The honey flow that led Steven and Trudi Hayes to settle in Missabotti and start the Little Star Bee Sanctuary began with a gift a decade ago when the couple were living on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
“Steven had been talking and reading about bees for years, so I woke him early on his birthday and told him I had a surprise!” Trudi said.
The surprise was Steven’s first hive, collected from well-known Gympie bee-whisperer Athol Craig, who has since become their mentor and friend.
That hive has since expanded to 100 with a healthy, stable population of bees that Steven has carefully bred up to be resistant to the small hive beetle, one of many introduced pests.
“That has been a process of trial and error – that first attack of the beetle, we lost a quarter of our hives … those that remained were more resistant and I have bred up from there,” Steven said.
“We practice natural bee keeping methods, which means we don’t move our bees, there are no antibiotics, no queen excluders and no feeding … we have enough land for them to collect their pollen and nectar without stressing them with large distances.”
As we talk in their outdoor kitchen over a cup of delicious honey-ed tea, Trudi serves up a chia coconut pudding with home-grown blueberries and, of course, honey … it is mouth-wateringly delicious.
Bees buzz past constantly, on what the couple call the ‘water superhighway’ to their dam.
“A hive needs about one litre a day of water, for all our hives that’s 100 litres a day or 700 litres a week … that impacts on the dam level!”
Steven says the more he learns, the more he realises how much he doesn’t know.
“If you are open to observing carefully, the bees really bring you into your environment … they tell you what is flowering, where it is and also give signs about the weather, I love that.
“This information is shared in what I call the ‘waggle-dance’ and is how the bees share information with the hive.”
The couple’s passion is definitely contagious and something they share twice monthly at their education courses (second Tuesday and Saturday of the month). They are also expanding into native bees, hosting a course with native bee expert, Dr Tim Heard in October.
“Native bees are quite different, much smaller and absolutely fascinating … I am pursuing that arm of the business,” Trudi said.
The buzz around bees has seen a surge in the last five years or so … there was the introduction of the auto-harvesting flow hives and more recently the revelations about impurities in commercial honeys.
“It’s all good for us. Now there are all these people wanting to get bees and they need information and education. School groups are also coming to us. It means we can talk about what we do and why it works.”
People need to know that a hive is not like a beer keg … the bees need about 100 kg a year of honey to survive, so you can’t just rob the honeySteven Hayes
It is late afternoon and we are standing among the hives on a hill, the bees are buzzing home at the end of the day, the rich scent of honey is intoxicating.
Steven points to the different symbols painted on each hive, like a letter box number, so the bees can find their ho,e bases easily.
Time slides past, Trudi peels off to collect their children, Audrey and Reuben, from the school bus and Steven shows me around more of their Land for Wildlife registered property. There is a food forest with 120 trees, including mulberry, peach, nectarine and plum. Blueberries are also part of the mix, as are the chooks at ground level.
Netting has proved unnecessary as there is more than enough fruit to go around, including for the birds and flying foxes.
Although Steven sees himself as a bee-keeper, contract road building and other jobs that require him and his heavy machinery skills, are still important in the family’s income mix, as is Trudi’s part time work in adult education and also pre- and post natal counselling.
“It is not possible to make money from the honey alone, and anyway, the demand is greater than our supply,” Trudi said.
“We have just started the Little Star Bee Collective. That allows us to buy honey back from past-students who have their own hives and use our methods, which we sell under a Nambucca Valley label,” Trudi said.
“One hundred people with hives is better than 100 hives on this farm alone.”
For more sweet information about Little Star Bee Sanctuary go to littlestar.net.au.