Meet the sweet folks at Buzz Honey, another great Adelaide Hills food producer.
The quote above is from the bible (Proverbs 24:13) and spot on – honey is good in every sense and the tiny, incredibly industrious, creatures that make it for us are vital to our food security. With this in mind I decided to get to know another Adelaide Hills food producer a little better and set out to catch up with Annette Ferris of Buzz Honey. I’ve written before about bees and honey production, but this time didn’t have to travel quite as far as I did for my earlier stories, as Buzz Honey is right here in the Adelaide Hills. I had a chat with Annette and her two beekeepers, Aaron and Aidan, about her business and theirs – honey production and bee wrangling.
Annette and her husband bought the existing Buzz Honey business three years ago. They had no bee knowledge at all and, as luck would have it, bought into the honey trade at the beginning of the two worst honey seasons in South Australian history. This turned out to be something of a mixed blessing as, while they lost bees and have had to spend time rebuilding their hives, it also gave them time to educate themselves in the fine art of the apiarist.
They began with 700 hives, but lost quite a few, and have now built their numbers back up to 600. Annette tells me her goal is ultimately to have 5,000 hives, with teams of beekeepers, trucks to transport the hives and machinery to do the pouring, bottling and labelling – tasks that she and her staff currently do by hand (and did without a break, putting a large order together, whilst I chatted with them). Annette also tells me that her husband goes a little pale when she mentions her plans to him, but I suspect he’ll have to get used to it. She is already exporting her honey to China and is now fielding interest from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Aidan and Aaron get around, tending the hives which are spread around the Adelaide Hills and in various parts of the state, depending upon the season and what is in flower – they currently have over 500 hives in the Mallee district. They must regularly check on the bees to ensure the health of each hive, making sure all is well with the queen and supplying extra feed for hives which may be low in numbers. Like most Australian beekeepers, Aidan and Aaron spend a lot of time on the road, moving the hives to richer grounds regularly. Australian bee colonies are generally much healthier than those in the US as they are exposed to less in the way of insecticides, spending large amounts of time feeding on native scrub and trees, rather than the sprayed crops which most US bees are exposed to.
The bee population in the Northern Hemisphere is constantly at risk. This year, after the bitter winter, it has been estimated that up to 41% of of hives in the US have been lost, with bees already weakened by Varroa infestation unable to withstand the cold weather. Varroa is not a risk for Australian bees yet, but it is threateningly close with the destructive mite now reported in New Zealand and Indonesia. Up until recently our best protection against the mite has been the strict biosecurity measures employed here in Australia. However, Aaron tells me that budget cuts have meant the sniffer dogs which were most effective at hunting out any illegal honey or bee product imports are no longer used and our first line of defence is now sentinel hives which are kept at all port areas.
Buzz Honey is a raw food product, meaning that all of the vital nutrients and enzymes present in the honey have not been destroyed by any heat treatment. A bee hive is quite a warm place, with the ambient temperature generally around the 37-38C point and, to maintain it’s raw status, Buzz honey is not heat treated, only being warmed to under 47C to make it runny enough to pour.
As I said at the beginning, honey is good and I love cooking with it, especially my scrummy Honey Orange Brioche and fragrant Orange, Honey and Walnut Spice Cake. I asked Annette to share her favourite honey recipe with me and she did – but it’s not really a recipe per se. Annette is clearly a woman after my own heart, preferring the simple approach which allows quality ingredients speak for themselves, and cited as her favourite an excellent cheese drizzled with her own very excellent honey. Given that is exactly what I took as a dessert to a friends dinner party just a couple of weeks ago, who am I to argue with her?