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!


Hurry up Spring! September 11 2013, 1 Comment

The ladies aren't very happy this week - the rain is back and they are very itchy to be out and about. Some of the spring flowers are starting to come out and the ladies have been looking longingly from the alighting board waiting for the wind and the rain to roll over the horizon.

On the warmer day or two that we had last week, the hives have been a-buzz with activity and the smell from hives has been HEAVENLY! We have missed working with the ladies and have found ourselves looking longingly back at them wondering how the Queens are going, how the brood is looking and what the honey in there will be like. I have mentioned before that we try hard not to open the hives up over the colder months, to avoid the ladies having to expend too much energy on warming the hives back up. The bees keep the hives at a constant temperature of between 32-34deg C and this takes a lot of effort on their part. Here in WA, rather than rely totally on honey stores over the winter depleting them to almost nothing by the time spring comes, the bees tend to maintain stores, adding to what is left by us at the start of the cold months. The honey they slowly work on as weather permits is a mixed bag of winter flowers (mostly Eucalypts) and always a lovely surprise in the Spring.

Often we get asked, but doesn't it all taste the same? The quick answer is NO! Every harvest of honey is a different color and viscosity, and a different taste. This is from the flowers that change over the seasons and what is available for the bees to take back home. Look at the different in colors in this picture - and I can guarantee they don't taste the same either!

From: thisiscolossal.com website
From: thisiscolossal.com website

To get a specific honey - Red Gum, Blackbutt, Jarrah, Salvation Jane, Mallee - the hive has to be sited in an area where the predominantly flowering plant is Red Gum or Jarrah etc. Depending on the chemical make up of the nectar and how is reacts to the enzymes the bees mix it with (and how it reacts to the what the ladies do to it - eating it, regurgitating it, fanning it and repeat!).

Spring is coming... we hope!


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