If you usually try to avoid crossing paths with a bee, you are not alone. These often-feared yet seldom-appreciated creatures are responsible for the pollination of one-third of the world’s crops alone. Making bees an irreplaceable part of our ecosystem.
With urban farming on the rise, backyard beekeeping has once again appeared on the agenda of the environmentally conscious. A low-maintenance, high-reward hobby, keeping these little guys presents a unique opportunity to support your natural environment and enjoy a sweet-tasting reward.
Throughout your self-taught beekeeping journey, safety must come first. If someone within your immediate surrounds is anaphylactic or suffers from an allergic reaction to bee venom, we do not advise going ahead. Thankfully, beekeeping doesn't have to be done from the comfort of your own home, with hives able to adapt to its location, whether that be a field to a rooftop terrace. Wherever you choose, you will need to adhere to council regulations, so do your research.
As a novice beekeeper, you need both the willingness to learn and the equipment to effectively do so. A smoker is a must-have, with a few puffs of smoke enough to calm and manage your bees during hive inspections. Averaging between $50 and $100, it is a relatively inexpensive purchase that gives both you and your bees peace of mind during close encounters.
Naturally, protective clothing is required, preventing those easily avoided stings. A beekeeper’s veil should be first on your list of purchases, closely followed by gloves. Resembling a broad-brimmed hat with a veil that drapes over your shoulders, veil styles vary, from the simplicity of the veil to the protective comfort of the bee suit. Don't start beekeeping if you don't have the essentials, gloves prevent stings to the hands, especially useful when robbing the hive. While not necessary, they will serve the beginner beekeeper well, with goatskin gloves being the preferred choice.
Finally, the hive tool is indispensable, used to prise frames from boxes and to remove unwanted wax. There are two common types; the Australian hive tool, or “J” hook, and the American hive tool, where the Australian hive tool is recommended and starts from $20.
Finding a hive is easier than you may think, where online forums provide valuable information from commercial beekeepers and enthusiasts alike. The Langstroth hive is our personal recommendation, having earned the title of Australia’s most popular beehive. Easy to buy and quick to assemble, this vertically modular hive boasts adjustable frames, enabling the beekeeper to efficiently and effectively manage their hive. Be wary when purchasing second-hand equipment, however, as there is a high risk of disease transference, but this may be negated with irradiation.
Sourcing quality bees may require some research, but the research is well worth the investment. For those looking for affordability, capturing a swarm is the way to go. Swarms are essentially free bees, easier to locate upon registering with swarm collection websites. If a swarm is easily accessible, capturing it is relatively simple, made even more profitable by the fact that most become an established hive quickly. It is advised to replace the queen if her genetics remain unidentified.
For those who prefer their bees delivered, bee packages, nucleus hives, or established hives for sale are ideal although you must inspect the bees for disease beforehand.
Every Australian state requires its citizens to register their beehives, but NSW and WA require payment (hive number dependent). The number of hives you may keep in an urban environment will depend on your local council’s specifications, so be sure to do your research beforehand. The following is generally considered acceptable: 0 hives per 400 sqm, 2 hives per 400-1000 sqm, 5 hives per 1000-2000 sqm, and 10 hives per 2000-4000 sqm.
Having obtained your bees, you become responsible for their management and welfare. Ensure the hives are in a sunny location near a reliable water source. Hives should be managed to minimise swarming, which is best done by providing ample space in the hive for the expansion of the brood nest. As well as accommodating any additional frames. Avoid robbing the hive during low-production seasons and ensure you monitor your hives for disease, primarily American Foulbrood, European Foulbrood, and Chalkbrood.