Friday, January 29, 2010

Another day spent learning about beekeeping

Yesterday was spent doing some very hands on learning about beekeeping. My husband and I got up early and headed out to meet with the beekeeper and we were straight into it spending the day checking the hives and harvesting honey.

We got there early because it was going to be a very hot day with a storm predicted for the afternoon (this is mid-summer in the subtropics) and we needed to tend to the bees well before that started to impact on them. Apparently bees get cranky when storms are coming and we didn't want to be disturbing bees when they were cranky.

We suited and gloved up, got the smoker going, got all the tools and spare hive pieces ready just in case and headed out. (Can you spot the Queen in the photo above?)

We smoked the hives, carefully removed the lids, checked the small hive beetle traps, killed any live beetles we saw and gently lifted the frames to see what was happening - was there enough honey to harvest or not?

You can see in the image above that there are no capped cells - they are all open. So this frame was left in the hive.

BELOW - you can see in the frame below that some of them are capped - when about half are capped, they were removed from the hive, the bees gently brushed off of them and then put in a spare super (the top box of a bee hive) which was in a wheelbarrow with a lid put on them to keep the bees out of them ready to head to go to the honey house to extract the honey.

We were shown how to methodically number the frames to ensure they are returned to the same hives, systems are important in beekeeping, recording honey flow, strength of the hives (population numbers and bee-attitudes) what's going on with broods, queens, pests and bee-activity in general. It helps you manage your hives and also lets you know what to expect when you crack open that particular hive lid.

ABOVE - The landing platform for the bees to access the hive and launch themselves from in the search for honey.

A frame after it has had the caps removed. You can see (and you could smell) the golden honey within.

The uncapped frames are then placed in an extractor where centrifugal forces draw the honey from the cells. This was an electric four frame extractor - we have a hand driven two frame one for our hives when we get them. We bought it at a 'tip shop' from one of the rubbish dumps here.

And there it is - the beautiful sweet golden honey, ready for straining and bottling. No heating, no processing, just pure honey straight from the bees.

The cappings are also collected and these are melted down to produce wax for cosmetics, candle making and for other goodies like furniture polish.

We also learnt how to put our nucleus hive together (it arrived in a flat pack with no instructions - nothing like a challenge!), so now we'll assemble this, paint it, choose the perfect place to locate it in the garden, prepare the site and set it up for it's new Queen and her colony.

It was a bit of a puzzle when it arrived and we had an idea of how it might go together, but we weren't sure. On the day we do assemble it, I'll take lots of photos and post them here in case anyone else has the same problem we had.

We'll get our new bees around October, so in the meantime, we'll keep learning as much as we can about beekeeping, how to do it properly, how to really care for the bees and how to do it all organically and wholistically.

There is a lot to learn, but if we can get a quiet hive that will be tolerant of a couple of learners we should be okay.

We'll also work on creating a bee fodder calendar to ensure we have food for them year round on our block.

The Apprentice Beekeeper

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Australian Native Stingless Bees

Well, it's not entirely what we orginally planned... although we've always wanted to get some Australian Native Stingless bees... we just thought we'd get our European Honey Bees first.

Now I have it on good authority that both will live happily in our garden - provided there is enough food for them - which I'm sure there is. And I've already observed both native and introduced bees co-habitating and co-feeding on our vegetable, herb and flower crops.

So introducing The Trigs - Trigona carbonaria - native stingless bees.

We picked them up late in the evening and sealed the hole with some gauze for the trip home.

We fitted the hive to a pre-prepared star picket with a bracket attached - and in the morning we removed the gauze and they took off and spent the day working - settling in very nicely.

We've positioned their hive under a mango tree where it will get morning sun, but good protection from afternoon sun.

Like with honey bees, keeping the hive cool is a priority. And, like honey bees they don't like being moved, so put them in the right place first time.

Here is a close of up of their tiny entrance door to their hive. They are only the size of ants - tiny.

Another shot of them hard at work.

They quickly made themselves at home.

Our hive is an OATH design - an Original Australian Trigona Hive. It is able to be split too, so this hive can be propagated.

We look forward to learning more about these interesting little creatures and about bees in general. They are quite fascinating to watch and I can much time spent just watching and observing and trying to work out what it is they are doing.