FAMILY AFFAIR: Siblings Noela and Phil Geeves at the Pine Mountain Community Hall where The West Moreton Beekeepers Association keep hives.
FAMILY AFFAIR: Siblings Noela and Phil Geeves at the Pine Mountain Community Hall where The West Moreton Beekeepers Association keep hives. Sarah Harvey

All the buzz about caring for bees

NOELA Geeves from the Ipswich West Moreton Beekeepers Association got in touch with the Ipswich Advertiser to ask if we could highlight their upcoming open day.

We conducted a Q&A with Noela to find out more about the group to help those who are interested in joining the club to find out more information about what it takes to look after bees.

Q: How long has the Ipswich and West Moreton Beekeepers Association been running for?

A: The club held its first meeting in March 1992.

Q: How many members do you have, and what exactly do you do?

A: The club has 300 members at present and some of our objects are to improve the standard of beekeeping among beekeepers and to increase their knowledge of bees and bee culture.

To give advice and assistance to all beekeepers and to arrange lectures demonstrations and field days for the benefit of members.

Q: How often does your group meet?

A: We meet on the first Tuesday of each month except January at the Humanities Building Ipswich.

Q: What skills do members need to know about beekeeping?

A: Members need to have knowledge on how to manage the operation of a bee hive and associated workings.

Q: How exactly do beekeepers get the honey out of the hives?

A: Extracting honey from a managed honey bee hive is labour intensive but highly rewarding.

A productive hive in Australia can expect to produce 50 to 80 kilos of honey a year. So how does honey get from the hive to the breakfast table? The process of harvesting honey from a hive is referred to as robbing, effectively stealing any excess honey from the hive. Bees store honey in the honeycomb wax of the hive. A standard hive box has frames of wax within it to allow removal of capped honey.

The beekeeper inspects the hive and can remove capped frames. Capped simply means that the hexagonal honeycomb cells have been sealed by the bees allowing the honey to be stored for later use if needed. The beekeeper will remove the excess frames and replace them with an empty frame for the bees to continue on the collection process. Full frames are taken away for processing. The extraction process involves three main steps - uncapping, spinning and filtering. The uncapping process varies depending on the size of the beekeeping operation but hobby beekeepers typically use an electrically heated knife or steam knife to remove the capping wax from the frame and allow the honey to escape from the frame. The frames are then placed in a centrifuge and spun to remove the honey. The honey is filtered to remove any remaining wax and is now ready to eat. Pure, fresh, raw honey.

Q: How important are bees to our ecosystem?

A: It is believed bees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. Australian farmers rely heavily on the introduced commercial bee, Apis mellifera, to pollinate their crops. However, we have over 1,500 species of native bees in Australia that all help maintain our delicate food and ecosystems. Many of our fruits, vegetables and for that matter, other crops and plants, would be unviable without bees. Crops such as pumpkin, squash, tomato, strawberries, broccoli, and cauliflower rely on insect pollination. Nuts, particularly almonds and macadamias, are pollinated by bees.

Bees are not only important to pollination but commercially as well. Pollinating insects such as honey bees also play a vital role in maintaining plant diversity, not only of crops but wildflowers and gardens. Australia is considered to have the healthiest honey bees in the world and is the only place in the world as yet untouched by the parasitic Varroa destructor mite which has decimated bees around the world. A little known fact about honey bees is that apart from managed colonies that beekeepers control, there are honey bees living wild throughout Australia. Without these wild colonies, pollination of our crops from managed bees would be almost impossible due to the relatively low number of hives we have. If, and some say when, Varroa destructor enters Australia, wild bee populations would be all but destroyed in a couple of years, making managed bee colonies even more vital.

Q: What kind of activities and information will people be able to access at your upcoming open day?

A: It is planned to have guest speakers who will provide information on various subjects such as European bees and native bees and there will also be trade stalls available selling bee equipment and other bee-related products and craft products.

Q: If people would like more information or to get in touch with you, how can they?

A: People can contact either Phil Geeves on 0409485447 or myself on 32814165. Contact details can also be obtained from the club's website, www.honey.org.au.



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