Sticky Tips Bees in Manning Valley teaches ethical beekeeping and rescues native bee colonies

Sticky Tips: Mentoring sessions on beekeeping are part of the hive adoption program. Photo: supplied
Sticky Tips: Mentoring sessions on beekeeping are part of the hive adoption program. Photo: supplied

Ever since childhood, Chelsea Hands from Bobin has had a dream.

"As a kid I used to sit in this pumpkin patch that Mum used to grow, and I remember watching honey bees cover themselves and dance within the flowers, and fly off covered off in this beautiful pollen. And I have a really clear memory of thinking 'one day I really want to do something with bees'," Chelsea says.

Since March this year Chelsea has been living her dream, when she teamed up with beekeeper Nigel Powell to create Sticky Tips Bees, a business that has a hive adoption program, does beekeeping mentoring, removal of swarms, removals and rescues of native bee colonies, and produces organic product. Most importantly for Chelsea, it's all done ethically.

Chelsea Handswith one of her native sugar bag beehives, called an 'oath hive'.

Chelsea Handswith one of her native sugar bag beehives, called an 'oath hive'.

As an adult, Chelsea's passion for bees started with falling in love with native bees.

"There is a relationship between what I'm doing with the European honey bees and the native bees. Doing honey bee removals and swarms, and removing them from the ecosystem, then provides habitat for the native bees. I'm also then taking responsibility for the honey bees that I remove and keeping them and finding a way of making a product out of them so I can sustain what I'm doing."

Chelsea explains that native bees pollinate a larger percentage of our food crops than European honey bees do. And like many of our native animals, the native bees are faced with threats that are creating declining populations. European honey bees are invading their habitat, but humans, of course, are doing the most damage with deforestation and chemical weed spraying.

We're losing a lot of bees due to the chemical spray on the side of the roads from council. When they spray I usually find at least a couple of hundred dead bees at the front of my hive.

Chelsea Hands

"We're losing a lot of bees due to the chemical spray on the side of the roads from council. When they spray I usually find at least a couple of hundred dead bees at the front of my hive. It actually impacts them over time, so the whole colony can collapse due to it," she says.

Currently Chelsea and Nigel have around 50 hives which are housed on permanent biodiverse sites.

"They've never moved around, they've never starved on one thing, they get a diverse range of food, and a lot of them are on permaculture properties around here where we're teaching the owners of the properties how to beekeep at the same time," Chelsea says.

The teaching comes in the form of a mentoring program, where keepers can adopt a hive from Sticky Tips, or purchase their own, then receive step by step hands on beekeeping lessons from Chelsea and Nigel.

As the business grows and more people take up adoption of the honey bee hives, the plan is to increase the number of hives by collecting colonies from swarms and removals from natural ecosystems where they shouldn't be.

In tandem with the domestic European honey bee hive work, Chelsea and Nigel offer free removal and rescues of native bees.

Native bees commonly home in hollowed out logs, trees and limbs.

"But if the tree or the limb is not strong enough, or humans come in and they interrupt it, chop it down, or a bit of wind pushes down a limb, there is a risk that the colony could collapse due to the damage that it has gone through, or a fall, or the possibility of it going into firewood because nobody knows what they're looking for," Chelsea explains.

A sugar bag (native) hive that needed rescuing.

A sugar bag (native) hive that needed rescuing.

"We basically come along and assess the hive or the colony in the situation that it's in. If we can save the colony in the existing log that it is in, we'll keep it in its natural habitat. We will then remove it and put it into its correct environment to try and make sure that the colony does survive after what it has been through.

"We want to build up really beautiful strong genetics within this area, and build up our numbers as well - not letting those numbers dwindle.

"If the log breaks and it happens to not be the ideal habitat home for them anymore, we will cut out and remove the colony into a specific hive that's made for them, called an oath hive."

Sticky Tips has started to produce product - honey, wax and honeycomb - but it will be a while before it is widely available. At the moment the honey is only available at Organic Matters at Port City, Port Macquarie.

For me, this is like a dream come true. I feel like a little kid playing in a playground and getting paid to do so.

"At this stage with the hive adoptions and where we're at, we're focusing a lot on building up our colonies, getting them into hive adoption, educating, stopping them from swarming so they don't impact the system. The honey will come later next winter, when we have time to focus on it and sit down and stop!

Chelsea says her life has been turned upside down, but for the better.

"For me, this is like a dream come true. I feel like a little kid playing in a playground and getting paid to do so. I'm pretty lucky, to be honest. I couldn't have done it without the people and Nigel coming into my life and offering that opportunity to me."

For more information visit the Sticky Tips Facebook page.