Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Backyard Beekeeping Part 3

And so it continues… more from the day spent with Max Lindegger learning about bees and how to keep them healthy, happy and productive.

This post I’ll cover;
Honey extraction
Hands on practice
Where to find resources, information and materials

Max took us through how hives are constructed, set up and what the best materials are. You can get budget boxes, but it seems that good quality material like Hoop Pine is the way to go.
Like anything, you get what you pay for and its important that your hives can stand up to the harsh elements. Last thing you need is the hive rotting out because of cheap timber, falling over and all your bees leaving in an angry huff.

Hives consists of a base, two supers (the bottom one is a brood box, the top one the honey box) and a lid. You can have two honey boxes on top of the brood box, but it’s getting high and heavy to lift – pays to keep it manageable, again you don’t want to be dropping the super or the frames – bees really don’t like being dropped - they get, you guessed it, angry!

New hives can be bought as a flat pack and put together at home and painted up. Max recommends an undercoat and then four top coats of a good quality outdoor paint. We plan to use an eco-friendly, low fume exterior grade paint for ours.

Hives are often painted white, but any colour that will reflect heat and keep the hive cool in summer is fine, I'm thinking a splash of lemon and lilac.

It’s best to use galvanized or stainless steel nails for construction too – again to avoid cheap nails rusting out and the hive falling apart. Also a good idea to use a very strong wood glue too.

The lid also must have ventilation holes for the bees to breathe and to prevent condensation.

You can also add a layer of insulation to the lid too, and they are sometimes made out of galv, then painted so you can write on them to keep a record of what that hive is producing. Keeping records is an important part of beekeeping too.

Between the brood and honey supers you’ll need an excluder (see BELOW). This keeps the Queen and the drones in the brood box, only the worker bees make it up to the honey super and the do all the honey collection.

Everything needs to be well built and strong – honey is heavy, honey. The base could even be made out of Cyprus Pine to prevent termite problems too.

It pays to number and date the frames, that way you know how they are circulating through the hives.

An average super box holds 10 frames, but some bee keepers like to have eight or nine in there instead.

Frames need to be cleaned and repaired when they have had the honey extracted from them. This is done in a honey house – a place that keeps the bees out as robber bees will come looking for the honey if you take it away from the hives.
Cleanliness and good management are important in beekeeping, particularly if you intend to sell the produce. Aim for the highest quality and level of production in your ventures.

Rewiring the frames (ABOVE) and melting on another foundation sheet of wax (BELOW).

BELOW - frames ready to be cleaned up and rewired

The frames are uncapped using a hot knife. Either an electric one or a normal knife placed in hot water to heat up. With raw honey, this is the only time heat is applied.

I’m thinking of getting together with some other locals who want to keep bees and starting a co-operative to buy the machinery, so we can share it rather than all buying our own.

BELOW - hot knifes, drainage and other tools for uncapping the honey

Once the wax caps are taken off the cells, the honey flows freely and Max then places the frames in the centrifuge to extract as much as possible from them. The honey drains out a tap at the bottom of the electric machine (SEE BELOW) and runs through three strainers – just to remove the bee’s knees – before it is bottled in sterilised jars ready for market.

You can get a hand operated extractor for about $200.

We then put on our protective suits, hoods and gloves and headed out for some hands on practice.
We lifted the lids, removed frames, held them and felt the weight, worked with the bees buzzing around our heads and we also had a go using the smoker to calm them before we made any moves.

BELOW - more hands on practice

The Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries has a lot of information about beekeeping and is a good place to start.

A good info sheet is here

Check with your local equivalent agency.

A recommended supplier of beekeeping equipment is John L Guilfoyle Pty Ltd. Unfortunately their website isn’t working at the moment, but their phone numbers are:
Brisbane – (07) 3279 9750
South Australia – (08) 8344 8307
NSW – (02) 9623 5585

The next post will be on how I intend to get started…
Happy beekeeping,

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bee Keeping course part 2

Some notes from the course I attended a couple of weeks ago with Max Lindegger. We covered a lot, so I'll break this post up into:
  • before you begin
  • location
  • tools and equipment
If you are interested in learning about bee keeping, email me at and I'll put you on the database for the next course (held on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland Australia)


Well, it would pay to do some type of course if you can. Get hands on with bees and see if it's for you before you start investing in equipment or taking on an unkempt hive - which is a big job - it might seem like a bargain, but taking on someone else's problem hive is not a good way to start out.

Join a beekeeping club or group.

Check with the Department of Primary Industries or equivalent in your area. They often have courses, information, websites you can check out. They can also advise you on how many hives you can have.

Here bee keepers need to be registered it only costs about $15 a year, but you are kept up to date with disease outbreaks and information.

Buy a good book. DPI also have a range of books - (Warhurst and Goebel are recommended).

Visit a beekeeping supply shop/website. John L Guilfoyle Pty Ltd are a key Australian beekeeping supply place. They have outlets in Qld, SA and NSW. Their phone number is 07 3279 9750 for Queensland.


Hives need to be checked regularly, so have them somewhere close to your home, yet set away from traffic areas (cars, people, children, pets, horses, ducks). They can cohabitate with chooks which may also help keep pest problems low.

Aspect - northerly aspect here in the southern hemisphere. Good to get early morning sun (so open to the east) so the bees start work early.

Bear in mind whether you'll need to go in to mow in front of the hives too. This will really anger the bees, so again having chooks in the system will keep grass and weeds to a minimum.

