Ana Martin and Sven Stephan started Amber Drop Honey in 2015 when Sven, a kitchen installer, began rescuing bees as a side project.
The original plan was to save one or two swarms and keep a hive in the backyard. They got so many colonies and so much honey during that first season they started selling it. Their business took off and outgrew their Central Coast home.
“People call me when there's bees in walls and ceilings and trees, or even Telstra boxes,” says Stephan, a German who has lived in Australia for 10 years. “I clean everything up and take all the bees home to our farm, and give them a new home.”
Martin and Stephan now live on the Mid-North Coast on a farm at Johns River with 60 hives dotted among the mango, macadamia and citrus trees. Around 80 per cent of their 122-acre property, which backs onto Middle Brother National Park, is gum trees.
It’s an environment perfectly suited to beekeeping. “We don't use chemicals around the farm, so we don't spray or anything like that,” says Martin, who moved to Australia from Spain more than 20 years ago. “We believe that it's quite a clean area.”
The couple sells Amber Drop Honey via an online shop and at markets on the North Coast, from Newcastle to Bellingen, as well as to cafes, restaurants and retail stores, including health-food shops.
Amber Drop’s raw honey is antibacterial, antifungal and good for your gut, unlike the stuff you find in the supermarket, which has usually been pasteurised. “That means all the beneficial antioxidants and good bacteria in honey have been destroyed in the process of heating it up,” explains Martin. “They do that because it gives better consistency and the honey doesn't crystallise on the shelf, so it makes it look runnier and prettier, but it's not really all that healthy for you.”
Bees play a fundamental role in the food cycle, pollinating many of the food crops grown for human consumption. Around the world, bee populations are in freefall. Monoculture agriculture and large-scale development of land has decreased the volume and variety of pollen available for bees to feed on. Pesticides, pests and diseases have further reduced bee numbers.
This summer was particularly hard for bees. A season of record-breaking heatwaves followed by a month of torrential rain meant bees produced less honey than usual. In a good year, one hive can produce up to 100 kilograms of honey. This year, some of Amber Drop Honey’s hives produced as little as 10 kilograms. “Some of the beekeepers in New South Wales have only collected five per cent of the honey they usually collect,” says Sven.
So how can you help keep local bees healthy?
Support local honey producers, minimise your use of pesticides and fill your garden with lots of flowering plants, including fruit trees. Bees like plants such as basil, rosemary, lavender, sage and sunflowers. “They like a lot of the gum trees and native plants like bottle brush,” says Martin.