Thursday, 31 December 2015

Happy New Year

The setting sun over bee hives, ready for a new dawn. A fitting metaphor for New Year's Eve.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Ancient Roman Honey Cake Recipe

This gluten free organic honey cake recipe comes from my friend Judith in America (thanks Judith :-)). Looks super easy, and as soon as I get honey from my hive I'll give it a whirl.

Ancient Roman Honey cake   (Sacred Sciences recipe)

"Honey was thought to be magical in the world of the ancient Romans. Aside from its value as a beloved sweet treat in its honey comb form and as a sweetener in cooking, honey was also used to dress wounds and to lift the spirit. The Romans made a wine called Mulsum from honey which they believed was good for digestion and promoted long life.

Many Romans made replica statues and funerary masks using bees wax which were believed to protect them. According to the legendary Roman poet, Ovid, these statues also functioned similarly to voodoo dolls in that harming the figurine could also inflict harm on the human it represented." (Sacred Sciences)

1 1/2 cups organic spelt flour
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup wild local honey
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup goat’s milk
1 egg

• Preheat oven to 180 C
• Beat all liquid ingredients together in a small bowl.
• Mix all dry ingredients separately in medium mixing bowl.
• Add liquid ingredients gradually to dry ingredients and beat well.
• Bake for 35-40 minutes in greased round cake pan.
• Serve with a drizzle of honey, a dollop of whipped cream or yogurt
and some fresh berries.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The meaning of Honeymoon

The term Honeymoon came from the old custom of giving newlyweds mead (an alcoholic drink made from fermented honey) for the first 30 days of their marriage (a 'moon').

And if you think that this might be a feature, here is a company that makes mead, and that does courses for how to make it too. Haewai Meadery. Their next course is 20 January in Wellington, NZ.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Native NZ Bees

Just outside the bedroom window is this Lophomyrtus tree, a NZ native. And a couple of mornings ago it was completely covered with bees. But all the bees were little black native NZ bees. Even though this tree is very close to a whole bunch of hives with regular honey bees, none of them were interested in the flowers, only the little natives were sipping away. But by the afternoon they had all gone, maybe for a bit of a postprandial lie down? Maybe.... because native bees don't live in hives, they only need to collect enough to eat for the day?


And for some lovely photos and more information see the Terrain site

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Breeding Varroa resistant bees

There is scientific work going on to try and overcome varroa, that destructive mite that kills bees. Currently the only way is with chemicals. But check out this short (6 min) Ted talk on this.

There is also a very cool 60 sec video in it, of the first 21 days of a bees life, where you can watch the baby bees hatch.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Bee Sculpture Art

I went along to the Auckland Botanic Gardens this week to check out the new Sculpture Trail. They have an exhibition every year, of very large pieces which are spread around the gardens in strategic spots. For sale, but you would need a paddock, not a suburban backyard for most.The gardens are also in full bloom at this time of year, so a lovely afternoon out. Lots of great bird sculptures this year too, which I loved. But in the little shop, it seems the artists have small models and other pieces, also for sale.

And I found this great bee. Isn't she fabulous? No, I didn't buy her, unfortunately. And, I forgot to photograph the artist, so no idea, sorry.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Bee Suits - One Size Fits All

Bees and children do mix. Just look at this! A kitted up beeboy, just add oxygen tank and he will be ready for a moon walk with Neil Armstrong. Moon walking chickens and horse too....

I think the one-size-fits-all bee suit and gardening gloves works splendidly well, but if you were after a real child-size one, check out the Ceracell's ones, in groovy green, or white.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Moving Hive Boxes

In a previous post 'Bee Equipment Logistics' I outlined the to-ing and fro-ing involved with all the hardware required to grow bees. Well here it is in action. 

Having spent ages making all the boxes and then dipping them in oil and letting them air dry, they need to be taken to the farms where the hives actually are. So we (ah, that would be the beekeepers) load them up on to the ute and a HUGE trailer, tie down every which way, and then some - none of these babies are going to fly off down the motorway - ready for transport.

And, because the bee box supply depot is at the other end of the island to the bee farms, the bee boys get up before sparrow fart and drive all day. Probably NOT the most satisfying part of their job.... but it certainly looks impressive all loaded up, and driving a big load could have its charms, at least the first time.

