21 April 2022

Success couldn't be sweeter for Crookwell's busy Queen Bee

| Sally Hopman
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Woman standing in front of honey

Award-winning Crookwell beekeeper and sustainable farmer, Belinda Foley. Photo: Facebook.

People always told Belinda Foley that she produced great honey. She knew it, too, but was happy to keep producing it quietly on her family’s farm at Crookwell in the NSW Southern Tablelands.

But then came the 2022 Sydney Royal Easter Show and, for the heck of it, Belinda entered some of her honey, beeswax candles and moulds.

She now claims the title of Champion Small Producer at the Royal after judges scored her honey a remarkable 89 out of 100.

It followed her entries at the NSW Apiarists’ Show in Tamworth last year, where she won just about everything – and where she “caught the bug”.

“After that, I wanted to enter everything,” she said.

“I had never entered big shows before, just a couple of the smaller ones, until last year when people kept encouraging me to.”

With her seven firsts at this year’s Sydney Royal, along with five seconds and a third, Belinda was also named Most Successful Exhibitor at this year’s Canberra Show in the raw honey section.

At home, she has been given the less formal but no-less special title of Queen Bee by family and friends.

Prize-winning honey

What the Sydney Royal judges thought of Belinda Foley’s honey. Photo: Facebook.

“I don’t know how many cards I won, but I really wanted the champion ribbon. They told me it had been lost and they’d send it to me – I’m still waiting,” she laughed.

Belinda, her husband Ben and their two sons Bryce and Angus live self-sufficiently on the 2500-ha Foley Farm in Crookwell. Originally from Nelson Bay north of Newcastle, Belinda said she has always been happiest living on the land.

“The only thing we really have to buy these days is bananas,” she said. “I’d grow them here if I could. But we produce almost everything we need – milk, meat, eggs, honey, vegies.

“I was very lucky to have met and married an old-fashioned farmer – he still milks the cows by hand. I prefer to grow the vegetables, but I can’t do the killing.”

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It was one of the tenants on the Crookwell property, Joe Lewis, that got Belinda stuck on the idea of producing her own honey.

“He was an old beekeeper. I told him I wanted to learn how to produce honey,” she explained.

“I had thought about it before I was married and I had a five-acre block at Wagga, but the idea of doing it by myself back then was a little scary. But it had always been in the back of my mind.

“When I told him I wanted to learn from him, he said no because I was pregnant at the time and he said it was too dangerous. It wasn’t until 2013 that I started learning from him. He was getting older so I was able to do some of the heavy work for him while I learned.

“He was amazing. When he tasted the honey, he could tell me what flowers it had come from.”

Bees on honey jar

Even Belinda Foley’s bees love her honey. Photo: Facebook.

When Joe got sick and had to move into town, Belinda took over the production and when he passed away, he left all his beekeeping gear to her.

“I learned then, from other old-time apiarists, that when the beekeeper dies, you have to tell the bees. It’s a tradition,” she said.

“So I did. I told the bees that my mentor had died. I still talk to the bees, it’s like how some people talk to their plants. When you talk to bees, it calms them down.”

Keeping bees, producing honey and, particularly, making beeswax, is all part of Belinda’s sustainable plan. It became serious almost 10 years ago when she took over the hives.

“It was just a natural progression to start making my own natural products. After all, I now produced one of the key ingredients – beeswax,” she said.

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“I started by investigating ingredients in everyday products,” she said. “After all, in my previous life I had achieved a Bachelor of Science degree and had worked as a forensic investigator for over 10 years so you could say investigating products was in my DNA.”

When she’s not winning Best in Show, Belinda sells her produce at local markets, including Canberra’s Hall Markets and at Goulburn.

Those not making the market rounds will find related products online at Beelinda’s Beehive.

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