Beekeeping and Honey!

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.

Carpenter Bees:

 

Scientific Name: Xylocopinae

Species: 500

Sub-Species: 31

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!

Mason Bee:

 

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.

Cuckoo Bee:

 

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.

Bumble Bee

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.

Sweat Bee

 

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.


Pollinators January 13 2014, 0 Comments

I was first introduced to the notion of beekeeping, not for honey, but for pollination. I was lamenting to someone about my lovely veggie garden that didn't really produce any veggies. Off-the-cuff this someone said 'oh, you need a beehive' and something about that stuck.

Later, I started researching about what the sort of increase in pollination you can expect from an on site hive can be, and I began to get really excited about it. Quick searches were showing that pollination can increase from 30% to 100%. Many of the stats were from Government Ag Dep*1, and all of them showed a good-to-excellent increase of pollination directly attributed to on site beehives.

A gentleman came up to us on the weekend and spoke about being a canola cropper for a number of decades - and a beekeeper by default. He told us that before he started up with beekeeping, he was bringing in a yield of 600 kilos per/acre of canola a season. After he sited his hives, he was yielding 1000 kilos per/acre*2. That is an increase of more than 65%!

We have found the same in our garden. Each year we planted tomatoes, I would get about 2 per vine. Now, every flower produces a tomato and I get 8-10 tomatoes on each vine. So much Passata!

Why are bees so interested in pollen you may ask? Well, the plants and bees of the world have evolved together - bees need the high-protein pollen to feed the brood (they mix it with honey to create beebread) and the flowers need the bees to move the pollen around from flower to flower to fertilizer their sex-organs so they can reproduce by making fruit and later, seed. As they say, when you are deep in the bush, and you hear the melodic buzzing of insects, remember - that is millions of insects and plants trying to get laid! But, I digress. As the bees collect pollen in, they get brushed with it as well, and this travels with them to the next flower, where it brushes off and creates cross-pollination for flowers.

This is also why flowers have evolved to produce nectar. There is no benefit to the plant to produce nectar - in fact, it takes quite a lot of energy for the plant - but it is produced as a reward for a pollinator and many pollinators have evolved to use nectar as a food source. A bee will smell the sweetness of the nectar, and as it is always located at the bottom of the flower, she alights on the flower and rustles around in it to get to the back of the flower. This means that the pollen at the top of the flower will rub off onto her body, and since bees like collecting either pollen or nectar from the same type of flowers (rather than going from species to species) the plant has a double insurance policy of becoming fertilized, optimizing the chance of reproducing.

It isn't just bees that are pollinators: bees - solitary, bumble, carpenter, leafcutter and honey, hoverflies, but also butterflies and moths, a number of wasps, ants, thrips, bee flies, fruit flies, midgies, beetles, birds, possums and bats can be added to the list. Many species of plants can not reproduce without a pollinator, which includes most of our fruit and vegetables, and a number of crops that are fed to stock animals. And of course, they pollinate plants in the bush, in parks and gardens that provide the beauty of our landscape, oh, and the oxygen we breathe!

This year, Europe is predicting that there is a honeybee shortage ranging from less than a quarter needed in some areas to provide pollination services for food crops.*3

Our ladies are in a major decline and we need to seriously respect what they do for us but I think that is a post for another day.

Pic: Hoverfly approaching wattle flower.

*1:http://www.agric.wa.gov.au/PC_94123.html?s=1001

*2 1 Acre =  0.4 Hectare

*3 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25656283


Springtime is Nearly Here! August 28 2013, 0 Comments

Pretty flowersThe 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 reproductiveBee swarm 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