Sense-Making in a Changing World

Episode 83: Urban Beekeeping with Amanda Collins and Morag Gamble - Urban Agriculture Month #2

November 09, 2022 Morag Gamble: Permaculture Education Institute Season 5 Episode 2
Episode 83: Urban Beekeeping with Amanda Collins and Morag Gamble - Urban Agriculture Month #2
Sense-Making in a Changing World
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Sense-Making in a Changing World
Episode 83: Urban Beekeeping with Amanda Collins and Morag Gamble - Urban Agriculture Month #2
Nov 09, 2022 Season 5 Episode 2
Morag Gamble: Permaculture Education Institute

This episode is all about keeping bees in our backyards. This is part of our 5 part  Urban Agriculture podcast series celebrating Urban Agriculture Month (Nov 2022). 

My guest today is Amanda Collins of Ballarat Backyard Beehives and member of the Ballarat Permaculture Guild. Amanda and her partner Scott became accidental beekeepers ten years ago after being gifted a hive and falling in love with the bees.

Since then, their passion for beekeeping has grown into a small apiary of 80 hives, delivering beekeeping courses and undertaking formalised training in beekeeping, training and assessment and Agribusiness. 

Amanda is the founder of HiveMind Community Apiary, a community apiary established to provide beekeeper training for people at risk of living with a mental illness. The couple are strongly connected to their local community and are advocates for urban farming, verge gardening and sustainability. 

Urban Agriculture Month
This special Urban Agriculture series on Sense-Making in a Changing World is brought to you by the Permaculture Education Institute in collaboration with Sustain Australia - celebrating growing food in cities and towns for Urban Agriculture Month.

Podcast Host: Morag Gamble
Morag Gamble, founder of Permaculture Education Institute & teacher of permaculture teachers, is a passionate advocate for urban permaculture and has been deeply involved in creating, supporting and networking projects and programs for 30 years on 5 continents.  She is cofounder of Northey Street City Farm in Brisbane and the Australian Community Gardens Network. Her blog and youtube channel include loads of urban permaculture content and this podcast features many urban agriculture pioneers.

Support the Show.

This podcast is an initiative of the Permaculture Education Institute.

Our way of sharing our love for this planet and for life, is by teaching permaculture teachers who are locally adapting this around the world - finding ways to apply the planet care ethics of earth care, people care and fair share. We host global conversations and learning communities on 6 continents.

We teach permaculture teachers, host permaculture courses, host Our Permaculture Life YouTube, and offer free monthly film club and masterclass.

We broadcast from a solar powered studio in the midst of a permaculture ecovillage food forest on beautiful Gubbi Gubbi country. I acknowledge this is and always will be Aboriginal land, pay my respects to elders past and present, and extend my respect to indigenous cultures and knowledge systems across the planet.

You can also watch Sense-Making in a Changing World on Youtube.

SUBSCRIBE for notification of each new episode. Please leave us a 5 star review - it really it does help people find and myceliate this show.

Sense-making in a Changing World with Morag Gamble
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Show Notes Transcript

This episode is all about keeping bees in our backyards. This is part of our 5 part  Urban Agriculture podcast series celebrating Urban Agriculture Month (Nov 2022). 

My guest today is Amanda Collins of Ballarat Backyard Beehives and member of the Ballarat Permaculture Guild. Amanda and her partner Scott became accidental beekeepers ten years ago after being gifted a hive and falling in love with the bees.

Since then, their passion for beekeeping has grown into a small apiary of 80 hives, delivering beekeeping courses and undertaking formalised training in beekeeping, training and assessment and Agribusiness. 

Amanda is the founder of HiveMind Community Apiary, a community apiary established to provide beekeeper training for people at risk of living with a mental illness. The couple are strongly connected to their local community and are advocates for urban farming, verge gardening and sustainability. 

Urban Agriculture Month
This special Urban Agriculture series on Sense-Making in a Changing World is brought to you by the Permaculture Education Institute in collaboration with Sustain Australia - celebrating growing food in cities and towns for Urban Agriculture Month.

Podcast Host: Morag Gamble
Morag Gamble, founder of Permaculture Education Institute & teacher of permaculture teachers, is a passionate advocate for urban permaculture and has been deeply involved in creating, supporting and networking projects and programs for 30 years on 5 continents.  She is cofounder of Northey Street City Farm in Brisbane and the Australian Community Gardens Network. Her blog and youtube channel include loads of urban permaculture content and this podcast features many urban agriculture pioneers.

Support the Show.

This podcast is an initiative of the Permaculture Education Institute.

