Busy bees: Urban Hum are a hive of activity

BUSY BEE: Kelly Lees inspecting one of Urban Hum's hives at the Mayfield apiary. Pictures: Ellie-Marie Watts
BUSY BEE: Kelly Lees inspecting one of Urban Hum's hives at the Mayfield apiary. Pictures: Ellie-Marie Watts

A resurgence of interest in backyard beekeeping has pushed Newcastle-based bee business Urban Hum to capacity, but now the couple behind the successful venture are equipping budding beekeepers with the tools to care for their own hives.

Urban Hum owners Kelly Lees and Anna Scobie are offering more beekeeping workshops in 2019 than ever before to cater for the increasing demand for bee education and keeping a backyard hive, and to ease the pressure on their own business.

Ms Lees and Ms Scobie own 130 hives, each home to between 50,000 and 100,000 European honey bees, which are hosted by residents and businesses of 26 Newcastle and Lake Macquarie suburbs.

"Part of our business model is we rent hives in people's backyards but we look after it for them," Ms Scobie said.

"Those are our production hives. The host gets a small amount of honey as a thank you for having the hives in their backyard, plus the pollination for their veggies.

"We're at capacity with that. We have a long waiting list."

Ms Scobie said the long waiting list to host hives combined with the amount of hives Urban Hum sold last year, which was 50, showed them that there was a demand for training.

"This way, they don't have to be on our waiting list. They're learning how to look after the hive for themselves," she said.

The next Urban Hum beekeeping workshop will be held at its training apiary in Mayfield on Sunday. There will also be workshops on September 14, October 13 and 19, November 9 and 10 and November 30.

The workshop is designed to teach the participants about bees and their behaviour, and covers the basic skills to care for the colony. There's a theoretical and hand-on component, and plenty of opportunity to ask questions.

The couple also discuss the "doom and gloom" of owning a hive, covering what can go wrong. After losing their very first hive to disease, Ms Scobie and Ms Lees said they wanted to thoroughly educate prospective beekeepers about what to expect.

"We train people to make sure they have plenty of time when they want to check their hive, when they're not in a rush or feeling 100 per cent. You need to have time to spend with them. The bees pick up on your energy and respond accordingly," Ms Lees said.

BEE-LOVED: Anna Scobie and Kelly Lees, right, with their daughter Nancy, 17 months, pictured at the Mayfield apiary. Pictures: Ellie-Marie Watts

BEE-LOVED: Anna Scobie and Kelly Lees, right, with their daughter Nancy, 17 months, pictured at the Mayfield apiary. Pictures: Ellie-Marie Watts

"We also train people to be ethical beekeepers. We always says it's not about the honey. The honey is secondary.

"Even though we sell honey, if we go to a hive and there's little honey for us to take, then we don't take it. We're really passionate about bees and protecting them.

"Hopefully, maybe, some of the people we train go on to be commercial beekeepers one day, especially the younger ones because we do have an ageing commercial beekeeping population. The average age is 65 plus."

Ms Scobie said many of the people who attended an Urban Hum workshop were passionate about supporting the bee population, which in some parts of the world are in decline.

Other workshop participants are those who had inherited a hive or were interested in producing their own honey, or pollinating their gardens.

"The reason we started our beekeeping was to pollinate our zucchinis," Ms Scobie said. "A lot of people think this is a new trend but it's actually a return of something that has existed for a long time.

Kelly Lees checking out on of Urban Hum's hives.

Kelly Lees checking out on of Urban Hum's hives.

"At the markets we're always blessed to hear stories about grandparents or neighbours who had bees.

"Bees have been in suburbia of Australia for a very long time but then we got a bit risk adverse as a society and relied on convenience, so the beehives went, the chickens went. But that's all starting to come back.

"It's part of that return to connection to food and being sustainable. It's a new wave of something that's always existed."

For more information about Urban Hum go to urbanhum.com.

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