Monday, 7 December 2015

How to Build a Platform for Bee Hives

How to put beehives on a steep hill? One of our home sites is in Wellington, that wonderful city of extreme verticality. Bush covered hillside can be lovely - from the window. But once you try to set up beehives you are in trouble.

So the bee troops came up with the great idea to build a platform, to level out the hives a bit.

The bees will have an excellent view. And don't need a cable car to access their hive, although the beekeepers might.

And the idea worked so well, we made some more in Auckland. Not nearly as steep in Auckland on the whole of course, but pretty useful to have an easy platform.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Bee Equipment Logisitics

Sometimes I wonder whether keeping bees is just one big logistics exercise. So, here's how it goes....
1. get bee hive
2. get more box bits
3. make up boxes
4. get more floors and mats and frames and all sorts of other bits.
5. store the bits and pieces (but not hives, ha!) somewhere dry and safe that is not your bedroom (although lounge and dining room is fair game)
6. put some of the bits from 2 and 3 together.
7. get the assembled bits and take them away from 5.
8. drive things to host farms.
9. load bits from 1 with bits from 7.
10. drive things away from host farms.
11. return some of things from 10 to 5, and some to 8.
12. repeat steps. For more points, vary order.

The only rule - do not store hives in bedroom. Everything else is up for negotiation.

Might be able to run an army provisioning platoon with enough practice.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Clevedon Markets and flowers for bees

The Clevedon Markets is always a good Sunday morning out. One of my favourite stalls is this plant stall. And now they have a specific 'Plants for Bees' section, so no thinking required either.

This week I bought some summer savory for all my broad beans, and a lavender bush. Both of which will have lovely flowers, and taste and smell good too. Plenty of other plants to tempt me next Sunday too. 

I think bees like just about any pollen or nectar producing plant, which covers quite a range. I was admiring a busy bee just loaded down with pollen today, rummaging around in a few roses in someone's front garden. Its amazing just how much they can carry on their legs, and still fly.

Lots of other great things to indulge in, at the markets too, this week we had a fabulous homemade iceblock. Along with the usual coffee and breakfast.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Bees and Wasps

How to tell the difference between bees and wasps? Now I am no expert at all, but the beekeepers are. And it is important to tell the difference, you don't want to squash the wrong thing, or let the wrong thing prosper either. There are a few good summaries online including the Te Ara Encyclopedia

This is a bee, pic from the Ministry of Health. Little furry yellow number, similar to the ones in the hive above.

This one is one type of wasp, pic from Landcare. Smooth and evil looking. Bit Darth Vader really. For more on NZ wasps, including alien pics, check out the Landcare website.

And here are our wasp traps. Recycling in action. It would be better still, instead of trapping them and poisoning the wasps, to find the nests and deal to them that way, but in the bush it can be quite a mission to locate them.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Expanding bee hives

This time of year the bees are multiplying like crazy. So this weekend it was all about expanding the hives at home, This top hive is looking pretty busy, all those bees trying to get in the door way. By the end of the day it has now got another box on top. Not that that will make the doorway less crowded, but conditions inside will be more spacious, and more room for honey-making.

Even Spike the goat, who lives over the driveway from the bees, was pretty interested. Or maybe its just quite boring being a goat, and any activity is welcome? 

Wednesday, 25 November 2015


We spent a fair bit of this weekend checking out potential swarms in our beehives. Its been a bad year for swarming apparently, possibly El Nino changing the weather? Or who knows?

But its good to get on top of it and be as proactive as possible. Occasionally one will get away on you though, and then in come the swarm busters to clean up.Now the top pic is a bit less sharp because I was standing A LONG WAY AWAY with my camera on zoom as David scooped up the swarm and poured it back into a new hive box. You will notice the high tech tool (which would have been a much more interesting picture close up, ho hum) that he is using to capture the swarm - a giant brush and shovel. Yes. As you do. Seemed to work perfectly though.

After the swarm had been poured back in, we kept an eye on it for a while to see what the rest of the bees coming in would do. And here they are, on the left hive at the front, all following the scent in to the proper door. So this looks like a good capture. We'll check again the next day, to make sure all is well, but this one looks successful.

And on another host's property, another swarm. This one was huge when it first formed. Their neighbour came over and took most of it and put it in his empty hive. We're wondering whether the queen didn't get captured though, as there is still this little bunch left behind. If the queen is in there, then it is likely the rest of the family will fly on back and reform a bigger bunch. Another one to keep an eye on. Or the neighbour could come back and capture these as well. These bees did get thoroughly hammered with a big thunderstorm the night before this picture, although I'm not sure how that would affect them.

