Honeybees are in all Australian states but are commercially managed for honey production primarily along the east coast of Australia, ranging from south-east Queensland through to South Australia, including Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. There are also some commercial producers in the temperate regions of Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
Honeybees are located throughout Australia and the greatest limiting factor is the availability of food rather than climate. Excessive temperatures can decrease honeybees travelling speed and thus reduce production capacity. Honeybees will also not forage during rain. Honey production during cold temperatures may also be reduced because honeybees will not fly when it is below 13˚C, although honeybees can tolerate frost. The principle cause of attrition during winter is starvation rather than cold temperatures.
Beehives are where the honeybee colony store honey. Beehives and frames are often constructed from wooden materials although plastic is also used. Frames contain honey combs and brood, or nursery, areas. Moveable frames must be used in beehives to allow beekeepers to assess bee health and reposition hives. Detailed instructions on hive selection and construction methods are widely available online.
The location of bee hives is important. Choosing an apiary site with a north-east aspect which is sheltered from wind is desirable. Wet and shaded locations should be avoided and the entrance to the beehive should be free from vegetation in order to maximise sunlight on the colony. Close proximity to food and water is advisable, with sources of nectar and pollen located within a 2km radius generally being sufficient.
Often bee hives are periodically moved to new sites as the floral conditions dictate. These moves are often within 200-300km although some producers relocate up to 1,000km away. Moves need to be carried out at night while bees are in the hive.
Honeybees collect nectar from flowering plants to create honey. Honey provides long term food storage to support the colony through winter and periods of nectar shortage. The nutritional content of nectar varies depending on the plant it is sourced from and the composition of the soil which the plant grows in. High protein diets increase the productivity of worker bees and protein needs are supplied by pollen. Lack of adequate food or nutrition could result in colonies which are more aggressive, are less productive, produce less brood and are unhygienic in the hive. Colonies may also neglect drone larvae, eat drone eggs and, in extreme cases, mature drones will be ejected from the hive. In extreme situations honeybees will also cannibalise worker brood.
Primarily bees collect food from surrounding flora, however when nectar volumes are reduced, supplementary feeding may be required. Beekeepers can monitor food levels by checking honey stores and monitoring flowering plants. Supplementary feeding methods are varied and a beekeeper’s choice of method depends on the money, time and ingenuity they can spare. Sugar or syrup can be provided to colonies during periods of low food availability to fulfil their carbohydrate needs and this can be delivered by tray, bucket, bottle or sugar sprayed crops.
Honeybees require protein from pollen, collected from flowering plants, to feed brood (bee young). Artificial pollen supplements are commercially available, however, supplementary feeding is designed to be a short term solution.
Honeybees need to collect water so bodies of fresh running water are required.
Breeds and breeding
In Australia there are native and introduced bee species. There are over 1,500 species of native honeybee; some are social while others live alone. Native Australian bees come in a range of colours and sizes but produce much less honey than European honeybees.
European bees are typically used for commercial honey production. They are approximately 12mm in size and are yellow or brown with black stripes. European bees have the ability to sting and can build nests in purpose built beehives and in tree hollows.
European bees have three sub-species in Australia (details below) that have developed in response to the different climactic conditions from where they originated. Most Australian bee hives have a hybridisation of these.
(Apis mellifera, ligustica)
|Uniform colouring, yellow to brown coloured
||Large colonies and
brood nest size
(Apis mellifera, caucasia)
|Grey to black
||Work well in cool conditions
(Apis mellifera, carnica)
|Grey to black
||Good defence against pests.
No better than Italian or caucasian