In short, bees are fascinating creatures and there seems to be a never-ending amount of information to learn about them!
We started with four hives in December 2016 and we were fortunate enough to gather honey during the honey flow season between December and March/April from these four hives. Just our luck, it appears 2016 was the worst year for gathering honey for about 50 years. We did get another four small hives that were the result of a split later in the season but they were all about boosting the strength of the hive, not making honey.
Don't underestimate the time commitment you need to make when having bees, there is regular hive maintenance required throughout the year and also the financial commitment to purchase the "hive" (boxes, brood frames, honey frames, hive mat and lid, queen excluder and bee return and either a frame feeder or top feeder for the winter months) bee protective suit, hive tool and brush, smoker and most importantly, the cost of attending a bee course - recommended for all newbies and a big confidence booster as you begin your journey as a beekeeper (apiarist).
We have joined the Franklin Bee Club - there are multiple benefits of joining a bee club, information and support from like-minded people, the ability to hire their commercial kitchen (for a small fee) to extract your honey and having your honey sample/s sent to the appropriate company to test for tutin. If you intend to sell your honey, it must be extracted in a commercial kitchen and you must have the appropriate information on your labels including contact details for the honey supplier, nutritional information and batch number (check out Ministry of Primary Industries website for details).
Regular hive maintenance is important to check brood boxes for the presence of eggs, larvae and capped brood. If no eggs or larvae are present in any of the brood frames it is possible that the hive may have become queenless and is therefore a problem. Depending on the time of year will depend how you manage this situation.
Varroa Mite and American Foul Brood (AFB) are the two big issues that have to be dealt with. Varroa Mite is much more common and can be treated with a range of different products at regular intervals throughout the year. AFB luckily is not that common but is terminal for the hive. The hive in its entirety is required to be burnt to eliminate the risk of spreading to other hives. You are required by law to have your hive/s registered and have a qualified person undertake an AFB check once a year.
We are fortunate to have neighbours who have large amounts of QEII and covenanted bush - which our bees made a "beeline"for, although they did spend quite some time in the paddocks on clover flowers and general flowers within the house garden area but that seems to be once they had exhausted their bush food supply. Our honey was the colour of gold and tasted oh so sweet. I can vouch that having a small amount of honey in your morning coffee is much better than sugar
We have been feeding our small hives with sugar syrup for a few months now to keep them strong through the winter months as they had very little in the way of honey stores. They have a frame feeder in their second brood box but we have decided to change to a top feeder as there is less disturbance to the hive when topping up the syrup. I purchased the top feeder units complete and spent this weekend painting them "Paisley" green to separate them from the blue of the brood boxes and yellow of the honey boxes.
My encouragement of this decision was probably a reaction to a multiple stinging incident where I got cocky and didn't suit up to help my good husband top up the feeders. I was standing to one side filling and handing him the jug when he opened one hive that had been joined with another (after it became queenless probably more than likely following a varroa treatment). It was immediately apparent that they were annoyed at the interruption to their day - there was a lot of noise and a lot of bees errupted from the hive to deal with the offenders. The good husband was safe, I was not. They were all over my face, in my hair, on my clothes and I was petrified. I walked slowly away and stood still in the shade (like I'd been told to do) - that didn't help! I was being stung so I started walking faster towards the clothes hanging on the washing line trying to use a pair of trackies and my mothers bloomers to get the bees off - that had limited results... by this time I was a bit tearful and calling desperately to the good husband who was still filling the bloody feeders... finally I got to the house and most of bees had given up and moved on (or died after stinging) and I was left with two stings on the face, three on the back of my head and two on my leg and I didn't know what to tend to first but I was grateful that I had a huge container of malt vinegar to bathe my wounds.
Don't be scared however - I should have known better and put my suit on and my good husband should have taken his trusty smoker - you live and learn.
To all those professional bee keepers who go suitless and gloveness... I admire your courage!
It hasn't dampened my enthusiasm for having bees and I'll be out there tomorrow SUITED UP helping to change the feeders over.
Next update will be on lambing, so far we've had three prolapses and a dead prem lamb - not a great start!
The good wife
Hover over the photos below to get a brief description