in Greener Homes on 6 December 2010
Hobby beekeepers create the land of food and honey.
LOUISE Davey’s backyard in Coburg is lined with well-tended vegie patches. Chooks cluck in their coop under the fig tree. But the most important residents – the queens of the food garden – live next to the olive tree in the middle of the yard.
Ms Davey has been an amateur apiarist for two years. “I just love watching the bees and getting the honey,” she says. “The people who live around my area love getting it too. I’m keeping quite a few families in honey from my two hives.”
Her bounty, now about 60 kilograms a year, has grown with each harvest. “Because I’m in the suburbs, the honey tastes slightly different every time. It reflects the plants the bees collected the nectar and pollen from,” she says.
There are about 2200 beekeepers registered with the Victorian Department of Primary Industries and around 1800 of those are hobbyists, according to apiary inspector Daniel Martin.
Although each local council has its own bylaws, backyard beekeepers are usually allowed to keep one or two hives, under the state’s Apiary Code of Practice. It is compulsory, however, to register with the department ($15 per year). “Bees are classed as livestock,” Mr Martin says. “Registered beekeepers have access to a honey testing program to help with early detection of an endemic honeybee brood disease.”
He says beekeeping is not only a way to source your own sweet bliss, but also provides an important ecosystem service. “Many people don’t realise that one in every three mouthfuls of food is dependent on honeybee pollination. By keeping bees you’re contributing to your neighbourhood’s food production.”
If you do it well, it’s also good for the bees. “Suburban hives are often really strong because they’re stationary and they’ve got access to nectar and pollen all year round,” Mr Martin says. “Many commercially run hives are migrated around the country and the bees often need supplementary feeding for extra nutrition.”
The DPI website has a series of useful how-to guides on beekeeping and safe management practices.
Beehives must be set back from your fence and should be placed in a sunny, sheltered spot with access to water. It’s best if they don’t face directly towards the street – the bees’ flight path must not cross low over the footpath. As a beekeeper, you’ll need safety equipment, including light-coloured clothing, gloves, a veil, a hive tool and a smoker to distract the bees while you harvest the honey.
Mr Martin says that if you care for your bees responsibly, they’ll happily go about their own beesness.
“Bees are like every animal – if they’re neglected they become unhappy,” he says. “Beekeeping isn’t a skill that comes overnight, so I highly recommend joining or liaising with a local beekeeping club.”
“Although bees are fairly low maintenance, it’s a little daunting the first time you open up your hives and you’ve got hundreds of bees flying all around you,” she says.
While she’s suffered her “fair share” of stings, they usually come when a bee inadvertently falls into her slippers. “Bees aren’t aggressive – they’ll only sting if they think they’re being mistreated.”