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
April Update April 26 2018, 0 CommentsUpdate on the month that was April and coming up soon... Honey Month!
March Update March 13 2018, 0 Comments
Hello everyone! We are officially opened and have enjoyed the first week of trade at Yagan Square.
The general feedback for the precinct has been very positive - people enjoying the amazing food offerings, the reflective art works and meeting in a place that has been hosting gatherings for a millennia.
The opening ceremony was a simple, but thoughtful affair. I particularly enjoyed the traditional welcome to country dance and the singing of the song lines.
A big thank you to all the people who came on opening night in support of us, and those who made the effort over the first week to congratulate us! We really appreciate it, even if all we did was wave over the crowd at you!
Our Maylands shop should be back to normal this week too - our apologies for the messed around hours last week. Unfortunately, Mr T decided that last week was the best week to have his once-in-two-year flu! While it is always inconvenient for a SBO to be sick, it was rather tedious having it fall on this very busy week!
The bees have been very busy, and Mr T has harvested lots of Red Gum/ Marri from Boyup. He will be moving those hives, north to Chittering to take advantage of the slightly later flowering season north of the city. We will be looking at Wandoo (White Gum) sites in Watheroo and wildflower/Mallee sites in Menzies over the next few weeks to look at wintering the bees somewhere safe and warm.
***Guest Post***Josh Wells from Down By 12th November 22 2017, 0 Comments
A few weeks ago, I sat down and had a great conversation with Josh from Down by 12th - a local photographer, food extraordinaire and Maylands resident!
'We’re confident that bees are an important part of our ecosystem, but as consumers, we’re not always sure whether buying honey is helping, or hurting them. We spoke to Blaine Campbell from Honey I’m Home about terroir, sustainability, and honey, in order to find out how to get the best quality produce in a way which was sustainable and delicious.... ' Click here for the full article
Photo Credit: Josh Wells Down By 12th
***Guest Beek*** Introducing Simon Cousins May 10 2017, 0 Comments
I met Simon via an online Beek facebook forum and I remember very early on in our beekeeping 'career' driving up the freeway in peak hour traffic to collect our first swarm, madly messaging Simon, since it was the morning there, about what to do and his best tips!Over the years, we have exchanged laments about weather, information on our respective hive management, and eventually even honey!I asked Simon to do a guest blog for Honey Month, and it may even be a semi regular thing as Simon does some very interesting queen rearing and breeding!Why did I start keeping bees ?I call my little honey operation Stour Valley Honey, ( not Stour Valley Apiaries who are about eight miles away), which is a clue to where we are, at Wormingford, on the border of Essex and Suffolk, in the East Anglia region of England. This area is probably most famous for John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough the artists. East Anglia is quite flat and is quoted as being the driest part of the country.As I had planted a lot of soft fruit it seemed like a good idea at the time. Going back about fifteen years when I started it was a dying art; not so now with the great resurgence we have seen in the UK.Starting with one hive, it quickly grew to the 25 I have now, the soft fruit taking less priority as the Bees took over my life, as most beekeeper soon find out.As the sun comes back from being on loan to our friends in Western Australia, the season has got off to a good start.With some great weather in early spring, the Bees flourished, unfortunately however, we have all but lost our main spring crop of Oil Seed Rape, which seems to have fallen out of favour with farmers. So the work in hand is to make sure the bees don't swarm and are in prime condition ready for the Borage crop which is grown here.Our strain of Honeybee is the dark Western European Bee, which is very frugal with stores, goes out on colder, damper days thus storing more honey, the only down side being their fiery attitude!It has been said by people that have tried the more yellow Australian-type Honeybees is that they drink a lot of nectar and are very reluctant to go out on cold, damp days, they do however, have a great attitude and are good to work with.This summer we hope to rear some new queens from our best colonies, and increase our stock. This will need to be done early on, to enable the new colonies to build up strong before the wasp attacks and the coming of winter. (I mean real winter, minus figures!!)
I also work very closely with Assington Mill where rural courses are taught and I am responsible for all things Bees etc.
My real Job is Joinery and I have my own business: SP Cousins Joinery Ltd; this does work out handy when I need some beekeeping equipment, I can make it myself!
