Posts Tagged ‘bees’

Batbox conversion to Warre: the final frontier

The journey continues …

Once again I set up a warre hive box and baseboard (luckily I had a spare), hauled out the adapter board, and settled the batbox settled on top. I taped up cracks in the batbox, the joins between the batbox and adaptor board.

Now what? I got into this beekeeping game wanting only one beehive, which has already given me 30kgs of honey in their first season, and that far exceeded my (and anyone elses’) expectations. Now I’m at 2.5, shortly to become 3.

On one of the natural beekeeping online groups that I follow, I saw that someone had recently lost their hive. It was quite late in the season (autumn), and their chances of catching a swarm and it surviving the winter were very slim. In the 2015 winter, I knew of 5 late-caught swarms that had failed, generally due to the autumn storms. As an alternative I offered them the batbox 2.5 hive to re-home.

This beekeeper was less of a sook that I was, and after giving it a week with the escape board, had no compunction in pulling the batbox apart (in fact, it “fell apart” on her). Her description of the event:


There wasn’t any brood in the bat box just capped and uncapped honey and a few cells of bee bread. I harvested all the honey because that have almost 2 full boxes and starting on the third. Such a lot of work but fun. We lost about 50 bees who drowned in honey when the comb I was lifting feel breaking open into the box. I shook them onto a cloth, smoked and brushed a lot of them but finally around 7pm they had all gone in!

Batbox bees, rehomed

Phew. Glad that’s over. From this family of bees, I’ve had the original batbox colony (this lot), the inadvertant hive split from when I first tried to convert the batbox to warre, and <a href="http://” target=”_blank”>the swarm from when I was too lazy to actually do any thing about them. Aww, I’m getting the warm fuzzies.

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Bat box conversion to Warre

I meant to write about this last week (a year ago). Then… the bees actually swarmed, putting my conversion plans off for a little bit. Then life happened, and this post is gathering dust.

In the warre beekeeping system, you “nadir” by adding extra space in the form of extra warre boxes below the currently occupied beehive box. This mimics what bees do in the wild: they find a tree hollow, and start building a home and the comb by connecting it to the top of the hollow of the tree, and building the comb downwards. This contrasts with the langstroth style in which the beekeeper “supers”, by adding the extra boxes on top of the existing occupied beehive box. So a langstroth style beekeeper makes the bees go upwards, and the warre style beekeeper lets the bees go downwards.

Here’s the bat box:

batbox

As you can see, the roof is hinged, and it slopes. The floor is flat, but the back of the bat box sticks out a bit, so it is not flush with the rest of the floor. This helps with mounting the batbox on a tree (or a post), but is not so good for me. The batbox itself is actually a smaller footprint than the warre box.

My original thought had been to nadir the batbox: that is, stick the smaller footprint batbox on top of a warre box, and let the bees move downwards. But the screws holding the floor up look like they had been painted in.

Then the second thought had been to super the batbox; supposedly this would be easier because there is already a removable lid. But then this would create more challenges, because I would need to work out some way to “hold up” the larger warre box. Would I then be creating yet another rod for my back by first asking the bees to move upwards, and then a month or two later asking them to move downwards? I also had a another problem with how to create a new “temporary” entrance, in between the batbox and the new warre box, once the bees had moved upstairs, but in such a way that I could use the one way bee escape.

So it’s back to the downward path we go.

We unscrewed and then levered off the base of the batbox. It was actually surprisingly easy. I made an adapter board by getting some marine grade plywood, painting one coat of white paint over it, and then drilling two access holes with a circle drill bit.

We then placed the the batbox atop this adaptor board, and then atop a warre beehive and a baseboard. I taped up the circular entrance to force the girls to use the entry downstairs.

Batbox to warre conversion

It took me a week to work out that they were so attached to upstairs, they were using this attachment screwhole as an entry. That got tapped up too, and finally they were using the proper downstairs entrance.

About six weeks later, I put in the excluder between the adaptor board and the warre box. By now, Queenie should be downstairs and laying in the new white honeycomb. The next day, I pulled off the batbox, put it to oneside, and put on a quilt box and gabled roof.

Hurray, we are now at 100% Warre!

100% Warre

Being the lazy something or other, I left the bat box hanging around in the backyard for the next week, rather than tossing it out like any other sensible person.

This was a sight that I didn’t want to see:

New tenants?

Oh dear. Either a swarm has moved into this nice, recently up for lease batbox home, or brood which was left behind has started to hatch.

