Amber Drop Honey
Little Hobby Making A Big Difference
A sweet product in the Camden Haven food bowl is Johns River’s Amber Drop Honey.
Ana and Sven Martin began keeping bees as a hobby and a practical way to save the bees in their neighbourhood.
Both are now farmers passionate about being kind to the environment and championing local produce and businesses.
“If we want to keep regional areas moving, we need farmers to keep on farming,” Ana said.
“You don’t want to create a society where it’s more attractive for farmers to go and work in a big company or an office than to produce your food.
“We all know that food which has travelled or picked too early then matured in unnatural conditions, or heat-treated for cosmetic reasons, has fewer vitamins and nutrients than something picked yesterday and sold today.
“From a health and economy perspective, local produce is best.”
Ana and Sven Martin With Their Amber Drop Honey Products
Life-changing, for humans and bees
An interest in bees has taken Ana and Sven on a journey, buzzing with sweet potential. They had careers and a busy lifestyle on the NSW Central Coast in 2015 when a crowdfunding campaign caught their attention.
The Flow Hive, and Australian invention, started a campaign to launch their beehives designed for backyard beekeepers. Researching Flow Hive guided Ana and Sven into an information rabbit hole, and they learnt bee populations around the world are in rapid decline. The survival of global bee populations is critical to food security for animals and humans. Bees are also vital to the propagation of many plant species.
“We thought having our own hives would be a way to help save our local bee population,” Ana said.
Sven said the initial idea was to have one or two hives in their backyard.
“We thought we could get some honey for ourselves and our friends.”
Ana and Sven joined the Beekeepers Association in Gosford. Sven put his name on the swarm collector list to bring bees home to start their hives.
“As soon as springtime came I had many calls from people to come and collect swarms which had flown into their neighbourhoods,” Sven said.
Bees regularly settle in complicated places where they clash with the urban life of humans.
“In four months, we had 35 hives and bees making honey whether we wanted it or not. Our whole basement was full of jars. We had to do something.
“We started selling the honey. The number of hives grew and grew.
“Eventually we made a side business out of it.”
Ana and Sven’s hives were dotted all over the central coast, in friends’ properties and backyards. Sven became known as the man to rescue bees from difficult places.
“I like a challenge,” Sven said.
“My first rescue was in some metal construction on a farm. The next rescue was the next day in a floor space. Then I was getting calls from other beekeepers to do rescues. It was ‘call Sven; he’s doing the tricky ones’.”
Sven has rescued over 100 swarms of bees from difficult places. Without Sven those thousands of bees would have met the local exterminator.
When they started their side-hustle, Sven was a kitchen installer. Ana worked in hospitality, owning restaurants and doing administration work.
As a boy, growing up in Germany, Sven had a fascination with bees and beekeeping. His interest lay dormant for 35 years.
Watching Sven working at the hives, it’s clear he has found his calling. The bees are calm when their hives are being checked and honey harvested.
Sven Martin Working At The Amber Drop Honey Beehives
“When I started seeing how happy Sven was working with the bees, I thought, let’s give this a try. What’s the worst that can happen? We can always go back to what we know,” Ana said.
“We’re not scared of hard work. If you try something and it doesn’t work, well, it’s worse to regret not trying.”
In 2017, with a fast-growing family of bees, Ana and Sven bought a farm at Johns River, with the Middle Brother National Park at their back door. They split their time between working on the Central Coast and setting up the farm.
“Our furniture was milk crates, a camping table and an air mattress. It was still more attractive than going back to the Central Coast.”
The tipping point to full-time beekeeping came when bee work left little time for anything else.
“There’s not really a typical day in beekeeping,” Sven said.
“Some days you’re extracting honey, bottling, checking on the bees, driving to all the hives to extract honey, doing farm and business work, rescuing swarms, work at the markets and filling online orders, so it’s never boring.
“In winter we let the bees, just be. We will build and paint new hives and get ready for the spring and summer when there is bee work every day.”
Busy Bees From Amber Drop Honey Beehives
The beekeeping lifestyle reflects the busyness of life in the hives too.
“Bees are amazing,” said Sven.
