While Durban prepares for the buzz around its annual Durban July race, there’s another buzz worth exploring for those with a sweeter tooth. KwaZulu-Natal’s honey industry. Fossils exist for bees as far back as 150 000 years and honey has doubtlessly been enjoyed since then – of course for those brave enough to handle a wild hive. Modern research suggests that the beginnings of beekeeping were around 9000 years BC and interestingly, at the Drakensberg Didima Valley, rock art of bees can be seen in caves almost as old as that.
Written by Jared Ruttenberg
Also read: Top 10 romantic getaways in KwaZulu Natal
Fast forward many years and apiculture has firmly planted itself globally, enjoyed by hobbyists and commercial producers alike. And that’s good news for us all: those clever scientists have worked out that around a third of all the food we eat, today relies on honeybee pollination.
Despite the increased demand, in South Africa beekeepers are facing several challenges. Sadly, theft and vandalism have plagued apiculture for years and seems to top the list – particularly in KwaZulu-Natal. Shifting agricultural patterns is close behind: In years gone by there were large plantations of gum trees that were grown for paper pulp production. These varieties of Saligna gum trees have been replaced with clone varieties that do not flower as prolifically – if they even flower at all. This has resulted in half the usual honey harvest of Saligna honey over the past few years; one of the reasons why consumers have had to get used to other sources of honey, such as macadamia, avocado, and multiflora honey.
Helping regulate and support local apiarists is the KwaZulu-Natal Beekeepers Association. The organisation encourages the improvement and advancement of apiculture within the province by assisting emerging bee farmers and promoting the interests of bee farmers in genera. Budding keepers can visit the association’s website for updates on the regular training courses and informative talks.
For safety reasons, the KwaZulu-Natal bylaws prevent beekeeping in and around the city, so we’re off to the urban outskirts on a brief journey to meet three of the local producers.
1. Peel’s Honey
If you’ve travelled the N3 highway from Johannesburg to Durban, you may recall seeing the sign for Peel’s Honey. The Peel’s journey began in 1924 with Jack Peel, a hobbyist apiarist, who later expanded his production commercially. As South Africa’s oldest producer, Peel’s has become a familiar household name, all thanks to the 100% pure honey produced from their hives, and also sourced from small and medium-sized beekeepers across South Africa.
Stopping at their iconic Midlands Meander store you’ll encounter the three ranges. Firstly, the Travelogue Range is dedicated to the subtle nuances that can be found in honey, depending on a hive’s locale and local flora. I recommend taking home one of the nifty taster packs that feature 28g glass jars with five of the Travelogue flavours available. Next, the Farmstall Range is their everyday honey products which include a range of nut butters (Peanut, Almond, and Macadamia). Lastly, the Legacy Range pays homage to Jack and Doris, Peel’s pioneers, with several honey-infused products.
For those keen to take a flavour journey through the golden liquids, the Midlands store has a fascinating self-guided ‘Honey Flight’, featuring a step-by-step guide, a comprehensive wheel with tasting notes, and then the chance to rate each product.
Visit their website here.
2. Morton’s Hill
In the green hills of Otto’s Bluff, adjacent to Albert Falls Dam, Morton’s Hill, Guy Solomon is perhaps one of the province’s longest-standing beekeepers. He caught his first wild hive at the modest age of 6, boxed it in a cardboard box and took it home from where his family were holidaying. Not long after the bees began to provide him with some well-earned pocket money.
Many years later, after having children and needing more than a little pocket money, Guy and his wife Trish bought 400 hives and Morton’s Hill Honey was born. Guy jokes about having many interesting memories with his bees: “having been chased into the pond or diving under a car for safety or digging deep holes to try to find the queen in wild farm hives.”
One season when the bees needed harvesting Trish took the bees over; not only did she excel at it, but she loved it. A passion that would later see her as chair of the KZN Bee Farmers Association, even winning the award for top female bee farmer of the year. Over seven decades later, Guy and Trish have moved into a well-deserved retirement, with their daughter Sarah taking over the reins.
Contact: [email protected]
3. Hawthorne Hill
Not far off, Hawthorne Hill Honey is a mother-and-daughter-run farming operation, primarily focused on avocado farming. Kim McCall told me ‘When I moved back from living in the USA, I found 30 dilapidated beehives my grandfather and mother used to run. I took them over and joined the KZN Bee Farmers Association to learn about beekeeping. The bug bite and I now have about 400 colonies that are for honey and pollination purposes.’
While Kim handles the beekeeping, her mother supervises the bottling. Look back at the awards and championships over the past years, and you’ll see Hawthorne Hill featured regularly. Kim is also the organiser of the KZN Bee Farmer’s Association Honey Festival – see the sidebar for information on this July event, which Kim promises to be an “epic day out, with talks on everything from gardening with bees, how to know what honey to buy, what to do if you have bees in your roof, and of course how to begin beekeeping. \
Visit their page here.
You can follow Jared’s travels by following him @jaredincpt
Pictures: Jared Ruttenberg
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