Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Urban Beekeeping- Where to Start?

Moreland Bees on sunflowers

I have heard it said that bees are the new chickens and the amount of urban bee keepers in Moreland definitely seems to be growing. There is a wealth of information about bee keeping on the web and in books but like most practical things it is best to experience it first hand. 
There was some recent discussion about stating local bee keeping group but it would have needed experienced bee keepers for support. Barry Cooper local bee keeper of 20 years and member of the Victorian Apiarists Association attended our last meeting. Barry has a wealth of knowledge about local groups that already exist such as the Ceres Bee Group, Collingwood Children's Farm Apiary and Victorian Apiarists’ Association. (Further groups are listed on the pdf. link at the end.)
Honey Bees have it tough in the world at the moment with loss of biodiversity, monoculture crops and the chemicals used in farming. They have been ravaged by disease such as colony collapse disorder and varroa mite. The two main issues in urban areas are swarming and disease.

 To control swarming, hives need to be checked regularly- once a week, in early spring.  Swarming is the bees’ natural method of reproduction. The old queen leaves with some of the bees to look for a new location and the remaining bees in the hive raise a new queen.  Swarm control techniques are best learnt from experienced apiarists. Beekeepers are also the best people to contact if you see a swarm. They will collect them to re-hive whereas pest controllers will just kill the bees.

Australia is the only county left in the world with out varroa mite. The Department of Primary Industry Website (DPI) states
“Varroa mite (Varroa destructor) is a parasite of adult honey bees and honey bee brood.  It weakens and kills honey bee colonies and can also transmit honey bee viruses. Varroa does not occur in Australia.  Should it become established in this country, it will be a major problem to commercial and hobby beekeepers.” DPI pest insects- varroa mite

Around 60-70% of members of the Victorian Apiarist’s Association are hobby bee keepers, the cooperation and participation of hobby beekeepers is essential for disease detection and control. Barry mentioned that Victoria is very organised with an early detection system in place for when varroa inevitably makes it to this area- most likely through stowaway bees arriving in the port. It is very important to keep bees responsibly. All owners of Hives need to be registered with DPI to help with this control- it is free if you register online and have less than 6 hives and includes information to assist with the prevention of disease.
Bees are extremely important to gardeners because of their pollination of fruit and vegetables. If varroa mite were to come to Australia yields of fruit and vegetables would be drastically reduced.
Barry Cooper encourages local bee keepers to link in with existing groups.
If you don’t have your own hive another way to support bee populations is to plant trees that support bees through the production of nectar and pollen in hard times. This way bees will be around when they are needed for fruit and vegetable pollination thereby increasing production. Barry has observed that in many Moreland streets this has inadvertently already been done. The many mature Winter and Summer flowering eucalypts that we have in our streets and parks playing an essential role in supporting local bees. There is a great new resource out - Bee Friendly: A planting guide for European honeybees and Australian native pollinators" It can downloaded for free.

A full list of Bee Keeping Resources can be downloaded here.
So get planting or bee keeping!
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