Do something for your food future with Backyard Bees: a guide for the beginner beekeeper by Doug Purdie »
And enjoy a very sweet reward
By Kerry Scambler
"I love my girls" said Jenni. Where are they I asked? "Oh, all over the place, I can't keep up with them" she responded. No we're not talking wayward offspring, we're talking bees. The ones that live in her backyard in a small village on the South Arm Peninsula in southern Tasmania.
It's an activity many more are taking up in both urban and rural settings, prompted by the groundswell of interest in self-sustainability and the growing awareness of how important they are as pollinators for not only native flora but agriculture as well. They are simply an essential part of the ecosystem and are in danger from diseases around the world. Thankfully not in Australia… yet.
But back to my friend Jenni. She was ahead of the swarm – her interest began back in 2001 when there were no courses, no books, limited information and some of those who did know weren't always willing to share their knowledge. Thankfully some did.
Today Jenni's girls (all worker bees are female; the few males are in the hive) are out and about, delivering up delicious, local honey from whatever is in flower, and generous people like Doug Purdie are making beekeeping far more easily understood and accessible for all.
His book Backyard Bees: a guide for the beginner beekeeper has advice and knowledge that will help set your course for la dolce vita when you take the plunge and invite the girls in to live.
Why have bees?
Well firstly there's the honey. From your very own bees who collected nectar from your very own area. Can't get closer to the produce/r than that! But there are other, perhaps surprising, side benefits as well.
Bees are fascinating creatures – hours can drift by with the simple, sheer pleasure of just watching them come and go, all with such a sense of purpose. Where have they been? What flowers did they land on?
And then there's the process of getting to know what plants around you are in flower and when, perhaps even planting some to fill in any gaps (or getting them planted in gardens and parks beyond).
Beekeepers are often quizzed about the honey and its amazing creators, and let me tell you, they are always keen to chat about their girls, the honey and the importance of bees in our ecosystem. Sharing the story is fun for most beekeepers!
Where can you keep bees?
Self-proclaimed Beevangelist Doug Purdie lives in a 3m wide terrace house in Sydney – and he keeps bees. His neighbour has had bees for no less than 30 years! Rootops, backyards, community gardens or places on larger rural blocks can all be home to a hive.
Doug has some key tips for where to put your hive, and where not to. For example, look at flight paths to avoid traffic (human and motorised) and make sure they're not over washing lines or parked cars too!
About Backyard Bees: a guide for the beginner beekeeper
As with most subjects, there's an overwhelming and vast array of information online. Just thinking about sifting through all that for the most important points could well put you off and deprive you of an amazing experience. That's why this book is so good for anyone who's decided that beekeeping is for them (or if you're still thinking about it).
Doug Purdie has pulled together the most salient information and put it in a sensible order.
From why keep bees at all to where to start your adventure, the life of a bee and where to put your hives to beekeeping through each season. There's detailed information on equipment, hive management and bee diseases and the book ends up on a very sweet note with some recipes for some delectable honey based dishes. There are even some tips on how to extract beeswax and its uses.
But don't worry, it's not a dry how-to manual. The style is very easy reading and set out well. In fact, you may even turn into a Beevangelist yourself.
Through the book Doug also introduces various beekeepers from around Australia, with an insight into each of their bee passions. Matt and Vanessa started Melbourne City Rooftop Honey whilst Bruce and Rahni keep hives on their roof in Sydney's inner west. Tessa decided keeping bees was a better idea that a cat so she now tends the bees in her local community garden in Lane Cove. The Ullman family have hives on their organic fruit farm in Daylesford. All their reasons have a similar theme: being sustainable, helping bees survive and introducing more pollination.
Doug says "Many people don't realise that bees pollinate our food and that without them we have a very major problem… and a very boring diet of grain."
He tells us that bees are easy to keep and by having a hive we are helping the planet and the veggie patch (yours and your neighbours).
So if you’re interested in doing some important work for the environment and getting rewarded with sticky deliciousness, then this book should be the starting point for your adventure. As Doug says though, you'll need to talk to other local beekeepers and associations and read more as you go, but when you're sitting watching the girls at work, glass in hand, the rewards will be self evident.
Now I might just follow up Jenni's offer to place a hive on our 10 acres of bush… the fruit trees would surely appreciate it and I wonder what the honey would taste like?
Backyard Bees; a guide for the beginner beekeeper by Doug Purdie (Sydney, 2014, hc, 207pp RRP A$35.00) is published by Murdoch Books and is available at good bookshops or directly from the publisher »
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