Beekeeping and Honey!

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.

(Photo Source: http://glaciercountyhoney.wordpress.com)
Three days later, the trucks gear box blew out! In the middle of no-where, with no phones, no servo...So this beekeeper opens up the truck's engine bay, yanks out the offending gear box, and proceeds to open up all the hives on the truck. He can't leave the ladies locked inside the hives for the week it is going to take to hitch to Perth, get the repairs done and then hitch back to the truck. So, hoping they can find forage and water, he sticks his thumb out and waits for a ride!

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!

(Photo Sourced: http://inspiringtravellers.com/2010/03/22/how-to-hitchhike-around-australia/)

 

 

 


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.

Lanotec-ing Lanotec-ing

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.IMG_0779

Packed away in the middle of the night!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.

IMG_0782

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 ;-)