It’s not just about collecting honey and making candles. Backyard beekeepers are playing a vital role in rebuilding the local bee populations.
- Backyard beekeeping as a hobby has risen in popularity during the pandemic
- Hobbyists are helping bring back bee stocks after the Black Summer bushfires
- At least 10,000 hives were lost in the Upper Murray region
Tucked away in the suburbs of Wodonga, city councillor John Watson has stacks of colourful bee boxes in his backyard.
He says it’s a hobby he has watched explode in popularity over the past five years.
“We really do need bees for our pollination and for our fruit and veggies. Everything that comes into your supermarket is pollinated by a bee.”
A retired farmer, John received his first hive five years ago as a gift. He says he can see the critical role bees play outside our backyard.
“I think it’s great for our environment, particularly with the fires in Corryong district. Hundreds and hundreds of hives were wiped out, and native bees as well.”
Bee population decimated in the Upper Murray
In the Upper Murray region, the bee population was decimated by the 2019/2020 summer bushfires after more than 430,000 hectares of land were burnt.
Full-time apiarist Matt Gledhill, runs 400 beehives around the region, putting them to work on pollinating crops like canola and collecting honey.
He says the bee population is still recovering from devastating bushfires 18 months ago.
“A lot of natural hives and a lot of natural insects have just been decimated because there’s just nothing left,” Mr Gledhill said.
“I live at Pine Mountain, and when I look across at it and there’s still now nothing growing on the tops of those hills.
Mr Gledhill says it is hard to put an exact number on how many hives were lost, and he says it will have a long-term impact.
“I’ve heard reports of 10,000 hives, but on top of that all the wild colonies out there as well: It’s huge the loss that we’ve had,” Mr Gledhill said.
“I’ve spoken to other beekeepers who have had sites up here in the mountains and they think it’ll take 25 years at least for the flowers on those trees to come back, so it’s a long-term impact.”
Mr Gledhill believes the rise in popularity of hobby beekeeping could have a lot to do with the pandemic.
“We’ve set up an Albury amateur Bee Keepers Association and we’re nearly up to 50 members so it’s really taking off,” Mr Gledhill said.
“I think to a certain degree with the pandemic and people being stuck at home, and they are starting to realise that we need to make food, so it’s really blossoming out of that.”
From amateur to apiarist
Hobby beekeeper, Pam Noonan worked alongside Matt Gledhill in the Upper Murray recovering hives after the bushfires.
“I did have bees before the bushfires, unfortunately lost that hive in the fires … along with Matthew Gledhill, [he] lost half of his beehives as well,” Ms Noonan said.
“I started up a ‘gofundme’ to help Matt rejuvenate his hives and in the process, got contacted by a farmer that said, ‘We’ve got a hive that’s fallen over in a tree that was burnt out in the fires.’ So I called Matt and we went out and took a chainsaw.”
Her passion has led Ms Noonan to pursue beekeeping full-time.
“And whether it’s the smell of the honey or the warmth of the sun, just being a part of that process, I think it’s a really good way of getting back to nature.”
Joy from just one hive
With spring in full bloom, John Waton’s Hives are keeping him busy in his backyard. He encourages anyone who is interested to step inside a bee suit.
“I’d come and see someone who is doing it to start with.
“I’d get on the internet and look at lots of videos about bees and I’d join a bee club,” Mr Watson said.
“There’s lots of people in bee clubs who haven’t got bees yet … you can find a mentor and go out and start your first hive. Don’t go big to start with, one hive for the first 12-18 months is just fine.”
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