Miss T's thoughts on Bees February 05 2017, 0 Comments
This is a post written by our lovely Miss T!
Miss T’s Bee Facts
Lots of people think that bees aren’t nice because they sting, but bees are actually calm and lovely to work with. The reason they sting is because they either get stepped on or you swat at them.
The reason why we shouldn’t have bees extinct is because they are the reason we are alive. Without bees WE would be extinct because they pollinate trees and without trees we wouldn’t have oxygen and without oxygen we all would be dead.
When I go to Kings Park with my grandparents, I like to look in the flowers and the bees that are usually in the flowers. Sometimes it’s a blue banded bee which has blue and black stripes instead of black and yellow, or a Caucasian bee which has thin black strips and yellow strips, then there is usually the European bee which is the most commonly seen bee in Australia. I have seen a few leaves that have been cut from a Leaf-Cutter bee but I have never seen one because they are extremely shy. If you go to Kings Park you should try and identify a few bees on your iPhone.
I like my bees. When it’s winter and I see a bee on the ground, I pick it up and give it some sugar water. The sugar helps it warm up and by picking it up it will warm up more by the warmth of your body heat. After about 5 minutes the bee should fly off. If you don’t like bees, that’s fine, but don’t just step on her!
A story to remember why the comb is hexagonal is this one:
The bees are all deciding which shape to use for their comb, so one of them thought they could used circles but they have gaps in them when you tessellate them. Another one piped up and said ‘What about a square?’ but the other ones said that its hard do get it straight. So they looked at the other shapes. Finally they decided that the hexagonal pattern is the best one because it’s easy to make and it’s the best one to use the least amount of beeswax.
So that’s how they decided to use the hexagonal pattern!
I hope you enjoyed my thoughts and if you wish bees don’t exist than I suggest you to save up on oxygen!
Bio-security and honey May 09 2016, 1 CommentIt’s certainly that time of the year for everyone to escape the ‘bitter Perth winter months’ and head to somewhere warmer for a while. As people are returning, we often hear the complaint about how strict our airport and border security is regarding bringing in honey from interstate or overseas. So, I thought I would offer some information about the importance of our bio-security and why apiarists in Western Australia are pushing for even more bio-security measures, particularly throughout the port systems.
Western Australia is now among the safest place in the world for bees. We have the healthiest bees, the cleanest honey. We do not have the most deadly pest to bees – the Varroa Destructor Mite here in Australia. Yet. Nor to do we have the Small Hive Beetle, now endemic to the east coast of Australia. Other diseases such as AFB, EFB and a number of others are rare, isolated occurrences in WA, and because of our isolation, controlled easily and quickly (although full apiary sites must be destroyed if it is detected).
We want to keep it that way.
Many of the diseases we have in Australia can be traced back to imported honey and pollen products, mostly during the 1970’s and 80’s when the importance of tight bio-security was not understood properly. A further few have come in through the break out of swarm hives found in fruit that been imported from other countries.
The eggs of Varroa Destructor and other pests, and the spores for EFB/AFB are not visible to the naked eye. This means that raw honey products can contain any number of diseases.
Image: Left - Small Hive Beetle Lava
Right: Varroa Destructor Mite eggs growing on Bee Brood
‘But, I will be eating all that honey I bring in, it’s not going to the bees’, I hear you say!
Bees suck 0.004mg of nectar into their stomachs per trip to the hive. There will be honey left in the bottom of that jar, and it will end up in landfill (because let’s face it, recycling isn’t really a thing in Australia yet, even if you do put it in the right bin! But that is an issue for another day). The jar WILL attract bees. Maybe not straight away, but bees can detect nectar reliably up to 5km from their hives! In times of dearth, they will access ANY source for food, including sugar factories, MM factories (link) and landfill items.
The last dregs of honey will be about 1-2 teaspoons worth (approx 15ml or about 19g of honey). Trust me, I know my left over honey! That is enough for 76 bees to take back a load to their hives. Microscopic eggs/spores can be in that honey and within 3 days that hive is infected. Sick hives will abscond, move locations, and ‘healthy bees’ (infected, but not symptomatic) will join other hives in the local area. Across WA, we have a wild hive (unmanaged) every 2sqkm!
