During winter months, bees stop actively foraging and settle into a tight ball for warmth, where they ride out winter inside the hive. Unlike most other bee species, honeybees do not hibernate over winter, relying instead on building a large enough honey larder to feed the entire colony. They generate heat by disengaging their wings and running their flying muscles in ‘neutral’, rather like revving a car to warm it up. This is the reason that you commonly see empty gaps in honeycomb – it is so that specially assigned ‘heater bees’ can wriggle into these and warm the comb, which then transmits heat to the entire colony. We help the bees by removing one of the boxes and excess comb, and ‘packing down’ the hive to reduce the area that they have to keep warm.
As a result there is not much to do over winter as a beekeeper, we use this time to repair and build gear, but it is worth reflecting on what we have managed to achieve with this fun and innovative side project.
One of the key drivers behind the project was finding a way to recognise and thank our local clients, many of who are in government and unable to accept ‘traditional’ gifts such as tickets to events. It seemed unfair that we could not thank them for their support, but we also recognise that these rules are driven by a legitimate concern about undue influence.
The solution has been our ‘Office Buzz’ honey, which is collected and harvested at our Canberra office and provided as a thank you to our clients nationwide. There are other urban beekeepers that create unique gifts, but we are the only company that produces its own branded honey in this way.
The jars provide an interesting talking point that celebrates Canberra’s clean, green, garden city image, and allows client offices to share our award-winning honey.
To date, Office Buzz has been given to a wide range of local and national clients in organisations covering defence, transport, property and energy. The honey has also featured at company events such as ‘People Week’ in our Sydney office. Our amazing marketing team created an eye-catching label, on the back of which is a link to Aurecon’s future thinking blog, Just imagine.
When analysing network traffic (particularly social media shares), two things stood out – indigenous reconciliation and our beehive project. Pursuing this connection we started a conversation that culminated in a wonderful functional art project and the commissioning of local artist Krystal Hurst to create a unique design for a Warré hive built by Cormac Farrell. The results were spectacular.
The commissioning of the hive wasn’t just a one-off: through it we have been able to make a connection with local indigenous elders that we intend to continue into the future.
The distinctive look of our office apiary inspired a local photographer to do a photoshoot of a hive inspection and we had him back to photograph the second honey harvest. The second photoshoot included a really rare photograph of a hatching queen. The photographs have received over 1 000 unique views and numerous social media shares, helping to raise the profile of the project.
With the high nectar flows in spring, both hives produced enough of a surplus that we were finally able to harvest honey. We invited clients and staff to the event, and were able to show the process all the way from extracting the full honey frames from the hive through to uncapping, spinning off the honey and finally bottling. One of the most fun parts of the night was the line of kids pressed up against the glass windows next to the hive, watching in amazement as the honey frames came out.
In total, we have produced almost 30 kilograms of honey from both hives this season; enough to supply the office and client gifts. On a whim, we also entered a few jars of our honey into the Royal Canberra Show, and managed to win silver in the chunk honey category! We had never done this before (obviously) and we learnt a lot of tricks on improving presentation for next year.