2012-12-20 Ghostly bee rustlers

Our bees were no longer welcome in Northcote, a grumpy neighbour had approached me and made it clear that they were not welcome in these parts. After a few false starts, we eventually found a friend of Adrians who has a large property in Alphington, who was willing to take them on board. Moving bees can be tricky, you have to move them a long way, otherwise they return to the original location, hovering around wondering where their house and queen have gone. The rule of thumb is either move them a kilometre, or move them a metre. Just a metre and they work out where the hive is, Over a kilometre and they are disoriented, and make up a new map in their little bee brains. This makes it tricky if you want to, say, just move the hive from one side of the yard to another.

Anyway, Adrian came around and we found a great spot at Kates place, who is lending the girls her yard. And what a yard it is. A little bit sheltered, no evening sun, plenty of native trees and also lots of flower beds nearby, in a sloping garden bed full of grasses and native shrubs. Plenty of water nearby. I can confidently say that Metropolis and Other have one of the best views of any hive going.We cleared an area and flattened it, put down a couple of pavers as a base.

Moving the bees was quite difficult, the boxes are heavy, maybe 50 kilos, and we had to man-handle them through the garden bed in the dark. Best to move bees at night, when they are all tucked in bed. If you move them during the day, you lose a lot of bees, as a lot of them are out foraging, come home and the hive is gone. The euphemism for this is "moving the caravan while the kids are at the beach".

Anyway, all good, finished up around 11. I was stung a few times, nothing major. Adrian unscathed, but he is careful these days.

Jazmina took some long exposure photos at Northcote, below. Thanks!. Ghostly. Adrian in the full suit. No pictures of the new location yet, maybe next time.

Varroa threat thwarted in Sydney

I got onto this item a bit late. About a month ago, varroa mites were detected and destroyed in Sydney. Their progress is inevitable, and scary, for many reasons....

This article lifted from the ABC website:

Asian honeybees and Varroa mites detected and destroyed in Sydney

Thousands of Asian honey bees have been detected and destroyed on a ship at Kurnell in southern Sydney.
The swarm of 2000 bees was also carrying more than 150 Varroa mites, a pest that has decimated bee populations across the world.
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry had targetted the bulk fuel carrier for inspection because of previous ports it had visited.
Tim Chapman, the Border Compliance Division's first assistant secretary, says it came from Singapore but before that it had been to ports in the Far East.
"One of the risks of this vessel is a thing called Asian gypsy moth which is in the Far East but we obviously will try to deal with another potential risks that we find and Asian honey bees is one of those," he said.
"The Asian gypsy moth has been responsible for large amounts of deforestation in North America as well as in Japan and the Far East."
There were no Asian gypsy moths found on the vessel.
Mr Chapman says the swarm of Asian honey bees probably boarded the vessel in Singapore but he can't be certain.
"The bees will just swarm and apparently Asian honey bees swarm a bit more readily than European honey bees and they'll just find a nice place to settle and it just seemed to be the vessel was the place."
There's concern that if the Varroa mite invaded Australia it could devastate the local honey bee industry.
The chairman of the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council's quarantine committee, Trevor Weatherhead, says an incursion of Varroa mite would devastate the industry.
"The first thing I felt when I heard it, was that it was good that they'd found it, because if that particular swarm of Asian bees had got off the ship and got onto the mainland then we would have a situation where they would then multiply and we would then have those mites then within the environment, within Australia.
"We don't have those mites in Australia at the present time."
Mr Weatherhead says if they were to invade here they could have a significant impact on how a beekeeper cares for his livestock.
"Beekeepers would have to start treating their hives with acaricides to control this particular Varroa mite and that's fairly labour intensive and costly."
"The number of beekeepers would probably drop off initially and therefore you would have less hives in Australia to do pollination which is valued at between $4 billion and $6 billion."
"And the other major ramification, particularly seeing this was NSW, countries like Canada would probably immediately put a ban on live exports of bees from the eastern states of Australia to Canada."
DAFF's Tim Chapman says the Varroa mite found on the vessel isn't the more destructive of the species.
"It seems in this case it was the Varroa mite called jacobsoni which is less of an issue than the Varroa destructor," he said.
"I'm not an entomologist but my understanding is that the type of Varroa mite is one which does not usually affect European honey bees, it's not a natural host to this particular species of Varroa mite."
"If Varroa destructor got into Australia and got into the European honey bees,which are used for crop pollination and so forth, it is absolutely a significant potential problem and that's why we take the steps we do at the border."
He says they are confident no bees escaped for a number of reasons.
"First of all we identified the hive and had it destroyed, secondly the bees were all in a pretty weak state and that's no doubt because they'd had quite a period of time with nothing to eat."
"Thirdly, it was very windy on that day and bees tend not to fly in those sorts of windy conditions and last of all we have done surveillance around the water area and no further bees have been identified."
Asian honey bees were first detected in Cairns in 2007 and that region is now a restricted area to prevent the spread of the insect pest outside Far North Queensland.