I can’t just throw these girls into the bin to make the problem ‘go away’ (for me) and cause a headache for the garbageman. They’re my little fighters!

What would you have done?

Life in a bee-ocracy

Bzzt. We’ve been in this bat box for over 8 months. I’m bored, and there’s not enough room.

batbox

Conditions look good out there – it’s warming up, there’s lots of flowers* in bloom.

flowering

Let’s move.

The escape

Hey, I can see Russia from this branch.

Russia

I think this place looks pretty good.

shook swarm

Aw bzzt. This place looks really familiar.

Three hive flock

Harvest Monday August and Winter/Spring garden update

I’ve already written a post about my 2015 winter garden. I guess this is part 2 (in Australia, Winter is classified as June/July/August).

Snow peas. I’ve harvested three times, about a handful each time. Tonight’s harvest I counted 11 snow peas. I have no idea about weight.

Winter harvest

The broccoli didn’t form a cohesive head, it started getting taller and the florette components got more coarse rather than small and compact which is what I prefer. So I chopped it into broccolini-like shoots, and ate it. It was delicious.

La Orange:

La orange

About 4 skinny minnie asparagus spears.

And that’s kind of it for my lazy persons harvest from the lazy person garden.

I was really inspired by my friend Ashlee’s garden, and I was rather jealous of all the lovely growing things they had. And I thought of my winter plot, which took two days worth of hard work to move; which I subsequently ignored after the frost which killed the pumpkin.

Planted

From seed: rocket, carrot, dwarf peas, xing gua. Some parsnips too, because I saw a recipe for parsnip wine, and wanted to make some.

I also purchased, after much dithering (a month’s worth), a double graft low chill cherry tree – Minnie Royal and Royal Lee. This one is a guaranteed low chill. This “bare root tree” was already in bud and flower when I picked it up from the Dural area: compare this to my starkrimson tree, which is still dormant.

What does the garden look like?

Honestly, it looks much the same as it did last month.

Oh, here is a picture of the anonymous citrus flowers, now dubbed the orange tree:

Orange blossoms

I wish I had smell-o-vision, it really smells that glorious. I am surprised that the bees aren’t foraging on the orange tree, but they like to travel kilometres, not metres.

The bees are bringing in plenty of pollen, which makes me very happy. I feel blessed that I live in the Sydney basin, with a temperature climate that allows for year round foraging. Times were a bit tough early in the year – due to the monsoonal weather that we experienced from October to February, a lot of colonies that got started late in the season have not survived winter. I know of three colonies that did not survive winter because they had already eaten all of their stores during what was supposed to be “the good months” (Jan/Feb), but really were the tough months. Some bees were even observed to be harvesting rust spores from the underside of weeds. My bees are suffering a bit from chalkbrood as a result of condensation – every morning I visit them, they’re “skating” on the bottom board – I’m not sure if they’re “sweeping” the floor, or just unable to move properly because of the amount of condensation that has built up overnight.

Bees:

Winter Bees

I was trying to capture a shot of the beehive’s “rush hour” in this photo. It’s like all the bees decided to return at a specific time in order to have a bit of a gossip and a coffee. It’s probably because they’re all flying the same distance away, it takes the same amount of time to stuff your saddlebags, and then the same amount of time to fly back.

What’s that in the background? I hear you ask.

Well, it’s a bee colony that moved into a sugar glider box over summer, and I collected in Autumn. I call it the “bat box” because it is easier to say. I have rescued the bat box bees, but I can’t move them out until spring. *How* am I going to move them out? I’m not quite sure yet …

Garlic in a pot:

Container garlic

I don’t think I showed you a picture last time.

Planned:

I have already saved some capsicum seeds (store bought capsicum), and papaya seeds to see if I can get them to grow. Papaya from seed says that the papaya seeds will work.
My kipfler seed potatoes have already started to sprout roots – so although the tag says to plant in late spring/early summer, I think they need to go in now. This year I’m going to try a tomato grow bag. I’m a bit doubtful over the use of stacking tyres for the growing of potatoes.
I still need to dig out the grapevine. It may just go into a pot (the ground is as hard as a rock, since we haven’t had any rain for 24 days).
Move the bat box bees out of the bat box.
Plant the frangipani already.

Basil and the bees

One of the reason that I thought bees wouldn’t mind living in my area is that throughout the winter of 2014, I had constant bee visitors to my flowering basil.

After cutting back hard in November, the basil has flowered again. I spent a productive hour or two chasing the bees around the basil. The pollen from the basil is a deep red/orange colour.

