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Bee-Related Media

  • Now my bees are media tarts

    It's been an amazing few weeks for the girls.  Content just to forage, pollinate and collect nectar and pollen they've stepped up their game playing host to media keen to see inside their home and the inner workings of their urban hive... and all without stinging a single visitor!

    Our girls have been hard at work making honey for TEDx Sydney and the amazing crowd-farmed food which fed the 2,200 attendees.  This incredible initiative was  put together by TEDxSydney Food Curator, Jill Dupleix, in collaboration with Jess Miller from Goody Two Shoes and Grow It Local, and the team at ARIA Catering. We were chuffed to be a part of it (and so delighted with how the girls rose to the occasion).

    First up, a video put together by Tim Brunero showing the actual harvest of the TEDx Sydney honey.  What I particularly loved was that at the start Tim was fully suited and within 10 minutes he had his veil off and hand in the hive tasting the honey... not to mention having a go with the uncapping knife (& tasting more honey), spinning (tasting more honey) and offloading the honey (with a little more tasting).  In the final frames he is crouched in front of the hive like a pro - 120,000 bees in boxes beside him and he, happy as Larry, a foot away.  His childlike enthusiasm and delight seeing inside the hive, watching the bees and tasting their wares reminded me of how I felt the first time I saw in a beehive.  It truly is wonderous.


    So enchanted was Tim with the whole experience that he invited me in to the ABC do an interview
    [soundcloud url="" params="" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]


    You can see the TEDxSydney crowd-farmed food video below

    Clearly my neighbours don't read my blog or watch TEDxSydney videos because I haven't had a knock on the door yet!  When/if they do, they'll be rewarded with a jar of Neutral Bay's finest honey (the taste is enough to silence any critics).

    Lovely to be part of this community of urban growers... and proud of the hard work of the girls and their media savvy performance!

    Cate xx

  • The Secret Life of Bees -

    I just came across an old issue of Mindfood magazine which had a great article on beekeeping in Tassie... with a couple of super recipes - Honey Madeleines  and Cinnamon and Honey Swirl Teacake.  I think I'm going to give those madeleines a bit of a run myself this weekend.

    Below is a transcribed copy of the article.  Or you can click on the link below to open a pdf.

    201105 Mindfood - The Secret Life of Bees_email

    The secret life of bees
    MiNFOOD meets the clever creators, and the brave apiarists keeping us in honey.
    BY Laura Venuto | May 13, 2011

    Next time you drizzle honey onto your morning toast, spare a thought for Ewan Stephens. Not only did his day start at 4am, he also had to deal with some pretty aggressive passengers riding on the back of his truck. “They were very nasty today,” he says gravely.

    “When you unload the hives it’s nice to have sunshine so they can fly around and look around for the leatherwood flowers. But when it’s overcast, they just hang around you and get pretty nasty.” While Stephens has stopped counting the stings, one beekeeper they had in from Germany counted every one. “He worked out it was about 2300 stings for the season,” he says.

    Stephens is a third-generation apiarist, and works with his brothers Kenneth and Neal, and their mother, Shirley, whom they affectionately refer to as the queen bee. Stephens was taught beekeeping from age eight by his father and grandfather. It was his grandfather Robert who started R Stephens honey company ( as a post-World War I hobby in 1920. It is now the second-largest honey producer in Tasmania; its second-biggest export market is New York.

    In a secluded clearing in the pristine world-heritage rainforest areas on the beautiful west coast of Tasmania, Stephens has just unloaded about 100 hives. He will do 24 of these loads over 24 nights to various leatherwood locations on the west coast – a total of 2400 hives. It is early February and the leatherwood trees are just starting to flower. Tasmania is the only place the leatherwood tree grows, making this distinctive-tasting honey all the more unique.

    “Our leatherwood trees are normally 400 years old,” says Stephens. “It doesn’t yield honey until it’s 80 years old. It’s a very poor generating tree. We tried to replant them 30-40 years ago but it wasn’t successful. If you burn leatherwood forests out, they’re gone forever. It’ll never come back.”

