Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Preparing for Bees

I’m researching how best to fit our beehives into our existing permaculture system, so I’m busy reading up on all the books sitting quietly on my bookcase.

Firstly, from Introduction to Permaculture. The idea is for any animal introduced in the system to be able to self-forage. That way you don’t need to expel energy or money feeding them. They move around and feed themselves. A diverse diet and exercise moving around finding food leads to animals that are healthier and more robust than those kept contained and fed concentrated feeds.

Permaculture teaches us to firstly look at that particular animals needs, then it’s characteristics to see how they fit – what they need from the system, what they bring too the system and what products we can yield from them.

For example, chickens scratch up mulch, geese graze on grass… you get the picture.

So what about bees?

From the system – bees need food. They need specific plants and flowers to forage among. Bees travel about five kilometres from their home hive.

The book Permaculture Plants recommends a permaculture system having both nectar and pollen producing plants for bees. In permaculture we look at how many uses we can get out of one plants so being a provider of food for bees is an important use we can seek out when selecting plants.

Planting out a year round diet is also important – having something available all year round for your bees to forage.

Bee forages to consider include natives such as grevilleas and acacias, pasture crops such as Lucerne and clover, orchard trees such as citrus and herbs including lavender, borage, comfrey and rosemary.

Other plants include; tagasaste (for down south – not suitable for the subtropics), fennel, raspberry, sage, thyme, carob, cowpea, and various gums.

Rosemary Morrow’s book the Earth User’s guide to permaculture recommends the following;

Bees need shelter (hives located in protected areas, safe from flooding and strong winds),
Food, water, warmth (place hives in a maximum warm area – will need to bear in mind the harsh strong sun we have here in summer), and people to be calm around them!

They yield honey, beeswax, pollen, propolis, pollination (leading to higher yields) and broods.

Placing the hive 50-100m away from the main forage area also allows nectar to dry off on the way back to the hive and prevent it turning into alcohol.

Hives also need to be about one metre off the ground to prevent predators getting in and in an area away from where people might walk into the flight path of the bees, this makes them cranky and they sting you.

Permaculture – A designers’ manual recommends clumps of forage, rather than sparsely planted foragings. It also says that crops within a mile of hives will outyield crops in bee-deficient areas by a factor of three to 10 times.

Planning a calendar of year round food is the go, so I’ll take a look at what we have and start mapping out our bee menu plan.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

The story so far...

I first really became interested in bee keeping a couple of years ago when I did an afternoon workshop as part of a permaculture course.

The idea of firstly being able to see thousands of little workers buzzing around their hives in our garden appealed to me, as did the idea of increased yield thanks to their pollination role and firstly, the idea of having our own blend of honey - all this roled into a romantic notion of having our own bees and beehives.

Bees are often integrated into permaculture gardens and I like the idea of having these armies of workers helping us grow our food - we have a worm farm and plenty of worms in the soil - we have chooks and bees were a natural inclusion for our small holding.

I was inspired after the workshop and while I wasn't ready at the time to take on learning bee keeping, I feel that I am now - but where to start?

Where to learn, where to get hives, what type of hives, how to avoid being ripped off, how to keep bees healthy and happy, what do they eat, how do you manage the hives, how do you get the honey from the bees onto your toast in the morning?

It's all these questions and many more I'm sure, that I hope to answer and share here on this blog. I figure I'm not the only person keen for bees, but stuck with how to get started.

So my plans in coming weeks are to; visit the local DPI (Dept of Primary Industries) office at nearly Nambour. To find a good Australian book to start reading and to use as a reference guide on bee keeping. To research on the internet about bee keeping. To study the bees in our garden and try to get to know them - what they do, how they behave, to observe them going about their daily tasks. Also I'll visit a bee keeping supply shop at Morayfield.

What I have put in place is - I've approached someone I know who has 10 hives in our local area and asked him to run a workshop on bee keeping - which he has agreed to do in September. Bees are happier in spring - so there is one thing I've learned already.

He's had a look at our place and thinks it's perfect for bees - we have a permaculture garden and lots of vegetation of varying heights, which apparently bees like.

I've also started planting out some bee forrage plants in the vegie garden. Lavender, buddliea, rosemary, and lots of orange flowered cosmos and marigolds.

I've also set up some bee friendly water bowls - shallow and with rocks in them so bees and other small insects don't drown.

I've also been photographing a lot of bees in the garden - both honey bees and natives to get to know them all.

So this is my story so far, planning, designing, researching, reading and learning how to get started.



About this blog

Hi and welcome to my blog,

You're invited to join me as I learn how to keep bees at home - a challenge for me, I love bees and the work they do, but I'll admit they scare me a little.

I'm worried about being stung, but I guess it's going to happen if I'm going to persist in my dream of having our own busy bees pollinating our vegie garden and harvesting bucket loads of honey from our own hives.

Wish me luck,