I would never have believed just how easy and fun it is keeping bees in the backyard until my wife and I visited friends who excitedly insisted on showing us the latest addition to their suburban menagerie. They had recently purchased a hive and nucleus from a local apiary store. Within weeks their hive of around 30,000 bees was quickly filling with honey. To start with they bought two supers, which are the standard-looking wooden boxes commonly recognised as bee hives. The supers stack on top of each other and inside each super is 8-10 frames that slide in and out vertically. It is onto these wax-coated frames the bees lay down their store of delicious fresh honey. Next to the hive was a large shallow bowl of water for the bees to drink from. Apparently this discourages them from trying to source water from neighbouring swimming pools.
Our friends’ hive was orientated facing north and in a location that provided access to early morning sun. This assists in warming the hive and gets the bees off to a good early start. The bees do need to be protected from the hot afternoon sun, so ideally a hive should also be positioned under dappled shade to prevent it from overheating, especially during summer.
A grid-like separation plate is placed between the two supers that keeps the oversized queen bee down in the bottom box with the nucleus. This section of the hive is never harvested for honey; instead this is the breeding powerhouse where the queen is constantly laying eggs. New bees hatch out and feed from the store of sweet nectar. As they mature, the worker bees move up through the grid into the next box. Here, they start laying down honey-enriched honeycomb made from the nectar and pollen they collect from their daily flights, which can often be as far as three kilometres away from the hive.
The front of the hive resembled a busy airport, with bees constantly taking off or landing. It was really quite an intriguing sight. I insisted on an invitation back to witness their first harvest. Wondering just how hard it would be to separate 30,000 angry European honey bees from their hard-fought for stash of honey, I was pleasantly surprised at the ease of the process. Caution was taken not to be stung by dressing in overalls, gloves and a proper veiled hat. A small hand-held smoker was filled with wood shavings and, once lit, the puffs of smoke seemed to quickly calm the agitated colony as we worked to remove the frames from inside the super. Several weeks earlier a third super had been stacked on top, which the bees had already started using. The middle or second super was filled with honey.
We placed each of the ten frames, two at a time, into a hand-operated spinner hired from the local apiary store – $20 for the day seemed like fair value. Within two hours, almost 20 kilograms of the freshest, most pure honey one could possibly hope to lay eyes on had been harvested and the empty frames were replaced for the process to start over. At an approximate value of $20 per kilo, this seemed like an excellent return. The cost of the hive virtually payed for itself with the first harvest.
Needless to say, I was an instant convert and am now also the proud owner of a backyard beehive – and thoroughly enjoying the adventure!
NOTE: Rules and regulations for backyard beekeeping vary across the country – check with your local council or apiary expert for more information.
About the Author – Steve Wood
Steve is a WA nurseryman with over 35 years experience and is a local ABC radio garden talkback host. He is also a presenter with the Greenfingers TV series and runs Great Gardens Environmental Workshops. Steve has an extensive organic fruit and vegetable garden and is a passionate promoter of homegrown produce.