In other countries records of outbreaks show wild hives are the first to be decimated by a new disease, and then managed hives are next. When Varroa Destructor was detected in New Zealand in the late 1980's, the wild hives were destroyed within months, and the managed hives were nearly wiped out in one year. NZ beekeepers suffered losses of over 75% in the first year. It took decades to build back to sustainable levels of bees, and proactive investment from the NZ government.
Image: Worker with Varroa Destructor Mite
‘But, I’m not really keen on honey, I can go without it’…
I have heard this a few times. I don’t know how you could live without the golden nectar from the Gods, but I try not to be judgmental of peoples food choices ;-) Yes, you can live without honey. Food though? Every third mouthful of food you eat comes from a pollinator. 90% of all pollinators are bees (and virtually all commercial food crops requiring pollination are pollinated by bees). Here is a list of foods you would not have without our bees (link – the most important ones being coffee and chocolate!). Our agricultural industry accounts for 12% of the Australian GDP, and 65% of all agricultural crops rely on bee pollination. That’s 7% of our GDP that relies DIRECTLY on bee pollination. The effect of no pollination services will equate to food insecurity and loss of economic benefits. Is that pot of imported honey or bee pollen still worth it?
Take it one step further – bees pollinate many of our flowering trees. Our wild hives are responsible for much of this pollination and imagine the loss of flora diversity if bushland and forests aren’t being pollinated? Taking a selfish human perspective… what about the air we breath? Trees clean, filter and produce oxygen… where are we heading if we allow our bees to die? Just a thought...
‘But, I paid for it and I want my moneys’ worth!’…
Let’s go back to the ‘cleanest and greenest’ honey is from Western Australia bit. Coupled with our tight labeling laws and solid hive management practices, our honey in Australia is free from anti-biotics, not mixed with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fillers or watered down. When the label says ‘100%’ honey’, it almost always is! The same can't be said about other countries, where honey can be sold with corn syrup with it, and still legally labelled as 100% pure honey...
I can’t imagine you are getting your money's worth with an inferior product, possibly laden with antibiotics (as many countries have to use them to keep their bees alive. It is illegal to use them in Australia), not necessarily 100% honey, and possibly containing spores and eggs of diseases, and doesn’t taste as nice as WA honey! Ok, that last bit may be a little biased, Thyme and Lavender honey is pretty special, but you understand my point.
I hope that this explains the need for our strict bio-security, even from honeys from the east coast.
Image: Dead Out. From Disease or Pesticide. Sometimes it can take less then a day to kill an entire hive, sometimes weeks.
When we travel, we enjoy that regions honey, visit other honey producers and eat up big. But we don’t bring it home. Please leave it for someone else to enjoy in that region.
Image: Happy, healthy bees on comb!
Why does honey candy? April 18 2016, 0 Comments
It is coming to that time of year again, the cooler weather is finally upon us. And with it, 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!!
Raw honey will candy over time. Some on-comb inside the hive (such as a clover or canola) and others take many, many years (such as Jarrah). Honey is dehydrated nectar which is ~80% water. The bees dehydrate it to between ~14-18% water, the rest of the honey being combination of 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 nectar, each honey is slightly different in the resulting balance of fructose and glucose. Those with a slightly higher glucose amount will candy faster. Raw honeys generally have a GI index of 35-40, whereas a homogenized/pasteurized (heated) honey will be about 60-65.
The quality of candied 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 (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 candy process will be faster the second time around.
Using honey in cooking August 18 2014, 0 Comments
For the last few months, I have been writing our monthly newsletter, and including with it a receipe that includes honey.
Of course, this is the main reason I cook with honey rather than refined sugar being a more healthy sugar option - plus the taste is improved - but an additional bonus for cooking with honey is that you extend the life of your baked goodness. Since honey is a naturally occurring food preserver, using it in cooking keeps the moisture intact, and for every 1/2 cup of honey you use, you get about 1-1/2 extra weeks of life from your goods. And it will feel as fresh as the day you baked it!
