GREEN­KEEPER GETS A BUZZ FROM BEES

Golf Australia - - IN MY OPINION - 30 |

FEW bud­ding farm­ers who attended Glenormis­ton Agri­cul­tural Col­lege with Col Win­ter­ton in the 1970s would have imag­ined he had much in com­mon with the ac­tress Scarlett Jo­hans­son, poet Sylvia Plath or Maria von Trapp from The Sound of Mu­sic.

The knock­about boy from the bush, who went on to be­come the course su­per­in­ten­dent at Melbourne’s Med­way Golf Club, shares the pas­sion of the afore­men­tioned women for bees and har­vests honey from hives be­side the 7th fair­way.

He comes by it hon­estly, be­ing the son of a farmer who helped make ends meet in the Great De­pres­sion of the 1930s by catch­ing swarms of wild bees around his farm at War­ragul and selling them to an api­arist in Bairns­dale, packed in old pinewood fruit cases which were sent down on the train.

Fa­ther Ge­orge still keeps a hive at 95 and while it is tempt­ing to at­tribute his great age to the healthy ef­fects of the prod­uct, longevity runs in the fam­ily, even among the non-honey eaters.

Win­ter­ton puts one in mind of Bill Lawry, who en­joys the equally ar­cane pur­suit of pi­geon rac­ing. Both have a won­der­fully dry sense of hu­mour and enough con­sid­er­a­tion for their fel­low man to talk en­thu­si­as­ti­cally about their ob­ses­sions only when asked. Veg­e­tar­i­ans and other mi­nor­ity groups could learn much from them.

At col­lege re­unions Win­ter­ton tells in­cred­u­lous farm­ers that his work at Med­way is just the same as theirs ex­cept that he cuts his grass to three mil­lime­tres. As for spend­ing the last 37 years at the club, he ap­plied for the top job be­cause it came with a house on the course. He stayed on “de­spite there be­ing no prospect of pro­mo­tion” be­cause he and his wife were able to give their four kids an idyl­lic up­bring­ing with no fences.

He keeps five hives at Med­way which pro­duce about 40 kilos of honey per year.

“They do rea­son­ably well,” he says of this yield. “If you want to max­imise honey pro­duc­tion, you move the bees to the flow­ers. If it is a hobby, the bees just find the flow­ers. If they pro­duce a sur­plus, well and good. If they don’t, it doesn’t mat­ter. Bee keep­ers just love bees.”

Away from the course he runs a busi­ness with his older brother, Brian, and is a mix of their own hives which they drive around the coun­try­side to find the flow­ers, as well as bees they keep in the CBD and sub­urbs for clients.

“What we get from the course is de­scribed as a gar­den honey,” he said. “We have red gum and su­gar gum trees on the course but the honey is a blend of their pollen and flow­ers in neigh­bours’ gar­dens. It is a good drop and unique.

“The bees have a max­i­mum range of five kilo­me­tres so it is what­ever they can get off the course and sur­round­ing ar­eas. This in­cludes the Moonee Val­ley race­course and the North Melbourne footy ground in Ar­den Street.”

His clients in­clude the In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Ho­tel in the Rialto Tow­ers in the city and the lo­cal Bud­dhist tem­ple. Honey pro­duced at the Rialto is served with high teas.

“It does not have to travel far, it just comes down five floors,” he said. “We have an­other three hives on a roof in South Yarra for a choco­late maker. At the Bud­dhist tem­ple I met a mem­ber of the Bhutan royal fam­ily. He told me he also keeps bees. “I would en­cour­age

any­one think­ing of hav­ing a go in the city. You watch them come in with yel­low or white pollen on their legs and you won­der where they got it. This is great at in­creas­ing your aware­ness of other things. You lift your head up. It is also the short food mile. This pot you are try­ing here (in his ma­chin­ery shed and it was de­li­cious) to­day came from the 7th fair­way. When the mem­bers get it in the bar, it has only come 300 yards. Some of the honey you buy in the su­per­mar­ket has come thou­sands of miles from China. It is not very good.”

The best way for begin­ners to learn is to join a bee club, he says, and buy an es­tab­lished hive.

“We have all been given two eyes and two ears and one mouth. Look and lis­ten to ex­pe­ri­enced bee keep­ers and don’t say too much and you’ll learn a lot. It is a men­tor­ing thing, hand­ing down the craft,” Win­ter­ton says.

“There are plenty of hives in the city. You just need to check with your lo­cal coun­cil to see if you can have them and how many. As with the golf course, you have to be care­ful about us­ing sprays.

“Don’t worry about get­ting stung. It only hap­pens if you are care­less. You learn to read your hives. Some days they don’t want to be worked. They don’t like hu­mid­ity or thun­der. But nor­mally I work the hives with­out gloves and I don’t get stung. You learn to be gen­tle, calm and re­laxed and keep your mind on the job. They can sense fear.”

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