Where did winter go?

Wow it’s swarming season already with quite a few swarms spotted in the last few weeks…and technically its still winter.

So if you haven’t checked your hive now is the time to have a look in the brood box and see whats going on with a view to minimising swarms. Its also a good time to do one of your quarterly disease checks.

So once you get a day over about 18C dust off the smoker crack the lid and have a look.

You are looking to see if they have enough room to store honey (you may need to harvest) and also to make sure they have about 5 full frames of honey or equivalent to last Spring.

Once your into the brood box you need to check every frame for signs of AFB (The DPI has excellent resources to help identify this) and generally have a look at the laying pattern of the queen to assess if she is going ok. Look for eggs, pollen stores and capped brood.

If you find a queen cell you can consider splitting the hive to prevent swarming, or just let them swarm and catch the swarm when they do.

If all is well then put the hive back together and have a cup of tea, time to marvel at the wonder of bees and their hive.

Beekeeping shop first month of operation

Our shop has been open for a month now and people are slowly realising that there is a beekeeping supplies shop in Mascot Sydney. We made a few hard decisions when working out what to stock in our shop and have decided that we will only stock beekeeping equipment that we would use ourselves. There is a lot of rubbish now making its way into the market that looks the part but when you handle it you realise its not much good, so we guarantee all our products will perform as you would expect.

We are also purchasing assembled beekeeping gear from a disability services company so when you buy our assembled frames and boxes you are contributing to a great cause.

Come and have a chat or check out our range online shop.theurbanbeehive.com.au

New season health checks

We have lots of bee disease in Australia and one that is becoming quite common is AFB. Having had to kill hives because of AFB we are really aware of it, and in our beekeeping operation of only 100 hives or so, are able to run very good isolation of hive material.

AFB is a spore-based bacteria. The spores can live for 30 or more years and are very difficult to kill, which means that if you detect an infected hive, the only way to guarantee the AFB is gone is to kill the bees and then burn the hive and hive material or gamma irradiate it.

The spores are easily spread from hive to hive if you feed honey back to your bees (illegal in Australia) or put stickies back on a hive that came from a different one, so a barrier system that isolates hive material to a single hive is the best way to keep it out of your hives. With barrier control, if you’re unlucky enough to have a hive that is affected at least the spores will not have been spread to other hives.

When you inspect for AFB it’s important to shake the bees off each brood frame and carefully check for sunken cells. There’s a helpful resource here: http://www.afb.org.nz/


We do this every six months; it shouldn’t be necessary to do it any more often than that.

The good news is so far no disease and a great variability of our hives in relation to swarming. We have found that many hives in the CBD are pretty much drone free which is a pretty good indicator of swarm preparedness, in contrast to the hives in Bondi which were packed with drones.

New factory and shop

Over at The Urban Beehive we’ve been busy getting our new honey-packing facility ready – and we’ve been building a shop.

We aim to provide beekeeping equipment for all styles of beekeeping so will have Warre hives and honey presses for sale along with Langstroth gear and more. We are aiming to stock as much Australian-made gear as is practical.

If you register at http://www.theurbanbeehive.com.au we’ll let you know when the shop is open.


Byron Bay Writers Festival

I was lucky enough to be invited to be a panelist at the recent Byron Bay Writers Festival. This four-day event is an amazing gathering of 100 or so authors who speak on panels covering all sorts topics: from politics to fantasy. Inside seven white marquees there were conversations, panels, readings, lectures and book launches all running concurrently.

It was a truly inspiring event and one that I’d like to make a regular part of my diary.


The Blog starts here!

So I started The Beevangelist blog a few years ago, which I’ve now updated to the version you’re reading now.  I’ve uploaded a lot of old posts from my original blog into this one.

It’s a timeline of my discovery of beekeeping, documenting lots of the fun and stings I’ve had along the way.

Wrapping up the season

Well the days are getting shorter, the daytime temp is starting to drop and the girls are much less active so it looks like our very long season this year is coming to a close.

It’s been a huge year of growth with some major new sites including The Botanic Gardens and Centennial Park apiaries to name a few. It looks like Sydney is finally getting the idea of saving bees – today there is much less complaining about bees and more support.

We have had a very mixed season with stop-start honey flows, very cranky bees, long hot days (even during winter) and everything flowering out of sequence. Despite that we’ve had a reasonable harvest this year (although my country colleagues have had very poor honey flows and have been resorting to feeding the bees during summer).

I have had a very busy year. In 2013 I was approached to write a book on backyard beekeeping and that has taken a huge amount of time but was a very interesting process and hopefully a big help to lots of budding beekeepers out there. So keep an eye out for Backyard Bees by Murdoch Books, released 1st August.

Time for me to brew a cup of tea and put my beekeeping feet up for a few months’ rest.


A tale of two queens

A few weeks ago during a bee course we noticed a hive that appeared to be preparing to supercede their queen. Supercedure is where the hive decides the current queen is failing and gets ready to replace her with a brand new one. Usually a swarm is not produced.

The hive was apparently healthy, we could see no evidence of the queen failing and there was a good brood pattern. All seemed just fine to my eye so it was decided to re-queen the hive once the supercedure had happened.

The new queen arrived in the post, the hive was opened and the queen search began. There was evidence of a few queen cells that had been torn down and the supercedure cell was hatched… but hang on… the queen was marked so she must have been the old queen. A good laying pattern could be seen with lots of eggs but not a lot of capped brood. On a hunch the search continued and sure enough a second queen was located. She was a bit small and either a virgin or just mated. Both queens were dispatched and the new queen introduced in a cage.

So it is possible to have a hive with two queens. Who knows how long this would have continued before the old one was killed by the hive or the new queen… those bees really are tricky.


A busy year ahead

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog over the last few months with a crazy season here in Sydney and a few projects taking up all of my spare time. But I am back and will hopefully be posting more often about what’s been happening.

We had a weird beginning to the season here with a very warm winter followed by not a lot of rain meaning that the expected swarms did not appear and in fact the honey flow was very slow. Some parts of the state are actually feeding their bees to keep them alive.

We then had solid rain that has brought on the flow and we now have solid honey flows in most of our apiaries.


Queen breeding

So I decided to try my hand at queen breeding using a jenter style queen kit this year, as the quality of the queens we received last year was questionable. Basically it’s a no graft kit where you place the queen into a special box and she lays into little cups that can be placed into a queen raising bar. I followed the instructions leaving the unit in place for a few days to inherit the hive odour, then placed the queen into the box for three days before releasing her.

I then proceeded to check the cells for the larvae but there was none. I then noticed larvae on the frame I’d put in which was impossible… except the bees had been removing the eggs and placing them on the frame, cunning little devils.

Luckily there were enough eggs in enough cells that I was ok. The next step was to place the cups back into a queen-less hive so the girls would raise these eggs as queens. So I checked each frame carefully to make sure no queen cells were present otherwise the new queen would hatch early and kill my queens. No queen cells found. I inserted the queen raising bar…

Fast forward 10 days and all the queens should have been capped. With eager anticipation I checked on my queen cell bar only to find that all the queen cells had been destroyed… damn girls were too clever and there was a hidden queen cell. So it’s back to square one. Bees 2 Beekeeper 0