Our unique isolation in Western Australia is paradise for bees, with WA honey rated among the best tasting in the world. Learn all about the sweet rewards of beekeeping through my own experience of being a beekeeper for just one day thanks to Perth Bee Supplies.
2017 UPDATE*: Robert no longer owns Perth Bee Keeping Supplies. Eric from Fremantle is now the man in charge.
Warning, Beeware! This entire article is swarming with bee puns.
Western Australian: A Unique Bee Paradise
Australia is currently experiencing a golden age of backyard beekeeping and arguably, Western Australia is at the forefront of all the buzz. Our state is the bees knees of Australia, because our unique isolation has given us diverse flora that creates amazing tasting honey. Not just that, but along with vigilant bio-security control and continued disease reporting, our honeybees are yet to be affected by many exotic pests and diseases that have otherwise destroyed beehives in the eastern states of Australia and around the word.
Sweet, Sweet Jarrah Honey
Honey in Western Australia is rated among the best tasting (and medically beneficial) in the world. Research confirmed our very own Jarrah honey has special antibacterial and antimicrobial healing effects, making it a worthy alternate therapy to combat infection. The Jarrah tree (Eucalyptus marginata) is unique only to WA, being a large forest tree of up to 40m in height that can live up to 1,000 years. It is usually found in the Jarrah forest, extending from Gingin (north of Perth) to as far south as Albany.
But honey isn’t the only sweet reward. Bees help increase pollination of our indigenous flora too, with about 65% of the crops we grow in Australia depending on bee pollination.
My First Beekeeping Experience: Thanks to Perth Bee Supplies
Backyard beekeeping in Western Australia is buzzing with opportunity for amateurs and professionals alike. There is potential to earn money on honey and other bee products that can be harvested and put to good use, including beeswax, royal jelly and bee pollen (which is rich in protein and used as a healthy food supplement). Plus, you would also be helping to build a sustainable and healthy bee population for a secure, future environment. Backyard beekeepers have also witnessed dramatic improvements in their gardens – more and larger fruits, flowers and vegetables. Truly, adding a hive or two in your backyard really makes the garden more productive and prolific.
To learn more about what it takes to be a beekeeper for a day – Robert* from Perth Bee Supplies kindly invited me to tag along with him on his latest beekeeping expedition to learn more about the tasks and rewards of backyard beekeeping.
2017 UPDATE*: Robert no longer owns Perth Bee Keeping Supplies. Eric from Fremantle is now the man in charge.
Dressed up in professional beekeeping protective gear, I feel like I was in one of those horror movies where there’s a virus outbreak and I’m in quarantine – but I ‘beelieve’ in myself, and I trust Robert’s bee-whispering magic. Today is perfect conditions for beekeeping – warm and sunny – as that’s when bees are busy and productive and less aggressive.
Robert is a hard-worker with a heart of gold honey. He kindly invited me to experience a day in the life of a beekeeper.
‘To bee, or not to bee, that is the question’, I thoughtfully pondered as I entered the beekeeping zone (with Kenny Loggin’s Dangerzone playing on loop in my head).
Commercial beekeeping worldwide is based on the ‘Langstroth Hive’ structure. Over hundreds of years, people kept bees in many types of hives (from hollow logs to baskets) but the problem was they had to destroy the hive to extract the honey, plus they couldn’t inspect the hive for diseases.
In 1851, Lorenzo Langstroth discovered if you left a space between hive surfaces, bees would continue working, building comb and tending to young without bridging this space. This discovery made way for removable frames inside the hives.
Before nearing the beehives, Robert prepares the bee smoker, a device used in beekeeping to calm honey bees. It generates smoke from the smoldering of various fuels, hence the name.
The smoke masks the pheromone communication between the bees, temporarily disrupting their defensive behaviour and making them less aggressive. It also stimulates the bees to gorge on the honey or nectar, as they think it might be a bushfire. Either way, don’t get too worried about this – because temporary smoking of the hive actually minimises risk of sting attacks (and therefore saves bees lives, yay, everybody wins!)
Bee sure to keep an eye on wind direction, as I was a bumbling idiot always getting the smoke in my eyes half the time! Especially in Western Australia, it pays to be safe and alert when dealing with any level of fire, and never leave it burning unattended!
These frames inside hold the foundation within the honey super.
Opening one of the frames, we can see the black wire. This wire gives added support to the wax foundation.
Flipping the frame around, we can see a mass of bees gorging on the (yellow) beeswax foundation after we smoked the hive.
In this close up, you can see some of the bees gorging on the honey because of the smoke. You can also clearly see the honeycomb hexagon-shaped matrix in a plastic frame. This is slowly filled with honey by the bees over time.
Bees naturally comb honey in hexagonal shapes. To help them speed up the process (and help guide bees to draw straight combs faster) there are pre-made hexagon shaped plastic sheet frames available to buy from any supplier to serve as foundation on the wire. Buying pre-made hexagon shapes helps give the bees a kick-start on layering it up with beeswax.
The great thing about plastic sheets is they are durable and reusable; you can scrape the comb off and never damage the cell. They also can’t be destroyed by mice, wax moths, it’s easy to spot eggs against black plastic sheets, you can store in any temperature and it is much more cost effective than constantly replacing damaged foundation.
Amongst the honey hives are some bait traps (also called swam traps) – like the one pictured above. What are they? They are empty hives set up to attract new bee colonies scouting for locations during swarming season. Swarming is the natural means of reproduction for honey bee colonies.
This type of hive is multi-purposeful, as at the bottom of it, pollen can be collected. They are packed by worker honeybees into pellets. It’s only been in the last few years that bee pollen has really taken off as a popular superfood, known for its countless health benefits – being approximately 40% protein.
