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Honey Haven

Mar 21, 2024
Article by Dr Julie Sladden

I love Tasmania’s distinct seasons with the changing weather, light, wind and – best of all – seasonal food. Each season comes with its sounds too, and this year’s soundtrack of summer is in full swing – the birdsong, crickets and symphonic hum of bees working hard to gather in the harvest.

Watching a bee working the flowers, it’s easy to become enthralled. The steps in producing that highly prized by-product – honey – involve an intricate and collaborative effort by tens of thousands of bees in a single hive. The life of a bee isn’t easy, or long. A worker bee lives for about six weeks, starting life as an egg and moving through the larva and pupa stage over three weeks. It then spends about 10 days working in the hive-comb building, processing honey and raising the next generation. In the final stage of its life, the worker bee hits the fields to collect nectar and pollen from tiny individual blooms.

The amount each bee collects might seem minuscule, but this team effort means a single hive can produce about 10 to 12 kilograms of honey. It isliquid gold. During peak season these bees work so hard they wear themselves out in 10 days! The phrase ‘as busy as a bee’ should come with a health warning.

With an abundance of wilderness and a diversity of natural flora, Tasmania is somewhat of a beekeeper’s paradise. More recently it has also become a haven with the spread of the varroa mite on mainland Australia effectively banning bee imports into the state. Yet, according to local beekeeper and honey producer Ian Hewitt of EEE’s Bees, Tasmania’s bee and honey industry is positively buzzing.

Starting as a teenager, Ian’s involvement with bees has been a lifelong affair.“I was given a book when I was 15.It wasn’t a technical book but more of a storybook about a farmer in America in the ‘30s. Just some small-town beekeepers keeping bees and Igot fascinated.”

Ian still has the book on his shelf, The Art & Adventure of Beekeeping (circa 1975), which documents the story of a family’s efforts to break the Guinness World Record for the amount of honey produced by a single hive. It’s quite a read.

Ian’s fascination with bees was soon born.

“I found a small hive down in the paddock and decided to put it into a box. I got absolutely caned, doing all the wrong things. I really learned the hard way. Pretty soon after, a mate and I started cutting bees out of walls and tying them into boxes. That’s how we got our first little operation going. We got a dozen hives each doing that. And then I just started mucking around with them.”

And Ian has been ‘mucking around’ with bees ever since.

After spending decades in and around the industry, having done his time in commercial production in the wilds of Tasmania, Ian now prefers his ‘small’ 28-hive operation that produces up to 3000kg of honey per year.

“Here,” offers Ian. He directs my attention to a frame loaded with honeycomb, recently returned from Tasmania’s North East. “Stick your finger in that. Just break through the cappings, and drag it up so you get a finger load. Then stick it in your gob.”

I do as instructed and pop my finger in my mouth, honey dripping from it. Ian sees my wide-eyed expression, “Yeah, it’s got a lot of really volatile aromatics in it. As soon as you start extracting the honey, it starts oxidising, so this is the best way to have it.”

Aromatics is the word. I can honestly say I have never tasted honey so good.

Mimicking Tasmania’s ever-changing scenery, each batch has a unique flavour depending on hive location, local flora, and seasonal conditions. I’ve just sampled ‘Meadow,’ the small-batch brew from blackberry and clover fields of Tasmania’s North East. Other varieties include leatherwood from out west, and ‘bush’, or eucalypt, honey.

The amazing taste and distinct flavours hint at one of the best parts of the honey story: the health benefits. Packed with flavonoids and polyphenols, research shows honey can have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial effects. Like other beneficial foods, the closer to the source, the better – local, seasonal and natural. So, for those keen to experience some of theworld’s best honey, Tasmania is the place to bee.

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