Aussies love their backyards, and understandably many of us are asking “How do I get started with backyard beekeeping?”
Anyone with a bit of space in their backyard can get into beekeeping.
With the introduction of the Flow Hive, there is no need to purchase expensive honey extraction equipment.
Hobby beekeepers, with a little effort, can have their fresh honey for family and friends.
Backyard veggie gardens will benefit from increased pollination resulting in more sustainable living.
However. Backyard beekeeping comes with quite a few responsibilities.
Ensuring that you have ticked all the boxes before you start will mean you don’t have a run in with the neighbours or the authorities.
Mt. Coramba Apiculture has put together this list of the most commonly asked questions about responsible backyard beekeeping.
We hope that you find it useful in starting out on your beekeeping adventure.
Yes. Provided you follow a few tried and tested guidelines.
Hobby beekeeping in suburban backyards has been a thing long before it became trendy.
Anyone can reap the benefits of backyard beekeeping with a little common sense and planning.
Bees can and do sting.
If someone in your family or a near neighbour suffers from severe allergic reactions to bee venom or is anaphylactic, it would be wise to give backyard beekeeping a miss or find a more suitable location.
Here’s a list of the necessary backyard beekeeping tools of the trade.
A beekeeper’s smoker is a definite must for any urban beekeeper. A few puffs of smoke before opening your hive and during the inspection ensures that your bees remain calm and manageable. The cost of smokers varies from $50.00 to over $100.00. We prefer the fantastic Australian made Beeco smokers.
Some sort of basic protective clothing is essential, particularly for beginners to ensure that backyard beekeeping is safe. A sting to the face hurts, and it can be easily avoided by wearing a beekeeper’s veil. Styles of beekeeper’s veils vary from a soft veil that fits over a broad-brimmed hat and drapes over your shoulders to a full overalls type bee suit. I prefer a half jacket with an attached veil combined with long pants and enclosed footwear.
Prices vary widely from $20.00 for a soft veil to around $400.00 for a full overall suit.
Most beekeepers have a set of gloves to prevent stings to the hands. Gloves are not necessary. You may choose not to wear gloves as you gain more experience. Ensure that you purchase beekeepers gloves made from thin goatskin leather. Your gloves should have a snug fit so that you can feel what you are doing. Don’t be tempted to buy thick welding gloves from a hardware store. Bees hate dark coloured gloves mainly if they are suede or rough finish. Some beekeepers prefer to use tight-fitting rubber gloves as the bees have difficulty stinging through them.
Beekeepers gloves vary in price from $30.00 to $60.00.
A hive tool is essential. Bees tend to stick everything in the hive together with wax and propolis. A hive tool is needed to help prise frames from the boxes and to scrape wax and propolis from surfaces where it is not wanted. The two common types in use in Australia are the Australian hive tool (sometimes called a “J” hook) and the American hive tool. We recommend the Australian hive tool.
Prices for hive tools are generally around the $20.00 range.
There are a few different types of beehives on the market today.
Visit any online forum where beekeepers gather, and you will hear about top bar hives, Warre hives, Perone hives, long bench hives, commercial hives, beehaus hives, poly hives and of course Flow-hives.
For the beginner. You can’t go past the tried and tested Langstroth hive. Langstroth hives are by far the most popular beehives used by Australian beekeepers. They are easily purchased and are simple to assemble. With the right management, bees will do well in them anywhere in Australia.
A Langstroth hive consists of a few standard essential components:
The bottom board forms the base of the colony. In its purest form, it is a flat piece of board with two cleats attached underneath to keep the hive off the ground. The hive bodies (supers) sit on 10mm risers along three sides of the board. The gap created on the open fourth side form the entrance for the bees. Some bottom boards are ventilated to assist with air flow in the hive. It is also increasingly common for bottom boards to have small hive beetle traps incorporated into them.
Prices range from $20.00 for a basic bottom board up to $85.00 for screened models.
For some strange reason, beekeepers call hive bodies or boxes supers. You should budget for three full depth supers per hive.
To complicate things Langstroth hives come in two sizes:
Eight frame hives are lighter and more comfortable to lift. A 10 frame super full of honey can weigh up to 50 kilograms so if you think they will be a challenge go for the eight frame boxes.
Supers also come in different depths which further complicates the decision. In Australia the super depths are:
For backyard beekeeping beginners we recommend purchasing eight frame full depth supers. Supers can be bought fully assembled and painted, or they can be easily assembled from scratch with a few basic tools.
You can purchase eight frame, unassembled supers for around $25.00 each.
