Topbar hive harvest

We had the best harvest from our Topbar hive yet! After some trial and error that always seemed to result in too many bees dying, yesterday we perfected (we think and hope) our technique.

In our previous harvest, when we tried to remove the bars of comb, the comb broke leaving a sticky mass at the bottom of the hive along with lots of bees, which then had to be removed by hand. It was quite upsetting to cause so much destruction and we knew there had to be a better way. We had tried using a knife to separate the comb from the side of the hive  as it is always stuck, but there just wasn’t room to manoeuvre. We realised we hadn’t left enough working room by having all the bars within the follower boards.

As it was April and getting cooler and our aim in that previous harvest was to reduce the hive size ready for winter, we removed all comb from four bars and placed them outside the follower board at one end of the Topbar hive. Between the follower boards we made sure there was still some comb being drawn, and a couple of empty bars so the bees had space to add more comb and honey. We also hoped this would give us the working room we needed next time to slide the knife in to separate the comb from the sides of the hive.

And so it did. Yesterday’s harvest was the most successful yet in terms of the least damage to the bees (which was our main aim) and the least mess. Instead of a knife we used angled stainless steel cake icing blades, and they were just perfect for loosening the comb from the sides of the hive.

Using the cake icing blade to loosen the comb from the side of the hive

These angled blades and having the extra space made all the difference. We had bought three different sizes, and they each were useful at different times.

Angled cake icing blades

Opening the hive and removing the empty bars and follower board, we could easily use the icing blades to separate the comb from the sides with minimal disruption to the bees. The hive tool was used to separate each bar from the one next to it, and then it was easy to lift out the beautifully built comb.

Beautiful, whole comb removed cleanly from the Topbar

The bees were gently brushed off and the comb cut from the bar with a knife into a tub. The bars to be replaced inside the follower boards were left with 3-4 cm of comb, those to go outside the follower boards were left completely clean. All with no apparent distress to the bees- thank goodness!

Cutting the comb into the tub

When completed, we made sure that there were two to four empty bars at each end, then the follower boards, then a partially filled or empty bar (each end). Then we closed up the hive and walked away feeling much better than after the previous harvest!

Native bees

The warmer summer weather brings a lot of native insect activity, particularly the many native bees we get here in Western Australia. We have seen quite a few different kinds over the years, blue banded bees, resin bees, leaf cutter bees and these masked bees. Today, I set the camera on a tripod n front of the latest bee hotel, pressed record and returned 15 minutes later to find the top hole completely sealed. The video is amazing, really showing the perseverance of this small insect (it is alas too big to post, so a snippet of the end is all that we can post).

masked bees

Video of masked bee sealing nest

More bugs and beauties!

It is so important not to just work, work, work- even though there is never ‘nothing to do’! Sometimes, it is great to just wander around the garden, camera in hand or not, and see what there is to see. This Painted Jezebel kept hanging around the mistletoe on one of our wattles. After watching it for a while, it settled in laid eggs! It was fascinating to watch, and a really good reminder to just enjoy the moment.

Painted Jezebel

Painted Jezebel

There are a few different native bees around too, especially now the weather is warming up. They like the old nail holes in wooden beams!

Native bee peeping out of the hole

Native bee peeping out of the hole

We have seen a few different types of case moth- this is the latest:

case moth

case moth

And of course there are always those we see with no camera at hand- like the Blue Banded Bee. One day we will get a nice photo of it!

 

Bee swarm!

Here in Perth, we have had an incredibly slow, cold, wet start to spring…….. but yesterday was a beautiful spring day, and the day one of our hives swarmed. The weather had been so awful, we hadn’t managed to check the hives for a couple of weeks, and we still don’t know which of our three hives may have swarmed (all look full and active).

Swarm in a tree

Swarm in a tree

After some discussion, we decided we would keep it, but locate it down near the orchard and ‘dam’ rather than near the house like the others. We had a spare super, lid and plenty of frames so we just bought a bottom board and we were ready to go!

We placed a white sheet under the swarm, climbed the ladder and trimmed the branches around it. It was good to have the white sheet down as quite a few bees dropped in the process. There were two main ‘clumps’ of bees which we carefully placed in the hive box, with four centre frames removed. When we felt we had as many as we could, we did a quick shake and placed the lid on, then wrapped up the bees on the white sheet, and took the hive (in a wheelbarrow) to the area we had chosen.

It all worked well, fingers crossed the bees like their new home and stay there!

so far so good....

so far so good….

Bee update-moving a hive

Having recently changed the kitchen hive to a Warre we have been keeping a close eye on it especially getting into our winter. A check last week revealed condensation inside the hive, and a little bit of mould and mildew. A quick google search revealed that a little bit of mould or mildew is not a huge problem as the bees will clean it up, if they are all fit and healthy. The problem though, is the condensation which causes it in the first place.

condensation inside the hive

condensation inside the hive

We realised that where the hive is it doesn’t get a lot of sun or air circulation. The Langstroth seemed to cope ok, but perhaps the different set up of the Warre makes it more susceptible. Anyway, this discovery led us to look for a different location and a way of moving the hive. There is a lot of information now on moving a hive, without the need to stick to the old ‘less than a metre or more than 3 kilometres’ rule, so we chose a spot about 100metres away, not far from the Topbar hive where the Warre can face ENE and get a good amount of winter sun to help dry it out, we hope!

