Beekeeping and Honey!

March Update March 13 2018, 0 Comments

Hello everyone! We are officially opened and have enjoyed the first week of trade at Yagan Square. 
The general feedback for the precinct has been very positive - people enjoying the amazing food offerings, the reflective art works and meeting in a place that has been hosting gatherings for a millennia.
The opening ceremony was a simple, but thoughtful affair. I particularly enjoyed the traditional welcome to country dance and the singing of the song lines. 


A big thank you to all the people who came on opening night in support of us, and those who made the effort over the first week to congratulate us! We really appreciate it, even if all we did was wave over the crowd at you!

Our Maylands shop should be back to normal this week too - our apologies for the messed around hours last week. Unfortunately, Mr T decided that last week was the best week to have his once-in-two-year flu! While it is always inconvenient for a SBO to be sick, it was rather tedious having it fall on this very busy week!



The bees have been very busy, and Mr T has harvested lots of Red Gum/ Marri from Boyup. He will be moving those hives, north to Chittering to take advantage of the slightly later flowering season north of the city. We will be looking at Wandoo (White Gum) sites in Watheroo and wildflower/Mallee sites in Menzies over the next few weeks to look at wintering the bees somewhere safe and warm.


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...

 

 

 


Wintering Hives June 18 2014, 0 Comments

We have had a few 'life' things come up in the last month or so with MrT working away and me coming down with every bug that is floating around at the moment (thank goodness for honey for soothing the throat!) So we have been a little tardy with settling our hives down for the winter. I say winter, but I really mean: the time in WA when it is a bitterly cold for a  month or so and it rains for a couple of days ;-)

The first winter we had with our bees, I freaked out about how much honey to leave the ladies with. Everything I read online was pretty much applicable only to places that have a real winter, so we ended up leaving lots of honey for them. It wasn't a problem, we just harvested what they left in the spring. But balancing what honey they will need for food, with the space that they will consequently need to keep warm over winter is a little tricky. Now after a couple of seasons, we are becoming more confident about gauging the strength of the hive and using long term forecasting of the weather for a guide. We tend to err on the side of slightly too much honey stores - mainly so that we don't have to supplement stores with sugar. Our bees tend to maintain the stores, since they can fly during the winter about 2 days out of every 4 - 5 days. When it is cold, windy or wet the bees don't tend to fly, so production grinds to a halt. Our observations have found that there is a very limited amount of food in the flowers (after rain washes out pollen and nectar) but because of our delightful winter sunny days between the big rain fronts, the bees can replenish a small amount of honey over the winter.

Here is a thermal image of a hive during winter. The bees cluster within the hive, around the Queen and brood, and spend time each day on the outside of the cluster, similar to penguins in Antarctica, before folding back into the cluster for food and warmth. Bees take turns inside the empty cells of comb to keep the brood warm so they can develop properly. They detach their wings from the socket and inside the cell they 'beat' their wings which causes vibration within their bodies that raise their body temps. This heat radiates from the bee to the brood in other cells. They can keep up to 8 other cells warm by raising their body temperatures to approx 44 degrees. This is about 9 degrees higher than their usual body temperature. Scientists are still baffled as to how they acheive this heat increase without cooking their brains!

From this picture, you can see the 'random' cells left empty. This is actually good planning from the bees to allow 'bee warmers' in to do their jobs! After looking at my hives in the yard and thinking (a little guiltily) how I need to do an inspection before the winter really sets in, I thought you all might like to see what other keepers do where they have a real winter.

UK: silver waterproof lining and hessian blankets. These keepers are very conscious of damp, which is worse for bees than cold temperatures, and have been careful to provide good ventilation.

 

(Photo: http://www.rosybee.com/blog/2010/12/beehives-in-winter, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/beekeeping/7740088/Readers-hives.html?image=1)

Northern US: These hives have slightly tapers tops for snow to drop off, and using a material lining, with black plastic over the top. The black absorbs whatever sun is out to add a little more heat inside the hive. In cold climates that don't have as much rain, ventilation area can be slightly smaller. The hives under all that snow would have the same...I think!

Snow covered bee hives at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA

(Photo:http://homebuggarden.blogspot.com.au/2010/12/rugged-up-until-spring-mammalian.html, http://brookfieldfarmhoney.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/hive-configuration-at-brookfield-farm/hivesinsnow4web/)

Here in Perth it is the heat that we worry about. The bees struggle with carting enough water to keep the brood cool. But that is a story for another day!

 


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


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.

Lanotec-ing Lanotec-ing

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.IMG_0779

Packed away in the middle of the night!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.

IMG_0782

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

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!