Beekeeping and Honey!
Honey Festival Recap ***Guest Post*** by Kim Phillips Chairperson of Bees2Honey Inc July 21 2017, 0 Comments
Written by: Kim Phillips
West Australia’s Honey Festival, May 2017
Honey Festival 2017 kicked off with a glorious Autumn day full of sunshine and a temperature of 30 Degrees Celsius. In previous years, the threat of watermark rain has got us all praying for clear skies but with a forecast of sunshine it had us running for more sun umbrellas instead.
The honey festival is one event within the umbrella of Honey Month which is a National event. We aim to promote the honeybee industry and its products to a broader public. Our central aim is to educate and sensitize the community about the importance and problems of honeybees from a national and international level. With the assistance of commercial beekeepers, we aim to inspire a new generation of beekeepers and bee scientists into the industry.
With the festival growing in momentum each year this time we clicked in just over 3500 visitors. In 2013 on a very stormy, rainy day we estimated 1000 visitors. The enthusiasm of our visitors that year was not dampened by the weather as we all attempted to shelter from the storm and sizzle honey sausages at the same time.
Everyone seemed to enjoy the day of ‘beekeeping’ this year as shown from many different angles including science, training, demonstrations, competitions and children’s activities. The day was an all- time success. Since 2013 Honey Month has been pushing forward to include other functions to create interest and variation. Successful events have included a Slow Foods long table breakfast, breakfast with the beekeeper, children’s bee dress up competitions, Wadumbah’s Indigenous dance of the honey bee and our University of WA scientists displaying bee news at a variety of levels.
A big thanks to our Latino band from South America who entertained the audience with a rich mixture of vocal and instrumental leads. The children soon entered into salsa mode as they waggled through the crowds to demonstrate their waggle dances with Honeybee Sonia Chua and the Wescobee mascot. Proud parents also found their waggle to encourage “baby-bees” to join the fun.
The honourable Alana MacTiernan Minister for Regional Development; Agriculture and Food opened the festival with Leilani Leyland, President of WA Farmer’s Federation, Colin Fleay, Bee Industry Council of WA chairman and Andrea Johnston from Department of Agriculture and Food WA biosecurity. Ms. MacTiernan is enthusiastic to support the developing beekeeping sector and has a good understanding of WA’s valuable honey and pollination stance. Alana proposes to keep the section alive and profitable as she moves and settles into the Agricultural sector. It was a great bonus to have her at the festival as well as her future support in our beekeeping industry.
The event was not without honey and beeswax competitions. Honey judging was open for viewing on the 6th May, a day before the festival, and the judges were again pleased with the quality of honey and sculptures presented. (Honey entrants required a beekeeper’s registration for valid entry)
Best honey - Blaine and Tristan Campbell
Light honey – Kit Wartenweiler
Dark honey – Gordon Carter
Creamed honey - Blaine and Tristan Campbell
Naturally granulated honey – Gordon Carter
Floating comb – Gordon Carter
Light wax – Bert Valenti
Dark wax – Gordon Carter
Wax sculpture - Blaine and Tristan Campbell
A smorgasbord of delectable honey cakes (all baked to the same recipe) were judged and tasted by our honey judge and the delighted winners were:
Honey Cake – Melissa Beasley
Honey cupcakes (Juniors under 12) – Casey Dow
Since the introduction of the Flow Hive there has become a positive and heightened interest in beekeeping. Budding beekeepers are enthusiastic to find out how they should start their new hobby. With this in mind, we continued from last year and included a presentation on flow hives vs. Langstroth hives. The commercial beekeeping sector feels there is a vital importance to make people aware of the need to inspect hives and be aware of floral sources, pest and diseases and legislation to keep a hive healthy. To assist with floral sources Tintuppa Nursery showcased a range of bee friendly plants for our backyards. Backyard beekeeping needs a range of floral sources to enable the survival of bees and other insects. These sources are diminishing at an alarming rate as we bulldoze native plant resources for the spread of residential developments and low maintenance gardens.Native bees were not forgotten and included on the day was a nest sponsored by Bendigo Bank to show an example of how native bees live. Children were encouraged to make their own native beehive which they could take home for their gardens. Children could also find fun at the pollination tent to find the bee fact trail with pollination boards and a quiz. Top bar hives and Hive Mind were welcomed as additional stallholders, displaying the concept of top bar hives and the benefits of remote hive weighing technology.
To compliment this presentation, David Leyland spoke on the importance of healthy bees and bee nutrition whilst Michael Bellman spoke on labeling laws. Both presentations were well received by a large audience. Other events included Mark and Karen Stafford from Ezyloaders who showcased loaders and how they help to take the back-breaking work out of beekeeping. A large audience crowded around to see the hives loaded and unloaded from various beekeeping setups on trucks and utes. Mark also offers assistance to WA owners of his Australian made Ezyloaders.
The committee feel that the 2017 honey festival was a great success reaching a large audience of aspiring beekeepers, hobby beekeepers, honey lovers and many day trippers out in the Swan Valley for a glorious Sunday. This year we were able to create more interest in the community by developing a new string of honey and bee related events thanks to Blaine Campbell. This ranged from events with local naturopaths and wellness centres, a honey degustation dinner at Rendezvous hotel in Scarborough, a stall at the small field day in Gidgegannup and a sundowner with WA’s Food Ambassador, Don Hancey.
A big thanks to our committee members, sponsors and invaluable volunteers who inspire us to keep the event going.
Kim Phillips – President, Bees2Honey Inc
Thank you to our sponsors: Bendigo Bank, John Guilfoyles Beekeeping Equipment, CIBER, Capilano, Scitech, and The House of Honey.
***Guest Beek*** Introducing Simon Cousins May 10 2017, 0 Comments
I met Simon via an online Beek facebook forum and I remember very early on in our beekeeping 'career' driving up the freeway in peak hour traffic to collect our first swarm, madly messaging Simon, since it was the morning there, about what to do and his best tips!Over the years, we have exchanged laments about weather, information on our respective hive management, and eventually even honey!I asked Simon to do a guest blog for Honey Month, and it may even be a semi regular thing as Simon does some very interesting queen rearing and breeding!Why did I start keeping bees ?I call my little honey operation Stour Valley Honey, ( not Stour Valley Apiaries who are about eight miles away), which is a clue to where we are, at Wormingford, on the border of Essex and Suffolk, in the East Anglia region of England. This area is probably most famous for John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough the artists. East Anglia is quite flat and is quoted as being the driest part of the country.As I had planted a lot of soft fruit it seemed like a good idea at the time. Going back about fifteen years when I started it was a dying art; not so now with the great resurgence we have seen in the UK.Starting with one hive, it quickly grew to the 25 I have now, the soft fruit taking less priority as the Bees took over my life, as most beekeeper soon find out.As the sun comes back from being on loan to our friends in Western Australia, the season has got off to a good start.With some great weather in early spring, the Bees flourished, unfortunately however, we have all but lost our main spring crop of Oil Seed Rape, which seems to have fallen out of favour with farmers. So the work in hand is to make sure the bees don't swarm and are in prime condition ready for the Borage crop which is grown here.Our strain of Honeybee is the dark Western European Bee, which is very frugal with stores, goes out on colder, damper days thus storing more honey, the only down side being their fiery attitude!It has been said by people that have tried the more yellow Australian-type Honeybees is that they drink a lot of nectar and are very reluctant to go out on cold, damp days, they do however, have a great attitude and are good to work with.This summer we hope to rear some new queens from our best colonies, and increase our stock. This will need to be done early on, to enable the new colonies to build up strong before the wasp attacks and the coming of winter. (I mean real winter, minus figures!!)
I also work very closely with Assington Mill where rural courses are taught and I am responsible for all things Bees etc.
My real Job is Joinery and I have my own business: SP Cousins Joinery Ltd; this does work out handy when I need some beekeeping equipment, I can make it myself!
Monkey Bees... March 21 2017, 0 Comments
I meet Beeks from all around the world - both in person when they have travelled, and also online. Some of the best hive management advise I have had was from fellow Beeks on line, and even though we haven't met, it's been great developing relationships and sharing knowledge about bees across the globe.
