The beekeeping industry in Tasmania is buzzing, and while many are drawn to apiculture for the love of the sweet stuff, others are forging careers in the industry without producing a drop of Leatherwood Honey.
Ronnie Voight of Natural Beekeeping Tasmania said the local backyard beekeeping industry was booming, and said she had been kept busier than ever with her work as an educator and mentor.
“I thought I was allergic for many years,” she said. “But once I realised that I was just having a very localised reaction to the stings, I decided to get into beekeeping.”
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For the past 14 years, Ms Voight has been beekeeping from her Firthside apiary in the state’s South. however, in the past few years, her work as a mentor and educator has become fulltime.
“The commercial industry has always been a certain size, but backyard beekeeping has just exploded,” she said. “I’m run off my feet!”
Ms Voight is a passionate proponent of “natural beekeeping”, a methodology of beekeeping that allows bees to live in a way that mimics their natural behaviours.
“It’s a slightly different approach than what has been happening commercially for the past 150-200 years,” she said.
“It’s hard to define, it’s a set of principles that people operate within to try and create a hive environment that replicates what bees would do in their natural setting.”
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Ms Voight said she felt the industry was moving towards more natural methodology, and the pandemic had increased the number of people interested in food production.
“What’s come along is the worldwide fascination with bees and making sure our bee species stay alive for pollination,” she said.
Ms Voight said being a beekeeper involved lifelong education, keen observation skills, as well as confidence.
“I do a lot of mentoring with new beekeepers. It often takes a few years to get their confidence up because bees are complex, complex creatures,” she said.
“People thinking that they’re these wild, stinging insects and then discovering that the bees are incredibly calm, peaceful, mesmerising, amazing animals to watch.
SWARM WELCOME: Bees packed on the hive. Picture: Island Light Photography
Cat and Ian Nicholls of Herbert & Co were drawn to beekeeping from a purely agricultural perspective. In fact, Ms Nicholls said wasn’t the biggest fan of honey to begin with. Having both studied agricultural science and worked in the agricultural industry for over 25 years, the couple had a dream of becoming farmers themselves.
“We always wanted to farm, but the cost is prohibitive,” Ms Nicholls said. “In 2018, we went to Canada to visit our son and we saw the extent of bees being used for pollination.
“We thought it would be a way to get into an agricultural industry that was not cost-prohibitive.”
Internationally, using bees for crop pollination is serious business, and with the state government’s recent of a $90,000 Pollination Small Grants Program, Ms Nicholls said it was becoming a bigger focus locally as well.
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Research has shown nearly two-thirds of Australia’s agricultural production benefits from bee pollination, with crops such as apples, almonds and broccoli dependent on bees. While honey and honey products generate about $100 million a year nationally, the contribution of honey bees to agriculture through pollination services was valued at $14.2 billion in 2017. The main focus of Herbert & Co is providing crop pollination services to farmers across Tasmania.
“We tend to start on canola in the early spring to build the bees’ strength up coming out of winter,” Ms Nicholls said.
“And then this year the bees have spent a stint on white clover pastures and now they’re pollinating a chicory crop.”
With the increase in backyard beekeeping, Ms Nicholls said she would encourage those with an interest to reach out to established beekeepers in their area for support and guidance and warned that bees still require maintenance like all livestock.
“Anyone looking at even one or two hives in their own back garden, orchard or veggie patch, I think that’s fantastic,” she said. “But I would encourage them to align themselves with their regional beekeeping association and get that support and literature.
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