Beekeeping and Honey!
July Update - and why does honey go hard? July 18 2018, 0 CommentsIt's a bit chilly folks! My bet is that most of you are drinking more tea, eating more carbs and rugging up with the doonas! And with with the cold, comes a time when the honey will start to harden, known as crystallization, granulation or candying.
I often get asked why it 'candies'; it is a quite a misunderstood phenomenon. Some people question whether this process means that it is an inferior product, poor quality or storage, or that it has been processed in some way. It is not. It is not off, it hasn't gone bad, so please do not chuck it out!! Crystallization is completely natural, and remember that honey never goes off. The oldest honey that was still edible found was 60,000 years old - we will all be heads in jars before the honey goes off!
All raw honey will candy over time. Some on-comb inside the hive (such as a clover or canola) and others take many years, if at all (such as Jarrah). Honey is dehydrated nectar (which is ~80% water). The bees dehydrate it to between ~12-16% water, the rest of the honey being combination of naturally occuring sugars (fructose and glucose). The granulation of honey occurs when the saturation of glucose within the remaining water of the honey has occurred and there is an overabundance of glucose molecules in the honey that form crystals.
Because of the slightly different chemical compositions of different nectars, each honey is slightly different in the resulting balance of natural sugars. Those with a slightly higher glucose amount will candy faster. Raw honeys generally have a low GI index of 28-32, whereas a homogenized/pasteurized (heated) honey will be about 65-75. Heating honey will delay the granulation of honey, not erase it completely. Heating does degrade the micro-nutrients and pollens that are in the honey, and the other qualities that make it a healthy sugar alternative.
The quality of crystallized honey does not change, only the texture. Some people actually prefer the grainy, thicker texture of a candied honey. Interestingly, honey can also slowly change colour (generally darker) and taste over time as well, similar to how wine can change over time.
Candied honey can be much easier for things like cups of tea or kids (non-drippy) and cooking (easier to measure for small quantities), however, if you prefer the liquid gold pop it in a pot of hot water or out in the sunshine on a warm day (with the lid well sealed). The ambient temperature over the day, at about 25 degrees or more, should bring it back to liquid by the time you get home from work! Do not put it in the microwave - it will be too hot, and if you don't gentle warm it, the crystalizing process will be faster the second time around.
To celebrate the re-launch of our
Losing a hive July 29 2014, 0 Comments
All the books and blogs tell you that you will loose a hive. They all say it will happen to you at some point: either by some mistake you make, from starvation or dehydration or some catastrophic failure from an outside factor...
Well, this last week it happened to us. And it really sucks.
We were finishing up our winter inspections of the various sites around Perth surrounds, and had headed out to site. The hives seemed a bit quiet, and even the property owner had commented on how quiet one hive seemed. After we set up the table, equipment and lit our smoker, we opened up the first hive. The super was pretty quiet, and as we started looking into the brood box we knew there was a problem. There was almost no brood (larvae that has been sealed off to metamorphose into bees). What brood was there was scattered and there was almost no lavae and NO eggs. We saw the Queen on the third frame and she looked well - the workers were deferring to her when she stopped walking on the frame. If the workers had rejected the Queen they would be either aggressive to her, or ignore her when she walked close by.
We quickly closed up the box after inspecting the other 7 frames and put the super back on. We decided the leave the super on for the time being because we were uncertain about why the Queen wasn't laying.
Over to the other quiet hive, and we only saw a couple of bees go in and out. The moment we opened the super we knew something was very wrong. The smell was unusual - stale and slightly musky - and along the tops of the frames, instead of the usual small amount of free comb and propolis, there was wax moth. Alot of it. With a sinking feeling, we pulled out a couple of frames there was no presence of bees on the frames. Pulling the super off, the brood box was worse - no bees and full of wax moth eggs. No signs of diseases, no mess on the bottom board, and less than 100 bees.
With the weakness in the first hive, and this hive completely gone, we packed up, gave a brief explanation to the property owner and decided to go directly to our Guru Beeman and ask his advice. On the way there, I Googled wax moth to find out why it was present in the hives. Having only read about it in books, seeing it reality was terrible and I couldn't remember whether it was a cause of hive failure or a symptom. It turned out wax moth can only gain a foothold in a hive that is severely weakened or dying. They will take advantage of ill health and slow/non present guard bees. The moth will lay eggs in the comb, and use comb and honey to develop from egg to moth.
