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A bee inspection

January 7, 2011

Russell (my friend who got me started with the bees) came over after Christmas to help me do a thorough inspection of the bees. You won’t be surprised to hear that the night before I had a dream that we opened up the hive and found that all the bees had flown away and the frames were all full of cobwebs! Nothing like a bit of anxiety…bad mother…bad beekeeper….

As you can see from the photos above, the bees had not left home. Do you like my cute little beekeeper Tara? I should say that all these photos, including heaps of very close up shots, were taken by Sam. He was wearing no protective gear at all and had no trouble putting his face and my camera right up next to the bees. I can picture him keeping bees when he is older – he is so calm around them and such a natural. I love imagining him do this as an adult, perhaps with his own kids.

Ok here are some explanations now of what we were doing. Starting with the photo collage above: in the second photo on the left you can see us inspecting one of the beetle traps. Heaps of hive beetles which the clever bees have managed to herd down these little slots I cut in the bottom of the box. The beetles fall into the trap which I have filled with diatomaceous earth which coats them and suffocates them (or something like that) – and it is not toxic to the bees or to the humans consuming the honey later on. The photo on the top right shows how industrious the bees have been with building little frames of wax on the backing sheet. Into these frames they will put nectar, the queen will lay eggs, they will feed the larvae, etc, etc. In the bottom right photo you can see how we already have quite a few frames that are full of honey.

This is a good example of one of those “full” frames. At the top you can see lots of cells that have been filled with honey and sealed off with a whitish looking wax. In the lower right side of the frame you may be able to see some cells that are capped with a yellowish seal. These have larvae in them. The queen has laid an egg, the bees have filled it with food and sealed each one off. When they hatch, the larvae will eat their way out of that cell. Over time that whole frame will be used for honey and will be ready for harvesting once it has all been sealed off with that white wax. I could then just slice it up and have it as honey comb, or use the extractor to remove the honey (after slicing off the top layer of wax). But that is another journey I am yet to take.

The frame in the foreground of the picture above is full of honey (but not yet sealed). The bees will not leave this frame alone. They are guarding their honey and also trying to eat as much as possible. The smoke makes them rush to eat as much honey as they can so they can carry it away with them if they have to set up a new home. The frame in the background shows the new structure that the bees have created on the base wax sheet. Isn’t the colour difference amazing? – the pollen effect I guess.

This last photo is me putting the boxes back together. The box is heavy with all the honey…and the bees keep crawling all over my hands. You can see why it is almost impossible to avoid squashing a few bees every time you go to have a look. Every time you look it also apparently sets the hive back a week or two. They like everything in their own order and I guess the impact of the smoke and the disturbance takes all their energy for quite a few days. On this inspection we did not see the queen (more anxiety for me!). We did see larvae which was an indication that she had been there at least 8 days ago. I will be doing another inspection in the next few days to look for evidence of the queen, if not the queen herself. I think I will be more confident getting in there this time. It gets easier each time. We had quite a large “audience” with visiting relatives looking over our shoulders and two dogs lying at our feet. Russell was the only one who got stung this time.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. January 7, 2011 5:29 PM

    Looking good! What’s the best move if you find bees have moved into your possum box in the back yard?

    • January 7, 2011 6:07 PM

      Ooh..that sounds tricky. I am told that bees who have swarmed (left their home en masse to look for a new home) are actually very docile. Their bellies are full of honey and they are more interested in finding a home. You could find a friendly local bee keeper (google?) and ask them to come and capture your bees. They would probably be happy to have them. Then again you could just wait and hope that they go away on their own…?! 🙂

      • January 11, 2011 7:31 AM

        My f. in Law had them at his house and called a “friendly” beekeeper from the phonebook. The guy came over and fiddled around a bit so my FIL offered to help. He was shocked when the gut said it was all done as he had poisoned the bees instead of relocating as requested. They were happy bees, not aggressive, just not suitable where they were and my FIL not having the time to look after them. He was very angry and refused to pay the fee the guy wanted. He would have taken them to another location himself, but was under the impression the bee keeper was taking them for himself.
        Is there a reason for this do you think? Maybe the ‘wrong’ type of bee?

