Hamish and Andy – bee beard

From Hamish and Andy’s latest adventure.  “Hamish knows Andy has trouble growing facial hair and so being the great friend he is, reverse-barbers Andy a full beard! But, it’s made of Bees.”

Spring honey harvest – Neutral Bay balcony beehive

Anyone who keeps bees will tell you that the most exciting day/s in the calendar is when you get to harvest honey.  Even after 10 years of working with bees, I still find them, their work, their societal structure, their brilliance and their bounty quite miraculous.  And it is just so incredible to taste an urban honey.  Bruce calls it a “mixed grill” because it is flower nectar collected from so many different sources (versus a varietal honey – like Yellow Box, Iron Bark, Blue Gum etc – which is predominantly from a single source).

Anyway, today we did a Spring harvest from my balcony beehive in Neutral Bay.  Whilst the girls have lovely views, they certainly don’t seem to have been idling their time away looking.  We got a bumper crop of 17kg’s from a single beehive (and that was even leaving quite a bit behind for them).

For the most part beekeeping is about observing and listening… observing your girls (flight patterns, activity, behaviour etc), observing the local flora and listening to the hive to see what is going on.  Generally we try not to open the hive too often as it disrupts the bees – they like keep the temperature of the hive at 32 – 35 degrees celcius and are very ordered in the way they go about their work and as a control freak myself I can empathise that it would be very irritating to have enormous hands come in and wreak havoc.  So, on harvest day we work with care, we work calmly and we try to minimise disruption (oh, apart from the fact that we are sharing their bounty).

With no further ado, a few photographs

Lighting a bee smoker with pine needles

Firing up the smoker


Smoking bees and cracking the lid of the hive

Cracking open the lid of the beehive


Uncapping the honey with an electric uncapping knife

Uncapping the honey with an electric uncapping knife


Uncapping honey and spinning honey

Tag team – uncapping and spinning


Removing the bees with a bee brush

Removing the bees with a bee brush


uncapping honey

The Bee Whisperer taming the uncapping knife


An uncapped frame of honey going into the honey extractor

An uncapped frame going into the extractor


I think Bruce may be flirting with the girls


Brood comb from an outrageously productive queen

Brood comb from an outrageously productive queen


The Bee Whisperer showing off


Close up of Neutral Bay's finest bees

Close up of Neutral Bay’s finest bees


Inside the hive


Extraordinary close up photo of a bee

Extraordinary close up photo of a bee


Raw virgin organic honey

Offloading the spoils – raw, unheated, extra virgin Neutral Bay honey


100% Fat Free, Gluten Free Neutral Bay honey… party in a bucket – Food Miles = 0

Better Homes and Gardens backyard urban beehive shoot

A large part of the reason that Bruce and I set up Bees In The City was to ensure that we have sustainable bee populations in our cities.  With ongoing urban sprawl and the reduction of ‘green space’ in our cities it is necessary to have ‘managed’ bees in order to maintain healthy bee populations.  So we were delighted to be approached by Better Homes & Gardens to be part of a shoot they were doing for a story on backyard beekeeping.  We’ll be on air in the next month or so and will keep you posted on the Bees In The City Facebook page.

Here’s a behind the scenes look at filming

Nicky & Jason kitted up


Lights Camera Action


Bruce & Jason Hodges – Landscaper and Apprentice Bee Whisperer


The Girls draw quite a crowd – and not a single sting (despite having their home opened for a couple of hours and nine enormous mammals looking in)


Extracting honey – filming the honey spinner


Bottling the spoils


A piece to camera


A bumper harvest – just 2 weeks into spring


Keeping cool under pressure – no bees or humans were harmed in the filming of the segment.

So you want your own backyard beehive?… what now?

So, you’ve decided that you want your own beehive and are wondering how to go about it?  Firstly, congratulations!  Your neighbours veggie patches and gardens will be thanking you very soon.

Keeping bees is a little like keeping any sort of pet… you need to do your research first and then start learning.  The best way to learn any skill is, of course, to study it.  You have several options available:

Join your local Amateur Beekeepers Association.  It will cost around $40 – $50.  Most branches have monthly meetings and field days.  Go along to a few of the meetings and field days for your first taste of beekeeping.  You will generally find that beekeepers are very passionate about bees and only too willing to talk (at length) about bees and beekeeping.
Get one-on-one beekeeping instruction with Bees In The City.  This is for the time-poor or for businesses who need quick, hands-on tuition and/or full management of their beehives.  We bring the bees.  We bring the equipment.  We harvest the honey for you.  We can either do it all, or train you up to take over management.
Get some credentials.  You may prefer to do a Beekeeping Course which will give you formal qualifications.  You’ll get more in-depth information and the two main courses that I know of both have a practical component after which you should feel comfortable handling bees.

The course that I did is run by OTEN (Open Training and Education Network) which is a division of TAFE.  I chose it because I wanted both the practical and the deeper, theoretical knowledge that the course offered.    The course covers bee colony structure and handling, bee products, bee flora, nutrition and crop pollination, bee diseases, parasites and pests and beekeeping practical skills.  The overview says you need access to hives in order to complete the course, but I didn’t have access to hives and nor have several of the friends who have done the course.

The course is taught by Bees In The City Bee Whisperer, Bruce White, who worked for the Department of Primary Industries for over 40 years as the Apiaries officer (or something like that).  He is extraordinarily knowledgeable and a practicing beekeeper himself.As at the time of writing this course costs $545.  You can find up to date information on the OTEN website.  For further information on this course call the Horticulture teaching section on (02) 9715 8537 or 1300 421 805.

Tocal Agricultural College have a Beginning in Bees course run by NSW Industry & Investment.  The course is 2 days and involves both theory and practical components.  They seem to run courses all over the place (listed on their website are upcoming courses in Bellingen, Paterson and Camden).  At the time of writing this course costs $500.  For more information go to the Tocal Agricultural College website or call 1800 025 520.

I am sure that if you have enough time on your hands you could also learn enough to get you started online or with books, but I highly recommend having first hand experience with an open beehive before purchasing one.

Getting started is the hard part… once you’re set up, the bees do all the work and in no time at all you’ll be harvesting your very own, local, organic honey.  There’s nothing quite like it really.

If you had another way of getting started in beekeeping or have done any courses that you’d like to share information about, please post a comment.

Rooftop bees in Paddington