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Humans have kept bees for the production and harvest of honey since 4000BC. In past societies, honey was of great importance, particularly for its medicinal purposes. It was believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac and a valuable antibacterial wound dressing.
Today, honey is produced in almost every country of the world. Australia alone produces 31,000 tonnes of honey each year, making it an industry with a gross value of production in excess of $49 million.
Honey is usually derived from the nectar of numerous plant species. Different flowers produce different quantities, qualities, colours, consistencies and flavours of nectar, in fact, it is this variation in nectar that is responsible for the many different types of honey available. Bees collect nectar from flowers and take it back to their hives, where they convert it into honey by drying it to reduce the moisture content down to 17%, and by adding an enzyme from their saliva that converts the sucrose in nectar into its constituent sugars; glucose and fructose. The bee seals the honeycomb cells containing the honey with wax for storage.
Sources of Nectar
Most flowers depend on bees to pollinate them. They must therefore be able to attract bees through various methods such as by producing large, brightly coloured flower heads, sweet perfumes, or by exuding sugary nectar from the base of the flower. The secretion of nectar varies considerably throughout the year due to changes in temperature and rainfall. In general, it is the weather conditions during the previous year that influences the quantity of the bloom and the quality of the nectar produced by the flowers.
Bees favour certain plants for nectar collection. These can be classified into five main groups:
There are a plethora of successful sites in Australia for beekeeping. Apiary sites can be established on public, crown leasehold or freehold land, far away from any form of urban or industrial pollution. Honey production is spread across a large geographical area that covers a diverse range of flowering plants. A largeproportion of this area is covered with native forests dominated by eucalypt species. One advantage of these forests for beekeeping is that transportation of hives is easier because a good road network usually serves the forests. Old landings make good sites for establishing apiaries because they offer large open areas that are sheltered from the wind by the surrounding trees. Leases for apiary sites can be obtained from State Forests so they can make sure that apiaries are not set up too close together.
Hives are moved from site to site to follow the flowering of the plants. As most plants only flower for a few months of each year, a beekeeper may move their bees between 4 and 6 times each year. Throughout this period, the flowers produce a feast of nectar that the bees gather to fill their hives. During the 8 - 10 weeks a year that Leatherwood (Eucryphia lucida) flowers, the average hive will produce about 90 - 100kg of honey.
To release the honey from the comb, the wax seal is opened. Extraction of the honey involves the frames being placed into a Radial Extractor, so the honey can be spun out. The wax is then separated from the honey in a centrifuge.
The honey is stored in big stainless
steel settling tanks before packing or bulk despatch. For export
or interstate repackers, the honey is put into bulk 300kg drums.
For local and interstate markets, the honey is packed into jars,
labelled and filled automatically.
Uses of Honey
90% of the honey produced in the world is eaten directly as table honey. The remaining 10% is used as in ingredient in a diverse range of products.
Food: Honey is a widely utilised ingredient in many recipes, baby foods, breakfast cereals (sprayed on cornflakes), meat packaging (a flavour enhancer in ham), preserves and confectionery.
Cosmetics: Honey is found in many soaps, shampoos, conditioners, face and hand lotions.
Alcohol: Fermenting honey produced the first intoxicating beverage. This was known as mead. The popular French liquor, Benedictine also contains honey, as do numerous Japanese wines and the Scotch whisky, Lochan Ora.
Medicine: Honey is claimed to be a successful remedy for sobering drunken patients, due to its high fructose content. Honey is still sometimes used as a dressing for treating burns and open wounds, but perhaps its most prominent use in the pharmaceutical industry these days is in cough mixtures and throat lozenges.
In addition to honey, there are a number of other products of the hive. These include pollen, brood, propolis, royal jelly, venom and beeswax. Commercial beekeeping has given rise to another two products with lucrative prospects.
The selling of queen bees and packaged bees is especially
The bee farming industry is becoming progressively more mechanised. Migratory farming is getting more efficient as trucks, complete with loading devices and portable extracting equipment become more prominent. Beekeepers are accepting that they need to travel huge distances each year to work the nectar resource. They possess a phenomenal knowledge that allows them to apply the principles of beekeeping to the climate and vegetation around them.
Apiculture can provide a comfortable living, provided the
apiarist is willing to become a producer. A successful beekeeper
will need plenty of experience, energy and a good location.
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