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Total beginner: is this even possible?

I have never kept bees, but I’m interested. We live in an apartment in inner Melbourne. There are plenty of green spaces around (albert park lake, for starters), presumably bees can survive (bees make it to my terrace garden). But I don’t know whether my conditions are possible for bees.

So, can you put a beehive in Melbourne on

  • an 8th floor terrace
  • facing west or north (ie outwards from the terrace, not facing towards the doors to the apartment)
  • exposed to south-west winds (we are sheltered from northerly winds, but the southerlies can be fierce and cold. The terrace has a wall around it that’s maybe 1.10m tall, but I’m not sure whether that’s enough shelter for a beehive.
  • exposed to western sun, at least to some extent, in Summer. Could put a hive where it would be partly sheltered by my potted plants. Temperatures in Melbourne max out at about 43 on the occasional day in summer. I don’t know what range bees can handle safely.

Would having a hive on the terrace where my kids play be safe for them? There are lots of plants on the terrace that the bees would presumably find, so they would be flying to and from the hive across the terrace. We could manage a “leave the bees alone” zone of a couple of metres, but I can’t block off say 10m of play space for bees.

If the hive faced west or north I could face it so the bees flying out would quickly leave the terrace and go elsewhere. Do they tend to fly straight out for a while, or what do they do?

Any comments on the feasibility of this would be much appreciated. I keep coming back to curiosity about beekeeping…

Thanks

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Welcome to the forum. The north facing aspect sounds good. The flight path will predominantly be straight out. You’ll still get some bees in your terrace garden, but most of their forage will be in the trees and gardens within a 5km radius. Shade from the western sun would help in the summer. Roof top and terrace apiaries work very well.

You have all winter to study up, get your equipment and hive, join a local Beekeeping club and book your Spring delivery of a nucleus(starter colony consisting of queen, workers and a few frames of brood and stores). I highly recommend doing a beginner class to get some hands on training before getting your bees, so you know what you’re in for.

Be prepared for Beekeeping to become an obsession. You may on occasion forget you have a family as you read every article and watch every YouTube. You’re about to embark on a fascinating and rewarding journey of learning and discovery. There’s a wealth of knowledge in this forum and your local club. Have fun.

Cheers,
Mike

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I would be cautious about setting up a hive in an apartment block. There may be building rules about that kind of thing, and it might be best to ask before you do it. Also, if space is limited, bees may encounter your children. They definitely do fly around the back of the hive, even if the entrance is facing into the sun. If you are not prepared to give the terrace to your bees, you may be best waiting until you live somewhere more suitable. Of course, if you can fence off a portion of the terrace (6ft high fencing), that might make it possible, as the bees would fly above head height, and be unlikely to bother your family.

As far as your climate goes, there are plenty of beekeepers in Melbourne, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

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Thanks Dawn, Mike,

We will be living in this apartment for the forseeable future (it’s actually our perfect place, and I have a larger garden than most houses in our suburb (inner Melbourne: most houses have a tiny terrace garden at best).

Can bees be kept safely in a small garden? It’s about 70 m squared, wrapping around the side of the apartment.

I had another thought that maybe putting a hive on the other balcony might work better. This is a small balcony off one of the bedrooms. At the moment we don’t use the space except for a couple of potted plants. It faces north, looking directly at another building. Doesn’t seem a very “bee-like” place, unlike the main terrace which is covered in plants. But I guess the bees would range anyway, wouldn’t they?

That balcony is more sheltered from wind than the main terrace, but it gets virtually no sun. Do beehives need sun?

The problem with that balcony is that the window cleaners come by every few months on ropes, cleaning the windows and the glass walls. I have no control over when they come and I won’t always know ahead of time. In my mind this wouldn’t be safe for the cleaners, to have to come right past the front of a beehive. Is that correct? What if the bees got mad and attacked someone: that would be extremely dangerous. Am I right to think that this is a dumb idea? How do people do beehives on balconies then?

(On the main terrace there is no need for people to go within several metres of where I’d probably put the beehive, so that wouldn’t be such a problem).

How much noise does a beehive make?

I’m thinking that the window cleaners won’t enjoy having to go right past an active beehive. During peak season there can be a lot of activity at the entrance of a hive- and there is no way to guarantee that the the window cleaners won’t get stung.

As far as plants and such near the beehive that isn’t neccesary at all, as the bees will get only a tiny fraction of their food from plants immediately adjacent. The vast majority of the bees will be off far and wide. Plants and objects that screen a hive re good though in terms of seperating the bees from everything else. I have observed the bees from hives in open areas are more likely to notice you if they have a clear line of sight. If a tree or an object is between the hive and people it works very well at keeping the bees to themselves. It sounds like your garden may be the best option?

