Here is a checklist of the basics you need to consider before getting started with beekeeping, as provided by two of our senior beekeepers.
The principles here apply to both rural and urban beekeeping. More detail can be found in our Best-Practice Guideline for Urban Beekeepers document.
Once you are confident that you can meet your legal obligations as well as safety and site suitability requirements, the best thing you can do is a training course. This will step you through hive types, equipment and, most importantly, hive management basics, including biosecurity. Check the WAAS Training page for upcoming training opportunities. You will need to be a financial WAAS member to take part in our training.
Bees are considered to be livestock and as such there are a number of legal obligations around beekeeping, even for hobby beekeepers. Please make sure you are familiar with these obligations, and are able to meet them, before committing to owning bees. There are significant penalties for not meeting these requirements.
The primary requirement as a new beekeeper is that you register your hives with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) and obtain a registered hive brand which you then apply to all your hive boxes.
For more detail, go to our Legal Obligations webpage.
Bee stings are inevitable and they hurt. Most people have some form of allergic reaction from minor local swelling to a full scale, life threatening anaphylaxis. There are about 10 deaths per annum in Australia from these stings and many hundreds of people end up in Emergency Departments. All beekeepers should have an epipen available in case you or your family suffer a serious reaction. These reactions can be random, unexpected and very rapid.
A 10 frame Full Depth box typically weighs 37kg. This can be reduced to 30kg if you use an 8 frame Full Depth box or a 10 frame WSP box. An 8 frame WSP box, Manley box, Ideal box or Half Depth box are all lighter still. A Flow Hive could reduce the need for lifting full boxes and a horizontal hive or top-bar hive would eliminate lifting boxes altogether. Choose the right equipment for your strength levels, not just now but in ten years time.
Bees release a strong odour when they sting that attracts other defenders to that site, hence one sting on the ankle begets a dozen more within minutes. Good quality protective clothing that protects the whole body including ankles and feet is essential. Strong footwear is also advisable, especially in rural areas where snakes may be attracted to hives.
Ideally hives should be worked by two people. This ensures help is available if you have a bad reaction to a sting, and to help share heavy weights when lifting hives. WAAS runs Bee Buddy Groups in a number of areas around Perth and the regions, and has Chapters in Margaret River and Bunbury where you can team up with someone from your area.
Most local governments have some form of local law relating to the keeping of bees. Some were enacted many years ago and some are more recent. It is important that you check with your local government to determine their requirements – do you need to register with your Council? Are there restrictions on the number of hives or location of hives? Do they charge a fee? If you intend to sell your honey do you need to apply through your local government for approval to harvest and prepare the honey for sale? Check this out early, before you make any investment in equipment.
The State has enacted legislation covering aspects of beekeeping that you will need to comply with, including the requirement to register your hives with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, how bees should be kept (approved hive types), provision of water, record keeping, storage of hiveware and biosecurity reporting requirements. More information can be found here.
To register as a beekeeper the steps are:
- choose a unique hive brand. You can see which brands are available here. They are normally two letters (eg your initials) followed by a number. If you do not want to choose one, you will be allocated one.
- Once you have a hive brand chosen (and made sure it is available) you need to register with DPIRD. There is an inital registration fee and a small annual fee dependent on the number of hives you own.
- once registered, ensure that all your supers (hive boxes) are marked with your brand.
Even if your Council is OK with you keeping bees, check with your neighbours if they are close by. You don’t want to be sued by an angry neighbour whose child or dog is stung by one of “your” bees! Most inner city Councils require you to get permission from your neighbours.
Bees need a permanent supply of water – preferably NOT your swimming pool or your neighbours. You can help provide this with a pond, bowls of water etc, preferrably within 10m of your hive. Just make sure the water supply has safe landing places for the bees – rocks, plants etc – so they don’t drown trying to get a drink.
Bees need nectar AND pollen as well as water. Most urban gardens provide plenty of varied nutrition, but if you live in a more monocultural environment, like a forest or farming area, you may need to supplement your bees food supplies at certain times of the year.
Beehives should face away from the prevailing wind and weather. Ideally they should be in a sheltered location that gets morning sun. The flight path of your bees shouldn’t cross living areas, or areas of heavy use such as pathways. Consider dangers such as winter flooding, falling branches or areas that require seasonal burning. Once you choose your spot, it can be quite tricky to move a hive so choose carefully.
If you travel frequently or have other commitments that make it difficult to inspect your bees every two to three weeks in the honey season (September to May) you may need to train up your partner, or get a bee buddy to help you maintain your colony.
There are many different types of hive on the market but the most common are:
Things to consider when choosing your hive include:
In addition to your hive (bottom board, supers, frames, lid) you will also need:
This can be the hardest part of all and can require patience and perseverance!
A note of caution: many swarms are secondary from feral colonies and are too small to survive. Remember you will usually know nothing of the provenance of the queen. In the usual confusing way of the world there are mixed thoughts about stray swarms and disease. A swarm over 3 litres in size has usually come from a good and healthy home. The smaller ones may have been shed as a result of disease in the colony or a poor quality queen . It may be wise to replace the queen as soon as one can be accessed.
Within 7 days of obtaining your bees you need to ensure that you register with DPIRD and obtain your unique hive brand.
It is often easier to obtain your brand first so that you can identify each super and preserve the wood work (paint, stain or wax) prior to bees being installed.
Your hive brand must be stamped, carved or scored on to all your hive boxes so that it is distinctly impressed below the level of the surface and can’t be easily painted over or rubbed out. If you have bought a hive from another beekeeper, you need to cross out the existing brand and replace it with your own so that both brands can still be identified. This helps ensure that DPIRD inspectors can always identify the current owner of a hive, if necessary.
The date on which the super was first used should be written on each super with indelible ink.
For more detail on how to apply your hive brand, go to our Legal Obligations webpage.
Peter Wallace and Dirk Hos