“I learn something every day from them. How they work together, the whole system, they change what they need to do for the entire hive. It’s amazing at how quickly they react to changes outside the hive.
“If the worker bees bring in more nectar, the queen will realise it and start laying more eggs because there is more food. If it’s a bad time, the queen slows down laying eggs. If the season is really good, the queen will lay infertile eggs which makes male bees, drones, to swarm and mate with virgin queens.
“In spring and summer, a queen lays up to 2,000 eggs a day; more than her body weight.
“There is a whole process on how they communicate, the sound, the smell, the dances, the vibrations.”
Society in the hive is female.
“All the work is done by the girls. The queen lays the eggs; the worker bees are all female. They make male bees only when needed to mate with virgin queen bees. It’s a matriarchal system, and it works perfectly,” said Ana.
A percentage of every jar of Amber Drop Honey sold is donated to Save the Bees Australia. This social enterprise educates the community and advocates on behalf of Australian native and European honey bees.
Ana and Sven love to educate the community about the importance of bees. Their observation hive is a feature of their market stall and holds the attention of children during school and library visits.
“In the observation hive, everyone can see the system, the queen laying the eggs and raising the babies,” Sven said.
“Sometimes, the kids will ask, ‘where’s the king bee?’
“I’m the king. That’s my answer.”
Amber Drop Honey Beehive Location At Johns River
Diversity, challenges and abundance of potential
Amber Drop’s hives are dotted at select properties along the NSW coastline from the Somersby to Mackville. These locations ensure Ana and Sven’s tiny livestock are producing honey consistently.
“We don’t have all our eggs in one basket,” said Sven.
“When we had the drought here, for example, our hives on the Central Coast were busy producing lots of honey because they had 300mm of rain in the spring.”
The right location is vital to the success of Amber Drop Honey’s flavour. Ana and Sven choose properties where there are pesticide-free flowering plants in abundance.
“Bees are like humans. If we eat steak every day it is bad for us,” Sven said.
“If bees have a variety of pollens, nectar and trees, they are healthy. We don’t move our bees from ironbark to yellow box. Moving bees creates stress, and we want happy bees.
“Every few weeks the honey tastes different, depending on what is flowering.”
When harvesting, Sven leaves enough honey in the hive for the bees to eat in case of bad weather or other events which affect the bees being able to find food.
Despite diversifying locations, the end of 2019 and most of 2020 have impacted Sven, Ana and their bees.
“The drought, bushfires, floods, Covid; the last 18 months have been a roller coaster,” said Ana.
“We are lucky farmers, though, because we can move the hives if need be.
“The drought was pretty bad. And then when we had the fires, we were moving hives. Oh, let’s put them somewhere here. Oh no, the fire’s coming there too. It was like playing musical chairs. It was stressful thinking we could lose them. During the first round of fires that we had around Blackhead, we lost hives. We thought they were fine. And then overnight, the wind changed, and it was so quick.
“The smoke and the heat saw some of our bees die after the fires.
“Then we had a flood and lost some more hives.
“We have gone from 320 hives to 260.
“Before Covid, we were selling a lot of honey at markets. Slowly they are starting up again. Our online store is going well, and we sell at local businesses in the Camden Haven and Port Macquarie.”
Long-term, the future is looking sweet for Amber Drop Honey. On average, the busy bees produce 12,000 kilograms of honey annually. There is a range of honey flavours [highly recommend the chilli] in sustainable packaging, and bee-utiful products including, DIY beeswax wrap kits, gifts, honey hampers and lip balm.
“Raw honey is such a healthy food,” said Ana.
“It has been thought that honey is a sugar, therefore diabetic people shouldn’t eat it, but it has a lower GI than a sweet potato. So it’s good for you.
“If honey is heated, the goodness is destroyed. Some processors will heat the honey so that it stays runny and visually appealing, but the enzymes, pre and probiotics vitamins and minerals are lost in heating.
“Raw honey also has anti-bacterial qualities which are good for wounds, and it’s beautiful as a face mask.”
Amber Drop Honey Product Range
Find local stockists, order online or get in touch with Ana and Sven
Ana: 0403 896 248
Sven: 0412 186 841