Another factor to consider is inspecting and harvesting. You want a hive in a position where you have room to work around it- and especially stand at the back of it when you are opening it. On a small balcony that might prove more difficult- and during inspections is when the bees are most likely to get angry…

another thing to consider is how obvious the hive is to other people. People may become scared of a hive they can see whereas what they can’t see can’t hurt them. Many councils will tolerate bees unless someone complains…

a beehive doesn’t make a lot of noise though at times there is a loud buzzing than can be heard for up to a few meters quite clearly.

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After reading your posts I would be sitting on my hands as far as bees go. Your kids need space and the window cleaners certainly need a safe workspace. Sometimes its just not the right time or space.

Cheers
Rob.

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Thanks for your comments Rob. I totally agree that the workers must have a safe workspace! I do think that rules out the smaller balcony (though I’m wondering how people do manage to keep beehives on apartment balconies, as they must have trouble even if only occasionally with people needing to access the space.

I think the terrace is still possible, though. I think I could place the beehive facing north among potted plants and use the plants to screen it from the main part of the terrace. Bees flying out to the north would be over the wall, and a few metres above the flats below us as they depart. There is nothing directly to the north except the next building maybe 20 metres away. In the distance to the northwest is Albert Park lake and lots of trees. I can’t see that this is any worse than putting a beehive in the back garden of a suburban house, and people seem to do that.

More questions:

  • Where do bees like their water supply to be. Am I right to understand that having something like a bird bath (we already have one) near the beehive (probably a couple of metres behind it) would encourage the bees to water there and not on neighbouring balconies? How well does that work?

  • how do you stop your hive from swarming if you only want one hive so can’t split it into two? How well does this work?

  • how many brood boxes do beekeepers in Melbourne use?

I think you are probably right, if you can put dense tall shrubs around the hive. However, I would still contact building management about it if you have access to a friendly ear, as needing to move an established hive from the 8th floor at high speed after a complaint could be very inconvenient.

I am only speaking from the perspective of a beekeeper who has urban bees. My neighbours are very close, and we go to great pains to camouflage the hives. As I am in the southern US, we also have the concern of Africanized bees taking over the hive (you don’t have that), so I am extremely conscious of keeping the anxiety level down for people living around us.

We are somewhat protected as we are in our own single-family house, not an apartment and not a Homeowners’ Association type property. We registered our hives with the City, and we are therefore considered “responsible” beekeepers. If there was a complaint, the City would listen to us first. Of course, things may be very different in Australia.

More than 20 feet from the hive according to several lines of research. A bird bath or decorative fountain/pond/water feature is ideal.

You split anyway. Have two sets of equipment. Then when the split has settled down and lost its’ swarming urge, you can merge it back with the “mother” hive. The alternative is to sell the split. If you join a local bee club, you will probably find lots of people willing to buy your splits. My City allows 2 hives per property. But for swarm control you can have up to 5 hives for a maximum of 2 months. It is reasonable to expect to need to split sometimes.

There was a post earlier today saying somebody is using 2 brood boxes, and this is normal. I would join a bee club and ask. You don’t have to keep bees to join a club, in fact, it is better if you join before you get bees, then you will know what you are doing. :blush: I suggest not mentioning the Flow hive until you judge the mood of the club. Some of them are very hostile to Flow. Just say you are thinking of starting an urban Langstroth hive, which is totally accurate. :wink:

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I would guess it is quite possible to run a single brood hive in urban melbourne. We run them here in adelaide with good results. they are easier to inspect and the amount of activity is reduced from that of a double brood hive. Perhaps some victorian beekeepers can chime in now?

I wonder, aside from space, whether this is a case where a long lang would be better than the vertical. Calmer inspections, no space for moving a super off, etc.

You could likely make on that is 8-10 frames for brood and 4-6 flow frames. Much smaller than the normal long lang made.

Adam

Definitely- long hive works very well in urban situations, easy inspections- easier brood management and swarm prevention, less disturbance and no heavy lifting. Only downside is if you have to move it it’s a two person jog- and more difficult to make that a standard hive.

Thanks all for your comments and suggestions.

I’m thinking about it. Might be a thing to leave for a year or two, as some suggested. But I’m definitely thinking about it.

Time to do some more reading…

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In the meantime join your local club and get some hands on experience.

Cheers
Rob.

I think it is doable if it is permitted through your building management. Maybe an interim step for you all is to get approval and find an established beekeeper you could host a hive for. You’ll get to try before you buy and learn a bit too.

Adam

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