River Cottage Australia

The Basics of Beekeeping

Backyard beekeeping is a great hobby that not only gives you an excuse to spend some extra time in the backyard, but will also have your flowers beaming in no time.

Not familiar with beekeeping? Adrian Iodice from River Cottage Australia fills you in on everything we need to know.

Who is Adrian?

Adrian is 'the bee’s knees' when it comes to bee keeping. He’s a passionate bee-caretaker from Bermagui who advocates a natural and sustainable approach to bee keeping that he calls “honeybee guardianship” through the use of top bar hives. Adrian considers himself as more of a ‘bee-caretaker’ and not a beekeeper. This is mainly because his practices are focused on the bees overall health and well being as opposed to how much honey he can harvest. He also happens to teach courses to other bee-enthusiasts as an alternative to standard commercial style beekeeping. Adrian currently holds 2-day courses at ‘The Crossing in Bermagui’ where he focuses on the organic and biodynamic principles of bee care.

What types of hives does Adrian have?

Adrian currently has 2 x Langstroth hives, 1 x Kenyan Top Bar Hive, 1 x Golden Hive, and 2 x feral European bee hives in logs. The Kenyan Top Bar Hive and the Gold Hive are located at The Crossing in Bermagui, and the Langstroth and Warri hives are located at Adrian’s home in Upper Brogo NSW.

Why a Kenyan top bar hive?

Although Adrian has traditional beehives at home- he doesn’t like them nearly as much as a Kenyan Top Bar Hive. This is because Adrian believes that traditional hives have a habit of breaking up the colony where as the Kenyan Top Bar Hive is kinder to bee space and keeps the colonies together.  Adrian is a big believer in keeping bees not only close to their natural environment but together.

The Kenyan Top Bar Hive also allows for the bees to build the comb so it hangs down from the top bar, which is how bees build wax in a natural cavity. This then encourages the bees to behave naturally. Adrian believes the bees are therefore calmer and less aggressive when you approve the hive to retrieve the honey. The Kenyan top bar hive is also easy to build and relatively low cost.

What is a Kenyan top bar hive?

A Kenyan Top Bar Hive typically consists of a wooden trough that acts as a one-room hive, so to speak. Naturally as a colony starts off and expands over spring and summer, it expands sideways. This is why the Kenyan Top Bar Hive contains bars of wood, side by side, that lay across a narrow trough, which is where the combs are supported.

The width of each bar is normally the width of a comb, plus some extra room for those bees, normally around 35mm. This means that the bees have more room to grow and the beekeeper is not bending over constantly and picking up boxes.

Most importantly, however, this type of hive eliminates further stress that might be placed on the bees as the beekeeper is harvesting from the outer edges of the hive and not going into the brood area. Furthermore, as the hive is a trough shape and the combs are only supported at the top by the bars, this allows the honeycomb to form to its natural U shape.

Backyard beekeeping

Backyard beekeeping is a great hobby that not only gives you an excuse to spend some extra time in your backyard, but it will also have your flowers beaming in no time! As Adrian says, bees are great pollinators for veggie gardens and gardens in general as well as orchards- having a beehive close to an orchard will usually increase fruit production exponentially! In Adrian’s opinion, the honey produced from hives kept in metropolitan is some of the finest! This is because in the city you get a wide variety of flowers and plant life for the bees to pollinate from. Not only this, but the cities are generally warmer allowing the bees to have more time to harvest nectar.

What tools do you need?

1. Veil / Bee Suit

2. A smoker

3. Hive Tool  (Looks like a scrapper. This helps you to access and free the combs and the top bars easier. Then you can manipulate your hive and take the top bar out and examine your brood as well as harvest some honey)

4. Beekeeping gloves (These need to be strong but flexible so you can move your fingers when lifting the top bars. If you are just wearing a veil you can also get elbow length sleeves attached to the gloves- so the bees can’t get inside! An elastic band can be sewn into the cloth at the ends to make it bee-proof if need be.)

5. Boots that will cover your ankle.

Where should I keep them?

When keeping bees in your backyard there are a couple of things you need to consider and this mainly involves the bees themselves, your neighbors as well as yourself and your family. Bees ideally need a dry and sunny position. Hence, the hive should really be facing a northeast aspect. It is also important to ensure that your bees are in a location that is not open to too much wind or draughts as the colony will have difficulty with the humidity of the hive. Keep in mind that hives are best located away from footpaths, backdoors, clotheslines, pools, garages or BBQ areas – basically where you or your family might need access to or like to hang out.

It is also important to provide a good water supply for your bees. Always leave a container of water nearby which contains some sort of floating material, such as a stick as a landing platform. This is an important factor to keep in mind otherwise you’re bees could drown.

Getting started

1. First find out your local councils bee policy and the limit on the number of beehives you can keep!

2. You many need a beekeeping license, depending on which state you are in. You can check this with your local Department of Primary industries.

3. Decide which hive you want to build and purchase the required tools for beekeeping as well as protective equipment!

4. You will need to buy a colony with a queen and worker bees. Otherwise, if you are with an experienced beekeeper you could try catching a swarm!

How to get the bees

There are two main ways that people normally get their bees:

1. You can purchase a ‘nucleus’, which is a small colony of bees from a bee equipment supplier, which can then be transferred into your hive.

2. You can also catch a bee swarm. A bee swarm is when an old queen leaves a colony with about a 1/3 – 1/2 of the bees in the colony (usually head daughters) and they land on a branch and start to form a new home. This is when you can step in and catch them with a basket or a box. This is always best down with an experienced beekeeper.

Adrian's workshops

Adrian also conducts workshops where he teaches people the tools to get started in sustainable beekeeping with the Kenyan Top Bee Hive. In this workshop he focuses on the following:

- How to catch bees
- How to catch swarms
- Where to buy bees
- How to transfer bees into hives
- Basics on building a hive
- Where to set up your hive
- How to harvest and process honey
- Bee wax crushing and processing

Find out more at beekeepingnaturally.com.au

To book contact The Crossing on (02) 6493 3400. For more information on BVABA call (02) 6493 2529.

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