The lid sits on top of the hive and makes everything waterproof. The most common form of beehive lid in use in Australia is the migratory lid. Air vents are commonly fitted in the lids to assist with ventilation of the hive particularly in hotter parts of Australia.
You can purchase Migratory lids for around $20.00 to $30.00 unassembled.
Frames hold the honeycomb inside the supers. They are carefully designed to ensure that the correct bee space is maintained throughout the hive. Bee space is the gaps in the colony that bees don’t fill with comb or propolis. If you forget to replace the correct number of frames or don’t position the frames correctly, the bees will build burr comb to fill the space. The subsequent mess can make frame removal and inspection of the hive difficult.
We recommend that novice beekeepers start with wired frames with foundation. Foundation is a wax sheet that fits into the frame and gives the bees a straight framework to build on.
Frames can be purchased fully assembled with wire and foundation, or you can choose to assemble them yourself.
Costs vary depending on whether you put the frames together your self or if you purchase them fully assembled. Fully assembled, wired and waxed frames can cost up to $7.00 each.
The queen excluder is a plastic or metal barrier that confines the queen to the brood box. The excluder ensures that the honey supers remain free from brood which in turn makes harvesting honey a more straightforward process. Some beekeepers prefer not to use them. It is a personal choice, and there are perceived advantages and disadvantages either way.
You can purchase metal queen excluders for about $16.00.
Do you want to read more about queen excluders? Take a look at our blog Queen Excluder Pros & Cons.
The best method to obtain beekeeping supplies when you are beginning is to purchase new equipment from one of the many beekeeping equipment suppliers in Australia.
Purchasing used equipment may seem like great value at the time. However, there is a high risk of transferring disease into your backyard apiary. If the deal is too good to pass up make sure that you get everything irradiated before using it.
A company called Steritech irradiates beekeeping equipment in Australia. Steritech has facilities in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.
Valley Beekeeping Supplies 70 Whitbread Street Taree 2430 ph (02) 6552 8809
Tamworth Beekeeping Supplies 397 Armidale Road Tamworth 2340 ph 0427617794
The Urban Beehive Unit 21/19 McCauley St, Matraville NSW 2036 ph (02) 9232 5600
Hornsby Beekeeping Supplies 63A Hunter Lane Hornsby 2077 ph (02) 9477 5569
Pender Beekeeping Supplies 72 Munibung Rd, Cardiff 2285 ph (02) 4956 6166
Australian Honeybee Unit 4/62 Dacre Street Mitchell Australian Capital Territory 2911 ph 0426756161
Lockwood Beekeeping Supplies 2319 Mitchell Highway Vittoria 2799 ph 0477 460 642
Bindaree Bee Supplies 18 East Street, Barton Highway Murrumbateman 2582 ph (02) 62268866
Hunter Valley Apiaries PO Box 180 Kurri Kurri 2327 ph (02) 49304950
New Horizons Enterprises 16 Keona Circuit Coffs Harbour NSW 2450. ph (02) 6691 8102 mob 0420 799 372
Cottesbrook Honey Fitzgeralds Mt. Blayney 2799 ph (02) 63685889
Quality Beekeeping Supplies 4b/ 10 Ji-jaws St Sumner 4074 ph (07) 3376 5404
Burnett Beekeeping Supplies 806 River Road, Kingaroy 4610 ph 0427 946 614
John L. Guilfoyle 3474 Cunningham Highway Mutdapilly 4307 ph (07) 32799750
C. B. Palmer & Co. P.O. Box 298 Ipswich 4305 ph (07) 3495 7095
Dalrymple View Apiary Supplies 65 Forde Street Allora 4362 ph 0448717051
Apiary Cots PO Box 5 Mt. Nebo Road, Mt Nebo 4520 (07) 32898181
Bec’s Beehive Beekeeping Supplies 45 Trumpington Grove, Kallista 3791 ph 0409 850 735
Redpath’s Beekeeping Supplies 193 Como Parade E, Parkdale 3195 ph (03) 9587 5950
Nuplas Pty Ltd 2 Westbrook Road, Swan Hill 3585 ph (03) 50 329 199
Bob’s Beekeeping Supplies 79 Zig Zag Rd, Eltham 3095 ph (03) 9439 5410
Whirrakee Woodware 38 Drive-in Ct, Maryborough 3465 ph (03) 54614661
The Bunyip Beekeeper Factory 4/18 Bormar Drive, Pakenham 3810 ph 0487 100 001
Beeplas Australia (Max Cane Apiaries) 9 McGibbony Crt, Ararat 3377 ph (03) 53522995
Adelaide Beekeeping Supplies 286 Military Rd, Semaphore Park 5019 ph 0438 367 591
Hiveworks 4/27 Ellemsea Cct, Lonsdale 5160
SA Beekeeping Supplies 2 Gawler River Road, Lewiston 5501 ph (08) 83809695
Perth Bee Supplies Kwinana 6167 ph 0420 632 358
Beekeeping Supplies 87 Brooker Avenue Hobart 7000 ph (03) 6234 5703
Sourcing good quality bees can be challenging.