It's actually a bit of trick to cook with honey; it isn't just about replacing your sugar. This is because it is also a liquid. So you have to reduce the amount of liquid you use in the ingredients list. You can generally replace honey 1:1 with sugar to replicate the same sweetness, however, you need to also reduce your liquids by about 1/3 to every 1/2 cup of honey you use. This is easy if you have milk in the receipe, I just cut the milk out of the receipe, but if there is no milk, you have to use trial and error to reduce some of the butter/oil of the receipe and the number of eggs you use.
Loaf: I reduce the oil by 1/3, and add my honey. If it is too sticky after mixing all the ingredients, I add another egg.
Cake: Milk is the first to be replaced, followed by butter. Reduce your butter by about 50g if you are adding 1/2 cup of honey.
Biscuits: Generally I cut an egg (for 1/2 cup of honey) if the receipe calls for 2 eggs. Reduce your butter if there is only 1 egg in the receipe.
Now PLEASE note, that the appearance and texture of your baked yummies will be different. Especially if you replace all your sugar with honey, rather than just some. The chemical makeup of the honey once baked, will make the receipe denser and bake to a golden-light brown. The first time I did my blondies (white chocolate brownies) they came out quite brown and I thought I had burnt them. But it was just the honey making them look a little more tanned ;-)
Trial and error is definitely the way to go, and if you are worried, just replace a little of your sugar with honey - this will at least give a little more life into your treats!
And don't forget to sign up to the newsletter if you don't want to miss out on the yummy honey receipes either! Just at the bottom of the page :-)
Ramblings about in KL, Malaysia July 14 2014, 1 Comment
It is cold here in Perth. The sun is shining beautifully, it looks cheery and inviting, but with the faint breeze, the cold bites and makes you shiver in the bright light...in case you didn't guess, I am missing the summer warmth. As my dad and I were mutually lamenting a few weeks back; after five months of the heat, we are complaining that some cool weather is in order, but after just a week of the cold, we are wishing back the hot sun!
We have just arrived home after a quick jaunt to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. It was hot - 32-34 degrees with 98% humidity and even with the sweat, it was heavenly to thaw out! We walked the malls, because as the number one shopping destination in South East Asia, it is a must. However, our favorite activities were not the epic halls of women's bags - sooo many bags - we loved the outdoor activities the most: KL Bird and Butterfly Parks, the long steps up to Batu Caves, braving the hawkers at Chinatown and Little India, and the best, KL Central Market.
We spotted only one bee in the time we were in KL - at the Bird Park. She was teeny tiny compared to a more full figured ladies here in Perth. Eastern Honeybees are more compact, and much more sensitive to management then their Western counterparts. Asian apiarists tend to collect a swarm at the start of the season, cross their fingers that the bees stay in the hive for a few months, and collect the honey once the bees abscond. Unlike our bees here, the Eastern Honeybee objects to interference and will only tolerate minimal management from the beekeeper.
The Butterfly Park was hot, humid and beautiful with the thousands and thousands of butterflies in the lush gardens. Across a vast, enclosed free-flight space, the butterflies chased each other and fed at the various feeding stations around the place.
Poor Mr T ended up having to defend his honour in Chinatown - after telling many vendors that I didn't like bags (shoes are a completely different matter!), the hawkers started telling Mr T to buy his wife a bag. He also told them that 'she doesn't like bags or want a bag' and every vendor started hassling him: 'every wife needs a bag, and wants a bag, and good husbands buy their wives bags'...Because they were ALL selling the same thing, and could hear every conversation we had, it spread like wildfire! We had a great laugh about it (really, I didn't want a knock off bag - or even a genuine one) because the next day, Mr T found a gorgeous tote bag for me at Central Market! Handmade by a local designer, collapsible for easy storage - and I got to choose all my own colours! I can't wait to use it for the beach this summer.
