Beekeeping and Honey!

End of Summer March 24 2013, 0 Comments

Coolibah BeeThis time of year is FLAT-OUT for beekeepers - there is the summer Red Gum/Marri honey that needs to come in and be extracted - the flow has been very prolific for the last 4-5 weeks. My local wholesaler, Mr B, a career beekeeper for probably 35 years or more, has been waiting for a number of weeks for the honey to make into the shop but the keepers are so busy they can't spare even an hour to bring it in for some pocket money.

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!


First Split February 14 2013, 0 Comments

Over the spring we noticed that our first ever hive, dubbed the very original name of 'Hive 1' was getting very full. As in VERY full. Even on the 'cooler days' there were bees all over the front of the hive, and at 2 full depth supers already on the brood box there was no way we were going to repeat the lunacy our first summer and go to 3 supers! As novice beekeepers we made the mistake of supering up, but failed to harvest at the same time, which lead to the problem of a huge summer hive with no space. Having read in the books about this magical solution, we added another super, then another... You get the picture, and by the end of summer, trying to do anything with Hive 1 was near impossible.

Emerging Worker BeeSoooo. After reading more, and some free advice from the local beeman - 'oh, ya don't need more than 2 supers' (you know what they say about free advice) we got them to a manageable 2 supers over 'winter'; you know when it is supposed to rain but doesn't (I have read about winters in books too) and waited for the activities of spring.

All through the spring we held our breath as we buzzed around the garden with our new nucleus and a caught/then hived swarm - dubbed, you guessed it, Hive 2 and Hive 3! And miracle upon miracle they didn't swarm. Even though alot of the bee books say that queens under the age of about 3 don't tend to swarm, the worry was there with such a strong hive. Finally, we plucked up the courage (probably bolstered by our successful removal of a hive out of a wall - Hive 4 - which is a story for another day) and decided to do a split.

Following the 3-P rule of preparation, preparation, preparation we picked a good weather day (only about 35degrees) and hopped to it. It started with removing the two supers from Hive 1, reducing the faces (exposed area of bees ie if the lid is off, that is an exposed face of bees), and opening up the brood box. BTW, a related side note. When getting a queen excluder - don't cheap out. Get a metal one that won't going to bend when it warms up. In Australia, the summer heat is HOT (we have had so many over 35's that I have lost count!) and the plastic ones bend. Add all the propolis the girls slather about and the excluder gets struck on the middle brood comb frames. As you go to lift the super from above, the frames stuck to the excluder, lift at the same time. This is NOT recommended! Your queen is most likely on these centre combs and if they get dropped, you run the risk of damaging her.

Anyway, back to the split-story. We decided to do a 4/5 frame split, leaving the queen in Hive 1 and taking about 1/2 of the brood combs to the new hive - Hive 5. We took 2 egg brood frames, 1 capped brood frames and 1 mixed brood. The egg brood is so the new hive can raise up its own queen. These must be less than 3 days old. This is because all bees are the same at this stage and can become either a worker or a queen bee, whereas at day 3 where their food changes and the nurse bees treat them differently. Once the hive realizes that there is no queen present (no queen substance can be smelt throughout the hive) they begin to raise a new one from the eggs on the frames, building a peanut shaped casing around a selected (or several) cells. We took all the house bees on those frames too, and shook quite a more bees into the new box too to add to the hive strength. Giving the new hive a variety of brood combs meant that there would not be so much of a gap between the raised queen's new bees and the old bees that would soon be passing. Summer is a hard time for the ladies; they tend to only last ~35 days and with a gap of about 18 days of no laying, there is a gap of about 2 weeks after the new queen starts laying.

It was fascinating to watch how despondent the bees became in the first three days without a queen - milling around on the alighting board, weaving back and forth on the sides of the box. It was like they had no sense of purpose that is so obvious with a 'normal' hive. Once the queen cells were built we saw renewed efforts in cleanliness, gathering behaviours and guarding the alighting board once more. At least, this is what we think because of course, we couldn't check inside the brood box to see if this was the case (with such upheaval if we had done an inspection, the bees would most likely have abandoned the attempt to re-queen themselves and absconded/swarm)Raised Queen CellsAbout 8 days later we carefully cracked open the boxes, and to our delight, there they were - beautifully made queen cells. Unsure whether we should remove all but one, we left them and I hopped online to ask the other beeman about them. He suggested removing all but one, and I intended to... well you know what they say about intentions. Anyway, several days later, all the queens had emerged and upon inspection  we found new eggs in the brood comb...

This weekend we will confirm Her Majesty by actually sighting her... how exciting!