    The leatherwood season is very short, so special bees have been bred to suit the unique conditions. “On the mainland you get honey 10-12 months of the year, but here you only get honey for up to eight weeks,” Stephens explains. “In that time, you’ve got to produce a lot of honey. So our bees are bred from an English black and an Italian gold bee. They’re a very high-production bee and they work very hard for us.

    Queen B beeswax candles are made with 100% pure Australian beeswax a pure cotton wick and copious amounts of hand made love. We stock beautiful and stylish candle holders, personalised candles, votive candles and pillar candles that nourish the human spirit and our environment.

  • Honey bees - a good basic description of what goes on

    This article is from the archives, but I thought it gave a really great summary of what goes on in the hive and of harvesting honey.  The article is written by John Cooper and is from GOL magazine.

    You can read a transcript of the article below, or click on the link at the bottom of the article to see a pdf of the actual article.

    Honey Bees

    These busy insects bring benefits to plants and humans

    Story & photography John Cooper

    Honey has been valued for its dietary and therapeutic benefits for thousands of years, dating back at least to ancient Egyptian times.  In 1822, the early settlers aboard the ‘Isabella’ introduced the European honey bee into Australia.  This bee adapted so well to our warmer climate and native flora that Australia has now become the world’s ninth biggest honey producer.

    Eucalypts are mainly responsible for the distinctive flavour and density of most Australian honey, a major factor in its popularity with honey connoisseurs around the world.  Honey from the yellow box (Eucalpytus melliodora) is the most popular, while river red gum (E. camaldulensis), Napunyah, and abundant grey ironbark (E. paniculata) all yield excellent honey.  Tasmania’s major source of honey is the leatherwood tree, producing a pale, scented honey.

    Because eucalypts have no regular flowering seasons, it’s often an educated guess to have the hives in the right place at the right time to reap the benefits of flowering gums.  But a patchwork of yellow and purple heralds the spring as vast crops of canola and fields of Patersons’s curse extend through rural Australia.  Such an explosion of blossoms is a boon to the beekeeper, ensuring a stead flow of nectar through till early summer.

    Varietal honeys (coming from a single floral source) make up about 20 per cent of production.  The remaining honey is blended by mixing different varieties to achieve a flavour and colour demanded by the consumer.


    On warm, sunny days we have become accustomed to the buzz of busy honey bees as they visit our garden blossoms to sip sweet nectar.  The way the bees come to know the whereabouts of these flowering plants is a marvel of nature: bee scouts are sent out to survey an area, usually within a 200m radius of the hive.  When they have located their floral bounty they return to the hive and perform an amazing dance that indicates to the worker bees just where to go.  Dancing in a circle, the scout indicates the source is within 100m.  If she dances in two linked semicircles resembling a figure eight then the source is farther away.  In the latter case, the speed of the wing movements and the directions in which she moves in the centre of the section indicates how far the workers must fly and in which direction.

    Once the workers have found the source, they set about gathering nectar and pollen, visiting thousands of blossoms from sunrise to sunset on expeditions that are incredible feats of aviation and stamina, carrying as much as their own weight.

    The nectar enters the bee’s honey stomach where it’s mixed with digestive enzymes.  When the stomach is full the bee returns to the hive where the nectar-enzyme moisture is disgorged for other bees to transfer to a cell in the honeycomb.  Other bees now fan the cell with their wings to evaporate excess moisture, dropping the water content from about 70 per cent to 18 per cent.  When the cell is full the bees seal it with a beeswax cap that remains in place until the honey is needed as food for the hive.


    Bees are extraordinary engineers and housekeepers, working as a team to build and maintain the intricate structure of the honeycomb.  Included in their daily maintenance is the regulation of the hive temperature at around 34 degrees.  This is no mean feat, considering the variability of the outside temperature, ranging from below freezing to temperatures in excess of 40 degrees.

    On hot summer days, bees fetch water from puddles, streams, garden ponds and even swimming pools and, using their wings, fan moisture off the honeycomb to reduce the temperature.  During cooler periods, the bees cluster close together and eat more honey to provide energy and warmth.