I met a Beek from England recently at the Shop and he told me this story that I have to share with you all!
So this Beek keeps bees in a designated organic area in the south of England in Dorset. His hives also happen to be within coo-wee of Monkey World. And yes, there is a real place called Monkey World (they rescue primates, rehabilitate if they can, help governments prevent illegal smuggling). So, one afternoon he gets a call from a nice Monkey Lady (or possibly Monkey Man!) asking him if owned the hives that were next door and if they had possibly swarmed? They had a swarm of bees at Monkey World.
Regardless of whether the swarm was from his hives, he asked if they would like them removed. With a polite 'yes please', said Beek gathered his beekeeping gear, a spare box and drove out to Monkey World.
He was escorted through the centre, later in the afternoon just before feeding time. And was promptly pointed to the chimpanzee enclosure. There was a large tire in the middle of the enclosure, with a lovely neat swarm tucked into it. However, there was also a large family group of chimpanzees. Loose. In the enclosure.
The Monkey Lady gestured to the gates and promptly started opening the first safety gate, and the Beek was like:
'uh, 'mam, I can't go in there'... the Lady looked puzzled and asked, 'but why not?'
'um, because there are ravaging monkey hoards in there' (emphasis mine, this guy was pretty English)
'Oh, they wouldn't hurt you, just don't make any sudden moves, I mean, your bees are waaaay more dangerous' (again, emphasis mine, because, again English = stoic)
'I would really, rather prefer if there wasn't chimpanzees in there while I collect the swarm'
'Mmm. Well, I suppose I can sort something out'. And with that, mumbled something in a two-way and a loud whistle sounded. The chimpanzees looked up, and scuttled out of the enclosure, and into another area - the secure night area out the back. After reassuring the Beek, with a mild look of bemusement, that the chimpanzees would not escape just at the moment he swept the bees into the hive, he carefully stepped into the enclosure.
The rest of the afternoon went by smoothly, with a lovely swarm caught in a box, and taken away, sans ravaging chimpanzee hoards!
Bees bees bees! February 17 2017, 0 Comments
There are more than 25,000 recorded species of bees in the world, which can be broken down into 9 families of bees (under the banner of Apoidea). The ‘honeybee’ belongs to the Apidea family, and contains 10 sub species (and a hybrid). Apis mellifera is the honeybee that is most commonly kept for honey production and pollination services. From my other blogs, you can learn about our bee-autiful ladies, but for this one I have collected a little snippet of info on some of our other bees, starting with one of our cutest Aussie bees!
Teddy Bear Bees
Scientific Name: Amegilla bombiformis
Origin: Australian Native, east coast.
Description: Golden, furry and bumblebee shaped, about 7-15mm big.
Behaviour: Teddy-bear bees are solitary, with a female building a pollen, nectar and egg cell in the ground. They have a distinct buzz when flying and this means they are often mistaken for bumblebees.
Attitude: Oh dear, can't we all just get along? (These bees are preyed on by other bees and birds).
Cuteness Factor: 10/10
Factoid: These Teddy Bears are very efficient buzz pollinators.
Scientific Name: Xylocopinae
Distribution: World wide
Description: Black and shiny, with some sub-species having flashes of yellow.
Behaviour: Generally solitary in nature, these bees have gained their names from their burrowing into solid wood.
Attitude: I chew out wood, and make it my b*tch, I mean, nest. That makes me a bad ass! There are YouTube channels dedicated to stopping my awesome power!
Factoid: One Carpenter bee species lays the largest recorded egg of any insect!
Leaf Cutter Bees:
Scientific Name: Megachilidae
Distribution: World wide
Description: The general size of a honeybee, generally black and white stripes, however, this varies from species and distribution.
Behaviour: Solitary in nature, these bees have gained their names the neat circles they chew out on soft leaf plants, such as roses. They roll the small disc and add eggs, pollen and small amount of nectar to the cells they make. Unlike honeybees who carry pollen on their legs, Leafcutter bees carry their pollen on their abdomen.
Attitude: I like to watch... These bees are very shy and the only reason you know they are around is from their little cut outs.
Factoid: The Leafcutter Bee would prefer to bite you, before it would sting you!
Scientific Name: Megachilidae osmia
Distribution: Northern Hemisphere
Description: Generally metallic green or blue, about the size of a honeybee
Behaviour: These solitary bees utilize the abandoned hollows of a carpenter bee, hollows in trees etc. The female uses mud to create cells for food and eggs.
Attitude: I’ll borrow that, thanks! They take the opportunity to use any old thing for their nests.
Factoid: The Mason bee is so cheeky, they have been known to use abandoned snail shells as homes.
Scientific Name: Nomadinae
Distribution: World wide
Species Info: 31 genera, 10 tribes
Description: Metallic blue and black, with reduced hair and no pollen baskets on their legs. Rather wasp-like in appearance, these bees are one of the least evolved bees.
Behaviour: These bees lay their eggs in other bees and insects nests, hence the name ‘cuckoo’ bee. In some cases, the Cuckoo Bee will take over the small nest and kill the Queen.
Attitude: Can’t be bothered, you do it! These bees live a life of deception and intrigue!
Factoid: They often sleep grasping a plant stem with just their mandibles.
Scientific Name: Apidae bombus
Distribution: Northern Hemisphere, introduced to some parts of the Southern Hemisphere, such as New Zealand and Tasmania
Species Info: 250 species
Description: Fuzzy, furry (the fuzz is called ‘pile’) and dopey, this black and yellow bee ranges in size from 1.9cm to about 4cm.
Behaviour: A social bee, the Bumble will form small colonies (compared to the Honeybee), sometimes underground of about 50-400 bees.
Cuteness Factor: 10/10. Cuteness personified, only rivaled by puppies and baby puggles.
Attitude: None. They are dopey happiness balls that fly.
Factoid: Bumblebees have no ears. This does not reduce their cuteness in any way.
Scientific Name: Halictidae
Distribution: World wide, uncommon in Australia.
Species Info: Large family of bees, more than 1000 species in Northern America alone. The common family of bees, other than the Apis family.
Description: Small, petite bees, dark or metallic in colour. They gain their common name by being attracted to the smell of salt, including human sweat. Don't be put off by the name - these bees are very pretty and petite.
Behaviour: Some Sweat bees are solitary, others hive together in a social manner. They can build nests almost anywhere, including in dry, bare dirt.
Factoid: This family contains some nocturnal bees.
Miss T's thoughts on Bees February 05 2017, 0 Comments
This is a post written by our lovely Miss T!
Miss T’s Bee Facts
Lots of people think that bees aren’t nice because they sting, but bees are actually calm and lovely to work with. The reason they sting is because they either get stepped on or you swat at them.
The reason why we shouldn’t have bees extinct is because they are the reason we are alive. Without bees WE would be extinct because they pollinate trees and without trees we wouldn’t have oxygen and without oxygen we all would be dead.
When I go to Kings Park with my grandparents, I like to look in the flowers and the bees that are usually in the flowers. Sometimes it’s a blue banded bee which has blue and black stripes instead of black and yellow, or a Caucasian bee which has thin black strips and yellow strips, then there is usually the European bee which is the most commonly seen bee in Australia. I have seen a few leaves that have been cut from a Leaf-Cutter bee but I have never seen one because they are extremely shy. If you go to Kings Park you should try and identify a few bees on your iPhone.
I like my bees. When it’s winter and I see a bee on the ground, I pick it up and give it some sugar water. The sugar helps it warm up and by picking it up it will warm up more by the warmth of your body heat. After about 5 minutes the bee should fly off. If you don’t like bees, that’s fine, but don’t just step on her!
A story to remember why the comb is hexagonal is this one:
The bees are all deciding which shape to use for their comb, so one of them thought they could used circles but they have gaps in them when you tessellate them. Another one piped up and said ‘What about a square?’ but the other ones said that its hard do get it straight. So they looked at the other shapes. Finally they decided that the hexagonal pattern is the best one because it’s easy to make and it’s the best one to use the least amount of beeswax.
So that’s how they decided to use the hexagonal pattern!
I hope you enjoyed my thoughts and if you wish bees don’t exist than I suggest you to save up on oxygen!
