There is a beehive on the roof of Doug Purdie’s Darlinghurst terrace, reached by a slightly precarious lean-to ladder. He climbs up to check the hive. In mid-winter the bees are concentrating their energy on keeping the hive at a toasty 35 degrees C. Yet when Purdie opens the lid he finds fresh honey stored behind wax in many of the cells, a result of the plethora of flowering plants in the city, even in winter.
Sydney has always had backyard beekeepers, but a new generation has recently found the buzz. When Purdie, who co-founded The Urban Beehive, a company that manages hives around the city for restaurants, hotels and cafes, first joined a bee club he says the typical member was a man in late middle-age. Now he says “it’s become cool. Hipsters have taken up beekeeping.”
Bees are cool because growing your own food is cool, and without bees there’s much less food. Gardeners looking for big yields from their passionfruit, zucchini, pumpkin, citrus, quince, strawberry, eggplant, broad beans, pomegranate and more, all need bees to pollinate the flowers. Yet bee populations are in decline, a situation Purdie is doing his best to reverse. He calls himself a ‘beevangelist’ and encourages everyone to do their bit for the bees. The best thing? Keep bees. Purdie tell how, and why, in a book published next week, ‘Backyard Bees: A Guide for the Beginner Beekeeper’ (Murdoch, $35).
Keeping bees is not arduous. Time is not a barrier, nor is cost – a year or two will see the outlay paid back in honey. Even the potential for pain doesn’t stop beekeepers. You can see here Doug has checked the hive without even wearing his hat, veil or gloves. He has kept his mouth shut though – don’t want a bee getting disoriented in there!
“It doesn’t hurt that much unless you get stung on a very sensitive spot,” insists Purdie. What does put people off is the response of their neighbours to the idea of a hive next door. “People are ignorant about the importance of bees, and they have a ‘Road Runner cartoon’ image of swarms of killer bees,” says Purdie. “That just doesn’t happen, bees are looking for flowers not humans.” Purdie’s advice to prospective urban beekeepers on resolving the neighbour issue is to keep mum for six months or so then turn up with a jar of fresh honey and come clean. “When people realise that the bees have been there without them noticing they are generally okay about it.”
If beekeeping doesn’t appeal there are other ways to show bee appreciation. Decrease your use of pesticides and herbicides; and grow flowers. Bees are drawn to blue flowers, but any colour will do. Let some leafy vegetables and herbs flower, break up the lawn with some flowerbeds, tie flowering climbers on the fence, plant a flowering tree in the nature strip. Feed the bees and the bees’ hard work will help feed us all.
Find out where you can buy The Urban Beehive honey here.
* Observant readers will notice that those bees in the shot above having fun in the lavender are bumble bees. These were imported into Tasmania to help with pollination. They are in no other state – yet. Why a bumble bee shot? Only cause I couldn’t find a European honey bee with a blue flower in my files!