Keen to have bees of your own, but don’t know how to become a beekeeper?
The aim of this post is to explain how you can become a beekeeper and will cover some of the steps required to get started with beekeeping.
Having beehives is a great way to connect with the environment and learn about bees and their interesting lives. It is no secret that bees are an essential creature and raising some of your own can help contribute to their continued existence. The honey you can harvest from them is simply a bonus!
Follow these six simple steps and you’ll be on your way to becoming a beekeeper in Australia and enjoying what is becoming an increasingly popular hobby.
How to become a beekeeper:
- Find out if you’re allergic
- Seek council approval
- Get family and neighbours approval
- Research and learn about bees and beekeeping or get lessons
- Register with state authorities
- Get your bees and equipment!
Read on for a further explanation!
Ever wondered how to get bees of your own? We explain how to become a beekeeper.
How to become a beekeeper
1 Find out if you’re allergic
We felt the need to list this first as it could be a show stopper. If you are anaphylactic to bee stings, then we are sorry to suggest that beekeeping may not be a suitable hobby for you. Bee sting allergies can be a touchy subject. Some people consider a swollen bite site an ‘allergic reaction.’ There certainly is a stark difference between a bit of localised swelling and fatal anaphylaxis, with the latter being a serious threat to your life. If you were to become a beekeeper yourself, we feel that you’d be exposing yourself to unnecessary risk. While there are measures you can take to avoid bee stings, you will get stung at some stage. Many beekeepers develop a tolerance to bee stings however, if you already know that you have an anaphylactic allergy to bee stings, then this hobby is not for you. It is simply too dangerous. Sorry.
2 Seek council approval
Not all councils are made equal. Some are very harsh toward beekeepers. They tend to err on the side of caution and implement strict rules. These rules can pretty much inhibit anyone on a suburban block from having a beehive. That said, many councils have become more bee-friendly and have less restrictive rules. We suggest that you look up your local council’s regulations and/or contact them to discuss your intentions of establishing a hive/s.
Feeding honey to a hive in need; a necessary task for a weak beehive.
3 Neighbours and family approval
So you’ve got your local governments approval, now it is time to make sure anyone living nearby is okay with you having a beehive (or ideally two). Neighbours should definitely be consulted prior to you placing a hive on your property. It is unfair to them and the bees if they are not supportive of the idea. Frustrated neighbours may spray stray bees on their property resulting in further bee losses in the colony, or simply demand the bees be moved on immediately. While a lot of the time hives can be placed in positions that avoid disturbing the neighbours, it is best that they are consulted first to ensure they are not opposed to the idea.
Generally, the only major problem neighbours have with hives next door is if they have a swimming pool. There can be problems arise whereby your bees frequent the neighbour’s pool during hot weather. Unfortunately, this usually coincides with the times of year that pool owners want to use their pools. Forewarned is forearmed with this though. At least if your neighbours are warned out about the hive, then together you should be able to work out a solution to any problems that may arise such as bees in your neighbour’s pool.
Remember when consulting neighbours about your hives, the offer of some free honey tends to go a long way!
A frame of honey ready to be taken for extraction.
4 Learn about beekeeping or attend beekeeping lessons
With those obstacles tackled, you now have nothing but green lights ahead of you. You’re nearly ready to go get your own bees.
What we will add at this stage is that too often we see people get a hive and bees without having done the appropriate research, or taken the time/expense to get educated properly on what they need to do as beekeepers.
This may sound kind of critical, but you must remember that bees are living creatures, and to simply have them without a clue what you are doing can be considered quite irresponsible. You wouldn’t purchase a dog without knowing the basics on how to take care of one.
Read up online. You’re already doing that now, and there are lots and lots of resources online that can give you quite a good level of knowledge about beekeeping before you’ve even lit your smoker for the first time. Youtube is great. We’ve learnt lots there ourselves.
It can really help to accompany a local beekeeper when they tend to their hives. You can learn a lot in a short period of time by simply tagging along and asking questions. If you can’t find a beekeeper to take you through their hives, then look for local beekeeping businesses that conduct beekeeping lessons.
Read books. To some, it may seem very old fashioned but having a hard copy of a beekeeping book can be a great reference, particularly as you can take it into the field with you and flick through it at your hive. The more pictures and illustrations, the better. Being millennials ourselves, while we know that most of the time you can find information online and use your phone at the hive-side, we believe that with beekeeping some of the books out there have better content than what you can find online anyway. Perhaps it’s because the average age of beekeepers means most are from the Jurassic period (sorry oldies, we really do appreciate your wisdom), or perhaps beekeepers just prefer books. Not sure, but definitely grab yourself a book or two and read up.
Lots of Australian beekeepers highly recommended The Australian Beekeeping Manual as a great starting point.
