Firstly, could you introduce yourselves and your product:
We are Bev and Rod Clark, beekeepers based in Collins Creek. We harvest honey and beeswax from which we produce honey, beeswax, candles, furniture and leather polishes. The honey is extracted and processed mechanically but the remaining products are produced by hand.
The honey from 150 hives (and growing) is extracted using fairly standard and traditional techniques. The flavour changes markedly from season to season depending on what is in flower. In Spring there is a lot of clover and red gum in flower resulting in sweeter honey, but it candies quite quickly so we sell that on to Capilano rather than store it for our own market product. After Spring comes brushbox and bloodwood which gives our market honey its signature flavour. About once every seven years spotted gum enters the mix. The bees forage on natural forests in the Border Ranges and at Toonumbar – no special plantings.
We produce our beeswax from the tappings of the honeycomb frames. The tappings go into a steam-heated vat and are washed with hot water causing impurities and a few wings and legs (hopefully not too many of these!) to sink to the bottom.
Have you always been a maker?
Bees have always been part of Bev’s life and family. Her father was a commercial producer and her brother is too. Bev gave up work two years ago to become a full-time apiarist and honey producer.
Rod was a truck driver until last year but has been involved for the last 6 years. He’s now a full-time honey producer too, and loving it.
How have things evolved for you?
Until 3 or 4 years ago all the honey was going to Capilano, and the wax tappings went to producers of new foundations. The foundations are attached to frames on which the bees build their honeycomb. When we started selling at markets it was just honey. The beeswax products came later.
We sell at several markets including Kingscliffe, Brunswick Heads, monthly at the Rotary Kyogle Bazaar and every two months at Casino. We also have a stall at Dad’s property.
What draws you to beekeeping?
The bees themselves. They are endlessly fascinating! We never stop learning something new from the bees. And it is a family tradition now.
How would you describe your product in three words?
Pure Bush Honey.
How did you develop your style?
We’ve adopted most of the methods Dad used, but have made some of our own modifications. We work with the environment around us and deliver honey straight from the hives without additives or unnecessary processes.
What inspires your work?
Again it is the bees themselves. They are fascinating and mysterious creatures. We love our wee workers and experimenting a little with methods of keeping them.
How long does it take you to produce a pot of honey?
One bee yields a quarter of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. But each hive has up to 80,000 bees in a good season. That results in about 15 kilograms of honey every three weeks. For us humans, it takes about a day from the time we harvest the honey from the hive until it is deposited in the jar for sale.
Can you describe your workspace? Where is it? What’s in it?
The processing is done in a dedicated shed at Dad’s place about 8 km away. It is a fully mechanised process where a thin layer of wax (the tappings) is removed from frames to reveal the honey, the frames are then spun to extract the honey which is collected into holding tanks. Then there is the packaging equipment. We have vats for processing the beeswax and equipment for making candles.
Is there anything in the shed that you couldn’t live without?
What’s the best thing for you about honey production for you?
We love working together and for ourselves. For Rod it is wonderful to be home and to sleep a whole night.
How does it feel to be part of the Rotary Kyogle Bazaar community?
The atmosphere is so relaxing that it feels like a day off rather than a day at work.
Do you have any comments about your work and sustainability?
Well, bees are important to the environment themselves. In relation to our production there is absolutely no waste, and the products are 100% natural. We are planning to go solar in the shed.
What would you say to someone thinking about selling their work?
It takes time and consistency; many make a slow start. So don’t be discouraged. And if you are selling at markets it might help to pray for sunshine.
What have been your biggest challenges and achievements?
At the moment varroa mite is a big concern. We have to test 10% of our hives using a sugar shake test. Other diseases are more prevalent and are always a concern. But recently the weather has been an enormous challenge. Bees don’t work in wet weather!
Our biggest achievements are the children and grandchildren, but we are proud that we have had the courage to take the risk in making this our full-time occupation.
Do you have any exciting plans?
We are almost ready to build our own production shed in our own backyard. It will be solar-powered.
In time we would like to have tours to show people how the honey and wax are produced.