As you might have noticed if you are following me on Instagram, Wendell and I are receiving a Flow-Hive beehive in December. We have ordered it in March 2015 during the epic and ultra popular fund raising campaign of a father and son from Byron Bay (Australia). We found their idea very clever and I submitted it to my brothers who have been beekeeping at my parent’s house for years. They thought it was a very good idea so we took the plunge.
What was very important to us was to get as much information as we could and feel ready to take care of our beehive as well as we can. Beekeeping has been practiced for millennia but it is not as easy as adopting a cat or planting a red currant bush… First you need to get a swarm and drop it in your hive. It sounds pretty scary. Then you need to be well aware of the array of diseases, fungi and parasites which attack bees. This knowledge is very important because leaving a beehive without care is a big risk for the environment. If your bees are sick they can contaminate neighbouring beehives. The Australian bee population is pretty healthy compared to the rest of the world. This is thanks to amazing border controls and good beekeeping practices.
For Wendell and I it was paramount that we would learn how to react to a parasite or a disease, find the right people to talk to and to get help from.
So we took a whole day Bee Course with the Illawarra Beekeepers Association based in Sutherland (south of Sydney).
The first part of the day was a theoretical course about bees and their social behaviours. There are basically 3 types of bees: the queen, the drones and the workers.
The queen is “made” by the worker by feeding a chosen worker’s baby bee with royal jelly. It becomes an oversized bee with smaller wings and multiple sperm storage “pockets”. She lays between 1500 and 2000 eggs per day. When she is too old to sustain this rate, workers make another queen and if the old one is not capable of killing her, she will be replaced.
Drones are the only males in the colony, all they do is have sex and nothing else. They are fed by the workers. They look much bigger than workers and have big eyes.
Workers are the majority in the colony. They do everything from cleaning up, chucking the corpses outsides, feeding everyone, harvesting pollen and nectar, raising the kids, etc. They basically work themselves to death and in some cases, in urban beehive lit by city lights all night, they work 24/7.
So we went up to the next door apiary and had a look inside the hives.
It was a rainy day not ideal for opening the hives but fantastic for photos :)
Neal Robinson was one of our teachers and we felt very lucky. He is very knowledgeable, patient and extremely funny.
Wendell worked out the smoker with pine needles and paper. That’s me on the right with my cow girl gum boots trying to “unglue” the frame and lift it.
Lamorna Osborne holding a drone she marked with a blue pen.
Lamorna was our host and main speaker. She is a local GP who fell into beekeeping against her will and it became a true passion. She is now a key member of the association and is playing a great role in the research in disease especially varroa destructor which is affecting the world population of bees except in Australia… for now…
There were a few close calls where infected swarms were found in shipping containers that had just landed on Australian soil. Luckily they were immediately destroyed.
She is also a strong advocate for the use of honey as a medication or ointment. She has seen extraordinary results on her patients. Untreated, organic, home-harvested honey is full of antibiotics. It is a great help for burns, sores and skin conditions. It helps of course sore throat and is excellent for your health in general.
I hope you forgive me for the enormous amount of pictures in this post…
Here we learnt all about the bee nursery called the brood box. On top of it, you can see a sort of rack which gaps are smaller than the size of a queen bee. This prevents the queen going in the upper parts of the beehive, the super, so she cannot “spoil” the honeycomb with larvae. The super (one, two or more boxes) only contains food storage for the beehive; a percentage of which is harvested by the beekeeper.
The smoke is used to confuse the bees’ sense of smell. They will be less likely to attack, not smelling the special “go get them” smell :) It calms them down. Smokers have been used by apiarists since antiquity.
When the super boxes have been inspected and put aside, the amount of bees outside the hive becomes pretty impressive.
Using a smoker requires a bit of practice and a lot of young beekeepers complain that theirs stops smoking very quickly. It needs to be well fired up and the smoke being fed by oxygen it requires that you press on the mini accordion regularly.
This is us :) Proud apprentice beekeepers.
Wendell is so good at using this metal tool which is necessary to separate each box from the other. Bees use propolis to block all airways and gaps.
You can see the beige propolis on the queen excluder.
Neal is a pro smoker ;) He can run this smoker for a long while without seeing it die out.
This is me learning how to take a frame out of the box using the hook on the metal hive tool. Each frame can contain up to 3 kilos of honey. Each box, according to the hive’s design can hold between 8 to 10 frames.
The reflex of bees when they feel threatened, when their hive is open and the frames are moved, is to drink as much honey as he can to be prepared to move out.
This is a 10 frames beehive with 9 frames in it to leave a bit of room between each of them.
There is a good way to use the metal hive tool to make sure you don’t ruin your hive’s corners.
On this photo (above) we’re using a magnifier to see bees drinking together in a pond of honey. See their little tongues?
We were working in small groups to make sure everyone had a turn.
Second turn, don’t drop the frame… don’t drop the frame!
This frame is soooo heavy, it’s crazy. It will definitely be selected for harvest, later on.
We learned why beehives are tilted forward. The idea is to avoid moisture ponding at the bottom when the weather is humid.
This frame looks brand new, it’s a work in progress.
OK, I think I will remember it now: you hook the side of the frame using the hive tool’s dent as a pivot.
This frame is very dark, it is from the brood box, the beehive nursery. It is the bottom box where the queen lives and lays her eggs.
Back inside, we learn how to fix a wax sheet on the frame.
This tool is melting the wax by heating each wire with an electric current. The wires are set in wax.
Then we went through the process of cutting off the wax caps with an electrically heated knife.
You should have smelled the honey cake with a hint of caramel smell…
Three frames are placed in the extractor. The centrifugal force is used pull the honey out of the honey comb.
Honey falls to the bottom.
It pours into a bucket from the bottom hole.
Each of us was given a pot of ultra fresh honey.
This course was a very complete first step in the world of beekeeping. We were given a complete guide (via email) of 144 pages about beekeeping in Australia.
We now feel more confident and ready to assemble our flat packed Flow-Hive when it arrives. We are now members of the club and will be able to contact our fellow members to get their opinion on where to place our hive in the garden, get advice on where to get our swarm and attend very interesting conferences.
We expect to improve pollination of our flowers, nuts, fruits and vegetables but also, and obviously, get delicious organic honey to spread, eat, cook with and cure our little boo-boos…
It is the beginning of a fascinating adventure.
NOTE: this post is not sponsored.