Beekeeper Xandra Helbers looks at the hives on top of the pavilion at the Adelaide Showground

At the height of the drone, around 50,000 to 70,000 bees are buzzing in the inner Adelaide suburb of Wayville.

Xandra Helbers is the third beekeeper to manage the fairgrounds’ rooftop hives — a responsibility she took on in the midst of the COVID pandemic.

“Not everyone can have beehives in their garden … so allowing companies to keep rooftop beehives helps keep the suburbs green for us to live in,” he said.

Ms Helbers said her love of bees began when she was growing up in the Netherlands.

“When I was little, my dad had beehives in our back garden,” he said.

“He taught me all about bees and I loved helping him collect honey.

“I used to take the bees out of the pond we kept in the garden to save them.”

Ms. Helbers says you need to be calm when working with bees.(Credit: Xandra Helbers)

After moving to Australia in 1998, Ms Helbers traveled the country before settling down in Sydney.

Then in 2009, he and his family settled in Adelaide, where he befriended beekeeper Vanessa Hoo.

“He was running [the showground hives] and he said, ‘Would you like to take over?'” Ms. Helbers said.

“‘I said, ‘Yes, I’d love to.'”

The view of the bees

Despite working against the scenic backdrop of the rolling Adelaide Hills, Ms Helbers says rooftop hives can be difficult to manage.

“It’s a bit difficult to get the honey out because it’s so heavy going down the stairs,” he said.

“One full box of honey can weigh between 40-60 kilos. That’s why I don’t carry it myself.

“I tear it to pieces or get help from someone else.”

Beehives on fake grass under canopy on roof.
Ms. Helbers hopes to see more hives on the city’s skyline.(ABC Riverland: Eliza Berlage)

Then there’s the challenge of dealing with the elements of the great outdoors.

Ms Helbers says the optimum hive temperature for bees is around 34-45 degrees Celsius.

“We have issues where we can get very cold in the winter and I have to help them by giving them extra food like fake pollen or sugar water,” she said.

“Then in the summer we have to keep them cool, so we have to shade them and make sure they’re watered.

“A few years ago, on a really hot day in February 2019, we lost the right hive to the heat … so they all died in there.”

A woman's hand weaves beeswax products like a yellow bandage with bees and white tubes.
Ms Helbers found a network of like-minded bee lovers in Adelaide. (ABC Riverland: Eliza Berlage)

But the most important thing for every beekeeper is to be calm.

“Bees take it when you’re not quiet,” Ms. Helbers said.

“You have to sort of center yourself and it’s almost like meditation.

“You really have to pay attention to what you’re doing – one wrong tap on the box can set the bees off because they don’t like the vibration and they can get upset, which makes your job harder.”

Looking blonde white woman pointing at information sign about bees and other people.
Ms. Helbers organizes tours of the rooftop beehives and an educational exhibit.(ABC Riverland: Eliza Berlage)

Unite for biosecurity

When not tending to her Highland tenants, Ms. Helbers runs bee education programs in schools, does swarm removals and helps people build their own hives.

But while he would like to see more townspeople take up beekeeping, he says it’s a hobby that comes with responsibility.

“One of the biggest things we discuss when we do a backyard beekeeping course is biosecurity,” Ms. Helbers said.

“One of them is that even if you have only one hive in your garden, you need to register.

“I think five hives are free…not many backyards can hold five hives.”

A little red-brown parasite on the back of a honey bee.
The Braula fly is not considered a significant pest, but its detection on mainland Australia means authorities should be alerted.(Supply: Agriculture Victoria)

To protect the state’s beekeeping and horticulture industries from pests such as the Varroa Mite and Braula Fly, SA’s primary industry department strictly controls the movement of hives.

Of the 3,700 registered beekeepers in the state, 200 are commercial and the rest are recreational beekeepers.

However, Apiarist Alliance chairman Trevor Greenfield said 20 to 30 percent of keepers may register.

“If they sign up and understand the requirements of a good beekeeper, it really does the whole industry a huge favor,” Mr Greenfield said.

“That’s the real challenge we face — getting education out there.”

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