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.


***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!

Miss T's thoughts on Bees February 05 2017, 0 Comments

This is a post written by our lovely Miss T!

Miss T’s Bee Facts

Lots of people think that bees aren’t nice because they sting, but bees are actually calm and lovely to work with. The reason they sting is because they either get stepped on or you swat at them.

The reason why we shouldn’t have bees extinct is because they are the reason we are alive. Without bees WE would be extinct because they pollinate trees and without trees we wouldn’t have oxygen and without oxygen we all would be dead.

When I go to Kings Park with my grandparents, I like to look in the flowers and the bees that are usually in the flowers. Sometimes it’s a blue banded bee which has blue and black stripes instead of black and yellow, or a Caucasian bee which has thin black strips and yellow strips, then there is usually the European bee which is the most commonly seen bee in Australia. I have seen a few leaves that have been cut from a Leaf-Cutter bee but I have never seen one because they are extremely shy. If you go to Kings Park you should try and identify a few bees on your iPhone.

I like my bees. When it’s winter and I see a bee on the ground, I pick it up and give it some sugar water. The sugar helps it warm up and by picking it up it will warm up more by the warmth of your body heat. After about 5 minutes the bee should fly off. If you don’t like bees, that’s fine, but don’t just step on her!

A story to remember why the comb is hexagonal is this one:

The bees are all deciding which shape to use for their comb, so one of them thought they could used circles but they have gaps in them when you tessellate them. Another one piped up and said ‘What about a square?’ but the other ones said that its hard do get it straight. So they looked at the other shapes. Finally they decided that the hexagonal pattern is the best one because it’s easy to make and it’s the best one to use the least amount of beeswax.

So that’s how they decided to use the hexagonal pattern!

I hope you enjoyed my thoughts and if you wish bees don’t exist than I suggest you to save up on oxygen!


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!

 


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!


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 ;-)