Where are you shopping this Christmas? December 02 2016, 0 Comments
- Everyone gets their hair cut. How about gift certificates from your local hair salon or barber. There are some pretty funky places out there now!
- Who wouldn't appreciate getting their car detailed? Small, Australian owned detail shops and car washes would love to sell you a gift certificate or a book of gift certificates.
- Maybe some golf games, bowling vouchers or festival tickets?
- There are a gazillion owner-run restaurants - all offering gift certificates. And, if your intended isn't the fancy eatery sort, what about a breakfast voucher for the local breakfast joint, or a pub meal at one of the re-vamped ones around Perth?
Remember, Christmas can be about supporting your local community, who often have their financial lives on the line to keep their doors open.
- Thinking about a heartfelt gift for a busy mum or dad? Parents would LOVE the services of a local cleaning lady for a day! (Hint Hint!)
- Perhaps your grandparents computer could use a tune-up, and you can easily find some young guy who is struggling to get his repair business up and running.
- Know someone who has everything? A voucher to a local community theatre or comedy act could be the go.
- OK, you were looking for something more personal... Local crafts make jewelry, pottery, housewares and beautiful wooden art. There are heaps of local markets and arts 'n' craft shows that can make a custom present special.
- Your dollars stays in the local economy! Research shows that for every $100 spent in a local business, $73 stays in the local economy and only $27 leaves. When you spend with a multi-national, $57 leaves the economy!
- There are huge food miles to be aware of - the average food basket (30 items) has traveled over 70,000km. That's almost two times around the Earth! There has been little research done on consumable items, but logic dictates that the travel miles on those items are just as high.
- Increased social benefit - shopping in your local community means you get to know your locals and local issues, increase social cohesion, and improve your own mental health by being part of your community.
- There is a great environmental benefit too - less packaging, less single use plastic when you give a voucher or experience rather than another gimmicky import.
Bio-security and honey May 09 2016, 1 CommentIt’s certainly that time of the year for everyone to escape the ‘bitter Perth winter months’ and head to somewhere warmer for a while. As people are returning, we often hear the complaint about how strict our airport and border security is regarding bringing in honey from interstate or overseas. So, I thought I would offer some information about the importance of our bio-security and why apiarists in Western Australia are pushing for even more bio-security measures, particularly throughout the port systems.
Western Australia is now among the safest place in the world for bees. We have the healthiest bees, the cleanest honey. We do not have the most deadly pest to bees – the Varroa Destructor Mite here in Australia. Yet. Nor to do we have the Small Hive Beetle, now endemic to the east coast of Australia. Other diseases such as AFB, EFB and a number of others are rare, isolated occurrences in WA, and because of our isolation, controlled easily and quickly (although full apiary sites must be destroyed if it is detected).
We want to keep it that way.
Many of the diseases we have in Australia can be traced back to imported honey and pollen products, mostly during the 1970’s and 80’s when the importance of tight bio-security was not understood properly. A further few have come in through the break out of swarm hives found in fruit that been imported from other countries.
The eggs of Varroa Destructor and other pests, and the spores for EFB/AFB are not visible to the naked eye. This means that raw honey products can contain any number of diseases.
Image: Left - Small Hive Beetle Lava
Right: Varroa Destructor Mite eggs growing on Bee Brood
‘But, I will be eating all that honey I bring in, it’s not going to the bees’, I hear you say!
Bees suck 0.004mg of nectar into their stomachs per trip to the hive. There will be honey left in the bottom of that jar, and it will end up in landfill (because let’s face it, recycling isn’t really a thing in Australia yet, even if you do put it in the right bin! But that is an issue for another day). The jar WILL attract bees. Maybe not straight away, but bees can detect nectar reliably up to 5km from their hives! In times of dearth, they will access ANY source for food, including sugar factories, MM factories (link) and landfill items.
The last dregs of honey will be about 1-2 teaspoons worth (approx 15ml or about 19g of honey). Trust me, I know my left over honey! That is enough for 76 bees to take back a load to their hives. Microscopic eggs/spores can be in that honey and within 3 days that hive is infected. Sick hives will abscond, move locations, and ‘healthy bees’ (infected, but not symptomatic) will join other hives in the local area. Across WA, we have a wild hive (unmanaged) every 2sqkm!
In other countries records of outbreaks show wild hives are the first to be decimated by a new disease, and then managed hives are next. When Varroa Destructor was detected in New Zealand in the late 1980's, the wild hives were destroyed within months, and the managed hives were nearly wiped out in one year. NZ beekeepers suffered losses of over 75% in the first year. It took decades to build back to sustainable levels of bees, and proactive investment from the NZ government.
Image: Worker with Varroa Destructor Mite
‘But, I’m not really keen on honey, I can go without it’…
I have heard this a few times. I don’t know how you could live without the golden nectar from the Gods, but I try not to be judgmental of peoples food choices ;-) Yes, you can live without honey. Food though? Every third mouthful of food you eat comes from a pollinator. 90% of all pollinators are bees (and virtually all commercial food crops requiring pollination are pollinated by bees). Here is a list of foods you would not have without our bees (link – the most important ones being coffee and chocolate!). Our agricultural industry accounts for 12% of the Australian GDP, and 65% of all agricultural crops rely on bee pollination. That’s 7% of our GDP that relies DIRECTLY on bee pollination. The effect of no pollination services will equate to food insecurity and loss of economic benefits. Is that pot of imported honey or bee pollen still worth it?
Take it one step further – bees pollinate many of our flowering trees. Our wild hives are responsible for much of this pollination and imagine the loss of flora diversity if bushland and forests aren’t being pollinated? Taking a selfish human perspective… what about the air we breath? Trees clean, filter and produce oxygen… where are we heading if we allow our bees to die? Just a thought...
‘But, I paid for it and I want my moneys’ worth!’…
Let’s go back to the ‘cleanest and greenest’ honey is from Western Australia bit. Coupled with our tight labeling laws and solid hive management practices, our honey in Australia is free from anti-biotics, not mixed with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fillers or watered down. When the label says ‘100%’ honey’, it almost always is! The same can't be said about other countries, where honey can be sold with corn syrup with it, and still legally labelled as 100% pure honey...
I can’t imagine you are getting your money's worth with an inferior product, possibly laden with antibiotics (as many countries have to use them to keep their bees alive. It is illegal to use them in Australia), not necessarily 100% honey, and possibly containing spores and eggs of diseases, and doesn’t taste as nice as WA honey! Ok, that last bit may be a little biased, Thyme and Lavender honey is pretty special, but you understand my point.
I hope that this explains the need for our strict bio-security, even from honeys from the east coast.
Image: Dead Out. From Disease or Pesticide. Sometimes it can take less then a day to kill an entire hive, sometimes weeks.
When we travel, we enjoy that regions honey, visit other honey producers and eat up big. But we don’t bring it home. Please leave it for someone else to enjoy in that region.
Image: Happy, healthy bees on comb!
Why does honey candy? April 18 2016, 0 Comments
It is coming to that time of year again, the cooler weather is finally upon us. And with it, comes a time when the honey will start to harden, known as crystallization, granulation or candying.
I often get asked why it candies; it is a quite a misunderstood phenomenon. Some people question whether this process means that it is an inferior product, poor quality or storage, or that it has been processed in some way. It is not. It is not off, it hasn't gone bad, so please do not chuck it out!!
Raw honey will candy over time. Some on-comb inside the hive (such as a clover or canola) and others take many, many years (such as Jarrah). Honey is dehydrated nectar which is ~80% water. The bees dehydrate it to between ~14-18% water, the rest of the honey being combination of fructose and glucose. The granulation of honey occurs when the saturation of glucose within the remaining water of the honey has occurred and there is an overabundance of glucose molecules in the honey that form crystals.
Because of the slightly different chemical compositions of different nectar, each honey is slightly different in the resulting balance of fructose and glucose. Those with a slightly higher glucose amount will candy faster. Raw honeys generally have a GI index of 35-40, whereas a homogenized/pasteurized (heated) honey will be about 60-65.
The quality of candied honey does not change, only the texture. Some people actually prefer the grainy, thicker texture of a candied honey. Interestingly, honey can also slowly change colour (generally darker) and taste over time as well, similar to how wine can change over time.
