Bees and honey have been part of my life since I was about 10 when, although we were living on a suburban block, we gave my father a beehive for Christmas.
My parents swapped the suburban block for small acreage and one beehive eventually grew to 30 beehives in the front paddock and a sign "Honey for sale" on the letterbox.
For the best part of 30 years Mum and Dad kept bees, a corner of the shed stored beekeeping gear (extractor, honeycomb cap remover, spare frames, hives) and there was usually a cupboard in the house reserved for honey supplies.
Earlier this year when our shop honey supplier Middlebrook Honey of Nundle stopped producing I wondered whether I might be able to fill the gap and produce honey on our eight acres. I bought myself a copy of Doug Purdie's Backyard Bees and Dad gave me more than a dozen back copies of The Australasian Beekeeper and other references to read.
But it was Michelle Crawford's honest tale of beekeeping in A Table in the Orchard that hit a raw nerve and brought my plans crashing back to reality. Michelle wrote "My live and let live approach to beekeeping meant that the first year, the hive swarmed...Once the bees swarmed, that started a cascade of events that led to the end of our first hive...I was left with an empty hive and damaged honeycombs, a bit like the ruins of a lost civilisation." I could so easily see that happening to me.
Enter local honey producers Ted and Pam Lowick who wanted to stock honey in our shop. We arranged to buy bulk honey from the Lowicks and package it in glass under the Odgers and McClelland Exchange Stores brand. This was a more realistic compromise.
I joined Ted and Pam one cool spring morning to inspect the hives and prepare them for harvesting. The mountain property Baringa Vale has been in Pam's family since the 1970's and its rugged terrain means it cannot be fenced or grazed. Ted, who is 70, still works as a builder and started beekeeping two years ago to generate income from the farm.
The Lowicks now have 60 hives, with plans for more, and last month extracted 750kg of honey derived from mixed blossom including red gum, wattle, grey box, kurrajong, apple gum and flowering grasses.
Strangely some beekeeping memory kicked in and I knew what to wear; denim jeans tucked into socks, long sleeved t-shirt, white shirt, elbow length leather gloves, and a fly net over my hat and tucked into my shirt. No need for the white suit. I knew the process and I wasn't afraid.
Pam, at 69, rode the quad runner with me on the back up a winding dirt track from the house to the hives. Ted let the bees know we were around by bellowing the smoker fuelled with apple gum bark. He gently lifted the lids of the hives and he and Pam worked together, a well oiled machine, to insert the excluders to prevent the bees re-entering the hive. Later that day Ted planned to return and rob the hives of full honeycomb frames and extract the honey.
We ordered a 20kg drum of honey from the Lowicks and organised a label designed by Dan Phelan of Safety Pin Design, jars, lids and tamper seals. With some old school cutting and pasting the first batch of 24 jars were priced and placed on the shelves.
My visit to the Lowicks' excited my imagination for beekeeping. I'll pull out that beekeeping reading material over summer and maybe by next Christmas I'll be ready for a hive of our own.