Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A winter solstic update

We'll its been a while between posts but things have been going well with our small apiary.

We still have four healthy hives - and we're still harvesting plenty of honey from them.

Just this month we harvested 30kgs from them and they quickly sold at our local markets on the weekend.

Collecting our frames in a sealed box is working a treat too - instead of taking them from the hives and placing them in a super in a wheelbarrow, we instead place them in a sealed plastic box. See the photo below.

This means we can get the frames inside the house with no bees on them and no chance of us being stung.

With the cold snap we've had, we added a layer of polysterene over our native bee hive to keep them warmer and we've also reduced the size of the entrance of our honey bee hives to keep some of the warmth in too.

Happy beekeeping,


Friday, January 21, 2011

Great reading for all bee keepers

Here is a link to a great article by David Holmgren (of permaculture fame) about the future of bee keeping and its important role.


Happy beekeeping,


Friday, December 31, 2010

Pale golden honey

On December 15 we had an opportunity to get out and harvest some honey from our hives so we went for it.

It's been raining here pretty much all year - I'm not joking!

Miserable for us stuck inside and miserable for the bees too I imagine. The rain washes the nectar and honey from the hives and they just don't get the runs of fine days to work their magic.

But the break in the weather gave us the chance to harvest many kilograms of honey from their hives and still leave plenty for them.

We used the plastic tub again with the lid on it to move the frames from the hives inside for spinning and that worked really well. With two people you can keep the bees out, which makes the whole process so much more pleasant.

You can see the fully laden frames - with all the cells capped.

On the left is our other batch of honey - this is a very diverse blend from our permaculture garden with honey from vegetables, flowers, herbs, fruit and nut trees, legumes, ground covers and much, much plus the added bonus of the surrounding rainforest and bush.

On the right we have honey that is predominantly from the Mexican Tree Fern. Its much lighter (this batch still needed to sit for a while to settle) and the taste is lighter too.

And here is our wonderful bargain hand spun extractor - working a treat.
The Novice Beekeeper

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Finally - a bumper harvest this week!

Finally we've had some clear weather to get out and harvest some honey from our hives.

It's been a pretty miserable winter for the Sunshine Coast, lots of rain and when it wasn't raining it was either overcast or windy - or both. None of it good for beekeeping.

I have been keeping myself busy though making soaps and I even made some honey soap. A basic soap mixture with raw honey added.

It gave the soap a very natural colour (that's cacao in those lines through the soap) and it smell of honey - very delicious and with extra butters and oils added, it will be lovely and creamy too and good for our skin.

Since I last posted we did have a swarm in our backyard which we endeavoured to capture.

We didn't have a nuc box ready to go, so we got busy making one (they come in flat packs from the suppliers)

Here it is finished but unpainted.

But unfortunately the swarm had moved on before we got to it. Oh well, we're prepared now for the next time we find one.

This week though, we were able to get out and harvest honey. We've been checking the hives in between times and maintaining the small hive beetle traps, but we just haven't had the time to do a proper job of extracting the honey and the frames hadn't been full enough either.

Here is our first frame of the day being uncapped. We use a steam knife attached to a pressure cooker on the stove to cut the caps of the cells of honey.

And this time we tried something different to bring the frames in from the hives to the house.

Normally beekeepers put a super box (just one of those white boxes you see on beehives) in a wheelbarrow and move the full frames in that with a lid on.

Problem is, as soon as you move a frame from the hive you either get bees from that hive following you wanting their honey back, or you get robber bees chasing you wanting the honey.

Putting the super in a wheelbarrow left a lot of gaps underneath for bees to get in to the box and you end up with frames with still quite a few (angry by this time) bees on them when you bring them inside.

This is when you're most likely to stung - and you don't want bees around you when your extracting the honey as you usually have your safety gear off by then.

So instead, we put our frames in a plastic storage tub with a lockable lid. We brushed the bees off and quickly got the bee-free frame in the box and shut the lid. We did this for all six frames and it worked a treat.
We were able to bring the frames inside with no bees on them at all, making it nice and safe for us and no bees suffered in the process either.

Here you can see a small hive beetle trap on the left placed in the honey super of the hive. These seem to be working very well. We've had the hives for nearly a year now and despite the rubbish weather, the beetles haven't got out of control.

Another shot of the busy bees. All the native plants we put in as bee forage plants are doing really well too. In a couple of years we'll have flowers, nectar and pollen on tap all year round for them.

And here's the stored honey. We have two of these honey pails full of yummy honey. Around 40kgs in total.

Now we have a day of sterilising jars, decanting the honey into the jars, labelling and storing them for the next local market.