Candied honey can be much easier for things like cups of tea (non-drippy) and cooking (easier to measure for small quantities), however, if you prefer the liquid gold pop it in a pot of hot water or out in the sunshine on a warm day (with the lid well sealed). The ambient temperature over the day, at about 25 degrees or more, should bring it back to liquid by the time you get home from work! Do not put it in the microwave - it will be too hot, and if you don't gentle warm it, the candy process will be faster the second time around.
Bees in Australia April 15 2015, 2 Comments
Did you know there are over 25,000 species of bees in the world? From those, only about 10 are the 'true' honey bee that we associate with Pooh-bear and his pots of honey. European honeybees (Apis mellifera) were introduced into Australia in 1822. We do not have any bumblebee species on mainland Australia, however a species of bumblebee was accidentally introduced to Tasmania in 1992.
In Australia, we have just over 1,500 species, about 6% of the worlds species. Most of these are solitary, raising young in burrows in the ground or small borer holes in trees. There is not a queen, worker or drone, but rather a single female who raises an individual nest similar to a bird. Although they have stingers, most Australian bees stingers are too small to deliver a proper sting!
Only 10 species of Australian bees are social bees (communal, living in hives) and these are stingless. They are not quite as developed as the European honeybee, but have a complex social behaviour. They do not produce a high amount of honey, however, they are becoming more popular for use in pollination services in Northern Australia. Australian bees are used for Macadamia pollination and Blue-Banded bees are being studied in greenhouses for tomatoes as they use 'buzz' pollination and have proven to be more effective for pollination in short-term studies.
The smallest native bee in Australia is Cape York's Minute Bee (Quasihesma) and is only 2mm long! Our largest bee is the Northern Carpenter Bee, who lives in tropical northern Australian and parts of northern NSW. This bee reaches 24mm, which is not quite as big as the largest of the bees at 39mm (Megachile pluto - leafcutter bee from Indonesia).
We have some very pretty bees in Western Australia, (many endemic) species such as the Blue Banded Bee and the Teddy Bear Bee (see below).
Native bees are vital to our environment due to the specialized pollination many of our flora require. You can attract native bees to your garden by building a native insect hotel, or planting native species guaranteed to entice them to you! These include: Abelia grandiflora, Angophora, Baeckea, Buddleja davidii, Callistemon, Eucalyptus, Grevillea hybrids, Hardenbergia violacea, Lavandula, Leptospermum, Melaleuca and Westringia.
References: Aussie Bee Website
Another couple of bee stories October 23 2014, 0 Comments
One of the best things about my job is the fabulous stories that I get told - I have people tell me all sorts of stories about bees, or beekeeping. I had a gentleman come and tell me a story of a time when he was tramping in New Zealand many years ago with a couple of friends. They were in the middle of a track in the South Island, and observed some of the bumblebees in the area looking around for some flowers. The gentleman told me that another fellow and himself were dressed in a very boring khaki raincoats, but their lady friend had a very trendy, bright yellow one.
Over the course of the day, the bumblebees noticed the young ladies' yellow raincoat, and became curious about it. An hour later, the lady couldn't walk along the track for all the bumblebees knocking into her! Bumblebees are pretty dopey - and not aggressive at all - so they continued to bump into the lady despite knocking their heads against the coat repeatedly.
She ended up having to change into another jumper to get a clear track. How delightful - fuzzy, cuddly air-bombers!
I came across a story on the feeds this week was a hive removal out of a 44-gallon drum. The hive had been in the drum for about 5 years, and very strong. The beekeeper split the hive into 2 new hives, due to the 30,000approx bees in the drum. The really interesting thing, was the fact that the bees had been using bitumen as propolis. Propolis is 'bee-glue' and used for all sorts of things inside the hive - preserving, plugging droughts and holes, even mummifying rodents or small animals that get into the hive, are strung to death, and the bees can't drag out of the hive! Of course, using bitumen is not ideal - being poisonous, but this shows the resourcefulness of our ladies!Last story for the day - I sent Mr T up the hill a couple of weeks ago to check on some of our hives, in a lovely spot where a horse is also kept. This horse is by herself, so she is pretty lonely. After a pat, Mr T told her that it was time to get on with beekeeping and set up the table and equipment. The horse seems to get on pretty well with the hives in the paddock (it is a fairly big one) and was hanging around while Mr T looked at the first two hives. However, it was a different story when Mr T went to open the last hive. This hive is a little more grumpy anyway, and started to buzz around a bit more than the last hives.
This also meant, that when the horse stuck her nose into the working area looking for more pats from Mr T, the bees were not particularly impressed...and let her know by stinging said nose a number of times.
You can guess what happened next! The horse swings around, Mr T dives out of the way of a hind kick in line with the hive and table where he is working! The hive gets knocked over, and now 20,000 angry bees are in the air. In the defense of the angry bees, I imagine that if some giant knocked over my house, I would be pretty peed! However, the horse is now at the end of the paddock, and Mr T is not. Poor Mr T becomes the scapegoat - and still has to right the hive, pack it all back and get it in order so that it doesn't get rain or such in it.
Even through the beesuits, he gets stung. Lots. And lots!
He arrives home, looking rather monkey-man like and I send him off to bed with a very fat face, hands and ankles with a couple of phenergan... Poor Mr T, if he wanted a afternoon nap, he probably should have just asked for one! I'm not that mean ;-)
Bumblebee 1: www.wildaboutgardens.org.uk
Bituman hive: Steve Angel
Using honey in cooking August 18 2014, 0 Comments
For the last few months, I have been writing our monthly newsletter, and including with it a receipe that includes honey.
Of course, this is the main reason I cook with honey rather than refined sugar being a more healthy sugar option - plus the taste is improved - but an additional bonus for cooking with honey is that you extend the life of your baked goodness. Since honey is a naturally occurring food preserver, using it in cooking keeps the moisture intact, and for every 1/2 cup of honey you use, you get about 1-1/2 extra weeks of life from your goods. And it will feel as fresh as the day you baked it!
It's actually a bit of trick to cook with honey; it isn't just about replacing your sugar. This is because it is also a liquid. So you have to reduce the amount of liquid you use in the ingredients list. You can generally replace honey 1:1 with sugar to replicate the same sweetness, however, you need to also reduce your liquids by about 1/3 to every 1/2 cup of honey you use. This is easy if you have milk in the receipe, I just cut the milk out of the receipe, but if there is no milk, you have to use trial and error to reduce some of the butter/oil of the receipe and the number of eggs you use.
Loaf: I reduce the oil by 1/3, and add my honey. If it is too sticky after mixing all the ingredients, I add another egg.
Cake: Milk is the first to be replaced, followed by butter. Reduce your butter by about 50g if you are adding 1/2 cup of honey.
Biscuits: Generally I cut an egg (for 1/2 cup of honey) if the receipe calls for 2 eggs. Reduce your butter if there is only 1 egg in the receipe.
Now PLEASE note, that the appearance and texture of your baked yummies will be different. Especially if you replace all your sugar with honey, rather than just some. The chemical makeup of the honey once baked, will make the receipe denser and bake to a golden-light brown. The first time I did my blondies (white chocolate brownies) they came out quite brown and I thought I had burnt them. But it was just the honey making them look a little more tanned ;-)
Trial and error is definitely the way to go, and if you are worried, just replace a little of your sugar with honey - this will at least give a little more life into your treats!
And don't forget to sign up to the newsletter if you don't want to miss out on the yummy honey receipes either! Just at the bottom of the page :-)
Losing a hive July 29 2014, 0 Comments
All the books and blogs tell you that you will loose a hive. They all say it will happen to you at some point: either by some mistake you make, from starvation or dehydration or some catastrophic failure from an outside factor...
Well, this last week it happened to us. And it really sucks.
We were finishing up our winter inspections of the various sites around Perth surrounds, and had headed out to site. The hives seemed a bit quiet, and even the property owner had commented on how quiet one hive seemed. After we set up the table, equipment and lit our smoker, we opened up the first hive. The super was pretty quiet, and as we started looking into the brood box we knew there was a problem. There was almost no brood (larvae that has been sealed off to metamorphose into bees). What brood was there was scattered and there was almost no lavae and NO eggs. We saw the Queen on the third frame and she looked well - the workers were deferring to her when she stopped walking on the frame. If the workers had rejected the Queen they would be either aggressive to her, or ignore her when she walked close by.
