Bees and human beings have co-evolved over many thousands of years and in the last century the relationship has spawned a global industry.
Recent times have seen a boom in urban farming and sustainable living, putting hobby beekeeping firmly back on the agenda.
For a yield of fresh, natural honey up to three times a year depending on the climate and general health of the hive, beekeeping is a relatively low-demand interest.
It can also be accommodated in small spaces and city environments.
Our suburban landscapes and cities have plenty of nectar-rich flowers and bees will happily produce honey and serve in their essential role as nature’s pollinators.
Beekeeping at home
Most of us try to avoid them, but without bees our natural ecosystems would collapse.
Worldwide, bees are responsible for pollinating a third of all crops, including orchard fruits, nuts and most vegetables.
Industrialisation within agriculture has brought dramatic changes for the lives of bees and large-scale beekeeping has become big business.
Because wild bee populations have dwindled dramatically while the demand for crops has skyrocketed, commercial apiarists keep thousands of colonies and rent them to farmers to pollinate crops.
This leads to bees being transported thousands of kilometres and then introduced to new and often hostile environments, which threatens the bees and hastens the spread of disease.
Just this year, the Californian almond harvest, source of much of the world’s supply, was under threat because there were simply not enough bees to pollinate the plants.
Scientists and theorists put forward many reasons for the great decline.
Global climate change, pesticides used on crops, decline of wild habitats, a hive-destroying insect called the small hive beetle, and a nasty parasite called the varroa mite all play significant roles.
As does monoculture, or forcing bees to pollinate only one species of plant, which happens commercially.
Take up the hobby
Keeping a couple of beehives for home honey production is a rewarding and undemanding hobby that will produce up to 20kg of liquid gold a year, more than enough to supply the family.
Greg Deakin has been keeping bees for 25 years and has seen a huge increase in the number of people interested in having a hive or two in the backyard.
“People are getting greener and many are noticing that their gardens are not being pollinated like they used to be. This sparks an interest in bringing pollinators to the garden and bees are foremost among them,” he says.
You need space to house the hives, ideally away from neighbours, and the willingness to learn.
The best idea for anyone wanting to start hobby beekeeping is to join a local club.
There are many listed online and local councils also offer information and guidelines.
Greg obtained his knowledge the hard way, through trial and error.
“Now, with all the gear and access to a club, you have so much support and shared information,” he says.
“Bees can be susceptible to many diseases and it’s a climate dependent hobby, so there are variables.”
Despite the challenges, the hobby has a very successful uptake.
“Most people who show an interest go on to keep hives and really enjoy the process. It’s very family friendly, for the obvious reasons of fresh honey and environmental contribution.”
TIP: Check with your local authority before setting up a hive because you may need to be registered with the Department of Primary Industries or your local equivalent.
Planting for pollination
If you don’t want to commit to beekeeping, you can do your bit by consciously planting to attract pollinators to the garden.
Native gardens will attract native honey bees, but all types of bees enjoy a wide range of nectar sources.
The highest sugar content is what a bee is actually after, and blooming annuals are the best providers.
Examples are: lavender, clover, coreopsis, aster, marigold, poppy, sunflower and zinnia flowers.
Planting in a crescent shape in a sunny, sheltered area of the garden will bring the bees buzzing and keep flowering plants happy.