At this time of year, when flowering riparian trees line the hills and wildflowers line the roadside, 27-year-old beekeeper Thomas Earls stops to think about how that affects bees and honey.
“Living and working in this area means that I appreciate and enjoy the incredibly diverse natural environment of this coastline, watching the seasons change through a variety of native flowers such as goldenrod in winter, to eucalyptus in bloom in summer. “said a native of Jan Juc.
“This provides local pollinators and honeybees with a great source of pollen and nectar year-round, while also providing delicious honey that gives this region a snapshot of each blooming season.”
In 2020, Earls started a beekeeping business called Coastal Nectar.
Its mission is to create an environmentally responsible local business that puts a modern twist on the 9,000-year tradition of beekeeping while providing the Surf Coast community with raw, delicious honey.
Earls has always been an avid surfer, environmentalist and self-proclaimed honey addict, but when he set out on a two-year solo trip to South America, he never expected it would lead him to beekeeping.
This set the 27-year-old on the path to becoming a beekeeper and educator.
“In every country I went to, I sampled and tried different honeys in different regions, and I was really fascinated to see the taste and color of the honey change in each region with different plants,” he said.
“There are many types of honey out there, dark honey, light flower honey, thick honey, runny honey and so on. I really got into it during my travels and a little later I got a great opportunity.
“I had the option of volunteering with a beekeeper, buying fresh honey from the hive, working with him and shadowing him, and he taught me everything he knew, and in return I would help him.”
Earls spent time with a beekeeper and within days fell in love with the occupation.
“Within a week, I had a crash course in beekeeping,” Earls said.
“He threw me in the bottom, he didn’t want me to wear gloves, he really took me deep and see how a queen works and what a healthy colony is.
“He had a very scientific approach to beekeeping and I saw the art form in it, and four years later I’m really trying to practice it.”
“He really ignited this passion in me about how important bees are to the environment, and there really is more to beekeeping than honey; it’s actually an amazing awareness that comes with ecological practice with pollination and keeping bees around.
“You’re aware of native flowers and what the bees you’re working with will be visiting, when different types of trees are blooming and researching nectar yields.”
When the Earls returned home from their travels, Bellbrae began tending to a hive in his yard.
“His words echoed in my mind: Australia is in the golden age of beekeeping, we are free of most pests and the bees here are doing very, very well on our amazing eucalypts.
“So with my one little hive … I learned very quickly and knew I wanted to expand.”
So the Earls asked the community to help fund more hives and beekeeping equipment by allowing them to pre-purchase honey and beeswax.
At first, Earls asked for $1,000, expecting to add a hive or two to his collection, but when he quickly raised $7,000, he was able to finance 15 more hives and almost immediately became a small-scale honey producer on the Surf Coast.
“It all happened so quickly and I’m just grateful.”
Currently, Coastal Nectar produces over 400kg of small batch raw honey for the Surf Coast community.
Beyond beekeeping, Earls remains passionate about the environment and has expanded his work with Coastal Nectar to include educational programs in elementary schools about the important world of native bees and honey bees.
Earls travels every winter to present and teach children at schools in Melbourne, Geelong and Sydney, as well as helping National Disability Insurance Scheme clients build bee-friendly gardens.
“They asked me to go to all these schools and put on my costume and teach the kids that bees aren’t scary and don’t want to sting you.”
“It’s probably the main part of the coastal nectar now.”
“In the last 12 months we have delivered the ‘World of Bees’ school attack to over 50 schools around Victoria, including visiting our nearest Bellbrae Primary School for a Term 2 theme of Mini Animals.”
“Many of these schools have been in local and rural Victoria where I’ve had a great time seeing their vegetable gardens and giving advice on planting around their schools and helping with bee friendly seeds.”
“I don’t want to be a big beekeeper who only makes money from bees, in my eyes education is more sustainable.”
“I’m also going to start making beeswax candle sets for schools soon.”
In July 2022, Coastal Nectar was awarded second place in the Australian Rural Business Awards for our educational programs and outreach.
But the importance of education does not end in schools; Earls is also passionate about sharing the importance of bee-friendly gardening with the community.
For a bee-friendly spring this year, Earls’ suggestions for planting a flower garden include sweet alice and flowering thyme, as well as perennial paper daisies, billy buttons and nasturtiums for natives.
“Please avoid pesticides and let your garden grow wild while you can. Many people manicure their gardens and don’t let everything bloom or may use pesticides, so making these changes can really make a big difference.
“There is tremendous pressure on native bees and honey bees right now from the ongoing extreme climate, pesticides, varroa mite and deforestation. “The best way to start is with a bee-friendly garden.”
Planting these flowers and attracting bees to your garden is a win-win, she said.
“You’ll help diversify your native pollinator’s food source, pollen and nectar, while increasing the rate of additional pollination of your backyard vegetables and fruit trees.”