After dark, the hive entrance was covered with mesh to allow for ventilation but no bees, and the hive was strapped to keep all the boxes in place. Next morning we loaded the hive onto a trolley and moved to its new, prepared location.

Moving the strapped up Warre to its new location

Moving the strapped up Warre to its new location

Once in position, we put some leaves near the entrance, as this obstacle apparently makes the bees more likely to reorient and slow down their exit (they are less likely to be on ‘auto pilot’ and return to the old location by mistake).

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Also to help their reorientation we kept them in for 3 days- apparently they can ‘forget’ their previous orientation.

Thousands of bees wanting to get out!

Thousands of bees wanting to get out!

Settled in its new location, near water and the topbar, but still closed up.

Settled in its new location, near water and the topbar, but still closed up.

After three days, we opened up the entrance, made sure the leaves were in front as an obstacle, and watched the bees pour out! Sure enough, they crawled out and circled above the entrance (a sign they are reorienting).

Bees first exit in their new location

Bees first exit in their new location

Unfortunately there were a lot of dead bees too, but we hoped that ultimately the hive was better off for the move. Soon we saw lots of bees circling the old location near the kitchen window, looking for the hive, but within an hour or so they had gone, we hoped back to their new home.

Subsequent days there were more bees flying in the old location, but again only for a short time, hopefully they returned safely. The Warre is getting some lovely winter sun and hopefully drying out. In another day or so we will check it out and see how it is going. If necessary due to a loss of bees we can take the top box off and reduce the size. Fingers crossed!!

Amazing bees!

A while ago we posted about changing the kitchen Langstroth hive over to a Warre, well we have now finished the conversion. It took a little while because the brood were in Langstroth super, and we wanted to wait a while until the queen had moved down into a Warre super below…. well, she finally did and we felt we could remove the now superfluous Langstroth super.

Because there was still some brood in the Langstroth however, we decided to cut it off the frames and attach it to some of the Warre frames- we really didn’t want to destroy what brood remained in there.

So, with knife in hand, we cut out just the right size and using elastic bands placed the brood comb into the Warre frames.

Brood from a Langstroth frame held in place in a Warre frame with elastic bands

Brood from a Langstroth frame held in place in a Warre frame with elastic bands

The final steps in the conversion went smoothly, and it wasn’t long before the bees got to work and secured the comb, removing the elastic bands from the hive!

Bees removing elastic bands

Bees removing elastic bands

The Warre hive is now complete and looking healthy.

Warre hive

Warre hive

Mead

We have so much honey, and a lot of it crystallised, so we decided to try Sandor Katz T’ej (Ethiopian style honey wine) as described in his book ‘Wild Fermentation’. It is delicious, and so very easy to make! It has helped put the crystallised honey to good use- we just warmed it enough to liquify before mixing with the water.

Naturally fermented mead (T'ej)

Naturally fermented mead (T’ej)

Topbar hive

We have read quite a lot about the different styles of hives and which may be best for the bees. We decided we would experiment! The box of bees was getting really full so we decided to have a Topbar hive made for this area.

The full bee 'box'

The full bee ‘box’

We cut the comb from the box, getting as much as we could-especially comb with brood.

Cutting out the comb

Cutting out the comb

This was cable tied to the top bars.

Comb cut from the box and cable tied to the top bars.

Comb cut from the box and cable tied to the top bars.

When we had as much as we could, we replaced the Topbar hive in the same position and direction as the box, closed it up and left it for a week. A week later, a few of the bits of comb had fallen off and were removed, but the bees had strengthened several others and even started creating their own fresh comb!

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The bee numbers looked really healthy, especially given the numbers that were lost in the process of transferring from the box to the Topbar.

 

Great number of bees after only one week

Great number of bees after only one week

The bees are coming and going very happily!

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Honey, honey, honey…….

Well, the hives are going well. We decided to re-queen both hives- we had read a lot of advice on re-queening annually, plus with the billabong hive still behaving aggressively we decided that replacing the queen was the only option. Never having done it before, we did some research and found it surprisingly easy. The hardest part was finding the old queens and removing them!

After re-queening, we left the hive for 10 days and then checked, and sure enough the billabong hive was calmer already, so we knew we had done the right thing. With the weather getting cooler, it was also time to reduce the number of supers again. We had already removed one super from each of the kitchen and billabong hives, and harvested heaps of honey, and we now reduced them further. For winter, each hive has the brood box and one super, which is more than half full of honey. We will keep an eye on them but hopefully this will keep them going over winter. Mind you, it has been amazingly mild so far and the bees are continuing to bring in pollen at a great rate!

Produce room full of honey

Produce room full of honey