Keswick Island is home to thriving hives of purebred Caucasian bees. Unlike bees on the Australian mainland, these bees are free of many other diseases and are sometimes used as breeding stock for the mainland colonies.
About Caucasian bees
Caucasian bees are dark with silver stripes, as opposed to most other breeds which are yellow bees with dark stripes. They are bred for their characteristics of high productivity (long tongue) and docility in nature; however, like many bees, they will sting if aggravated.
Why are Keswick Island bees unique?
The bees were brought to the island in 1986. Quarantine restrictions do not allow direct importation of queens to Australia due to disease threats such as the Varroa mite which has decimated hive populations worldwide. These bees are free of many other diseases which are endemic on mainland Australia.
Periodically, mated queens are taken away from the small hives to be used as breeding stock by many beekeepers from South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, NSW and Qld.
The reason for using an isolated island for the bees is to maintain the genetics and to ensure the natural pure mating of the queen bees. A queen bee will mate in flight within an 8km radius around the hive. Keswick Island is far enough away from the mainland to ensure drones that the queen mates with can only come from the hives on the island. With naturally mated queens, there is some certainty that the most vigorous drones get to mate and thus her colony may inherit hive vigour by this method. An alternative method is artificial insemination, but man-selected drones may not be the most vigorous ones.
The bees are supported by aparists, John and Des Covey. Greaton Keswick encourages this operation as a means of preserving a valuable part of the natural ecosystem.
Keswick Island honey
The honey produced in these hives tends to be very dark, red colour due to the floral resources on the island – it is a combination of blue gum, tea tree, mangrove, grass tree, coconut, poplar gum, bloodwood and numerous shrubs and weeds which grow on Keswick Island and neighbouring St Bees Island.
Keswick Island honey is available at the Keswick Kiosk – be sure to collect some during your visit, and you can enjoy its distinctive taste at home.