FOCUS spoke with Michael Worraker,a local beekeeper, about what a day in his life is like and what he enjoys so much about keeping bees. He also explains to us the ways in which bees are under threat … and what we can do to help.
Hey Michael. What brought you to the Coffs Coast?
The climate and lifestyle that Coffs Harbour offers. Did your readers know Coffs Harbour has a fantastic area for scuba diving, with the Solitary Islands Marine Park just off our coast?
As a full-time beekeeper, what first sparked your interest in bees?
A couple of years ago, a swarm of bees landed in a neighbour’s yard, and I decided to catch them and provide a home for them. This led to an interest in keeping bees, then the Flow Hive was invented, and when I saw them I thought, what a great idea for backyard beekeeping – so the interest increased.
How would you describe a day in your life as a beekeeper?
Living in a sauna when the days are hot and I am in my beekeeping gear! Even so, the days are extremely rewarding – to see Mother Nature at work through these amazing insects called bees.
What’s the most fulfilling part of a beekeeper’s job?
For me, it’s seeing how magnificent bees are and the constant learning process of beekeeping. Seeing how bees engineer wax into tiny hexagonal shapes to store honey and raise their young; it’s quite extraordinary!
Some people might not be aware that bee populations are massively on the decline. What are some of the biggest threats to the bee population?
Small Hive Beetle, which is an imported pest. SHB lays its eggs in the frames and when they hatch, the larvae decimate the honey.
American Foul Brood (AFB) is a disease that kills the young bees before they hatch. With no cure for AFB, sadly if a hive gets infected, beekeepers are required to kill the bees and burn the hive to eliminate the spread of AFB.
The use of insecticides and pesticides is also a big threat to bees.
What are some of the steps some of our readers could make to start making a difference, even a small part?
Plant a bee friendly garden, providing a source of pollen and nectar for bees. Bees, for example, love perennial basil flowers. Reduce the use of insecticides and read the label to ensure the product is not detrimental to bees.
If a reader sees a swarm of bees hanging in a tree, please save them – don’t spray them! Contact a beekeeper, who can come and collect them.
Not only do you sell honey from bees, you are in quite a niche market. Could you tell us more about this?
Our bees produce honeycomb, which is 100% built by the bees; this, served with cheese and biscuits, is amazing. We don’t use foundation (processed beeswax) as a starter; the bees build in an empty frame. We currently supply most of our honeycomb to a distributor in Queensland, whose customers are from the Middle East, China and Japan. So, the majority of our honeycomb leaves Australia for overseas and indirectly generates foreign income for Australia.
You’re a strong believer in locally sourced products. Why is this important to you, and in what areas do you apply this?
Supporting the Australian economy as much as possible is vitally important, as this ensures ongoing employment for Australians.
We source our honeycomb packaging from Mecoplastics, an Australian owned family business in Melbourne and have just recently commenced sourcing our bee boxes from Ulmara, just north of Grafton. We unfortunately have not been able to source locally manufactured glass jars; so if any of your readers know of Australian made glass jars, please let us know!
Urban beekeeping is becoming quite popular. Do you teach others the art of beekeeping?
Yes, we provide on-site assistance and consultations to other beekeepers.
We have recently started a hive rental system, whereby we provide a beehive with ongoing support and education on the individual’s property. If any of your readers would be interested in having a hive in their garden, they are welcome to contact Boutique Bees on 0408 293 031, to discuss having a beehive.
Could you please add a timeline of your day:
It’s difficult to say exactly, as each day is different and can vary between hive inspections to maintaining or assembling bee boxes and/or extracting honey and packing the honey.
We have recently commenced raising queen bees, and this has led to a huge new learning curve. The readers may not be aware of this, but the hive is totally dependent on the queen to expand and survive, as she is the only one that lays the eggs for the future bees.
A typical day starts in the morning, when most of the bees are out, and can end once the sun has set. This ensures all the bees are home once it’s dark, if a bee hive is to be moved to a new home.