Here’s a way you can keep pets that are productive without having to be killed for their goods!  Put a beehive in your garden and harvest the honey, honey comb and beeswax while giving the environment a helping hand.

In this time of drought (and yes, despite the recent rains, the heat of global warming is still sucking the life out of Australia), bees are under threat, but the wattle and eucalyptus trees are fighting back with stubborn blossoms.  Banksias and ti-trees are similarly blooming in order to produce as much seed as possible as a hedge against leaner times.

Hence, beekeeping, it would seem, is a good idea at the moment.

First do some study. You should at the very least, go and talk to people who have done it before and the best way to track this down is to go and to one of those farm field days or the agricultural shows around the rural areas.  If you see that a nearby farmer has a hive or two, go and have a chat. The department of Primary Industry in your state is a great resource. Agriculture Note AG1240 ‘Safe beekeeping practices’ is recommended. Why not join a beekeeping association or club and see what you can learn?  Or, if you are really into it, check your local TAFE or CAE for short courses offered.

There are more than 1500 species of Australian native bees and many don’t live in hives or normal bee colonies.  You will see them even in suburban gardens hovering around your plants. What we usually get our honey from is the European Honeybee (Apis mellifera) and these all are descended mostly from the eight original hives brought to Sydney’s first farms in 1822.

One healthy hive can apparently give around 70 kilos of honey a year. That is a lot of the sweet stuff and if you could substitute this for the sugar you use in cakes etc., imagine the savings in carbon!  A friend of mine brought me a massive jar of honey from her niece’s backyard hive.  It lasted me a YEAR!  Amazing!

Backyard beekeeping is a great hobby and you can make a few hobby dollars as well.

Before we go further, make sure that you know that nobody in your family is allergic and check you neighbours as well.

You can keep  one or two hives throughout Victoria and that’s suited even to a city backyard.   The presence of bees will help pollinate flowers, fruit and veges.

You need:

A Hive

Protective clothing, pale coloured, stiff brimmed hat such as a pith helmet, veil on a frame to keep it away from the face (or the bees will sting through it) and protection for all parts of the body.  This must be smooth and light-coloured as bees do not like dark or woolly material, elasticized at wrists and ankles.


Boots (like R.M. Williams boots)

Hive tool to separate the boxes when opening the hive and to separate and lift the frames which hold the combs (or a screw driver).

Smoker used to subdue bees before opening the hive and during the time the hive is open.

Flat pack beehives  can be purchased made from weather proof and rot-proof wood that won’t warp. You need to maintain the hives and make sure they are able to withstand extreme weather, but these details you will learn from your researches at the Department of Primary Industry.

A good resource starting point is the Victorian one, the website for them being at

You will often see  swarms of bees  in spring and early summer. These can be collected with some ease if you have the right gear.  Again, pick the brains of the experts!

Here is a great note from the Department of Primary Industry:

Occasionally beehives and beekeeping equipment are advertised for sale. Buying these is one way of obtaining bees and beekeeping material. However, there is a risk that the colonies and previously used beekeeping material may have come from a diseased apiary. To avoid buying diseased bees and material ask the seller for a vendor’s declaration. This written declaration will provide the buyer with important information about the health of the bees and/or material being offered for sale. Blank vendor declaration forms are available from Department of Primary Industries (DPI) apiary officers.

Legal requirements for keeping bees in Victoria

Honeybees like other live stock don’t just look after themselves. Once the decision has been made to keep bees, the beekeeper has a legal and moral obligation to maintain the bees in a healthy state and in such a way that they do not become a nuisance to other people. The bees must be kept in accordance with the terms of the Livestock Disease Control Act 1994 and the Apiary Code of Practice 1997.

Registration as a beekeeper

The Livestock Disease Control Act 1994 requires anyone who owns one or more hives of bees to register as a beekeeper with the Department of Primary Industries. The current annual fee when 1-60 hives are kept is $11.50. When 61 or more hives are kept the fee is calculated at 19 cents per hive. DPI will routinely forward application forms for renewal of registration to all registered beekeepers.

A registration number is allotted to a beekeeper when registering for the first time. It is compulsory to brand (by painting or firebrand) this number on each of your hives.”

There is also an Apiary Code of Practice which lays out some very common sense rules to protect people from starting hives and neglecting them.  It is worth reading in detail and tells you all kinds of things such as bees and their need for water.  Did you know that the hive requires access to more than a litre of water a day and you need to train them where to drink?

The full Code may be downloaded from the Planning Publications page of the Department of Planning and Community Development web site.

Hives are best placed in a sunny but sheltered spot and not in an annoying place for your neighbours or in the front yard.

From the Dept. of Primary industry website again, here is a list of Associations and clubs followed by a book list:

  • Victorian Apiarists’ Association Inc. Bendigo Branch 5472 2161
  • Victorian Apiarists’ Association Inc. Melbourne Section 9580 7416
  • Gippsland Apiarists’ Association Inc. 5633 1326
  • Geelong Beekeepers’ Club 5264 1245
  • “J” Diggers Rest Beekeeping School 9331 1619
  • Pretty Sally Beekeepers’ Club 5428 2402
  • Southside Beekeepers’ Club
  • The Beekeepers’ Club (meets at Doncaster) 9850 3697

You can also read:

  • Beekeeping for dummies (2002), by Howland Blackiston. Published by Hungry Minds Inc, New York, USA. ISBN 0 7645 54190.
  • The new complete guide to beekeeping, by Roger A Morse. Published by Countryman Press, Vermont, USA. ISBN 0 88150 3150.
  • Trees of Victoria and adjoining areas (1998 5 th Edition) by Leon Costermans. ISBN 0 9599 10522.
  • Beekeeping (1991). Edited by Russell Goodman. Published by Creative Solutions, North Melbourne.
  • Honey Flora of Victoria (1973) by Russell Goodman. Published by Government Printer, Melbourne
  • Australian Bee Journal, newsletter of the Victorian Apiarists’ Association Incorporated. PO Box 40. California Gully, Vic., 3556.
  • The Australasian Beekeeper. Published by Pender Beekeeping Supplies Pty Ltd, 28 Munibung Road, Cardiff, NSW, 2285.

It is important to keep a healthy hive, the varroa mite having single-handedly caused a 25 per cent decline in the number of hives internationally. This is why honey and its by-products MUST not be imported into Australia in the luggage of travelers.  The North Island of New Zealand infected by the mite in 2000. Australia does not have the varroa mite thanks to AQIS and their vigilance and the awareness campaigns on TV.

Making your own honey means you leave in more ‘bits’ such as pollen than commercial honey and this can be a natural inoculation for hay-fever sufferers. As it is not pasteurized, the nutritional benefits remain.

Setting up may cost you around $500 but you can trade your excess honey for excess goods from your neighbours and rather quickly will get that back as the maintenance costs are low.  It’s cheaper as a hobby than patchwork!

Again, I warn that  a sting can kill someone who is allergic.   Each sting builds the allergy rather than an immunity so don’t skimp on the protective clothing as beestings kill almost as many people as snakebites in Australia.

But honey is the most versatile sweet stuff you can obtain and the thought of those wonderful Jewish honey cakes makes me want to get a hive right now!

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