Our way of sharing our love for this planet and for life, is by teaching permaculture teachers who are locally adapting this around the world - finding ways to apply the planet care ethics of earth care, people care and fair share. We host global conversations and learning communities on 6 continents.

We teach permaculture teachers, host permaculture courses, host Our Permaculture Life YouTube, and offer free monthly film club and masterclass.

We broadcast from a solar powered studio in the midst of a permaculture ecovillage food forest on beautiful Gubbi Gubbi country. I acknowledge this is and always will be Aboriginal land, pay my respects to elders past and present, and extend my respect to indigenous cultures and knowledge systems across the planet.

You can also watch Sense-Making in a Changing World on Youtube.

SUBSCRIBE for notification of each new episode. Please leave us a 5 star review - it really it does help people find and myceliate this show.

Morag Gamble:

Well, hello, and welcome to the Sense-making in a Changing World. This is our special Urban Agriculture feature. And each week during urban agriculture month, we're speaking with someone who's doing amazing work in some part of Australia. And today I'm speaking with Amanda Collins and Amanda runs Backyard Bees Ballarat with her partner, Scott Denno. She's also involved in Greenfork Urban Farming, which donates to projects like SecondBite, and is an urban beekeeper of multiple talents and multiple projects, what I'm hearing and reading so welcome to the show. It's an absolute delight to have you here, Amanda.

Amanda Collins:

Thanks, Morag. I'm really, really excited to speak with you today.


Morag Gamble:

So, tell me first up, how and why did you get into urban beekeeping in particular? Because  bringing bees into the urban area is not always kind of like the first thing that you think about doing.


Amanda Collins:

Yeah, sure. Yeah, we actually moved into an urban setting so that we could actually nurture our love and passion for bees and urban beekeeping. So we used to live kind of in a peri-urban area, just outside Ballarat underneath Mount Buninyong on 10 acres, and it wasat that point in our lives that one of Scott's colleagues actually needed a place for a hive to go for for a period of time. And we said that was fine to have this hive relocated in our back patio. We have some like Wiltshire Horn sheep down there and some alpacas and we thought, yep, that'll be fine. And then there was this slow kind of evolution of Oh, bees. Oh, we better find out more about them. Oh, okay. So we just kind of started this really in depth process and learning how to be beekeepers. We were really fortunate to come across a retired commercial beekeeper who was so generous with his time to be able to mentor us and we kind of went through this kind of speed learning process, not just on beekeeping, but on botany and insects more broadly, birds, all sorts of kind of broader issues and information. And from that our hives, number of our hives increased, other people became interested. And then we decided that probably all the other things we had going on in our like 10-acre, kind of little farm, like our sheep and  lots of fruit trees and all those kinds of things. We actually wanted to dedicate more time to beekeeping so we kind of sold out small property, and we moved into inner city Ballarat. So right in Ballarat central in one of kind of the more old historic type streets with the bluestone gutters and the beautiful plain trees, it potentially is the ugliest house in the street. It's the 1980s late 80s brick for me house. And I love that kind of history of the house because there was an elderly couple who used to live here. And unfortunately, they both passed away, but we understand from the neighbors, they had an amazing, lush, vegetable garden and fruit trees. And when we kind of explored the back area of the property more, there was evidence of, kind of bit of a terracing type configuration to the backyard and there was irrigation and there was all sorts of fantastic infrastructure. You know, an old shed all those kinds of things. But unfortunately the son once his parents have passed away decided it would be better for renters to not have access to all these kind of fantastic things. So he essentially came through and demolished everything in the backyard. So we have one fruit tree, one very old, but not very big, I have to say, apple tree in our backyard that we kept and was very protective of when we did some backyard works. So that's kind of like the legacy tree for our somewhat unattractive house in the street. But that's our legacy tree. And we kind of built around that for what we've done in our backyard. So yeah, our hives in different locations around Ballarat, so we've now got around a 80 beehives, but we're still considered in the big in the big scheme of things very, very small in terms of beekeeping terms, and we'd prefer to keep it that way.


Morag Gamble:

So when you say you've got them scattered around, so you manage the hives, but they're in different people's backyard gardens, is that how it's working?


Amanda Collins:

Yes. So, there's a number of different options. They're almost like central hives, and we kind of have hives in different locations to get a sense of where there might be a honey flow happening. And where the first you know, kind of forages available for for these. So we have those, we also have really good networks with other local beekeepers who tell us you know, about, where things are happening. And of course, we share that information when we find there might be a honey flow somewhere as well.


Morag Gamble:

What is a honey flow?


