Sweet Honey Bees

Wearing protective gear, backyard beekeeper Byron Rutgers looks for honey on a frame taken from one of his bee hives.

Curious about the world of beekeeping and honey making, I recently chatted to backyard beekeeper Byron Rutgers about the hobby he has pursued for the past six years.

Mr Rutgers, who has lived in Ferntree Gully for 40 years, has six beehives in his back garden. He was introduced to the world of beekeeping by his grandfather when he was a young boy and now being semi-retired has decided to reconnect with this ancient craft.

He joined the Coonara Beekeeping Club in Upper Ferntree Gully and registered as a beekeeper. ‘The more I study nature, the more fantastic it becomes to me,’ says Mr Rutgers. He is clearly fascinated by the world of bees.

The European honey bees in his hives all work in harmony, with the queen, drones and worker bees having defined roles. There are nurse bees tasked with manufacturing royal jelly, and scout bees that find new food sources. If the scouts find nectar, pollen or water,
they return to the hive and pass on the precise location with a remarkably intricate dance routine.

Honey bees tend to work within 200 metres of their hive, but range up to 1.5km away if necessary. They are even capable of flying as far as 8km for food. The distance each bee flies in its life is remarkable. A strong colony of around 60,000 bees flies the equivalent distance from the earth to the moon every day.

Each female worker lives for about a month and visits between 50 and 100 flowers in one
foraging trip. As pollinators extraordinaire, honey bees are a crucial part of our ecosystem. A large proportion of Australia’s crops depend on bee pollination.

Worker bees can fly at a top speed of about 21-28 km per hour when flying to a food source, and about 17 km per hour when returning laden with pollen, propolis, nectar or water.

Honey bees are at their most active during the warmer months from September to February.

As you would expect, they produce the most honey during summertime. Mr Rutgers checks his hives regularly. Every three to four weeks, he will remove frames from his bee hives. These frames will be laden with honey, contained in honeycombs, and capped with wax. Honey is extracted from these honeycombs using an automated extractor, then bottled.

Honey is very versatile. It can often be used as a substitute for sugar. Honey has a lower glycaemic index (GI) than sugar, so blood sugar levels aren’t raised as quickly. It contains beneficial trace minerals and has lower fructose and glucose levels than sugar. A smaller amount of honey achieves the same sweetness levels as sugar. Ferntree Gully CFA members are sometimes lucky recipients of Mr Rutgers’ honey. He has been a volunteer firefighter with this brigade for 25 years.

If you have an unwanted beehive or swarm in your garden that needs relocating, want to know more about beekeeping or would like to buy a jar of pure honey, you are welcome to contact Byron Rutgers on 0402 917 159.

Gemma Franks

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