    Like many of Australia’s 1000 or so full-time apiarists, Charlie Browne leads a nomadic life travelling thousands of kilometers each year in search of the nectar and pollen that keep bees healthy and producing honey.  Charlie’s beekeeping business is located in the southwest slopes of New South Wales.  He recalls capturing his first swarm of bees and using the swarm to set up his first beehive in the back yard.  This part time interest soon grew into a full-time commercial venture.  Charlie finds about 350 hives are enough to keep him busy, moving the hives occasionally to chase the nectar.


    Donning protective headgear and shirtsleeves rolled down almost to the fingertips, Charlie lifts the lid off the first hive.  Suddenly, thousands of hostile bees take to the air like a squadron of spitfires.

    “They’re pretty cranky today,” Charlie declares.  A few quick puffs of smoke around the hive helps to quell them.

    Holding up one of the frames of honeycomb, Charlie points out that almost the entire cellular structure is capped with the white beeswax, indicating that the honeycomb is almost full of honey.  Such frames are removed from the hive ready for extraction.

    Using a hot knife, the wax capping is sliced from the comb exposing the honey underneath before placing the racks into a stainless steel extractor that spins the honey out of the cells at about 150 rpm.  The extracted honey is strained, and the beeswax is moulded into cakes or blocks, all of which are sold to the Honey Corporation of Australia, the nation’s largest packer and marketer of honey.


    The hive is governed by the queen, the largest bee, whose sole purpose is to lay eggs.  She may produce more than a million in her lifetime.  Drones, stingless males whose only role is to fertilise the queen, mate with her in midair in the first 10 days of the queen’s life.  She returns to the hive with enough sperm stored in her body to fertilise eggs for three years.


    200701 GOL - Honey Bees

    Queen B beeswax candles are made with 100% pure Australian beeswax a pure cotton wick and copious amounts of hand made love. We stock beautiful and stylish candle holders, personalised candles, votive candles and pillar candles that nourish the human spirit and our environment.

  • Heater bees... a real hive warmer

    I thought it appropriate given the weather we had in Sydney today (max. 14 degrees and raining all day for those further afar) to share an article about some new research which proposes the existence of 'heater bees' in a beehive.  I don't think this has yet been accepted globally as gospel*, but it provides fodder for debate and further research.



    Read article below, or click on the pdf link at the bottom of the text.

    Secret Life of Bees Reveals Inner Glow
    Sydney Morning Herald, 27-28 March 2010

    By Richard Gray

    London: The secret of honey bees’ success has been discovered living deep inside their hives – a special type of bee that acts as a living radiator, warming the nest and controlling the colony’s complex social structure.

    The “heater bees” have been found to play a crucial, and previously unappreciated, role in the survival of honey bee colonies.

    Using new technology that allows scientists to see the temperature inside the bee hives, researchers have been able to see how heater bees use their bodies to provide a unique form of central heating within a hive.

    They have found that these specialized bees, whose body temperatures are higher than other bees, not only keep the hive warm but also control the social make-up within a colony.

    Bees, and other social insects such as ants, share jobs within a colony with each individual having a specific role that benefits the colony as a whole.

    It is this division of labour that has allowed bees to become so successful as they behave like a highly organised, “super organism” rather than a cluster of individuals.

    Heater bees are responsible for maintaining the temperature of the brood nest in a hive, whether young bees, known as pupae, are sealed into wax cells while they develop.

    The scientists discovered that the heater bees’ work to subtly change the temperature of each developing pupae by about one degree and this determines what kind of honeybee it will become.  Those kept at 35 degrees turn into the intelligent forager bees that leave the next in search of nectar and pollen.  Those kept at 34 degrees emerge as “house keeper” bees that never leave the nest, conducting chores such as feeding the larvae and cleaning.

    Professor Jurgen Tautz, the head of the bee group at Wurzburg University in Germany, Said: “The bees are controlling the environment they live in to make sure they can fill a need within the colony.  Each bee in a colony performs a different profession: there are guard bees, nest building bees, brood caretaking bees, queen caretaking bees and forager bees.

