The Produce Index: Honey Fingers

Published on 23 September 2021

Photo: Honey, fingers (photo: Lee Grant)

Spring has sprung, the flowers are out in force, and with them are the bees. And with the bees of the inner-north of Melbourne, you’ll find Nic Dowse and friends from cult brand Honey Fingers.

Honey Fingers is both an urban beekeeping network and a local, small-batch producer of raw honey. But there’s more to the story again: it’s also an educator in beekeeping practices. Founded by Nic Dowse, this collective of beekeepers and creative minds is dedicated to exploring and promoting bee culture and the interactions between bees and people. They explore this dynamic through the lenses of farming, food, art, history, design and education. And they make great honey along the way.

Honey Fingers maintains a network of 30 hives, predominantly in Melbourne’s inner north. They also have sites further afield in the Otways, Birregurra and Tallarook to which they send swarms that are producing less.

In the spring of 2013, Dowse was keeping bees in the Otways when the opportunity to help a friend manage their hayfever found him setting up a hive on a roof in Faraday Street in Carlton. (Hay fever? Yes: honey can desensitise hayfever sufferers to the pollen of local flora.) Pidapipó founder Lisa Valmorbida lived just a couple of doors down, and she soon took an interest in Dowse’s honey, looking to dress her grandmother’s ricotta in it. Soon enough, Valmorbida wanted to put the honey to work in her Gelato Test Lab, and Dowse placed some hives on their roof, too.

Italian artist Giorgia Mocilnik was working at Pidapipó around this time, and also found her interest piqued by Dowse’s work. “She showed me this concept that she’d been experimenting with and I thought, why don’t we make this a reality?” says Dowse. Mocilnik was using collage to explore the form of honeycomb, something that Dowse had plenty of. The two set out to physically attach Dowse’s honeycomb to objects and the project became the Bread + Honey series. This interdisciplinary collaboration helped Dowse realise that Honey Fingers could exist in realms beyond food production. 

The development of the business and its direction has been organic. Dowse started to keep bees and Honey Fingers grew through his networks in Melbourne. “If anyone wants to come beekeeping, I say, come beekeeping. Not a problem.”

Why it's different
If Honey Fingers’ sole purpose was to put jars on shelves, it would have 150 or 250 hives, not 30. At this rate, they make enough honey to sell sustainably. When it sells out, that’s that until the next season. 

But producing honey for sale accounts only for about a third of what Honey Fingers does. While growing an ever-evolving artist network, Honey Fingers continues to deliver beekeeping courses in 2021, albeit online. The business also uses its Instagram account to introduce us to the geckos living in the beehives, the flowers driving the flavour profile of each batch, and to transparently document the entire process of taking the honey from the bees. Dowse extends the invitation to come beekeeping to anyone via Instagram, encouraging visitors to connect to nature and urban food production with a fresh perspective.

Who's a fan?
Honey Fingers and Pidapipó have maintained their friendship since 2013, and Pidapipó delighted Melbourne with honeycomb-topped coconut gelato last summer. Honey Fingers also frequently works with Boris Portnoy, the baker and co-owner of Northcote’s All Are Welcome and Gray & Gray. One collaboration last year delivered a cheese and honey tasting for Lindsay Magazine, complemented with the bakery’s knækbrød.

Other notable creative collaborations include work with photographers Phillip Huynh and Sarah Pannell, artist/roboticist Michael Candy, florist Hattie Molloy, ceramicist Zhu Ohmu, and Mud Australia ceramics.

Dowse invites you to follow honey season in this season’s harvest on Instagram, through to the honey’s final stockists. While you’re there, you can also enjoy a wealth of beekeeping resources that will further grow your interest relating to all things bee.

By Josie Biggs

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