Beekeeping is a fascinating age old hobby first dating back to 9,000 years ago when North Africans kept bees in pottery, and evidence in Egyptian tombs reveal that 4,5000 years ago domestication of bees took place. Eighteenth century Europeans took to researching construction of hives for bees to inhabit and bee keeping became popular, especially in rural settings.
Today backyard beekeeping is a very popular activity in both city and country towns. But first let’s look at the benefits :
• Honey! That’s obvious. But you also get honeycomb, beeswax, propolis (used as natural medicine), royal jelly and bee venom, which are all by-products of beekeeping.
• Pollinators for our gardens – you will notice such a difference in your produce, especially if you grow fruit.
• The bees are the best reason for beekeeping, owning a hive will mean you are invested in their wellbeing and your relationship with these fascinating creatures and understanding of what they do for our food production and beyond, will have you experiencing a more fully rounded relationship with them. And they are awesome especially for children to increase their awareness as to where food comes from etc.
• The environmental impact.
Here’s a little guide on the basics if you are considering bee keeping (there’s a lot to know, so this is by no means an exhaustive list) :
Things to consider ;
• Ensure bees have access to water close to hive and isn’t in too windy a location.
• Hives in Summer have their own evaporative systems, however do need to be in a shady position, whereas in Winter need low Winter Sun and hives should never be moved more than a metre per day unless you are rehoming which is a special process within itself (this is why initial location choice is crucial).
• Location is crucial to survival of the hive. A three metre exclusion zone from hive is important : especially for lawn mowers, whipper snippers etc as bees will hate the vibrations and can abandon the hive if unhappy. Think about their flight path – against a fence is ideal for the bees to take off up and over a fence rather than a line in your backyard near the washing line or where kids play/pets are etc. Bees are best left alone, observe from a safe distance so as not to disturb them. You will of course need to open your hive for bio-security checks as well as extracting honey, but otherwise, leave the hives alone. Bees don’t like change and too much poking around their hives.
• Consider your neighbours and inform them prior to getting your hive. Bribing them with honey works wonders!
• Ideally the entrance of the hive needs to face north/north-east and bees need an obstruction-free zone to take off and land, so clear any grass/branches etc.
• Each hive has to be registered online. And your rego number must be displayed in black texta/paint on the hive. You also must abide by the rules set in Apiary Code of Practice in your area (available online).
• The most common hive is a Langsroth, but there’s also Warree hives, Kenyon Top Bar, and Sun Hives (which are illegal).
• Urban beehives tend to fare much better than rural beehives due to the close proximity of so many backyard gardens and a plethora of flowers/fruit/veg for bees to explore.
• It’s important you are aware of the pests and disease that affects bee hives, and how to prevent or treat them.
• Bees are meticulously clean – they even leave the hive to defecate!
• If you don’t want to or can’t invest financially or time-wise in a bee hive consider setting up an insect motel you can make yourself, this encourages pollinators into your area for your veg etc.
• Join your local beekeeping club to get local hands on knowledge.
Bees spend their day foraging for pollen (which they store in sacks in their legs), and nectar. Lapping up nectar with their tongues, they then regurgitate back and forth into other bees mouths to increase enzymes, and then cap it off in cells in their hive. Bit weird right?
Bees have a preference for blues, yellow and purple flowers, so consider planting heaps of borage, calendula, lavender, daisies, bluebells, daffodils, lilacs, flowering Australian natives. Also leave your veggies and herbs go to seed – the bees love the flowers, plus you get to seed save for next season. Who doesn’t love free food?
The cutest thing ever is observing a bee doing the waggle dance. This is their form of communication and they do it in the hive to keep the communication private. The waggle dance movements are in accordance to how far and where the best nectar and pollen supply is so the other bees know where to go. Their highly developed communication skills are actually mind blowing.
When opening a hive to inspect for bio-security purposes and/or honey supplies make sure you do it slowly and calmly, and don’t swat at bees like you would a fly. Wear loose clothes, but avoid felt/furry materials as bees hate it. Wear a beekeepers suit. Don’t wear perfume or strong smelling aftershave/soap etc. Using a beekeeper’s smoker relaxes the bees, making it easier to open the hive.
Each hive has one Queen bee, which is responsible for reproduction, and she (usually) lives in the bottom hive, which is filled with eggs/larvae. The Queen is crucial to the existence of the hive. On top of that lives a box called a Super, which is where the bees deposit the honey. The other bees are Drones (males) and Workers (females). The Drones main purpose is to mate, and take off out of the hive to procreate during the day, and they are generally kicked out of the hive over Winter to starve to death. Brutal! The Workers live only approximately 6 weeks and forage for pollen over that time, basically working themselves to death. They can however survive over 6 months over Winter, depending on the weather. The brood box needs to always be 35 degrees in temperature, and the Workers keep it consistently warm via the vibrations of their muscles. Equally they cool it off in Summer via beating their wings.
When you realize that bees often travel over 5 kilometres per day to collect pollen and nectar, and can hit up over two thousand flowers in that time, it gives you a whole new appreciation of our bee friends. Bee keeping will give you greater perspective of how crucial they are to our existence, and doing so will enhance your lives in ways you never expected. Being a new beekeeper myself, I highly recommend it.