What You Need To Know About Melbourne’s First-Ever Dedicated Bee School

By James Shackell
12th Nov 2019


There’s a buzz in the air—can you feel it? A few years ago, most of us wouldn’t know how to spell the word ‘apiarist’. Now everybody’s talking about bees.

“I think there’s definitely been a bit of a shift,” says full-time beekeeper and head of the Pollinator Alliance, Benedict Hughes. “People are more aware now of the importance of beekeepers, and there’s been a bit of a renaissance when it comes to backyard beekeeping. We’ve grown from 3500 registered beekeepers in Victoria to nearly 9000.”

Benedict wants to see that number grow, which is why he’s opening a government-funded ‘Bee School’ in Alphington (along with scientists and fellow beekeeper Jodi Gerdts). Somewhere to teach kids about the importance of bees and other pollinators. A workshop space for backyard beekeepers (and anyone else who enjoys the odd crumpet).

“People want to be more self-sufficient now,” Benedict says. “They want to grow their own vegetables and be more sustainable. And you need pollinators to do that properly.”

Bee School is part of a larger environmental push to make people appreciate the humble honey bee. A few years ago, bees were just things to be shooed away from picnics. Rooftop Honey owners, Vanessa Kwiatkowski and Mat Lumalasi, still remember when people’s automatic response, on finding a beehive, was to call the exterminators. “It was crazy,” Mat says. “Like the bees were a pest. Now they know enough to call people like us, or hobbyist beekeepers, to come and relocate a hive.”

This is the sort of knowledge that Bee School will be passing onto kids and grown-ups. Bees are responsible for one in every three bites of food we put in our mouths. If Australia’s 200 species of native bee were to disappear tomorrow, we’d all be starving within months. It’s like that scene in WALL-E where humanity has to re-learn how to grow plants. There are whole pockets of primal Earth-knowledge that we’ve simply forgotten.

Benedict says the school will cater to all levels of bee-aptitude. There’ll be programs on hive maintenance and proper gear and equipment, all the way up to three-day advanced courses on Queen Bees (republicans, you’re welcome too). Prices will start around $60.

“It’s so easy to get started,” Benedict says. “Anyone can do it. But you do need some training to understand the biology and the science. Unfortunately, bees do get sick. They need some tending. Then there’s the safety equipment and the legislation, which all beekeepers need to follow. It’s mostly about being a good neighbour. That’s the beekeeper’s code of practice.”

Even if you don’t want a swarm of bees living on your balcony, Benedict says there’s stuff we can all be doing to help Melbourne’s bee population. Avoid pesticides and garden chemicals wherever possible, especially ground-spraying, which kills-off Australia’s native burrowing bees. You can also grow more flowering plants – heirloom, herbs or open-pollinated varieties are best (Bunnings can help if you’re unsure).

“We’re very fortunate in Australia, in some ways,” Benedict says. “We’re an island, so we’re protected from things like varroa mite, and our beekeeping industry is different to other countries. In North America, their beekeeping is based on monocultures and broad acre cropping. But here, we have beekeepers who go out into the native bush and work with the forest. Where bees are doing well, people are doing well.”

Bee School will be opening at the Melbourne Innovation Centre in Alphington on 17 November. You can learn more about the project and Benedict’s not-for-profit, Pollinator Alliance, over here.

Buzzing about this bee news? Read about what Rooftop Honey is doing for the planet with their bees.

Image credit: Damien Tupinier

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