Many have started using bee pollen in their breakfast cereals. I’m not pollen your leg, that’s the truth!
A common problem for beekeepers is bridge comb (a term used to describe when comb is built in places reasonable to the bees but annoying to the beekeeper). When inspecting frames, Robert sees the beecomb glueing the frames together, so he uses a hive tool to gently scrape the glued up beecomb away (after ensuring the Queen is not on it). These scrapings are great for making candles or other beeswax products.
These frames are ready to be extracted for honey! Honeybees preserve their honey by capping it in wax cells. On top of the honey is a layer of white wax.
Robert scrapes some marks through it to show the succulent, raw honey beneath the layer of beeswax.
Close up of the raw honey. Hmmm. That’s the money shot right there.
Flipping the frame over, and we can see MORE HONEY!
Robert also points out there is a hive in a pot – this is a perfect example of a foundation-less bee hive without man-made frames.
Feeling like we’re out of that TV show Breaking Bad. Hey, is that a stinger in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
I had a great time! The only buzzkill was getting a minor sting when taking my suit off at the end of it all (my finger brushed up on a stinger that was stuck into my suit) – But that’s cool, it made me a true blue Aussie Beekeeper, hard yakka mate (that’s Aussie slang for hard bloody work mate).
Finally – what I’ve been waiting for – tasting real, raw, unprocessed honey. A bush taste with slight floral tang to it – it wasn’t too sweet, it was just right. Absolutely delicious. And good for you too.
But of course, it’s none of your beeswax- and in that phrase I mean, we literally want none of the beeswax. Using a knife, Robert scrapes the wax layer off to reveal the honey underneath. It’s not bad if you accidentally ingest some of the bee wax either, it won’t hurt you, nut it is quite chewy – like chewing gum, and you’ll likely want to spit it out like I did.
That layer of wax that gets scraped off doesn’t need to go in the bin. Again, you can use it for other bee related products.
I had an absolutely AWESOME time following Robert around during his hive inspections. To feel thousands of bees buzzing around you is such an adrenaline rush! I wasn’t at all scared of getting stung. So long as you ‘suit up’ properly, visit the hives on days where the weather is optimum (sunny), use the smoker properly and stay alert of the bees behaviour – you can avoid getting stung too often.
Want to become a beekeeper?
Beekeeping is a great pursuit that doesn’t have to take up a huge amount of time, no matter how many hives you are looking after. Like with any new tasks in life, the more you practice, the more you become efficient at the tasks. When starting out, assembling the hives and putting all the equipment together may take a few days, but after that’s finished, you will only need to inspect your hives about once a fortnight during spring and summer. Bees look after themselves most of the time and are independent.
Now, I don’t want to honey-coat anything, but you should check you meet these requirements first:
- You are NOT allergic to bee stings.
- Do you enjoy botany (plants) and entomology (insects)?
- Are you free from allergies and able to work with bees?
- Are you able to work in isolated areas?
- Are you willing to work long and irregular hours?
- Are you able to lift heavy weights?
- Are you happy to work alone?
- Are you able to keep accurate records?
- Does your local Government permit you to beekeep in your backyard?
If you answer yes to all these, then sounds like beekeeping may be for you. To find out if you like working with bees, go to a beekeeping society’s meeting, like The Western Australian Apiarist Society for example – many of them hold regular field days to encourage newcomers to experience what a hive inspection involves.
Beekeeping Rules and Regulations in WA
The following information was taken from the Department of Agriculture and Food website. To become a beekeeper in WA, you must register with the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA). You will then be issued with a license and brand identification which must be printed on all your beekeeping equipment, and will also receive a complimentary BeeInformed magazine three times a year.
The costs of registering (as at 28th October 2015):
- Beekeepers license – $65 for three year
- Annual Agricultural Produce Commission Fee – $15 + $1.10/hive (this fee assists in pest and disease surveillance).
It’s also important to note that each local government has rules and regulations in conjunction with keeping bees in residential areas. Please visit your local government website to find specific rules and regulation that apply to you. For example:
City of Joondalup – Not permitted, in residential areas.
Contact Perth Bee Supplies
Perth Bee Supplies are passionate about providing quality products and quality service – catering not only for the smaller hobbyist starting out, but also having the capacity to supply wholesale to larger enterprises if required. Products are shipped weekly, offering some of the cheapest prices nationally. Thanks Robert for the beekeeping tour!
2017 UPDATE: Robert no longer owns Perth Bee Keeping Supplies. Eric from Fremantle is now the man in charge.
Beekeeping Industry & Further Reading Links:
The Western Australian Apiarist Society – an amateur group meets at the Department of Agriculture and Food, 3 Baron-Hay Court, South Perth at 7.30pm on the first Wednesday of each month.
Aussie Apiarists Online – This web site is a listing of Beekeeper Clubs and Associations available in Australia.
Perth Bee Supplies – Perth based business with 24 hour online shop that is passionate about providing quality beekeeping products and quality service throughout Australia.
Now let’s finish this article off with terrible bee jokes. Let them sink in and sting ya:
- Why was the bee so hard to understand? It was a mumble bee.
- Why did the bee go to the dermatologist? It had hives.
- Who is the bees favourite composer? Bee-thoven.
- What bee keeps you healthy? Vitamin Bee.
- What kind of bees are the smartest? Spelling bees.
- What do you call a bee that lives in America? A USB
- Why do bees have sticky hair? Because they use honey combs.
I hope all the bee puns didn’t give you the hives, because they kept dripping out of my mind like warm honey. I could wax on forever but I’m going to go now and listen to some music by Sting and the B-52′s. Kids, don’t forget to comb your hair and wasp your face. I’ll bee back.
If you can think of any more bee puns or jokes – please share them below in the comments!