Central Market was more our style - handcrafts, handmade and local artisan products - and we wandered around letting the kids do some batik painting, talked with vendors about market in Perth, and even dunked our feet in the fish massage tank! It was very amusing and kinda gross too since the fish were literally scrapping off the dead skin from our feet :-/ This market was a permanent structure, similar to Subiaco Station Market and has been operating for over a century. It was very laid back and the vendors weren't pushy like the street markets at Chinatown and Little India. We all bought gifts, shoes (with bees on them!) and clothes there :-)
There was also a honey shop and it was interesting to chat with the lady who was running it. She was quite bemused at our constant chatter and when we wanted to try all the honey! The 'wild honey' in SE Asia tastes very similar to the maple syrup. It is very runny and light. The shop was offering bee pupae in tablet form, bee venom honey and some international honeys as well. The shop was certainly different to my little stall! We topped the night off by being invited up on stage during the cultural dance that was put on by some amazingly costumed dancers :-)
Now it is back to reality...and it's still cold!
Wintering Hives June 18 2014, 0 Comments
We have had a few 'life' things come up in the last month or so with MrT working away and me coming down with every bug that is floating around at the moment (thank goodness for honey for soothing the throat!) So we have been a little tardy with settling our hives down for the winter. I say winter, but I really mean: the time in WA when it is a bitterly cold for a month or so and it rains for a couple of days ;-)
The first winter we had with our bees, I freaked out about how much honey to leave the ladies with. Everything I read online was pretty much applicable only to places that have a real winter, so we ended up leaving lots of honey for them. It wasn't a problem, we just harvested what they left in the spring. But balancing what honey they will need for food, with the space that they will consequently need to keep warm over winter is a little tricky. Now after a couple of seasons, we are becoming more confident about gauging the strength of the hive and using long term forecasting of the weather for a guide. We tend to err on the side of slightly too much honey stores - mainly so that we don't have to supplement stores with sugar. Our bees tend to maintain the stores, since they can fly during the winter about 2 days out of every 4 - 5 days. When it is cold, windy or wet the bees don't tend to fly, so production grinds to a halt. Our observations have found that there is a very limited amount of food in the flowers (after rain washes out pollen and nectar) but because of our delightful winter sunny days between the big rain fronts, the bees can replenish a small amount of honey over the winter.
Here is a thermal image of a hive during winter. The bees cluster within the hive, around the Queen and brood, and spend time each day on the outside of the cluster, similar to penguins in Antarctica, before folding back into the cluster for food and warmth. Bees take turns inside the empty cells of comb to keep the brood warm so they can develop properly. They detach their wings from the socket and inside the cell they 'beat' their wings which causes vibration within their bodies that raise their body temps. This heat radiates from the bee to the brood in other cells. They can keep up to 8 other cells warm by raising their body temperatures to approx 44 degrees. This is about 9 degrees higher than their usual body temperature. Scientists are still baffled as to how they acheive this heat increase without cooking their brains!
From this picture, you can see the 'random' cells left empty. This is actually good planning from the bees to allow 'bee warmers' in to do their jobs! After looking at my hives in the yard and thinking (a little guiltily) how I need to do an inspection before the winter really sets in, I thought you all might like to see what other keepers do where they have a real winter.
UK: silver waterproof lining and hessian blankets. These keepers are very conscious of damp, which is worse for bees than cold temperatures, and have been careful to provide good ventilation.
(Photo: http://www.rosybee.com/blog/2010/12/beehives-in-winter, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/beekeeping/7740088/Readers-hives.html?image=1)
Northern US: These hives have slightly tapers tops for snow to drop off, and using a material lining, with black plastic over the top. The black absorbs whatever sun is out to add a little more heat inside the hive. In cold climates that don't have as much rain, ventilation area can be slightly smaller. The hives under all that snow would have the same...I think!
Here in Perth it is the heat that we worry about. The bees struggle with carting enough water to keep the brood cool. But that is a story for another day!
How much honey do you get? April 17 2014, 2 Comments
This is a question that I get asked very frequently!
The only other question I get asked more is...do you get stung alot? My answer to that one is 'not as much as you think!'
But the answer to 'how much honey do you get' is always a tricky and complex one, and I always feel like I am copping out when I say, 'well it depends'. Mainly because it does depend. It depends on the previous winter, the current weather, how much rain there has been in the last six months, and that week. It depends on how windy it is, what pressure systems are around, whether it is cold (under 20 degrees), or hot (over 33 degrees).
