So you’re interested in taking care of some bees? But you’re looking for a little help in knowing where to start? - we are here to help. We’ve put together a little guide of things to think about or to find out, to see whether beekeeping is suitable for you.
Beekeeping is such a rewarding pastime, and takes a comparable amount of time to keeping a vegetable garden, but it has many added bonus such as:
- helping yours and your neighbors gardens to thrive;
- you can be happy in the knowledge that you are playing your part to help these critical little pollinators survive during this time of crisis; and
- if you’re bees are well fed and happy, then you may get to share in the delicious honey that they produce.
So what are the first things that you need to consider? – not unlike owning any other pet, you will need to think about where you are going to keep them? It is most common to look closest to home, in your very own backyard, so you’ll need to know:
- How will they effect your family and how does your family feel about you taking on a beehive?
- Does your local council allow the keeping of beehives? and if so, is there a limit on how many you can keep, or where you place the hive.
- Do you have enough space? Taking into consideration how you and your family ordinarily use that space.
- Now that your spouse, kids, and pets all know that the bees will be around, are any of them allergic to the sting of a honeybee? Maybe you are, and you don’t know… If you don’t know (possibly from previous experience) then take the time to get tested by your family doctor, it’s definitely best to find out before you decide to embark on this particular adventure; and
- It’s important not to forget your neighbours. This is especially important if the hives will be visible or even out in the open. Even though hives may be legal where you are, it’s not worth the inconvenience of hostile neighbourly relations.
Assuming that all of these conditions are right, it’s worth taking a few more precautions to ensure a peaceful and happy existence for your bees. Out of sight and out of mind is a good idea, the hives can be painted a colour that blends in with their surroundings, they certainly don’t need to be white. A screen of plants around the hive to hide them from the prying eyes of mischievous children may be a good idea, or even placing the hive around the back of a garage or house so that they have to gain altitude quickly when leaving their hive, and they have to return from above your house, garage, or screen, so that they aren’t constantly flying at human height.
You need to look at placing your bee hive up on a stand, a cheap and easy way of doing this is to place some treated 2x4s on some cement blocks so that they hive is about 50cm off the ground, this will help to protect your hive from curious animals. Make sure that your stand has enough room beside the hive for you to place the hive covers and honey supers, this will make the job of lifting your hive and supers much easier on your back later in the season when they are full of brood and honey. Also, consider placing some mulch or some sort of protective layer over the ground under the hives to keep the mud down, and prevent the hive from sinking.
Spend some time reading books, so that you are aware of how a beehive works in nature. This will help you to understand how a your beehive needs to work, as the bees will naturally set out their hive the same – they will store their honey towards to top, and slightly down the sides, pollen will be stored above the brood nest, just below the honey, and the brood area and the brood nest, where the queen lays eggs and the young are raised, is in the lower, most protected section of the hive.
You’ll need to get yourself some protective clothing, when starting it’s especially important to feel safe and secure, if you feel fearful of your hive then soon you will find excuses not to tend your bees and your days as a beekeeper will be limited. With the right clothes, you will soon build up the confidence to tend your hive, and will find the experience much more positive. We encourage you to wear all of the protective gear, a layer of clothing, then a full bee suit and gloves, you will be happier and more confident, and less likely upset your bees.
Next you’ll need a smoker, which is simply a cylinder with a bellows attached. In the cylinder you build a smoldering fire, usually using pine needles (although old burlap, rotten wood, or commercially prepared smoker fuel will also work) – a smoldering fire mostly produces smoke, so when the bellows are squeezed the smoke will come out of the nozzle. When you are working the hive it’s important to first smoke it, this will ensure that the bees are thrown into hive protection mode. In nature bees build their hives in the hollows of trees, so when a fire threatens, escape is their first defense. The worker bees will enter the hive and eat as much honey as they can, so that they can take it with them when they abandon their hive to go and start a new one. Thus, they are busy when you are working and they mostly leave you alone.
The second thing that the smoke does is to severely limit the communication within the hive; bees communication is mostly chemical, pheromones produced by the queen, other workers, the brood, and even drones, waft around the hive continuously telling the bees what to do, when to do it, and when to stop. The smoke interferes with these messages and communication breaks down – when this happens you can go into the hive and do your work being mostly left alone because nobody can talk, and nobody can hear – it’s vitally important to keep your smoker lit at all times when you are working on your hive.
Now that you've got your safety gear and smoker, it's time to look at a home for your bees and some tools to allow you to work on them. At Yarra Valley Bees, we can provide you with all of the supplies to make a complete hive for your bees - the conventional bee box setup will have 8 or 10 frames of beeswax combs in each super, many backyard beekeepers prefer the 8 frame, as it is smaller and therefor lighter than the 10 frame setup. Ultimately however, the choice is yours.
Once you've worked out where you bees will live, and you have the hive, it's time to install the bees. Obtaining bees is an integral part of beekeeping, and several options are available to both the novice and the experienced beekeeper. Bees can be purchased from a reputable supplier, just google 'package bees australia' and you will find a number of suppliers, another option is to find 'free' bees, these can be hived from swarms or removed from dwellings, however if you're a novice beekeeper, please use a reputable beekeeper in your area, or contact Yarra Valley Bees to perform this service if you are within our collection area.
Here at Yarra Valley Bees, we offer a limited number of hives for delivery in the Spring, these hives are fully operational and have an established colony of bees living in them that have been raised on our property. The benefit of obtaining your hive this way, is that we've had a chance to confirm that each hive is of an appropriate gentle nature, and it has already come through the Winter healthy, and in the best position to flourish in the Spring time, optimising your chances of a successful first season of beekeeping.