To move a beehive, it should be done after the bees settle at dusk. Sam Malfroy moved one of his hives from a community garden at Mitchell to the Canberra Organic Growers Society garden in O'Connor a week ago.
Bees start foraging again when sun hits the entrance to the hive and we watched them on flowers of rocket, nectarines, rosemary, bok choy and on broad beans which can give a 30 per cent increase in yield.
Sam grew up on a few acres at Freemans Reach, a town at the foothills of the Blue Mountains outside Sydney. His father has been a commercial beekeeper for 40 years, so Sam and his brother, Tim, were surrounded by bees, chooks, vegie plots and a range of fruit trees. Tim is a beekeeper with his label Malfroy's Gold.
From beekeeping with his dad when young, Sam knew he wanted to do that as a job. He studied horticultural science at Sydney University and moved to Canberra in 2011 for work. He is now with Plant Health Australia, a not-for-profit company that works with agricultural industries and governments to improve plant biosecurity in Australia. His job focuses specifically on co-ordinating national honey bee and pollination projects which focus on improving the biosecurity of this sector.
Sam Malfroy preparing to move honey bees. Photo: Elesa Kurtz
Sam and his wife Carly Malfroy got a Canberra Organic Growers Society plot at O'Connor in March this year. They had been part of the Mitchell community garden for the past three years but were moving to O'Connor and wanted to garden close by.
The couple believe in organic and biodynamic produce and have always enjoyed producing their own vegetables in an allotment in a way that is as natural as possible. As they live in an apartment there is not the luxury of being able to do the growing and beekeeping in their own backyard.
The O'Connor plot had been unused for 12 months and the soil was water-repellent and lifeless. Instead of trying to grow crops during autumn they managed to get a few carloads of sheep, cow and chicken manure into the garden (the car stank for a fortnight afterwards) and turned all the soil over and put a bag of sugarcane mulch on top. Then they planted a dense green mulch crop which contained rapeseed, brassicas, cereals such as oats and wheat and some buckwheat. This grew thickly to knee height and they dug it all in and turned the soil over in early August.
The soil has come back to life and they have begun spring planting English spinach, silverbeet, beetroot and climbing beans. Sam and Carly buy seedlings from Yarralumla's Heritage Nursery, which sells heritage varieties and Digger's seedlings.
Sam Malfroy with a hive that is very much alive. Photo: Elesa Kurtz
Sam has bee hives placed throughout Canberra in Kaleen, Mitchell, O'Connor and Hawker. The night before we met he had extracted fresh honey from a hive at a friend's place in Weetangera and we experienced the light floral taste from a teaspoon. By the end of spring he hopes to have 12 hives which makes quite a bit of work outside his day job. The hives are a mix of conventional Langstroth hives as well as Warre hives.
His philosophy is the same with both types. He does not use any plastic components nor any wax foundation. He lets the bees develop their own wax which they fill with honey, pollen or brood, the young developing bees. This means the bees only produce honey when they are ready, or when there is lots of nectar and pollen in the area.
Yields can be lower because 1kg of wax equals around 4kg of honey and they vary a lot between sites and seasons. He doesn't feed the bees any sugar syrup and would instead prefer to leave honey on the hives over winter to get them through a cold Canberra winter.
When the honey is ready to harvest, he cuts the comb out on site, then puts the box with frames straight on the hive ready to start again. He uses the honeycomb fresh or cold presses it with a steel cider press to produce beautiful cold-extracted honey for which he receives compliments and orders for the first spring harvest of honey. With permanent apiaries like Sam's, he says you can taste the flavour differences throughout the year, reflected by what is flowering at the time.
Kitchen gardeners can grow plants to help attract honeybees and other native pollinators such as the blue-banded bee (Amegilla cingulata). Although honey bees are great multi-purpose pollinators, there are lots of other native insects which should be promoted as well. Sam has found Mediterranean plants are attractive such as rosemary, sage and thyme when they are flowering.
Borage, salvias, Russian sage, alyssum and cosmos are also useful and these will be among plantings around the edge of spare space at COGS O'Connor to help attract pollinators and improve the look of the garden. It is also good to let vegetables like broccoli flower and go to seed and Australian native shrubs such as callistemon and grevilleas produce nectar and pollen.
Hardy rosemary attracts the pollinators. Photo: Elesa Kurtz
Sam is keen to run a few sessions for other gardeners to learn about bee-keeping and to get involved in checking the hive. He loves showing people the inside of the hive and explaining what the bees are doing.
Sam eats honey every day on porridge or in fruit smoothies and Carly uses honey in muffins and banana bread. He says a bit of fresh honeycomb broken over some Greek yoghurt with figs in summer is an amazing dessert.
Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.