A cinematographer by trade, Doug Purdie never planned on becoming a beekeeper, but reading of the dire situation while overseas left him passionate about preventing a similar decimation Down Under.
Bees are under threat and are dying out all around the world,” says Doug Purdie. “Every single species of bee is in trouble. I think there’s a disconnect between pollinators and food – I don’t think people get that we need pollinators. They’re not just some little bug that stings you – they’re actually a very important part of the food chain.”
According to Purdie, much of what we eat is pollinated, including citruses, pumpkin, zucchini, and a lot of the animal feed that helps in the production of meat and chicken. By pollinating flowers, bees can increase crop yield by as much as 60 per cent.
“Without pollinators, we’d be eating wheat. That’s about it,” says Purdie.
“There’s a place in China where pears are pollinated by hand. Can you imagine pollinating all our food by hand? It’s a terrifying thought.”
After joining the Amateur Beekeepers Association of New South Wales, Purdie went on to become its president. This led him to form The Urban Beehive, an initiative that puts beehives in backyards, community gardens and on rooftops across Sydney, with business partner Vicky.
With the restaurant industry’s growing focus on sustainability, onsite beehives have spiked in popularity.
The Urban Beehive helps businesses start up their own hives and currently maintains 70 of them around the city. Purdie has assisted large hotel chains such as the Shangri-La and Swissôtel with rooftop hives, and restaurants and bars including The Wine Library in Woollahra and Berta in the CBD.
In his new book, Backyard Bees (Murdoch Books), Purdie walks budding beekeepers through the basics of starting up and maintaining a thriving beehive. His advice to novices – even those with phobias or allergies – is simply to give it a go.
“It’s not hard at all,” he says. “Most people are terrified of bees. Don’t be terrified – bees aren’t aggressive. As long as you look after the beehive and don’t keep any aggressive species, they’ll leave you alone. Most people get stung treading on a bee that’s sitting on a clover, but they’re usually happy doing their own thing.”
Contrary to widespread belief, you don’t need a large space to start up a beehive; Purdie describes your average hive as the size of a filing cabinet.
“And the thing is, you get a lot of honey; a single beehive will produce 50 kilograms of honey in a good location. If managed properly, they can produce up to 100 kilograms, so have the buckets ready.
“Honey is an amazing food – it’s a preservative as well as a sweetener, so when you use honey in cakes, it preserves the moisture for longer because it’s a hygroscopic, so the cake doesn’t dry out.”
Those who are lacking the appropriate conditions for a home hive (Purdie says a rooftop is better than a balcony where possible) can still do their part for our buzzing friends.
“If you’re growing herbs, let them flower. You’ll be amazed how many bees – both native and foreign – will come foraging. And if you have grass, stop taming it. Dandelion flowers are the great bee food.”
Backyard Bees by Doug Purdie, published by Murdoch Books ($35.00) is out now. Photographer Cath Muscatt. Click here for a delicious recipe for Bee Sting cake from Backyard Bees.