Vespula germanica

Vespula germanica

Those bloody wasps have just destroyed one of my hives. They are as bad as I have ever seen this year and I am sure the dry conditions have encouraged them.
I have spent two days trying to find the nest without success... I am peeved!
So, I have been hunting for solutions.
The wasps are meat eaters and come in looking for dead bees. Luckily, when they pick up the bee (or dead wasp) and take off back to their hive, they are slower and easier to see, making it possible to see the direction they are flying in to reach their nest.
So what to do...
Firstly, close your entrance to a few centemeters wide. The bees can defend their space better.
Secondly, if your bees are hungry, feed them to keep them strong and able to defend themselves.
Thirdly, use a wasp screen. Here are two options which you can make fairly easily.

This site has good background on wasps in Tasmania and suggests a glass sheet with a bee entrance at the top. (Thanks Karla, our Apiairy Officer)
And our friends at Kiwimana have designed a mesh screen cover using the same principle.

I am heading to the shed to make a glass one!

Happy Beeking!

Bee Tea

This is a dry year and a number of beeks are having to feed their bees before winter. I have discussed the acidity levels in natural hives before (3.8 to 4.5pH) and that sugar syrup raised this to the level in which diseases love to thrive (6pH). Due to the chemical arrangement of sugar in this form, the bees find it hard on their digestive system just like humans do. It weakens them. Where sugar is inverted (still sugar with sucrose and fructose but without the molecular bond), then the bees will find it more like a nectar or honey rather than a sugar like a cane syrup. The lemon assists to weaken the molecular bond.

Feeding is a last resort to keep the bees alive. So here is a method which is an adaptation of Bee Tea. It supports the bees and is more digestible. Only ever use white processed sugar for any form of sugar syrups or bee tea.

  • I take two cups of white sugar and
  • add a squeeze of half a lemon
  • prepare leaves of chamomile and thyme (use organic teabags or fresh herbs)
  • add a few grains of mineral salt
  • add one or 1.5 cups of 'just off the boil' water. Allow to infuse for 3 or 4 minutes, pour into the sugar and stir.

The mixture will go cloudy at first however continue to stir until it becomes clear again. Allow to cool fully before putting it into a top feeder. Ensure no syrup is able to drop into the hive as dampness is the enemy of bees. Feeding bees in the open is not recommended as it may set up robbing bees and spread disease.

Give the bees a break between feeding to encourage them to continue to forage outside the hive.

And remember, don't eat the honey produced from feeding. It is very unhealthy for you.

Happy beeking!


End of Honeyflow

Autumn has arrived and we are seeing less forage about. Urban beekeepers will still have some sources however if you are in the country areas, you will know that the leatherwood and gums have mostly finished. It looks like we may find some black gums that flower during Autumn and early Winter.

In suburbia or fabulous garden areas, the bees may have enough nectar to draw out comb but it will be limited and elsewhere it is impossible. The bees now will want to fill every cell they can with nectar but where there is non available, they may start using their reserves. To conserve the colony, they will reduce their numbers.

The bees will kick out the drones, reduce the breeding of forager bees and start breeding long lived bees (known as diutinus bees).  Forager bees live for three weeks and wear themselves out through constant foraging trips. The diutinus bees can live for four to six months and assist the bees to winter over. Some have amazing thermal capacity to keep the cluster warm and all will be reliant on the honey, pollen and propolis stores.

So have a good look about for what vegetation is flowering and producing nectar.

If you use a lino mat as an inner cover place a sample carpet mat on top for Autumn. This will help the bees keep the temperature up and the hive dry as they cap off their honey.

Keep an eye on your honey levels and aim for at least two honey ideals for the coming winter.

Happy beeking!

Bee Stings Galore

During the last week I was told about two instances of multiple stings from bees.

The first was about two beekeepers picking up a swarm. They rightly understood that swarms are usually very quiet and rarely sting. However this is only true for new swarms. If a swarm decides to 'set up camp', they immediately use much of their stores to start the comb. This can happen within a few days and when it does, the bees have something to defend - their new home!!

With no veils and suits on the beeks, the bees were able to inflict much damage to sensitive skin.