Previous winter: If the winter was a cold and rainy, then our big crops such as Marri or Wandoo (Red and White Gum respectively) will be all set to flower early in the 'season'. The beekeepers season in Western Australia is about September to March/early April. This is the time the bees are busy and the flowers are many. If the winter is like the one we had in 2013 - very cold and windy, but no rain - then most of the Eucalyptus delay in flowering, or do not flower at all, like a family favourite - Wandoo, which only has a secondary flowering period in March this year.
Spring: This is the time when the weather is warm, the Queen is revved up and laying up to 1000 eggs a day! Not my cup of tea, but thankfully I just have to worry about my 2 little eggs ;-) Now, if you have a spring like 2013, wet and cold and very windy this means that the bees are preoccupied with warming what brood there is. It also means there is no pollen in the flowers as it is being washed out, so there isn't food to feed new brood. As it takes energy to warm the hive, and more energy to fly in windy, cold conditions, if bees can't get enough feed during this period, they miss out on their chance to capitalize on the honeyflow during early summer.
Summer: 2013 saw summer start with a bang, and go on and on. And on and on! Usually in WA, we see a few days at 35+, then drop down for a bit, then back up. This year, we had weeks on end of over 34+. Bees have to keep hives at 32-34 degrees all year round, and in the heat of 34+, this means they spend all day carting water to air-condition the hive. With the delay of big flower crops such as the Marri - which usually flowers in November - but didn't start until late January, many hives were light on stores. Many beekeepers had to feed over the summer, because there was no nectar or pollen for the bees. This is very unusual, as feeding periods are normally winter if needed.
At the moment: This year lots of keepers are finding that the harvests are late, if at all. Yields are down from the previous two seasons. I am taking honey only from my strongest hives, and only looking at supers that have more than 5 frames full in them, taking only 1 or 2 at a time. This means that my ladies will have stores all through the Autumn, and enough to tide them over the Winter.
So, how much honey do I get? The short answer: it depends!
Desert Beekeeping December 09 2013, 3 Comments
I was chatting to a fellow beekeeper earlier in the month and he told me this great story:
Back in the Sixties, there were no restrictions on beehives, honey or basically any sense of bio-security. So, this old fellow was transporting a semi-trailer of beehives from the East Coast, back to Perth across the Nullarbor. More than 200 hives on the back of this truck, summer and stinking. And if you've seen a beekeepers truck, the 'modern' ones you see now are all from the 70's - old, faded, farting and rusty buckets held together with tape and cable ties. It is hard to imagine what the truck was like in the 60's!
(Photos Source: Wikipedia and Tourism Australia)
The hives had been emptied of all the honey, except what the bees needed to eat for the week's journey across the desert, because when hives are full they can weigh more than 60kg each! Honey is 1.3 times the density and weight of water. Millions of bees would have been on this truck as it set off into the horizon.
Almost two weeks later, he finds his way back to the truck. Dusty and pretty cranky from all the messing about with truck parts, he's glad to find his truck and hives untouched. Waving the truckie who gave him a lift 'goodbye' he plods over to his truck, only to find...ALL his tires, EVERY one was flat!!
(Photo Sourced: http://blogs.sun-sentinel.com/crime-and-safety/2011/04/05/coping-with-a-tire-blowout)
Who would risk the stings from the bees to vandalize a broken down truck?! Why would someone be so petty and stupid to slash 18 tires?
At least his ladies were still buzzing around the truck. He wandered about, looking for more damage, and realized he could smell something...something familiar...honey...Scratching his head, puzzled, the beekeeper looked again at the blown out tires, looked at the hives, smelt the honey in the air and realized...
No-one had vandalized his truck. There had been a honey flow, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DESERT, and his ladies had laid down full supers of honey! Remember how heavy honey is? Those bees had laid down so much honey, that the weight of the hives had blown the tires of the truck out!
So the beekeeper turned back to the road, and, stuck out his thumb again!