Amanda Collins:

Ah, so honey flow in an urban setting could be something like where there might be some native, kind of remanent native vegetation, there might be a cluster or so. They might even be man planted, like yellow box, or red gums or along the kind of in [inaudible] creek where there are always beautiful native trees, might be flowering and might be a cluster, it might be a cluster around the Ballarat Botanic Gardens, where once the things are flowering at once.


Morag Gamble:

So it's interesting that from a beekeepers perspective, a preponderance of flowering of native plants is called a honey flow. So, yeah, I always think about it, from the trees perspective, and you're looking from the bees perspective.


Amanda Collins:

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. But being in an urban setting is often easier to keep bees, particularly in established areas.


Morag Gamble:

Why is that?


Amanda Collins:

There's a couple of things, you've got the in terms of bees being a little bit warmer, because you've got that kind of urban mass. Yep. So you've got that, that you have in kind of established areas, you've also generally got really good established flow resources. So unlike Greenfield areas, or new estates, where things are just getting going and often some of the vegetation which has been or put in or landscaped by land developers is not particularly friendly to any pollinators. It you know, being in an established area, or being in a period of an area, which kind of bounds on to like a regional park or something that or river, creek, something that just,kind of fosters that kind of natural vegetation is really good for bees, much like weeds as well. And often you get that as well.


Morag Gamble:

What are the threats to bees in an urban area?


Amanda Collins:

Yeah, see, probably the biggest threat is to be honest, is US people. And for a number of reasons. One our use of neonicotinoid based products, so people who are quite fastidious sometimes about maintaining their lawn and removing any weeds and making sure that they kind of have a very well structured kind of, I guess, English style garden. We have, as I mentioned, we've got the situation with new estates and land developers are not keen to put in plants that are potentially yield lots of pollen and nectar and have broader benefits for pollinators. People in general, so humans in terms of how they actually manage bees and their beehives. And sometimes that can be problematic because particularly in an urban setting, and just general kind of habitat destruction once again from humans again so there's there are quite a number of threats really for urban beekeepers.


Morag Gamble:

How do you manage people's fear of bees or you know, legitimate fears of people who have allergies to bees like how do you manage that in a urban population?


Amanda Collins:

Yeah, look, what we do is that we generally recommend that people find out from their neighbors if they have any strong, adverse kind of reactions to to being stung by a bee but in general, what happens the gift of honey, during you know, spring and summer, is fantastic in terms of having that ability to share with your neighbors. Were really in an unusual situation that because of the unusual nature of our kind of urban block, we've got seven neighbors. So when somebody new comes in, we can have a chat to them and let them know about you know that we've got some beehives, yeah. Oh, and here's some honey. So that's always a really good introduction. Most people we come across are fascinated by everything about them  and often neighbors will pop in when we've got a hive open and you know, they might just stick on a vial and have a look as well. So it's like, we bring people in.


Morag Gamble:

Nice. I wonder what type of hives do you have? Do you have a diversity of different types of hives? Or which ones do you find easiest for people to manage in an urban environment or with multiple levels of skill? Not everyone's a skilled beekeeper like you?


Amanda Collins:

Yeah, look, sure. Beekeeping is a lifelong journey and no one will ever know it all. But the hives that we have in our backyard are just traditional Langstroth hives. So they're eight frame Langstroth hives, and we use ideal honey supers. So they're much smaller. And they're easy to manage from a kind of a lifting perspective, because once those honey supers are full with frames, and honey and honey comb, they become quite challenging to lift. And one of the reasons that we made these kind of choices was really about we want to be in this in this space for a long time. So we thought about longevity and beekeeping, what best suits us. Our hives are raised off the ground. And that's just another kind of ease of being able to look at your brood frames and harvest your honey. I've just got a Long Langstroth hive, which has been made by a local beekeeper. And I'm so keen to get that set up. And that'll be like we we like to plan these things ahead. So it'll be just outside our chook pen. So when our girls are free ranging they can they can eat the dead bees that fall at the front of the hive. So it's like a full cycle of


Morag Gamble:

Wow, that's so cool. I wonder too, there's a whole lot of other equipment that you need and beekeeping and I wonder instead of everyone who's got like a single hive in their backyard or just a couple, do you have anything set that means people can share that kind of processing equipment? Or how do they do that?