2012-12-09 The craft side of beekeeping

One thing I hadn't really bargained for when I got into this game, is all the "craft" that goes with beekeeping.

  • Assembling boxes, nailing frames , fixing the foundation, etc.
  • Making labels for jars.
  • Washing jars.
  • Getting those bloody labels off.
  • Eating lots of pickled cukes, because the jars are the right size for honey.

So I needed some extra boxes (one for Albina, and one my boxes here has got a rot-hole in it, that the girls are using as an extra door)
Also frames, about 20 of them. A tedious job, but worth getting right.

I guess you can get all this stuff ready-made, but the cost is prohibitive.
Even if you assemble yourself, its around $60 per super, without any top or bottom.
(25 for the super, 15 for the frames, another 15 or so for foundation, plus wire, paint, nails, etc.)

Each triple decker owes us around $200, I reckon, just in materials.

There are cheaper places, but it depends on how far you want to travel. I've got a bee shop in Brunswick I go to. Exy, but close, I ride my bike.

  Frame assembly line
the shed.

In other breaking news, a neighbour from over the back fence came around and told me bees were attacking his kids, and he was afraid to go outside.
 i tried to calm him down, but it didn't work.
Even though I'm entitled to keep my bees here, am a registered beekeeper, and am following all the rules about setbacks from fences, etc, I'm looking at moving Metropolis and Other. 
It ain't gonna be easy to move triple decker hives full of honey.
I've found a place, an old friend of Adrians has a place not far away, but its not locked in yet. Stay tuned.

2012-11-17 Count your Blessings / Painful lessons

So, as all you avid followers of this blog would know, last week I worked out that the Other was filling up fast, Metropolis and Baghdad were also filling .I basically put aside the whole weekend for playing with bees, it was time to collect the rent. Check all the local hives, harvest time.
First Over to dad's, where Edis gave me a hand checking Baghdad, Rima also partly suited up to take some snaps for us... last time Baghdad had lots of say 60% -70% capped frames, not quite ready.

This time, loads of full frames, 5 in all, and others were close. 4 from the top box, one from the middle.

Note the Lithuanian basketball sneakers. Classy.
Edis, smokin' em down. 

 The rule of thumb I've heard is you harvest a frame when 70% of it is capped, this the point at which the overall sugar content is such that the harvested honey will no longer ferment, which makes the honey rank and unusable. The uncapped cells are less sugary, the bees heat, evaporate and ingest / regurgitate the nectar until it goes from 15% sugar (as collected from the flower) to 85% , at which they cap it, a stockpile ready for winter, when they don't fly, just eat honey to keep themselves warm.
So, at about this point Rima got stung (she took the photos, thanks!), she got hit I think 3 times. At about the same time dad got clobbered as well, through his cords. The bees are difficult to brush off corduroy. They both retreated inside, while I finished the job. Whew. Stingose all 'round, except for me. 
So, later that afternoon, it was Metropolis and Other's turn, Andrius popped around, and kinda reluctantly gave me a hand. He took most of these photos, apart from a couple that Jazmina took. 

Suiting up

Just take a close look at that taping.
This is a man who does not want to be stung (and wasn't!)

Smokin it up.

I love those weird non-perfect hexes in there....

 This stinger on my glove. I'm totally converted to these new long-sleeve gloves dad gave me. (How the hell is it that purpose-made beekeeping gauntlet gloves, or even the suit are not sting proof??)
Stealing Honey: You grab a full frame, brush the bees off over the box, then retreat to the other end of the yard, flicking bees off the frame the whole way, then you quickly get it in a box and put the lid on.

This is the harvest, 3 full boxes of frames, 22 all up, including the 5 from Baghdad.
There's gonna be some spinning tonight.

1 Sting for me, on my heel (pinched a bee in my boot)
5 for Edis
3 for Rima, on her arms
and 1 doozy for Jazmina, she took a couple of snaps unsuited, got closer....zing, mailed on the temple.

