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

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The many benefits of raw honey

Honey is a wonderous product - particularly raw, untreated honey.

It has so many health benefits and I was reading some stories courtesy of Tricia's blogspot here.

There was a story on Catalyst on the ABC (a public television station here in Australia) - Catalyst is a science show - and they talked about how honey helps heal wounds here.

Which was very timely, because just last night I burnt my finger getting something out of the oven - I immediately put honey on it, then aloe vera, which I keep a pot of near the kitchen, just for such incidents.

And it worked, this morning I had to go looking for where the burn was and could barely see it, needless to say it doesn't hurt anymore either.

I use our honey on cuts too - being out in the garden a lot, I'm forever getting small cuts and grazes on my hands and applying raw honey to them heals it very quickly.

We also keep a small jar of raw honey in the propagation house too to use when we are planting up cuttings - dipping the end in the honey will prevent infection setting in. BELOW is a selection of plants taken from the garden ready to be propagated - and dipped in honey.

This is all focusing on the external application of honey, but don't forget the good honey does you when you eat it too.

You can see in the first image we have our home honey pot with honey comb in it too - this means there are a lot of bits n pieces floating in the honey - all good for you - propolis, pollen etc.

Now I've had someone asks about using honey to treat pollen allergies - they said they had tried it and it didn't work - but I'd suggest (and I'm not medically trained, it just makes sense to me) that you need to be eating fresh, local, raw honey to yield the benefits of treating allergies.

The theory is, if whatever is causing you grief with your allergies, if you can be eating honey with some of that particular type of pollen at that particular time of the year, you will reap the benefits.

So raw honey it is - we are endevouring to keep our product as close to natural as possible - unprocessed, untreated, no heating, just straining - all good.

What other uses do you have for honey?

The Novice Beekeeper

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Market Day :: Maintenance Day

We took our bottled honey harvest to the local markets and were very pleased to sell 15 kilos of it on the day.

The theme of the markets was Autumn Leaves and (BELOW) this is our honey display, complete with autumn leaves. We also had beeswax candles for sale too.

We hope to have homemade beeswax furniture wax available at future markets too and homemade honey soaps too.

I've been observing the bees in the garden to see what they like best. Cosmos (BELOW) is popular - both the yellow and orange varieties. I wonder if this is one of our bees, a wild bee or one from the nearby strawberry farm hives?

We choose a fine morning this week to do some hive maintenance. We plan to get out there at least once a fortnight, if not once a week to check our four hives over.

We are looking for any changes or anything 'strange' going on. We're only new to this, so we ask "Is that normal?" a lot - then head inside to look on the internet or in one of our bee books to see - or we email a photo to beekeepers we know.

So far so good and things seem to be quite normal. We have small hive beetle in our hives (as most hives in Queensland do) but not to a level that it's starting to damage things - yet. So we are keeping up the maintenance on our beetle traps - we use the traps with Diatomaceous Earth and we've observed dead and dying beetles in these traps so they do work.

In the photo below you can see we're sliding one through the front of the hive into the brood box.
We've ordered extra traps, so when we check the hives we take clean, new, fully laden ready to go traps out with us, so we can easily swap them over there and then while the hive is open.

The bees also quickly fill up the trap entry points with propolis, so they need to be removed and cleaned regularly. I use boiling water to clean the equipment thoroughly (this is on advice from the DPI via the local beekeeping group). We also need to get set up to set fire to our hive tools using methylated spirits to sterilise them too.

While we had the hives open we cut off some comb and kept it aside, brought it inside then added it to a jar of honey we have... you can see it in the top of the jar - all that golden goodness!
So everyday we can add this honey to our breakfast and enjoy the unfiltered honey with all the health benefits that entails.

I've also been researching the best native plants to plant here - we need to revegetate some areas of our permaculture garden, provide some screening for privacy in some areas and while we're doing it, we thought we'd ensure all the plants we bring in to the property are bee friendly.

I'll write another post soon about what we've discovered and how we are starting to go about writing up our bee forage calendar for the year.

The Novice Beekeeper

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Our second honey harvest

We took advantage of a rare fine day this week to harvest honey from our remaining hives.

Looking left to right in the photo ABOVE we have hives 1-4. Numbering hives and keeping good records of hive health and vitality and harvest is important.

Hive 1 showed a lot of activity, the bees were fiesty, very active and noisy. We harvested four frames from that hive and extracted probably around eight kgs of honey.

While we had the hives open we checked the small hive beetle traps and topped them up with Diatemaceous Earth. We saw a few beetles but the traps seem to be keeping them in check. We also cleaned up the hives as best we could removing built up wax on the tops of frames using a new paint scraper bought for the job.

You can see the hive activity in the image below and you can see the black trap between the frames to the right of the box.

We also took four frames from Hive 2, which in contrast was quiet, happy and cooperative, but still very strong with loaded frames heavy with honey. You need to be pretty fit and strong to keep bees, it's heavy work. We harvest probably 12kgs of honey from those four frames. Giving us a total of 20.5kg from one harvest of two hives.

ABOVE - here is our capping set up - frames are rested on the wooden bar across the top (as you can see in the photo BELOW) - and using a hot knife, the caps are removed to allow the honey to flow.

You can also see in the image BELOW that almost all of that frame is capped. Any frame with three quarters or more of the cells capped can be taken for harvesting. You can also see how the frame rests on a screw on that wooden board allowing you to keep it in place using just a couple of fingers while you use the hot knife to take those caps off.

We are only taking four frames from each because we don't want to strip the hive of honey - its the bees' food - and we need to keep the frames in even numbers as our extractor BELOW needs two frames at a time to work.

The extractor worked really well, but doing it by hand is hard work.

Today we went to our first meeting of the Sunshine Coast Beekeepers Association - which is a really well attended vibrant group by the way - and we saw one of these extractors set up with a motor - great idea!

And here is our bounty - 20.5kg of honey settling for a few days before bottling up.

We will endevour to set up a regular maintainence program for our hives and keep an eye on them.

The Novice Beekeeper

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Honey Harvest

We managed to find some fine weather between torrential rain and cyclones to harvest the honey from one of our hives. We took four frames from the hive and brought them to our honey house to extract the golden honey.

It was wonderful to be able to see our own home grown honey coming off the frames and into the extractor.

We then packaged it all up in shiny glass jars, added some labels and we're ready for our first local markets.

When we get another opportunity, we'll get out there and do the rest of the hives, but in the meantime we have our own honey in the kitchen and plenty to give as gifts to friends to celebrate our first batch.

The Novice Beekeeper