The second case involved an over-confident beginner who noted the films/videos where people in shorts and 'tank-tops', with no smokers would play with bees.  All went well the first few times. Then, not heeding the weather conditions and the sound of the bees, the lifting of the lid was enough to have the bees attack multiple times. 

In both stories they love attacking the face!  The lessons? 

Always wear a veil.  If bees stings the eye it means permanent blindness in both eyes, so never risk it. Better still, wear a suit and gloves.

Never assume swarms are not going to sting. Most of them are fine but some are not.

Always light the smoker even if you don't use it. The smoker is the best way to cover the pheromone from a bee sting and stop a frenzy of bees. Smoke the skin, then remove the sting. If you have bees bothering you during inspection, smoke your suit, hands/gloves and body. This nearly always stops the bees without blowing smoke all over the quiet bees, the comb and the honey.

Always treat bees gently. Use slow movements, low noise, and avoid jarring their frames and hive. They will reward you ten-fold and treat you kindly next visit (they can face-recognise and have a collective memory).

Happy Beeking oh brave souls!!

Droning on about Bees

Natural Comb built for Drones

Natural Comb built for Drones

I have a number of reports about dead drones or lower numbers of drones as we head toward the end of summer. This is perfectly natural and is created by the colony as the seasons change. When working with natural comb, one gets to see this cycle even more clearly.

In our cool temperate Tasmanian climate we experience short seasons for honey production, snow in many seasons, the highest number of rainy days across Australia and often many seasons in a day. It calls for a unique approach to our beekeeping however the cycles still follow the pattern of length of days/sunshine hours to prompt bee behaviour.

In Spring (September to November) as the colony rapidly expands, the bees ensure they create large numbers of drone cells for the peak of their breeding season. They raise the numbers to about 25% of the colony. You can see how plentiful they are on the frames and hanging outside virgin queen hives at this time of the year. And they are just the drones at home! Many of them are flying from hive to hive and congregating in the mating areas.

By Summer (December to February), the bees reduce the number of drones to about 15% and by Autumn (March to May), they reduce further to around 5%. When the temperature drops to 13 degrees the bees start their clustering. As Winter(June to August) gets closer, they ensure all the leftover drones are not fed and tossed out of home. When Spring again arrives one of the first tasks of the colony if the production of drones.

With natural comb production during Spring, the bees will quickly draw an abundance of drone comb and if you are only familiar with foundation, you might think they are overdoing it. The bees however, know best and they are keen to ensure they are able to reproduce and thrive. When they do not need to use foundation and build their comb, they ensure they have plenty of drones for a short period. The drones are helpful to the hive for temperature control, humidity control and bringing calmness to the colony. In fact they greatly assist the hive in its expansion through these tasks. As the season progresses, they reduce the number of drone cells, sometimes filling them with nectar.

An observant beekeeper will learn a natural sense of how much drone production occurs in a healthy, vibrant colony. Where drone comb is greatly excessive it may be another indicator of possible swarming or supercedure of a queen. This is a useful indicator when we appreciate how much drone production occurs in the natural cycle of a colony.

Happy beeking!

Smokers and Fire Danger

At the peak of summer we are reminded of the devastation done by bush fires. Smokers have been known to start fires in a number of ways.

Do not use smokers on days of high fire danger and total ban days. The smokers are a fire ball, ready to take off the moment they have increased air. This can happen in many ways from sparks coming out of the smoker as we use it, smokers falling over or sparks flying from a smoker on the back of a vehicle.

So, practice good fire safety at all times; light smokers where there is no material or debris that can ignite, do not put a smoker down on combustable material during or after use, and always have water easily accessible in case of fire.

If you are carrying a smoker on a ute or truck make sure it is closed (ie the smoking spout filled with something that will not burn) or better still, carry it in a closed metal container.

I have a large outside paved area for lighting and leaving my smoker. To extinguish it faster I lay it on its side provided I am there to watch it. Even then I have returned after a few hours to find smoke still coming out. The only safe way of extinguishing a smoker is with water. I tip the contents into a metal bucket half filled with water. If you tip contents onto the ground or cement you will have a large fire as the needles ignite into flames in the open air.

Happy Beeking!

