SEVEN days a week, bee keeper Lyndon Fenlon can be seen travelling the streets of Melbourne’s Footscray on his specially modified cargo bicycle, moving and tending almost 30 hives spread around the backyards of his friends and neigbours.
Along with his bees producing honey and pollinating urban backyard gardens, Lyndon has taken on an crucial role in front line biosecurity for his industry, participating in a new program called Bee Force.
An initiative of the Pollination Program managed by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) and Horticulture Australia (HAL), Bee Force is designed to monitor urban hives around port areas for the likely arrival of the devastating foreign bee pest Varroa mite, already endemic in our nearest neighbours.
Lyndon’s day starts at 5.30am to get to an office job in Melbourne, but his spare time is consumed tending hives, collecting honey to sell under his label Urban Honey Co, rescuing wayward swarms from urban roofs and gardens and educating fellow bee enthusiasts in his hobby.
“My neighbours love that I keep bees and now I have my hives spread across about 15 different backyards in the local area. It used to be all about the honey, but people are becoming much more switched on to the importantance of bees for pollination. I get comments on how vegetable gardens are producing more, or flowers are blooming earlier.
“I started my own bee keepers group about three years ago - many urban people don’t have the space to keep their own bees so we work on mine, but it just shows the levels of interest in the community. There are now about 20 members from all levels of skill and experience, from beginners through to entomologists.
“I heard about the Bee Force Project through one of the bee keepers associations, and put my name down straight away because I know our bees are at risk. The most likely way that a foreign bee pest such as Varroa mite will arrive in this country is hitching a ride on a ship, so a network of bee keepers who live close to a port have been recruited by the Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI) to participate.
“Our role is to find pests before they get a chance to get established and spread inland, by monitoring our hives with the assistance of DPI entomologists,” he said.
If Varroa mite or similar bee pests reach Australian shores and become entrenched it’s expected to cost between $21 million and $50 million per year over 30 years . This is not just from lower honey production but the impact of the loss of pollination by both managed and wild European honeybees on a range of fruits, vegetables and pastures.
“Urban bee keepers play a crucial role in biosecurity for the pollination industry – we have the time to carefully observe and check our hives and can pick up straight away if something is wrong. I knew a lot about Varroa mite before I joined the project, but have learned a lot more now,” said Lyndon.
“I think it’s essential that everyone who keeps bees should know what to look for – how to observe their bees for problems, how to identify different pests and diseases and how to report them to the authorities. A big part of this is being a member of a bee keepers’ group or association and learning as much as you can.
“I have been interested in bee keeping since I was young, and started out with a beekeeping course at Collingwood Children’s Farm seven years ago.
“Three years ago I started a micro business called Urban Honey Co which produces organic, unpasturised honey from the rooftops and gardens of Melbourne CBD and surrounds. It’s all sold within the bee’s flying range, taking food miles to a whole new level!
“I keep hives at the Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies (CERES) community gardens in Brunswick and the Iramoo Protected Grasslands, which is a part of the Victoria University. Hives at the Quang Minh Temple produce honey for the monks and visitors and I’m also starting another beekeepers group there.
“We all need to work together to protect our bees from foreign invaders, so I’ll definitely be sharing the knowledge I’ve gained through participating in Bee Force,” said Lyndon.
For more information about the Pollination Program, visit www.rirdc.gov.au/pollination.