Beekeeping and Honey!
April Update April 26 2018, 0 CommentsUpdate on the month that was April and coming up soon... Honey Month!
***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!
Monkey Bees... March 21 2017, 1 Comment
I meet Beeks from all around the world - both in person when they have travelled, and also online. Some of the best hive management advise I have had was from fellow Beeks on line, and even though we haven't met, it's been great developing relationships and sharing knowledge about bees across the globe.
I met a Beek from England recently at the Shop and he told me this story that I have to share with you all!
So this Beek keeps bees in a designated organic area in the south of England in Dorset. His hives also happen to be within coo-wee of Monkey World. And yes, there is a real place called Monkey World (they rescue primates, rehabilitate if they can, help governments prevent illegal smuggling). So, one afternoon he gets a call from a nice Monkey Lady (or possibly Monkey Man!) asking him if owned the hives that were next door and if they had possibly swarmed? They had a swarm of bees at Monkey World.
Regardless of whether the swarm was from his hives, he asked if they would like them removed. With a polite 'yes please', said Beek gathered his beekeeping gear, a spare box and drove out to Monkey World.
He was escorted through the centre, later in the afternoon just before feeding time. And was promptly pointed to the chimpanzee enclosure. There was a large tire in the middle of the enclosure, with a lovely neat swarm tucked into it. However, there was also a large family group of chimpanzees. Loose. In the enclosure.
The Monkey Lady gestured to the gates and promptly started opening the first safety gate, and the Beek was like:
'uh, 'mam, I can't go in there'... the Lady looked puzzled and asked, 'but why not?'
'um, because there are ravaging monkey hoards in there' (emphasis mine, this guy was pretty English)
'Oh, they wouldn't hurt you, just don't make any sudden moves, I mean, your bees are waaaay more dangerous' (again, emphasis mine, because, again English = stoic)
'I would really, rather prefer if there wasn't chimpanzees in there while I collect the swarm'
'Mmm. Well, I suppose I can sort something out'. And with that, mumbled something in a two-way and a loud whistle sounded. The chimpanzees looked up, and scuttled out of the enclosure, and into another area - the secure night area out the back. After reassuring the Beek, with a mild look of bemusement, that the chimpanzees would not escape just at the moment he swept the bees into the hive, he carefully stepped into the enclosure.
The rest of the afternoon went by smoothly, with a lovely swarm caught in a box, and taken away, sans ravaging chimpanzee hoards!
Bees bees bees! February 17 2017, 0 Comments
There are more than 25,000 recorded species of bees in the world, which can be broken down into 9 families of bees (under the banner of Apoidea). The ‘honeybee’ belongs to the Apidea family, and contains 10 sub species (and a hybrid). Apis mellifera is the honeybee that is most commonly kept for honey production and pollination services. From my other blogs, you can learn about our bee-autiful ladies, but for this one I have collected a little snippet of info on some of our other bees, starting with one of our cutest Aussie bees!
Teddy Bear Bees
Scientific Name: Amegilla bombiformis
Origin: Australian Native, east coast.
Description: Golden, furry and bumblebee shaped, about 7-15mm big.
Behaviour: Teddy-bear bees are solitary, with a female building a pollen, nectar and egg cell in the ground. They have a distinct buzz when flying and this means they are often mistaken for bumblebees.
Attitude: Oh dear, can't we all just get along? (These bees are preyed on by other bees and birds).
Cuteness Factor: 10/10
Factoid: These Teddy Bears are very efficient buzz pollinators.
Scientific Name: Xylocopinae
Distribution: World wide
Description: Black and shiny, with some sub-species having flashes of yellow.
Behaviour: Generally solitary in nature, these bees have gained their names from their burrowing into solid wood.
Attitude: I chew out wood, and make it my b*tch, I mean, nest. That makes me a bad ass! There are YouTube channels dedicated to stopping my awesome power!
Factoid: One Carpenter bee species lays the largest recorded egg of any insect!
Leaf Cutter Bees:
Scientific Name: Megachilidae
Distribution: World wide
Description: The general size of a honeybee, generally black and white stripes, however, this varies from species and distribution.
Behaviour: Solitary in nature, these bees have gained their names the neat circles they chew out on soft leaf plants, such as roses. They roll the small disc and add eggs, pollen and small amount of nectar to the cells they make. Unlike honeybees who carry pollen on their legs, Leafcutter bees carry their pollen on their abdomen.
Attitude: I like to watch... These bees are very shy and the only reason you know they are around is from their little cut outs.