    “By carefully regulating the temperature of each pupae, they change the way it develops and the likelihood of the role it will fulfil when it emerges as an adult.”

    By beating the muscles that would normally power their wings, heater bees increase the temperature of their bodies up to 44 degrees – nearly 10 degrees hotter than a normal bee.  They then crawl into empty cells within the brood nest, transmitting heat to the surrounding cells where the pupae are developing.

    In the past, beekeepers have seen these empty cells as undesirable and have attempted to breed queens that did not leave them empty, but Professor Tautz claims they are an essential part of ensuring the health of a bee colony.

    The heater bees, which can number from just a few to many hundreds depending on the outside temperature and size of the hive, also press themselves against individual cells to top up the temperature of each pupae.

    Professor Tautz said: “The old idea was that the pupae in the brood nest were producing the heat and bees moved in there to keep warm, but what we have seen is that there are adult bees who are responsible for maintaining the temperature.  By creeping into empty cells, one heater bee can transmit heat to 70 pupae around them.  It is a central heating system for the colony.

    “Now we know that these empty cells are important, then beekeepers can try to avoid selecting for queens that don’t leave these cells empty.”

    The chairman of the British Beekeepers Association’s technical and environmental committee, Dr David Aston, said: “There has never been a good enough reason for the presence of individual empty cells across the face of the comb.  Professor Tautz has provided an explanation and beekeepers will look more closely at the brood combs to see if they can observe heater bees at work.”

    Telegraph, London


    Secret Life of Bees Reveals Inner Glow, SMH


    * As I understand it, the existing gospel is that bees taking on a variety of roles in the hive during their lives.  After they are 'born' they take on the role of nurse bees and then over the course of their life they take on the roles of housekeeping, cell building, scouting, foraging and guarding.

    Queen B beeswax candles are made with 100% pure Australian beeswax a pure cotton wick and copious amounts of hand made love. We stock beautiful and stylish candle holders, personalised candles, votive candles and pillar candles that nourish the human spirit and our environment.

  • The Urban Buzz - article on beekeeping in London

    I seem to collect piles of paper unintentionally.  Eventually I get fed up and decide I'm going to trash it all, but as I slowly make my way through each pile I realise there is method to my madness.  They are a veritable treasure trove of interesting articles (and less interesting bills)!

    This is a great article on urban beekeeping in London and asks whether city bees are part of the answer to the declining bee numbers.  I found the article in the EasyJet Traveller magazine.  Click on the link below the picture to read the pdf, or read on below where the article appears in full.

    200907 Traveller_article

    The Urban Buzz

    London bees are causing a hive of activity, thanks to the efforts of eco-warrior beekeepers.  Can cities help to counter the declining bee population across Europe?

    Words: Jerden Bergmans

    When you spot a bee furiously head-butting a window pane this summer, be sure to let it outside to go about is business as these busy little creatures have had quite a tough time of it lately.  In the past three years, bee populations across the globe have been savaged by a combination of the parasitic Varroa mite, which infects bee larvae with deadly viruses, and a mysterious syndrome called ‘colony collapse disorder’ which continues to baffle scientists.  Bee-keepers have been opening up their hives at the beginning of spring to find them either totally abandoned, with stores of pollen and honey untouched by other bugs and wildlife, or full of thousands of tiny corpses.  Some scientists claim the bees are being killed off by a deadly cocktail of pesticides, other that their sensitive navigation system is being wrecked by radiation caused by modern technology.  Einstein claimed that if been colonies were wiped from the face of the earth, mankind could only survive for four years as one in every three mouthfuls of food we eat depends on pollination by the honey bee.  With 90 crops including nuts, apples, onions, carrots, pears, plums and cotton struggling to propogate, farmers are wringing their hands in despair and this crisis is on the agendas of top politicians in Europe and the US.  But ironically, part of the solution could come from conscientious, urban eco-warriors who are setting up healthy, thriving hives on rooftops, by railway tracks, on allotments and in tiny gardens.

