Last 23rd of June, we had the pleasure to have a beekeeping chat with Peter Barr. He is the host of the Focus segment from 720 AM ABC Perth Radio. The segment focused on honey bees and the sudden rise of backyard beekeeping amongst suburban areas, especially in Perth.
Our resident beekeeper, Dwayne, has gladly given his time to participate to the beekeeping chat and answer some questions about bees. Here’s a summary:
“Do you remember the first time you fell in love with bees?”
Dwayne: I was living in New Zealand at the time. I guess the first time I ate Manuka honey, I thought “I need to know how to make this, this is so delicious”. Then I met with some beekeepers, had a look at some hives. You can’t really not fall in love once you start looking at the bees, what they do and how they work and yeah they’re just amazing little creatures.
“What’s a hive look like?”
Dwayne: Well in the summertime, a hive can have up to 50,000 bees, just moving honey, dehydrating honey, flying out collecting pollen and filling honey. Just working, constantly working all the time. And the smell that comes off the hives is pretty amazing as well.
“What happens in the hive and one bee can’t contribute?”
Dwayne: Well they basically work themselves to death. They can live up to 4 weeks and if they do die inside the hive, one bee will fly out with the dead bee and drop it somewhere.
“What’s a day in the life of a beekeeper like?”
Dwayne: It sort of depends on the season. In the springtime, you’re running around like crazy making sure that bees have enough honey. If they’re running out you will have to give them a bit of a feed. Also cleaning your gear in preparation for the busiest season. You also make boxes to provide more space for the hives so they can keep making honey. Basically, you just want to make sure that they’re happy and healthy.
“Have you been stung? What happened?”
Dwayne: I have been stung literally a thousand of times ever since I started my beekeeping journey. The very first time I got stung, I got stung on the finger. It was swelling up unto my elbow and I cannot even close my hand. It’s sort of, the more you get stung the more you get used to it. I’ve been pretty lucky so far. Once you get the venom out you’ll be alright but of course it depends if you become allergic.
“Do we know why the bees make the buzz?”
Dwayne: One of the sounds are made when they dehydrate the honey. They flap their wings to dehydrate the honey. It’s also how they communicate, like you can tell when they are distressed or queenless because of the difference of the humming noises that they make. The buzz can mean a whole lot of different things.
“Why do bees sting?”
Dwayne: Well they’re pretty much protecting their hive. It’s like any other animal that gets a protective instinct. It’s like their way of saying, “back off mate”.
“We’re talking about bees this morning because we have noticed an increase in demand for hobbyists interested in getting into beekeeping. How much of an increase are you seeing Dwayne?”
Dwayne: Yeah so many people are coming in all the time interested in getting into bees, either they want to start producing their own honey and make their own cash on the side, or even to use as a pollination service for their vegetation or even their garden. People are also getting more aware how bees are important for the planet and how they are increasingly growing endangered due to many threats in their environment. We’re pretty much lucky here in WA because we have the healthiest bees in the world, which is awesome and a little bit scary at the same time.
“What makes the West Australian bees healthy?”
Dwayne: I think the isolation from everywhere else really helps. Unlike in the east coast, people can drive around different states really easily all the time. Meanwhile in WA, it’s so much harder to drive through the Nullarbor because the bees wouldn’t really make it. Also the current strict quarantine where all state borders are closed and generally strict biosecurity laws of Australia contributes a lot.
“And we don’t have the Varroa Mite?”
Dwayne: Yeah that’s right, and I wish we never get it as I had to deal with it when I was beekeeping in New Zealand. It’s pretty heartbreaking when you see the varroa mite take over a hive fairly quickly especially when it has gotten out of control. It’s such a big threat to bee populations as they can cause 14 different diseases within the colony. One of which is called the “Deformed Wing Syndrome” where the bee is born with a deformed wing in which they can’t fly. This makes the hive ultimately weak where a lot of the adult bees cannot contribute in collecting nectar or pollen, or even any small daily activities within the hive.
“Any advice on anyone who wants to start beekeeping?”
Dwayne: I would say you can always come in to ask questions. If you can find a beekeeping mentor, much better. You can also just start getting all items required like boxes, and play around, and just do it. You’ll fall in love with it straight away. I used to own 300 beehives, now I only have a few that I play around with.
Now there you have it! If you would like to listen to the full segment of the beekeeping chat, click here.
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