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"Your honey is expensive"

“Your honey is expensive.”

As I get ready for market tomorrow, I am thinking about this unsolicited comment I received last month. It isn’t the first time I have been told this and I am sure there are many beekeepers out there who have had the same or similar things said to them. My usual response is something like ‘not as expensive as beekeeping.’ Which is true.

Beekeeping is more than a box with bees living it.

Each beehive has at least 4-5 boxes (in winter) and 6-10 (in summer). Each box contains at least 8 frames (sometimes 10) with beeswax (some beekeepers use plastic) foundation. Each box with frames and foundation retails at anywhere between $50-$75 (depending on the size, foundation, number of frames etc) and are sold flat pack, meaning the beekeeper spends significant time gluing and nailing them together. And add in the cost of a bottom board and a lid to complete the hive.

So, one beehive is worth anywhere between $550-$750. Bee box jigs can be purchased for about $175 to make boxes, which I have done, but trying to find suitable timber during our current building boom is pretty difficult atm.

And don’t even think about beekeeping without appropriate protective equipment! A beesuit, smoker, hive tool and gloves will add about another $350 to your now emptying pockets.

And bees. All beekeepers need bees. It is notoriously difficult for new beekeepers to obtain bees now and a bee nucleus (4 frames of bees with a mated queen) costs an additional $280+.

Once a beekeeper has outlayed almost $1,200 for a beehive, bees, equipment – they are ready to start. This is when an aspiring beekeeper is usually told they should have two hives as most problems can be fixed with two hives. At this point, double the costs and dig deep into those pockets.

Beekeeping is not the same as having a puppy – bee stings (duh), but this is the least of a beekeeper’s worries. As beekeepers, we are bound by law to recognise and report diseases that may appear in our hives. Even if we are keeping only one hive in the backyard. If we don’t, we risk a whole industry – especially if our hives are infected with American Foul Brood – which requires the entire hive to be destroyed and the whole beehive to be set on fire and a beekeeper’s investment to literally go up in smoke (irradiation happens in other states but is not available in Tasmania).

This means keeping an eye on the bees and checking them every 10-14 days to manage swarming, checking to make sure there is enough room in the hive and checking for disease. There are other issues that also pop up like queenless-ness, drone layers, worker layers, supersedure, starvation….and the list goes on.

Time and money. Then there is the honey. There is an old saying that beekeepers get into it for the bees and out because of the honey. How is honey extracted? Sold? Marketed? Stored? All good questions with $$$$ signs attached.

Add to this labelling legislation and requirements to use brand new jars to sell to the public and the whole activity is starting to look like costly madness. Especially for beekeepers who seek out specific floral sources, like Leatherwood or Prickly Box, because there is the additional car running and fuel costs. The days are long gone where beekeepers can use an old Dolmio jar and handwrite ‘honey’ on a piece of masking tape.

It’s true, that honey at supermarkets is cheaper – it is combination of scale and supply, but in recent times we are seeing an increase in imported honey and there have been issues with honey adulteration with some brands, and I encourage everyone to know their beekeeper and purchase from trusted sources.

So, next time you pick up a jar of honey from a local producer think about the effort of the bees, the beekeeper and the significant time and money that has been invested into bringing you a beautifully presented jar of honey. If you still think it is expensive, that’s fine, but please keep this to yourself.

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