Young Luke abuzz about bees

Teenager Luke de Laeter at his home in Bicton where he keeps bee hives in the backyard.
Camera IconTeenager Luke de Laeter at his home in Bicton where he keeps bee hives in the backyard. Credit: Danella Bevis

Beekeeping is not just for commercial operators, with a rising number of suburban bee enthusiasts keen to take up the craft, writes Ann Rawlings.

It may not be a farm, but Luke de Laeter’s backyard is certainly a hive of activity.

About 120,000 bees call the Bicton block home, while a further 60,000 compatriots in honey can be found nearby in the care of a neighbour.

These backyard hives are representative of a growing trend in the metropolitan region.

It is a trend gaining in popularity, not only for the pleasure of having liquid gold on tap, but also in recognition of the importance of bees to life in general.

Luke is among the more than 3000 registered beekeepers in WA, with the 16-year-old’s Langstroth hives a tiny fraction of the thousands recorded across the State.

But having a hive in the backyard is not a decision to take lightly, for bees take a great deal of love and attention.

Just like a domesticated pet, they need access to comfortable living quarters, water and food.

But unlike a dog, the local rangers are quite happy for these pets to “walk” themselves, sometimes up to 3km from home, providing they return to their hive at the end of the day.

For Luke, growing up alongside bees has been more rewarding than just having an abundance of honey.

“I like that it gives you free honey, but it is also bumping up bee numbers around here, and bees are really important,” he said.

Teenager Luke de Laeter packages and sells his own honey.
Camera IconTeenager Luke de Laeter packages and sells his own honey. Credit: Danella Bevis

Not only have his bees boosted the productivity of fruit trees in his family’s backyard, they have also proven to be popular with honey connoisseurs in the neighbourhood.

“Since we got the bees, we’ve had double the amount of apples and pears,” he said.

Sustainability has always been important to his family, with Luke’s mother, Sarah de Laeter, teaching this craft and that of permaculture to junior students at Wesley College.

She saw in her son the potential to enjoy a hobby far different from the usual sporting activities of his peers.

Luke said it had all started as a 14th birthday present.

“I got a nucleus hive from my parents. I knew it was coming, so it wasn’t a surprise,” he said.

“I was never into sport as much as Dad would have liked me to be, and instead of gaming — I don’t have a Xbox or PlayStation — I was always outside.”

To be a beekeeper in WA, it is a legal requirement to register with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.

It is also important for people to check with their local council whether bees can be kept on their property.

Luke also became a member of the WA Apiarists’ Society, which not only offers educational courses but also shares and promotes beekeeping as a craft.

By his 15th birthday, Luke had completed several beekeeping courses and obtained the necessary licences to sell honey via his business Luke’s Bees, not to mention educating students across the metropolitan area about bees.

His school incursions make up an important part of his own Vocational Education and Training studies as a Year 11 student, with every Wednesday now set aside for this purpose.

Teenager Luke de Laeter at his home in Bicton, where he keeps bee hives in the backyard.
Camera IconTeenager Luke de Laeter at his home in Bicton, where he keeps bee hives in the backyard. Credit: Danella Bevis

His work in schools, both primary and secondary, has proven to be so popular that he — with Ms de Laeter in tow as designated driver — can host up to two talks a week.

“In these sessions, I teach the importance of bees and why we need them in the environment,” he said.

“I also teach students about the equipment that I use.” Another feather in his cap was the completion of a Certificate III in Beekeeping, in which Luke learnt skills including how to construct and repair hives, manage pests and diseases, and collect and store propolis.

“In peak honey flow, in spring and summer, I can harvest every two weeks,” he said.

“But this year I haven’t harvested as much as I would have liked to — it has been a very slow year for beekeepers.

“How much you harvest depends on how many hot days you have had.

“Bees won’t go out on rainy days or extremely hot days.”

But as Luke will attest, owning hives is a matter not only for the soul, but also for the community.

“I like to know that I am helping the environment,” he said.

“And I only harvest just enough honey to sell to my customers.”

New generation beekeeper Luke de Laeter, of Luke’s Bees, will be hosting a talk in the Sustainability Pavilion at 11am. Following this, at 1pm, Curtin University scientist Kit Prendergast will discuss native bees.

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