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Going with the Flow – Musings of a Beginner Bee Keeper

  • 8 min read

Going with the Flow – Musings of a Beginner Bee Keeper

Written By Bec Gardiner

When I originally did the Permaculture design for my property in nearby Kensington, I mapped out a 5-year plan of all the different projects and elements I wanted to incorporate on my urban permaculture property. Becoming a beekeeper was something that I had in mind for the fifth year after most of the major landscaping elements were in place. This would also be of course, when I had oodles of time to put myself through a beekeeping course and be full bottle on all aspects of beekeeping - before the actual bees moved in.

As with so many things on my permaculture journey, the 5-year plan has turned out to be much more fluid than I anticipated. So it was that in my second year of planning and implementation, I got a call one day from UR’s good friend Farmer Alana who also keeps bees on her urban permaculture property. I must have mentioned once to her that I was interested in becoming a beekeeper for her to inform me that her bees had swarmed (a natural splitting of a beehive), and would I like them if she can capture the swarm? Bear in mind that at that point I did not know what a swarm was (it sounded scary), had no bee keeping equipment and not a single clue what to do.

Fortunately Alana was very helpful and patient with me, and with the help of a few other good mates who also keep bees – I was sent to the nearest Bee Keeping supplies shop to get a “nuc” box (a small 4 frame hive) to house the swarm until I was able to decide what kind of hive would be most suitable for me to keep bees in on my property. I took the nuc box to Alana who kindly captured the swarm from her tree where one Spring evening a couple of years ago, I had a very nervous drive home with a beehive in the back of my car. Fortunately, because I did have my long term, Permaculture plan in place, I knew where I would be placing my beehive, so it went straight into position. I removed the grate covering up the entrance to the hive and hoped for the best. Spoiler alert – I still have the bees two and a half years later and they are going very well but here are some important lessons I have learned during this time.

Langstroth Bee Hive with Bees

Bec's Beehive

Find Yourself a Bee Buddy

The first lesson I learnt, was that beekeeping is, especially when you are a beginner, a two-person operation. I was very lucky to have my Bee Buddy, Rocket (who incidentally makes our lovely Beeswax Candles), a bee keeping expert who keeps multiple hives himself, to come and help me. He basically gave me a crash course in the basics of beekeeping on the fly (pardon the pun) and helped me figure out what system would be best for me given the considerations of space, time required, and strength needed. My original desire was to have a Kenyan Hive, but the space was too tight as they are wide, rather than tall, so it ended up making more sense to have a traditional Langstroth Hive. Because I have children and pets and didn’t want to impact my neighbours in any way, the space I had fortunately chosen, faces the morning sun (important for bees) with my garden shed, side fence, tall trees and shrubs making a natural wall that would force the bees to come out of the hive and fly straight up into the sky to ensure no people and animals would be impacted by their flight path to and from the hive. 

Honey Bee on White Borage

Honeybee on Borage Flowers

Communication is Key

The second lesson is having a conversation with your neighbours to let them know you are planning to keep bee’s. It is best to make sure there are no allergy considerations, and also to let your neighbours know to come to you if they have any concerns, rather than report you straight to the local council. Fortunately, my neighbours loved the idea and knew they would reap the benefits with having more bees in the area to help pollinate their veggie patch, plus the occasional jar of honey being left on their doorstep. You also have to register your hive with DPIRD and check with your local council on their beekeeping regulations. Most urban councils do allow people to keep beehives on their property as long as it doesn’t impact neighbouring properties, and you maintain your hives properly.

The Early Days

About 6 weeks after I bought the nuc box home, and the bees had adjusted to their new environment, it was time to move them into their bigger hive. Originally I went with a 10 Frame Langstroth Hive. I donned my brand new bee suit, and with Rocket’s help, we set up the brood box and located the queen bee and marked her with a red dot to make her easier to find for future inspections. We then put a 10-frame Super on top with a queen excluder between the two boxes to keep the queen in the brood box below.

Bees in a hive

Can You Spot the Queen?

The whole experience was petrifying for me but also full of awe for the absolute marvel that is witnessing a bee colony function. Observing the inside of the beehive was like peering into a bustling metropolis where every bee has a role to play – from the nurturing nurse bees to the diligent foragers, it is a finely tuned ecosystem working in perfect harmony. Beyond their role as pollinators and honey producers, bees are simply beautiful creatures to observe. From the delicate intricacies of their wings, to the symmetry of their honeycomb, and the way bees communicate with each other though their aerial dance moves. It is like learning a new language and is a great reminder of the sophistication and elegance of communication systems in nature.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Despite the awe and wonder, it is very humbling to be surrounded by thousands of bees and a cotton suit between you and a thousand stings. This brings me to the third lesson I learnt, which is to trust that your bee suit will keep you (mostly) safe, and to stay as calm as humanly possible, as bees can definitely pick up on nervous energy and be more agitated if you are. I think I finally started to calm down and relax into the process after about my 5th or 6th hive inspection.

