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It’s a Sunday morning at CERES Environment Park when I tag along with the CERES bee group to meet up with Lyndon Fenlon of Urban Honey Co. Long gone are the days when beekeeping was confined to the country, we’re in the heart of Brunswick, beekeeping and hive inspecting up until lunch time. Fenlon lives in Footscray where he keeps some of the 80 hives he has in total, which are scattered across Melbourne backyards and rooftops. There are 19 of these hives located in the CBD of Melbourne on building rooftops in several locations such as, Melbourne’s InterContinental The Rialto and other buildings on Swanston Street, Spencer Street, and near where Parliament House meets Collins Street. The remaining 61 hives are kept in backyards in inner-city suburbs, some streets in these suburbs contain several hives spread across neighbouring backyards.

Lyndon Fenlon transporting beehives on his trike.
Image taken from Urban Honey Co. website.

Melbourne is not the only city to embrace urban and city beekeeping, other cities world-wide over, namely New York, Paris and even the Vatican City have adapted this ancient practice to suit their urban setting. It seems that people have begun to abandon their subscription to the false illusion of the angry swarm of bees, and stopped fearing the sting factor. More people have become aware of how essential beekeeping is for agriculture and for a future of environmental sustainability.

This particular Sunday at CERES Joe Riordan, Leading Apiary Inspector for the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, joins Fenlon in the hive demonstrations for the bee group. Mr Riordan says he enjoys this specific bee group because of the passion Fenlon, and CERES as a whole, have for reducing the carbon footprint we leave behind us. Mr Riordan says that bees are integral to the pollination of crops and plants, thus essential to agriculture country wide. As areas like Melbourne become more built up, it is important to learn how to adapt to keeping bees in these places. Mr Riordan has plenty of reading material for beginner or aspiring beekeepers, and thoroughly recommends attending bee groups. There is plenty of support for beekeepers in urban areas, and bee groups are just one of the many ways to learn more about hive maintenance.

Joe Riordan, Leading Apiary Inspector for the Victorian DPI.

For the Melbournians or other urban dwellers who don’t have access to a backyard to place hives in, Mr Riordan says it is about simply doing your homework. Search around your neighbourhood and ask anyone with a backyard whether you could keep bees on their property. For anyone living in apartment blocks this is when rooftop beekeeping is a great option. This is a matter that needs to be brought up with the body corporate of the apartment building. If none of the participating members of the body corporate oppose the proposal to the use of space on the rooftop for bee hives, then it is entirely possible to keep bees there.

Fenlon says that over the past 10 years he has seen a gradual development in the urban beekeeping game, but it is the last 2 years that huge progress has been made. About a decade ago he found businesses or individuals he approached were hesitant or reluctant to allow him to keep bees on their rooftop or in their backyard. Now he says more people are proud and ever willing to have beehives on their property, he puts this down to society becoming more environmentally aware and therefore more open to these types of practices and why they are important.

With the public conscience growing when it comes to green matters, there is no better time to immerse yourself into beekeeping. Fenlon himself has a type of allergy to beestings and even he is an advocate for beekeeping, so surely the rest of us can see what it’s all about and get educated on why these small stingers are so important. Perhaps you may become inspired to even take on the hobby yourself, or help out a beekeeper in need of hive space. After all, there will always be a free supply of honey awaiting your efforts or generosity.

Written by Meg Riordan.