Swarming bees

Ok, so you’ve checked your bee hive and there are heaps and heaps of bees and nectar coming in and a full brood box… there’s a good chance they will swarm so what do you do?

We have tried just about every method you read about and none of them seem to work with any sort of accuracy. The best thing you can do is split the colony. Despite what you read, there’s no need to buy a queen. If you use this method the girls are quite good at raising a new queen all by themselves.

The way you do it is open the hive and put a new base and brood box beside the donor hive. (There’s no need to move it away from the donor hive.) Remove half the brood frames from the donor hive and put them in the split. Don’t shake off the bees – you want bees of all ages in both hives. There’s no need to look for the queen either; just make sure that both hives have eggs so a queen can be raised. You then fill the gaps on either side of the brood with either stickies drawn or undrawn frames, and put an excluder on each box… if you use them.

Do the same with the honey super so you have effectively split the hive in two with both halves having half the brood and half the honey. Check back in a week and carefully check each brood frame. The hive with the queen will be happily filling those empty frames, while the queen-less hive should have some queen cells. I usually pick the biggest, most advanced queen cell and destroy the others to prevent after swarms.

If after 40 days there is no sign of a laying queen in the queen-less hive you can recombine it with the donor using the newspaper method or use a purchased queen… but be really sure there is no queen. They sometimes take quite a while to become fertile laying queens.


Spring is here: it’s time to check your hives

So, with the warm weather spring has come early and we have bees swarming. Life is good if you’re a bee.

Last year we tried checkerboarding to reduce swarming, a technique where you insert undrawn frames into the brood nest moving the other frames up and into the middle of the box… it didn’t work.

This year we moved all our queen excluders up before winter to create two brood boxes, in effect knowing that as the honey stores come in they will push the brood back down into the bottom box, trying a method of checkerboarding that alternates empty and honey-filled frames above the brood. So far I think having the excluder up is the best method and is making a difference, though I’m not sure about the checkerboarding.

The next month or so will tell. It’s the busy time with very frequent hive checks as nothing strikes more fear into a bystander’s heart than a bee swarm, especially one in the city.


It’s summer in winter

Things have been a little quiet here at The Beevangelist as I’ve been taking a winter break from bees… except the weather has been really warm with many 20c days. The bees, birds and plants think it’s spring and we have already had a swarm and a few swarm calls. I for one will miss my winter hibernation but I am also really concerned about this unseasonably hot weather and what it means for our climate and the world.

There is a big chance that if we have a cold snap many of the baby birds and new plant shoots will die and the bees which will have huge summer populations will starve, a really horrible outcome.

Before I became a beekeeper I used to think wow what a lovely warm winter, isn’t it nice… now I worry about my bees.


AFB followup

I’ve finally got over the shock of having caught the beekeeper’s equivalent of an STD and instead of not telling anybody I am shouting out loud. I have learnt quite a lot in the last two weeks about AFB and how it’s spread and how to control it. I’ve also done a fair bit of analysis of our systems and more than a bit of soul searching.

Last week I headed off to the apiary, petrol in hand, to suffocate the infected hive before it died out and infected the ones nearby, or the drift of worker bees spread it. I sealed the bees in and poured about a cup of petrol in. The bees roared as soon as the vapour hit them trying in vain to disperse it before they died. Death was quick – about 2 minutes – but it felt like a lifetime and gave me a horrible feeling, something I do not want to repeat any time soon.

So what now? We are inspecting all our hives and I mean really looking at each brood frame (it’s a slow process). We will destroy any hive with symptoms as a precaution. We have to quarantine all potentially infected equipment and will melt down any combs that are more than a season old as another precaution. Any hive bodies, frames, excluders etc. will be irradiated.

We have good records with all hives tracked via software and so know what has happened to the infected hive since we obtained it. We will either burn or irradiate all equipment that has come into contact with the hive… and are looking closely at our management practices with a view to minimising any cross contamination.

One thing we have already done this year is move our queen excluders up at the end of winter. We will rotate the bottom two boxes over, put the excluder back down and when the old honey frames are robbed, melt them down. I think this will become standard practice and will allow us to keep all frames in the brood no older than 12 months… and eliminate AFB spore build up. We had always replaced half the brood frames but this will replace them all.

Because we have a large number of distributed apiaries, keeping equipment segregated from our apiaries is difficult, but we are going to have to invent a system that makes sure all frames go back to the hive they have come from… difficult but not impossible.

So it’s a waiting game and everything is crossed that we caught this before it spread to our other hives… time will tell.


Oh no, we have AFB!

So we went through the hives in Randwick as part of the Sydney Bee Club field day, doing our inspections leading up to winter. One of the hives was looking a bit slow despite being re-queened recently and deserved a look. I always tell people to look and listen to your hives before you open them as lots can be learned using your senses. We cracked the hive open, found two full supers of honey and were rubbing our hands together with excitement before we noticed the brood looked a bit off. Closer inspection revealed American Foul Brood. AFB as it’s called is a bacterial spore infection that affects larvae and causes it to die in the cell.

