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?

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Bee Bug Bites

The last post about swarming reminded me... Vitamin Bee got started through a swarm. This bunch of bees landed in a tree at David's place in Auckland. A beautiful sight, but scary too if you don't know what you are doing, 1000's of bees hanging out in the open. Noisy too I expect, but I find the sound of bees to be absolutely mesmerizing.

Luckily Will has been a beekeeper for some time so he came rushing and together he and David tried to capture the swarm and get it into a hive box. I think they shook the branch and the bees fell into a big cardboard box and then they magically tipped them all into a hive. I don't understand the concept of 'tipping' bees, but there it is, seems they 'flow'. Don't try this at home, children ask your parents first..... didn't work - probably because the queen wasn't in the bunch of bees put in the box, but in the tiny pile left under the tree. So all the tipped bees eventually flew off with their queen. But...out of small failures, large change began. The bee bug had bitten. Vitamin Bee started that day.

Here's our first lineup of hives, back last year.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

November is swarming month

About this time of year, in spring, the bees are all growing like mad. Growing, as in, making babies, not getting to horror-movie proportions. And in the wild they cleverly deal with this by making a new queen, and then half the tribe flies off with the old queen to set up a new home, and the other half hatch the new queen and carry on back at the ranch. All good, in the wild.

But in our hives we want to keep all the bees and help them to create new homes where they will be safe. So at this time of year we are always vigilant looking for signs that the hives are ready to swarm. One of these signs is the creation of queen cups. These are little lumps usually at the bottom of the main frame that have the queen larvae in them. And another is overcrowding.

We deal with both of these threats by keeping a close eye on the hives for signs of swarming. And splitting the hives to make 2 out of 1. And adding new boxes to the top so the bees can move up their apartment block and spread out.

Once a hive has swarmed we try to catch it and put it in a new hive so the bees don't just fly off and make their new nest in an inconvenient place. Like a bush, or an old building. Not that easy, and does require being there pretty soon after it has taken off. And if you see a swarm, and don't have a bee suit, its best to leave it alone and call a beekeeper. Nahla, the dog in the picture, got just a bit too close to this swarm!

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Life, the Universe, and Everything. And Pea Straw

Anyone who is a fan of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy will know that the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42. And the Interconnectedness of All Things. Always carry a towel. And DON'T PANIC. All good advice

Anyway, getting back to bees, it would seem that life is indeed interconnected with all things. We discovered one of our excellent hosts through a random happenstance. I've been doing a spot of severe gardening. Severe, as in, everything is awash in clay. We also frequent the Clevedon markets, which is an all-round marvellous Sunday morning out full of fabulous stalls and yummy food. (I can see this post is going to be a shaggy dog story...)

And discovered Michele, pea straw lady extraordinaire. Well, the pea straw is definitely extraordinary, and Michele is pretty special too. So I bought a trailer load of pea straw, and covered my whole back yard with it. Spread it around a bit. This was back in June, and it has been just the ticket to keep all the clay down.

And its all breaking down well now, just in time to sprinkle a few seeds around. The 'Plan Bee' seeds from the NZ Gardener, of course.

If you need some pea straw too, contact her here. Or visit the Clevedon Markets on a Sunday.

And...back to the interconnectedness of all things... Michele's partner John grows the peas that make the peastraw (peastraw from actual peas! well, I'm a city girl, so that is a revelation, duh). And now he is one of our wonderful bee hosts.

John might just have to make do with his own post another time. 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

A Cure for Bee Stings

If you ask our bee keepers Will and David, they will say getting stung is a normal part of being a bee keeper, and to just get on with it. But I haven't been stung yet and don't feel the urge to man up either. So I've been researching remedies just in case. And here is my best pick of them:

1. Scrap out the bee sting, don't squeeze it though.
2. Baking soda mixed to a paste with water, then spread on the bite. Something about neutralising the sting. And if it is a wasp you are stung by, then vinegar. Might need to research and do another post on how to tell the difference between a bee and a wasp of course - details details!
3. Ice. Works for everything.
4. Toothpaste, spread on the bite. Similar to baking soda I think.
5. Antihistamine. A cream would work well I think. And if you are mildly allergic I guess an antihistamine pill.

But: of course, if you are extremely allergic, or swell up alarmingly, or stop breathing, then don't do these remedies, call the ambulance.
And for the official advice, always a good idea, visit the Ministry of Health page here.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Hazards of Beekeeping

A bunch of beehives to collect on the top of the hill, a bunch (herdlet?) of very inquisitive and friendly cows, and a city girl. Result...cow lick on the windscreen, and one ute door firmly shut. Didn't seem to bother the cows at all though, or the bees. Even the beekeepers were pretty sanguine.