Boom in backyard beekeeping

Urban bee keeper Ling Yoong with her bees in her small backyard in Millers Point, Sydney
12th January 2018.
Photo: Steven Siewert .
Urban bee keeper Ling Yoong with her bees in her small backyard in Millers Point, Sydney 12th January 2018. Photo: Steven Siewert .

In a tiny courtyard behind a small terrace house at Millers Point, Ling Yoong houses over 10,000 Ligurian honey bees in just one hive.

"I come out here to look at the bees and see them flying around and coming back with pollen on their legs, knowing that they've been hard at work. It's just a joy," she said.

Dr Yoong is part of a growing community of urban backyard beekeepers in Sydney who are playing their part in promoting bee populations.

"Bees pollinate 30 per cent of our food, but there was a collapse of beehives in the [United] States and that made me realise that the bees are a very important part of the environment," said Dr Yoong, who is also undertaking a bachelor of environmental sustainability at the University of New England.

The popularity of beekeeping across the state continues to rise, as registration numbers have increased by around 1000 each year since 2015, according to a spokesperson from the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI).

Of the 6400 registered beekeepers in NSW, 819 are commercial, with the remainder recreational.

"It's great because there are lots of new beekeepers on the block, but if people neglect their bees it can affect the entire bee community," said Vicky Brown, co-owner of The Urban Beehive.

While people who own beehives have many responsibilities, Ms Brown says their one legal obligation is to be registered with the DPI, at a cost of $60 for two years, under the Biosecurity Act (2015), implemented in July last year.

"It's not [expensive] at the moment, but they are looking at putting the prices up and I think it would be a shame if they did that, especially for hobby backyard beekeepers because the more you put the price up, the less will register," Ms Brown said.

But Niall Blair, NSW Minister for Primary Industries, said prices will not change for now.

A registered recreational beekeeper himself, Mr Blair has three beehives on his small farm in the Southern Highlands, which he looks after with his 14-year-old son.

"I think it's fantastic thing to teach him. He extracts the honey and we give it away or he sells it as pocket money," Mr Blair said.

"I'm really excited about the growth in the sector, because obviously bees are vitally important ... but the more beekeepers, the more people we need to make sure are looking out for things like American Foulbrood or Varroa Mite, that's a great challenge for the government," he said.

Ms Brown said these days, "Anyone can be a beekeeper", so long as they do some research first.

"You do a course, join a bee club ??? just get a little bit educated about what bees are, just like any animal, a puppy or anything like that, you just want to make sure you're prepared when you bring it home," she said.

Ms Brown says ensuring the flight path does not disturb your neighbours and keeping the bees calm are urban beekeepers' main responsibilities.

"Having a bee hive in the garden is a beautiful thing, and the products, the bees wax and honey, is such a great thing to give away or to have a bit of a honey money income," she said.

This story Boom in backyard beekeeping first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.