There are a few methods of obtaining bees including;
Catching a swarm is a relatively simple process providing it is close to the ground and easily accessible.
Let your local council know that you are interested in collecting swarms and they may let you know when the public reports them.
Swarm collection can be dangerous mainly if you are climbing ladders to access them. Don’t be frightened to say no. No swarm is worth a broken neck.
A decent sized swarm will build up into an established hive very quickly. It may be wise to replace the queen when convenient as the genetics are unknown.
The risk of disease accompanying a swarm is relatively low provided that they are placed onto frames with foundation.
Swarms are essentially free bees.
Packages of bees consist of up to a couple of kilos of worker bees, a mated queen in a cage and a can of sugar syrup in a wooden and mesh cage.
They are installed into a hive in a similar way to a swarm by shaking the bees onto frames of foundation then adding the queen in her cage to be released in a few days.
Packages require feeding with sugar syrup to get them established, so there is a bit of work getting them installed. Once again the risk of transmitting disease is reduced due to the absence of comb or honey.
The Bunyip Beekeeper has an excellent reputation for package bees.
Packages tend to average out at the $165.00 mark depending on numbers purchased.
A nucleus hive is a small established beehive that generally consists of 4 to 5 frames of bees. You should get a combination of honey, pollen and brood along with 4000 to 8000 worker bees and a young, laying queen. Some nucleus hive producers supply a corflute box with the nuc while others place them into your equipment.
A strong nucleus hive can quickly expand into an eight or ten frame hive reasonably soon because they already have frames established with all stages of brood.
The risk of disease transmission is more significant because you are being supplied with combs, honey and brood. Always check the hive for any signs of disease before accepting it.
Nucleus hives can be purchased for about $165.00. The price can vary depending on the number obtained and the number of frames.
Established beehives can be found for sale at times. It is relatively common for beekeepers to have excess hives and many of them are advertised for sale in online sites such as Gumtree or beekeeping related Facebook sites.
Buyer beware. Check the bees thoroughly before purchase. Make sure the bees are disease free, and the hardware (the hive) is in excellent condition.
If you are new to beekeeping take a more experienced beekeeper with you to help you with the inspection.
Prices vary however you would expect to pay from $200.00 up depending on whether it is single or double.
Remember you will have to transport it from the site where it is to your backyard apiary so the costs can mount up.
Costs will vary depending on where you source your beekeeping equipment. The items listed below are what would be considered the bare basics to start backyard beekeeping. (Prices checked February 2018.)
So as you can see the costs can mount up without much effort. Lower prices can be found if you if you are willing to do your research and of course you can spend much more if you want to.
Beehive registration is a requirement in every state and territory in Australia. They are no exceptions for backyard beekeepers or people with just one hive.
Registration is crucial. In the event of an exotic disease outbreak, state regulatory authorities need to know where hives are and how to contact the owners.
Fees vary from state to state. Except for NSW and WA registration is free depending on hive numbers.
Don’t forget to display your registration number on your hives.
A summary and relevant links are provided below.
Non-commercial beekeeping is free.
Registration is valid for three years.
You must display your hive identification number on the front of the hive in block letters and figures at least 25 mm in height.
The cost to register as a recreational beekeeper is $60.00. There is a concession rate of $40.00. You must identify every brood box with your registration number.
There are no charges for registration when a person keeps at least one hive but not more than five colonies and registers online using the DEDJTR website.
In all other cases, a fee applies for registration as follows:
Registration fees and hive contributions are based on the number of hives you keep.
Fees for keeping 1 to 4 hives:
Fees for keeping five hives or more:
You must brand all hives must with a three letter hive identification code issued when you first register as a beekeeper. Each character of the code must be 30 millimetres in height.
Beekeepers are required to be registered. You must mark each hive with the owner’s designated identifier.
The cost is $75.00 for three years
Beehive registration in the ACT is free.
You must clearly, and permanently display the beekeeper’s registration number on an outside wall of the brood box of each beehive.
Registration is free. You must also apply for Property Identification Code (PIC)
Registration in Tasmania is free for up to 5 hives.