After Rainy Days

Bees Ventilating the Hive

Bees Ventilating the Hive

Yesterday we had some welcome rain to break the drought. Today I have a number of reports/questions about unusual hive activity.
The bees have been rather 'house bound' over the last day or so because of the weather. When all the girls are home during wet days, the foragers often hang off in a quieter area and get some nap time but with all those extra bees at home and the nurse bees still working it often means the inside gets hotter, damper and stuffier.
This afternoon the sun came out and a number of hives have bearding out the front (extra numbers of bees either cooling down or ventilating to move the air about near the entrance). This is not unusual and two of my hives are doing the same.
They also have masses of bees out the front doing orientation. This often occurs in the early afternoon however there are larger numbers because some of the bees had missed out due to weather. They will settle after a while.

Another issue reported. Bees robbing hives (and no the robbers do not have capes or masks!!) although some of your girls may have an 'S' on their chest if they are fighting off robbers.
If you are seeing fights at the front of the hive and you think alien bees are getting in, then reduce the entrance of your hive. If you don't have a wooden reducer you can use anything... a handful of grass, newspaper, sponge and close up half your entrance for a few days.  If you have any small nucs then reduce it to about a half inch. Bees can defend a larger entrance as the hive grows stronger, but as the day length reduces and the colony slows, you will need to take some action.  Most hives are ok at the moment. By March/April I will begin to reduce some entrances again depending on the strength of the hive, and by June/July will have reduced all my hives by at least half as they cluster for the winter period. (Southern Hemisphere cool climate with late winters)

Sometimes you get robbing from another hive close to your hive.  I have only seen this once when I had a very large, strong hive about three feet from a smaller hive.  I needed to work on my open hive for a bit, so I took the lid off the stronger hive and they stopped the robbing within a few minutes. Opening their hive meant they needed to look after their own supplies. I reduced the entrance to the smaller hive as well and all was fine.

I am so impressed at how many of you are observing your bees and checking on their welfare. 
Happy beeking!

Bees and Smokers

When starting out with bees, I always suggest that new beekeepers buy the biggest smoker they can find, preferably one with a protection cage and a hook for placing it on the side of a box or hive toolbox. My experience has been that most beekeepers increase their hive numbers this requiring a smoker that continues to smoke for hours at a time.

Having said all that, I use little smoke if any, but always have a smoker lit just in case.


If you have a new smoker and it has a loose plate in the bottom, be sure to stand the legs up so the plate is higher than the air hole. From time to time this may need checking. They are made from a flimsy piece of metal and get pushed down when adding fuel.

With fuel, many of us use dried pine needles as it is critical the smoke is cool so it does not harm or disturb the bees. When collecting pine needles use only the freshest on top and avoid any old moldy pine needles as this is toxic and nasty on bees.

Other people use damp hay (not mouldy), toilet roll cardboard, wood chips... however all of these products need to be tested for coolness by puffing the smoke onto the inside of your wrist or other sensitive skin. The smoke must be cool. If I source pine needles from somewhere other than my regular trees, I test the coolness of the smoke.

There is a knack to starting a smoker. Take a handful of needles and light them. You want a strong flame so add further needles to achieve this. Then it is time to pack the smoker full of needles, working the bellow to add air. Push all the needles in with your hive tool and close the lid, adding more air if needed. A well packed smoker can burn for hours.

Ensure the smoker is creating smoke with little effort. Look closely to ensure it is not ash being pushed out from the bottom of the smoker. Bees do not like ash and it will not disarm the guard bees.

At the hive, use a little gentle smoke at the entrance to disrupt the communication of the bees and then wait for 20 seconds before opening the lid. I rarely need any smoke at the lid. The bees are usually working away quietly and will remember from past experience that you are slow and gentle with them.

Use smoke only when needed as too much smoke can agitate bees.  Interestingly, the best use for the smoke is to cover a bee sting which stops the alarm pheromone and prevents further bites, or to cover a suit so the smell does not annoy the bees.

Happy Beeking!

Foundation Options in Frames

Ideal Frame with wire and foundation

Many people ask me if I use foundation... yes, but I probably don't use foundation just as much. On the whole, bees prefer to build their own foundation. We only use foundation because of the invention of the honey extractor.  I use a few versions of frames and foundation, and whenever possible deliberately choose foundationless to help bees enjoy a natural and healthy environment.