Amanda Collins:

That's a little bit tricky because of honeybee biosecurity. So you say there's a number of kind of endemic diseases and pests that we need to deal with. And they're often spread by humans, again, from hive to hive. And that means that the equipment that you use really needs to be contained to the apiary that you're working on. So things like roller destructor that you might have heard about recently, [inaudible] this issues happening in New South Wales, which we hope it contains now. But there's another I guess diseases like American foul brood, which is spread, often spread on equipment, and the spores of this particular disease can last for up to 50 years. So sharing equipment and protective gear is is really problematic.


Morag Gamble:

Yeah. Okay. What do you need as a basic beekeeper in a backyard like to be able to set up your hive in a little urban, permaculture, backyard, and you've got your bees? What else do you need? 


Amanda Collins:

We generally suggest people do a few kind of key things when they want to get started. One is to just check your backyard and make sure there's an appropriate location. Because often people want to squish a beehive into a really tiny space that might be down the side of their house, it gets no sun during the day. Or alternatively, it might be like they want to put it in their direct and constant parts of the rubbish bin or the clothesline.


Morag Gamble:

What are those principles of locating? Sun?


Amanda Collins:

Yeah, so we generally say morning sun. And that's just like us as humans, we'd like to get a little bit warm to get going during the day. So yeah, morning sun is great, away from any of normal activity areas where you normally pass by because you don't really want to be walking through the flight path of your bees all the time. They find that a hassle and you'll find a hassle if you get stung regularly by walking through their flight path. That's one of the key things. Bee keeping can be as expensive or as economical as your life. So you know, there's minimum things you need to do which are making sure that you're registered with your Department of [inaudible]. And that's just really around biosecurity and making sure that they know where the hives are just from a by biosecurity perspective. The other things that really, if you've got a local Bee Club, connect with them, a beekeeping association or group - connect with them, or other beekeepers, they often have courses. So we generally recommend people who want to get started in beekeeping, just to a basic level introduction course and then connect with their local bee club. They'll get some kind of ongoing support, and if there's capacity mentoring, as well. And then at this time of the year, we've got lots of swarm activity happening. So we're getting call outs quite regularly around swarms. So for members of the public who see swarm, we're trying to educate or provide some education about what a swarm looks like where it might be, and don't stress out about it, just contact your local beekeeper or your beekeeping club. Because when swarms are in that kind of formation, they're generally most docile. So don't go hosing them or trying to move them, just bring a beekeeper and they will come and simply, you know, put them into a box and then come back later that night. And yeah, remove them. And that is the start of a new colony of bees.


Morag Gamble:

As well is doing your own beekeeping - I mean, there's a few questions I want to ask you. This one is around like what do you do with all your honey? Is that like a business that you have? And is that something that other people are learning how to do through you as well? Like is urban beekeeping a livelihood possibility? Can you do that?


Amanda Collins:

So yes, and no people are very keen to get local honey, which is great. And our hives are currently located along the Yarrowee River, which which we borrow this tract of land from the crown. And so it means that in Golden point, we've got a prolific kind of access to really good local honey supplies. Generally, people get into beekeeping because they want to supply themselves and their immediate family and friends. If you live in more of a peri-urban area kind of area, there is the possibility of producing large quantities of honey. But generally what we find is if you're selling honey in particular, you need to have the ability to provide kind of continuity of supply. And that is really problematic if you're an urban beekeeper because beekeeping is so seasonal. And also try and like let people know that beekeeping is seasonal much like fruits and vegetables and any other products.


Morag Gamble:

For people listening, when is the..


Amanda Collins:

So spring, summer and early autumn. So that's kind of the period. And then those kind of very cold winter months, and during early spring, particularly sitting in South Australia, like we are here in Victoria. Yeah, the bees go into a pack down phase where they essentially eat the honey, the kept honey that's already in their hive that they've made during those other months, during the kind of prolific months of honey flow. And they will eat that honey. So we're so grateful when we see them coming out through the other end, and they're still healthy and strong, and they've made it through winter, which is generally an issue for mainly Victorians. And you know, Tasmanians as well, because of the cold conditions. We just feel so grateful that they've made it through. And yeah, we've got a micro business. In fact, it could also be even smaller than a micro business. So yeah, we produce some honey and we also work with another beekeeper who is very close to us, and access different honey supplies from them. And that's really just to provide our customers with some different types of honey that they might prefer. So different honeys have different flavors and textures and crystallization rates and all those kinds of things. So yeah, we supply to local cafes and restaurants. And during COVID In particular, we noticed that there was a lot of our local cafes were also setting up as like pantries and ladders. And honey was one of their go to kind of products for people and it was just an amazing time you during COVID, because people had such a really horrible time during COVID, our business actually flourished during that period.


Morag Gamble:

I can imagine.