Hurry up Spring! September 11 2013, 1 Comment
The ladies aren't very happy this week - the rain is back and they are very itchy to be out and about. Some of the spring flowers are starting to come out and the ladies have been looking longingly from the alighting board waiting for the wind and the rain to roll over the horizon.
On the warmer day or two that we had last week, the hives have been a-buzz with activity and the smell from hives has been HEAVENLY! We have missed working with the ladies and have found ourselves looking longingly back at them wondering how the Queens are going, how the brood is looking and what the honey in there will be like. I have mentioned before that we try hard not to open the hives up over the colder months, to avoid the ladies having to expend too much energy on warming the hives back up. The bees keep the hives at a constant temperature of between 32-34deg C and this takes a lot of effort on their part. Here in WA, rather than rely totally on honey stores over the winter depleting them to almost nothing by the time spring comes, the bees tend to maintain stores, adding to what is left by us at the start of the cold months. The honey they slowly work on as weather permits is a mixed bag of winter flowers (mostly Eucalypts) and always a lovely surprise in the Spring.
Often we get asked, but doesn't it all taste the same? The quick answer is NO! Every harvest of honey is a different color and viscosity, and a different taste. This is from the flowers that change over the seasons and what is available for the bees to take back home. Look at the different in colors in this picture - and I can guarantee they don't taste the same either!
To get a specific honey - Red Gum, Blackbutt, Jarrah, Salvation Jane, Mallee - the hive has to be sited in an area where the predominantly flowering plant is Red Gum or Jarrah etc. Depending on the chemical make up of the nectar and how is reacts to the enzymes the bees mix it with (and how it reacts to the what the ladies do to it - eating it, regurgitating it, fanning it and repeat!).
Spring is coming... we hope!
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!
Springtime is Nearly Here! August 28 2013, 0 Comments
The ladies are unimpressed with the rain this week. They were just starting to stretch their wings on the glorious weather we just had, basking in the warmth of the late winter sun and being a little feisty too. Now they are house bound again, they are looking out longingly past the rain, dreaming of the day they can fly again.
When it is too cold, wet or windy, the bees don't, can't fly. If it's cold, the energy required to keep in the air with full pollen baskets is too much and they fall short of the hive. Too windy or wet, similar problem- they can also get caught in crosswinds or get blown off course and lost. Once the weather is warm for more than a couple of weeks, it will be time for us to don our bee-keeping astronaut suits (thanks kids for that image) and do our post-winter inspections.
We haven't seen inside a hive since late May and are quite looking forward to it! Over the cold months, we won't open up a hive unless we think there is a problem. The ladies keep the hive at a constant temperature of between 32-34C over the winter months, using energy to warm brood and get honey stores ready to eat. Every time you open the hive, the bees have to expend even more energy to get the hive warmth up again.
Once spring hits, so does swarm season and this is when we have our work cut out for us. Swarming is the naturally occurring reproductive cycle of a hive to expand the current hive and procreate. A swarm is generally very docile and easy to handle. This is because before they leave the hive, the bees gorge on honey stores to tide them over until they have set up shop elsewhere. Honey gorging = Honey drunk! And as the ladies don't have any brood or stores to protect, so they are generally pretty chilled once they have 'hung up' (big ball hanging up on a tree branch or under an eave).
For spring, pollinator friendly gardens are really important. Because all of our pollinators are busy breeding, gaining strength after the cold months, they need lots of nectar! So get planting people! Even for those of you who only have a balcony or patio, a wall-hanging garden, pallet garden or planter box will be a great addition to your home, and help out a bee or butterfly :-)
Good for Bees or an idle Pollinator:
Blues - Borage, Rosemary, Lavender, Basil, Thyme, Salvias, Hyssop
Pinks, reds - Sage, Bottlebrush, Poppies, Asters
Yellows - Sunflowers, Daisies, Daffodils, Dahlias, Marigolds, Melons, Tomatoes
Winter Prep/ Re-Siting Hives May 20 2013, 0 Comments
Well it has been a very busy time personally and of course, winter preparation for the bees is quite time consuming as well. We have been using some 'spare time' over the last couple of weeks before we move house to do Winter Prep.
