HUMANS OF WILLOUGHBY: ISAAC MAYERApril 28, 2018
“I’m 14 years old and I live in Northbridge. When I was in Year 6, I was part of my school’s Environment Committee. We managed to get a Government grant to use on environmental projects. I had absolutely loved native bees for years but I had never been able to afford a hive. So the school bought a hive and asked me to manage it. Because they require very little maintenance, I didn’t really have to do anything. However, a year after we had purchased the hive, I split it in front of a small audience of teachers. Splitting is a process that creates two hives from one hive, and it can be completed every 1-2 years. This was my first time ever seeing inside a native beehive – it was an amazing experience. That Christmas I asked for a hive of my own. I now have many hives. Some have been rescued and are in natural logs and others are in man-made boxes.
Isaac with a natural log hive.
In January, I decided to create my own organisation, Bush Bees, after helping out and being helped by numerous mentors in the bee keeping community who have been super supportive of my efforts. This has developed into a business that sells hives, tools, and more. I sell hives to community gardens, schools and kindergartens, garden-enthusiasts, and others. In the future, I also hope to supply hives to commercial crop growers for use in pollinating macadamias, avocados, blueberries, etc.
Probably the coolest thing about stingless bees is that – obviously – they are stingless. People with children are particularly interested, as they are a completely safe alternative to honey bees, and they are just as educational and enjoyable to keep. Unlike honey bees, they do not require a government permit to be kept. They are also compatible with cats and dogs – I have two cats at home who cause no issues for any of my hives.
Bush Bees also make a unique honey called sugarbag. Less than 1kg is produced a year by a hive, and it retails for over $500/kg. This cost is partly because of its rarity, but also because of its potential medicinal qualities. Tests are showing that sugarbag has substantially more antimicrobial activity than even manuka honey. It has the distinctive taste of the Australian bush – lemony with a hint of eucalyptus.
Bush Bees are extremely easy to look after. However, in cases of extreme heat (40℃), it is usually necessary to place a moist towel (with one end dipped into a bucket of water) over the hive. The evaporation of water will keep the hive cool. If you have the honey-pot hive, and would like to collect honey, you must wait for one year. This is because when a hive is split, each of the two hives is only half full, and a year is required to fill up the entire hive. You can then collect a small jar of sugarbag every few weeks. I do always recommend that you split your hives at least once. That way, you have a back-up hive if for any reason one should die.
I believe that people should keep native Bush Bees because bee populations globally are in decline. They are safe to keep, educational for children and adults, and they are excellent pollinators of most plants.
The hive boxes that I sell are unique to many other designs for numerous reasons. Firstly, they are very durable, and they will last many years. The design also has a lot of features to help the bees, and make keeping them easier for the owners. For example, split bars ensure a clean cut when hives are split, and a ‘brood supporter’ insulates and protects the baby bees (the brood). The boxes are lightweight, which makes them easier to transport, and they are also pest resistant. One of the bees’ biggest pests is the Small Hive Beetle (SHB), which prefers to fly straight into the hive. So, by putting a bend into the entrance, the SHB are discouraged from entering. Finally, the boxes are aesthetically pleasing – we also sell little ‘roofs’ that make the hive look like a cute house.
I am currently preparing to host some native beekeeping workshops, in particular for schools and other places of community significance. I also provide a rescue service. A rescue involves transferring the brood mass and some food stores from a natural hive into a man-made hive box. The process can quickly get messy, and spilling too much honey will attract pests almost instantly. Unfortunately, many more hives are killed than are rescued. Occasionally this is because workers assume the stingless bees are wasps, and poison them. Arborists often come across them, but are forced to put them through the wood chipper because they don’t know who to contact. If you do know of anyone that may be in any of these situations, please put them into contact with me, and hopefully we can arrange for the bees to be saved. If you find a hive of bees in your water meter box, in a Telstra pit, or in a tree that needs to be removed, I will safely rescue them at no cost. For every hive of bees that is rescued, thousands more flowers will be pollinated.”