The island beekeeper and his pure passion for the sweet stuff

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By Melissa Keogh

After years spent hanging around hives of hardworking honey bees, Kangaroo Island local Peter Davis is still fascinated – and never in fear – of the industrious insects.

“You become fascinated by their ability,” says Peter, owner of one of the country’s biggest organic honey producers, Island Beehive.

“If the conditions are right, they can be so gentle. I never wear gloves.

“I’ve had people who are allergic or afraid of bees and within three minutes their hand is comfortably covered in them.”

Peter David grew up around bees on Kangaroo Island, home to the world’s only remaining purebred population of the Ligurian honey bee.

After growing up on his family’s mixed-use farm on Kangaroo Island, Peter developed a soft spot for one of his homeland’s major differences – the Ligurian honey bee.

Kangaroo Island is home to the world’s only remaining pure strain of the Ligurian bee and is also the world’s oldest bee sanctuary.

The Ligurian bee, originally from Italy, was imported by the SA Chamber of Manufactures in the early 1880s and shortly after the 4500 square-kilometre island was declared a bee sanctuary.

Bees cannot fly the distance between the mainland and Kangaroo Island, meaning the island has remained free of bee diseases.

Peter, who grew up near the government apiary at Flinders Chase in the 1950s, has dedicated his working life to protecting the Ligurian bee and learning of its heritage.

Peter’s hives are scattered throughout the island.

“It’s really important that we make Kangaroo Island locals a part of the heritage and that they want to participate in it,” he says.

“Over the last 12 years there’s been a dramatic change of awareness in people around the world doing everything they can to protect all bees.

“But I think we can do much more.”

Learning how to breed queen bees from a young age, Peter continued his passion for beekeeping and producing honey products.

He first sent queen bees to Denmark in 1991, and two years later received a request from Sweden for 250 more.

In 1995, he sent another 250 queens and was fast becoming well-known among overseas apiarists.

Now the 71-year-old runs the Island Beehive factory in Kangaroo Island’s main hub of Kingscote and produces up to 200 tonnes of honey per year.

Ligurian honey has a delicate, subtle flavour.

“We export about 60 tonnes of honey a year, with 40 tonnes going to Japan,” he says.

“They’ve been our customer for over nine years, however, one of the best ways to export honey is by people coming through the doors and taking products home with them.

“You can’t take honey to New Zealand or WA, but you can virtually anywhere else in the world.”

Island Beehive has more than 1000 beehives scattered across the island and employs 14 people.

Kangaroo Island Ligurian Honey is sold in the factory’s shop and in other outlets across the island.

It’s also sold in 200L drums and sent across Australia and to Japan.

Peter’s honey has been known to support many other South Australian food manufacturers, including Spring Gully and B.-d. Farm Paris Creek.

“We created a demand,” he says.

“Ligurian bee honey tastes so much better than other honey because we have such a diverse range of flora on Kangaroo Island.

“We have species of mallee that aren’t found anywhere else in the world.”

So you wanna be a beekeeper?

TAFE SA is offering a short course in beekeeping on March 17 and 18, April 7 and 8, and May 12 and 13.

The two-day beginners short course at TAFE SA’s Urrbrae campus and beekeeping site in the Adelaide Hills covers topics including new hives, diseases, honey extraction and legal requirements.

For more information click here.

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