Today I presented at the 2016 Less is More festival, on hosting a beehive in your back yard. Here are some of the points I covered, just in case you couldn’t make it to the talk, or need a little reminder of the content. 🙂
Why host a beehive? Well, it’s more a case of why wouldn’t you, really. It’s easy and safe, the bees will pollinate all your vegetables and your fruit trees, and produce honey as well. Plus, honeybees are under a lot of pressure from climate change, pollution, disease and the use of damaging pesticides such as neonicotinoids – so hosting a hive will help make sure there are healthy honeybee populations around.
All you need a little space – as little as 2 to 4 sqm that don’t get walked through every day, in a corner of the garden or even on your roof or the roof of your garden shed – and a bird bath or pond to provide water for the bees. You do need to provide water, otherwise the thirsty bees will go for the nearest water source, which might be your (or your neighbour’s) swimming pool, or your dog’s water dish. That’s when bees become a nuisance. You can reduce the possibility of your bees being a problem for people by putting a person-height barrier (a shade cloth screen, for example, or a hedge) in front of the hive so that the bees have to fly over it to leave; they will then tend to stay at that height until they get to the flowers they are heading for.
You should also check on your local council’s rules – most councils allow beehives, but some have rules about how far from the street your hive must be, or how many hives you can have. You also need to register with the state government for a ‘hive brand’, and pay a registration fee, so that you can legally keep bees. The hive brand is a symbol or combination of letters and numbers which must be visibly marked on your hives.
You should open your hive up to check on the bees at least four times a year (once per season), to make sure they’re healthy and don’t have parasites or diseases. Open the hive in the morning, ideally on a sunny day – never in the rain or late in the evening. Bees become defensive and angry if disturbed at night. Smoke your bees gently before opening the hive, using a bee smoker. You can also harvest honey when you open the hive up – we’d suggest doing an intro to beekeeping course to see how it’s done before trying it yourself. Always listen to your hive – you can hear their mood in the tone of the buzzing. Beekeeping equipment for maintaining your hive and harvesting honey is available from several suppliers, who can also advise on where to buy bees – try Perth Bee Supplies or Guilefoyles, or you can buy the equipment online from multiple sellers. Your first beekeeping supplies, other than a hive, should include a bee brush, a smoker, an implement called a hive tool, and protective gear (bee suit, gloves, veil).
Once you have the honey, you still have to use it. Honey tastes sweeter than sugar, so you need less of it in most recipes. Use approx. ½ to ¾ cup of honey per cup of sugar replaced – and be aware that some recipes won’t turn out the same, especially confectionary, because honey contains different types of sugars to regular sugar (fructose and glucose, rather than sucrose). Honey also adds liquid to a recipe, so you need to reduce the liquid content of the recipe from other sources. Reduce the liquid content of a recipe (from water, milk, etc.) by about ¼ cup for every cup of honey you add to the recipe. Honey is great to bake with, and works really well in jams too.
Easy Honey and Olive Oil Cupcakes
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup of plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup olive oil (or other vegetable oil)
½ cup honey
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup milk (you can use rice milk, nut milk, or water if you prefer)
- Combine all ingredients.
- Spoon into cupcake cases or muffin pans.
- Bake at 180 degrees C for about 10 minutes, or until golden on top and cooked all the way through.