I have two aims - allow the bees to replace comb every 3 or 4 years, particularly in Langstroth boxes. It enables them to maintain good health and raises the quality of brood, honey and wax. Also, I hope soon to only use foundation made by my bees rather than comb brought in from other beekeepers. We have no control over where this wax has come from, what chemicals are present and what spores or pests may be trapped in the wax.

Split pins holding the foundation.

The first option - a standard frame, wired with stainless steel and commercial foundation embedded on the wire. This arrangement is useful if you use a honey extractor, however foundationless frames of this size can be used in an extractor after two years using a slow speed (one year old comb is too soft).

Recent research is showing that stainless steel is not liked by bees and increases the iron content in larvae. It is not uncommon to see a row of empty cells along the wire line.

Ideal frame using a starter strip of thin wood

So a good alternative if you wish to use foundation is to use split pins instead. They work in a similar fashion to a hairclip. They can be easily removed and the entire honey comb harvested. While an improvement, it still uses manufactured foundation. This comb is still fairly strong and inspecting the frames in different positions is relatively safe.

Using no foundation means the bees may choose a creative way of drawing comb. To avoid this, the use of a starter strip may be helpful. This could be a little wax strip put into the groove with a heat gun, or a thin strip of wood.  To help the bees attach the comb, I rough up the top rail with a saw or rasp. Another means of achieving relatively straight comb without starter strips is to use a bare comb, roughed at the top and placed them between drawn frames. This by itself provides a good guide.

I often use this method when first converting a foundation Langstroth to foundationless. It is remarkable how well the bees adapt. They are highly productive during nectar flows and are able to draw many frames. In our short season, I allow the bees to build as much comb as they wish provided they have the nectar. If the season is poor or coming to a close, it is time to allow them to fill every piece of comb with pollen and nectar before winter.

Wax starter strip on Warre frame using a wet strip of wood as a guide

With no foundation, care must be taken to always keep the comb in an upright position. Any turning of the comb to a horizontal position will mean the comb drops off.

Warre and Top Bar hives use only a top bar for bees to drawer natural comb. Notice the rough marks on the bars to help with attachment. Use of a starter strip helps to keep comb straight. Top bars particularly can be very crooked and may need correcting during the first few weeks. Once they have a few combs straight, they generally do much better.

A more recent development with top bar frames, is using wooden starter strips or triangle. To further stabalise the comb, some people are using thin dowel pieces inserted in the top bar. Included below is an example of a set of top bar frames being used at Swampy Hollow Farm.

Top Bars made at Swampy Hollow Farm

Going foundationless is a healthy and lovely alternative. It is a much more natural process for the bees. It may take the bees more resources to build comb from stratch but they will be quieter, happier and healthier. As a beekeeper, it lowers your costs, takes less work and provides a cleaner, tastier honey.

Happy Beeking!

Building a Nucleus Colony 2

After all the expansion of a new nucleus colony to increase brood size (see earlier b blog), a slightly different approach is useful during 'honey flow'.  It is important for the brood to always have frames to expand should the bees wish to do so and, if there is a large and/ or fast nectar flow, there needs to be even more room.  Without room, the bees will put nectar in every available cell including those in the brood frames. Soon the brood is locked under honey and is said to be 'honey bound'. When this happens, the queen will slow her laying or the bees swarm. So here are some thoughts to continue expansion of the brood while increasing stores for your first winter over.

Two principles that may help...

Let the bees decide how high they want to take the brood. In a Langstroth, if the brood is only covering a small area of the top frame, then do not move brood frames up. This could weaken the brood area. They may have found their own equilibrium and want to keep their brood at that height. As long as they have room to the sides, this is fine.  If the brood area in the top box is high and large, continue to lift some frames to the next box.  These choices depend on how early you started your nucleus colony, the weather and forage as well as the strength of the colony. Some hives are already at four boxes while late starters are just filling their second box. As long as the colony is strong, they still have time to reach a good size before winter.

Bees do not like to continually walk over their capped honey. This is like wiping your feet on the carpet all the time!! It gets grubby fast. Bees need easy access to empty frames for the storing of nectar.

