Smooth, golden honey … drizzled on porridge, stirred into a cuppa, used as a glaze on succulent ham. Mouth-watering and deliciously fresh, Daryl Brenton, ‘The Beekeeper’, tells us about his liquid gold produce.
How did you first become interested in keeping bees?
My father has always had hundreds of beehives, so I guess it’s always been in the blood. I used to help out as a kid whenever I could, building new honey frames, extracting the honey or helping to shift the bees, when they weren’t too cranky.
After school I got a job with Customs and worked mostly in North Queensland, but still liked to help out whenever I was home. Seven years ago, I decided to leave Customs to work the bees with my father before he retired.
What’s involved in the day to day (or week to week) running of your business?
It’s all about the bees. You have to look after them. I run a migratory beekeeping business, which means that I move the bees throughout the state, according to the seasons and flowering cycles of trees. This way I can manage to produce honey most of the year, and it allows me to get different varieties of honey according to where and when I shift the bees.
My bees can be located anywhere up to 8 hours away. A lot of time needs to be spent driving around looking at the trees, to see if they are going to flower this year or next. I know what trees are good for honey production, and it’s a matter of looking at where that specific variety grows, knowing what time of the year it is likely to flower and deciding if it’s worth shifting bees into the area, or looking elsewhere for something better.
In general terms, a Eucalypt that flowers this year probably won’t flower next year, but may be good to return to every third year. I need to keep an eye on a large area of country.
Shifting bees onto the next ‘honey flow’ is a big part of the job. Bees will forage for nectar and pollen during daylight and return to their colonies at night. When I’ve decided that it’s time to move the bees onto somewhere better, it’s a matter of loading the hives onto the truck just on dark, then driving through the night to the new site. I’ll unload the bees on arrival and before sunup, when they start to fly again.
When the bees have filled their hives with honey (and there’s more available for them to gather), I’ll take the truck out with empty honey boxes and swap them for the ones the bees have filled with honey.
The tricky bit is getting the bees out of the honey boxes I want to take home. Back home on the property with a truck load of honey, the next job is to extract it from the frames. Modern uncapping and centrifuge equipment is used to spin the fresh honey from the frames.
The honey is then pumped into settling tanks and can either be run into 1,000 litre containers for sale to honey packers, or I can select and bottle some for my own label. At times, this freshly extracted honey would have been nectar in a flower only two weeks earlier.
And there’s always maintenance of equipment … trucks, vehicles, beekeeping equipment.
How many bees and hives do you currently own – and what particular type of bees are they?
I’ve got 1,500 hives. The numbers of bees in each hive varies according to the season − less in winter, tens of thousands in each hive in spring and summer. They’re an Italian strain of the European Honey Bee. In general, not too cranky − and excellent honey producers.
Where do you actually source bees from, if you want to establish more hives?
During spring, when bees naturally ‘build up’, hives can be ‘split’ from an established colony into an empty hive, and you can either buy a queen bee from a breeder or trick the bees into rearing their own queen.
I try to re-queen my hives every summer (replace the old queen with a new one from a specialised queen bee breeder. You can order them 200 at a time, and they get posted in the mail. A healthy colony with a young queen has a better chance of surviving a tough winter.
What are some of the special skills you need to be a competent beekeeper?
A sweet tooth, a strong back and a high pain tolerance!
What are some of the different kinds of honey/beeswax products you stock?
While I produce a variety of honeys, I bottle three of my favourites: Yellow Box Honey – usually gathered from near Armidale around October / November; Stringy Bark Honey – usually from near Tamworth or Armidale, collected through autumn; and Iron Bark Honey from near Kempsey or Wauchope in the summer months.
I also produce a high quality, very clean beeswax, which is ready for use in cosmetics manufacture or candle making.
In your opinion, what are some of the noticeable differences in the taste, colour and texture of the different varietals of honey you produce? What’s your favourite?
I like my Yellow Box Honey in a cup of tea, on cereal, or on vanilla ice-cream. The Iron Bark Honey is great drizzled on a sliced banana on toast or on fruit salad. The flavour of the bright amber coloured Stringy Bark Honey is strong and pleasant, with a hint of caramel … excellent on porridge or spread thickly on scones or pancakes. I eat heaps of the stuff!
A lot of study has been done with bees, in many different areas. What are some things about these insects that you find particularly fascinating?
Different types of honey make the bees behave in different ways. Bees working a forest of flowering Spotted Gum trees or a crop of Canola can be particularly cranky; yet shift the same bees onto a paddock of clover or a forest of flowering Iron Bark trees, and they are generally gentle as you’d like.
They have a brilliant work ethic. If the sun’s shining and there’s honey in the flowers, the bees will work all day.
There are studies being done overseas in using the honey bee in drug and landmine detection.
Where is the best place for people to source your products?
The Growers Market, Bago and Cassegrain Wineries, the Glasshouse Gift Shop, in Timbertown and Essential Ingredients.
I attend the Foreshore Market in Port Macquarie (at Westport Park) on the second Saturday of each month.
I’d love to find a distributor, as I often get people from out of town who have bought some honey while on holidays in Port Macquarie and ring me up looking for where to get it in their area.
100% Australian honey is the one people need to look for. Australian honeys are produced mainly from native forests; many imported honeys are collected from crops. Australia is the only remaining major honey producing country that is free of some of the world’s major bee pests.
Interview by Jo Atkins.