Amanda Collins:

And we also set up a old school locker in the front of our house, which was click and collect kind of easy urban way to actually collect your honey without having any contact. And it worked really, really well.


Morag Gamble:

What sort of, can you describe the flavor or colour of your honey? Is it like one of the dark ones? Or is the light


Amanda Collins:

Yeah! Quite a few varieties at the moment. So we've got yellow box, which is from central Victoria, it's a really light, it's quite a sweet honey. It probably has less flavor than some of our honeys. But we kind of describe it as the traditional tea and toast honey. So it's kind of got a very nostalgic kind of vibe to it. So a lot of our customers who are older people who enjoy honey, in regional or rural Victoria will often be very well acquainted with yellow box. So we've got that one. We've got some beautiful Banksia. So some Banksia honey. Old man Banksia it's a really dark, rich honey. Generally for people with bold flavors, if people are really into like a lot more flavor and less sweetness then that's a terrific honey. So any of those kinds of stringy bark or Banksia type honeys are much bolder in their flavors. Excellent for if you want to cooking your banana cakes, any of those kinds of you know, kind of rich flavor


Morag Gamble:

My mouth’s watering, listening to you!


Amanda Collins:

I know and it's just so yummy. We love honey. 


Morag Gamble:

Do you have any that come from Grevillea? Because I always go along [inaudible] that was like this caramel flavour. There's all different flavors of the nectar. Does that come through into the honey?


Amanda Collins:

So yeah, the flavors. So honey, much like wine, they actually now have honey sommeliers. So there's two, you can train in either Italy or the US to become a honey sommelier, there's an international like society of honey sommelier. Like what you were just describing in terms of having those kinds of, you know, those kinds of different flavour profiles much like wine, they also exist in honey. And often there'll be discussion around the terroir, and where the honey is actually or where the plant has actually is located. And the kind of location and it becomes very kind of complex, but it's much like wine tasting.


Morag Gamble:

Yeah, that's amazing. From year to year, so when there's like a drought or a flood, or do you notice a change in the honey consistency and flavour?


Amanda Collins:

Yeah, often there is. So it depends if there's a few things that happen kind of climatically, and the changes that we've seen, from the kind of conversations we have had with older beekeepers, that is the one of the first things you notice, there just won't be any bee in it. So some honey varieties that because of the climatic changes that we're having, are just not flowering, and we just don't have access to them anymore. And then really changing in terms of the seasonality of the honey. So when, for instance, the eucalyptus are flowering, it's much different, it's harder to understand and judge and kind of read. So yeah, but in general, the honey flavour, in some ways stays reasonably similar. In terms of because they often have honey competitions as well. So you need to make sure that you know, your red gum does taste like a red gum, but there's so many seasonal and local variations to those kinds of things that really is very localised kind of flavours.


Morag Gamble:

Yeah. Oh my gosh, it's just, there's a whole world in this that you don't really think you're deeply in it. And that I wanted to ask you a little bit too about the impact of to people using urban chemicals, because I know like if you take the beehives out into the rural areas that are chemicals used, and that also affect. What about in in urban areas and how do you address that?


Amanda Collins:

Well, that's really tricky because it's once again, getting to know your neighbours, and we've kind of want to identify if somebody does have that very pristine, weed-free lawn in your immediate area and just get a sense of their like gardening practises and whether or not they're likely to use those kinds of products. The honey once again, taking them some honey and just talk to them about how it might impact on the bees and other pollinators and other insects. That's really important. But also talk to them about if they want to continue to use herbicides or pesticides, then the best time to do that so that's like on a wind free day, you know, or later at night. So when all your forage your bees back in the hive, so they're less likely to be foraging. So to reduce the risk of that kind of poisoning event, because it does happen. Yeah.


Morag Gamble:

And how far from your hive? Do you bees travel? In that kind of context? Is that 300 metres or so you're looking or?


Amanda Collins:

Yeah, look, bees are a little bit like us. So if weneed to, I just described this as if they need to go and get a litre of milk, they'll go, what is the closest that I need to go to get what I need? And bees are exactly the same. So okay, well, I'll just go to the park. So if they find the forage that they want, and they prefer, at the milk bar or two houses away, they will exhaust that supply. They will do the waggle dance, tell all other foragers, you know, where the forage is, how far it is all those kinds of important information if you're a bee, and that will exhaust that forage until it's gone, then there's no milk left, or nectar or pollen left in that particular milk bar, we'll have to go to the local supermarket. So then they'll go to the next second favourite forage source, and the whole colony will hang around there, and they'll actually forage until they finish that and they'll just keep moving out until they find that they potentially exhausted all the resources, but generally, bees have been known to forage up to 10 kilometers away from their hive but we normally say around three to five.


