Beekeeping and Honey!
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...
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 ;-)
End of Summer March 24 2013, 0 Comments
I ended up with 3 days off from work this week because of a bee sting to the ankle that made my toes disappear. When I limped in to see Mr B later in the week, and told the story of my 'quiet achiever' hive (Number 4, delightful, calm bees - usually) who ended up chasing TC and me across the yard, and stinging us through the suits, well, he laughed! It was like a red hot poker went into my ankle and although I haven't reacted badly to stings in nearly a year, but this one was a doozy! Mr B started telling me that everyone's bees were cranky and the reason was because last week it rained, washing out all the nectar from the Marri's and after weeks of being 'kids in the candy store' the bees had nothing so yummy to keep themselves happy. Hence, grumpy, withdrawing-from-Marri, cranky kiddies who were bored and wanting to sting me! Mr B ended up with about 100 stings from one hive too, so I decided the 1 sting was fine!
Aside from the extracting, beekeepers need to site hives for the autumn and winter periods and decide how much honey stores to leave over the winter. This is tricky because you need an area that will have some chance of providing nectar/pollen for the winter - weather permitting the bees to fly and not washing it all out - but mostly importantly, that there is enough stores to get the bees through the winter when they can't fly. We will leave one full-depth super full of honey for them this year. This seemed like a good amount last year and we didn't have to feed at all last year. Whatever stores they don't use, we can harvest in September when they start gearing up anyway, so it's a win-win :-)
Inspections to settle any queen and brood issues, ensuring that the brood patterns are clean and circular, that the bees are healthy is paramount now. This is because this is the last few weeks of being able to re-queen if need be and do any splitting or combining of hives. Good ol' Aussie weather is so unpredictable, that I would NOT want to count on the good weather for much longer. Although we have consistently been having later hotter Autumns and colder, wetter Springs - I still don't want to trust the weather (and my bees) to the fickleness of the Australian-Weather gods!