The Novice Beekeeper

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hive maintainence day

The sun was out today and we were both home, so we took advantage of the break in weather (its been overcast and or rainy here for months) to check out our hives. We do try to get out there at least once a fortnight to take a look at them.

We also change over the small hive beetle traps we have set (pictured ABOVE) that grate on the top is big enough for the beetles to crawl into the little trough held below it - which is filled with Diatematous Earth, which kills them but not the bees.

We have those in the honey box (the top box) between the frames and another 'mouse' type in the brood box (which is the name for the box on the bottom which contains the larvaes, the Queen and the drones.

Aside from checking and replacing the traps (which seem to be working well), we also use the time to check on the hive activity and health.

We also check to see when and if we need to do a honey harvest too.

This frame (BELOW) is ready for harvesting - you can see the capped cells full of honey. Any frame with more than 3/4 covered in cappings is ready to harvest.

Just look at that golden honey with the sun behind it...

We haven't harvested from the bees for quite a while. This is because of the weather. They need sunny days to forage for pollen and nectar. When it's overcast and or rainy (as it has been here) they eat the honey, so harvesting from them is taking their food, which in turn will weaken the hive and we need them strong and healthy to fight the beetle.

Other beetle strategies include having our hives on gravel with weed mat under it (the beetles breed in soil) and also limeing the area around the hives - beetles don't like soil too alkaline (apparently).

But just like designing and maintaining a permaculture garden you need an integrated approach - not just one solution.

Seems to be working though, the number of beetles in our hives were reduced from the last time we checked them.

We're no experts in this, just willing to try different things and keep going with the things that seem to be working.

If you're thinking of getting bees, it pays to join your local beekeeping association and read as many good books as you can on how to care for them.

If this fine weather keeps up, we'll also be able to harvest honey soon too.

The Novice Beekeeper

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Here is some information about a common tree found here in Queensland, the African Tulip Tree - it's in flower now so you can spot them easily. Just click on the image above to enlarge it.

Seems they are deadly to our native stingless bees. If you have one of these - please get rid of it - it doesn't belong here and our bees are more important than it is.

The Novice Beekeeper

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A day of hive maintenance

After weeks of rain we had a sunny day, so we made the most of it and headed out to check the hives. We'd decided to try to get out there (weather permitting) once a fortnight just to check the small hive beetle traps and to see how they are going and if they need harvesting.

It also gives us time to build our confidence working the bees, to see what's normal for them and hopefully to be able to spot any problems early on.

Because of the rain, not a lot of the frames were ready for harvesting, but with a few sunny days, we'll be able to have another harvest of honey.

These are the gloves I use. They are from Quality Beekeeping Supplies and seem to be doing the job (protecting me from being stung) quite well.

Another benefit of checking the hives regularly is that hopefully the bees will get used to use being around and with being handled.

Getting the smoker to lit and then to stay smokey seems to be our biggest challenge so far. Like a lot of beekeepers we use sheoak needles and hessian bags.

It's my job to keep it going throughout the time it takes us to check all four hives.

We have small hive beetles in our hives, but they seem to be being kept under control (fingers crossed) using traps filled with diatemaceous earth.

We use two types of traps - the one BELOW can slide in the entrance and provide some protection for the brood box (the box on the bottom), or it can sit on top of the brood frames just below the Queen excluder.

There have been some reports of bees getting in these traps, but we didn't find any in ours - we did find dead beetles though.

The other type of trap we use is one that fits between the frames in the honey super (the top box). We find the bees quickly block this up with propolis - which they haven't done to the one ABOVE - so each time we check the hives we take new, cleaned traps to replace the old ones, then take them inside when we're done, clean them and refill them ready for next time.

This has meant buying two sets of traps, but it's worth it for the ease of swapping them over.

They sit neatly between the frames and we find dead beetles in these too.

We always record our findings in our Bee Book - keeping a record of how the hives are going, how the bees are behaving and any maintenance work that needs to be done - for instance, we found one frame where the wire has come out, so next time, we'll take a spare frame with foundation and replace it.

it's wonderful to see the bees close up and we're getting a little better at beekeeping each time we go out there. It's good doing it together too, you can bounce ideas off each other while we learn and a spare pair of hands can come in very handy sometimes too.

We are coming into our winter here in Australia and we're in the subtropics, so we don't need to over winter our hives, in fact winter will probably be a better time for them, less rain, more sunny days, more blooms in our vegetable garden.

Next time I'll write about which native plants we've added to our garden as bee forage and what we've observed in relation to bees' drinking behaviour.

The Novice Beekeeper