By Andrea Rowe Photos Yanni
The closest Matt Dolling came to bees as a kid, was barefoot in the backyard and accidentally stepping on them in the clover grass. Now, the professional firefighter can’t get enough of caring for their health and sharing his bee passion in Mount Martha’s thriving gardens through neighbourhood hives.
While his day job with Fire Rescue Victoria in Frankston keep’s Matt busy, his side hustle as a registered beekeeper has taken off. The Mt Martha Honey apiarist rescues and relocates swarms and tends to healthy hives and honey production. Like his bees, Matt is literally buzzing with talk of hives, honey, colony health and careful harvesting.
Adding to this, is an innovative community-focussed vision, fostering beehives out to local Mount Martha gardens.
A chalkboard sign on the gate of the Dolling home, Mt Martha Honey Headquarters, shares updates on bee behaviour and offers to remove and rehome swarms. Next to it hangs a handmade box selling small batch-harvested honey.
The lush and blooming gardens of Mount Martha are crawling with bees, and Matt’s care for them has him in high demand. Fostering beehives came from Matt’s desire to see bees enjoy safe and healthy lives, saved from the hands of exterminators.
“It’s a win-win. The bees get a safe house, a welcome place they can forage in, our foster hosts get to enjoy bees pollinating their gardens and we collectively enjoy their honey,” says Matt.
Matt doesn’t charge for swarm removal, bee relocation, hive residency or honey extraction. He sets up hives in local gardens, shares the spoils with hosts and shares beekeeping tips.
Matt originally planned for just one hive at his Mount Martha home to help his own garden growing.
“Over 65% of fruit and veggies are pollinated by bees. I was happy with them tinkering around my garden and harvesting a little honey.”
He was soon saving millions of bees across Mount Martha from decline.
“The bee bug has really got me! I started researching bees, their habitat and health, and registered with Agriculture Victoria.”
After work, he swaps fire-fighting gear for a hive-smoking suit for swarm removal, employing natural beekeeping and retrieval techniques.
“I don’t want people calling exterminators to kill bees; they deserve a healthy life. Given two thirds of the food we grow and eat needs bees to pollinate it, I’m helping them out for their survival, and our sustainability.”
Once his own property reached capacity with urban beekeeping restrictions, encouraging foster hives was a practical solution. Word of mouth spread, as naturally as Mt Martha Honey and there’s now a local waiting list for hives.
Matt assembles the hives, transitions bees to established gardens and checks in on his pollinating and nectar producing charges.
“People are realising how important bees are. They’re in decline globally, struggling with colony collapse disorder, bee populations and agriculture impacts. We’re fortunate Australia doesn’t have Varroa mites, but we need to ensure healthy bee colonies. The plight of the bees and how important they are for our food bowl matters.”
Community foster hives are Mt Martha Honey’s success story.
“There’s great foraging for bees in Mount Martha with so many ornamental gardens and year-long flowering blooms. It’s the stuff bee’s love, and they’re happy doing their own thing in it,” says Matt.
“Some of the people have entertained the beekeeper idea but never knew where to start. If they’ve got a garden with flowers, fruit trees or vegetables our foster hive carers don’t need to do any work,;simply sit in their garden with a cuppa and enjoy the bees.”
“If they’re interested, they can suit up when I visit for inspections and shadow me during extractions. When we harvest, they’ve got an abundance of honey to enjoy.”
“I let the bees do their own thing. A harmonious bee population colony is a happy garden, and we treat our bees like they are part of the family.”
Beekeeping is a family affair. Wife Emma, who works at Enchanted Maze, coordinates all the Mt Martha Honey marketing and sales. She shares bee and honey-extraction images and bee-facts on Instagram. Their children nine-year-old Will, and four-year-old Charlotte, shadow Matt’s harvesting and hive care.
“Will is the smoke man when I have my hands full of frames. He has his own hive and I’ve funded his start-up costs.”
And the honey?
“It tastes like how Mt Martha smells in springtime. That floral taste with the coastal smell of salt, and a hint of tea-tree … it’s Mt Martha in a jar.”
“Some customers say it tastes like honey used to taste in the 1960’s ,which is a lovely complement. While the flavour profile does change depending on the season, it’s a taste that’s distinctly local.”
Honey is sold from the front gate, right near buzzing worker bees, doing their thing. It’s an industry built on honest toil, care for the environment and a love of bees.
“I can see myself as an old man, pottering in the garden with my bees around me.”
Follow Mt Martha Honey on instagram.com/mtmarthahoney