Factoid: The Leafcutter Bee would prefer to bite you, before it would sting you!
Scientific Name: Megachilidae osmia
Distribution: Northern Hemisphere
Description: Generally metallic green or blue, about the size of a honeybee
Behaviour: These solitary bees utilize the abandoned hollows of a carpenter bee, hollows in trees etc. The female uses mud to create cells for food and eggs.
Attitude: I’ll borrow that, thanks! They take the opportunity to use any old thing for their nests.
Factoid: The Mason bee is so cheeky, they have been known to use abandoned snail shells as homes.
Scientific Name: Nomadinae
Distribution: World wide
Species Info: 31 genera, 10 tribes
Description: Metallic blue and black, with reduced hair and no pollen baskets on their legs. Rather wasp-like in appearance, these bees are one of the least evolved bees.
Behaviour: These bees lay their eggs in other bees and insects nests, hence the name ‘cuckoo’ bee. In some cases, the Cuckoo Bee will take over the small nest and kill the Queen.
Attitude: Can’t be bothered, you do it! These bees live a life of deception and intrigue!
Factoid: They often sleep grasping a plant stem with just their mandibles.
Scientific Name: Apidae bombus
Distribution: Northern Hemisphere, introduced to some parts of the Southern Hemisphere, such as New Zealand and Tasmania
Species Info: 250 species
Description: Fuzzy, furry (the fuzz is called ‘pile’) and dopey, this black and yellow bee ranges in size from 1.9cm to about 4cm.
Behaviour: A social bee, the Bumble will form small colonies (compared to the Honeybee), sometimes underground of about 50-400 bees.
Cuteness Factor: 10/10. Cuteness personified, only rivaled by puppies and baby puggles.
Attitude: None. They are dopey happiness balls that fly.
Factoid: Bumblebees have no ears. This does not reduce their cuteness in any way.
Scientific Name: Halictidae
Distribution: World wide, uncommon in Australia.
Species Info: Large family of bees, more than 1000 species in Northern America alone. The common family of bees, other than the Apis family.
Description: Small, petite bees, dark or metallic in colour. They gain their common name by being attracted to the smell of salt, including human sweat. Don't be put off by the name - these bees are very pretty and petite.
Behaviour: Some Sweat bees are solitary, others hive together in a social manner. They can build nests almost anywhere, including in dry, bare dirt.
Factoid: This family contains some nocturnal bees.
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!
Bees in Australia April 15 2015, 2 Comments
Did you know there are over 25,000 species of bees in the world? From those, only about 10 are the 'true' honey bee that we associate with Pooh-bear and his pots of honey. European honeybees (Apis mellifera) were introduced into Australia in 1822. We do not have any bumblebee species on mainland Australia, however a species of bumblebee was accidentally introduced to Tasmania in 1992.
In Australia, we have just over 1,500 species, about 6% of the worlds species. Most of these are solitary, raising young in burrows in the ground or small borer holes in trees. There is not a queen, worker or drone, but rather a single female who raises an individual nest similar to a bird. Although they have stingers, most Australian bees stingers are too small to deliver a proper sting!
Only 10 species of Australian bees are social bees (communal, living in hives) and these are stingless. They are not quite as developed as the European honeybee, but have a complex social behaviour. They do not produce a high amount of honey, however, they are becoming more popular for use in pollination services in Northern Australia. Australian bees are used for Macadamia pollination and Blue-Banded bees are being studied in greenhouses for tomatoes as they use 'buzz' pollination and have proven to be more effective for pollination in short-term studies.
The smallest native bee in Australia is Cape York's Minute Bee (Quasihesma) and is only 2mm long! Our largest bee is the Northern Carpenter Bee, who lives in tropical northern Australian and parts of northern NSW. This bee reaches 24mm, which is not quite as big as the largest of the bees at 39mm (Megachile pluto - leafcutter bee from Indonesia).
We have some very pretty bees in Western Australia, (many endemic) species such as the Blue Banded Bee and the Teddy Bear Bee (see below).
Native bees are vital to our environment due to the specialized pollination many of our flora require. You can attract native bees to your garden by building a native insect hotel, or planting native species guaranteed to entice them to you! These include: Abelia grandiflora, Angophora, Baeckea, Buddleja davidii, Callistemon, Eucalyptus, Grevillea hybrids, Hardenbergia violacea, Lavandula, Leptospermum, Melaleuca and Westringia.
References: Aussie Bee Website