With the good honey flow this year, particularly in suburban areas, we need to increase the space more quickly than with the brood development. When four or five frames are filled with uncapped nectar or capped honey it is time to add another box. In some flows like blue gum and leatherwood, the bees can fill a box in a week, so plenty of room is required. Keep a close watch on the bees coming and going. If the weather is good and traffic is high there is a good chance that the nectar is building quickly.

In this first year of allowing a new colony to expand it is often useful to move capped frames to the outside allowing them to fill the fresher frames in the centre.  When the box is 50% full add another box this time under your first honey super. (This box is above the brood frames but below the first honey frame.) This gives the bees another chance to expand their brood if they wish or to continue to stack their pantry with nectar without constantly walking over the comb. If the flow is very fast you may need to add another box within the week. Remember this first year is about building the strongest hive possible before winter. Therefore it is best to leave all the honey for the bees.

We have a short season and a cold winter in Tasmania, so ideally by March/ April I like to see a nucleus in its first year with three to four ideals of brood and three ideals of honey.  As the weather cools, the bees will slow their gathering and in fact may use some of this honey, so you may not be going in to winter with as much honey as you first thought.

Happy Beeking!

Hygiene in the Apiary

Bees are amazing housekeepers. They keep their living environment (house) and their storage areas (shed/ garage) very clean and in most circumstances tidy!

With The Shared Apiary, I am very aware of just how important our role is as bee guardians and keepers. While there are thousands of microrganisms in a hive, bees are highly sensitive to toxins and diseases coming in from outside. A healthy, thriving colony will quickly deal with minor incursions in a number of ways including locking pesticides into cells and sealing them over, and killing unwanted insects and creatures like mice, and entombing them. Even spores from foulbrood are dealt with by maintaing the hive at a particular pH level that prevents the disease progressing. (pH explained below)

So our role needs to support the work of the bees and that means ensuring the best hygiene possible. The best beekeepers carry a container or bucket of cleaning material and they regularly use it to clean their equipment and gloves between sites or after encountering an unhealthy hive. Best practice is to do this after every hive.

If you use gloves or bare hands, hygiene is important so clean your hands before touching the bees and their environment. Ensure you have no blood or injury on your hands as this can mean severe contamination of your bees.

In our Shared Apiary, we use a small bucket of water and bicarb of soda with a soft metal dish scrubber. We avoid the use of soap as they often contain oils and substances not liked by bees, and we avoid bleach which is particularly alkaline. The bees are far happier with bicarb or salt water as it only marginally moves the acid/alkaline levels. Avoid using vinegar as it is far too acidic for a hive. It will act like a herbicide and also kill mould/ fungi which would destroy the valuable immune resources in the hive.

So when moving from hive to hive especially between guest hives, we wash our hive tools by scraping off any wax and propolis, then washing them in the bicarb solution. As well, we keep our gloves on and wash any sustances off our gloves. If using bare hands the same applies - keep your hands on!! Give then a good wash as well. Wipe the excess off the tools and hands/ gloves before going to another hive.

There is much more you can do to keep hygiene standards high.  Clean your suit regularly and especially before and after visiting other apiaries and hive sites. Don't leave any burr comb about for bees to clean up. It quickly attracts bees from other hives with the potential to spread disease. Even boots should be thoroughly cleaned between apiaries. and your vehicle needs to be kept clean. Where there is evidence or potential for disease then disposable boot covers and gloves are in order.

A healthy apiary means healthy bees, magnificent honey, less work and a very happy beekeeping community.

Happy beeking.

(pH relates to the number of Hydrogen ions in a solution. It is measured on a 0-14 scale where pure water is neutral at 7 pH. Each number on the scale changes the concentration by 10-fold. Less than 7 is acidic and more is alkaline.)


What is pollen and why is it important? 

Here is the 'birds and the bees' bit for those not familiar with biology. Pollen is the sticky powdery part of a flower (stamen) which mates with the female parts of a flower (pistils). Pollen is basically flower sperm and the bees love it. It jumps onto the hair of the bees as they search for nectar and the bees clean it off and pack it in their hind legs.  It is their source of protein (nectar is their carbohydrate) and is essential to hive productivity and health. There is more protein in pollen per weight than beef. It is the building block for all the essential elements of life.

It is so important that... no pollen, no bees!

It's fascinating to watch the bees bring in all colour of plant pollen. You mostly see yellow/orange/red and white however they also bring in other pollen and materials. I am often looking for the source of some of the colours.

