Western Australian Apiarists' Society

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GETTING STARTED WITH BEEKEEPING

Here is a checklist of the basics you need to consider before getting started with beekeeping, as provided by two of our senior beekeepers. 

The principles here apply to both rural and urban beekeeping. 

Once you are confident that you meet safety and site suitability requirements, the best thing you can do is a training course. This will step you through hive types, equipment and, most importantly, hive management basics. Check the WAAS Training page for upcoming training opportunities. You will need to be a financial WAAS member to take part in our training.


Safety considerations

Do you, your family or your neighbours have a history of serious allergy to bee stings?
Bee stings are inevitable and they hurt. Most people have some form of allergic reaction from minor local swelling to a full scale, life threatening anaphylaxis. There are about 10 deaths per annum in Australia from these stings and many hundreds of people end up in Emergency Departments. All beekeepers should have an epipen available in case you or your family suffer a serious reaction. These reactions can be random, unexpected and very rapid.

Do you have back problems?

A full 10 frame box can weigh 30 kg and may have to be lifted to chest height safely and gently. Consider an 8 frame box, a WSP (see below) or a horizontal hive.

Are you prepared to purchase and wear good quality protective clothing?
Bees release a strong odour when they sting that attracts other defenders to that site, hence one sting on the ankle begets a dozen more within minutes.   Good quality protective clothing that protects the whole body including ankles and feet is essential. Strong footwear is also advisable, especially in rural areas where snakes may be attracted to hives.

Do you have a Bee Buddy?
Ideally hives should be worked by two people. This ensures help is available if you have a bad reaction to a sting, and to help share heavy weights when lifting hives. WAAS runs Bee Buddy Groups in a number of areas around Perth, and has Chapters in Margaret River and Bunbury where you can team up with someone from your area.


Suitability of your site

Does your local Council allow beekeeping?
Every council has a different view on beekeeping. Some have very restrictive requirements (especially inner city councils). Some charge an annual fee. Some welcome beekeepers. Your proximity to schools and public walkways may influence your ability to get Council approval. Some Councils charge for each hive and/or an annual fee, and you will have to register your hives with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development - so take these potential site costs into consideration before you get started.

Do you have neighbours close by?
Even if your Council is OK with you keeping bees, check with your neighbours if they are close by. You don’t want to be sued by an angry neighbour whose child or dog is stung by one of “your” bees! Most inner city Councils require you to get permission from your neighbours.

Is there a reliable source of water within 300m?
Bees need a permanent supply of water – preferably NOT your swimming pool. You can help provide this with a pond, bowls of water etc. Just make sure the water supply has safe landing places for the bees – rocks, plants etc – so they don’t drown trying to get a drink.

Do you have good sources of food for bees?
Bees need nectar AND pollen as well as water. Most urban gardens provide plenty of varied nutrition, but if you live in a more monocultural environment, like a forest or farming area, you may need to supplement your bees food supplies at certain times of the year.

Do you have the right location?
Beehives should face away from the prevailing wind and weather. Ideally they should be in a sheltered location that gets morning sun. The flight path of your bees shouldn’t cross living areas, or areas of heavy use such as pathways. Consider dangers such as winter flooding, falling branches or areas that require seasonal burning. Once you choose your spot, it can be quite tricky to move a hive so choose carefully.

Are you available to check your bees throughout the honey season?
If you travel frequently or have other commitments that make it difficult to inspect your bees every two to three weeks in the honey season (September to May) you may need to train up your partner, or get a bee buddy to help you maintain your colony.


Choosing a hive type

    There are many different types of hive on the market but the most common are:

    • Full depth Langstroth - these can be eight frames wide or ten frames wide. Ten frames get very heavy so not best suited for those with bad backs.
    • WSP – about 3/4s the depth of a Langstroth hive. Also in 8 or 10 frame sizes. Smaller and lighter than a Langstroth.
    • Flow Hive – hugely popular, it is based on a Langstroth but has a patented frame design that allows for easy, bee friendly harvesting of honey. The Flow Hive isn’t a “plug and play” design – you still need to manage the hive regularly. Learn more here.
    • Horizontal hives – perfect for those with back problems but not widely available in shops – you may have to make your own
    • Top bar and Warre hives - again, not generally available - you may have to make your own.
    • Insulated, non-wooden hives, such as the apimaye or paradise hives provide extra insulation and other benefits. Check with local suppliers about these options.  

    Things to consider when choosing your hive include:

      • The size and potential weight of a laden box is important.
      • You cannot interchange 8 or 10 frame boxes as they don't fit together but you can have a mix of full frame and WSP eg brood all being full frame and supers being WSP
      •  Consider your likely lifting ability in 10 or 15 years time as beekeeping is a life long activity. Many apiarists rue the day they committed to deep 10 frame hives as they age, stiffen and weaken!


    Essential Equipment

    In addition to your hive (bottom board, supers, frames, lid) you will also need:

      • protective clothing
      • a queen excluder
      • a hive tool and smoker
      • a bee brush
      • harvesting equipment (this can be also be hired from beekeeping suppliers)


    Obtaining Bees

    This can be the hardest part of all and can require patience and perseverance!

      • Commercial "nuc's" (nucleus hives - a queen and enough workers to get started) from a supplier can cost over $200 and a involve a very long wait. Possibly 6-9 months. Order early!
      • obtaining a nuc from a friendly beekeeper sounds easy but usually beekeepers cherish their splits and homegrown nuc's and are often reluctant to give them away or sell them
      • Swarms are possibly the most common way for new beekeepers to start their colony. Getting hold of a swarm requires a lucky ear to hear of it, immediate action in locating it and also prompt action in procuring it. Letting friends and neighbours know you are on the look out for a swarm is a good start. A good way to circumvent this is to make contact with one of the WAAS swarm catchers who can let you know when they have a swarm to sell.

    A note of caution: many swarms are secondary from feral colonies and are too small to survive.  Remember you will usually know nothing of the provenance of the queen. In the usual confusing way of the world there are mixed thoughts about stray swarms and disease. A swarm over 3 litres in size has usually come from a good and healthy home. The smaller ones may have been shed as a result of disease in the colony or a poor quality queen . It may be wise to replace the queen as soon as one can be accessed.

      • Replacing a Queen - commercial beekeeping suppliers sell raised Queens in season. The going rate is around $50 but the waiting lists can be long so order early. 


    Peter Wallace and Dirk Hos




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