So I awoke to the news that Varroa mites had been discovered on board a ship in Sydney at Kurnell. Very scary stuff and enough to send a shiver down my beekeeping spine as we are the last place on earth without this pest.
Well it’s been a while since I posted here – it’s been a very busy month.
First, we’ve been building more bee boxes and more bee boxes and frames and more bee boxes. Can’t really see where they’ve all gone, I think the bees are eating them or something.
A few swarm extractions as well and a cut-out of a cable reel hive at a Sydney naval base – the girls had an excellent view and appeared to have been there a very long time as the comb was really old and black/grey.
Anybody that tells me bees prefer a certain size or type of hive has not really studied the sorts of home bees choose for themselves as they choose some very odd homes.
Last night I went to the release of a new book called RETHINK the way you live. It happened to be at a Kings Cross restaurant called Chez Dee where we have a couple of hives. They have some cute Bee grafitti at the moment. Chez Dee put on an amazing spread of yummy food and Amanda did a great job of talking via a set of headphones instead of a microphone in a classic RETHINK moment.
Well the swarming season has moved from quiet in the city to full swing with more splits to existing hives and a few swarms collected in the last couple of weeks. The girls have been cranky too with more than a few stings from the swarms which is unusual.
I am loving the corflute 5-frame nucs we bought that are so convenient being flat, light and easy to work with. If you’re interested I have them for sale and soon the major retailers will have them as well.
Every beekeeper wears some sort of protective gear and most will, over time, wear less gear as they get used to stings and get comfortable with bees… even me.
Today I went to collect a swarm, something I have done many times without a sting, except today the bees were not happy with me at all. Usually swarms are passive things but these girls were damn cranky giving me a number of stings on the hands, arms and one in my ear… and then I got this one which reminded me why you should wear a veil.
I have a surplus of hives this year so if you are looking to purchase a hive let me know. We also have a unique bee product, a flat-packed plastic nuc box available for $15. The nucs are great to have in the back of the car for the occasional unexpected swarm collection and are a sophisticated unit with rotating excluder entrance and plenty of ventilation.
We are also selling established hives at $250 for a single story hive; $350 for a double with good queen and brood in unpainted equipment; or $100 for a nucleus colony for your own equipment. We can supply painted equipment if you prefer.
Over at the urban beehive we are always lifting heavy hives onto rooves, a perilous and disturbing practice as many a hive has teetered on the edge and I can’t imagine how annoyed the girls would get if they fell. There had to be a better way and I think I have found it… Drum roll please… a materials lifter.
What is a materials lifter, I hear you say. Well they are designed for lifting air conditioning units and other heavy things up unto rooves and walls etc. I found one on eBay that needed a little work and can lift 135 kg up to 3.5 meters high. We have used this little beauty a few times now and I really don’t know we did without it… really it has made lifting those heavy hives so much easier.
It’s been busy this year with an early spring leading to lots of swarm activity. Over at The Urban Beehive we have inspected all of our hives and detected preparation for swarming in almost every hive we looked in.
What we look for is signs of queen cells. If you get an uncapped queen cell that contains a larvae then your hive is going to swarm within 7 days. If it’s capped it’s going to happen in a couple of days. In the past I have read you should destroy queen cells to prevent swarming but the girls just make a new one so that doesn’t help.
I have tried making space by moving brood fames up and adding undrawn frames but that doesn’t work either. I have been told that different hive construction (ie. topbar or warre) means no swarming but when you think about the trigger for swarming (warm weather with a good nectar flow) and the reason for it (spawning a new hive elsewhere) then I can’t see that the hive size or shape is relevant.
At any rate I found a swarm in a chimney cavity last week and that’s a pretty natural hive so I don’t believe it’s a brood space trigger but a pure season trigger. So our method this spring has been to check a hive for a queen cell and if one is found, then you false swarm the hive by taking two frames of brood and two frames of honey along with the old queen and split to a new hive.
I was alarmed yesterday by a call from a hive location on a busy shopping strip, telling me of a swarm. I was confused because we had split the hives two days earlier and there were no queens so a swarm was very unlikely. By the time I got there the swarm had moved on and I tracked it down to a nearby street, close to its source: a hive in a chimney that had swarmed a day or so earlier according to the neighbours.
It’s hard to explain that a swarm may fly in and not actually be from your hives, most people think you’re spinning a story.
I decided to try some swarm trapping this year and made a trap out of a used 8-frame super. The book I read said to use old timber and if possible, bee-used timber to give it the smell. Apparently the correct pheremone smell to add is lemon grass oil so I added that as well.
The box contains one old black comb and some very average frames with follower strips. I placed it in a shaded area in my backyard and there has been a constant stream of scout bees going in an out over the last few days … it feels a bit like fishing, waiting for a nibble.
I had noticed a couple of days ago that a hive had queen cells and was ready to swarm so I headed back with a nuc and some empty frames to false swarm the queen and hopefully prevent a natural swarm from occuring.
Once you see queen cells, it’s almost impossible to prevent a swarm; cutting out the cells is no preventative as they just make new ones and with the time frame to raise a queen being 14 days you really have to be on your toes looking for queen cells. The best method if you see a queen cell is to remove the queen and enough workers to a nuc away from the original hive so they think they have swarmed. Replacing a few brood frames with undrawn wax and moving the brood frames up into a super is also a way of reducing the need to swarm.
So I spent about an hour on two occasions during the day looking for her and she appears to have swarmed already which is a shame as she was a great queen.
So Sunday was a nice hot day and of course a good day for a swarm.
As usual, I launched in with no gloves and due to some poor trig, the bucket to collect the bees was not quite under the ball and they fell all over my arm and stung cause they were not happy at all… Hello Mr Crab Claw.
We also managed to install “La-Boheme” into an inner west community garden where they will be happy bees with lots of forage.