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By Karen Retra     Border Eco-Living Program

I am a novice beekeeper with a bee hive in my suburban backyard.

For me, the big draw card bees offer is pollination, particularly for fruit and vegetable plants. Harvesting honey is a bonus, not the primary motivation for me. Previously I encouraged bees to visit the garden using plants and by providing habitat for native bees. The hive takes it a step further.

Beekeeping is surprisingly common, including urban beekeeping in places as unlikely as the rooftops of central Paris. Ask around, how many of your neighbours, relatives or workmates have kept bees or know others who do? You may be as surprised as I was to discover previously unknown beekeepers within your circles. There are almost 10,000 registered beekeepers in Australia operating about half a million bee hives.

Bee behaviour is quite predictable. Disturb them when the weather is threatening, when you are in a bad mood or treat them roughly and they become aggressive. Even their ‘buzz’ changes. If someone pulled the roof off your house before a storm, I bet you would be agitated as well.

Conversely, it is awe-inspiring to experience the bees on a pleasant day, as I move gently and stay calm while inspecting the hive. I wear a veil but so far I have worked on the hive with bare hands. This gives me a better sense of touch and helps me to be gentle. I remove and inspect each frame attracting barely a second glance from the bees even though they cover the surfaces. If I am no threat they carry on working. I haven’t been stung yet but it is inevitable I will be. While beekeeping is not for those who are allergic, it’s only when defending themselves that bees sting.

As with all animal husbandry there is responsibility involved. My hive has a clear ‘flight path’ so no one can unintentionally wander into the bees’ way. I checked in advance that my neighbours and local council were all ok with my beekeeping plans. The hive is registered with the Department of Primary Industries, who provide guidelines for urban beekeeping.

Through beekeeping I am discovering a whole new world. For example, I take more notice of which plants flower when, and which are the bees’ favorites. My neighbour’s Elm tree is a source of great interest since I found bees residing in its hollow trunk. And I am mesmerised as I watch the bees dance to communicate the current pollen and nectar ‘hot spots’ to each other.