Day 3 – We finally leave Sydney, under the cross city tunnel, which has an interesting history all its own. Apparently many of the residents refuse to use it and the private company that built it went bust. It is very long and spits one out onto the airport road. From here we climb onto the coastal range, which is very old and had a table on top. It provides somewhat of a rain shadow for the interior. We journey through mixed farm land, climbing through forests of eucalyptus, seeing the occasional magpie and every once in a while a cockatiel. There are several varieties. Also Ian our tour guide discusses the birds in his back yard, honey eaters, which are adapted to eat pollen. Fed normal birdseed they become ill as they do if a lot of honey is added to their diet; they are nectar feeders in the wild. I find out that there are no hummingbirds here, so the honey eaters apparently take their place. Every once in a while we see an Australian kestrel hunting along the road way. It is difficult to bird watch in a rolling bus. We will end the day at the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Discovery Center in Canberra and find an exhibit, which provides good information on birds, according to habitat where each species is likely to be found and their song http://www.anwc.csiro.au.
A short stop at a roadway concession and then 130 km to Weerona Apiaries in Sutton. Here three generations of beekeepers (the Bingleys) run a family business, which has been in existence since the 1950s. This is classic commercial beekeeping outfit, which sells all of its honey in bulk, mostly to Capilano, one of Australia’s large packers. The honey goes out the door in large plastic containers in metal cages in 1400 kilogram lots. We are told the outfit runs 7 – 800 colonies, which raises a few eyebrows (there is discussion that perhaps we heard wrong—others think it as 1300 colonies. Nevertheless, there are so few colonies compared to commercial outfits in the rest of the world, because the yields are historically high per colony, an average of 400 kilograms, over 800 pounds per colony.
The extracting room holds an expensive extracting line that throughputs 400 supers a day. The extraction line contains a hot water heat exchanger to ensure the honey flows through the line (this is a temperate area and can be cold as we are at the present time). We also see a kind of portable hot room, a box that is put over several stacks of supers to heat them prior to going to the extracting line. The small number of colonies allows for much attention to be put on equipment, which I call Cadillac equipment, supers soaked in copper napthenate then painted inside and out with oil-based paint. Frames wired diagonally as well as horizontally. Again, a lot of attention can be put on these basics due to the honey yield.
However, the last good year here was a few years back and right now the long drought is making the Eucalypts look pretty sad. This is a typical boom and bust outfit that lives on its financial and intellectual capital built up over a long period of time, which can afford to loose money due to poor yields over a several year period and get it back quickly in a good season.
Questions about disease problems. The biggest is European foulbrood (EFB), which crops up now and then and can exist at high levels. This classic stress disease may be exhibiting itself as the Bingleys are continually moving their bees and in essence have a year-around operation with brood in a temperate area; there is no down time for the bees as they are continually trucked. They don’t use TM for EFB, nor fumigillin for nosema due to potential contamination problems; again no broodless period. American foulbrood crops up now and then; cases are quickly burned. The reason that no honey products and no bees can be moved to West Australia is because there is no EFB in West Australia and they don’t want it. Each state has its own apiary inspection service, like the U.S. and Canada (provinces) and the rules are therefore set by these entities. West Australia has a great natural barrier, the great desert and nullabor plane that separates it from the rest of the country.
According to the Bingleys one of the big changes they have seen is that queens, which used to last a year and a half are now lasting less than a year, perhaps because of environmental changes and the type of management, which is pushing colonies to their limit, exacerbated by drought. Another change is that canola has become a crop of interest in the last 15 years, which allows bees to build up earlier due to pollen availability from that crop.
After this visit its off to lunch. Billed as a typical Aussie pub lunch, lasagna, chicken in peanut sauce don’t seem to ring true, although the place, Gundaroo Pub, has been in continuous operation since 1872.
Another 100 km up the road, we come to Canberra, the Australian capitol, built as a compromise when Sydney and Melbourne could not agree on a place to construct the governmental center. This is a designed town by an American architect and is now is almost totally inhabited by urban bureaucrats. It features the Australian War Memorial and other exhibits and is the center for CSIRO. At the Entomology Discovery Center we meet up with a group of Koreans and are briefed by the head of the Division of Entomology (one of the oldest divisions in CSIRO, established in 1928) before being turned over to Drs. Denis Anderson and Ian East.
Dr. Anderson discussed the role of pollination and its value (globally AU$ 37-92 billion; U.S. AU$ 14 billion, Australia AU$ 60-78 million). His research, mostly carried out in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Indonesia, where he has found a complex of Varroa mites, each specifically adapted to a specific variant of Apis cerana. Only two (the Japanese and Korean haplotype) reproduce and adversely affect Apis mellifera, and called Varroa destructor. The Korean haplotype appears to be the result of a cloning situation, a single female mite, which created a whole line of mites that can exist and reproduce on Apis mellifera. He is looking for the switch that allows some Varroa to reproduce on Apis mellifera. If he can find this, it might lead to a way to control the mites now affecting the beekeeping of the world, except Australia. He is pursuing similar research on another mite found on Apis cerana, Tropilaelaps clareae.
Ian Smith is working with regulators to ensure that Varroa is not introduced into Australia. In addition, the introduction of Apis cerana is always a possibility. There is more and more evidence that out of its environment cerana could become a devastating problem for beekeeping with mellifera bees; it might be far more invasive and problematic than previously thought. There are three lines of defense, ship inspection, sentinel hives at ports of entry and bee inspection by regulators and beekeepers. Several incursions by cerana have already been discovered and eradicated.
Questions about small hive beetle and research at CSIRO. There is little on SHB, which has not been determined to be much of a problem, but has been declared indemic to the country and cannot be eradicated. Another question concerning the recent news that a strain of virus from Israel has been identified as coming from Australian packages shipped into the U.S. and is a reason for colony collapse disorder (CCD) in the U.S. Dr. Anderson indicated that he is preparing a rebuttal to the paper in Science reporting this phenomenon.
Back on the bus, we head up to Mt. Ainslie, which provides a great view of Canberra. We also go by the War Memorial and see several kangaroos on the hillside along with a gaggle of rabbits. We return to the city and check into the Novotel for the night and are in bed by 9:00 p.m. It has been a long day.