A family hive of activity

third generation R stephens tasmanian honey Kenny Stephens

A family hive of activity

JULY 2016 | Lorraine Clarke

MOLE CREEK is home base of renowned company, R. Stephens Tasmanian Honey.

Pre-World War One, Robert Stephens was a hobbyist beekeeper.

In 1920 he established his apiary business which has continued to grow, expand and innovate until today it produces about one third of Tasmania’s annual honey from 2,400 hives.

Production varies depending on the season, with about 3o0 tons being harvested this year.

Two types of honey are produced. ‘Golden Bee Honey’ is the clover-blackberry and ground flora type from pastures in the North and North-West of the state.

Tasmania’s unique ‘Golden Nectar Real Leatherwood Honey’ is sourced only from the pristine West Coast areas where Eucryphia lucida grows.

The iconic Stephens Leatherwood Honey label has long been a guarantee of superb flavour and quality to connoisseurs who appreciate its strong, distinctive taste.

Several trucks transport the bees between apiary sites, following the flowering season of various crops, and transfer filled supers of honey to the factory for extraction.

Stephens Honey pre-empted compulsory netting of beehive transport trucks by covering loads to prevent bees flying en route, before this was made mandatory.

In the factory, they exceeded the standards required for production of pure, organic honey by installing all stainless steel vats and machinery in advance of legislation.

Honey quality is maintained by warming it only to the temperature at which bees keep it in the hive, preserving essential nutrients and flavours.

Stephens have designed and fabricated their own modifications of the array of equipment needed to extract honey from frames and package it.

R. Stephens Tasmanian Honey is one of Meander Valley’s success stories.

Ian and Shirley Stephens carried on Robert’s work, building it up into the impressive concern that it is today.

Shirley says, “They had to buy a lot of new equipment to replace me when I retired. People don’t like to do everything by hand any more.”

Their son, Kenny, has followed them into the business, and his son Joshua who looks after the 5oo nucleus hives, is the 4th generation as they head towards a century of sweet success.

Breeding their own strain of bees is paramount.

Every spring, hundreds of new queen bees are bred, and meticulous records are kept to identify the best hives from these.

Stephens Honey long ago resolved to concentrate on honey production.

Their high production is achieved by maintaining strong hives through not selling bee colonies overseas at the end of the leatherwood season as some other apiarists do.

“You need the old girls to keep the hives warm through winter,” said Shirley.

Nor do they use their hives for paid pollination of agricultural crops. “You need to decide whether to be a pollinator or a honey producer.

We have the best honey production percentage of all apiaries. The local market is our business. Our main aim is to keep them in honey,” she added.

A new shed is under construction beside the Mole Creek complex, which will house the trucks and empty boxes that are currently stored offsite.

Stephens Honey can be purchased directly from the Mole Creek factory, from selected outlets such as Health Food stores, the Tasmanian Honey Shop in Quadrant Mall, Salamanca Market, and from Woolworths supermarkets.

International honey sales to America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East are increasing, so the rest of the world is beginning to appreciate this unique Tasmanian delicacy.

Mike Moores