After explaining the history of the hives, and the current situation of the hives, our Beeman told us that in his opinion; it was 99% certain that an outside factor was responsible for the demise of the hives, namely chemicals. Although it was a strong hive by the end of summer, this particular hive had a small die off in the summer, and another last spring. It recovered from both of these, and after explaining to our Beeman what the die-offs were like, he told us it was certainly not dehydration (as we had assumed) but over exposure from poorly applied pesticides. He explained that with some pesticides, the guard bees can smell it on the forager bees, and won't let them back in the hive. Others they can not smell on them and that is how they make their way into the hive (or they have been ingested and are laid down into the honey). Very soon, the Queen is exposed to a chemical and if she is damaged, the hive can die within 3 weeks. Sooner if the chemical is actively killing off the bees. If the bees brush up against the chemical, they will pass in onto many bees inside the hive if they are allowed to walk it back in, because bees are very tactile. They crawl all over each other - they clean each other and walk over each other and even pass nectar from themselves to other bees (like mother birds feed baby birds). This is why diseases and chemicals spread so easily within a hive.
This all happened quickly, within a few weeks and these strong hives have become extremely weak hives. Our Beeman listened carefully to our story and told us that in his experience of decades of beekeeping he had had more problems with pesticides in 'hobby' farm areas (or semi-rural) than in full agricultural areas. He suggested that because full-time farmers are more heavily regulated, and better educated as part of their livelihood, they tend to use chemicals differently than hobby farmers. Closer to season, closer to dusk, less liberally (because they have to spend so much money on it!) and if they have pollination services attached to the farm, they move hives away during spraying times.
In any case, Mr Beeman told us to feed up the alive Queen in the remaining hive and try and limp her along until Spring. There are no Queens available to re-Queen with during winter, and we can't weaken another hive by giving them a frame of brood to get them to raise another one. The bees are only producing enough bees at this time of year to maintain enough workers to get to spring. Feeding sugar syrup may entice the Queen to think there is a honey flow and re-start her laying. Mr Beeman also suggested crossing our fingers.
Mr T went out a couple of days later to collect the dead hive and reduce the live hive to one box (less energy to keep 2 boxes warm) and feed up the ladies. He said that there was a small amount of eggs on one frame, so hey, maybe the finger crossing worked...I'll keep you posted...
Cast in 'The Hive' - Part 3 'The Workers' September 02 2013, 0 Comments
The Directors, Executive Producers, Screen Writers, Casting, Stunt Co-Ordinators, Location Managers, Production Designers, Art Directors, Set Designers, Head Carpenters, Accountants, Props Master, Costume Directors, Make-up Artists, Cinematographers, Sound Mixers, Dolly Grips, Gaffers, Film Editors, Sound Editors and General Lacky... :-)
The Worker bees do pretty much everything! They are the bees you see in the flowers flying around. They are the bees that work themselves to death in about 6 weeks in Summer and die on the wing. The Workers are fuzzy, yet sleek, medium in build and wing size. Once a female Worker eats her way out of her cell in the comb, she is 'born' and her life begins by cleaning out her cell. From there she will share with her sisters a range of duties including:
Housekeeping, Undertaking, Nursing, Queen Attendant, Nectar Exchanger, Fanning, Engineering Comb, Guarding the Hive Entrance and then Field Work.
In her lifetime, a Worker will make approximately 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of honey in total. She visits between 50-100 flowers per trip. She works in the hive until that last week or so of her life, and then become a forager outside of the hive. After about 8-10 days of this, she will usually die from exhaustion. When you see a bee in a flower, look at her wings and if you are very observant you will see how tattered her wings are. The older a bee is the more her wings are dull and broken. New bees have glossy, perfectly shaped wings and as they mature, their wings reflect how hard they work.
Worker bees can communicate with their sisters in a very clear and concise manner. If she finds an exceptional amount of food (pollen or nectar) or water in summer, she will 'dance' for the bees at the hive entrance. This is called the waggle dance, performed in a figure 8. It will show the other bees the direction on the food, the amount and the distance away from the hive. The length of the inside line between the top of the loops will show distance, the angle of the 8 compared to the sun at North and the hive, and the intensity of the dance will show the amount of food. A very fast, tight 8 shows a lot of food; a more relaxed 8 shape shows less food. This is why you can suddenly have hundreds of bees buzzing around a open soft drink can in summer when you only saw 1 bee!
