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,

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