Bees and not honey are what natural beekeepers focus on – ABC Rural
Beekeeping is usually about making honey but there is another way of operating with a different goal in mind.
Bee sanctuaries are rare and have been described by one operator as “a place that can harbour happy, healthy bees in an environment where they are safe from pests and diseases,” where “bees just get to exist … and call this place their home”.
It is a way of producing honey that more people are taking an interest in, after scandals hit mainstream honey producers this year.
A major producer and a number of supermarket chains faced accusations of unwittingly selling fake honey, which the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) investigated.
A month later, tests done by scientists in Australia found 20 per cent of Australian honey samples, and more than half of samples sourced from honey from Asia, were not pure.
The ACCC inquiry recently concluded, and did not find evidence supporting allegations that Capilano’s Allowrie honey was adulterated with sugar syrup but also raised concerns about the reliability of current tests.
How does a bee sanctuary work?
Steven and Trudi Hayes, who operate the Little Star Bee Sanctuary on the mid north coast of NSW, switched from commercial to natural beekeeping and the move has paid off in terms of the health of the hives.
“We went down the typical path of commercial practices and after about five years we did start to encounter a lot of the problems that many commercial beekeepers do face,” Mr Hayes said.
“We started experiencing colony losses through diseases and different sorts of pests so we started exploring different ways that we could manage bees more healthily.
Mr Hayes said the natural method has many differences from commercial beekeeping.
“Natural beekeeping means not moving our hives,” he said.
“We strongly believe in keeping bees without the stresses of moving the bees, also not using queen excluders, a device that is really helpful for the beekeeper’s benefit in certain management tasks, but does restrict the queen to a certain part of the colony.
“Another big part of natural beekeeping is not feeding the bees artificial supplements or sugar syrups, antibiotics, and also letting bees create natural combs.”
Mr Hayes said he was able to prevent disease in the hives without using chemical sprays that commercial beekeepers use.
“As far as pests go we do use genetic traits that are inherent in certain bees, so defences against things like the small hive beetle where they show a natural resilience.
“Another way we also control pests is through the use of vented bottom boards. It empowers the bees to evict the small hive beetle, the small hive beetle is an endemic problem here on the mid north coast — they do love the warm humid environments — so it’s just another way the bees can empower themselves without having to resort to chemical means.”
There are serious concerns about the health of bee populations in some parts of the world.
“We are already seeing in the beekeeping industry widespread disease and predators and there’s lots of issues there,” Mr Hayes said.
“What we’re trying to do at Little Star Bee Sanctuary is diversify, so we’re looking at all types of bees, [and] to educate so that we can move forward and look at how we can strengthen the beekeeping industry with what we may potentially be facing.”
The couple said they hoped they could work to restore the health of bee populations through education.
“We would much rather educate 100 people to look after their own hive than one beekeeper looking after 100 hives.
“We want to get our message out about increasing the integrity of bee populations, and the number of bee populations, by people working with the bees and being able to naturally manage them to counteract defences against diseases and predators,” Ms Hayes said.
The education programs they run help make up for a massive drop in honey production since switching to natural beekeeping.
“We went from producing quite a lot and we cut our output down to about a quarter of what we used to once we stopped moving our bees and chasing those honey flows,” Mr Hayes said.
Mr Hayes said people have become more curious about honey production following the recent coverage about adulterated honey.
“It’s been great for us because it’s given us an opportunity to educate,” he said.
“It does certainly make the consumer more conscious of where their products come from.”