We quickly closed up the box after inspecting the other 7 frames and put the super back on. We decided the leave the super on for the time being because we were uncertain about why the Queen wasn't laying.
Over to the other quiet hive, and we only saw a couple of bees go in and out. The moment we opened the super we knew something was very wrong. The smell was unusual - stale and slightly musky - and along the tops of the frames, instead of the usual small amount of free comb and propolis, there was wax moth. Alot of it. With a sinking feeling, we pulled out a couple of frames there was no presence of bees on the frames. Pulling the super off, the brood box was worse - no bees and full of wax moth eggs. No signs of diseases, no mess on the bottom board, and less than 100 bees.
With the weakness in the first hive, and this hive completely gone, we packed up, gave a brief explanation to the property owner and decided to go directly to our Guru Beeman and ask his advice. On the way there, I Googled wax moth to find out why it was present in the hives. Having only read about it in books, seeing it reality was terrible and I couldn't remember whether it was a cause of hive failure or a symptom. It turned out wax moth can only gain a foothold in a hive that is severely weakened or dying. They will take advantage of ill health and slow/non present guard bees. The moth will lay eggs in the comb, and use comb and honey to develop from egg to moth.
After explaining the history of the hives, and the current situation of the hives, our Beeman told us that in his opinion; it was 99% certain that an outside factor was responsible for the demise of the hives, namely chemicals. Although it was a strong hive by the end of summer, this particular hive had a small die off in the summer, and another last spring. It recovered from both of these, and after explaining to our Beeman what the die-offs were like, he told us it was certainly not dehydration (as we had assumed) but over exposure from poorly applied pesticides. He explained that with some pesticides, the guard bees can smell it on the forager bees, and won't let them back in the hive. Others they can not smell on them and that is how they make their way into the hive (or they have been ingested and are laid down into the honey). Very soon, the Queen is exposed to a chemical and if she is damaged, the hive can die within 3 weeks. Sooner if the chemical is actively killing off the bees. If the bees brush up against the chemical, they will pass in onto many bees inside the hive if they are allowed to walk it back in, because bees are very tactile. They crawl all over each other - they clean each other and walk over each other and even pass nectar from themselves to other bees (like mother birds feed baby birds). This is why diseases and chemicals spread so easily within a hive.
This all happened quickly, within a few weeks and these strong hives have become extremely weak hives. Our Beeman listened carefully to our story and told us that in his experience of decades of beekeeping he had had more problems with pesticides in 'hobby' farm areas (or semi-rural) than in full agricultural areas. He suggested that because full-time farmers are more heavily regulated, and better educated as part of their livelihood, they tend to use chemicals differently than hobby farmers. Closer to season, closer to dusk, less liberally (because they have to spend so much money on it!) and if they have pollination services attached to the farm, they move hives away during spraying times.
In any case, Mr Beeman told us to feed up the alive Queen in the remaining hive and try and limp her along until Spring. There are no Queens available to re-Queen with during winter, and we can't weaken another hive by giving them a frame of brood to get them to raise another one. The bees are only producing enough bees at this time of year to maintain enough workers to get to spring. Feeding sugar syrup may entice the Queen to think there is a honey flow and re-start her laying. Mr Beeman also suggested crossing our fingers.
Mr T went out a couple of days later to collect the dead hive and reduce the live hive to one box (less energy to keep 2 boxes warm) and feed up the ladies. He said that there was a small amount of eggs on one frame, so hey, maybe the finger crossing worked...I'll keep you posted...
Ramblings about in KL, Malaysia July 14 2014, 1 Comment
It is cold here in Perth. The sun is shining beautifully, it looks cheery and inviting, but with the faint breeze, the cold bites and makes you shiver in the bright light...in case you didn't guess, I am missing the summer warmth. As my dad and I were mutually lamenting a few weeks back; after five months of the heat, we are complaining that some cool weather is in order, but after just a week of the cold, we are wishing back the hot sun!
We have just arrived home after a quick jaunt to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. It was hot - 32-34 degrees with 98% humidity and even with the sweat, it was heavenly to thaw out! We walked the malls, because as the number one shopping destination in South East Asia, it is a must. However, our favorite activities were not the epic halls of women's bags - sooo many bags - we loved the outdoor activities the most: KL Bird and Butterfly Parks, the long steps up to Batu Caves, braving the hawkers at Chinatown and Little India, and the best, KL Central Market.
We spotted only one bee in the time we were in KL - at the Bird Park. She was teeny tiny compared to a more full figured ladies here in Perth. Eastern Honeybees are more compact, and much more sensitive to management then their Western counterparts. Asian apiarists tend to collect a swarm at the start of the season, cross their fingers that the bees stay in the hive for a few months, and collect the honey once the bees abscond. Unlike our bees here, the Eastern Honeybee objects to interference and will only tolerate minimal management from the beekeeper.
The Butterfly Park was hot, humid and beautiful with the thousands and thousands of butterflies in the lush gardens. Across a vast, enclosed free-flight space, the butterflies chased each other and fed at the various feeding stations around the place.
Poor Mr T ended up having to defend his honour in Chinatown - after telling many vendors that I didn't like bags (shoes are a completely different matter!), the hawkers started telling Mr T to buy his wife a bag. He also told them that 'she doesn't like bags or want a bag' and every vendor started hassling him: 'every wife needs a bag, and wants a bag, and good husbands buy their wives bags'...Because they were ALL selling the same thing, and could hear every conversation we had, it spread like wildfire! We had a great laugh about it (really, I didn't want a knock off bag - or even a genuine one) because the next day, Mr T found a gorgeous tote bag for me at Central Market! Handmade by a local designer, collapsible for easy storage - and I got to choose all my own colours! I can't wait to use it for the beach this summer.
Central Market was more our style - handcrafts, handmade and local artisan products - and we wandered around letting the kids do some batik painting, talked with vendors about market in Perth, and even dunked our feet in the fish massage tank! It was very amusing and kinda gross too since the fish were literally scrapping off the dead skin from our feet :-/ This market was a permanent structure, similar to Subiaco Station Market and has been operating for over a century. It was very laid back and the vendors weren't pushy like the street markets at Chinatown and Little India. We all bought gifts, shoes (with bees on them!) and clothes there :-)
There was also a honey shop and it was interesting to chat with the lady who was running it. She was quite bemused at our constant chatter and when we wanted to try all the honey! The 'wild honey' in SE Asia tastes very similar to the maple syrup. It is very runny and light. The shop was offering bee pupae in tablet form, bee venom honey and some international honeys as well. The shop was certainly different to my little stall! We topped the night off by being invited up on stage during the cultural dance that was put on by some amazingly costumed dancers :-)
Now it is back to reality...and it's still cold!
Wintering Hives June 18 2014, 0 Comments
We have had a few 'life' things come up in the last month or so with MrT working away and me coming down with every bug that is floating around at the moment (thank goodness for honey for soothing the throat!) So we have been a little tardy with settling our hives down for the winter. I say winter, but I really mean: the time in WA when it is a bitterly cold for a month or so and it rains for a couple of days ;-)
The first winter we had with our bees, I freaked out about how much honey to leave the ladies with. Everything I read online was pretty much applicable only to places that have a real winter, so we ended up leaving lots of honey for them. It wasn't a problem, we just harvested what they left in the spring. But balancing what honey they will need for food, with the space that they will consequently need to keep warm over winter is a little tricky. Now after a couple of seasons, we are becoming more confident about gauging the strength of the hive and using long term forecasting of the weather for a guide. We tend to err on the side of slightly too much honey stores - mainly so that we don't have to supplement stores with sugar. Our bees tend to maintain the stores, since they can fly during the winter about 2 days out of every 4 - 5 days. When it is cold, windy or wet the bees don't tend to fly, so production grinds to a halt. Our observations have found that there is a very limited amount of food in the flowers (after rain washes out pollen and nectar) but because of our delightful winter sunny days between the big rain fronts, the bees can replenish a small amount of honey over the winter.
