By Alison Peake
What makes and motivates an apiarist? A love of bees? A desire to be involved with pollinating crops and native flora? An interest in ecology or a fascination with the liquid nectar which is produced in a hive? Or is it the honey itself and its mystical history and restorative healing powers? The ancient Egyptians not only made offerings of honey to their gods, they also used it as an embalming fluid and to heal wounds and infections. Does it still have a magical attraction for us?
For Graeme Grigson of Gs Bees it all started with a childhood love of honey, grew to be a hobby, and eventually became a business. From curious child to fully fledged migrating beekeeper was a journey which has quite literally taken him a lifetime and now sees him selling the fruits of his and his bees’ labour.
After researching and reading as many books as possible, getting hands on experience at Collingwood Children’s Farm Apiary he started with two hives in his backyard. Twenty-one years later he looks after 100 hives and up to 50,000 bees.
The outdoor lifestyle of a beekeeper offers him the ability to travel and enjoy regional Victoria as he moves his hives to different locations. This facilitates the pollination of food crops which is also the secret to the multitude of honey flavours offered by changes in different flora, pollen and nectar specific to their geographical location. Graeme generally works on three main sources, beginning with Canola, then Yellow Gum,River Red Gum or Yellow Box and the last flow for the season is normally Grey Box which can help the bees store honey to get through the winter.
A good beekeeper takes the responsibility of caring for bees very seriously and carefully follow rules about relocating hives Moving the hives more than 5kms from their last location to avoid the bees getting confused and returning to their previous hive location, and moving the hives during the night or early morning when the bees are less active and guaranteed to be in their hives reduces the risk of losing worker bees while they forage.
Bees make honey by collecting nectar from flowers, sucking it out with their tongues and storing it in a secondary honey stomach. Back at the hive they pass it on through their mouths to other worker bees who chew it for about half an hour. Passed from bee to bee, it gradually turns into honey and is then stored in wax honeycomb cells They then fan it with their wings to dry it out to become sticky and the wax cells are sealed with a lid to keep it clean.
It takes at least eight bees all their lifetime to make one single teaspoonful. Think how much work has gone into every jar you buy.
Gs Bees Honey is cold extracted and straight from the hives which means it has more flavour, is richer in colour and less runny in consistency. The absence of heat maintains good enzymes and the great medicinal qualities that honey is famous for.
You can find Graeme and his sister Pam at Slow Food Melbourne Farmers’ Market at West Footscray (second Saturday of the month) and Spotswood (fourth Saturday of the month).
Alison Peake is a passionate foodie, lover of all things Italy and Market Manager of Slow Food Melbourne.