We had the pleasure of entertaining two beekeepers, Henry and Mary from Australia, in our home a week or so ago. They had made a request, via Glyn Davis and Tim Lovett (Surrey BKA), to meet some English beekeepers and to see some bees in this country. Glyn had only a vague idea of their status in beekeeping, but gave the impression that they were probably new to the craft, which they are, but what a start they have made! 

During the visit they told us that although they are fairly new beekeepers, they have in the last couple of years purchased a bee business with about 120 colonies, and are both obviously ‘turned on’ by bees and beekeeping. The original owner has remained with them as an adviser who is guiding them during their initial management of the business in which a number of ‘bee boys’ are already employed.

The business is very unusual in that most of the hives are owned and situated in the ‘back yards’ of individuals living locally, who pay to have them looked after by the bee boys of the ‘Back Yard Honey’ company and are given some of the honey. There are also some small apiaries of about 20 colonies each, including one on the University of Melbourne site, that are stocked and maintained by Henry and Mary. Their whole operation takes place in Melbourne, which they described as an area of wealthy and enterprising people, giving us the impression of a very suitable clientele for honey.

They confirmed that dealing with diseases such as AFB and EFB is totally the responsibility of beekeepers, and the Government takes no part in controlling bee diseases of this nature. As we knew, Varroa was recently found in Australia; currently the Government is very confident that its policy of destruction of all colonies in areas where varroa is found will eliminate the mite. Meanwhile they are relying on other countries who already have the mite to come up with the solution. I did gently say to Henry and Mary that I could not share any of this optimism, but did agree that the vast empty spaces in their country may limit the speed of its spread, and perhaps they would not see it in their lifetimes. However, this seems unlikely because of migratory beekeeping, that is practised on a large scale in their country.

They were interested to go through a hive in our garden, commented on the calm bees and were excited to have their first sighting of two varroa mites on bees, and others under a microscope in the kitchen. They were also interested to see how we monitor varroa mites on a board under the mesh floor.

We exchanged honeys. Theirs was a very strong one from Eucalyptus trees (Red Gum Honey).

We very much enjoyed their visit, and I am sure it is true to say that they enjoyed theirs. They are coming again to this country at about the same time next year, and Henry agreed to give a talk to our members during their stay, if that can be arranged.   

Geoff Cooper

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