Here is a thermal image of a hive during winter. The bees cluster within the hive, around the Queen and brood, and spend time each day on the outside of the cluster, similar to penguins in Antarctica, before folding back into the cluster for food and warmth. Bees take turns inside the empty cells of comb to keep the brood warm so they can develop properly. They detach their wings from the socket and inside the cell they 'beat' their wings which causes vibration within their bodies that raise their body temps. This heat radiates from the bee to the brood in other cells. They can keep up to 8 other cells warm by raising their body temperatures to approx 44 degrees. This is about 9 degrees higher than their usual body temperature. Scientists are still baffled as to how they acheive this heat increase without cooking their brains!
From this picture, you can see the 'random' cells left empty. This is actually good planning from the bees to allow 'bee warmers' in to do their jobs! After looking at my hives in the yard and thinking (a little guiltily) how I need to do an inspection before the winter really sets in, I thought you all might like to see what other keepers do where they have a real winter.
UK: silver waterproof lining and hessian blankets. These keepers are very conscious of damp, which is worse for bees than cold temperatures, and have been careful to provide good ventilation.
(Photo: http://www.rosybee.com/blog/2010/12/beehives-in-winter, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/beekeeping/7740088/Readers-hives.html?image=1)
Northern US: These hives have slightly tapers tops for snow to drop off, and using a material lining, with black plastic over the top. The black absorbs whatever sun is out to add a little more heat inside the hive. In cold climates that don't have as much rain, ventilation area can be slightly smaller. The hives under all that snow would have the same...I think!
Here in Perth it is the heat that we worry about. The bees struggle with carting enough water to keep the brood cool. But that is a story for another day!
How much honey do you get? April 17 2014, 2 Comments
This is a question that I get asked very frequently!
The only other question I get asked more is...do you get stung alot? My answer to that one is 'not as much as you think!'
But the answer to 'how much honey do you get' is always a tricky and complex one, and I always feel like I am copping out when I say, 'well it depends'. Mainly because it does depend. It depends on the previous winter, the current weather, how much rain there has been in the last six months, and that week. It depends on how windy it is, what pressure systems are around, whether it is cold (under 20 degrees), or hot (over 33 degrees).
Previous winter: If the winter was a cold and rainy, then our big crops such as Marri or Wandoo (Red and White Gum respectively) will be all set to flower early in the 'season'. The beekeepers season in Western Australia is about September to March/early April. This is the time the bees are busy and the flowers are many. If the winter is like the one we had in 2013 - very cold and windy, but no rain - then most of the Eucalyptus delay in flowering, or do not flower at all, like a family favourite - Wandoo, which only has a secondary flowering period in March this year.
Spring: This is the time when the weather is warm, the Queen is revved up and laying up to 1000 eggs a day! Not my cup of tea, but thankfully I just have to worry about my 2 little eggs ;-) Now, if you have a spring like 2013, wet and cold and very windy this means that the bees are preoccupied with warming what brood there is. It also means there is no pollen in the flowers as it is being washed out, so there isn't food to feed new brood. As it takes energy to warm the hive, and more energy to fly in windy, cold conditions, if bees can't get enough feed during this period, they miss out on their chance to capitalize on the honeyflow during early summer.
Summer: 2013 saw summer start with a bang, and go on and on. And on and on! Usually in WA, we see a few days at 35+, then drop down for a bit, then back up. This year, we had weeks on end of over 34+. Bees have to keep hives at 32-34 degrees all year round, and in the heat of 34+, this means they spend all day carting water to air-condition the hive. With the delay of big flower crops such as the Marri - which usually flowers in November - but didn't start until late January, many hives were light on stores. Many beekeepers had to feed over the summer, because there was no nectar or pollen for the bees. This is very unusual, as feeding periods are normally winter if needed.
At the moment: This year lots of keepers are finding that the harvests are late, if at all. Yields are down from the previous two seasons. I am taking honey only from my strongest hives, and only looking at supers that have more than 5 frames full in them, taking only 1 or 2 at a time. This means that my ladies will have stores all through the Autumn, and enough to tide them over the Winter.
So, how much honey do I get? The short answer: it depends!
Farmer on your Plate March 31 2014, 1 Comment
On the weekend, I had the pleasure of representing our bees in the City at an Agricultural awareness day called 'Farmer on your Plate'. Organized by a group of country women from 'Farming Champions' , the aim of the day was to have the City and Country meet, so people can talk to the producers of their food, and gain an insight into getting food ONTO the plate! It was great to be invited along to represent the apiary interests. I put together some industry information with help from another beekeeper, and packed up my books and a frame of ladies in the Observation Hive and spent the day doing what I do well...talking!
I spoke to sooo many people, most of whom asked great questions. I had the obligatory 'are you the actual beekeeper' (because you know, girls can't be beekeepers apparently!), 'how do you make the honey?' (yes, I get asked that quite alot!) and the one I get asked every market day - 'do you ever get stung?'... But some of the better ones were 'I've heard that bees are in decline, is that true?', 'how do you know which honey is which?', 'are Australian bees transported around the world to support pollination in other countries?', and lots more. I am always amazed at how many people tell me that their dad or grandad used to keep bees, or some distance uncle or cousin was a 'beeman'. I rarely hear about 'beeladies' but I think that is a sign of the times a while back rather that anything else.
The stories that I get told about long lost relatives is lovely. One story I was told on the weekend went like this: a lady came up to tell me of her great-great grandfather (so I am guessing a gentleman who kept bees at the turn of the century perhaps) in England. He supplied many counties with hives and was a well loved man. In those days, as part of the tradition of keeping bees (especially since many people kept a hive in the kitchen garden) the hive was considered 'one of the family' and it was considered good luck to inform the hive of a birth, marriage or death within your family.It was tradition to give a hive when someone moved into their first house after being married.
Anyway, when the grandfather died, and before his widow could gather herself and head outside to tell the his bees that he has passed away, they swarmed to the bedroom window. Apparently, they stayed there for the next two days as the funeral was prepared, and then followed the processional from the house to the cemetery, flying after the gentleman as he was carried away by the horse and cart. No stinging or angry bees, just flying behind the processional and disbursing never to be seen again...how long this story is in the re-telling, I'm not sure, but it was a great story, and fantastic that it has been re-told in this family, keeping the memory of a great-great grandfather alive.
I met some chefs who were cooking up a storm, tried some yummy cider from The Cidery where I learnt from John, that Pink Lady apples are a WA bred variety, chatted about bees with the yabby farmer, Michael, which was just plain fun, and after talking to many, many people and shaking hands with our fantastic WA Governor and his delightful wife (Mr and Mrs McCusker), I told my ladies we were off home!
Pollinators January 13 2014, 0 Comments
I was first introduced to the notion of beekeeping, not for honey, but for pollination. I was lamenting to someone about my lovely veggie garden that didn't really produce any veggies. Off-the-cuff this someone said 'oh, you need a beehive' and something about that stuck.
Later, I started researching about what the sort of increase in pollination you can expect from an on site hive can be, and I began to get really excited about it. Quick searches were showing that pollination can increase from 30% to 100%. Many of the stats were from Government Ag Dep*1, and all of them showed a good-to-excellent increase of pollination directly attributed to on site beehives.
A gentleman came up to us on the weekend and spoke about being a canola cropper for a number of decades - and a beekeeper by default. He told us that before he started up with beekeeping, he was bringing in a yield of 600 kilos per/acre of canola a season. After he sited his hives, he was yielding 1000 kilos per/acre*2. That is an increase of more than 65%!
We have found the same in our garden. Each year we planted tomatoes, I would get about 2 per vine. Now, every flower produces a tomato and I get 8-10 tomatoes on each vine. So much Passata!
Why are bees so interested in pollen you may ask? Well, the plants and bees of the world have evolved together - bees need the high-protein pollen to feed the brood (they mix it with honey to create beebread) and the flowers need the bees to move the pollen around from flower to flower to fertilizer their sex-organs so they can reproduce by making fruit and later, seed. As they say, when you are deep in the bush, and you hear the melodic buzzing of insects, remember - that is millions of insects and plants trying to get laid! But, I digress. As the bees collect pollen in, they get brushed with it as well, and this travels with them to the next flower, where it brushes off and creates cross-pollination for flowers.