When bees return with plant pollen it is handed to hive bees who then mix it with enzymes from their saliva as well as some nectar. The saliva includes Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) which creates lactic acid in the mixture. As well, there are powerful probiotics, yeasts and fungi in the final mixture and the result is called 'bee bread'. The bees cap it with a drop of honey just to keep it sealed. Bee bread is a rich source of protein, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals, fatty acids and a few other important things. And due to the pH being reduced to 4.1 it no longer ferments but stays preserved for years.  (Just one more reason to never use fungacides around bees.) The bees pack the bee bread into cells close to where brood will be raised and also into the base of some of the honey cells. This gives them multiple sources of the rich bee pollen. From winter solstice onwards, they will be searching for pollen and it is used almost as fast as it is brought in to feed the growing levels of brood in the colony.

The role of pollen in producing worker and/ or queen larvae had not been understood until very recently. It was thought that royal jelly was the substance that determined the sex of larvae and many beekeepers will tell you that larvae developed in nutrient rich royal jelly produce better and healthier queens. It is not surprising they thought this may have been determining the sex of a bee however it is the withdrawal of pollen from the larvae that turns on the queen making hormones.

What you want to see on a frame is a good mix of nectar in the top corners then pollen and in centre a good area of brood, but sometimes when a colony is struggling they can lay up large areas of pollen near the brood frames and beekeepers have thought this is an early indication they may be preparing to swarm. Where I see this pattern, I look for signs of disease, the health of the brood area, queen cells, and room for the colony to expand its brood area. If you find old dark comb replace as much of it as possible.

Bee pollen is a highly valued health and food supplement. It is seen as a superfood used by many including athletes and allergy sufferers. Some beeks trap the plant pollen as it comes into the hive and sell this as bee pollen. In fact it is not bee pollen but plant pollen. Often it is taken by people with allergies and hayfever as a way of helping their condition. But caution should be noted as the plant pollen may cause increasing symptoms and allergic reactions. Bee pollen (that properly processed by the bees and removed from the comb) however, is more likely to see an improvement in these symptoms. Of course, eating locally produced, unheated, unfiltered honey is the best way to consume bee pollen for improving your health.

Happy beeking!

Natural Beekeeping in Langstroths

Natural comb often drawing drone comb first

Natural comb often drawing drone comb first

How do I practice Natural Beekeeping in Langstroths?

It is certainly possible to apply natural principles to this hive. Natural Beekeeping for me is about providing the best environment for bees to behave naturally and be in a healthy state to resist disease with no intervention. Its the ideal, I know, however there is much we can do in small ways that will contribute to reversing the decline in our bees.

Bees have highly attuned senses that can be disrupted by many things - chemicals, pesticides, fertilisers, fermentation (poorly managed compost heaps) and the disturbances of beekeepers.  They are complex organisms with over 8000 microrganisms that assist them in their survival. As well, they become highly intergrated with their environment. Over a year they learn landmarks, the location of resins for propolis, flora species and water, and these are continually communicated in the colony and kept as an organisational memory.

To this end I avoid all strong smelling substances, treatment and synthetic substances especially paint, boiled linseed oil, glues, sugar syrups, essential oils, organic acids, and plastics. These substances impact on communication, immunity, navigation and many other areas of bee behaviour and productivity. Glues are quite unnecessary. If boxes are well screwed or nailed they will hold the joint as well as glue and the bees will glue up any gaps with propolis. Many synthetic glues have formaldehyde in them so are very toxic to bees. Frames are better left unglued making it easy to replace a failed part. 'Super-strong' frames are only needed where extractors are used or in commercial apiaries.

And plastic frames outgas the same as paint. Even food grade plastics outgas so these toxins enter the honey and wax, and then contaminate the bees and us. Where possible I keep all plastics out of hives and avoid all forms of polystyrenes and soft plastics which outgas faster. Hives are hot places so the toxins increase in the warmer conditions. I no longer paint the inside of boxes and only paint the outside where I am using radiata pine as it is such a poor timber for outdoor conditions. Where I have used paint on the outside I like them to harden up for two months before using them. Never use treated timber in hives.

