Getting started in Honey Bees

We were interested in keeping bees, so I decided to do a little research. We attended an “Introduction to Natural Beekeeping” course by Tim Auld from All You Can Eat Gardens. It was great to see a top bar bee hive in action.

Natural beekeeping is based on the principles:

  1. Interference in the natural lives of the bees is kept to a minimum
  2. Nothing is put into the hive that is known to be, or likely to be harmful either to the bees, to us or to the wider environment and nothing is taken out that the bees cannot afford to lose.
  3. The bees know what they are doing: our job  is to listen to them and provide the optimum conditions for their well-being.

He recommends the following books:

You will need the following equipment:

  • Hive
  • Smoker
  • Hive tool
  • Protective clothing
  • Extractors – expensive, but can be hired when you need the honey

Tim Auld sells top bar bee hives.

You can buy these altogether as a package to save some money. Suggested suppliers include:

In Queensland, you need to register your hive with the Department of Primary Industries. You are  only allowed 2 hives per 1000m2.

Books and resources

Getting started in chickens


I’ve been doing some research on keeping chickens in our backyard. We are allowed six fowls according to the Brisbane City Council:

Household premises with a total area of more than 800 square metres can keep up to 20 fowl, including ducks, geese and peacocks without a permit.

If your residential premises has a total area less than 800 square metres you can keep up to six fowl.

Poultry sheds must be set back at least one metre from a dividing fence.

I’m pretty sure we will just keep chickens as Matt says ducks and geese are really messy. I was expecting to see something in the law about not allowing roosters.

I’m tossing up between Australorps which Jackie French raves about – they are good layers and make good eating. They are docile, great mothers and are good if you have children. Better yet, they are an Australian breed so they are adjusted to our climate. Silkies will leave your vegetable beds alone and make excellent pets for kids. They are placid and tolerate being handled. We eventually decided on three Australorps, so that we’ll have enough eggs for ourselves and some extra to sell or give away.

You’ll need:

  • chook house, which includes weatherproof shelter and a perch
  • nest and laying box
  • dummy egg
  • organic feed, eg from Country Heritage Feeds
  • water
  • shell grit and dirt

Jackie French suggests growing the following plants for chooks:

  • Amaranth
  • Avocado trees
  • Carob
  • Chilacayote melons
  • Fruit trees
  • Grains and maize
  • Nuts
  • Potatoes (cooked)
  • Quinoa
  • Sunflowers
  • Tree lucerne
  • as well as sweet potato, pumpkin, arrowroot, chestnuts, honey locust, taro, yams, kumara, jerusalem artichoke, and chokos.

Others have suggested comfrey and herbs to repel lice and intestinal worms, including feverfew, tansy, rue and wormwood. It’s ideal to plant these around the chook house.


Chicken coops

Chicken accessories


  • Backyard Poultry Naturally – Alanna Moore
  • Chook Book – Jackie French (excellent)
  • Healthy Free Range hens – Neil Christensen
  • How to Care for Your Poultry – New Zealand Lifestyle Block
  • Keeping Chickens – An Australian Guide


Keeping records

We’ve been keeping a record of our garden in a number of different ways. Records help to keep track of what is working and what doesn’t, so you don’t repeat the same mistakes next year. It also helps to make a note of what is planted where, because it’s easy to forget. I have trouble trying to identify the most common flowers, let alone immature heirloom plants!

I first started recording notes in a week-to-a-spread diary. I liked the idea of dates, but found the space for weekends wasn’t big enough, which is when we spend most our time in the garden. There are specialized diaries for gardeners and they might suit you.

I also started a spreadsheet with a grid of plant common and scientific names, purchased date and where planted. It took a lot of effort to keep it updated and I soon lost interest. I don’t really need to know the name of every native in my garden.

I’ve enjoyed blogging about my garden the most. Illustrating blog posts with photos adds so much more information then I could describe. I also love receiving advice from fellow gardeners. There are a number of blog sites you can join: Blogger, TypePad and WordPress.

I keep a mud-map of our four vegetable patches with what it planted where.

We also tally up our harvest totals in a simple ruled notepad.

There are some gardening software programs and online communities that you could use. MyFolia is free and appears to be a popular choice.

I’ve found that keeping records is necessary, but keep it simple so you stick with it.

See also Keeping records: photo album and our progress.

Storing seeds

Seeds need to be stored in a dark and dry place (ideally 5°C). Jerry Coleby-Williams uses old film canisters to store his seeds. Specimen bottles would work well, but I’m not sure where to buy them. To help keep the moisture out, add some silica gel crystals. (You may know these as the small white “Do Not Eat” bags you find in vitamin bottles).

I have found the best way to store my seeds is alphabetically in an IKEA cd box. If you want to get fancy try the Plant Agenda. Josh Byrne keeps his seed packets in use pinned to a cork board in his potting shed.

If you are storing your seeds for a long time the fridge might be the best place for them. Don’t forget seeds are living and they need to be sown and collected every couple of years.