By this time, I was well and truly hooked. I started reading everything I could on beekeeping and would spend hours my garden just observing the bee behaviour as they went about their business, taking so many photos and videos. Rocket also bought me a bee journal so I could record all the information of our observations of the hive.

Do You Deadlift?

This is a good time for the fourth lesson. Bee keeping is physical work! My bees were so efficient, due to an abundance of food over the warmer months, that they had filled up the super very quickly – that is 10 frames full of honey with each frame weighing up to 5kg. This means that the super can be over 50kg in weight which you need to be confident in lifting by yourself in calm, fluid movements. I consider myself to be pretty strong as my job regularly involves lifting 30kg + multiple times a day, but this was too heavy for me to do confidently. I sure didn’t fancy finding out the hard way how cranky bees could be if you drop a fully loaded super either, so Rocket had to help me pretty much every time with my hive inspections for the first season. 

Every Relationship Takes Work 

The next lesson is that bee keeping can be a big commitment, particularly during the productive months between September and April. Depending on the amount of pollen and nectar available, and how you choose to manage your hive, it can mean that you may have to go into your hive every two weeks. If you decide to go on a four-week holiday in that period without someone managing your bees, you may find that you come home to find half your hive has departed (or swarmed) and you have very cranky neighbours. This is another good reason to find a beekeeping friend, or, join your local apiary society to find someone who may be able to help out when required. Or take your holidays in Winter!

Bec harvesting honeycomb from a beehive

Removing Wax Capping from Frames

The First Taste!

I didn’t harvest any honey in the first season as you do need to make sure that there is enough honey for the bees during the cooler months of the year when food is not so widely available and this also allowed for the hive to build up a healthy population. I was fortunate enough however, to get a sneaky taste of my bee's honey early on though, as my bees were so productive at making wax that they started making some comb in the lid of my super which they subsequently filled with honey. I got to scrape that out and got nearly 1kg of honey just from that spare comb. It was literally the tastiest, most satisfying thing I had ever put in my mouth!   

Fresh honeycomb with bees

Fresh Honeycomb

Now We Are in Flow

When Spring rolled around to mark the second year of beekeeping, Rocket and I decided to downgrade my system to 8-frame boxes so it was easier for me to lift and it meant I didn’t have to rely on him so much to help me – although it is still a struggle when they are really full. I also added the Flow Hive on top of the Super and got to harvest from that twice that Spring, which resulted in close to 30kg of honey, plus I was removing 2 frames from the Super full of honey almost every two weeks resulting in another 3-5 kg each time. I ended up using what I harvested from the super frames for my own families’ personal use which meant that I then was able to start selling the honey collected from the Flow Hive to family and friends and my immediate community. This definitely helped recoup some of the costs of setting up the hive as depending on what system you go for, the hive, suit and accessories can add up to well over $1000 making it one of the more expensive hobbies you can have. I will also say that it is definitely one of the most rewarding hobbies you can also have.

Jars of honey stacked up

First Honey Jars for Sale

As a beginner beekeeper, every encounter with the hive has been a lesson in awe and humility. Every mistake that I made (one of which led to being painfully stung in the neck), was an opportunity for growth. Bees are great teachers in resilience and adaptability. Beekeeping is intimately tied to the rhythms of the seasons. From the first signs of Spring, to the bountiful harvest of Summer and the passive enjoyment of the Winter months, each season brings its own joys and challenges. It has only deepened my connection with the natural world and constantly reminds me of our fragile, and symbiotic relationship with bees and the vital role they play in the health of our ecosystem. 

If at the end of reading this, you are still thinking about delving into the world of beekeeping, take my word for it that it is a journey you will not regret taking. When talking with my fellow beekeepers, there is a similar consensus that no matter how experienced you become, beekeeping is an ongoing journey of discovery and wonder, where there is always something new to learn and endless opportunities to marvel at the enchanting world of bees.

Want to know more about Beekeeping? Flow Hive have a great online bee keeping course which you can check out here.

Can't get enough about Bees? Check out our other Bee Blogs:

Growing a Bee Friendly Garden

Celebrating Bees for Biodiversity and Food Security

7 Benefits of Using Beeswax at Home

Native Bees - Most Welcome Visitors to the Garden 








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