Colony Companions with Vanessa Kwiatkowski from Roof Top Honey.
Tell us a little about your self like where you grew up and what influences you had and why you love bees?
I grew up in Sydney, left my own hive and swarmed to Melbourne when I was 21. I miss being close to my family in Sydney, however Melbourne is my home… It such a wonderful place to live. My interest in bees came about when I was concerned about where my food was coming from. I’m a keen gardener who loves to eat seasonally & grow my own fruit and vegetables. Whilst converting our garden to a production garden about 10 years ago I discovered the wonderful world of bees and beekeeping. When I realised they played such an important role in pollination, I became concerned, fascinated and of course naturally as beekeepers often do, fell in love with bees. The addiction started back then!
How many hives do you look after on how many roof tops?
Last count, my partner and I look after 80 hives around Melbourne. Some in gardens and of course rooftops! 53 of them are on rooftops, which makes for a great way of utilising often un-used spaces.
What challenges are there keeping bees on top of roofs?
Mostly working with heights, safety & access. Carrying tools up and down ladders and bringing boxes of honey up and down from roofs is hard work. It is labor intensive & down right exhausting in Summer.
Someone getting into bees what is the 3 biggest pieces of advice you can give them?
1. Never stop learning, the moment you think you know everything is the day your skills will be tested. Beekeeping is a journey of continual learning, it is part of the attraction.
2. Remember that you are merely a steward to the bees and they don’t work for you. You are there to help them do what they naturally do. If you try to control them, they will show you who is boss – and it isn’t you!
3. Be present and in the moment. If you are distracted or your mind is elsewhere your beekeeping experience will be less enjoyable. I like to think of beekeeping as a form of meditation (tai-chi) slow, fluid & gentle movements with a relaxing hum as your soundtrack. Take the time to embrace it.
What’s the best part about beekeeping?
A good day of beekeeping of course, working with bees is the best part! Like us they have their good and bad days, their own personalities – get them on a good day & everyone wins.
What’s the worse part about beekeeping?
The heat, the sweat, the long days that become long nights. It’s a seasonal thing which I’ve gotten used to. It’s hard work beekeeping all day, then to come home tired & try to get everything else done you have to run a small operation.
If you could go back to when you first started beekeeping what would you tell yourself?
Bees know best, you don’t know everything, they usually will work it out. Try to relax a little more when swarming season starts – do your best, be available, flexible and use it as an opportunity to educate to show people that they aren’t as scary as they seem.
What’s your most memorable beekeeping experience?
Wow.. this is a hard one. Lots of wonderful moments in the hive, fabulous people from different walks of life you get to meet working with bees. I guess though the experience of peoples changing attitudes. When I first starting beekeeping in the city, we’d walk around in our bee suits & people would stop us to ask us what we were doing. Were we doing something dangerous, something not usual. Now days people stop and ask about the bees, where they are, how they are going – I hear people talking to others about how we look after bees in the city. It’s wonderful to see the change! Melbourne loves their bees.
What challenges have you faced as a female beekeeper?
Mostly peoples’ attitudes towards who does the beekeeping. As a female people often see the beekeeping as a male role, when fact we do all the work together. We are a team, no one does more or less work.
What pest or disease you find the most common and how do you overcome it with bees?
Over the last couple of years we’ve seen a large increase in the numbers of small hive beetle in our hives. This is a new pest to deal with which we haven’t had to in the past. Keeping strong colonies helps & monitoring numbers with traps. One thing we have found is that there is lack of beetles in our rooftop hives which may have something to do with the larvae not being able to pupate in the ground and complete their cycle. A bonus for all hives on rooftops that’s for sure.
In the year 2020 where do you see yourself and your business?
Still here, still working.. I love to work just like the worker bees! I have a vision of a city which resilient & sustainable. One that protects and looks after all its pollinators for without them there would be no us.