Bees are so important for pollination and all over the world there are concerns about the loss of bees for a variety of reasons, including insecticides and disease. We have had bees for many years now, and tried Langstroth, Topbar, Warre and Horizontal (or Long Lang) hives. Each one had advantages and disadvantages, but we have now settled on Horizontals for sheer ease of working with no lifting and availability of replaceable components. Below is that journey, from when we first decided to get a hive to our now Horizontals!
Over the years we have had the odd swarm set up nearby, such as this one in a tree in front of the house:
This photo of a coastal bee hive was taken by a friend, and shows how adaptable bees can be in finding and creating a hive.
Apart from the benefits to the environment, bees also produce honey, so we decided to become bee keepers! We joined the W.A. Apiarists Society who were very helpful, and after much research decided to go for a new hive and bees, rather than second hand. This was because we wanted to avoid introducing any disease onto the property, which is always a risk with second hand bees or materials. This page documents our journey from when we first started to now, the keepers of two horizontal hives.
We bought the original hive components from Guilfoyle’s (there are several alternative suppliers now) and put it all together ourselves. This was a great way of learning the parts and how it all worked. Introducing the ‘nuc’ (nucleus) of new bees was a very simple process- we put the small box they came in on the base we had made for our hive, and let the bees out for the day.
Then, suited up, we gave it a couple of puffs of smoke from the smoker, moved it to the side, and set up our hive on the stand.
Then the four frames (covered in bees) were transferred from the nucleus box into our hive, and voila! we now had our own bee hive!
Transferring the frames
About six weeks later, we were ready to add a super.
A queen excluder was placed over the bottom box, now the brood box, to prevent the queen laying eggs in the supers placed above. The super with its own ten frames (already prepared with wax foundation) was placed above the queen excluder and the lid replaced.
Within two weeks there was already a great deal of activity on these empty frames! The jarrah was flowering, along with banksia, marri and numerous other plants, native or otherwise, so it wasn’t long before the bees had filled the frames with honey and capped them to store them for later. This is the sign we were looking for, and harvested honey from one full frame at a time from the centre of the hive. Each frame is very heavy, and yields at least 1 litre of honey using our drainage system. After various experimental systems this was soon replaced with a manual extractor, and eventually with an electric extractor!
The honey drains from the frame (once uncapped)…………..
through a hole in the top bucket, through a filter, and into the bottom bucket where it can pour from the tap into the jars………
After the first harvest, there was so much activity in the hive we added the next super!
This frame is ready to harvest. First it is given a short, sharp shake so most of the bees drop off (they then fly away). Any remaining bees are gently brushed off with a bee brush, then the frame is placed in a sealable food grade tub to prevent the bees or any other insects getting to the honey. The tub is then taken to the house for extraction.
We were very pleased to rehome a swarm that was looking (and now and then found) an entry into our house! We placed a frame with wax foundation into a cardboard box and put a little bit of honey inside. Within two days all the bees from the swarm were in the box and it was easy to transfer to a proper hive box!
The remaining bees in the box were just ‘tipped’ out gently on top of the hive box. We decided to keep this where we collected the swarm- right outside the kitchen window! We get to see their busy activity every day and get a lovely smell of honey from it. It now has a super on top and is thriving.
We secured another swarm in September 2014….from a wattle tree in the front of the house to an old wooden chest which we set up as a makeshift Top-bar hive…..
By 2015 it was obvious the box was no longer big enough for the bees, so we needed to replace it. We had been thinking for some time about the different types of hives, and now seemed a good time to experiment. We decided to replace this box with a topbar hive- see the process here.
The bees took to it well, and this was a lovely healthy hive until damaged by a tree branch. We also decided to change the kitchen Langstroth hive into a Warre. It was going well as it was, however we had more than enough honey and had read about the different styles and perhaps the more natural method for the bees, so decided to give it a go.
We cut some full comb from the Langstroth frames, and cable tied it into frames for the Warre, leaving some empty. We then removed the top super completely, and the queen excluder, and replaced some of the emptyish brood frames will full honey frames-our logic being that the queen would run out of room in the brood box and move into the Warre box.
We then placed the Warre box on top of the existing Langstroth brood box which had a board placed over the top with a hole the size of the Warre in the centre so the bees could move up and down freely but still be protected.
The prepared Warre box was then placed on top, along with the ‘quilt’ and roof. It is great having a viewing window to see how they are going- they are certainly building comb.
The conversion took some time, but eventually was complete.
All was well, until late June when we discovered condensation inside the hive, and thought it wasn’t getting enough sun and air circulation, so once again we made a change! We moved the Warre (see here) to the opposite side of the house where it could get a good amount of winter sun nearby the Topbar hive.
In July 2018 we moved the Langstroth from the front paddock where it was getting too shady, to nearby the other hives. See this post for details.
We eventually had the Warre, topbar and two horizontal hives! The horizontal hives are so much easier to work than a Langstroth, especially solo, as there is no need to lift a super full of honey that can weigh 20kg. The Warre wasn’t a great success overall, as due to WA regulations it had to have frames (a traditional Warre doesn’t) so in effect we were running a miniature Langstroth. The topbar was great, and wonderful to work, but we always felt bad harvesting as we had to crush and strain the comb, and the bees had to work so much harder to produce it again!
On moving to McCarthy Park 2 we decided to reduce our hives as we really didn’t need that much honey! We decided to give away the topbar and Warre and only relocated the two horizontal hives.
These settled extremely quickly as there is an abundance of flowering plants year round, and they have really consolidated and strengthened since we have been here, providing a great harvest at the end of 2021.