Keith Johnson, Hobbyist Beekeeper

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It has been said that age is of no importance unless you are a cheese, and that the only thing that comes automatically as a result of old age is wrinkles!

Bill Vaughan once remarked that, ‘By the time you’re eighty years old you’ve learned everything – you only have to remember it!’

But, jokes aside, it has also been observed that life is about the accumulation of wisdom, love and experience, and of obstacles overcome.

Those who improve with age are said to embrace the power of personal growth and to replace youth with wisdom and understanding.

At the ripe old age of eighty-seven, Michelangelo declared that he was still learning.

This week’s episode is something of a departure from the norm, and is devoted to my dear friend Keith Johnson, a hobbyist beekeeper from south-east Melbourne.

In his eighty-two years on this Earth, Keith has amassed a wealth of knowledge and wisdom that is often dispensed with a healthy dose of humour!

For instance, when I asked him about the most important lessons he had learnt during his lifetime, his immediate reply was, ‘Don’t run barefoot in clover!’

Apparently, he had done just that when only four years’ old and had received a rather painful introduction to the amazing world of bees when he was stung on the feet.

Keith also counselled that it was best not to meddle with electrical wiring, since he had once cut a lead that had almost sent him to God.

He has broken quite a few bones over the years, and recently a ladder gave way underneath him, resulting in a crushed vertebra.

His doctor had some sage advice, telling him that it is best that older people do not climb ladders!

Keith’s Brisbane Origins

Keith was born in Brisbane on January 1st, 1940 and can still remember food coupons and the sound of the air raid alarm that was trialled in his neighbourhood.

His second encounter with bees occurred when he was six years of age and living in the Brisbane suburb of Coorparoo.

Keith recalls watching Mr Fleet (a beekeeper from up the road) removing a swarm, but was particularly fascinated by the apiarist’s car, as there weren’t too many vehicles around back then.

Later, Keith moved to Melbourne where he established a couple of hives. He was a regular customer at Redpath’s Beekeeping Supplies, which opened its doors in 1964 and is still in business today.

At the time it was owned by Norman Redpath, and Keith purchased his book, A Guide to Keeping Bees in Australia.

A publication that was to become his ‘bee bible’.

Fast forward a few years and Keith invested in two Flow Hives.

He loves the Flow Hives due to the ease of extracting honey.

In 2018 he harvested over 70 kilograms, but the weather has not been the best in the last couple of years so honey production has been a bit slower.

Keith’s wife of fifty-eight years, Shirley, also loves the bees, but is yet to be persuaded to don Keith’s beekeeping suit.

I’ve known Keith for four years now and we have a fantastic friendship.

I reckon he has aged a bit like a good bottle of red. Plus, Keith splits his hives to manage swarming, and after doing all the hard work, gifts me some big fat boxes of bees!


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