Tropical north Queensland’s wet weather would normally turn bees to mush, but one colony of hardy workers is being bred to make it through the wet season unscathed.
- Honey producers Doug and Janine Cannon are hoping to breed stronger and more resilient bees
- The focus is on ensuring bees are well-adapted to where they live
- They breed queen bees that are then able to mate with wild bees in the area
Breeding bees that can stand the test of time has been the passionate decade-long project of one north Queensland couple, who are now determined to breed bees that can thrive in a wet environment.
After finding success in breeding bees that adapted well to the coastal climate of Mackay, Doug and Janine Cannon wanted to see if they could take what they had learned and transfer the knowledge into a more difficult location — the tropical rainforests of Eungella.
The honey producers said, when it came to their bees, the amount of honey they got came second to making sure the bees were well-adapted to where they lived.
“We’re trying to achieve a resilient bee that’s going to outlive us and we don’t want to wrap them up in cotton wool and tend to them all the time,” Mr Cannon said.
The Cannon family is now branching out into new areas where they can utilise their unique approach to beekeeping.
Ongoing push to adapt bees to new environments
It has been a long and challenging journey to get their honey business to where it is today.
“We found that by buying queens from locations like Brisbane or down south, while they produced a lot of honey, they were quite weak, especially for our conditions,” Mr Cannon said.
They recently set up a new site in the tropical rainforest terrain of Eungella, an hour’s drive west of Mackay.
It is well-known for its heavy rainfall and significantly cooler climate.
It has been a test of patience for the couple, and it took a full 12 months before the bees were producing honey that could be sold.
“It’s been a bit of a process to get these bees localised and adapted to their environment,” Mr Cannon said.
“We have lost a few along the way because we’ve got quite a unique environment up here with lots of rain.
‘Wherever we live, bees can survive’
The Cannons have always had a simple approach to bee breeding — breeding queen bees that are then able to mate with bees in the local environment.
“The bush wild bees will breed naturally with our virgin queens,” Mr Cannon said.
New colonies are then established by doing a ‘split’, which involves taking part of a colony from one hive and establishing them in a new hive.
“So they’ll raise their own queen and then that virgin queen will wait with around 12 wild drones or the ones we’ve got here, and that essentially will carry on the genetics for the next generation,” Mr Cannon said.
The process of having a colony that raises its own queen is known as a “walk away split”.
“[Back in Mackay] we found the ones that we raised where we did a walk away split, those bees would become stronger and stronger, nine times out of 10 for us,” Mr Cannon said.
“So we’re adopting that principle again, up at Eungella here.
“We just thought that wherever we live, bees can survive, and they should survive.”