Monday, 23 November 2015

The stallion and the bees

One of our hosts has a beautiful stallion. Well, possibly many of our hosts have lovely horses, but I have only met this one. He's really friendly, although wasn't quite that fussed with me pointing a phone camera at him. Or maybe I didn't come loaded with apples?

And he often roams around in the beehive paddocks. I guess if he gets too annoying to the bees he'll learn all about the natural consequences, but animals and bees do mix very well. The only thing is, we don't want all those beehives tipping over with a bit of a bunt from the animals. Cows are pretty rough I think, probably more so than horses (you can tell I'm a city girl, all you real farmers). So you can see here all our beehives are girls, with ribbons in their hair! Takes a bit of extra time for the beekeepers to do their checking and feeding and whatnot, but if the hive does get a shove its much less likely to tip over with them all tied together. A tipped over beehive is NOT a happy thing, at all at all.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Growing Manuka Trees from Seed and Cuttings

We've been experimenting with growing plants for bees. There are plenty of plants that have flowers that bees love. And lots of lists of good ones too. But we need ones that will produce excellent honey, as well as thrive in our country and climate. And then there is the need to grow quickly enough to make it all worthwhile. Some forest giants produce excellent bee flowers but you need to wait for so long for them to get going (although I do wonder how high a bee likes to fly to get to the flowers - might need to research this too).

The big honey-producing flowering plants in NZ is manuka and kanuka. So this is our first plant experiment.

Here they are in autumn at the beginning of the year. These ones (microscopic) are from seeds that we collected from manuka and kanuka trees. These little plastic trays are not that great, they all blow around in the winter winds, and break apart from each other. Probably they are best to save if you have a glasshouse operation.

No glasshouses here though, the outdoor dining table and chairs are covered in potted up seedlings. These ones are from cuttings, they seem to get more growth on than the seeds, but are more time intensive making the cuttings, and there is an amount that conk out before they get to this stage.

Potting, potting, potting. You do need to continually be on to the potting up - moving them into bigger and bigger pots, before they become too root bound. Good thing it is immensely satisfying then.

When we got over the little pots (the first pic) we tried out seed trays. These do work better, but you do need to be vigilant to potting up as their roots all start to get inter-tangled.

Look at this - babies not so long ago, they've got spring-powered rocket juice under them now! Some of them are lovely and bushy too. These are the cuttings (I think, but they have been moved around so much the system has rather lost the history of each plant, so an inconclusive experiment then...)

Isn't this just the most satisfying sight? Growing something from nothing (except quite a lot of sweat). Still got to dig the holes to plant them though, might be busy that day!

For more information sign up to collect your free downloadable Pictorial Step-by-Step Guide to Growing Manuka Trees from Seeds. Free! And there is lots more information on Business of Bees including downloadable courses on all aspects of growing and planning manuka plantations for bees.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

How to Preserve Hive boxes

 When you think of beehives, I bet you think of rows of lurid pink and rusty red and hospital green boxes, all stacked on top of each other. I haven't quite got to the bottom of these colour combinations. Are bees attracted to such mishmash colours? Bees like blue flowers apparently, but pretty-flower-blue is not a beehive colour that springs to my mind. Are beekeepers colour blind? Is the paint used to do the boxes the returns to the paint shop - you know, that colour you brought home but the family said "No, never, what were you thinking?".

Whatever, bee boxes do need to be preserved. The wood is untreated, so the bees are not poisoned, so it needs some weather proofing. Our beekeepers Will and David, here, have come up with an ingenious method of dipping them in linseed oil.

So, a pictorial step-by-step of dipping bee boxes:

The oil comes in huge and heavy drums, and is poured into the heating vat.

Bee boxes arrive as flat slabs. They are all screwed together first, hundreds and hundreds of them.

Once the oil is hot, in go the boxes.

Soaking away, like a good spa.

Hauling them out. Looks easy, but they are really heavy once they are in the oil. Good thing our guys are really strong.

 Dripping on the side for a while.

Out on the drying rack for a few days to let the oil soak in properly, and become un-sticky.
Now isn't this so much more beautiful than hospital green?