This is also why flowers have evolved to produce nectar. There is no benefit to the plant to produce nectar - in fact, it takes quite a lot of energy for the plant - but it is produced as a reward for a pollinator and many pollinators have evolved to use nectar as a food source. A bee will smell the sweetness of the nectar, and as it is always located at the bottom of the flower, she alights on the flower and rustles around in it to get to the back of the flower. This means that the pollen at the top of the flower will rub off onto her body, and since bees like collecting either pollen or nectar from the same type of flowers (rather than going from species to species) the plant has a double insurance policy of becoming fertilized, optimizing the chance of reproducing.
It isn't just bees that are pollinators: bees - solitary, bumble, carpenter, leafcutter and honey, hoverflies, but also butterflies and moths, a number of wasps, ants, thrips, bee flies, fruit flies, midgies, beetles, birds, possums and bats can be added to the list. Many species of plants can not reproduce without a pollinator, which includes most of our fruit and vegetables, and a number of crops that are fed to stock animals. And of course, they pollinate plants in the bush, in parks and gardens that provide the beauty of our landscape, oh, and the oxygen we breathe!
This year, Europe is predicting that there is a honeybee shortage ranging from less than a quarter needed in some areas to provide pollination services for food crops.*3
Our ladies are in a major decline and we need to seriously respect what they do for us but I think that is a post for another day.
Pic: Hoverfly approaching wattle flower.
*2 1 Acre = 0.4 Hectare
Desert Beekeeping December 09 2013, 3 Comments
I was chatting to a fellow beekeeper earlier in the month and he told me this great story:
Back in the Sixties, there were no restrictions on beehives, honey or basically any sense of bio-security. So, this old fellow was transporting a semi-trailer of beehives from the East Coast, back to Perth across the Nullarbor. More than 200 hives on the back of this truck, summer and stinking. And if you've seen a beekeepers truck, the 'modern' ones you see now are all from the 70's - old, faded, farting and rusty buckets held together with tape and cable ties. It is hard to imagine what the truck was like in the 60's!
(Photos Source: Wikipedia and Tourism Australia)
The hives had been emptied of all the honey, except what the bees needed to eat for the week's journey across the desert, because when hives are full they can weigh more than 60kg each! Honey is 1.3 times the density and weight of water. Millions of bees would have been on this truck as it set off into the horizon.
Almost two weeks later, he finds his way back to the truck. Dusty and pretty cranky from all the messing about with truck parts, he's glad to find his truck and hives untouched. Waving the truckie who gave him a lift 'goodbye' he plods over to his truck, only to find...ALL his tires, EVERY one was flat!!
(Photo Sourced: http://blogs.sun-sentinel.com/crime-and-safety/2011/04/05/coping-with-a-tire-blowout)
Who would risk the stings from the bees to vandalize a broken down truck?! Why would someone be so petty and stupid to slash 18 tires?
At least his ladies were still buzzing around the truck. He wandered about, looking for more damage, and realized he could smell something...something familiar...honey...Scratching his head, puzzled, the beekeeper looked again at the blown out tires, looked at the hives, smelt the honey in the air and realized...
No-one had vandalized his truck. There had been a honey flow, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DESERT, and his ladies had laid down full supers of honey! Remember how heavy honey is? Those bees had laid down so much honey, that the weight of the hives had blown the tires of the truck out!
So the beekeeper turned back to the road, and, stuck out his thumb again!
Beekeeping in the Rain! September 18 2013, 0 Comments
I got an email this afternoon from Ms P letting me know that there was a swarm feeling quite sorry for itself on her property. With the wind and rain today, they couldn’t hang up high off the ground and were milling about on the ground around a tree trunk and a fence.
It is still very early in the Spring to be throwing a swarm already. The weather has been rather cold and wet, however about 3 weeks we had about 4 days of beautiful warm weather. My guess is that this tricked the bees into deciding that it was time to raise a new Queen for the Spring and to get some space in their home. Fast-track 3 weeks to now and the poor old Queen is told ‘too bad honey, it’s time to go!’ and out the swarm flew, into the cold…
We motored on out to the property and sure enough they were very wet and unhappy. The spot they had stopped on was very difficult – we couldn’t sweep them into anything, nor could we use smoke to move them up into a box AND we were too far away from a power point to use the awesome Bee-Vac!
So we went with the handful-o-bees method – yeah, handful of bees. Considering how miserable they were, they were pretty tolerant. We put them straight in to a super, and after getting about a third of them in, they started fanning and shaking their tushies in the air. This puts out the ‘here we are, this is a good place’ pheromone. We had to use the smoker to discourage them from clumping back down in the grass, but after about 15 minutes, they all started moving into the hive box! Usually you don’t use smoke on a swarm, because it just makes them mad, however sometimes you can use it a little to get them moving – kinda ‘stick’ (we didn’t have time for the ‘carrot’ or rather sugar syrup).
But 5 minutes after, RAIN! This stopped the march dead in its track, so we decided to get some dinner and come back in an hour. Back at the property, and they were all now in the box, or on the outside of the box – still wet! So carefully using a plastic lid, a bee brush and the hive tool, we scrapped them up and put them into the hivebox. Success…?
After closing up the last gate on Ms P’s property, T1 told us he saw a bee…uh oh…then T2 told us she saw one…double uh-oh! We abandoned the car, and with the lights now inside, we see quite a few more! Oh dear. On go the bee-suits, plus a bee sting for T1 which was a huge bummer – in the boot as he was putting it on
We all had a chuckle on the way home about what the policeman would say if we got pulled over. Incidentally, we were driving home from a charity event last week and all four of us were decked out as Mary Poppins, Burt, Jane and Michael and drove through an RBT! The police officer was professionally amused
Hurry up Spring! September 11 2013, 1 Comment
The ladies aren't very happy this week - the rain is back and they are very itchy to be out and about. Some of the spring flowers are starting to come out and the ladies have been looking longingly from the alighting board waiting for the wind and the rain to roll over the horizon.
On the warmer day or two that we had last week, the hives have been a-buzz with activity and the smell from hives has been HEAVENLY! We have missed working with the ladies and have found ourselves looking longingly back at them wondering how the Queens are going, how the brood is looking and what the honey in there will be like. I have mentioned before that we try hard not to open the hives up over the colder months, to avoid the ladies having to expend too much energy on warming the hives back up. The bees keep the hives at a constant temperature of between 32-34deg C and this takes a lot of effort on their part. Here in WA, rather than rely totally on honey stores over the winter depleting them to almost nothing by the time spring comes, the bees tend to maintain stores, adding to what is left by us at the start of the cold months. The honey they slowly work on as weather permits is a mixed bag of winter flowers (mostly Eucalypts) and always a lovely surprise in the Spring.
Often we get asked, but doesn't it all taste the same? The quick answer is NO! Every harvest of honey is a different color and viscosity, and a different taste. This is from the flowers that change over the seasons and what is available for the bees to take back home. Look at the different in colors in this picture - and I can guarantee they don't taste the same either!
To get a specific honey - Red Gum, Blackbutt, Jarrah, Salvation Jane, Mallee - the hive has to be sited in an area where the predominantly flowering plant is Red Gum or Jarrah etc. Depending on the chemical make up of the nectar and how is reacts to the enzymes the bees mix it with (and how it reacts to the what the ladies do to it - eating it, regurgitating it, fanning it and repeat!).
Spring is coming... we hope!
Make your own Worm Farm September 02 2013, 3 Comments
They were everywhere! On the lid, sides, on top of the wet newspaper and below it.
The farm has been going for a while but with slighter warmer weather, the worms have gotten bus-ay!
Directions to make your own worm farm:
1: Source 2 styrofoam boxes the same size, one with lid. Head down to your local veggie market, they usually give them out for free, or ask for only a couple of dollars.
2: Cut one lengthways in half. Using a serrated knife is best for cutting.
3: Cut a good size hole (about the size of a 50c piece) into the bottom of the cut box and your full/top box. The holes are best in the middle of the narrow end, towards the front. These are drainage holes. You can later place a container under the hole of the bottom box and gently flush the farm with water to collect 'worm wizz'!
