Urban Beekeeping: The Buzzworthy Trend Sweeping Sydney’s Inner City and Inner West

May 12th, 2023 - by Brad Gillespie

If you’re a fan of honey and boosting biodiversity, urban beekeeping could be for you.

Find out how to get started in Sydney’s inner city and inner west.

Why keep bees in urban areas?

As pollinators, bees play a vital role in our ecosystem, improving biodiversity and providing food for other creatures, including us - bees pollinate almost three-quarters of the crops that feed 90% of the world. And, of course, they produce delicious honey!

But bee populations around the world are under threat from the use of pesticides, climate change, diseases and pests like the varroa mite, and the loss of floral habitats. The Black Summer bushfires here in Australia in 2019-2020 wiped out 2.5 billion honeybees in NSW and Victoria alone. So, anything we can do to support bee populations, including setting up urban beekeeping practices, is a step in the right direction.

Although it might seem counterintuitive, bees do well in urban environments. They’re well-suited to the temperate climates of cities like Sydney, and life in an urban neighbourhood actually means less chance of exposure to pesticides than in farming areas.

When it comes to honey, the stuff urban bees produce tastes great. Because, unlike most commercially kept bees, urban bees are free to visit flowers from a wide range of plant species, they make deliciously unique ‘poly floral’ honey. Urban honey is so tasty that several big Sydney hotels, like the Shangri-La, Swissotel, and QT Sydney, keep hives on their rooftops and use the honey in their restaurants. Honey from your own bees comes with zero food miles, too, making it a great environmental choice. And there are even reports (strictly anecdotal) that eating locally produced honey may help relieve locally triggered conditions like hayfever.

Things to consider before you set up your inner city or inner west beehive

So, you want to start beekeeping in your inner city or inner west backyard or on your rooftop. Here are some things to think about before you get started.

  • Location. Look for a dry, sunny spot, ideally with a northeast aspect and facing away from exterior lights. Windy areas are not well-suited to keeping bees. Keep hives away from areas with lots of human activity, like footpaths, back doors and vegetable gardens. If you’re thinking about setting up hives on a shared rooftop or in a communal garden, seek permission from the body corporate first. And if you’re renting, check with your landlord.
  • Size. Two or three hives is a comfortable number for the average backyard and will probably produce enough honey for your household, plus some to share. If your space is smaller, consider fewer hives; if you want to keep more hives, make sure you discuss it with your neighbours first.
  • Water. Bees use water to air-condition their hive, so it’s important to provide a water source in your yard or on your rooftop. Urban bees might try and source their water from swimming pools, so providing water near the hive can reduce the likelihood of complaints from upset neighbours about bees in their pool.
  • Handling your bees. Bees are cold-blooded, so they are more active on warm and sunny days. That’s why this weather is ideal for working your hives because more of the bees will be away foraging. Aim to open your hives in the late afternoon so the bees have a chance to settle down again overnight. And remember to consider your neighbours – avoid opening the hive if they’re outside and close by.
  • Swarming. Swarming is the leading cause of complaints about bees in urban areas. While it seems alarming, swarming is natural bee behaviour; it’s how they form new colonies. Urban beekeepers need to familiarise themselves with the triggers that promote swarming and take steps to reduce them.
  • Rules. Although neither the City of Sydney nor Inner West Council require a permit to keep bees in your backyard or rooftop, all beehive owners in NSW must be registered with the NSW Department of Primary Industries. By law, you must keep detailed written records whenever your hives are moved. Hives must be managed to reduce the risk of nuisance or threat to the health of others, and they must be monitored regularly for signs of pests and disease. In particular, special conditions are in place to prevent the spread of the varroa mite, a parasite that attacks honey bees.

What about bee stings?

Nobody likes being stung by a bee. The good news is that for most people, while a bee sting is painful, it can be managed by removing the sting and poison sac and applying ice to the affected area. However, some people (estimated to be between 1% and 7% of the population) will have a life-threatening allergic reaction to a bee sting. Although rare, it’s wise to know the signs of an anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting and what to do if it occurs.

Getting help from Sydney Bee Club and the Inner West Beekeepers

Getting advice from an expert is always a good idea before you embark on a new project, and beekeeping is no different. Happily, both Sydney and the inner west have their very own urban beekeeping groups. Both are branches of Amateur Beekeepers Australia. They help educate and assist new beekeepers, host field days at their apiaries in Randwick and Croydon Park, and run courses about beekeeping and making mead. They also hire out equipment and lend a hand in removing swarms and bee colonies that have sprung up in inconvenient places.

Looking for your new home in Sydney’s inner city or inner west? Get in touch with our team today.