Hayley & Roger Mason are the founders of Settler Hives, a business dedicated to savouring life outdoors and feeding the bees. We spent a morning with the family to learn more about their love of beekeeping, how to create pollinator-friendly spaces, and what we should be planting right now.
Hi Hayley & Roger! Tell us about yourselves, how did you meet?
We met at the beginning of high school and lived fourteen houses away from each other. Hayls' school bus used to stop out the front of my bedroom window every morning and we'd wave and put signs up for each other. These were the days of MSN and Nokia phones (we used to battle for the high score in snakes and space invaders).
It was while living on a blueberry farm an hour west of Vancouver that the two of you fell in love with the humble act of beekeeping. What can you tell us about your journey so far?
We decided to get honeybees in the winter - not exactly the time of year you can just crack open a beehive, let alone buy one. We spent the first six months researching bees by reading and watching youtube videos (with popcorn on the couch) - we learnt so much from other beekeepers. As spring got closer we started getting the gear we'd need together and put our names on a waiting list to buy our first nucleus bee colony. It was just a cool hobby we were keen to do together, to spend time outdoors.
Three years in and Roger said goodbye to his 50-hour workweek in building so we can operate our business together from home in daylight hours!
Now you don't just keep bees, you feed them! Can you share with us the inspiration behind launching Settler Hives?
Believe it or not, Settler Hives started out as an Instagram account to show our friends and family how interesting we were finding bees and our hilarious amateur attempt at beekeeping. It grew because we enjoyed sharing what we learnt. We knew we'd love to make a living working together, but not by being commercial beekeepers with hundreds of hives (that's a whole lot of km’s, high risk in hive losses and a serious amount of time). So we kept brainstorming, it was our favourite thing to talk about.
It was a whole year after getting our backyard bees (after many beers and coffee conversations) that the idea of Settler Hives as you know it came to us. We were in the car together and Hayley turned to me with a big smile on her face and said ‘Seeds! To feed the bees!’
How is sustainability woven into your business, and what considerations are taken when sourcing seeds?
We are constantly thinking this through and improving where we can as we come across better options. Our packaging has been carefully considered to preserve the life of our precious cargo (the seed) keeping it tucked in safely for at least two years without exposure to the elements (think moisture, light and temperature control). We also chose a re-sealable zip-lock packet to store away for later (you don't have to use them all at once) and our local printer uses recycled materials and vegetable-based ink - which just makes us feel better about our footprint.
We have sourced our seeds from the best seed houses in the world with most of our garden greens range coming from Australian soil. It’s been interesting to learn about Australia’s seed bank compared to other parts of the world, to summarise - it's not very big! So we get as many varieties as locally as possible such as sunflowers, broad beans, snow peas etc. and pick the best from all over the world. Every packet of seed is prepared by hand at the moment.
Can you describe a day in the life of a backyard beekeeper
Our hives are all winterised now ready for the cooler months. Which just means making sure they have plenty of honey stores to get through the next few months not being able to come out and forage as often. We'll hardly check the hives before August but come Spring/Summer it'll be every other week to make sure they have plenty of space, a healthy Queen, no diseases and when in excess being able to extract honey.
Our usual working days are looking a little different right now. It’s a milestone we have celebrated! I stopped working full time as a builder in March and we are no longer night owls packing seeds after dinner! Now we’re both at home to get the orders out, grow the business and enjoy Scarlett our 3.5-year-old. We wake up together, have breakfast, do a bit of yoga/stretching (we’re giving priority to taking care of our bodies). Then our workday begins usually with emails and an hour of power working our way down the business improvements list (that never ends...). After this, we start packing and shipping orders. We're constantly working with over 130 stockists all over Australia, in the UK, Europe, Canada and the U.S.A.
Tell us about your home, how have you chosen to curate it inside and out?
We own a small Queenslander workers cottage that we adore. It's full of beautiful and charming character, polished wooden floors, 12-foot ceilings, a fireplace, the old school v-joint walls and finished with chipped paint and imperfections. It's not hard to love!
Hayley wears the Ella Midi Dress in Black.
Winter is coming, what should we be planting right now?
We've curated a beautiful Winter Seed Set taking out the guesswork (and time googling) by selecting seven seed packets of scrumptious greens and flowers good for planting now! They'll be ready & blooming this Spring.
What we love the most is that you don't need to have a big garden patch to grow something. Just try some pots and put them in a spot that gets around 6 hours of sunlight every day. It'll feel good, promise.
Bees pollinate so much of the fresh food we eat, multiplying the possible harvest of some plants by 25%. What are your top tips for creating pollinator-friendly spaces?
Bees live off nectar and pollen (from flowers!) & water. If you can create these experiences off your deck or in your yard then watch and see, you will get all kinds of pollinators visiting your space. Have you seen the butterflies recently? There are certain flower varieties that honeybees will visit more than others and having a wide selection of flowers is important to support their gut health.
Hayley wears the Myla Knit in Natural.
How has growing your own produce impacted the way you eat?
While living in Canada we became super aware of eating ‘in season’ fruits and vegetables. You always knew when it was strawberry, apple, blueberry or corn season! Here in South-East Queensland, we’re spoilt with choice, often having the ability to get whatever we want, whenever we want. We try to change our meals up weekly and focus on what is in abundance (hint: you can usually tell by the price!). We don't have a lot of space right now to grow vegetables so we use it for flowers and herbs instead.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone interested in starting a hive?
The best thing you can do is head to your local beekeeper's association. 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. Don't wait to get bees before learning about what it's going to take to handle them and keep them healthy, there are so many diseases in Australia that can quickly move from one hive to the next, devastating colonies. It's a responsibility to make sure you know what you're looking at and manage them to thrive (it's not just about collecting the liquid gold). Winter is a great time to read up (or watch videos as we did!) before you get into it. Plus it would be devastating to purchase a colony of bees early Spring and then have them fly away in a swarm! It happens all the time, it's their natural cycle of procreation. 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.
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