4: Stack your full box on top of your cut box, with hole lined up. Add dirt, ripped newspaper, leaf litter and a little manure if you have chickens or rabbits etc. Only fill your box about half way and make sure it is moist ie. put it in a bucket with some water before putting it in the box. Leave bottom box empty. Note: you can use a prop to tilt your farm forward for collecting 'worm wizz'.
5: Source a box or bag of worms. Bunnings usually has them in the composting aisle, but these are expensive. The Weigh-Bridge Man on Guildford Road (for Perth-ites) sells bags of worms that are very healthy AND cheap. Gumtree may uncover a local worm seller.
6: Once you have your worm, gently tip the bag in and spread out the dirt and worm mix across your box. Remember to thoroughly check the bag for the few stray worms in there!
7: Add a small amount of food scraps, put your pre-soaked newspaper cap on, don't forget your lid with a brick (stops pesky animals bothering your worms) and leave them to create awesome potting mix/soil improver/compost.
Tips for worm farm:
Do make your own from a couple of styrofoam boxes. We had a fancy black, multi-leveled one a few years back, paid a pile for it and got no results. My poor worms roasted in the heat :-( I think it was because the black plastic warmed up too much even though the farm was in the shade.
Don't let the farm get direct sun. I have underestimated how hot the farm gets in the past. Somewhere in the laundry, or in a dark corner of the shed is perfect. If there is no 'dark corner', I read a great tip - place your worm farm with NO bottom directly on the dirt/ground. This way the worms can go as deep as they need to into the soil to escape the heat, but they always make their way back because they can smell all the yummy food you are still giving them :-)
Do not over feed! Worms really don't like rotting food, so give them plenty of leave litter and dirt when you start the box.
No citrus, onions or meat - they don't like 'em!!
Keep the worm farm moist. I soak my newspaper (about 1/2 newspaper) and replace it every so often. I have used hessian before but it dries out too quickly. The worms seem to much prefer the newspaper, chilling out under it between the food and the newspaper top.
Cast in 'The Hive' - Part 3 'The Workers' September 02 2013, 0 Comments
The Directors, Executive Producers, Screen Writers, Casting, Stunt Co-Ordinators, Location Managers, Production Designers, Art Directors, Set Designers, Head Carpenters, Accountants, Props Master, Costume Directors, Make-up Artists, Cinematographers, Sound Mixers, Dolly Grips, Gaffers, Film Editors, Sound Editors and General Lacky... :-)
The Worker bees do pretty much everything! They are the bees you see in the flowers flying around. They are the bees that work themselves to death in about 6 weeks in Summer and die on the wing. The Workers are fuzzy, yet sleek, medium in build and wing size. Once a female Worker eats her way out of her cell in the comb, she is 'born' and her life begins by cleaning out her cell. From there she will share with her sisters a range of duties including:
Housekeeping, Undertaking, Nursing, Queen Attendant, Nectar Exchanger, Fanning, Engineering Comb, Guarding the Hive Entrance and then Field Work.
In her lifetime, a Worker will make approximately 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of honey in total. She visits between 50-100 flowers per trip. She works in the hive until that last week or so of her life, and then become a forager outside of the hive. After about 8-10 days of this, she will usually die from exhaustion. When you see a bee in a flower, look at her wings and if you are very observant you will see how tattered her wings are. The older a bee is the more her wings are dull and broken. New bees have glossy, perfectly shaped wings and as they mature, their wings reflect how hard they work.
Worker bees can communicate with their sisters in a very clear and concise manner. If she finds an exceptional amount of food (pollen or nectar) or water in summer, she will 'dance' for the bees at the hive entrance. This is called the waggle dance, performed in a figure 8. It will show the other bees the direction on the food, the amount and the distance away from the hive. The length of the inside line between the top of the loops will show distance, the angle of the 8 compared to the sun at North and the hive, and the intensity of the dance will show the amount of food. A very fast, tight 8 shows a lot of food; a more relaxed 8 shape shows less food. This is why you can suddenly have hundreds of bees buzzing around a open soft drink can in summer when you only saw 1 bee!
Springtime is Nearly Here! August 28 2013, 0 Comments
The ladies are unimpressed with the rain this week. They were just starting to stretch their wings on the glorious weather we just had, basking in the warmth of the late winter sun and being a little feisty too. Now they are house bound again, they are looking out longingly past the rain, dreaming of the day they can fly again.
When it is too cold, wet or windy, the bees don't, can't fly. If it's cold, the energy required to keep in the air with full pollen baskets is too much and they fall short of the hive. Too windy or wet, similar problem- they can also get caught in crosswinds or get blown off course and lost. Once the weather is warm for more than a couple of weeks, it will be time for us to don our bee-keeping astronaut suits (thanks kids for that image) and do our post-winter inspections.
We haven't seen inside a hive since late May and are quite looking forward to it! Over the cold months, we won't open up a hive unless we think there is a problem. The ladies keep the hive at a constant temperature of between 32-34C over the winter months, using energy to warm brood and get honey stores ready to eat. Every time you open the hive, the bees have to expend even more energy to get the hive warmth up again.
Once spring hits, so does swarm season and this is when we have our work cut out for us. Swarming is the naturally occurring reproductive cycle of a hive to expand the current hive and procreate. A swarm is generally very docile and easy to handle. This is because before they leave the hive, the bees gorge on honey stores to tide them over until they have set up shop elsewhere. Honey gorging = Honey drunk! And as the ladies don't have any brood or stores to protect, so they are generally pretty chilled once they have 'hung up' (big ball hanging up on a tree branch or under an eave).
For spring, pollinator friendly gardens are really important. Because all of our pollinators are busy breeding, gaining strength after the cold months, they need lots of nectar! So get planting people! Even for those of you who only have a balcony or patio, a wall-hanging garden, pallet garden or planter box will be a great addition to your home, and help out a bee or butterfly :-)
Good for Bees or an idle Pollinator:
Blues - Borage, Rosemary, Lavender, Basil, Thyme, Salvias, Hyssop
Pinks, reds - Sage, Bottlebrush, Poppies, Asters
Yellows - Sunflowers, Daisies, Daffodils, Dahlias, Marigolds, Melons, Tomatoes
Cast in 'The Hive' - Part 2 - 'The Drone' August 21 2013, 1 Comment
What does a Drone do in the hive? Nothing! Well, not alot. The Drone is named for the Old English meaning - 'loafer'. Which he is.
The Drone is a boomba of a bee. Plumper than a worker, with thick heavy wings to support the frisky business in the air, and big bulbous eyes all the better to see a Queen on-the-wing with. He spends his time at a 'Drone meeting area' hanging with his bro's, waiting to smell out a Queen who wants some nip-nip wiggy wiggy! Each day, he saunters home where the workers feed and clean him. Should the Drone actually manage to get his end in, he comes to a nasty end. Should the poor unfortunate male get to copulate with a Queen, his penis spurs will engage with the Queen's inside wall and will be ripped out of the Drone. He then falls to the ground and take about 4-6 hours to die from his blissful injury. The Drone's appendage will continue to pump inside the Queen until she engages with another male (allowing her to collect ALOT of sperm!) What a fate?!
Alternatively, he can chill with his bros all spring and summer and never see a Queen. This means that come winter, the workers get pretty fed up with his loafing ways and reckon that over winter they shouldn't have to feed and clean up after some guy over winter when they are busy keeping baby bees alive. So, after the temperature drops for more than a couple of weeks, you can see the ladies dragging the again, unfortunate Drone out of the hive...to starve to death with the smell of honey and the promise of warmth and protection just a foot away!
It is kinda like watching 3 or 4 women dragging out of their share house that bloke, you know the one, The Drummer... The Drummer who 'is in a band', who smokes dope all day with his mates and doesn't flush the toilet OR take out the garbage! And as he's been dragged out he's yelling 'no, no, I promise, I'll change... I'll start paying rent, I'll put down the lid...I'll stop drinking from the carton...noooooooo...'
Poor Drones! Drones make up about 10-15% of the hive population. Interestingly, studies have been done on hives where Drones are totally removed the hive becomes less productive, more fractious and generally unpleasant. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em!
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