Sting Tally:This season: 18 so far (Jonas 8, Edis 6, Rima 3, Jazmina 1)

2011/2012 season: 48 (Jonas 30 Adrian 1 Edis 6 Jazmina 10 Rima 1)
2010 / 2011 season: Heaps
Honey Tally:This season: 30 litres so far.
2011/2012 season: 49 Litres
2010 / 2011 season: 34  Litres
That's about 1 sting per Litre.

Photo below is taken before her whole face swelled up, eye closed.....be careful out there, folks. She took it bravely, a real trooper.

So, after all that, once the sun went down and the bees were all tucked in bed, time to extract. Dad came around with a bottle of vino, gave me a hand.  Tedious business, and very sticky. And cleaning up after is a real bastard, at the end of the night. BUT, just over 30 litres in all, about 7 from Baghdad, the rest from Other and Metropolis.

Here's the setup.
Spinner at the back. The blue esky had the uncapping setup on it. Two supers and the plastic tub, full of frames ready to spin

Edis gave it a bit of a twirl.

Honey gate at the bottom of the spinner, and a simple two-stage mesh filter. It clogs up pretty quick, the trick is to let it settle for as long as possible first, the bubbles and debris float to the top, you scoop them off. That's the logic with the gate, collect it from the bottom where it is cleanest, the less-clean stuff comes out last.


Uncapping with a hot knife, the bits we sliced off ended up contributing about 4 litres, catching in a rough mesh and then filtering it at the end of the process.

Shed view, bottom left is the uncapping tray overflowing with sliced-off cells, dripping into a tub. The bulk of the honey was all kept on the stacked little table at left, with the little water containers to keep the ants out. Always a risk, and you try to keep everything clean, difficult when you are dealing with honey. Went through about ten tea-towels, and several clean buckets of water for wiping, rinsing.
Yeah, and the couch. No shed is complete without one.

Later on, filtering. Ideally, you do this at the same time as extracting, but I had just too much honey to deal with in one night. in one hit. This is the day after. Also, I had to return the stickies (just-spun frames) to thier respective hives, fill the empty spaces in the hives and let the girls fill them up again. Which is a whole 2 other stories, but that's enough for tonight.


2012-11-11 Northcote is ready for harvest

On the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh day, 
we remember the fallen, 
those that have worked tirelessly to bring us the Honey.

And then we go out, suit up and check the bees.

Bit of a beard on Metropolis lately.
I went through both hives, Metropolis is getting full, but Other has 10 frames ready to go, the remaining 6 are pretty close. Next weekend will be harvest time, weather permitting.
Both healthy, no sign of any swarming, all mould gone, looking great. Heavy.

Lots of Banksias blossoming in the neighbourhood, lately
 This one was fairly humming, A streeet tree a few metres up the road, you sensed the vibrations in the air as you walk by...

 I prepared a bottom board for the Taggery hive that has a rot problem

 Shed view. Quite a bit of beekeeping gear in here.

 My brekky. 

 And the end result: 5 stings. This is just after I took the suit off. Once again, wrists are a vulnerable point, they sting straight through the suit. You can see the mark from where the glove gauntlets were.
5 stings for me, both on forearms, through the suit. 

Sting Tally:This season: 8 so far (Jonas 7, Edis 1)
2011/2012 season: 41 (Jonas 30 Adrian 1 Edis 6 Jazmina 3 Rima 1)
2010 / 2011 season: Heaps
Honey Tally:This season: nil so far. But looking good.
2011/2012 season: 49 Litres
2010 / 2011 season: 34  Litres
That's about 1 sting per Litre.

Bees have teeth!

So...., after telling people for years that bees only sting, they don't bite, apparently bees can bite, they chomp on parasites and the like, inject their victims with some stuff that paralyses them.

This article below is lifted directly out of the BBC website, I hope they don't mind, and here is a link as well:

The varroa mite is endemic throughout both feral and cultivated honey-bee colonies (...but not here..... yet!).The pests that honey-bees bite include varroa mites as well as wax moth larvae.

Honey-bees are known for their sting, but scientists have now discovered they can also bite.
Bees resort to biting when faced with pests, such as parasitic mites, that are too small to sting.
Close study of the biting behaviour has revealed that they secrete a chemical in their bite that stuns pests so they are easier to eject from a colony.
Tests suggest the chemical could also have a role in human medicine, as a local anaesthetic.
Stun tests
Dr Alexandros Papachristoforou, a biologist at Greece's Aristotle University of Thessaloniki told the BBC honey-bees had previously been seen dealing with pests that lived alongside them in colonies but this had always thought to be part of their grooming behaviour.
"Everybody thought that was it. Full stop," Dr Papachristoforou said. "But that's not the case. It's something totally different and was just there and we could not see it.
"I think we know too many things about the pathology of honey bees," he said. "We are still missing a lot of basic knowledge on their biology and behaviour."

