Honey Bees

dsc_7347We call it BlueBee Honey…

And despite what you might think, urban bee keeping is relatively easy. I suppose we cheated a bit because we’ve bought our hive nucleus ready made each time we have started a hive. This means we get a box with a colony in it and a healthy queen, honey and brood (babies already laid), pollen and nectar stored – an active health hive. The alternatives are to either catch a swarm in the wild and make a hive from them or to create a hive from an existing hive and raise queens. This is far more technical and a bit down the track, particularly as we are managing urban hives and this is restricted in Victoria to a maximum of 2 hives per yard. See here for more.

It is easy having European honey bees in Melbourne inner suburbs. There is plenty for them to feed on and to drink, pollen to collect and nectar to turn into honey. Elsewhere in Victoria it can get tough at times during depending on weather, how early or late major trees flower and the result of hives need supplementing. Beyond Australia hives are generally subject to the dangerous Varroa virus that is creating hive collapse and threatening the European bee populations of Europe and America and Asia.People are working hard everywhere to combat this. The most recent development using mushrooms can be found here.

Bees are amazing.

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Truly a super organism, if for no other reason a hive is great to keep just to watch witness and see how they go about their daily business. But there is much more going on behind the scenes when it comes to a bee colony. They have capabilities that are mind boggling. Somehow the hive organises so that worker bees variously serve as nurse bees, foraging bees, morgue bees, defence bees, air-conditioning bees and other functions during their 40 day lives. They are hard working girls. Another hard working girl is the queen – laying up to 2000 eggs a day in mid summer. The boys (drones) don’t do much generally but eat – take a flight to a drone congregation near by (like a boy’s club in the air) and wait for maiden queens to fly through so they can hopefully mate. If they succeed the dye and brutal death. If they fail they die a different kind of brutal death!

IMG_5178.JPGHalf way through their lives the workers can go out foraging. Foraging can mean flying anywhere in a 5-7 KM radius in pursuit for pollen and nectar – but where they go for their stock within this radius is very specific. Navigation bees are responsible for discovering supply options and then they come back to the hive and communicate exactly where the pollen and nectar sources are. They do this by dancing! See here for more.

Bees make honey, wax, propolis, royal jelly. They design and build their hives. They rear babies, drones (lazy boys) and new queens. They work symbiotically as a collective to achieve the future of their hive, their species. We work hard to respect this process and help it flourish by not using any pesticides or herbicides and by taking care to only rob small amounts of bee produce so they always have plenty to live on and thrive.

dsc_7723We can use wax to make things like wax/oil linen cloths for preserving foods; wax for painting (encaustic); wax for making candles, for sealing preserves and general use. Propolis is highly sought after as a superfood and healing agent. We don’t extract this as 2 or 3 hives don’t produce much propolis overall. Same with royal jelly which is used by the bees to raise their young.

It is surprising how many people find it scary to have bees in their gardens. It has been great for our garden and we have prolific and abundant harvests because of the bee populations. Even with the occasional sting and a bit of an itchy rash it is really no big deal compared to the amazing journey of actually hosting these incredible creatures.

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Yep, they are incredible. They publicly dance in order to exchange GPS info to each other that is surprisingly accurate. They lift huge weights and work together to overcome obstacles. They communicate as one and operate as a super organism always working for the common good and not the individual (sort of a Japanese trait) – and they also protect the hive (not the queen as such but the colony).

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Bees need us to keep an eye. In Australia it might be that due to the weather, the trees are really late to flower and this can mean that colonies don’t survive. They must have honey to survive and bee keepers can make up emergency food supplements. Having good clean water close by is vital too. We find that the aquaponics are good for this in the back yard.

We are always learning about bees. There is a good deal to understand and its cool being connected to Ceres and Benedict Hughes, the practical bee keeper. I recently did a course with him on ‘queening’.

“We stumble along learning as we go and with each step there is a little grow” 

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