- Trevor Weatherhead, Australian Honey Bee Industry Council* & Mike Rayner, North Shore Beekeepers Association
There’s no greater thrill than tasting the first extraction of honey from your backyard hive – here’s what you need to do to get your own honey factory happening at home.
First you need to make sure that you have a good place in your backyard to place the beehive. A sunny spot is the first pre-requisite – you need to be able to place your hive in a warm sunny position, with the entrance facing the north or north east if possible. It’s best to talk with your neighbours before purchasing the hive, to make sure they’re happy about it. The prospect of receiving some free honey is often a good inducement for the neighbours. You will also need access to a water supply.
Bees need water for breaking down honey to feed the brood and for cooling the hive by evaporation in hot conditions.
If you don’t have a garden, a beehive can even be kept on a small balcony in a block of units, and there are many buildings in the city with hives sitting on their roofs, though the smaller the site, the more careful you’ll have to be with neighbourly relations!
Get in the club
If you’ve never kept honey bees before, it’s advisable to join a local bee club to help find people who can take you out to look at their hives. They may let you “handle” their bees and road-test the concept – there’s nothing worse than buying a hive and then finding out you’re not cut out to keep bees.
The next step is to buy a hive. You’ll need to register your hive with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries. If you’re in a bee club, there maybe someone there who can sell you a hive. Ensure that the bees are a quiet strain, and healthy. And, of course, there’s the protective equipment you need such as a bee suit or veil plus a smoker and hive tool.
Sting in the tale
Unless you’re one of the very few people allergic to bee stings (talk to your GP about getting an Epipen), beekeeping is safe and, with care and the correct clothing and equipment, it can be relatively sting-free. By careful selection of good stock and proper management, a beekeeper can ensure that his or her bees are not aggressive and the bees present no threat to the neighbours or visitors. Bees are generally quite docile and are more interested in collecting nectar and pollen from our gardens than attacking.
A happy hive
So you have the hive in place. You’ll need to check regularly that your hive is in good condition – that means ensuring you have plenty of bees which are disease-free. After all, you don’t buy a car then not carry out maintenance on it. You need a warm, sunny day to check the hive. If it’s cloudy, windy or cold, the bees won’t be very happy.
While bees have been around for thousands of years, pests and diseases are taking a toll on our nectar-collecting friends, including colony collapse disorder (CCD), wax moth, small hive beetle, foul brood, sac brood, and neonicotinoid insecticides, to name just a few. No wonder bees are threatened. So by becoming a beekeeper you will be doing your bit to help the bees survive and prosper.
Now for the exciting part – harvesting the honey. First you need to realise that bees store honey as food reserves. Think of their European origins – the winters there are cold and often the hives are covered in snow so the bees need stored honey to survive those harsh winters. In Australia we have much better conditions and in many places bees can work 12 months of the year.
So when you come to harvest, it’s normally done from late spring through to early autumn depending on nectar flow, and you only take half of what’s there. That way you leave the other half as stores for times when there may be no flowers blooming. There are several ways to extract. There are small extractors where, after taking off the wax cappings from the frame with a knife, you spin the frame around in the extractor and honey is flung out on the sides, runs down and is collected from a gate at the bottom. Some cut the comb and squeeze the honey out. If you’re in a bee club, they’ll show you their ways of honey extraction and most bee clubs have extractors for hire to their members.
The bees will also pollinate the backyard veggie patch. There are many veggies that require honey bees for pollination including pumpkins, watermelons and squash. No bees, no crop. So by having your backyard hive, you’re providing free pollination to yours and your neighbours’ veggie patch.
The official stuff
If you’re interested in having a backyard hive, the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) has a guide which can be found at: www.dpi.nsw.gov.au and search for Prime Facts.
Bees must be kept in accordance with The Livestock Disease Control Act 1997 which requires anyone who owns hives for recreational purposes to register as a beekeeper with the DPI, with a registration number allotted to each beekeeper and all hives marked with the number.
Beekeeping can be very rewarding and there’s nothing better than to spread your morning toast with a delicious dollop of honey from your own hive. Many people believe that eating local honey is helpful in reducing the negative effects of allergies as it contains minute particles of pollen from flowers in the area – and it’s completely unprocessed and tastes delicious.
The North Shore Beekeepers Association (NSBKA) caters for beekeepers from Berowra to Roseville and across to Beecroft. Beginners are welcome and older members are pleased to advise newbies on equipment, obtaining bees and caring for their hives. It offers free monthly mentoring and hands-on sessions with the hives at the Bee Garden Field Day, and runs two day courses specially for new beekeepers.
*The Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC) is the peak body for beekeeping & makes representations to Government on beekeeping matters and attends to any national beekeeping issues, some which may assist backyard beekeepers.