Morag Gamble:

Yeah, yeah. But mostly as close as possible. You wouldn't want to be going out and trying to talk to everyone within a five kilometer radius of your house.


Amanda Collins:

That's right. Yes. 


Morag Gamble:

So around this whole bee hive mind and waggle dance, can you speak to some of those sort of things that happen and one of the most extraordinary things about that whole bee hive mind that you've discussed.


Amanda Collins:

So even though in a group or a colony within a beehive, you might have maybe 60,000 Bees, I find this whole bee hive quite fascinating. So even though there might be 60,000 individual insects in that colony, when they make a decision, they make it as a hive, they make it as a colony and that's where the notion of hive mind comes from. So you know, you're operating as one organism. But within that organism, all the bees, based on their different ages and stages will have a different role, they will have very prescribed roles within the hive. Starting from the very first role, which is helping some of the sisters get out of the cell when they've just been born and clean a bee and they'll turn around the bee there's just been one then just turn around and clean their own cell out and make it ready for another egg to be laid in that particular cell. So the roles are quite diverse. You know, there's nurse bees, forage bees, housekeeping bees, which I think are just fascinating. So you might accidentally drop a very small item in to the hive so let's say a piece of string or piece of cotton or something. And you will actually see that housekeeper bees manipulate that -if you've got a window in your hive - manipulate that and actually bring it out and turf out the door. It's just fascinating. And of course there's talking about things that get thrown out the door, dead bees as well. So yeah, those kinds of undertaker bees take dead bees out and throw them out the door, there’s century bees.


Morag Gamble:

How long do bees live?


Amanda Collins:

It really depends on the season. So during winter, they have a longer lifespan because they're not working as hard as they would if they were during spring and summer. So during the peak kind of periods, six to seven weeks - when they're really working hard. And you can often, if you find a bee or see a bee on a flower or whatever have a look because you'll be able to give us a general sense of the age of the bee by how much further it hasn't hit the body. So the least amount of fur means that the bee is older. So you can get a sense of that. And also have a look if you're looking close up on the wing, the bees wings. So if they're tatty, it means they're older and they're been flying for a while as well.


Morag Gamble:

Isn't this fascinating then too that, you know, such a structured social context there. But yet the lives of the individuals are so short, but yet that memory of the wholeness remains, the pattern of connection remains.


Amanda Collins:

I know, it's amazing. I find that whole concept, probably what most fascinates me [inaudible] to be honest, actually, for both Scott and I. Honey is like just a fantastic byproduct of being able to work with bees and love the bees. And observe them. And we're both, I guess, keen observers. And you know, when you get your head stuck in a hive, you just constantly want to work out what are they doing, trying to understand and find meaning what the bees are actually doing. 


Morag Gamble:

Yeah, it's amazing. Absolutely amazing. I teach systems thinking with youth, and maybe like actually getting them into hives, because that is exactly the whole approach to systems thinking, you know, what you just described there, so oh my gosh.


Amanda Collins:

Yeah it's fascinating. Bee behavior is just absolutely, you know, and then the preparation for swarming. So the whole, like, notion of like, even though they've got their individual roles, they'll all be going Yeah. Okay. So there'll be a collective decision made around, yeah, we've outgrowing of our space. We need to find a new home, we need to replicate ourselves. And they will decide based on weather conditions and how many resources they've got. And it's just a fascinating process, swarming.


Morag Gamble:

You run program, you run workshops with people, but I also noticed when I was reading your site that you run programs for people with mental illness. This idea of therapeutic beekeeping? Yes, like, tell us about that and what you noticed about what happens when people start working with bees?


Amanda Collins:

Yeah, we set up HiveMind Community Apiary couple of years prepandemic. A couple of years ago, based on some information that we've seen on in a couple of locations, one was on gardening Australia. And it talked about kind of the value in beekeeping from a therapeutic perspective for people who had returned from active military service. And the other one was a project which which had been happening and continues to happen in Canada called Hives for humanity. And they've set up a social enterprise around helping people to use beekeeping, and some of the other valuable skills that you learn around beekeeping to actually help people in a complementary kind of therapeutic way. So we set up HiveMind Community Apiary with a number of other kinds of partners, to actually see whether this would be something that could help or be useful in like a local context. So we're into our second season now since COVID got in a way, and we've had a number of people go through the course and continue on as beekeepers afterwards. And yet the notion is for if you've had a lived a current or lived experience with mental ill health, but in particular depression, loneliness, isolation, those kinds of things. Then we have a what we call seasonal beekeeping. So we're currently doing a current program at the moment, which takes you from some theory of some practical experience right through to really developing foundation skills to be able to become a confident beekeeper at the end. So it's a really fantastic program. And there's a number of other kind of offshoots, which are happening I know, around Australia, there's one specifically which has been set up for military veterans as well. So it's just some really useful benefits from a social kind of community connection perspective.


