Goulburn beekeepers ready for swarm season

John Scott, vice president of the Goulburn Beekeepers Club, travels extensively to pursue his interest in bees. In this photo he is handling bees in Bali. Photo: John Scott.

With nearly 100 members, the Goulburn District Beekeepers Club is recovering from adversity, including COVID-19 and wildfires.

Newly elected President Renate Barrett says the growing popularity of beekeeping is because people are spending more time at home and getting the most out of their gardens.

Gearing up for spring and swarming season, Renate said it could be intimidating to approach a large, noisy, thick cloud of swarming insects.

“So we want to tell people it’s nothing to be afraid of,” Renate said. “Contact your local beekeepers and they will come and collect the swarm.”

The club’s vice president and biosecurity officer, John Scott, a newcomer to Goulburn with his wife Maria, says members are wary of the Varroa mite, the world’s most serious bee infestation, which has been discovered in NSW. He said hives should not be moved.

“But if we catch a swarm, we test it with an alcohol detergent,” John said. “We collect half a cup of bees, put them in a container with methylated spirits, shake it up and filter it. If there are mites, and hopefully not, and if the test is all negative, we can move the hive once.”

He said swarms should start about mid-September, occasionally a few occur early in the month and the swarm season continues through mid- or late November.

The bee population in Goulburn and the district was healthy, John said, except for a few unattended wild beehives that suffered from all the rain last season.

John, a bee educator, said in Goulburn that bees loved flowering cherries and ornamental pears, and that more flowering plants would come. Outside the city, bees enjoy blooming eucalyptus, dandelions, thistles and fireweed and other weeds that farmers hate.

Bees started foraging when the weather warmed to 10 degrees, except when it was windy, John said. At temperatures of about 20 degrees they become very active.

“The weather bureau is talking about a third La Nina, so if it’s not as strong as last year it should be good (for bees),” he said.

John joined other volunteers working at the Department of Primary Industries to tackle the Varroa mite threat, and met like-minded beekeepers from Victoria and NSW dealing with bees in warmer climates.

Candles made from beeswax

Unlike many beekeepers drawn to the hobby by honey, newly elected President Renate Barrett’s interest began with beeswax. She uses it for personal care products like body butter and lip balm. Photo: Renate Barrett.

He believes Australia is winning the critical war against the Varroa mite, a small, reddish-brown external parasite that has caused the loss of millions of bees.

“They (DPI) are well in the eradication phase of the operation so far,” said John. “They are confident that they are in control and hopefully we can eradicate these mites. If we do that, we will be the only country in the world that has been able to do that.”

A sideline to his work as a regular firefighter, John’s EezyBeez workshops teach people about beekeeping. It recently won a Goulburn Chamber of Commerce business award in the agriculture and animal department.

John delivered a workshop at Growing Abilities, a niche nursery in Bradfordville for people who would like to get started with beekeeping the right way, by learning the basics.

“It’s nice to support such an organization that supports people with disabilities,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t know Growing Abilities was on Ross Street; now they do.”

Over ten years of beekeeping and seven years of teaching people, he discovers the wonders of nature.

“The big awakening for me has been realizing the different native bees we have in Australia,” he said. “European honeybees are just one of 20,000 species in the world. Australia has more than 1700 bee species.

“When I discovered them, the range of different sizes, shapes and colors was amazing. Take the European bees and the amazing world they have, and times that by 1700. You’ve got a whole new world of bees to explore out there if you get into native bees.”

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: