A Beekeepers Beginning - VAA | Victorian Apiarists' Association

bee on flower
Victorian Apiarists' Association
Go to content

Main menu:

A Beekeepers Beginning

by Leo Kuter
Australian Bee Journal
(February 2012 - June 2013)

A Beekeepers Beginning - by Leo Kuter - Australian Bee Journal (June 2013)

Last week I was up north to see a friend and pick up a hive that I left there over summer, it didn’t survive and I brought back an empty box. I noticed that the yellow box (E.Mellidora.) were very heavy in bud, but the interesting thing was that some trees, but only a few, were flowering already and bees were working the flowers. Upon closer inspection I noticed that the flowering trees had a few of last year’s gum nuts on them, yet those in bud had dropped the lot including what would have been on the higher branches. As the country is in the grip of drought, and has had no rain since December I would like to know what the trees are telling us about the season ahead, assuming that the buds flower then there should be a lot of flowers to pollinate and extract nectar, so that the buds set seed for the following autumn, which would mean a good season in this area for both beekeeper and farmers.

The Mornington Peninsula has a few swamp gums (E.Ovata) out in flower but there is not a lot of activity. Manna gum (E.Viminalis) is budding well for the new season. At Dandenong the hive has been packed down to one box and the street trees, Ironbark (E.Tricarpa) and spotted Gum (Corymbia maculata) should flower soon. The hive at Phillip Island is doing well as a lot of Hakea (H.petiolaris) and coastal Banksia (Banksia Integrifolia) are out as well as ground flora around the countryside. The hives at Moorooduc and Mt. Eliza are ‘ticking over’ nicely as different flor is out. The Cape Schank hives are working the coastal Banksia and are tucked in out of the way of the cold southerlies, as the location is close to the coast there are no frosts as well.

What are bee excluders and how are they used to help in the management of and apiary? The Porter bee escape was invented in 1891 and is a device that allows bees to move down from supers into the brood box but then bees cannot go the other way because of the shape of the escape. The bee excluders may have escapes at each corner to allow the air in the hive to maintain a good flow through to the lid on the super.

The excluder, which is usually a frame, is installed below a super for twenty four hours before the super can be removed. The super is replaced with a new super with just foundation in the frames and the excluder is then relocated to the underside of the lid or taken off altogether.

The disadvantage of this method of super removal is that two trips have to be made to the hive to remove the supers. Any bees left in the super are removed by using an air blower.

After attending the Bendigo Field Day I made an excluder to see if it would work on hives when you wanted to pack them down as there was no honey to extract. It worked a treat on the three hives that I tried.

The excluder consisted of a timber frame with a plywood infill that had a 30 mm square cut out of each corner. The ply was rebated into the frame so that there was a 9 mm set down from the top of the frame. Over each corner I glued a 9x100x100mm piece of plywood that had been cut out to the shape of an escape. Over this I glued a piece of flywire mesh. Turning the whole frame upside down the excluder allowed the bees to move to the lower box but not back. I have painted this frame a different colour to my boxes so that it stands out and therefore should not be left in the wrong position upon completion of the removal of the supers full of honey.

A Beekeepers Beginning - by Leo Kuter - Australian Bee Journal (May 2013)

Over the last couple of weeks I have been cleaning up and relocating hives that were left behind after a friend’s relative died. We eventually found some one hundred hives in various locations and in various states of repair and disintegration. Quite a number of these hives had not been handled for a number of years and most certainly had not been re-queened with a quieter strain.

So continuing my apprenticeship with the handling of bees I can now appreciate having paid the money for a good quality bee suit with no openings in it. The bees were very aggressive and as each hive had to be inspected the bees wanted to “discuss” the matter with us. We had to re-box some hives, remove and replace bases and lids some of which were heavily coated with burr comb. We removed all the excluders and put on emlocks prior to loading out.

Loading at night onto a truck and trailer was a new experience for me. We first loaded the hives onto a pallet and then forked them onto the truck. Simple you say? Except if you forget to block up a hole in the hive box or that the emlocks are not tight enough or that the rusty strap breaks or if you inadvertently push a triple off the truck on the other side when you are loading. Keeping in mind that bees at night have not got their GPS working (no sun) are attracted to torchlight and they cannot find their way home at night, they might as well sting whatever is causing the aggravation. Yes it was a fast track learning experience.

I have managed to find a good location for most of the hives near the coast (warm) out of the wind (warm) and some coastal banksia (B. integrifoila) which is flowering and has more young cobs coming hopefully over the coming months. Most of these hives have sufficient honey stores to last them through winter as we have not elected to extract any honey this year.

A Beekeepers Beginning - by Leo Kuter - Australian Bee Journal (February 2013)

The Coolgardie Safe is an Australian invention made out of pressed metal frame with Hessian bag walls and in later models “coke breeze” with a tray on top that was filled with water which was allowed to drip down through the Hessian or walls. A gentle breeze evaporated this water which cooled the interior enough to set butter, and kept the cream and sponge cakes cool.

In a similar way bees bring water into the hive, evaporate it by fanning which produces an air flow through the hive and keeps the hive cool on hot day. There are various theories on the best way to help bees cope with heat stress on the really hot days and I have discussed some methods that beekeepers use.

There appears to be two schools of thought based on where the bees are located but both insist that access to water is the most important factor and the closer the better. When a hot day is coming the bees will tend to bring in water at the start of the day and not nectar or pollen.

One beekeeper who has hives in the hot country (west and north west NSW) has noticed bees working as early as 3.00 am bringing in water. He has noticed that bees in the shade will bring in nectar and pollen early and then realising it is going to be hot will start bringing in water. This water may be hot and does not appear to have the same cooling effect as colder water earlier in the day. This results in meltdown and the drowning of bees in honey.

Also as he has hives in more hot weather locations than cool he uses a perforated metal base board on the hives which allows a much larger flow of air through the hive and when combined with the evaporative effect gives much better cooling. He maintains very large hives (3x10 frame) and he considers that a large hive will be more resilient than a weaker hive and he does not remove honey in hot weather.

Another technique is to keep the hives in the shade during the hottest part of the day. This may be done when siting the hives or by erecting shade cloth or placing a sheet of Corrigated Iron on the roof of the hive. This acts as a “sun roof “on the hive. A problem in siting hives in the shade, especially if they are static hives, is that during cooler months unwanted water may collect in the hive and become mouldy, as happened to one of my hives over winter.

I had another conversation with a beekeeper where he recalled that an experienced beekeeper always cut a 150mm hole in the base board of the hive and covered it with flywire. This is a variation on the perforated base board and would be useful for moving more air through the hive.

A Beekeeper friend lost 4 hives in 800 in country that had an ambient temperature of 48 ‘C for 4-5 days. The casualties appeared to be caused by movement in those hives during transportation and the bees appeared to be agitated when the hives were placed in position in the apiary.

So in summary
• Hives in the shade if possible.
• Water close by –the closer the better
• Strong hives
• Base ventilated
• Don’t remove honey on hot days, leave it in
• Place hives in a breezy location.
• Be careful not to stress the bees prior to hot days.

How about sharing your experiences when handling bees in hot weather?

If a hive has swarmed the hive may have to be reorganised by moving frames with brood and frames with honey around the hive. The brood, especially dark brood should be kept as low as possible in the hive, preferably in the bottom box and in the centre of it with at least one frame of honey either side. The second box, if there is one, should be checked for recently laid eggs and these frames should be kept in the middle with honey either side as well. Old Queen cells should be removed so that new Queens are not raised in these cells and the Queen should be sought out and kept in the lower two boxes before the excluder, if used, is installed.

The idea behind this is to give the Queen as much room as possible to lay eggs combined with sufficient honey close to the brood.

It may be time still to split and re-Queen the larger hives if you want to increase the number of hives that you have. This season is so strange it may be alright to do this at this stage of the season.

A Beekeepers Beginning - by Leo Kuter - Australian Bee Journal (January 2013)

The variation of the foraging ability between hives is enormous and especially dramatic in the season that we are having. Of the eight hives that I have on the Peninsula two are bringing in honey,although not capping it as yet, four have cleaned the stickies that I have put in but not bringing in any honey and the other two are just drawing comb, I hope in anticipation of what may flower in the remainder of the season. All the hives I would consider to be strong but the two bringing in honey are by far the more active on the hot days.

The hive at Mt. Eliza has a full super of honey on it. The eight frames will be extracted next week and I anticipate that there will be about twenty five kilos of honey in total. The hive at Moorooduc is bringing in honey but not capping any. There is a lot of capped brood on all the frames in the second box which augers well for the latter part of summer and into autumn.

Two hives,the one at Dandenong and the other at Gembrook will not be able to be inspected until the new year, and the hive at Phillip Island has been inspected by another beekeeper who advises that it is alright as the bees are bringing in pollen.

Extraction seems a long way off for these other hives unless there is a burst if hot weather, flowering of eucalypts and production of nectar. I wish!

At times like this you have to consider whether or not to feed bees so that they remain strong over the start of summer and in anticipation of summer and autumn flowering trees. I have decided not to feed as there is sufficient ground flora (flat weed) and some smaller plants like Sweet Bursaria (B. Spinoza) beginning to flower. It is impossible to tell the extent of the flowering and only by monitoring the hive will I get any indication as to the bees welfare. Those of you with hives in suburbia will have lots of different plants flowering ,however spare a thought for those throughout Victoria who do not have the same floral diversity where they have placed their hives.