Five to twenty hives cost $25.00
This is where common sense comes into play.
If you live in a unit block in suburbia and you place a couple of hives on your 4 m2 balcony, you will not be popular with the neighbours or the body corporate.
At the very least you should have a 400m2 block with enough space to site your hives appropriately.
Check with your local council to make sure that backyard beekeeping is allowed on your property before you spend hundreds of dollars on beekeeping equipment.
Some councils may prohibit backyard beekeeping in urban areas however this is becoming less common.
As a general rule of thumb, the following hive densities for backyard beekeeping is acceptable.
Two to three hives are more than enough to provide honey for a family and all of your new friends.
In fact, it is wise to have more than one hive as it helps to be able to observe the variability between bee colonies.
A weak failing hive may not always be apparent to a beginner if you can’t compare it to a stronger, better performing hive.
Resources from your strong hive such as frames of brood or honey can be borrowed to help a struggling colony.
Advising your neighbours can pose a real dilemma for urban beekeepers.
You certainly don’t need their permission.
A well positioned and responsibly maintained backyard apiary can go relatively unnoticed, and the neighbours may never realise that your hives are just over the fence.
Free honey provided to your immediate neighbours can help when breaking the happy news to them that they have a hundred thousand or so stinging insects nearby.
In reality, it is better to discuss your intentions with your neighbours before starting.
Prepare to explain the benefits of backyard beekeeping to the environment mainly if they are gardeners and assure them that you will be a responsible backyard beekeeper.
The onus is on you at all times to be responsible and not allow your bees to become a nuisance in any way.
No person has to tolerate being stung by angry bees or continually removing dead bees from a swimming pool or spa so that you can indulge in your hobby.
Don’t forget free honey can soothe the grumpiest neighbour so be generous.
These are our tried and true tips for responsible backyard beekeeping:
The location of your hives is essential for many reasons.
We’ve saved the best backyard beekeeping tips for last.
Books are an excellent source of information for backyard beekeepers.
There have been some tremendous Australian beekeeping books published in the last few years. Not a lot of changes regarding backyard beekeeping for beginners. The information in the books is in general peer-reviewed and accurate.
We specifically recommend these two fantastic Australian beekeeping books:
Beekeeping clubs are a goldmine of information for backyard beekeepers.
Organisations like the Amateur Beekeepers Association of New South Wales have numerous clubs and branches that meet regularly to support and encourage backyard beekeepers. Take a look at our vast list of Australian beekeeping associations.
One of the best ways to get started on your backyard beekeeping journey is to complete a beginners beekeeping course. Do some checking before you part with your money and ensure that your instructor has sufficient beekeeping experience to train.
Mt. Coramba Apiculture delivers beekeeping courses and workshops for beginners to advanced. Our sessions are practical and super flexible.
There are many beekeeping courses run by beekeepers that are just as good for example Beekeeping Basics is a small beekeeper training business based in Armidale, NSW. The owner Allan Thomas is an experienced beekeeper and a former high school agriculture teacher. Always look for trainers that offer a good background in beekeeping and appropriate training skills.
Another great way to get information about how to start backyard beekeeping is to reach out to other more experienced beekeepers.
It’s best to find someone local who can look through your hives with you when you get stuck. Beekeepers are a generous lot, and they love passing on their knowledge mainly when you are prepared to listen and learn.
We also regularly blog about beekeeping topics. Take a look at our news section for the helpful article “Why won’t my bees fill my Flow frames? Pro tips for Flow hive success.
A word of warning. Beware of the keyboard warriors on the multitude of beekeeping related Facebook sites. Make sure that you get a good grounding of factual information from reliable sources. You can’t be sure that the faceless person advising you from your computer screen knows what they are talking about. It is always better to get your advice from a face to face interaction with a real person. There is nothing like the real thing.
Are you looking for more information? Have a look at this excellent article from Flowers Across Sydney. Beekeeping in Australia. The Definitive Guide for Absolute Beginners.
The owner of Mt. Coramba Apiculture, Glenn Locke, has had the beekeeping urge since the early 1980’s as a 14-year-old teenager.
The Warwick (QLD) high school agriculture department had a few beehives and beekeeping was taught as a subject. Glenn’s agriculture teacher Jim Caird let him have a nucleus hive, and the addiction started.
The move to the mid-north coast of NSW and particularly the beautiful Orara Valley means that Glenn now has the space to commence beekeeping again. Glenn has managed beehives in the Orara Valley since 2009.
We also supply high quality local, raw honey.
Do you have questions about responsible backyard beekeeping? Contact us