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Beekeeping in the World Heritage Listed Leatherwood forests of Tasmania

[Sadly, I've just sat for the past 10 minutes thinking about how I can make this post about my trip to Tassie humorous, but it was just so calming and beautiful and serene and full of bucket list ticking moments and friendly folk and community and rolls of hay and cows and sheep and bees that I can't bear to bag it... and I was too busy loving it to laugh.]

Anyway, so, this little bee went to Tassie for 2½ whole weeks.  Amazing.  Yes 2½ whole weeks.  Tassie was good too.  Seriously good.  If you would like to see the full 2,000 photographs, feel free to pop into the Brookvale any time and ask me how my trip was.  Otherwise, I'll restrict myself to 4 blog posts of the 4 major highlights.

The first was beekeeping in the World Heritage Listed leatherwood forests on the west coast of Tassie.  All the ingredients for a bucket list item:

  • Riding in a semi trailor    √ (OK, that's actually a square root symbol, and no I didn't score, but it is the closest thing on wordpress to a tick)
  • over 7 million bees     √
  • Leatherwood honey     √
  • Goosebump raising beautiful forests     √
  • 4am start... not so much
  • 7am coffee     √
  • personal tour of the factory by family patriarch, Ian     √
  • home cooked meals and packed lunch from family matriarch, Shirley     √

That just about sums it all up really.  I'm actually, for once, quite lost for words to describe the experience of beekeeping in the Tasmanian wilderness under the protective wing of the Stephens family (  RJ Stephens have been beekeeping in Tassie since 1920 and thankfully that means they have bee sites in the pristine World Heritage Listed leatherwood forests on the West Coast.

Just in case you didn't know, leatherwood trees ONLY grow in Tassie.  Nowhere else in the world.  And it is the most extra-ordinary honey.  It's very floral.  In an unsubtle way.  Kind of like being punched in the mouth and nose with a bunch of flowers.  Leatherwood honey is to Tassie what champagne is to Champagne.  Parmagiano is to Italy.  Cher is to unitards.  Iconic... and completely unique.

But I digress.  Here are a few of the highlights of my beekeeping experience.

I got to ride in a big truck...

Bird's eye view from the truck cabin"][Low flying] Bird's eye view from the truck cabin


And here's what we were looking for

Leatherwood tree


or in close up

Leatherwood tree blossoms close up


Did I mention the big truck?...

My ride


The Stephens use "ideal" supers (which are half the height of a normal honey super) and have done so since 1920.  It is fairly unique to commercial beekeeping in Tassie, but makes a whole lot of sense when your extraction and packing worker bees are all women (just like in a hive).  An "ideal" super full of honey weighs in at around 20kgs.  On the truck we had 50 hives, each 9 supers high with around 150,000 bees per hive... over 7 million bees.

A couple of other interesting things - the 4am start was because we had a 5 hour drive into the forests from their base near Cradle Mountain and as bees like to start work at sunrise (and get grumpy if they can't), it is imperative to get them unloaded as early as possible.  Secondly, you can see the green mesh on the back half of the truck... this covered the entire load for the whole trip so that the bees couldn't fly off while we were driving as bees come back to the same spot they left.

Unloading "the girls"


Until a few years ago, all unloading was done by hand and hand-trolley... actually far less traumatic for the bees (and beekeepers) to do it this way.

Happy days... happy bees... let the foraging begin


You can see the leatherwoods in the background on the right hand side of the photograph.  Interestingly a leatherwood tree doesn't flower for the first 75 odd years.  So that photograph of the tree in full bloom above is of a seriously old tree.

Happy bees... happy beekeeper


Time for a quick stroll into the enchanted forest [and a history lesson on the building of the rail link (under the road) which was all done by hand.

As another aside, Gunns are clear-felling just outside the World Heritage Listed area.

Forestry)""]The aftermath of Gunns (aided by Tasmanian [de]Forestry)


Ironically, National Parks Tasmania are trying to get beekeepers out of the National Parks because they aren't a native species... yet logging companies are?  Don't get me started.  That chat is seriously not funny bone tickling.  No honeybees.  No World Heritage Listed forest leatherwood honey.  No iconic, unique to Tassie honey.  Far less pollination of leatherwood trees.  Sad really.

On a happier note, I'd love to introduce you to the matriarch and patriarch of the operation... Ian and Shirley.  [Ian is "over 85" and still goes out on one of the trucks every day... except for Saturday's when he goes to the races!]

Ian & Shirley Stephens


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