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Rain provides lifeline for honey producer after drought and bushfires

By Justin Huntsdale, Tuesday March 24, 2020 - 06:49 EDT
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Bowral beekeeper Deb McLaughlin is optimistic for good honey yields this year. - ABC

After months of prolonged drought, followed by devastating bushfires, vital rain has rescued a New South Wales farmer's honey production after a barren 2019.

Bowral beekeeper Deb McLaughlin estimated she could harvest 100 kilograms of honey from the hives on her Southern Highlands property after producing barely a drop eight months ago.

While things have dramatically improved after a drought that saw the bees' food source dry up and the stress of prolonged bushfire smoke, she is choosing to let nature slowly recover.

"The last thing we want to do is go up there with a smoker and stress them out more," she said.

"We'll have a softly-softly approach and let them do their thing with as little interaction from us as possible."

Blooming again

Only eight months ago Ms McLaughlin and her husband were .

Today, her property — and much of the Southern Highlands — is a changed landscape.

More than 300 millimetres of rain in one weekend turned the previously brown paddocks green.

"The gums are blooming, which is amazing, and the flowers are out and it looks spectacular," she said.

"The bees are out foraging — it's incredible to see it again.

"The dams are full and now it's a good news story, but before that it's as if we were witnessing the desertification of the Southern Highlands."

New season of smoky honey

As bushfires raged north and south of Bowral over summer, the region was regularly blanketed in smoke.

Just as the wine industry is dealing with grapes affected by smoke taint, there is expected to be an impact on honey.

But unlike the wine industry, Ms McLaughlin said she could see it adding an interesting layer of complexity for her stronger-flavoured honeys.

"With the honey I have tasted, the frames do smell smoky and I think we're going to have a honey with a smoky component to it," she said.

"I think it will be favourable."

Optimism for 2020 harvest despite mass bee deaths

While Ms McLaughlin's Bowral property was not burnt by bushfire during the summer, many of her colleagues were not so lucky.

She said one beekeeper in the Canberra area lost 1,000 hives on the South Coast, wiping out a third of his bees.

"It's appalling for the beekeepers in those areas," she said.

"They're having to continue feeding their bees because they've lost their pollen and nectar with the gum trees taken out with the fire."

By watering her gardens with tank water, Ms McLaughlin was able to keep her bees alive last year.

Now the rain has topped up their dams and tanks, the coming season is set to be a good one.

"I am optimistic because we've had so much rainfall," she said.

"Farms are full, everything is lush and green and starting to bloom.

"There are blossoms on citrus, salvias are flowing, rosemary is about to flower and it's their favourite.

"With the lavender, there's lots of purple around me and they love the catmint and the native bees are all over that too."


© ABC 2020

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