It's a sweet way to bring a dream into bee-ing

Eugowra bee keeper is living the sweet life

Smart Farmer News
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Honey Brothers bee keeper Neil McMillan is more intrigued by bees every day.

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BUSY AS A BEE: Neil McMillan, who runs Honey Brothers with his friend Bill Barnes, Eugowra, with some of his bee hives. Neil says bees are intriguing creatures who do a great deal for the environment.

BUSY AS A BEE: Neil McMillan, who runs Honey Brothers with his friend Bill Barnes, Eugowra, with some of his bee hives. Neil says bees are intriguing creatures who do a great deal for the environment.

When Neil McMillan is driving, he isn't just watching the road.

He's watching the environment around him, on behalf of about 13 million of his closest friends.

Neil is a bee farmer, and every day he is more intrigued by the tiny little creatures he cares for.

The Eugowra local runs Honey Brothers with his friend Bill Barnes, and they get on like a house on fire.

But bees haven't always been a part of Neil's life.

Neil and his wife Jayne used to own the renowned Eugowra function centre Eat Your Greens. After turning the old golf course into a beautiful spot for weddings and functions, they sold the business in 2015 and this year sold the centre itself, keeping 45 hectares along the creek for themselves.

And it was this change which brought bees into Neil's life.

"I had always been interested in them, their purpose in the environment and ecology," he said. "But I just never had the time or situation to do anything with them."

He said it started off as a hobby in about 2015, but from there it got wings.

After introducing Bill to bees, they built up their hives. They now have 220 hives between them, with each hive being home to between 40,000 and 60,000 bees. In 2018, they harvested five tonnes of honey.

And has he been stung much? "Hundreds of times," he said.

But the main sting for Neil is the ongoing drought, with the dry seriously affecting their bees. Neil said they would have to create nucleus hives to replace the bees they have lost. They've had to resort to feeding the bees sugar syrup to keep them going when times are tough.

"This drought has been pretty telling," he said.

Neil said he hit the books to learn about keeping bees.

"There is a lot to it," he said. "It's quite enjoyable. I'm glad I'm doing it with a friend. We get along pretty well."

But Neil's reasons for keeping bees goes way beyond wanting to produce honey.

"I wanted to do something for the environment," he said. "Caring for bees, you realise how fragile nature is."

Neil has hives on many properties across the region, and he says when he is driving, he is constantly looking at the trees and plants nearby to see if they might suit his bees.

"It has made me look more at the environment," he said. "It makes you a bit more aware of the importance of these little animals."

In fact, Neil is intrigued by them. "Bees are a fantastic animal," he said. "They are astounding. I've still got a lot to learn about them, but they just blow me away. They have such amazing survival techniques. I've realised how much they do for us and for themselves."

SWEET AS: Neil McMillan with his wife Jayne and grandson Robey with some of Honey Brothers products, available across the region.

SWEET AS: Neil McMillan with his wife Jayne and grandson Robey with some of Honey Brothers products, available across the region.

Plenty of buzz for local flavour

Yellowbox, stringybark, canola and even blackberry.

These are all on the menu for Neil McMillan's bees, and boy, can you taste it in his Honey Brothers products.

The Eugowra honey farmer and his friend Bill Barnes have their bee hives spread across the region, bringing diverse flavours to their honey. "We've got all of our hives within a 80 to 100-kilometre radius of Eugowra," Neil said. "They are on farms where the bees can access eucalpts, such as yellowbox, stringybark and ironbark, canola near Narromine, and even blackberries near Orange. Bill also has some on his property "Kamilaroi", near Eugowra, where they access red river gum."

And the Honey Brothers products are spread far and wide too, with one-kilogram tubs of honey available in a butcher shop in Forbes, cafes in Orange, and in Eugowra and Gooloogong.

Honey Brothers products, from 1kg to 30kgs, are also sold to numerous outlets in Sydney, including Bakery 41 in Menai.

Neil said they were also looking into using the bees wax in lip balms and skin repair creams. And Neil isn't stopping with just producing honey - he is planning on adding to his sweet repertoire. "I'm thinking of growing flowers, with our irrigation here on the creek. Maybe lavender."

POWER: Neil McMillan uses solar to run his Honey Brothers business.

POWER: Neil McMillan uses solar to run his Honey Brothers business.

Honey business flies high on solar

For Neil McMillan, using solar to run his honey business was a no-brainer.

The Honey Brothers beekeeper from Eugowra has only recently had solar power installed on his creekside block, but he has huge plans for it.

The solar system, which was designed and assembled by Simon Duff and his team from Towards Tomorrow Energy, is a 10-kilowatt solar array, with a 7.5kW continuous supply battery inverter, and an 8.2kW solar inverter and 40 kilowatt-hour battery bank.

Neil also has an 8kVA back-up generator installed.

Neil said the solar would power their house and bore, as well as every part of his honey business, including a heating room for the hives and the honey extraction plant.

He said solar power was the most logical choice for his business.

"It will be so much cheaper in the long run to have solar," he said. "It was going to cost more to get electricity put on to the block.

"It was a no-brainer for us."

FLYING HIGH: Neil McMillan's solar system.

FLYING HIGH: Neil McMillan's solar system.

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