Beekeeping and Honey!

***Guest Beek*** Introducing Simon Cousins May 10 2017, 0 Comments

I met Simon via an online Beek facebook forum and I remember very early on in our beekeeping 'career' driving up the freeway in peak hour traffic to collect our first swarm, madly messaging Simon, since it was the morning there, about what to do and his best tips!
Over the years, we have exchanged laments about weather, information on our respective hive management, and eventually even honey! 
I asked Simon to do a guest blog for Honey Month, and it may even be a semi regular thing as Simon does some very interesting queen rearing and breeding!
Why did I start keeping bees ?
I call my little honey operation Stour Valley Honey, ( not Stour Valley Apiaries who are about eight miles away), which is a clue to where we are, at Wormingford, on the border of Essex and Suffolk, in the East Anglia region of England. This area is probably most famous for John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough the artists. East Anglia is quite flat and is quoted as being the driest part of the country.
As I had planted a lot of soft fruit it seemed like a good idea at the time. Going back about fifteen years when I started it was a dying art; not so now with the great resurgence we have seen in the UK.
Starting with one hive, it quickly grew to the 25 I have now,  the soft fruit taking less priority as the Bees took over my life, as most beekeeper soon find out.
As the sun comes back from being on loan to our friends in Western Australia,  the season has got off to a good start.
With some great weather in early spring, the Bees flourished, unfortunately however, we have all but lost our main spring crop of Oil Seed Rape, which seems to have fallen out of favour with farmers. So the work in hand is to make sure the bees don't swarm and are in prime condition ready for the Borage crop which is grown here.
Our strain of Honeybee is the dark Western European Bee, which is very frugal with stores, goes out on colder, damper days thus storing more honey, the only down side being their fiery attitude!
It has been said by people that have tried the more yellow Australian-type Honeybees is that they drink a lot of nectar and are very reluctant to go out on cold, damp days, they do however, have a great attitude and are good to work with.
This summer we hope to rear some new queens from our best colonies, and increase our stock. This will need to be done early on, to enable the new colonies to build up strong before the wasp attacks and the coming of winter. (I mean real winter, minus figures!!)
 
I also work very closely with Assington Mill where rural courses are taught and I am responsible for all things Bees etc.

My real Job is Joinery and I have my own business: SP Cousins Joinery Ltd; this does work out handy when I need some beekeeping equipment, I can make it myself!

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!


Desert Beekeeping December 09 2013, 3 Comments

I was chatting to a fellow beekeeper earlier in the month and he told me this great story:

Back in the Sixties, there were no restrictions on beehives, honey or basically any sense of bio-security. So, this old fellow was transporting a semi-trailer of beehives from the East Coast, back to Perth across the Nullarbor. More than 200 hives on the back of this truck, summer and stinking. And if you've seen a beekeepers truck, the 'modern' ones you see now are all from the 70's - old, faded, farting and rusty buckets held together with tape and cable ties. It is hard to imagine what the truck was like in the 60's!

(Photos Source: Wikipedia and Tourism Australia)

The hives had been emptied of all the honey, except what the bees needed to eat for the week's journey across the desert, because when hives are full they can weigh more than 60kg each! Honey is 1.3 times the density and weight of water. Millions of bees would have been on this truck as it set off into the horizon.

(Photo Source: http://glaciercountyhoney.wordpress.com)
Three days later, the trucks gear box blew out! In the middle of no-where, with no phones, no servo...So this beekeeper opens up the truck's engine bay, yanks out the offending gear box, and proceeds to open up all the hives on the truck. He can't leave the ladies locked inside the hives for the week it is going to take to hitch to Perth, get the repairs done and then hitch back to the truck. So, hoping they can find forage and water, he sticks his thumb out and waits for a ride!

Almost two weeks later, he finds his way back to the truck. Dusty and pretty cranky from all the messing about with truck parts, he's glad to find his truck and hives untouched. Waving the truckie who gave him a lift 'goodbye' he plods over to his truck, only to find...ALL his tires, EVERY one was flat!!

(Photo Sourced: http://blogs.sun-sentinel.com/crime-and-safety/2011/04/05/coping-with-a-tire-blowout)

Who would risk the stings from the bees to vandalize a broken down truck?! Why would someone be so petty and stupid to slash 18 tires?

At least his ladies were still buzzing around the truck. He wandered about, looking for more damage, and realized he could smell something...something familiar...honey...Scratching his head, puzzled, the beekeeper looked again at the blown out tires, looked at the hives, smelt the honey in the air and realized...

No-one had vandalized his truck. There had been a honey flow, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DESERT, and his ladies had laid down full supers of honey! Remember how heavy honey is? Those bees had laid down so much honey, that the weight of the hives had blown the tires of the truck out!

So the beekeeper turned back to the road, and, stuck out his thumb again!

(Photo Sourced: http://inspiringtravellers.com/2010/03/22/how-to-hitchhike-around-australia/)

 

 

 


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!