Wildlife restoration project leads to cold boil honey business for Sunshine Coast beekeepers

When Leisa and Tony Sams bought a farm and began reuniting the bush that had been divided for a century, they had no idea where it would lead them.

Seven years later, they produce award-winning pure raw honey infused with flavors including organic ginger, turmeric, lemon myrtle, rose petals, chilli, cinnamon, lavender, finger lime, vanilla bean, truffle and black garlic.

“We didn’t really start out of a desire to have a honey business,” Ms. Sams said.

“We did a Land for Wildlife project on our 300-acre site [121 hectares] At Peaster on the Stanley River, with the aim of restoring and securing a wildlife corridor from our back ridge to the river.

“With the help of Grant and the Sunshine Coast Council’s environment officers, we sat down and went, ‘Let’s look at pollination and potentially get some bees to help with that’.”

Leisa Sams won a Nuffield Scholarship to research stationary beekeeping operations.(Credit: Leisa Sams)

“Bee Girl” starts making noise

Ms Sams – also known as ‘The Bee Girl’ – started with five hives and now tends to a colony of around 400 bees carefully placed on properties from Gympie to Noosa and the Sunshine Coast to Moreton Bay.

“We wanted to do it differently because we ate [the honey] and we give it to our family and friends,” he said.

“So we don’t use chemicals, we don’t heat the honey, and it basically grows from there.

“We bring the flavors of the Sunny Coast to our honey.

Close-up of a honey stick resting on top of a glass honey jar with dried rose petals inside.
Organic honey infused with rose petals.(Credit: Leisa Sams)

“Mike, my cousin, was our first customer with a health food store.”

Now their cold fusion products are sold in independent supermarkets, grocers, whole organic food stores, butchers and Yandina’s Ginger Factory, where staff first encouraged them to infuse their golden honey with natural flavors.

Food safety key

Caz Owens, a certified chemical-free edible flower grower, hosts Hum Honey hives on his property in Eudlo and supplies the Samses with dried organic rose petals and petal mixes.

“We love having Leisa’s bee girls in our farm gardens – they are a treasure,” said Mrs Owens.

“With the current situation of bee-killing varroa mites in Australia and the potential mass loss of hives, it is critical to ensure we protect our environment.”

Jazz Owens smiles at a blooming rosebush
Caz Owens grows chemical-free edible flowers on the Sunshine Coast.(ABC Village: Jennifer Nichols)

Cold extraction of honey preserves natural nutrients, vitamins, enzymes, pollen and antioxidants.

A beehive with a native flower on top
Samses also sells fresh raw honeycomb.(Credit: Leisa Sams)

No syrups or artificial flavors are used.

“Our honey is bioactive, so it’s full of great nutrients that are effective against bacteria, molds and yeasts, even standard eucalyptus honey,” Ms Sams said.

“We also do manuka which is tested by the Honey Lab at the University of the Sunshine Coast.”

When asked if the bacteria could be a concern without pasteurization, Ms. Sams said the first thing she looked into was food safety.

Capers and other cheeses are sprinkled on the soft cheese.
Hum Honey’s raw honeycombs are paired with Woombye Cheese.(Supplies: Woombye Cheese)

“I went to JL Laboratories [an accredited food safety facility] Across the road from the ginger factory and micro testing,” he said.

“We’ve done all the shelf life testing and we do it as a regular part of our quality assurance program.”

Love for the “tough” industry

Samses are members of the region’s Food and Agriculture Network (FAN) – a non-profit industry group that promotes collaboration, innovation and promotes trade.

“I have the utmost respect for them,” chief executive Emma Greenhatch said.

“It’s a tough industry and beekeeping is particularly tough.

“Yes, they have an individual business role in terms of sustainability, quality and ethics, but Leisa always looks at it from an industry perspective and how she can pass on what she’s learned.”

A property where you can see distant isolated bush fields.
Samses is working to create a wildlife corridor to the Stanley River at Peaster.(Credit: Leisa Sams)

Last year, Ms Sams received a prestigious Nuffield Fellowship to research advanced management techniques for stationary beekeeping operations to increase efficiency and productivity, and recently traveled to the UK to continue her research.

“It’s been a steep learning curve with fire, drought, COVID lockdowns and floods. We’ve had some highs and lows,” Ms Sams said.

“Ultimately, you’re doing it for the love of the environment and connecting with networks within the food industry and organic farmers. We’ve built lasting friendships.”

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