Bees and beekeepers are our best friends when it comes to crop pollination. Just ask Castelmaine beekeeper Daniel BeeShepherd – or read on to see his answers to our Q&A…
How did you get started working with bees?
I’ve always been fascinated with bees. My earliest memory is from the age of four or five when my big brother taught me how to pick bees up without getting stung. My friends thought this was very impressive, and it came in handy when I wanted to frighten the bullies away. I took every chance I got to study and research bees as I was growing up. At around ten years old I thought I was very clever for using the Latin name for bees as the title of a school assignment Apis Mellifera (I got an A).
It wasn’t until I had decided to stop moving around and choose a home in Castlemaine for my family that I took a beekeeping course and then started looking after bees myself.
The day after I finished the beekeeping course a swarm landed in my friend’s garden. I caught that swarm, put it in a hive, and at that point I was hooked.
Over the next two or three weeks I caught nine more swarms. It was a very steep learning curve. I soon realised bees were my calling and, along with being a parent, it became my full time gig in 2013.
What do you find is the biggest misconception people have about bees?
That bees are aggressive. Up until recently, when the general public has started to realise how precious pollinating insects are, and recognise that they are in trouble, bees have had a pretty bad rap in the media. In films and on television bees are almost always portrayed as aggressive stinging pests that will swarm out in a cloud at the drop of a hat and chase you. The truth is that, yes – obviously – bees sting, but they are never aggressive, only ever defensive.
Bees are intelligent creatures and usually die when they sting so they only ever sting when they thinks it’s the last resort. That’s not aggressive. That’s self defence.
There is some evidence to show that the honey we buy in the supermarket has been adulterated, what advice do you give to people wanting to buy real honey?
The fact is that the honey market is almost completely unregulated and “honey laundering” (selling fake honey) is very common – and impossible for the average person to detect. Like with all food, you just never know what you are getting with honey unless you produced it yourself. The only way you can be sure you are getting real honey is by harvesting it yourself from your own bees. So my advice is, either learn how to look after bees and get a hive of your own, or make friends with someone that has their own hive.
What’s the advantage of seeking out authentic honey?
There are so many advantages to seeking out authentic honey it’s difficult to know where to start.
Mass produced honey has often been heated which can destroy almost all of the beneficial health properties of real honey. However, in light of the recent stories about fake honey in the press, I’m probably more likely to talk about how buying authentic honey supports authentic beekeepers and their families. Buying fake, denatured industrial honey supports shareholders and criminals.
Honey laundering is a big business. We have no idea what’s actually in a lot of the “honey” out there, or where it came from, and there’s no easy way to find out as testing is not cheap or easy.
Often, what is sold as “honey” in Australia has been blended with “honey” from overseas. This means that it may not be honey at all but some other kind of sweet syrup product. But worse, the use of insecticides, antibiotics and other poisons by beekeepers to treat bees WITHIN THE BEEHIVE may have been poorly regulated or not regulated at all. This means that the poisons beekeepers have used to treat bee diseases will end up in the honey you eat. Another consideration in terms of potential toxins in honey is the types of agricultural pesticides used in the areas where the bees foraged. Again, these may or may not be regulated and could well include substances banned in Australia.
There are also biosecurity risks associated with importing honey. Bee diseases can be spread in honey and this poses a huge risk to the relatively disease-free Australian honey industry. I’d go further than encouraging people to find authentic honey. I’d say it’s also important to seek out authentic LOCAL honey. This is very important if people are looking at using honey to help with hay fever and allergies. And of course, the most local honey is from a beehive in your own backyard.
Favourite place for breakfast, lunch and dinner in your region?
The community lunch held by Castlemaine Community House on a Tuesday is somewhere I like. Bento boxes at LunchBox Sushi in Castlemaine are my absolute favourite for lunch though.
Besides where you live and work, where is your next favourite part of regional Victoria?
I like to explore the bush. I have quiet little favourite spots all over the place.