First Split February 14 2013, 0 Comments
Over the spring we noticed that our first ever hive, dubbed the very original name of 'Hive 1' was getting very full. As in VERY full. Even on the 'cooler days' there were bees all over the front of the hive, and at 2 full depth supers already on the brood box there was no way we were going to repeat the lunacy our first summer and go to 3 supers! As novice beekeepers we made the mistake of supering up, but failed to harvest at the same time, which lead to the problem of a huge summer hive with no space. Having read in the books about this magical solution, we added another super, then another... You get the picture, and by the end of summer, trying to do anything with Hive 1 was near impossible.
Soooo. After reading more, and some free advice from the local beeman - 'oh, ya don't need more than 2 supers' (you know what they say about free advice) we got them to a manageable 2 supers over 'winter'; you know when it is supposed to rain but doesn't (I have read about winters in books too) and waited for the activities of spring.
All through the spring we held our breath as we buzzed around the garden with our new nucleus and a caught/then hived swarm - dubbed, you guessed it, Hive 2 and Hive 3! And miracle upon miracle they didn't swarm. Even though alot of the bee books say that queens under the age of about 3 don't tend to swarm, the worry was there with such a strong hive. Finally, we plucked up the courage (probably bolstered by our successful removal of a hive out of a wall - Hive 4 - which is a story for another day) and decided to do a split.
Following the 3-P rule of preparation, preparation, preparation we picked a good weather day (only about 35degrees) and hopped to it. It started with removing the two supers from Hive 1, reducing the faces (exposed area of bees ie if the lid is off, that is an exposed face of bees), and opening up the brood box. BTW, a related side note. When getting a queen excluder - don't cheap out. Get a metal one that won't going to bend when it warms up. In Australia, the summer heat is HOT (we have had so many over 35's that I have lost count!) and the plastic ones bend. Add all the propolis the girls slather about and the excluder gets struck on the middle brood comb frames. As you go to lift the super from above, the frames stuck to the excluder, lift at the same time. This is NOT recommended! Your queen is most likely on these centre combs and if they get dropped, you run the risk of damaging her.
Anyway, back to the split-story. We decided to do a 4/5 frame split, leaving the queen in Hive 1 and taking about 1/2 of the brood combs to the new hive - Hive 5. We took 2 egg brood frames, 1 capped brood frames and 1 mixed brood. The egg brood is so the new hive can raise up its own queen. These must be less than 3 days old. This is because all bees are the same at this stage and can become either a worker or a queen bee, whereas at day 3 where their food changes and the nurse bees treat them differently. Once the hive realizes that there is no queen present (no queen substance can be smelt throughout the hive) they begin to raise a new one from the eggs on the frames, building a peanut shaped casing around a selected (or several) cells. We took all the house bees on those frames too, and shook quite a more bees into the new box too to add to the hive strength. Giving the new hive a variety of brood combs meant that there would not be so much of a gap between the raised queen's new bees and the old bees that would soon be passing. Summer is a hard time for the ladies; they tend to only last ~35 days and with a gap of about 18 days of no laying, there is a gap of about 2 weeks after the new queen starts laying.
It was fascinating to watch how despondent the bees became in the first three days without a queen - milling around on the alighting board, weaving back and forth on the sides of the box. It was like they had no sense of purpose that is so obvious with a 'normal' hive. Once the queen cells were built we saw renewed efforts in cleanliness, gathering behaviours and guarding the alighting board once more. At least, this is what we think because of course, we couldn't check inside the brood box to see if this was the case (with such upheaval if we had done an inspection, the bees would most likely have abandoned the attempt to re-queen themselves and absconded/swarm)About 8 days later we carefully cracked open the boxes, and to our delight, there they were - beautifully made queen cells. Unsure whether we should remove all but one, we left them and I hopped online to ask the other beeman about them. He suggested removing all but one, and I intended to... well you know what they say about intentions. Anyway, several days later, all the queens had emerged and upon inspection we found new eggs in the brood comb...
This weekend we will confirm Her Majesty by actually sighting her... how exciting!