Behind The Farm Gate | Hives `robbed', then moved

Honey Tasmania's Tristan Campbell inspects a hive. Picture: Geoff Robson
Honey Tasmania's Tristan Campbell inspects a hive. Picture: Geoff Robson

HIDDEN from view, down what looks like an abandoned track on the West Tamar Highway, 50 bee hives are all a-buzz.

Only the songs of the cicadas can drown out their avid buzzing as they busily, and noisily, collect pollen from the nearby tea tree flowers to make manuka honey.

Their time at this site is almost over - soon their hives will be "robbed" by the beekeeper who will then relocate them to a leatherwood plantation near Corinna on the West Coast.

The tea trees haven't finished flowering yet, but the leatherwood has already started.

Leatherwood honey makes up 70 per cent of Tasmania's honey export and, at the moment is the most lucrative variety of honey.

Manuka honey on the other hand is in high demand due to its enhanced medicinal properties and has the potential to earn big dollars in the right markets.

"There is always a bit of overlap on the flowering," Honey Tasmania owner Tristan Campbell said.

"So I have to then work out for example how much leatherwood honey I would be losing by having the other hives at other sites."

Mr Campbell has more than 200 hives, many of which are robbed and moved up to three times a season, which in Tasmania is from December to February, almost a month shorter than that of the mainland.

Mr Campbell said he had about 30 hive sites across Northern Tasmania and produces several varieties of honey including, clover, blackberry, prickly box leatherwood and manuka.

Timing therefore is crucial and a beekeeper, or apiarist, must keep an eye on the flowering patterns of individual sites, weather patterns and the habits of their bees.

Mr Campbell said each hive contained between 50,000 and 100,000 bees in various stages of development.

Each bee must undertake a series of jobs before it becomes a field or forager bee, which takes six weeks including, nurse bee and cleaner bee.

This means the timing of "robbing" the hive is crucial in ensuring the bees are ready for honey production.

"People forget that they are actually making honey for themselves, not for us," Mr Campbell said.

"Basically they will fill up the hive with honey and then they think that their job is finished because all they are trying to do is fill their house with honey so they can survive the winter."

"The queen will also stop laying and the worker bees wind down.

"So you have to keep them excited.

"You can't have them peaking too early."

Mr Campbell said each hive produces about 10 kilograms of honey every robbing.

However, this season had been affected first by the wet weather and then the heat, which affected flowering patterns resulting in a nationwide decade low of honey production.

"Because it has been a poorer season, I'll probably get five or six tonnes this season so it would be around 50 kilos per hive I would say," Mr Campbell said.

"Last year it was at about 100 kilos."


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