Whichever method you choose to learn via, it is important that you know what to look for to ensure your new bees are well taken care of from day one. Sure, most of what you eventually learn will come from observing and working with your own bees, but there are some crucial beekeeping skills that you must learn prior to having your own hive. It’s always best to learn the mistakes other beekeepers have made so you can avoid making the same mistakes.
It is wise to learn as much as you can about bees and beekeeping prior to getting your first bee colony
5 Registering with DPIRD
You are now just about set to become a beekeeper. Finally, now you should register with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD). Long title, but essentially this is the department of state government responsible for beekeeping governance. Registration with the department can take a bit of admin time so get onto it as soon as you’re about to pull the trigger on getting bees. We believe there is some grace period from when you first get bees until when you are legally required to be registered however, it is best to get onto it straight away.
Being registered is a legal requirement and allows the state government to track who has bees, how many hives they have and where they have them. This is crucial for monitoring the number of commercial and hobbyist hives that are in the state, and heaven forbid if we end up with some of the nasty pests that they have in other countries, at least the state government can have some idea on where hives are and who to get in touch with to implement plans to eradicate the pests or diseases.
As it stands the cost for this registration is $76.50 and is due every 3 years.
The department will either allocate you a hive brand or you can come up with one of your own following their guidelines. This will become a unique identifier that you must brand on all your hives and allows members of the department to identify who owns the hives. You’ll be using this brand all the time, so choose wisely. It could just be your initials followed by a letter, or you might find a combination that means something to you. Have some fun with choosing your hive brand. We have already taken the coolest one out there, but we’re sure there are still some interesting combinations to be thought of yet…
A colony of bees being transferred from timber hives to a new polystyrene beehive.
6 Get your bees
Get excited, you’re about to get a hive of your own! Once you’ve ticked off all the above, go and purchase all your beekeeping equipment and hardware. We will have some future posts about what equipment to look for and where to get it, but for now, all we’ll say is shop around and discover what you think will work best for you based from reviews and what you’ve researched.
As for the bees, well there are a few ways you can go here. You could take the easy approach and buy an established hive. This means that you’ll be buying a colony that has already filled an 8 or 10 frame brood box and may already have a honey super placed on top. The advantage of this is that the bees should already have plenty of stores on board and be able to produce a harvestable crop sooner. It is also advantageous as even if you make a few mistakes the hive should be strong enough to recover. The only con to this option is that the initial purchase cost is a fair bit more than the other options.
The next option is to buy a ‘nucleus’ colony commonly known as a nuc (pronounced ‘nuke’). This is a small hive box containing 4-6 frames of bees including a queen, brood, pollen and some honey stores. Depending on the season and the strength of the nuc, you may be able to transfer this colony straight into an 8 or 10 frame box. If not, then you will just manage this colony until it is up to strength and ready to move into a big kid box.
Be mindful when purchasing a nuc that you are getting what you pay for. Sometimes beekeepers have been known to simply box up a swarm they have caught and sell it as a nuc. While this is frowned upon by many other beekeepers as the buyer is potentially getting an old queen of unknown origin, these nucs are typically a fair bit cheaper. If deciding to get a nuc, in our opinion, it would be wiser to buy a nuc that is split from a reputable beekeeper’s own hives. This should mean that it has a newly mated and productive queen of known origin, which is critical in building a strong hive. By spending that little bit extra you are setting yourself up much better and increase the chances of your beekeeping journey getting off to a productive start.
The other option is to catch a wild swarm of bees yourself. While it comes with the cons mentioned above for the swarm nucs, in addition to the fact that the swarm will have no resources and has to start from scratch. On the plus side, at least the purchase cost is nil. We have done an article on how to catch a swarm that you should find handy if you decide to go down this path. While achievable, this not as straight forward as the other methods. For a new beekeeper with no prior hands-on experience, it may be quite overwhelming. That said, there are plenty of beekeepers out there whose first bees were from a swarm. For some of them, the whole reason they got into beekeeping is that a wild swarm landed in their backyard. We’ll spare you the pun, but perhaps it was just meant to… happen that way.
A frame of honey bees. Can you spot the queen bee?
Regardless of how you go about getting your bees, which brand of smoker or suit you go with, whatever colour or colours you paint your hive, whether you get a Flow Hive or a traditional style of hive, you become a part of the growing community of beekeepers. The more of us that there are, the greater the awareness of bees and beekeeping and both their rewards and challenges. Through this awareness hopefully, we will be able to develop and protect the industry ensuring the continued survival of our bees.
While there are sure to be other little steps along the way, we hope to have given you a handy insight into what it takes to become a beekeeper in Western Australia. If you have any questions don’t be afraid to comment below. Likewise, if you enjoyed this article or know someone who may be interested in beekeeping and could learn something from this, then please share it around.
A simple guide to becoming a beekeeper in Australia