Beekeeping for small landholders in Western Australia

Page last updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2022 - 8:16am

Beekeeping can be a rewarding hobby, but there are many things you need to consider if you are planning on establishing and managing beehives.

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.

Handling bees

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.

Re-queening

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.

Pests and diseases

Good biosecurity practices are vital to ensure WA remains free of a number of exotic bee pest and diseases, such as European foulbrood, that are currently present in other Australian states and territories. Australia is free of Varroa mite.

If exotic pests and diseases entered WA they would seriously affect the state's bee industry and negatively impact the agricultural and horticultural industries that rely on bees for pollination.

Diseases are easily spread when honeybees gain access to hives, beeswax, hive components and other beekeeping equipment infected with disease, potentially carrying disease-causing organisms back to their own hive.

Good apiary hygiene practices are essential to protect your business or your backyard hives from the entry of endemic and exotic pests and diseases and their spread if they are introduced.

During maintenance and honey extraction, work on one hive at a time and disinfect all equipment including the hive tool.

It is best to wear disposable gloves, replacing them after you have finished with each hive, or disinfect your hands or gloves after handling equipment at each hive. It is also helpful to number each frame so that you can return them to the same hive each time.

Re-queen hives regularly to stop them from becoming weak.

Maintaining strong hives is a vital part of keeping hives pest or disease free, as this prevents ‘robber’ honeybees from entering the hive and potentially spreading pests or diseases they may be carrying.

Check beehives and apiary regularly and report any suspicious signs of pests or disease to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) immediately.

It is also good practice to have honey samples, bees and brood combs regularly analysed by a certified laboratory. Fees do apply for such testing.

The pest and diseases of bees that need to be reported if signs are present.
Name of pest or disease Present in WA Caused by Transmitted Signs/symptoms
American foulbrood (AFB) Yes Bacteria Spread by bacteria and spore contaminated equipment, ‘robber’ bees or drifting bees Rapid death in larval tissue. Sunken, damaged and perforated cappings on the sealed brood
Sacbrood Yes Virus Common in most hives but only causes disease in bees that are genetically susceptible

 

Larvae affected by the virus die once the cell has been capped
European foulbrood No Bacteria Spread by bees gaining access to hives, beeswax and equipment infected with the disease Sunken and greasy cappings and foul smell. Infected larvae die before their cells are capped in a twisted position and become yellow-brown
Varroa mite No Parasitic mite Spread through drones and worker bees and the transport and movement of hives, used beekeeping equipment, packaged bees and queen bees Deformed pupae and adults (stunting, damaged wings/legs/abdomens), parasitic mite syndrome (PMS) and colony decline

Honey extraction

Before removing the supers (boxes) which contain the frames, make sure most of the frames are capped. This is a sign that the honey is ready to be harvested.

The frames are removed from the super and a heated sharp knife or uncapping machine is used to remove the wax capping’s from each side of the frame.

Uncapped frames are then loaded into an extractor. The extractor is spun and the centrifugal force extracts the honey from the frames.

The honey, along with pieces of wax capping and the odd honeybee, is then passed through a fine mesh filter or allowed to settle for a couple of days.

This allows the particles to be removed from the honey so it is ready for bottling. Honey extraction can be done in a mobile van or a purpose-built facility.

All facilities must meet your LGA’s health regulations for a food processing premises.

Honey is priced based on colour and a 'P-fund reading'. The P-fund grader visually compares a standard amber-coloured glass wedge with liquid honey contained in a wedge-shaped cell.

The colour intensity of the honey is expressed as a distance (mm) along the amber wedge and usually ranges between 1-140mm.

The lighter the colour of the honey, the more valuable it is to the beekeeper when sold to a honey packer.

Pollination services

Pollination of crops by bees is an integral part of the agriculture and horticultural sector. Without bee pollination some crops would suffer greatly reduced yields.

Pollination services are a controlled way of guaranteeing effective bee pollination of crops while also providing honeybees with access to a crops pollen and nectar.

In this situation beekeepers must ensure that bees are healthy and can effectively pollinate the crop while the producer must ensure that the bees are not disturbed or harmed (for example, through use of agricultural chemicals).

Transporting beehives

Transport beehives at night, as all honeybees should have returned.

While transporting the beehives it is preferable to cover them with a bee-net to stop them from escaping.

Keep accurate records of all beehive movements so that in case of a pest or disease outbreak, possible risk areas can be identified.

Purchasing used equipment

Only purchase equipment from an apiary that is regularly checked for pests and diseases.

It is important to ask for proof of the testing history and seek a vendor declaration to guarantee that the equipment is free from pests, diseases and chemical residues.

When returning to your property, isolate all equipment and clearly label. Sterilise to ensure that any pest or disease will not have been transferred to the rest of your hives.

Importation of bees, hive products and honey into WA

Bees (including queen bees and cells), used beekeeping equipment, honey, bees wax, pollen and honeycomb are prohibited or restricted from entering WA.

Chemical residues

It is important to ensure that when producing honey for human consumption there are no residue issues.

Residues can result from metal leaks in extracting/storage equipment, pesticides used in agriculture and horticulture and from the use of unauthorised bee repellents when extracting honey.

Any detection of residues can impact your market access.

The National Residue Survey operated by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), is the body responsible for managing the risk of chemical residues in Australian food products and as a result monitors the chemical residues in honey.

Penalties do apply if chemical residues are detected.

Legal requirements

By law anyone who owns or has charge, care or possession of honeybees or beehives is required to register with DPIRD within 14 days of becoming a beekeeper. Registered beekeepers, both amateur and commercial, are allocated a hive identifier.

This identifier is printed on the certificate of registration and must be displayed on all beehives. Registration information assists the industry in the control of pests and diseases and the prevention of residues in hive products.

Branding of beehives also enables apiary inspectors to identify the owners of beehives and notify them of pests, diseases, vandalism, theft and other problems.

To register, download the Application for registration as a beekeeper or contact the Brands Office on +61 (0)8 9780 6207.

Quality assurance schemes

There are two main quality assurance schemes that have been developed specifically for beekeepers and honey producers.

These are:

These schemes aim to achieve quality in produce and working standards to ensure the consumer receives a safe and healthy product.

It is also necessary to comply with the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Food Safety Standard, which requires food businesses to develop a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) based food safety plan.

When choosing a quality assurance system to incorporate into your enterprise, research which one will give you the best benefits, which one has features that will suit your enterprise best and fit easily in with your current activities and which one offers you the support and assistance you will need.