Thinking about keeping bees?

To be a good beekeeper requires knowledge of the science behind beekeeping and bees and having a set of beekeeping skills and practices. You need to be prepared to invest time and resources in developing your expertise to become a good and responsible beekeeper.

Beekeeping is not for everyone. I meet many people who begin beekeeping, invest considerable time and dollars only to find that it does not work for them or for their family.

Before making a decision or buying anything:

  • Do your homework and read the The Apiary Code of Practice and the Victorian Beekeeping for beginners website
  • Visit an apiary and talk to other beekeepers
  • Be involved in opening some hives
  • Undertake a course in beekeeping
  • Find yourself a mentor
  • Join a beekeeper club.

A few key pointers:

  1. Ensure that you have space enough for keeping bees and, at the same time, can meet your family needs.
  2. Some people react to bee stings and a small proportion are anaphylactic. Anaphylactic reactions can be life threatening.  Have appropriate medication for minor reactions and plan of action to respond to any serious events. Consider having EpiPens.
  3. To keep bees you must register as a beekeeper with the Victorian Department of Agriculture and keeping a record of your biosecurity activities.
  4. There are limits to the number of hives you can have on a suburban property and restrictions on where you can place your hive:
  5. Expect to spend over $1,000 on equipment, bees and resources in the first year with ongoing expenses for club fees, training, replacement and new equipment and new queens.
  6. To be a responsible beekeeper you will need to inspect your hives regularly depending on the season. General guide: During spring and early summer bees tend to swarm and you should inspect your hive at lest every 7 days. During summer inspections can be every 7 to 10 days and during winter, as a minimum lift, the back of the hive to determine the amount of food they have.
  7. Urban Area Hive Density Limitations
Tenement sizeNo.  of hives
500 m2 or less1
501 m2 to 1000 m22
1001 m2 to 2000 m25
2001m2 to less than 4000 m210
4000 m2 to less than 1ha60
1 ha to 2 ha100
Larger than 2 haNo limit
  • Hives should not be placed in front yards and, if the hives are to be placed within 3 metres of the boundary, then the boundary fence must be bee proof and at least 2 metres high.
  • Consider the options as to the size and type of hive and boxes that best meets your needs. Visit a supplier that has a good range of different hives and boxes and talk to other beekeepers as to benefits and disadvantages of each type.
  • Purchase good quality new equipment. If your hives are made of timber then it is a good idea to purchase the base, lid and brood box wax dipped and painted.  Wooden boxes that are not wax dipped have a shorter life span.
  • Unless you are very certain, avoid second hand hives and boxes as they may have had disease.
  • It is advisable to purchase your first bees as a nucleus hive with a new queen from a reputable beekeeper rather than trying to catch a swarm. Swarms are likely have the old queen that will soon be replaced by the hive or, on occasions, a virgin queen that will need to go out and mate. There is a greater chance that a swarm may be diseased or defensive in nature than with a purchased nucleus.

Good references:

Getting Started Guide: Victorian Agricultural Site

Good Practice Guide: Victorian Agricultural Site

Australian Beekeeping Guide

Swarm Control by Wally Shaw

Simple Methods of Making Increase by Wally Shaw

Suggested Suppliers

Whirrakee Woodware.
(Based in Maryborough and have an outlet in Port Melbourne)
Becs Bees
Bobs Beekeeping
Aussie Apiaries
Kelvin Trading
Australian Honeybee
Beeman Honey
NB: There are many other beekeeping suppliers. I have no commercial relationship with any.

Beekeeping Clubs

Bee clubs in Victoria

YouTube Sites (just a few)

The Norfolk Honey Company
UoG Honey Bee Research Centre
Trevor Gillbanks & Ecrotek
NSW Illawarra Beekeeping Club

Tony Wilsmore

Suburban Bees