If the population of mites in a hive is left unchecked they can sap the strength of workers, making them much more susceptible to viruses, disease and other debilitating conditions.
Wax moth larvae burrow through the comb in hives gradually destroying the cells where broods are raised and honey stored.
The knock-out effect of the chemical secreted in the honey-bee bite, known as 2-heptanone, was discovered as Dr Papachristoforou and colleagues observed bees dealing with pests.
Dr Papachristoforou recovered wax moth larvae that had been ejected from a hive, assuming the bees had killed them. Instead, he said, the larvae had started wriggling again soon after being ejected.
Before now bees were thought to secrete 2-heptanone as an alarm pheromone to tell other colony members about a potential threat.
However, said Dr Papachristoforou, this had never seemed an entirely satisfactory explanation because 2-heptanone was so volatile that it quickly lost its potency. In addition, he said, bees had at their disposal a much more powerful chemical alarm signal.
To stun pests, the 2-heptanone is injected at the site of the bite a bee inflicts on a mite, moth or larvae.
Early tests suggest 2-heptanone may also find a role in humans as a local anaesthetic. It could be an alternative to well established treatments such as lidocaine that can provoke allergenic reactions in some people.The researchers published their results in the journal Plos One.
"The potential implications of this new research for honey-bees and their interactions with varroa mites and wax moth larvae will need to be looked at in more detail, but the initial results look really interesting," said Giles Budge, senior researcher with the UK's National Bee Unit.
"I think it is amazing that despite all the years of intensive study there are still massive discoveries to be made about fundamental honey-bee physiology such as the ability to paralyse small insects and mites," he said.
Dr Papachristoforou, said the good news about the research was that bees would not inflict any damage on humans if they bit them.
"Humans cannot be bitten by bees," he said. "They have such small mandibles they can only use them against larvae and mites."

....and here's a bee tooth to prove it (lifted of the papers website, linked above):

Figure 2. The honeybee mandible and the result of biting wax moth larvaea) SEM scan of a honeybee mandible. P, the pore from which 2-H is secreted; G, groove; S, spikes; E, edges. b) the opening created in a wax moth larvae exoskeleton after a honeybee bite. 1, 2, and 3 are parts of the mandible that penetrate the corresponding points on the wax moth larvae exoskeleton.

2012 10 28 Baghdad - lazy spring

I pushed my bike over to dad's to check on the girls down Alphington way. beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon. A few weeks since I'd checked, and last time they were doing OK, healthy, lots of half-filled frames. I thought if there was only one super on top instead of 2, I'd have harvested by now, but having the second box on cuts me a bit of slack with regard over-crowding (being a trigger for swarming). Lets me be a bit more lazy with my checks too. Turns out it was pretty much the same as last time.

I only had my phone camera, so no shots of the process, just before and after (other than the shot of the bees on Edis' back.)

 This is where I grabbed my phone.... that's a lot of bees, round the back of dads head and upper back. 
Dad didn't know they were there. Its amazing how still they are sometimes, all hell broke loose when I shook them off him, absolutely beserk.

I had made a point of scraping out a few big spoonfuls of the fresh stuff, which is very tasty when fresh and still warm.
Edis below, enjoying a minor harvest.
The way he goes through honey, it'd last the afternoon.

In summary:
- plenty of honey, but unconsolidated, so barely unharvestable.
- healthy number of bees, lots of brood, lots of grubs
- didn't see the queen, but lots of eggs etc.
- One supersedure cell, with a grub in it. Mashed it.
-  No sign of any pests, mould, disease, anything.
- This is the healthiest and strongest hive we have.
- A bit Cranky, they were taking pot shots at dad for the next day or so, while he watered the garden.

2 stings for me, both right forearm, through the suit. 1 for Edis, through his cords.

Sting Tally:This season: 3 so far (Jonas 2, Edis 1)
2011/2012 season: 41 (Jonas 30 Adrian 1 Edis 6 Jazmina 3 Rima 1)

2010 / 2011 season: Heaps
Honey Tally:This season: nil so far
2011/2012 season: 49 Litres
2010 / 2011 season: 34  Litres
That's about 1 sting per Litre.