      • spiceandmore permalink*
        January 11, 2011 7:55 PM

        That is so TERRIBLE. I feel so sad for those poor bees. Sounds like the guy could not be bothered to relocate them, or perhaps was fussy about the bees he kept (?). As far as I know there aren’t really any ‘wrong’ type of bees in Australia (like the African honey bee which is very aggressive and is found in other parts of the world). Some strains are less friendly than others. I know Russell had one hive that had an Italian strain and they were pretty fiesty and a bit on the aggressive side. He said he noticed a difference in the different breeds. But I don’t think you can tell just by looking at them, you would have to observe them for quite a while to work out how docile or aggressive they were. Sounds like that guy should be crossed off the list of beekeepers!! Good on your FIL for telling him off and refusing to pay him.

    • May 15, 2011 10:36 PM

      there’s the ever pressing problem of asian bees which somehow got through quarantine and have now spread around the northern parts of australia. the problem with those is that unlike our ligurian honeybees who swarm perhaps once, they swarm up to 8 times a year and are also a carrier for varroa mite (not the lethal type of varroa destructor but a carrier nonetheless) which is a blood-sucking insect that spreads all sorts of diseases among colonies.

      the best way to move a colony is to wait until night time when they’ve all returned to the hive, block the entrance, make sure everything is secure, strap it into the passenger seat of your car and relocate.

      i think the best people to call might be a local beekeeping association as they may have a list of people who are just waiting for the opportunity to get their hands on a swarm.

  2. Sarah - For the Love of Food permalink
    January 7, 2011 8:26 PM

    How fascinating Spice! I’ve never seen all that bee industry up close.

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      January 8, 2011 12:16 PM

      They are really interesting. I sat outside with a cup of tea the other afternoon and ended up spending nearly an hour just watching them. I think that could qualify as a form of meditation…right? I always intend to take up meditation but never get around to it. Perhaps the bees can be my version of it. I certainly feel calmer after watching them. I do wish they would slow down a little though…. 🙂

  3. January 8, 2011 6:56 AM

    How cute is Tara! I keep saying it, SG, you’re very brave! 😉

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      January 8, 2011 12:14 PM

      Tara is reading over my shoulder and she is very happy to see your comment about her being cute! Not that much bravery…mainly ignorance and crazy ideas. At least I haven’t (yet) given into my kids desire to have a goat and a cow in our backyard!

  4. January 8, 2011 12:50 PM

    I think a little backyard goat would be just the thing 🙂
    How wonderful to see all your bees doing their thing. Wonderful!

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      January 11, 2011 6:55 AM

      Sometimes our backyard looks like a goat might have been wandering around! The brush turkey is about as close as we are going to get to having a goat. I love the ideas the kids come up with to convince us though – eg: “think of all the lovely goat cheese we could make; we could have fresh goats milk every day; we wouldnt need to mow the lawn”….etc.

  5. January 8, 2011 1:49 PM

    So brave you are as a Beekeeper, I’m so impressed. Its so interesting to see the inside of a bee box & to know all this bee housekeeping business, fascinating. Can’t wait to see it all evolve more too.

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      January 11, 2011 6:58 AM

      Me too Anna. I can’t wait to see how it evolves as well – the honey collection should be interesting. My kids are anxiously waiting for the honey. Sam has taken to using maple syrup on his weetbix as he is determined as well that we should not buy any more honey.

  6. January 8, 2011 9:22 PM

    I read every word of this post and am squinting away at the pictures. I love the bee posts and I think Tara, Sam (and the dogs) are all amazing to participate in this glorious project. You are part of a long and honourable tradition in tending bees this way. What better way to connect to the living planet ? I can’t think of one 🙂

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      January 11, 2011 6:53 AM

      So true Jo. It does make me feel quite ‘grounded’ and connected to the natural environment. It really does not feel like a chore (like other domestic pets can sometimes be), more of a journey of discovery that the bees are taking me on.

  7. January 10, 2011 2:04 PM

    Honey, I’m am absolutely terrified of bees. 🙂

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      January 11, 2011 6:50 AM

      I am not as naturally calm around them as my ten year old son Sam is. I do feel a tiny bit of anxiety around them so I can understand your fear. I hope that will go in time as I get more used to them.

  8. January 30, 2011 4:17 PM

    oooo I won’t dare to go so near to it even if I am all guard and mask up..

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      February 1, 2011 7:08 PM

      I have to remind myself not to be scared! Does not come totally naturally.

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