Wellington Apiary : A sweet, sweet life


Publishedon 12/11/2015 - 04:26 am

Honeycomb Bees

He’s a fireman who was a nurse and she’s a former public servant with a cracking sense of humour. They live in Sandy Bay with their two young children and weimaraner. Robin and Antonia O’Brien might not fit the typical apiarist mould, but since beginning Wellington Apiary six years ago, the pair have settled in royally well.

“I didn’t think I’d end up making honey but I’m glad it’s worked out like this!” says Antonia, fresh from fixing hives.   

This sweet business demands hard work, patience and smarts. All of which the young couple who met in a Hobart nightclub, have in spades.  

“We make everything by hand. We don’t paint anything, everything is waxed and as chemical free as we can, so nothing is instant,” says Antonia.

“We tinker with the hives as little as possible, we don’t open or interfere with them unless we have to – we just set them aside and let the bees do their thing and that’s probably why we have such productive hives, and it sounds weird but really happy and friendly bees!”

At the foot of Mount Wellington is where you’ll find some of Robin and Antonia’s hives. Having attended to gardens as far as Kingston, plus natives, lavender and citrus, here the bees will create Hobart Wildflower. It’s a velvety, floral honey perfect for toast or the tip of a teaspoon.

The internationally renowned Leatherwood is sourced from Tasmania’s World Heritage Area. Antonia describes it as, a punch in the face with a bunch of flowers, and says it’s been recognised by the International Ark of Taste.

Honey Jars

Rounding out the selection and victor at this year’s Delicious Produce Awards, is Prickly Box. There’s just a tiny window of opportunity to collect this smooth and tantalising nectar from Hobart and surrounds: the shrub blossoms for just a few weeks at the start of summer, meaning bees are getting busy as we speak.

Robin and Antonia have just re-queened most of their 100 hives, and split some.

“Which means the hive will be reduced in size and another hive made with the surplus bees.”

While the couple wants to increase hive numbers and productivity (sure to be helped by a soon-to-arrive Italian creaming machine), they’re conscious of keeping it artisan.   

Hand-poured jars of Wellington Apiary can be found throughout Tasmania and Asia, but it’s the interstate market that’s abuzz with demand.  

Aside from flavour, it’s the process that adds to this product’s popularity. Most of the honey is creamed but Antonia stresses nothing is added, rather the naturally-occurring crystallization process is controlled.

Honey“We only ever warm the honey to 36 degrees which is the temperature of a hive, which preserves its structure, goodness and medicinal values.”

Those values are what Robin and Antonia swear have kept illness at bay for them and their boys, Rupert and Leo. Antonia maintains the household misses out on common lurgies, which is handy given Robin fights fires when he’s not extracting nectar. Naturally, sugar has been replaced and honey joys are a regular snack.

You’ll find Wellington Apiary on the toppings menu at Berriedale’s Local Pizza plus in various bakeries, cafes and top-end restaurants, near and far. As for the rest, nothing is wasted: the wax goes to local soap makers, furniture restorers and a metal welder.

Now to the big question: does the pair get stung much?

“I never do, but Robin does!”