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Oh honey!

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

How backyard bees are causing a buzz in McMahons Point

First published in northsider magazine Winter 2019. The Commodore Hotel is currently closed due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Commodore hotel, McMahons Point, North Sydney, beekeeping, kitchen garden, pub
The whole kitchen team gets involved in the veggie garden.

The Commodore Hotel on Blues Point Road is always a hive of activity – but it’s not just the bar that’s swarming. The 150-year-old pub is also home to 5000 busy European honeybees who live in a hive out the back.

The insects arrived 18 months ago when Head Chef Greg Bookallil decided to create a vegie garden at the Commie.

“Being a chef, I wanted to keep in touch with nature and the seasons,” Greg tells northsider. “And I decided to take the vegie garden to the next level and get bees too.”

“I’d never kept them before but I’ve always loved honey,” he continues. “I grew up eating it everyday – on toast, on my Weetbix, ice cream…I’d have it on anything! I’d always wanted to give beekeeping a go.”

"The taste is unique to the area thanks to the frangipani tree next door, Wendy Whiteley's Garden and Lavender Bay"

Greg did lots of research - reading books, watching videos and talking to friends – and checked with neighbours before welcoming the hive’s first 1500 bees.

“Keeping bees is a big job,” he says. “But everyone helps with the hive. The kitchen team are right behind it.”

As well as honey, which is sold at the pub and used in recipes at the bistro, Greg’s hive delivers two big wedges of honeycomb, which is used to top gelato.

“We produce a brilliant, light and flavoursome honey and get around 45 jars every six months,” Greg says. “The taste is unique to the area thanks to the frangipani next door and our proximity to Wendy Whiteley’s Garden and Lavender Bay.”

With bee populations declining by up to a third in some parts of the world, urban beekeeping is becoming a popular hobby in North Sydney neighbourhoods. The Northern Beaches Amateur Beekeeping Association and the North Shore Beekeepers Association both welcome residents from the area to join and The Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability in Waverton and North Sydney Community Centre both run courses for beekeeping beginners. Keep an eye on their websites for information and the dates of any upcoming sessions.

And for those considering an at-home beehive? “Just go for it!” Greg encourages. “It’s such a rewarding thing to do and not just for the delicious honey and honeycomb. Beekeeping is lots of fun.”

So sweet!

The hive at the Commodore, left, is home to 5000 busy European honeybees.

For Bee-ginners

Bees hibernate so winter’s a great time to research so you’re ready for spring. Julie Leal, Vice President of the Northern Beaches Amateur Beekeeping Association, shares her top tips

  • Put an empty hive out first and talk to your neighbours to answer any questions they might have.

  • Join an amateur club for advice and support while you’re starting out and throughout your beekeeping experience.

  • Get a mentor with experience keeping bees to ask questions – no matter how silly!

  • Visit your local library for as much information as you can get. Read books and watch films about beekeeping.

  • If you aren’t able to have a hive yourself, find out if there’s a community garden or a piece of public ground that could house one.

  • Check with the council – find out what the rules with regards to things like how many hives you’re allowed.

Photos: Instagram @gregbookachef and @commodorehotel


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