The importance of the role of bees in our ecosystem cannot be understated. Bees are the world’s main insect pollinator, meaning that many plants rely on bee pollination to be able to reproduce. The Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment estimates that bee pollination contributes between $620 and $1,730 million to Australia’s agricultural industry per year. Bee endangerment poses a huge threat to food security and it is becoming more and more clear that extinction of the bees would hugely alter the ecosystem and affect global food supply chains. To raise awareness about the importance of bees, we thought we’d interview beekeeper Chris Watson about the two bee hives he has on our property at Green Olive at Red Hill and the role these bees play in pollinating produce on the farm.
Chris has been a beekeeper for about a year and a half. Chris tells the story of his unexpected journey into the beekeeping hobby: “A few years ago, my wife suggested I get a new bike for a milestone birthday. I never got around to it and instead purchased a Flow Beehive and I absolutely love my hobby.” Flow is an Australian company creating innovative beehives that simplify the honey-extracting process. The frames inside of the beehive are made from partially formed honeycomb cells, meaning that the bees simply need to complete the cell with their wax and then cap the cells off with honey. This makes extracting the honey much easier as once the cells are split with the Flow key, the honey simply drips down through the tube into a jar.
Despite the ease of extracting honey from the hives, Chris still needs to visit the farm regularly to check on the bees (and for a quick coffee and lunch stop too!). “This is particularly important in the early days to ensure they accept their new hive and location,” Chris told us. “We also look for any pests that can break down a hive such as wax moth or small hive beetle.” The wax moth and small hive beetle are among the most destructive honeybee pests in Australia, causing damage to the wax comb, cell caps and honey. Small hive beetle larvae can even eat the eggs, larvae and pupae of honeybees and cause the queens to stop laying eggs, drastically reducing the number of adult bees in the hive. It is important to keep hives strong and healthy as this is the main defence against pests.
Chris has two (soon to be three) hives at Green Olive at Red Hill, made up of a mixture of Asian and European honey bees. “One was a swarm recovered from a residence in Mornington and the other was a large hive that was living in the wall of garage in South Frankston,” which he tells us is probably the biggest hive he’s ever seen in a building! Chris also has hives at his home and other locations on the Mornington Peninsula. Chris can assist with recovering swarms and removing feral hives as well as referrals to specialists for difficult hive removals. “We always aim to recover the bees and re-home them as a priority,” Chris told us.
Chris’s bees help pollinate many of the plants we have at the farm. Chris noted that our Kitchen Garden, Produce Paddock and olive grove will all benefit directly from being pollinated by the bees. Bees can travel up to 5km for resources and so it’s possible that Chris’s bees are travelling to a nearby strawberry farm and Mock Red Hill, an apple orchard producing the delicious sparkling apple juice we serve at Green Olive at Red Hill. “With other farms and native vegetation close by," Chris said, "I am looking forward to tasting the fruits of the bees' labour!” As well as playing a role in pollinating our produce, Chris’s bees also produce honey. “If we get a good start to Spring 2021, I am hoping we can produce 20 to 30 kilos of honey from each hive... but the honey is for the bees firstly and we only take what is surplus to their needs.”
Chris is happy to assist anyone who is interested in beekeeping. “If we can share the knowledge and the new beekeeper has a great experience, then they will want to share their knowledge and experience too. We all win.”
You can email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org