HOW TO | Keep honey bees in your backyard
Honey bees are critical for pollinating many plants, both in gardens, in the bush and in agriculture. Native bees perform many pollinating tasks in the bush but honey bees are mostly responsible for pollination in gardens and agriculture.
Bees are under threat worldwide due to widespread use of pesticides, so it is important to protect them. One way of doing this is through hobby beekeepers and it is viable to keep bees in your backyard.
Bees are fascinating creatures and once you start your own hive you will likely be hooked plus there is no comparison between honey collected from a hive and the watered down variety available from supermarkets.
WHAT IS INVOLVED?
There is some commitment in time and expense but it is really worthwhile.
Purchase a beehive. These are readily available and consist of –
A brood box (the bottom box) in which the bees breed. This is where the queen lives and lays her eggs in the wax frames. The other bees (nearly all female) look after the developing bees and collect pollen and nectar to feed the hive. They make pollen and nectar into “Bee Bread” for the growing baby bees (larvae). They also turn the nectar into honey as food which they store in some of the frames
A super (the top box). This also has wax frames in which the bees store additional honey. Between the brood box and super is a “queen excluder”, a mesh that allows the worker bees to move through but is too fine for the queen as she is larger. This means no eggs are laid in these frames so only honey is stored. The super is where you collect your honey once the frames are full and capped (sealed off by the bees).
Purchase protective clothing, gloves, smoker, a brush and a hive tool initially. The “beekeepers suit” is the most expensive item. The suit is only needed when you open up the hive to check the bees or remove honey frames. Using a “smoker” during this process calms the bees.
Locate your hive where they are protected from people and pets. Bees are not aggressive unless someone overshadows the entrance to the hive, in which case they think the hive is threatened. The entrance should provide a clear “flightpath” away and upwards. It is quite safe to access the hive from the rear and sides without a suit. Facing the entrance East is best.
Obtain a starter package of bees. Typically these come from a swarm, where the hive gets a new queen and the old queen swarms and takes many of the bees with her to start a new hive. These are mostly collected by beekeepers from nearby trees or other objects where they initially land before finding a suitable home. A local beekeeper association is a great source to get your swarm starter package of bees.
In Mount Martha, we are fortunate to have a local beekeeper association – Mornington Peninsula Beekeeper’s Association. This friendly group meets regularly at Mount Martha House. It is highly recommended to join the MPBA so you have access to all the support they offer, which includes providing swarms to members, plus the opportunity to meet and talk with other local beekeepers to learn the tricks.
And finally, if you get stung by a bee simply apply pure lavender oil and the sting will stop.