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A Beehive in Suburbia - It's not as easy as I thought

Signs of Spring - the bees are starting to come out


 Snow still swirls around the mountain but we have had a few nice days and the bees are starting to emerge from hibernation.

I thought bees would be the ideal pet for me. They'd get their own food, wouldn't need walking, worming or pooper scooping. While they wouldn't be great companions or much fun to cuddle up to on a cold night, they wouldn't shed on the furniture, bark or need minding if I decided to  disappear for a few days, a week or even a few months. At least so I thought.

It’s not set and forget however. You have to make sure that they have enough flowering plants and access to water. Urban bees are somewhat better off in that respect as there is usually something flowering all year, unlike orchards or bushland. There are also a lot of council and statutory regulations to comply with. It took ages to get council approval to keep even one hive here. Apparently neighbours – and I had to get permission from all of them, are often quite enthusiastic at first if they aren’t allergic in the first place, but start complaining if propolis (bee poo and bits of wax etc.) gets on their cars or washing. Mine have been well behaved so far and I’m very lucky to have an experienced mentor who makes sure that they are healthy and well cared for. Bees may not shed, but they still make a bit of a mess. There are always dead bees on the balcony - they old drones get evicted from the hive, but they don’t mind me sitting up there and drinking my coffee with them. I am pleased to report that so far I have only been stung once, by the bees that is.

Because it’s been a hard winter here the bees have needed sugar syrup every two days for the last month or so and I have to put my full beekeeping suit to feed them. [I look like a HAZMAT person which isn’t a great look in the neighbourhood at the moment]. On the days when I don’t, I have to cook up a big vat of sugar – more sugar than I’ve used in the last twenty years. I’m surprised they don’t get diabetes or tooth rot. Wonder if bees suffer from obesity? Then there is their health check. Lots of people seem to have opened their hives only to have found their bees either dead or departed. At least mine haven’t left home yet.

Over the weekend I have had to wax their frames. It seems that the bees aren’t all that fond of the plastic frames that come with the flow hive and you have to help them along a bit to see what they are supposed to do with them. Flow hives generally don’t seem to work all that well this far south because it's colder and honey doesn’t flow as freely as in places further north, where they were designed. I thought this type of hive would suit me better as I don’t have room for a shed and extractors and other bits of paraphernalia which normal hives need. What they feed on matters too. Some pollen from say, tea tree, which is very abundant in the bush, is very dense and crystallises easily which also inhibits the flow.

Beekeeping can also be quite expensive. First there’s acquiring the hive – mine was about $500, though original flow hives cost nearer $800. Then there’s the cost of the bees or a queen and a few escorts for about $250, plus the protective clothing. The smoker and a few utensils will set you back another $100 or so and then you should do a management course of some kind so that you can recognise any diseases they many have. I was lucky in that respect. Because of Covid, the Biosecurity Course was free this year, though it’s normally about $250 and I haven’t even paid for membership of the Beekeeper’s Association yet, which is also a wise step because you can get advice and learn about things like splitting hives or replacing queens. All up, my beekeeping efforts have cost me around $1000 over the past year, without so much as a drop of honey to show for it. Did you know that throughout its entire lifespan of about three weeks, a bee produces only one teaspoonful of honey? I’ve been told that you need at least 400 hives to be able to make a living from them, and that that usually involves moving them around and leasing them out to orchards. If I do manage to get any honey this year, I shall be treating every drop with respect!



Still, it is a fascinating hobby and a great learning experience and given that bees are in decline globally, I am happy to be able to give them a home and to watch them going about their important work. Bees are responsible for pollinating around 75% of our crops. The birds still come and unlike cats and dogs, bees don’t destroy our unique wildlife and  don’t require the killing of other species so that they can eat – something which troubled me when I lived in the bush, though a dog would definitely have been an asset. I’m sure that once I get my “Beware of the Bees” sign up, they’ll be every bit as good a burglar deterrent as a dog.

Happy Spring if you happen to be in the Southern Hemisphere!