Old ways and new keeping bee industry strong - Elders Rural Services

Old ways and new keeping bee industry strong

Third-generation beekeeper Tim Alt has a passion for beekeeping, honey production and the Australian bee industry.

His respect for passed down knowledge, combined with the latest education, products and support from Elders make his family’s operation a leader in honey production. He insists a balance of both are crucial for a sustainable industry and bee population.

Based in northern New South Wales, Tim works in partnership with his brother, Peter, managing around 1,000 hives to produce honey for Capilano.

“I’ve got some pretty good memories from growing up in a beekeeping family,” he said.

“I used to have my head in a hive fairly often, learning how to do it all and watching over Dad’s shoulder.”

His father, Jack, still helps in the business and his wisdom and sharp eye for finding the queen are always welcome.

“The older generation’s knowledge is absolutely irreplaceable,” he said.

There are a lot of new initiatives coming into the industry too, but you’ve still got to know the old ways. Dad’s probably forgotten more about beekeeping than we’ll ever know.”

Tim Alt, beekeeper, New South Wales.

He believes the future for the bee industry in Australia is looking bright, thanks to our pristine environment and quality honey, continuing strong prices and an absence of the industry’s most feared pest, the Varroa mite.

“If we can keep that out, we’ve got a very, very healthy industry to look forward to,” he said.

Education and experience

“I think there’s got to be a very strong push for the education of people managing bees,” Tim said.

Despite his years of experience, he thought it was worthwhile to complete a Certificate III course in beekeeping at Tocal College, and believes these types of courses can be valuable for both commercial and hobby beekeepers.

Tim also regularly attends the annual bee conferences held by the NSW Apiarists’ Association to keep up to date with the latest insights and innovation and is looking forward to the Australian Bee Congress in Sydney in 2022.

He says it has been great to see Elders supporting beekeepers in his region.

A number of Elders branches are now supplying Ecrotek hives, beekeeping supplies, pollination supplements and attractants, along with advice. Jason Traplin and the team at Elders Stanthorpe have been hosting information days for apiarists in their local region.

“I had worked with Jason a little bit when he was beekeeping with Granite Belt Honey, so it’s fantastic to see what he’s doing now to run information days for Elders and provide support to people starting up,” he said.

“I reckon there should be more of it. People need more education on pests and diseases and the behaviours of bees when they are setting up so that what they do doesn’t affect everyone around them.

“It’s a pretty important creature, the old bee. If bees go, we go.”

Bees have always been part of life for the Alt family who rely on a combination of experience and new initiatives in their beekeeping for success.

New gear and old ways

Tim has also tried the new Ecrotek hives, available from Elders, finding them well put together.

“You need new boxes and frames all the time, although we’ve also got some boxes that could be anywhere up to 60 years old,” he said.

Tim said that it was important to find a balance between keeping up with new products and new initiatives and learning from the old ways.

“For example, you don’t turn around half way down a forest track when you’re scouting for new country for your bees, you’ve got to go right to the end because it might only be one more kilometre down the track where you find trees that are absolutely fantastic and in bud,” he said.

“When looking for winter sites, you’ve got to find a site where the hive is going to get the first sun on the entrance to the hive and sun on the front of the hive until the middle of the afternoon, so it’s nice and warm and dry and the bees can get out every day. That way, they maintain a nice, healthy hive.”

The Alt family move their bees throughout northern New South Wales and southern Queensland to find flower sources, sometimes pollinating macadamia or canola crops, or just setting up in bushland.

They don’t take paid pollination work, preferring to focus on the best sites for honey production.

“Beekeeping is a bit of an art form, I suppose, we love it,” he said.

“It’s a pretty important creature, the old bee. If bees go, we go.”

Header image: Peter Alt (left) checks on the hives with his father Jack. 

For more information about beekeeping merchandise and technical support, contact your local Elders branch.

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