This involves re-coating the supers with Lanotec - a bee friendly lanolin based weather proofer, full hive inspections to ensure brood patterns are looking good, queen sightings (presence and health check), checking the bottom boards are clear of debris and a last harvest of any last summer honey to be had (of which we managed to get 6 frames out). We also put two hives back down to just the two boxes (1 brood, 1 super) so they all have a brood and one full super full of honey over the winter period.
Over the winter they tend to 'maintain' the honey stores rather than rely totally on the stores, but you can never tell how Australian weather will pan out and I like to make sure they have plenty over the wet months. I always try and leave enough so I won't have to feed the ladies sugar syrup, and last year they only went through about 4 frames of their stored honey, so we got off to a good start harvest wise in the spring when we supered up for the spring brood/honey flow.
So with all that done, the next thing to do was to prepare two of our hives for transport to our new site in Chittering. We met a lady a while ago who said she was happy to have beehives on her property of 6 acres backing onto state Jarrah and Marri forest! Last night after the ladies were all home after the lovely sunny day, we tucked the guards in (with only one hiccup for me *sting* insert sad face here!) and strapped the hives together. I have been told a couple of funny (and horrible) stories of highway spills and bees invading cars etc and we both decided that was NOT a good option. Accordingly, we voted for a double strap system!
This morning we loaded without incident, listened to our very angsty ladies who were not impressed that they were locked away, and drove up to Chittering - minus highway escapees!
Upon arriving, we quickly got the stands level and and the hives into place. Having only previously sited nucleus hives before (or swarms that were fairly small), we found the huge rush to get out of the hive an amazing thing to watch! Lots of bees everywhere, housekeeping started and a few guards to let us know they were not amused, who thankfully did not try any funny business with Mr and Mrs L, the lovely owners of the land we were on.
On the way home, we congratulated ourselves on having NO EPIC FAILS on Great Northern Highway, with trucks and motorists mingling with very cross ladies! Go Us ;-)
Health Kick Honey April 15 2013, 1 CommentHoney has naturally occurring anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties that can be measured on what is called the 'Total Activity' (TA) scale. This is the measure of the chemical reaction that creates naturally occurring hydrogen peroxide which promotes healing and can reduce infections.
Picture From: www.friendsofqueensparkbushland.org.au
Location: Western Australia only. Jarrah flowers in the spring and early summer, every 2-3 years. It can live up to 1000 years.
Interesting Stuff: Jarrah wood was exported to the UK for the use of roads! The Jarrah tree is under pressure from logging and a fungal disease called Die-back that causes root-rot, similar to the disease that caused the Potato Famines in Ireland.
Honey Makeup: Jarrah is high in fructose, low in glucose, which means it will not candy for a LOOOONG time and makes it a low-GI food. It also makes it suitable for people with Diabetes to have it in small quantities (of course, please consult your doctor before adding to your diet).
Jarrah honey's TA can change depending on the season, but pure Jarrah honey has a TA of between 20 to 30+. The Total Activity Rating of Active Honey denotes the strength of the antibacterial potency of the honey, measured by the standard (phenol) bacteria-killing scale, as developed by Dr. Nolan at the Waikato Honey Research Unit, located at the University of Waikato.
It has high antibacterial and antimicrobial activity and due to its high hydrogen peroxide level, it has been shown to be effective against super bugs such as Golden Staph Bacteria and MRSA. Studies have also shown that it is effective in the treatment of ulcers, burns, colds, stomach bugs and lots more!
Jarrah honey has been recognized as having higher TA than Manuka honey and is very high in the list of foods containing antioxidants.
Uses: Jarrah has been dubbed the 'healing honey' and as such, it is more of a medicine cupboard honey, rather than a pantry one. Using it as a wash 50:50 with filtered water for eye infections, surgical wounds, cuts, ulcers etc. Making it into a tonic with some other 'supers' such as apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, quince, ginger, lemon, clove for colds, coughs, sore throats, stomach bugs etc. I know one fella who mixed quince, jarrah and vodka together and kept it for 10 years... having a nip one afternoon was definitely a treat, and of course, healthy as ;-)