It has a distinctive pattern and can be tested with a rope test (poking a stick into a capped cell and seeing if the mush ropes out). There are plenty of online resources about AFB including this one: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/honey-bees/pests-diseases/videos.

It’s easily spread by contaminated frames and honey. Usually it’s spread by an infected hive that is robbed and the robbing bees take the infected honey back to their hive and the cycle continues. We plan to destroy the hive in the next few days by burning it and will irradiate the supers and frames that may have come into contact with it.


Botanic Gardens hive

We moved the hive out of the Gardens last night. It’s been a huge success and appears to have put on a lot of honey in the time it’s been there. I think we can declare the test a success and look forward to putting some permanent hives in there for a full-blown Botanic Gardens honey variety.

hive view


A bee hive for TedX

TedX asked us to provide some honey for the meal being prepared by Matt Moran as a showcase for local produce.  We already have hives in the area but thought: wouldn’t it be great to get a hive really close – as in really, really close to the Opera House.  And so the mission began for a location.

The TedX people found a spot in the Royal Botanic Gardens so I did a viewing yesterday and we’re moving the hive in on Friday.  It’s rather exciting I have to say.


Hives go here.


Hive moving: usually it goes well

This week we moved some hives from Marrickville to our Randwick apiary sites – we’re talking big hives full of lots of healthy bees and quite heavy.

I have a hive cradle that makes things easy; it’s a design that gives you a large handle on the front and back of the hive and makes it quite easy to carry a heavy hive, without having to bend to pick it up from the bottom and having your fingers slip off the bottom board.

Anyway it all went well with the new hives installed and happy in their new location.

Next came a move in the Hunter Valley, ostensibly a much easier move of two 8-frame hives about 5 kms. I got up there and checked the destination location first. We decided on a good spot a little elevated up a bank to keep them out of the fog.

I waited until dark and headed to the hives.  I have a moving screen that fits on the front of 8- or 10-frame boxes and allows the bees to ventilate the hive.  So the first step was to walk up to the first hive and whack it on with a bit of gaffer tape and a ratchet strap.

I went to to do the same thing with the second hive but it had a handle on the front that blocked the screen and by now the bees were onto me and started investigating who was banging on the hive… time to leave them alone for a bit.

So I put on the bee gear I had brought with me which was a face veil. I zipped up my polar fleece to keep the bees out and went in with a smoker and some gaffer tape to tape them in.  Most went inside and I taped them up.

The hives were three boxes high and didn’t fit in my car so they were going into the recipients’ jeep. We loaded them in but there wasn’t anything to strap them to.  They’ll be fine, I said… I was to regret that decision.

Off we headed and it was apparent pretty quickly that the rough road was going to cause some problems.  At the first big bump the hives rocked and the screen popped off releasing the bees into the jeep. I marched in in my polar fleece and tried to strap them down while my friends got their gear sorted – they were going to be driving a car full of bees. A number of stings later we headed off at a very slow pace and after a few tense moments arrived at the destination.

It was then that the folly of clambering up a cliff face in the dark hauling bee hives became fully apparent. We did our best with the first hive – thankfully it was the fully sealed one and the heaviest of the two.

The next one was a) lighter, but b) covered in annoyed bees so it was a much more difficult operation to get it up there without screaming “the bees, the bees!” and running away.  But we succeeded.  I discovered that you should always wear loose jeans as a number of bees worked out that my jeans were tight in unpleasant places where you should never get stung.

I suggested that they leave the jeep’s door open and sure enough, in the morning many escaped bees had found the hive.  There was also a handful of cold ones that once they got a bit of sun headed for their new home.

So the lesson learnt was moving bees is always full of surprises and always take all your gear with you. A polar fleece is no substitute for a bee suit.


Melting cappings

Last year we had heaps of cappings to melt down – heaps!  I used a gas ring and a stainless pot and it took forever.  This year the bee club purchased a cappings melter so I took delivery of it and set it up.

The unit needed a couple of valves to get it going – a 50-mm drain valve (it’s that big) to let all the crud out; and a 15-mm inlet valve that’s used to float the wax up and out of the unit once it’s melted and settled.

In use it’s filled to the first ring in the tank about 50mm above the element; then the remainder of the tank is filled with wax cappings.

The element is turned on and the water brought to the boil then reduced so it’s kept hot but not boiling. Over time the crud will settle out of the wax and then you add cold water to the bottom which floats the clean wax up and out of the tank. It’s a really simple system that performs like a dream and it’s going to make processing all our cappings a really quick and easy process; and produce wax that’s perfectly clean.


Learn beekeeping from The Beevangelist

Want to learn urban beekeeping from The Beevangelist?

We are running a few workshops over the next couple of months for aspiring beekeepers in the Sydney urban area who would like to learn how to keep bees, with a particular focus on rooftop or backyard beekeeping.

It’s a one-day course and will include hands-on experience in one of our city apiaries.  For more information Look Here.