Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Bees and honey at the Royal Melbourne Show

The Royal Melbourne Show is held in September each year at the Melbourne Showgrounds, and every year Victorian Apiarist's Association (VAA) has a stall there to promote beekeeping and its related products.  This is a chance for the public to learn more about bees and taste a variety of Victorian honeys - and boy, is the stall popular!  Even before we kept bees, a trip to the Show was not complete without visiting the stall.  This year, as a VAA member, I volunteered to work at the stall and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Honey sampling in action

Part of the display section of the stall was a 'bee cage' - a glass walled and ventilated chamber which housed a single box hive, complete with bees.  Everyone could get up close and see the bees, watch them entering and exiting the hive and flying about inside the chamber.

the bee cage

Several times a day a beekeeper would go into the chamber and briefly open the hive so the public could get a glimpse of what goes on inside it, while another beekeeper explained to the crowd what was going on. People were queuing up to see.  The beekeepers who took on this role tended to be blokes who have kept bees for many decades, and didn't see the need for wearing any protective clothing. That in itself, elicited amazement from all the onlookers.  Calm, gentle manipulation of the hive with a minimum of smoke kept the bees calm. I never saw these beekeepers get stung.  Me, I'm not one to go without protective clothing when opening a hive, so I take my hat off to these guys and their way with bees.

There was also a single frame of bees in a ventilated glass cover that the public could get up close to.  I took a turn at sitting with this exhibit, explaining to people what was on the comb - what sections were brood, what was honey and what was nectar....and showing them the queen bee (who was conveniently marked!).  Bees do really amaze people - it was really nice to be able to take the time to show people the frame of bees, talk about it and to answer questions.  It was also a chance to let people know much our food security relies on having bees to pollinate our crops.

Ventilated frame of bees

The rest of the stall was dedicated to bee-related products for sale. This year there were 7 different types of Victorian honey to taste and buy: Redgum, Yellow Box, Mallee, Coolibah, Orange Blossom, Brown Stringybark and Grey Box.  Each had their own distinctive taste and people really enjoyed tasting them all before deciding which variety to purchase.  There was also some Tasmanian Leatherwood honey which I tasted for the first time. Leatherwood forests only occur in Tasmania so this type of honey is exclusive to Tassie. We're lucky here - Australia is truly blessed when it comes to honey varieties.

Coolibah honey ready to taste

In addition to the honeys, there was beeswax hand cream and beeswax lip balm available to sample and buy. Other products for sale included honey nectar to drink, shampoo, Manuka soap, beeswax candles, beeswax furniture polish and cute homewares printed with bee patterns.

The VAA also had a presence in the 'My Garden' outdoor area at the Show.  Two beekeepers were there to show people it was entirely possible to keep a beehive in a suburban backyard.  Demonstration hives (empty of bees) and another single frame of bees in a ventilated glass cover were used to explain to people various aspects of beekeeping. Again, this display seemed to be quite a hit with the public.

After being surrounded by honey and other bee-related products for 2 days, it was a done deal that I'd have to bring some home :)  To be honest, before we kept bees I never ate much honey.  Most honey from the supermarket tasted bland and sugary to me. Now that we keep bees I know that the flavour of the honey depends entirely on the plants from which the bees gather nectar from. This is why honey harvested from Redgum forests tastes quite different to honey harvested from Yellow Box forests, and so on. Local honeys (i.e. honey sourced from a particular location), can have a huge flavour range.  Our own suburban 'garden honey' tastes different from year to year, depending on what's in flower at the time.  These days I am always keen to try and buy different varieties of honey when I come across them.  After tasting all the varieties at the stall, I settled on the Mallee and the Leatherwood to take home with me. Not stopping at the honeys, I also trialled the beeswax hand cream and immediately bought some for myself and to give as gifts. That stuff was good!

All in all, volunteering at the stall was a very enjoyable experience, and one I will definitely be repeating in the future. It was a pleasure to spend time with other beekeepers, as well as to have the opportunity to chat to the public about bees. Hopefully everyone we spoke to went away knowing a little bit more about the lives of these very important little creatures.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations, Maree, on a most informative and comprehensive report. Your photos were excellent and the text really conveyed your appreciation and enjoyment of beekeeping and your participation at the VAA exhibition at the show. (Posted by Barry)