Morag Gamble:

Yeah. So you're a nurse and and you work with councils as well, is that right? So do you see this type of approach to engaging in urban agriculture, whether it be beekeeping or gardening being embraced at that level, whether it be in the health field or in the local government community health field?


Amanda Collins:

Yeah, definitely. I now work for Community Health here in Ballarat, and we're really looking at how we can make some positive impacts and use alternative ways to connect with people. And not just kind of physical. So there's such physical components to gardening, beekeeping connecting with people, but also from mental health perspective as well. And that kind of overcoming some of those issues around social isolation and people's lack of connection, as well. And the core benefits around helping people to learn skills to do gardening and food production. So one of the areas I work in community health is around healthy food. So kind of upskilling or supporting people to be able to grow just and really, even if it's one or two things that they can grow at home, that they have some success with, and then potentially kind of excite them and inspire them to take a deep dive into, oh, maybe I can extend this and think about these, you know, kind of other factors as well. So the core benefits around climate change as well, really awesome in terms of food production. And we know now from like the flooding event we've had recently, but also the other flooding events we've had in terms of food security, and what we can do on a local basis to actually help people to build those skills and support them to produce at least some of their own foods. So they're less vulnerable to those kinds of extreme weather events that we're having with climate change.


Morag Gamble:

Yeah. And you know that you can. It's not like it's this unknown thing that you build up really rapidly. You've got the skills to do it and the community networks could happen. I was meant to ask you before when we were talking about the bees about, what are you seeing as sort of the impact and the long term impact of climate change? And also, just bee health around the world? In general? What are you seeing, the trends? And what can we do educationally to make a difference in this?


Amanda Collins:

Yeah, look, it's really tricky. Aside from the kind of changes in flowering patterns and bodying of a lot of our, core  kind of forage species that you would want, if they feel fairly confident about the go to location for this particular type of honey, but that's all changing and that collective memory and understanding about when trees used to flower and when they flower now, and the changes in the climate are really making it difficult and challenging to read the trees. So that's why knowing, having an understanding about botany is just so really important if you're a beekeeper. Also other kinds of aspects like so in our current climate La Niña kind of cycle at the moment, we've been in it for the last three years. As a beekeeper there's some pests and diseases that thrive on high humidity. So that's causing an impact as well. So there's some diseases like chook brood, for instance, which is not really been an issue so much for us in southern Victoria before. And small hive beetle is becoming much more prevalent. And that's directly related to the kind of the humidity levels. So yeah, we need to be constantly adapting to the climate cycle and being able to understand how that might have an impact with our bees, and then trying to kind of adapt as best we can to try and overcome some of those issues.


Morag Gamble:

So I guess, in terms of what people can be doing in their backyards, what are the sorts of plants that you encourage people to put in. What kind of pollinator plants do you want people to start planting more of around the cities where you are, at least, anyway? Because it’s going to be different everywhere. But yeah.


Amanda Collins:

I think, in general, we need diversity, we need greater diversity, and greater diversity of pollinator friendly plants, general principles around. Allowing your veg garden to go to seed. So you've got the flowering, you've got the beautiful flowers and you've also got the benefit of the seeds later on, but allowing for your flowers just to I guess my message would be maybe more about just relax a bit. Just relax, let the weeds you know, if they're not causing a significant issue for you. Let let some of them kind of you know, kind of proliferate not so they get totally out of control. But yeah to it to allow your garden to relax and breathe a bit. So we've recently completely rewilded our front garden, which was very much the 90, late 80s, kind of weeping type trees. And yeah, last year, we completely rewild that and now it's just really all Australian native trees, we've got some magnificent Banksia flowering at the moment which I'm really surprised about sweepers area, you know, all your casuarinas all your native plants are generally really good for both European and Australian native bees, which, which is what our hope was to be able to attract more Australian native bees back to our garden, because they're often forgotten about and yeah, they are like really useful pollinators as well, much like flies and moths and other insects as well. So I do like my insects.