    Cities tend to be around three degrees warmer than rural areas which means urban bees come out of hibernation a month before their country cousins.  Plants in parks and gardens also flower throughout the year and are pesticide-free, resulting in bumper crops of richly flavoured honey that can comfortably compete with varieties derived from agricultural crops that bloom only in the summer months.

    Last year the story of 15-year-old beekeeper Philip Schilds was picked up by British newspapers and covered on TV by celebrity chef Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall.  Philip and his stepfather Ian produce 2,000 jars of honey a year from the eight hives on the roof of their Victorian terrace house in East London, accessed by a precarious ladder.  Each hive cost them around £250 (€280) but by selling their organic produce to local shops and the stalls on trendy Broadway Market they set up a small company, Hackney Honey, which is now turning over a tidy profit.  As eco entrepreneurs are all the rage, Philip and his fellow urban beekeepers have spawned something of a craze among Londoners with a green conscience.   All that’s required is a bit of space, understanding neighbours along with a hive, an astronaut-style suit and a bee colony, all of which can come through the post.  But as keeping hives is as much a science as a hobby, budding urban beekeepers should first head down to Elephant and Castle in the depths of South London to take an induction course.

    Roots and Shoots is a charity, set up 25 years ago to teach 2,000 school children a year about the environment.  It also trains 20 disadvantaged teenagers annually for a career in horticulture, and doubles up as the HQ of the London Beekeepers’ Association.  Aspiring honey-collectors are herded into the sleek new Eco Building to be lectured on the habits and habitat of Apis mellifera, the feisty European honeybee, and the workings of the contemporary, modular hive, complete with a ‘queen excluder’ to keep the most important resident from flying away. [NB this is actually incorrect.  A queen excluder is put between the ‘brood’ box where the queen lays the eggs and the upper super/s on a beehive so that eggs are not laid amongst the honey that will later be harvested. Cate]

    The queen is crucial to any beekeeper – one hive will have up to 60,000 female worker bees in the height of summer and 2,000 male drones, but only every one queen.  Workers are given a range of tasks depending on seniority which include collecting and storing nectar, pollen and honey, tending to the eggs and larvae in the nursery and feeding the queen.  Only about 10 of the drones get to fulfill their mission in life – mating with a young queen – after which their abdomens explode and they die.  The queen is then fertile enough to lay 1,000 eggs a day for up to four years or until another pretender to the throne emerges from her vast brood.  Bees communicate by shaking their behinds in a ‘waggle dance’ and when the dancing gets to a gossipy frenzy, the bee-keeper will get prepared for the arrival of a new queen which will trigger a swarm.  The old queen is put on a diet so she is light enough to fly and then flees the nest with thousands of faithful followers who crowd about her in a writhing, buzzing bundle of bees about three metres above the ground (usually in a tree) before this new, break-away colony moves on to make a new home.

    Preventing or controlling a swarm in the spring is the trickiest bit of being a bee-keeper.  Sometimes the queen’s wings are clipped to stop her flying off, but usually bee-keepers learn to spot queen larvae and split the hive to avoid a swarm.  As one sting releases a pheromone that acts as a signal for the whole colony to attack, beekeepers also make sure that trousers are tucked into socks, astronaut suits (complete with netted veil) are sealed and the smoke machine that makes bees docile is always at the ready.  The honey is extracted from removable honeycomb drawers in a machine that resembles a giant salad-spinner is tasty, organic and can be used as an anti-septic or a cure for hay-fever.

    But honey and profit isn’t what drives bee-keepers – one London Beekeepers’ Association committee member has 30 hives but doesn’t even like honey.  They are nature-lovers with a passion.  British Environment Secretary Hilary Benn was so impressed that this spring he announced a £10m initiative to combat the drastic decline in bees, from the centre’s charming wildlife garden.  That’s a check of a lot of money for honey, but there’s more than your tea-time spread a

    Queen B beeswax candles are made with 100% pure Australian beeswax a pure cotton wick and copious amounts of hand made love. We stock beautiful and stylish candle holders, personalised candles, votive candles and pillar candles that nourish the human spirit and our environment.


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