Good Humans, Roger and Hayley Mason with their family at their home, a Hillside cabin rental in the beautiful Northern Rivers of New South Wales.
Welcome to the Good Human Series, a space where we celebrate the good in humanity by sharing the stories of impact focused individuals making a positive change in the world through their work.
Today's Good Humans Roger and Hayley Mason of Settler Hives are a couple on a mission to protect our most important pollinators - the honey bees.
It started with two beehives in their backyard, but their love of beekeeping led them to learn more about how important bees are to our ecosystem and way of life - it's estimated that one third of the food that we consume relies on pollination!
Not wanting to be commercial beekeepers, they developed an idea not just keep bees, but to feed them - with flowers, herbs and garden greens sourced from the best seed houses in the world.
To Roger and Hayley it's simple: by feeding the bees, we are feeding ourselves.
OD: You mention online that Settler Hives really started with two beehives in your backyard. Where did the idea come from to turn this passion into a business and something you could share with the wider community?
SH: We always knew we wanted to work together – we just didn’t know in what way. Settler Hives started out as just an Instagram account to show our friends and family our hilarious amateur attempt at beekeeping. I think it grew because we enjoyed sharing what we learnt. We got our first beehives when we were living in a barn on a blueberry field in Canada and just loved the whole feel of it. Not wanting to be commercial beekeepers (which needs a whole lot of kilometres, heaps of time and a tolerance for high losses), we kept brainstorming what we could do to help the whole ‘loss of pollinator’ scenario. We haven’t experienced the same phenomenon as the USA, but there is an occurrence called Colony Collapse Disorder, which is where the honey bees of a particular colony simply disappear and no one fully knows why.
It was a whole year after getting our backyard bees (and many conversations over a coffee or beer) when one day the idea just dropped. We were in the car together and Hayley turned to me and said, ‘Seeds! To feed the bees!’
Flowers for the bees from the Settler Hives garden
OD: Who or what do you credit as your greatest teachers in learning about beekeeping and protection of bees? Where did your passion first come from?
SH: The best thing we did was head to our local beekeeper association, initially in Toowoomba. The groups usually meet monthly and are a wealth of knowledge for anyone wanting to get started. The beekeepers in our club are 60+, hilarious and super nice.
Winter is a great time to read up (or watch videos like we did!) before you get into it. We spent six months Youtubing other beekeepers and learning everything we could before we got our first hive that Spring. It would be devastating to purchase a colony of bees and then they fly away in a swarm! It happens all the time; it's their natural cycle of procreation. Oh, and don't forget to register your beehive with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries so they can keep you informed and keep track of these clever stripey friends.
The University of Guelph’s Honey Bee Research Centre
This is our favourite YouTube channel! They have so many great videos, and are often uploading more, which is amazing. This is a great place to start to learn how to get into the hive, what to look for in there, and how to manage your bees throughout the seasons (keeping in mind they are in Canada, so the seasons are opposite and the winterising isn’t quite the same as in Australia!).
Alvéole’s Beekeeping Resources
These are some great, short videos to get your head around getting started with things like dividing the hive, feeding the colony, harvesting and swarming. They are also based in the Northern Hemisphere, so just remember that when thinking about seasons.
ABC’s beekeeping for beginners
For Australians, this is a good article to use as a reference for local laws and legislation – we just prefer the visuals of the video series in the links above! But if you’re in for a read, this is a great article to get started with.
Our mission with Settler Hives is to inspire others to live simply. Our little mantra at the moment is ‘savour life outdoors – feed your soul, eyes and colony’. Basically go breathe that beautiful air outside and enjoy the sunshine together, plant your feet on the earth and get your hands dirty. Enjoy the ultimate satisfaction of growing something beautiful that really does change the world, feeds the bees and ultimately your own tribe.
OD: Let’s get a little scientific, tell us a little about the impact these seed and plant species have on bees, how do you select what types of seeds you’ll make available in the Settler Hives range?
SH: Bees need a biodiverse diet of pollens, nectar and tree resins (for propolis, which is what they use as glue in the hive for waterproofing and sealing the hive – very clever!). Settler Hives is for growers like us who have the enthusiasm and guts for trial and error – but not necessarily all the “green thumb” expert gardener experience. So we have picked flowers that are beautiful and popular, but also easy to grow. We want people to keep gardening and try a new seed next, not be overwhelmed or disappointed the first time they try.
You mention on your website that planting bee-friendly seeds is the best thing we the community can do for the bees. Similarly, is there one thing you’d recommend we stop doing?
There really isn’t any need to use harmful pesticides in a household garden, which are all too commonly purchased off-the-shelf as a go-to. Try the natural methods first – they work so well! Do we really need to poison things like clover, for example? Bees love it and can take chemicals back to the hive with them and kill the whole colony. We love to encourage people to take a more natural, less “perfect” attitude to their gardens and lawns.
“Globally there are more honey bees than other types of bee and pollinating insects, so it is the world's most important pollinator of food crops. It is estimated that one third of the food that we consume each day relies on pollination. It’s pretty simple: if we don’t have pollinators, we don’t have food!"
For many people the thought of actively protecting, let alone happily cohabitating, with any kind of insect would be a big ask. How have you seen public attitudes change since joining the beekeeping community?
Oh I love when people ask this question! We totally get it. Roger and I still get pretty devoed when we get stung. Still, we don’t get stung that often. Roger says he aims for 15 in a season... He read somewhere that you can build up a tolerance with that amount!
With being stung by bees, the thing is, it’s usually something you’ve done. Bees aren’t naturally aggressive. Roger and I usually get stung when we accidentally squash a bee when checking the hive, or Roger is pretty much peering in the entrance. They are reactive, so the bees have taught us to be calm and slower. We nearly always get stung when we are rushing through the hive. Some days we open the hive after smoking them, notice they’re moving around a lot quicker and bomb us in the face a few times. Time to shut up shop and come back another day!
Globally there are more honey bees than other types of bee and pollinating insects, so it is the world's most important pollinator of food crops. It is estimated that one third of the food that we consume each day relies on pollination. It’s pretty simple: if we don’t have pollinators, we don’t have food!
What’s next for Settler Hives?
After literally years of trying, we have finally been able to move to home compostable packaging at Settler Hives! This has been a long-term goal of ours: work out how to protect seeds from the elements (to increase their germination rates – important!) all while trying to minimise our footprint on this beautiful planet.
So it is with great excitement that we released our first range of seeds in home compostable sachets earlier this year!
Typically, home compostable packaging is 2-3 times more expensive than traditional petrochemical packaging, which is mainly because of the low price of oil-based plastics and economy of scale. This is why we are starting our new collection with eight of our most popular lines, with the intention of adding more and more as we can scale.
We will still be stocking our OG pastel packaging until those lines run out (no wastage here, thank you!), so we have plenty to keep you going for a while if that’s more your colour scheme – but we’re really excited to start the transition into a lower carbon footprint.
Shortly we’re about to drop our first 100% Australian organic beeswax candles - Birthday Candles actually! We are literally packing them in boxes now to start shipping out soon.
What makes you hopeful?
Always: the little changes that people are making.
Good change is more than possible. We can make things come alive with everything we touch.
Then, we invite you to explore more of the Outland Journal, for more stories of humans doing good things.
"We’ve always seen business as a force for good and our approach to Thankyou when we first started still remains the same today - it wasn’t about starting a business that could also do some good in the world. It was about using business as a means to right a social injustice."