Where possible I am now avoiding wire and foundation. Stainless steel wire often puts the bees off from laying larvae along the wire and latest research is showing a higher iron level in larvae close to the wire.  Increasingly I am using side pins to hold foundation where I use it. This keeps the metals well away from the brood area.

Langstroths are a hive that need management, so when we introduce foundationless, unwired frames, I often do so between already drawn frames. This helps keep the comb from heading in all sorts of odd directions. As these foundationless frames are filled, I then replace the old drawn frames with foundationless and the other frames act as a guide. Care is needed with fresh drawn wireless frames as they are soft and can break off easily if held sideways rather than standing upright however there is a knack to this that will come with care.

Often in Tasmania a vinyl inner cover is used to keep the moisture off the combs and reduce burr comb buildup in the lid. Where possible I use either canvas or a thin wood cover for this. Increasingly I am using a quilting system instead of the inner cover. The quilting system is borrowed from the warre hive design and is excellent for reducing moisture build up in hives as it traps it all in the shredded paper or wood shavings in the top.

If all this is too much trouble then the warre hive is a great solution!

Happy beeking!


Building a Nucleus Colony

Nucleus Hive for queening

Nucleus Hive for queening

Many of our new beginner beekeepers have now taken home a nucleus colony (nuc) in an eight frame langstroth box and a few questions have come my way.

Of most interest is the timing of adding new boxes and watching food supply. The most difficult time of the year (November in our cool Tasmanian climate) has now past and it is December. The colonies have been expanding quickly, maximising the brood growth to ensure they have large numbers of bees for pollen, resin and nectar collection. It is during November we have increasing numbers of hungry brood and a slight slow-down in flowering species. Our spring flowering has been mixed however Tasmania as usual has had pollen in abundance from July onwards. The summer nectar from our large trees and bush supplies is still reaching its peak and remains patchy. The blue gums have been flowering in a most sporadic fashion.

As well, a new colony is busy drawing out comb for the expanding brood and honey flow. It takes very large amounts of nectar/honey to produce this comb.

This is why most beeks do not take honey during November.

As your colony draws out the last outside frames, it is time to add another box. To encourage the bees to fill the second box, pull the two middle frames of honey into the new box and place the two new frames into the bottom box. This assists the bees to expand into the new combs quickly and create a larger area for them to lay eggs.  It also assist them in not becoming honey-bound which would slow their brood expansion.

It is common after adding a new box to see previous honey (capped or uncapped) disappear at this time. You think they have been doing so well and then they appear to be going backwards. This is temporary as they are using it to draw new comb and providing they have visible nectar, they are doing well.

Try not to support the colony with sugar syrup as this should only be used in emergencies. Sugar syrup changes the pH of the hive inviting disease, it changes the natural pathogens in the bees and interferes with the quality of honey production. If we want good quality honey, then do not harvest or eat honey made from sugar syrup.

This is a watch and see time. Most of you have your boxes at two or three high now and it is most important to encourage the bees to build the best stores possible for their first winter. It is recommended to take no honey harvest in the first year, to enable a healthy, booming colony for your next summer.

Happy beeking


Getting Started

Some years ago I learnt beekeeping with Langstroth hives in our cool Tasmanian climate. I loved the experience. The world of bees is incredible. The course was run by a beekeeping association with vast experience in commercial beekeeping. Ninety percent of us were interested in small back yard hives. Thankfully some of our tutors were master beekeepers who loved their bees and treated them with respect and care.  And while many old practices are largely gone, there was still an emphasis on hive manangement, the use of chemicals and the use of plastics in hives with no comment on how these practices impacts on the colony. 

Fortunately the world was awakening to a new era of beekeeping which is tranforming the values and principles we bring to our role as guardians. The internet brought an explosion of new hives and new science to the art.  My keen interest in eating naturally grown foods and avoiding pesticides and plastics (sometimes referred to as the new asbestos) has now been able to merge into my beekeeping.

I want to keep our bees alive and healthy... our future, our health, our happiness is intimately related to our pollinators.

And the extra bonus is they are the most fascinating and amazing social organisation and we can learn much from them.

We now have quite a number of people in Tasmania pursuing natural beekeeping practices and this 'b blog' will be my avenue to share my experiences, promote the values and principles of natural beekeeping and encourage others in their interest in bees.