Shelter - bees need morning sun, but protection from western and full summer sun. Plant out the area with things that will provide summer shade, but let the winter warmth in. This is where good permaculture design principles can come in. A shady spot will also make it more pleasant for you too as you work with the bees. They don't like human sweat, so keep it to a minimum in a shady spot.

Cane toads - love to eat bees, so make sure the hives are up high enough to stop them eating all your stock.

Ducks will eat bees whole, but will probably die from a sting to the throat - so again, chooks are best.

Air flow - hives need good ventilation - particularly here in the subtropics, they don't like humidity, so make sure they are in a well ventilated, airy spot. But they still need to be protected from strong westerly and southerly winds.

Honey house - also plan for where you will transport the frames to uncap them and to harvest the honey. You need a closed in honey house nearby to harvest all the honey.

Spacing - place hives 1 metre apart. Placing a 1.8 metre high fence (can be chain mesh) will direct the bees up and over the fence, making it easier for humans to walk past without being stung. Give the bees some space to between the front of their hives and the fence - say 6 metres if you have it. A fence is also good to keep chooks in if you are integrating the two animal systems together - Max had his chook house at the back of the hives, so he could get in there, tend to the chooks and not disturb his bees.

Water - Max observes that his bees prefer to drink from the mud around the dam, rather than any water he leaves out for them nearer the hives.

Food and forrage plants - more about these in a later posting, but bear in mind how you are going to feed your bees year round.

ABOVE - a photo of Max's hives - semi-shaded, north facing, this was taken from behind the fence line.


Bee keeping requires a fair amount of equipment and tools to get started. I'll be honest, it's not cheap, but it is a profitable hobby - people pay good money for local honey and beeswax.

Max took us through the equipment and great set up he has at his place.

Here (BELOW) he is showing us a Nucleus hive - used to start off a new colony, or to capture a swarm. This is what we are getting to kick start our own colony of bees. After a year, we'll move them up into a full sized hive (more on them later). A nucleus hive will cost about $50, and then you need to buy the frames (5), foundations (the beeswax to get the frames started) and the Queen. You can buy Queens bred specifically for their temperament, or quiet disposition. This is waht we're going for, making them easier to handle for beginners like me.

BELOW - a hive tool. Used every time you visit your hives. To take off the lid, lift up the frames and lift them out of the super box.

BELOW - products from the hives - honey, beeswax and bulk buys. So you'll need containers and food grade storage for your produce.

BELOW - another necessary piece of equipment - the smoker used to quieten the bees.

BELOW - a full range of tools, hive tools, paint scrapers (to clean the frames with), soft, soft brushes to gently remove the bees from the frames when you need to harvest the honey.

BELOW - the full hive - the type you've probably seen before. You need to buy a base, two supers (the boxes) and a lid. You'll also need a Queen excluder between the two to keep one as a brood box and one as the productive honey box. We plan to start off with two of these, and if we enjoy it and it works out well, we could have up to 20 hives (given our land size) or we could even apply for more through the DPI. Beekeepers also place their hives in state forests too.

BELOW - each time honey is harvested from the frames, the frames need to be 'reset'. This involves cleaning them thoroughly, rewiring them, and reapplying the beeswax frame to get the bees started again.

BELOW - once the honey laden frames are removed from the hives, they need to be uncapped, that is the beeswax the bees have placed over the top of each cell needs to be removed to allow the honey to flow. A hot knife is used to do this - either electric or a large knife dipped in really hot water. With raw honey, this is the only time heat is applied to the product.

BELOW - and then the frames are placed in this centrifuge to remove all the delicious honey. It runs out the tap through three varying sizes of strainers and finally into a bucket.

BELOW - and finally a very important piece of equipment for a novice beekeeper such as myself - a really good beekeeping suit. This one worked a treat, the bees can't get in and I felt confident handling the frames and being surrounded by bees.

Bees don't like wool, dark clothes (they'll think your a grizzly bear coming to steal their honey), strong perfumes or odours or sweat. Also note the gloves. These are long sleeved gloves with calf hide which makes them soft and pliable so you can really feel the frames and there is little chance of dropping the frame and really annoying the bees.

BELOW - Removing a frame from the hives you can see some of the cells are capped (they are the white ones) and the rest are showing the honey flow - which is pretty full on at Max's at the moment.

And finally, nothing will replace learning how to do it by doing it. See if you can get along to a course or apprentice yourself to an experience beekeeper as I have. Gain the confidence to become an excellent beekeeper with high standards and you could just fall in love with the beauty of working with bees.

Sonya Wallace

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bee Keeping course part 1

I had a fantastic time at the bee keeping course on Saturday at Conondale. I learnt so much and I'm now inspired to get started on our own bee hives.

The full day course covered so much information I've decided to break it up into sections to post - tools, hives, bees, etc.

But here are a few photos of the day to whet your appetite.

Bee hives behind a fence - keeps people from walking in front of the hives (bees don't like that) and also allows chooks to be released to free range in the area which keeps weeds under control (so you don't need to mow in front of the hives) and also helps keep the Hive Beetle under control.

I learnt the value of buying a good suit - this all in one suit keeps the bees out which reduces the chance of being stung.

There are jacket and hood versions too, but I think I'll go for the full suit.

This is the smoker we used to calm the bees as we checked the hives.

The logo on the smoker.

Some of the tools used by bee keepers.

I'll write up my notes in more detail to post here in installments.