Morag Gamble:

It's fascinating, isn't it? I guess just as a kind of a wrap up sort of question is if someone wanted to get a hive in their garden. What would be your advice to them before they started, you mentioned about, like, finding a good space, like a checklist before you go ahead and bring in bees into your spot?


Amanda Collins:

Yeah, look, if you want it to be rigorous, and go through a process. I'd recommend that if you can make contact with your local beekeeping club or a local beekeeper to actually get up close and personal. To actually establish whether you feel comfortable being around 20,000 bees buzzing around you, maybe not quite so many 20,000. Maybe hundreds and hundreds of bees buzzing around you because we sometimes find that people are extremely motivated, very enthusiastic and really want to keep bees and yet when they have their first experience, they they're a little bit it kind of. Freaks them out of having a lot of insects around around you. So that would be get with somebody else, find somebody else that you can go and just put it put a veil on, put some gloves on, and just have that first initial experience so that you can determine whether or not this is going to be a good pathway for you. If you find it's not - there are so many other things that you can do and one of those is what we just talked about in terms of like planting diverse Australian native shrubs, species, exotics as well. Letting your veg garden, go to seed, so flowers, all those kinds of things. There's other things you can do if you're still passionate about bees and wanting to help insects and Australian native bees. There's other things that you can do. You don't have to become a beekeeper as such.


Morag Gamble:

What about native bees as well? Like, do you have much focus of that as well and what you're doing creating native bee habitat? Or,


Amanda Collins:

Not so much European honeybees. We were talking about European honeybees, always trying to make sure that people are also aware that we have Australian native bees in this part of Victoria and in kind of our local context, we have some really fantastic Australian native bees like blue banded bees and cuckoo bees and reed bees and a whole raft of different Australian native bees but they often get over overshadowed and overlooked in preference of a honeybee. So yeah, creating habitat once again, that kind of Australian native, find out what's kind of your local species. And sometimes the bee hotel is not the best way to go. Although they are excellent for attracting native wasps, great for native wasp habitat. Because most of the Australian native bees that we have that are in this part of Victoria are non-colonizing bees. So they're solitary bees, so they actually don't come together in that kind of bee hotel kind of phenomena. And they ground-dwelling bees. So if people asked about say, well, you know, leave a patch of your backyard, abandoned. And just, you know, just just leave it and you might find that you're gonna have some Australian native bees moving in.


Morag Gamble:

Ground dwelling? Do they burrow? How deep do they go or just,


Amanda Collins:

Not terribly deep and they don't, they're not there for an extended period of time. But it's this phenomenon. People think that well, first of all, people think that they're colonizing this far south, they're not. So you know, north of Sydney, you get the magnificent stingless bees, sugar bag bees, which is just fantastic. And, you know, be great to actually have that but that's not our space down here. But yeah, just the males, you'll often see the male blue-banded bee wheezing on like a twig or piece of grass. They're just amazing to watch as well. Very hard to photograph. So much faster than a European honeybee. So they're really difficult to get a picture of.


Morag Gamble:

Well, thank you so much for sharing about all of this. It's absolutely fascinating. I can hear the enthusiasm and I feel it deeply. And I've been wanting for a long time to get bees here in my place so you may well have just inspired me to get going because a lot of my friends and neighbors have and I'm one of those recipients who gets lovely honey and plant lots of the pollinators. So that's, that's been kind of an ally. I'm an ally. Definitely. And yeah, so that's fantastic. Yeah, I think I'd love to do it with my kids.

Amanda Collins:

It is. It is something that is really great to do with your family. Yeah.


Morag Gamble:

So where can people find out more about your programs and the work that you do and all the different bits and pieces because I know that you have resources and you have information and classes if anyone's in your particular part of the world?


Amanda Collins:

Yes, sure. So you can now visit our website which is backyardbeesballarat.com.au or you can find us on Facebook as Backyard Beekeeping Ballarat and Instagram Backyard Beekeeping Ballarat again. And yeah, just take a look at some of our courses. We're now offering some courses in Geelong as well. So our micro business slightly extended this year to Geelong. So yeah, if anybody wants any further information about beekeeping or how to connect with their local beekeeping club, we can certainly put them in touch.


Morag Gamble:

Yeah, great. Wonderful. Well, thank you so very much for joining me on this special urban agriculture month podcast special. It's just been fascinating and I'm really excited to dive into more of that concept of hive mind and exploring how we explain systems thinking through being a beekeeper. I think that's absolutely fascinating.


Amanda Collins:

That is, I love it.


Morag Gamble:

Thanks, Amanda.


Amanda Collins:

Thanks, Morag.