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Apis mellifera, Food, glorious food!

To bee or not to bee – how Village Well grow from a staff of 14 to 10,014 in 45 minutes

Worker bee of the Western honey bee with pollen.

Image via Wikipedia

The bees came last Friday on a balmy spring morning.  Urban beekeeper Martin O’Callaghan arrived at 7h30 with a black rubber tub in which a swarm of 10,000 odd bees were transported from his home in Reservoir to the office of Village Well.

And by 8h15, the bees were successfully transferred into their new home. Over tea and chocolate croissants, Martin gave me some last minute instruction about keeping the bees happy.

It has been a week and these creatures of wonderment seem to have settled to their new environment, and the balcony is a hive of activity. According to Martin, this is the first top bar hive to be installed in an office setting. Top bar hive is a type of hive, which, is widely used in Tanzania and Kenya. Unlike conventional Langstroth design, the honeycomb is free forming, designed by the bees themselves.

Village Well is located in Hardware Lane in downtown Melbourne CBD. The office itself is well positioned on the top floor of the Hardware Building. It boasts two relatively large balconies, which have been turned into a thriving food garden complete with rainwater tanks, a worm farm, bokashi bin and recycling bin.

The bees are housed in the farthest corner of the main balcony, next to the nasturtium and rainwater tank.

The decision to have bees on the balcony was unanimously supported by all 14 staff after a lunch presentation on the benefits of keeping bees by Martin. During his presentation Martin talked about some of the problems bees are facing worldwide and why it is crucial to give these special insects a helping hand in anyway so they could continue their magical work – capturing the soul of flowers and transforming it into liquid gold.

Bees are the alchemists of the natural world – miracle workers extraordinaire. And yet so little is understood of their complex and yet orderly world.  A hive is a work of wonder. Each cell is an exact duplication in shape, form and size and built with such precision.

The bees themselves are self-organising and all work in a true spirit of collaboration and cooperation for the greater good of the colony. In doing so they help to pollinate about 2/3 of the world’s crops, and at the same time honey, beeswax and royal jelly are being produced.

The average worker bee lives for about four weeks over spring and summer. The first three weeks is spent inside the hive doing maintenance and housekeeping duties. The last week of its life is spent foraging for nectar and during that time, the average worker bee will produce a miniscule amount of honey barely covering one’s fingernail. At the end of the week, the bee dies from exhaustion and the wear and tear of its wings, more than 200 beats per minute.

Today, worldwide bees are in crisis. Colony Collapse Disorder has wiped out a very large percentage of the bee population worldwide. The insidious spraying of monoculture crops compounds the problem even further.

But one of the biggest threat to the survival of the honey bee, apis mellifera, is the commercialisation of beekeeping similar in scale to CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operations) with routine administration of antibiotics and miticides, very much to the detriment of the bees themselves.

We need more natural beekeeper to help the bee population and colony to recover from the state it is currently in. With this realisation, more people are taking up beekeeping in cities and urban areas. One of the more famous sites for urban bee keeping is on the roof of the Paris Opera house. Paris urban beekeeper Jean Paucton has been keeping bees on the roof of Paris’s opera house for the last 25 years.

These amazing creatures need our help more than ever. A top bar hive is very low maintenance and easy to set up. Beekeeping is an engaging humbling experience. It offers a fascinating insight into the magical world of bees.

Top bar hive at the Village Well

Apis mellifera - alchemist, master builder, miracle worker extraordinaire.

Free forming honeycomb designed and built by nature's master builder.


About Urban permaculturist

I have an interest in sustainability; from food security to renewable energy. I am also a keen food gardener and vegetarian cook. For more information, check out my blog at:


4 thoughts on “To bee or not to bee – how Village Well grow from a staff of 14 to 10,014 in 45 minutes

  1. Hi Z – That is so cool. Question though, where and how far do the bees have to fly to get to flowers to feed from? Wouldn’t imagine there’s a lot of flora in a city environment but happy to stand corrected.

    Keep up the interesting posts.

    Love your work.


    Posted by Cindy | October 9, 2010, 10:27 am
    • Hi Cindy,

      Glad you like the bee posting. I am passionate about them.

      Bees travel within a 5km radius in search of food. One of the reasons why they are on a decline is due the current practice of monoculture and massive spraying of chemical-based fertiliser, herbicide, pesticide, etc. Unlike in the country side, cities offer a much greater flora diversity for bees; from urban private gardens to public parks and botanical gardens. Since we are in CBD, we are surrounded by parks along Sydney Road, North Carlton and of course the “Tan” along St Kilda Road. The hives on top of the Paris Opera house has been going for over 25 years.

      Without these hardworking miracle workers, we homosapiens as a species are in serious trouble. It is very humbling to learn about these amazing creatures.

      Take care – Z

      Posted by platelicking | October 9, 2010, 10:52 pm
  2. I find that my fruit trees flower well, but not a lot of fruit sets: I need more bees. How do I get access to a hive? I am in inner suburban Melbourne?

    Posted by Eileen | February 7, 2012, 10:11 pm

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