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  • Rebecca Marshall

Bees Abroad: Sydney - Urban Beekeeping

In Sydney I had sorted a work placement with Doug Purdie - writer of the book "back yard bees" and owner of the company "The Urban Beehive". Doug is the largest urban bee keeper in Sydney having 90 hives on top of cafes, offices, restaurants and buildings all around Sydney.

The first day I went out with Doug, we drove around all his sites checking they didn't need any more supers putting on or taken off, checking queens are good and laying and checking a few swarms which he had collected were building up. There were also a few hives which needed the queen excluder's moving down as they had been set up as double brood boxes. Doug gets a premium price for all his honey because he puts his hives on top of cafes and restaurants roofs, then that cafe or restaurant will buy it off of him and sell it as their own bespoke honey - so it sells at a high premium rate!

It was fascinating seeing and learning how urban bee keeping works, as I am from such a rural background of bee farming. The first thing that astounded me was the fact Doug takes his extractor round with him in the back of his van and extracts 'on site'! This is just a 4 frame extractor (which he has put wheels on) and when Doug takes supers off, he there and then will pull out frame by frame extracting four at a time, with a ' tap like fixture' on the extractor - and a bucket underneath collecting the unfiltered raw honey. Extracting on site is quite labour intensive - as you have to lug the extractor in and out of the van - down awkward side alley ways, up and down stairs etc. You then have to manually turn the handle on the extractor to spin the honey out - sometimes in over 40 degrees of Australian heat!

I did notice that all Doug's hives had hive beetle in them - which I found quite surprising as I had never seen hive beetle before so was quite intrigued.Doug wasn't phased at all about having hive beetle in all his hives - whether that is just the 'laid back Aussie way' or Doug just doesn't find it effects him - I am not too sure. He doesn't do anything to treat the hives for it or try and kill it - he simply just squashes them with his finger when he sees one. As hive beetle hasn't gotten into the UK yet, I know that us Brits are terrified of it getting over to us - so I was some what taken back at how relaxed Doug was at having it in every colony we looked at.

The first thing I was taught when opening hives around Australia was to check under the handles of the supers and roofs for spiders - in order not to get bitten by a nasty one! This is something you have to be fairly concious of over here, as spiders hide in the shade around the hives and they like the cool warmth given off by the bees.

My second day working with Doug we together spent five hours 'sorting out' some hives which had been abandoned for two years. This was a great learning experience for me - as I had never seen hives in such a state and unlooked after. Seeing what a colony would do if you left it to itself was really interesting - and fascinating to know what would happen. It was a big task chopping out all the wild honey comb carefully and trying to extract on site and attempting to find the queen amongst this chaos of a hive.

Up and down ladders, climbing through windows and onto roofs in 40 degrees was hard work and I definitely enjoyed it as an experience. However, I think I have realised I am a country girl at heart and won't be going into city bee farming in the near future!


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