Plan bee: Rise of the backyard beekeeper
With bee colonies under threat, backyard beekeepers are swarming to the rescue.
Nicole and Phil Owen keep 60,000 pets on their suburban balcony, but their neighbours remain for the most part blithely unaware. “Generally, the only time they realise we have bees is when we get out there with our full protective suits on,” says Nicole.
Living in Melbourne’s Doncaster, which is a long way from rural cliche, Nicole and Phil are part of a growing urban beekeeping movement.
Seven years ago there were 1630 registered beekeepers in Victoria. Now there are 9155, most of whom are hobbyists with only one to five hives.
Beekeeping clubs are reporting a surge in memberships, and people are making a beeline for beginners’ courses. With concerns about declining bee populations a big-picture factor, this buzzing zeitgeist has even entered the realm of reality TV. Screened last year on the ABC, the Great Australian Bee Challenge followed four groups of novices learning the sticky art of apiary – with the aim of getting their honey on the menu of the flash Sydney restaurant Bennelong.
The beekeeping demographic also appears to be changing, from male-dominated to a fairly even balance. “There are certainly a lot more women now interested in beekeeping,” says Alan Redpath, from Redpath’s Beekeeping Supplies in bayside Parkdale. He says that change has coincided with the advent of pre-made hives. “You don’t have to bash them together yourself any more.”