 million annually, while other products including beeswax and pollen bring the total Queensland value to $16 million.
Bees are an incredibly important part of the food chain as one in every three foods we eat is pollinated by bees.
Trevor has been an apiarist since the early 70s. Beekeeping is very much in his family’s blood as his great grandfather kept bees. Trevor’s main focus is not honey production but queen bee rearing which takes up at least two days a week.
He travels to countries as far a field as Canada and Ireland to lecture on his techniques and theories on queen bee rearing. He even posts some of his queen bees to clients in Tasmania and South Australia - they travel in envelopes punched with holes!
Trevor says his furthest hive is approximately 100km from his home, which is not unusual. Apiarists can position their hives hundreds of kilometres from their homes so the bees can eat from specific plants such as the spotted gum.
The bee community
Each hive can contain up to 50,000 bees and there is a very structured community. There are two groups of males - the workers and the drones.
Bees are tireless workers living for only about six weeks. When they are at their busiest they visit hundreds of flowers in a single day.
The drones mate with the queen. In the winter the drones get kicked out of the hive and they go to a congregation area where they hang around to wait and see if there are any young queens flying around to mate with.
A queen bee can store 4-5 million sperm in their sack. An active queen is only efficient for up to two years and lays up to 1500 eggs a day.
When inspecting the hives Trevor uses a smoker to calm the bees down. This is an instrument shaped like an oil can which contains smouldering Hessian. The bees communicate through pheromones and they put out an alarm pheromone if they feel threatened. The smoke disguises the smell of the pheromones which confuses them whilst keeping them calm.
The honey is collected up to twice a month.
It depends on what sort of flowers the bees eat as to what colour the honey is - usually the lighter the honey, the sweeter the taste.
Bees gather nectar, add their own components and transform it by evaporation into honey, then store it in combs in the beehive.
As soon as the honeycomb in the hive is filled with honey and capped with beeswax they are ready to be harvested. Honeycomb is removed from the hive and taken to a mobile extracting van or central extracting plant called a “honey house”.
The wax cappings are removed with a steam heated knife or special revolving blade before the honeycomb is placed in the extractor. The honeycomb is then placed in revolving baskets where the spinning movement throws out the honey.
Honey is then strained and left to stand until air bubbles rise. Bubbles and any left-over wax particles are skimmed from the surface and the honey is ready for bottling. The honeycomb capping isn’t wasted but melted down into blocks of beeswax to make candles and other products.
Beekeeping is an industry that causes minimal environmental damage. Its products require little or no modification during production.
Want a bee hive?
Trevor recommends keeping the European variety of bees and to join a local amateur club to get more advice on how to care for them and extract honey. You may also be required to become a registered beekeeper if owning one or more beehives.
Trevor says it’s dangerous to buy neglected second-hand hives as they come with a lot of problems and diseases. He also stresses the need to follow the code of conduct in terms of where to set up the hives as some councils have very strict guidelines in terms of keeping them away from neighbouring fences and horses.
Trevor says the average backyard hive produces around 30-50 kilos of honey in one year so a few well-maintained blocks are more than enough to feed friends and family.