Who says native bees and honey bees can’t feed on the same sources?

Native Bee

Native Stingless

I’m not quite sure which kind. There are at least 10 kinds of native bees that live in NSW. I’m claiming it as native stingless, or tetragonula.

Honey Bee:

European Honey Bee

Apis mellifera. This is the kind of European honey bee that I have in my backyard. I was a little disappointed when I first didn’t see my bees returning with loads of the red/orange pollen, even though I saw bees on the basil. This means they’re going my further afield. But now, in the past week, I have seen the bees coming back home with their saddle bags packed full of basil pollen.

Blue banded bee:

Blue banded bee

Amegilla cingulata. This one was the hardest to capture a photo of because she was such a ditz. It didn’t take her seconds to decide if she wanted to visit a certain flower, it was milliseconds. So it was very hard to focus the camera in time, before she moved on. These guys are well known for their ‘buzz pollination’, which would be why its so hard to get her to stay still!

How not to inspect your bees

So the bees swarmed. A week later, I had a friend come and help with more nadiring, and hopefully a honey harvest.

After the first inspection

Why so early?

Well, I struggled with my last nadiring effort. A full warre hive box can weigh 20 kgs (40 pounds), so that’s 60kg I’m wrestling with when I’m trying not to disturb the bees too much when expanding their house. A helping hand makes the job much easier, and points out things that you may not notice in your effort not to squash the bees.

It was almost textbook on how not to harvest.

1. I thought the top box of three would contain only honey.
It didn’t. It was about 50% brood comb.

2. I thought that the wall comb would contain honey, so I could harvest that.
It didn’t. More brood comb! Combs 2 & 3 next door had the capped honey.
Then we had comb containing brood break free from the frame.
We ended up returning the top box to the hive column, to make a five box hive, and I chucked the broken comb (in one giant piece), in. This will cause me a headache when I next inspect the hive, because the bees will ‘fix’ this broken comb to the walls (and the other honey comb that it is leaning against), so that they can use the space.
Next time, I need a clearer board. This is like a one way trap door for the bees; they can exit to the lower boxes, but they cannot return.

3. I thought Queen Mum was in one of the lower boxes.
She wasn’t. I found her, about 6 hours later, in a clump of bees on the ground behind the hive, in the area where we had been working.
I picked her up with a spoon and placed her near the hive entrance whereupon she marched right in like she owned the place.

This isn’t a reflection of the warre hive ‘inadequacies’, just more about my own inexperience nearly causing a disaster.

What did we do correctly?

4. My friend bought a spare baseboard.
This gave us a platform to work on without getting grass and dirt on the comb.

5. We set up our working area behind the beehive.
You always walk and work behind the hive entrance. This way the bees don’t find you in their way when they return from foraging flights, and that they don’t think you’re stealing from them.

6. We nadired the hive first before going through the top box.
This gave the bees a bit of a distraction and something to do, so that they didn’t pay much attention to us.

7. We had a plastic crate
This gave us a ‘bee free space’ into which which could chuck the bits of harvested honeycomb.

And on the 67th day….

… they swarmed. I must’ve done something right. My bees swarmed 67 days after I collected them as a swarm. Look who’s counting?

The weather in Sydney has turned tropical: every day is hot and humid. Then an afternoon storm rolls through. This then contributes to the humidity of the next day. I feel like I’m living in the tropics.

Bearding bees

The bees have been ‘bearding’ madly every day for the past three weeks*. They filled two warre boxes full of comb and brood (baby bees) in two weeks, so I nadired (added an extra bee box) with one box , to make a three box hive, but their mind was made up. Apparently, they decide about a month before they swarm that they’re gonna do it.

A few days later I had this sms conversation whilst away from home:

“The bzz r looking 4a place 2swarm like uder the house”
“Wtf??? Do I need to get another box?
“we’l c whr they go”
“Foooooook”

I put a call out for an emergency hive box, and managed to collect it on my way home. I set it up as a bait hive to try and lure the hive, but the girls had already made their mind up.

They swarmed the next day whilst I was at work.

I’m not supposed to feel it personally, but I feel abandoned.

I have helped the bees achieve their purpose, which is reproduce the bee colony.

But the statistic that 80% of swarms don’t make it doesn’t make me feel better. The fact that the monsoonal type weather is still ongoing has me a bit concerned, because Queenie needs to take a mating flight, and she might not make it back before the storm hits.

Fingers Crossed.

* established beekeepers will know that this is a swarm warning sign. I just thought it was bloody hot!