Words and photos by Rebecca Lees
It was autumn, and we were looking into a buzzing hive for the first time. The hive belonged to Gavin, a local chap who, a year prior, was a beginner himself. Now, 60,000 bees thrive on his back lawn. He has young kids, too, like me. They’re not told to go away and watch TV; they gather around to taste the honey or to spy the queen.
Gavin opened the hive and pulled out a frame of brood. “Wow!” I said. I’m not usually stuck for words, but I was that day. I had no idea what I was looking at – but I loved it. I loved the aroma of honey and wax. I loved the noise. I wanted to get in there and look around myself, but I couldn’t because I’d get stung. Even so, I was hooked.
Gavin’s enthusiasm for bees is through the roof; by the time I left, I was buzzing. I had learnt how bees travel kilometres to forage. I knew about the healing aspects of propolis. I knew bees were highly organised, diligent and great communicators (we could learn a lot from them!).
Gavin picked up on my enthusiasm and, a few weeks later, with a glint in his eye, he offered us our own hive. He’d take care of it; we’d enjoy it. Gavin had started up a hive-hiring business, and 10,000 bees were headed to our place. For foodies and forest gardeners like us, that’s a dream come true.
First though, they needed a spot to call home. Gone are the days when hives sit great distances from the house. Now, people quite happily live in close proximity to bees; in fact, the closer the better if, as we do, you want to observe the goings on. Bees like a sunny spot, away from the chills of southerly winds; a place where first morning sunlight hits, followed by all-day sun, and preferably, somewhere they won’t need to be moved – ever.
We chose a sound spot outside our lounge, next to the deck, and overlooking town – a hive with a view. I prepared the ground by laying down a piece of cardboard to keep long grass at bay, and laid bricks on top to raise the hive. The bees would have a clear flight path in and out of the hive, and the kids could watch them from the trampoline.
Perfect. One evening, after dark, our hive arrived. The next morning, the bees were set free. Out they roared. It only took a few minutes, and they’d settled into their new surroundings.
I always liked the idea of having our own hive, but I wasn’t expecting the weird and wonderful things that come with it – like dive bombing bees in a hurry, or bees warning us when we come too close. Or how we watch in awe as the guard bees defend their home. My mum, who lives up the road, phoned us that first day to say her garden was alive with honeybees! One day, we even got a tiny taste of honey, concluding nothing tastes quite the same.
Since that first hive was opened, we’ve been entranced, so when a place on a beekeeping course became available, we jumped at the chance. Which brings us here – to where our beginner beekeeping story unfolds. I’ll get suited, gloved and veiled, and will head into the great unknown. Why don’t you come along for the ride!
Relocating a hive
A new home for a hive needs to be either half a metre or least 5km away from the original hive location; otherwise the bees may go back to their original site and group there.
Preferably, hives should have early morning followed by all day sun, be sheltered from the southerly winds, and have a clear flight path in and out of the hive. Hives can be placed in close proximity to your house, as long as a person who is suitably trained keeps an eye on them. You may find the odd bee enters your house – if so close the windows nearest the hive.
How many bees per Hive
A strong hive has around 60,000 bees; average hive around 30,000. Over winter, bee numbers reduce to about 3000. On a summer’s day, an average colony population will look like this: 1 queen, 250-400 drones, 60,000 workers, 3000 eggs, 10,000 larvae, 20,000 pupae.
Note: Some councils have regulations about hives and beekeeping. It is best you check this before introducing a colony.