Like Bees to Honey
What if we all could grow what we eat? Even if we live in the big smoke... Meet Byron Smith who is using his knowledge to educate others through his sweet business 'Urban Growers'
Tell us a little about your Co. Urban Growers and how the idea evolved?
We establish edible gardens in urban environments and educate people on how to grow food. The idea unfolded whilst caring for the garden, bees and chooks at the Three Blue Ducks cafe in Bronte. We decided that growing food for the restaurant and inspiring locals to grow food was a creative and sustainable outdoor job and lifestyle and went about our way to make it happen on a full-time basis.
What is the Urban Growers mission?
Grow for the greater good. Educate and focus on the simple things that provide fulfillment and satisfaction.We encourage people to activate their spaces by growing food, caring for chooks, harvesting honey and cooking for friends. Nothing makes us happier than seeing people become more in touch with the seasons and cycles of nature. We believe keeping our connection to place through the soil or sea is fundamental to caring for the earth and sharing resources fairly with each other.
Why do you think it’s important for people in urban environments to be aware of what they are eating and where their foods are coming from?
We, as a community, need to take back some level of food control. Packaged food and tasteless produce has become the norm for most of western society. As a result huge health issues have arisen. At home for instance, I can make a breakfast omelette any day of the week just from the garden – a couple of eggs from the ladies and some spinach, kale, basil, parsley, tomato, rocket, sage from the garden bed. We have the hive producing enough honey for our neighbours and friends and an abundant veggie patch that provides more than enough for our household.
Even if you don’t have enough space to grow food for your family, visiting your local growers market for fresh, in season produce still has an effect on our food production and gives our community back some level of control. Imported and out of season foods have more food miles, less nutrients and less taste. You need to enjoy and appreciate good food and its effect on your mind and body. I’m happy to see that things are progressing in that direction now.
How can we teach the next generation about the benefits too?
Last year I taught the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program at Bondi Public School to grades 3-6. The program is incredible and I saw first hand how effective is was for the younger generation in establishing a connection with the earth, their food and each other. The purpose of the program is to introduce pleasurable food education to children during their learning years, in order to form positive food habits for life. We grew everything from the Bondi Public kitchen garden, cooked delicious food in the classroom and ate together in the sunshine. There are currently 800 schools in Australia that participate in the program – I believe that it should be part of the syllabus for all primary schools. Urban Growers educate all ages through creating edible gardens and running practical workshops to get people back into the garden.
How easy is it to grow your own edible garden? Any tips for first time growers?
The first lesson is to grow what you eat! And some flowers too…
Edible gardens require good sunshine, at least 6 hours per day
Your soil will decide which plants will live! If you don’t have good soil under your feet you’ll need to purchase some quality garden soil or potting mix – don’t scrimp on this!
Compost and worm farms will help you establish and maintain rich healthy soil by adding it to your garden every few months and limit the amount of compostable waste you are adding to your trash
Observation and attention to detail will help you relax and notice the garden’s daily changes
Herbs and leafy greens are a good start for a small space and will give you a constant supply for that breaky omelette.
Tell us about the relationship between you and your honey bees
The girls have been busy over the warmer months foraging around Bronte and neighbouring suburbs. We are so grateful for the sweet, sweet surplus honey they have provided us and our friends. You can sit in the garden and watch them bringing various coloured pollen back to the hive – red, yellow, orange – depends what’s in flower around the neighbourhood. The Paperback tree (Melaleuca) has just finished flowering in Sydney and which is a light yellow pollen so I’ve been noticing a bit of that in the bee backpacks lately. I wear my bee suit if I’m going to harvest quite a bit of honey and have the hive open for a while. Otherwise I leave the suit off and work calmly trying not to annoy the girls but sometimes not all 30,000 bees will love you and you’ll get stung. The suit is the sensible choice.
How many bees would you find living in this one hive?
The bottom box is called the Brood box – it’s where the Queen lives and is laying her eggs (up to 2000 per day!), which are constantly hatching out of brood comb. You might be lucky to see baby bees biting out of the comb, they are quite cute and furry but almost the same size as a female worker. Babies get straight to work with their older sisters and live for up to 6 weeks. I might have 30,000 bees in my hive, it’s obviously quite hard to count them – particularly because bee numbers fluctuate throughout the seasons. As winter approaches, the couple of hundred male bees (called drones) will be getting kicked out of the hive by the girls, as they were only good for their sperm during summer.
How do you create the perfect environment for the Queen and her workers?
Bee the perfect apiarist! Enrol in a practical course and learn about the bees’ incredible society. Once you have installed your new hive at home you need to inspect the hive regularly and ensure the hive is looking healthy and happy. You must be observant, record what you see, be aware of pests and diseases, harvest honey when required and keep learning and enjoying their honey. My hives entrance points North and they have a consistent flight path out and up, just like an airport does. The hive gets nice morning sun but is protected from hot westerly summer sun. I feel they are happy here because they’re are producing lots of babies and honey – always a good sign!
Talk us through honey collection in 5 easy steps…
1. I gather my suit, smoker, hive tool, bee brush and good vibes together
2. Observe the girls, give them a little puff of smoke under the lid, wait a minute then take the lid off
3. I use my hive tool to pull out the frames of honeycomb. I never take all the honey out, the bees need some too.
4. I replace the frames I have taken and inspect the hive and how much honey is left.
5. Close up the hive and make some notes of what’s going on. Share a bee story and some honey too.
What do you envisage in the future for Urban Growers?
I would love to see more people growing food, eating well, teaching each other and caring for what matters most.
More from Byron, his great work and his little honey’s HERE