The sweetest place on earth.
The one thing I love about South Australia is the produce. Everyone seems to know what food they are eating, where the food are coming from and sometimes even being the producers themselves. Tasting Australia is exactly what is all about, a biennial event that brings together chefs, food writers and journalists from all around the world to enjoy the best produce and food products South Australia has to offer. I personally find that there is nothing more down to earth than talking to the local producers and find out more about their produce, everyone has a story to tell.
Today, we are visiting a working bee farm Buzz Honey at Dawesley in the Adelaide Hills. As we are all aware that honey bees are disappearing fast from the face of the earth and causing a havoc to the food supply and biodiversity. My anticipation of learning more about bees soon had me suited up in a fully sealed from head to toe white jumpsuits and ready to get up close and personal.
What's the buzz?
Tim and Jude Crowe are the proud owners of the Buzz Honey bee farm which produces some of the best award-winning honey in South Australia. They have around 1000 bee hives located in five different areas in South Australia - Murray Mallee, Adelaide Hills, Riverland and even down at Limestone Coast.
As everyone getting suited, Tim has prepared two smoke guns for the excursion. A twine of rolled up coffee bean sack is lit at one end then put inside a kettle like contraption, smoke is blown out of a funnel nozzle at the front when the bag pipe at the back is pressed. The smoke send signals to the bees thinking the hive is under threat of fire and will fly away, so it is easier for beekeepers to extract the racks inside the hive for the honey.
Graham Brooks is an apiarist and owner of a Buzzie's Bee Juice in Clare Valley. We follow Graham to the field to check out some of the hives. As we slowly approaching the hives, a couple of things we need to keep in mind, no fast flapping movements and do not stand in front of the entrance of the hives. Easier said than done especially when I am not wearing gloves, but I keep my calm and capturing every single details on still frames and videos.
At the height of summer there will be one queen and up to 50,000 - 80,000 worker bees in each hive. The number will drop to 15,000 to 20,000 work bees during winter time. The bee hive is usually kept at a constant temperature of 36 degree Celcius. When it gets hot during summer, the bees in one hive will harvest nothing but water. At the apiary, the bees can drink up to 300 liters of water a day! They bring the water back to the hives and the evaporation of the water will cool the hives down. And when it is cold like winter, the bees will cluster together to keep warm down at the bottom of the hive. Ingenious!
Relocating the beehives is a tedious task. It must be done at night in the dark while the bees are asleep. Jude tells us that if the truck has to stop at a petrol station, they must ring ahead so the lights are off when they arrive, usually the people at the stations are pretty cooperative and understand the importance of bee migration.
The OCD working bees.
As you may or may not aware, there will be only one queen in each hive and the rest are male, they are the bee workers. As Jude puts it, "Bee workers are OCD." Bee workers are workaholics and they have four major roles when they start building a colony in the hive:
1. Nurse - to feed the queen and the others
2. Builder - to build and fix the hive
3. Forager - located the nectar source and collect the sap and pollens
4. Guard - as guard bees at the entrance to protect the hive from predators
It is quite interesting to listen to Jude on how the bees collect the pollens. She says each bee has lots of pockets on its legs. The bee itself is fully charged with static on its body, so when it flies around the flowers, the pollens will stick to its body then the pollens will be collected and put inside the pockets on its leg before flying back to the hive and turn into nectar, gradually turns into honey.
But what is even more fascinating is that when the foraging bees found the nectar source, they will fly back to the hive and do the waggle dance in a figure of "8" to other bees that tells them the direction of the source in relation to the sun.
The ruthless colony.
It is ruthless in the bee kingdom. Every single bee has to work hard or else will face consequences. If the male bees are under stress, they will be killed and be tossed out of the hive. And that does not just happen to the male bees but even the queen will face the same fate.
If queen starts to lay less eggs or in a haphazard pattern, or if she got injured, walking with a limp or broken wings, or sometimes got prodded by others and damaged the eyes, she will die and the workers will sense that and see she is not fit as a queen, they will kill her. However, before killing the queen, the workers will build her a "queen cup" which is a larger hexagon cell where the queen will lay an egg inside. They will feed the egg with royal jelly and transform a normal work bee into a new queen. When the new queen hatches, she will find the old queen, kill it and then being tossed out at the front of the hive. As bee keepers, they are able to tell if the hive is having a hard time because all the male bees are dead on the ground or the hive has just superseded and found the queen dead outside the hive.
Graham is trying to locate the queen bee in the hive and after examining a few racks in the hive, we eventually find it. The queen bee is only about 1.5 times larger than the normal bee, wings tucked in and much darker in colour. We watch in awe as the queen strutting around on the rack giving the other bees orders. Fascinating stuff.
Here at Buzz Honey, they spend about $12,000 a year on buying the queen bees, it costs $12.50 each. We ask where do they buy their baby queens from, her answer is, "QUEENS-land", obviously. Soon enough everyone is bursting into a hysterical of laughter, I can tell this wasn't the first time she has been asked the same question. Each queen bee comes in a wooden box (pic above) and usually is delivered overnight by mail order. Sometimes a few queens will die from dehydration but usually a few drops of water on the net will keep the bees alive for at least overnight.
Before a queen mates she looks different, she doesn't have wide hips. As soon as she mated, her hips become wider because she gets million sperms on her maiden flight where she will mate with three up to twelve bee drones whom will die instantly after mating. Then the queen will come back to the hive and lays her body weight into eggs, up to 2000 eggs a day!
Usually a queen bee lasts for five years but bee keepers wont keep them for that long and replace them every year because the younger she is, the more vigorous she lays and the better quality of a laying pattern should have, to keep a healthy number of bees working in the hives at all time.
As sweet as can bee.
Human has been collecting honey for centuries, it is reported that honey in jars were found by archaeologists inside Egyptian tombs.
Each bee hive will produce around 10kg of pure honey. The bee wax is edible and is also the world most water proof natural product, it is not in any way water soluble. Honey is unlike sugar, it is actually absorbed in your large intestine and considered as low GI food.
Bees, plants & human.
As much as we love honey, but the recent statistic of bee colonies collapsing around the world is alarming. In 2006, 50% of the USA's commercially managed bee colonies died, the sudden disappearance of honey bees is still a mystery, it is a pressing and urgent issue that threatens food supply and biodiversity.
In Australia, 65% of agricultural production is dependent on pollination by European honeybees. The bees are the legs of plants - pollination is the transfer of pollen to the female part of the flower and the plants need bees to move their genes. Simply put it - no bees means no plants; no plants means no human. Our very life depends on bees.
But great things are on the verge of happening and many cities are already taking this issue seriously. A great initiative of 'urban beekeeping' is thriving around the world where beehives are kept on the rooftops of the buildings in the city. It is already happening in cities around Australia and they are doing a fantastic job.
If you are interested and want to find out more about pollination awareness and perhaps even want to start your own bee hive, go to www.honeybee.org.au for more information.
Let's bee friends...
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The secret life of bees.
Here's a video I have put together of my visit to the apiary. Hope it gives you a better insights of the bee farm and how the bees work. For high definition version, please click this link.
Buzz Honey Lot 5, Ding Dong Road,
Dawesley, South Australia
Tel: +61 (08) 8388 0274
A table for two visited Tasting Australia as a guest of South Australia Tourism