Only a relatively small part of Western Australia is suitable for beekeeping as much of the landscape lacks the melliferous flowers needed for honey production.
Most beekeepers in WA do not solely depend on beekeeping for their income, but instead complement it with a range of other enterprises or activities.
There are currently more than 960 registered beekeepers in WA with nearly 29 000 hives. More than 90% of these are amateur beekeepers.
Honeybees versus native bees
Beekeepers usually keep European honeybees. Although there are more than 2000 different types of Australian native bees, they produce very little honey and most native bees do not live in colonies, making it harder to manage the bees and collect honey.
There are three main races of honeybees:
- Italian – native to Italy, it prefers sub-tropical and cool temperate areas. It is the most widely distributed honeybee.
- Caucasian – native to Europe and North Africa, it prefers colder climates.
- Carniolan – native to Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, it prefers colder climates.
Requirements for keeping honeybees
When keeping honeybees there are a few things that need to be considered.
- If there is not already a water source located with the bees, one must be provided.
- All used hive components not being used to house bees must be stored in a way that bees cannot gain entry to them.
- Observe hive density limits for hives set up in built-up areas.
- Ensure bee flight paths do not interfere with neighbouring land, roadways and walking tracks or paths.
- Check your local government authority (LGA) regulations as approval to keep honeybees may be needed.
Bees are cold blooded insects, therefore it is best to handle them on warm, sunny days when their activity increases and they are less likely to be in the hive.
There is a greater chance of aggressive behaviour if bees are handled on cool, overcast days.
Once the beehive is opened, the bees will take several hours to settle down again.
Maintain colonies with young docile queen bees. Beehives will need to be re-queened if the performance of a beehive decreases or bees are particularly savage.
When purchasing a new queen, consider temperament (especially for amateur beekeepers), honey production and swarming tendency.
In WA there are a number of beekeeping supply companies that can provide equipment, nucleus hives and queen bees.