How to become a backyard beekeeper: Seven basic rules

Living Well | Sarah Marinos | Posted on 03 November 2019

Turn your backyard into a hive of activity with our guide to the basics of beekeeping.

Around 2000 species of bee live in Australia but the best known is surely the honey bee. These very busy bees make 20,000 to 30,000 tonnes of honey each year and a fair amount of that honey is produced in Victoria. 

There are just over 7600 beekeepers in the state – more than in any other part of the country, and according to government statistics most are hobby beekeepers.  

“Only five per cent of registered beekeepers in Victoria are commercial – most are backyard beekeepers,” says Bec McBride, who comes from a beekeeping family and runs Bec’s BeeHive

“When I started running workshops for beekeepers, they were mostly retired people tinkering in the shed, but now I teach men and women of all ages from rural areas, the inner city and suburbs. Most are interested in sustainable living – they might have had backyard chooks and now they’re interested in bees.” 

Beekeeper

Victoria is the beekeeping capital of Australia.


Seven basic rules of beekeeping

Join a beekeeping club

“Join a local beekeeping club and do a course. Learn to look after bees before you get them,” says Mat Lumalasi of Melbourne City Rooftop Honey. “You don’t just sit bees at the back of the yard and then collect honey whenever you feel like it. They need some maintenance.” 

...or do a course

Introductory courses should cover the rules and regulations around beekeeping, where to position your hive, how to build a hive, the pests and diseases that can threaten bees and how to manage bees through the seasons. Some TAFE colleges offer short courses and many beekeeping associations and clubs also provide advice and training.

Beekeeper
Beekeeper

TAFE colleges and many beekeeping associations and clubs offer short courses and provide advice and training.


Understand the seasons

The demands of beekeeping change with the seasons. “Spring is a busy time as the bee colony expands and you need to spend at least an hour a week with your bees then to ensure they have enough space,” explains Bec. “Summer is the honey flow season and in autumn there is still some honey flow but it starts to decrease. As winter approaches you pack down the hives so the bees are snug and ready for the colder months.” Hives grow and then shrink according to the growth of the bee colony and the amount of nectar being stored. In summer the hives are high and in winter they drop down.

Register your hives

Beekeepers in Victoria must be registered with Agriculture Victoria. There is no charge if you keep up to five hives and register online at agriculture.vic.gov.au.

Know the beekeepers’ code

Beekeepers must comply with an Apiary Code of Practice 1997 and Livestock Disease Control Act 1994. This covers requirements such as avoiding swarming of bees, ensuring that bee flight paths don’t interfere with neighbours, and making sure that hives are placed more than three metres from the boundaries of neighbouring properties. 

The regulations are also designed to keep Australia’s bees healthy and disease free. “We are the last country in the world not to have a parasitic mite that has decimated bee populations around the world,” says Mat. “Bees are very social and can carry disease from one hive to another.” Having a clear understanding of how to spot early signs of disease is important.

Beekeeper

Beekeepers in Victoria must be registered with Agriculture Victoria.


Look the part 

“You need a protective suit, gloves, veil, a smoker that helps calm down the bees, a hive tool, a bee brush, the hives and bees. Expect to spend about $800 to get started,” says Bec.

Go with the flow

It’s not surprising that more people are discovering the pleasures of beekeeping because it can be a relaxing and rewarding hobby. “There is a gentle hum which is quite meditative and because you are in the bees’ space, you have to be present and mindful in what you are doing,” says Mat. “And you get the by-product of delicious honey.”