The season is a poor one by any measure. Bob McDonald's article in the December issue paints rather a gloomy picture as he gives his best interpretation of the season. With his experience and that of Trevor Jones in forecasting the season it is a pity that others with similar experience do not communicate to the wider community.

Following on from the public tasting of different honeys at market recently I have noticed that apart from farmers markets and direct selling of honey by bee keepers that honey labelling sometimes does not truly reflect what could be in the jar. We do not know if some packers of honey for example contains any imported honey even though there is a requirement under ANZ labelling regulations, or what percentage of blend may be in the container if there is no description on it. I understand that all honey will contain nectar from different sources e.g. If yellow box is flowering and Patterson's Curse in the same area is flowering at the same time who can say if the honey produced by the bees is one hundred percent yellow box. However if a dark honey (red gum) is blended with a light honey (clover) to give a uniform colour why cannot the components be put on the label so that the purchaser has a better understanding of what they are buying? This also may stop retailers selling honey that is imported without the buyer knowing it.

The tightening or clarification of descriptions of olive oil that are now on the supermarket shelves gives an indication of what can be achieved by producers in Australia agitating for change. Maybe we should be doing the same thing.

A Beekeepers Beginning - by Leo Kuter - Australian Bee Journal (December 2012)

Summer looks as if is going to be hot and dry requiring me to make sure that there is plenty of water close to the hives. The hives that I have placed around my area are showing markedly different honey production volumes depending on the flora that is in the various areas.

The Dandenong hive is going really well and capping honey and I have taken five heavy frames from this one hive and there is still plenty left for the bees. I am now hoping that the Red Gum (E camaldulensis) along the creek close to the factory location will flower in December through to February.

The Mt. Eliza hive has honey in it but only twenty per cent on each frame is capped. A few hot days and with the bees fanning the air through the hive, should get the honey to the right moisture content for extraction before Xmas. The Moorooduc hive has "dropped off the pace" and the bees are not bringing in a lot of nectar. I have not put a Queen bee excluder on this hive and the Queen is operating over three boxes. I will have to confine her to two boxes so that I can have a better understanding of the honey production. This is a strong hive (lots of bees) and it did produce some early Queen cells.

The hives on the peninsula are building up well and producing honey that is a serious mixture of the ground flora with the exception of some Narrow Leaf Peppermint (E. radiata.) which is flowering later November but as this is sporadic throughout our bush I don’t expect the honey to have any distinct flavours or taste.

We have had some dead trees cut down around our house and when they fell they brought down some of the upper branches of the Messmate (E. obliqua) which had good budding and should flower in January. I have noticed for the first time quite a lot of leaf galls on some of the trees but I am not sure what this will mean for the summer months.

I did my first market in November which over two days and it was the first time that I have sold honey. I had local honey and some from Castlemaine, Southern Queensland, West and Northern N.S.W. All of the honeys had very distinctive flavours and colours varying from light amber through to almost black. I also had a jar of Northern Honey (Katherine) honey which was very different again and the most intriguing thing was that most people thought that honey tasted the same and when they tasted each of the samples was surprised at the difference. The N.T. honey has a very muscaty/tokay flavours and quite a number of people thought that something had been added to it. I also had samples of Leatherwood honey from Tasmania and various European honeys for people if they wanted to try something different.

The whole experience showed me that some people think that all honey is the same. I liken it to a wine company that produces the same wine year in year out so that a 1995 wine tastes the same as a 2012 wine although the seasons may be totally different. In a similar way honey is blended by some of the major packers to have a specific colour range and taste. There is no difference from year to year and no advice on the label as to what honey variety is blended or where it comes from. In addition if honey is overheated as can happen then there are additional factors that come into play.

I think it would be good if beekeepers promoted the varied product that they produce and if possible have people sample the individual honeys to appreciate the difference.

For those who have been following the various articles on neonicotinoids in the ABJ, should note that hive diseases and pests can lower the ability of the hive to cope with a whole range of problems. The neonicotinoids, and when combined with fungicides, when sprayed kill healthy bees and because of their systemic properties cause foraging bees to bring contaminated pollen into the hive to be fed to the young bees with disastrous results. These are two distinct problems, viz. diseases and pesticides that should not be confused when reading the articles.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of those whom I have met at various field days who have read my articles and those whom have given advice and encouragement over the last twelve months I wish you all a safe and Merry Xmas and a prosperous and healthy New Year.

A Beekeepers Beginning - by Leo Kuter - Australian Bee Journal (November 2012)

If you have lost a reasonable amount of hair as a beekeeper over the years due to unfavourable seasons then this year you will loose the rest.

Hot or even warm days south of the divide are almost non existent to date and the bees just do not come out to work. The Eucalypts that are producing nectar on the odd day just have it washed out with rain the next. However pollen is being brought into the hives and Queens are laying at a phenomenal rate. Lots of swarms are being produced in the suburbs and unless you have been manipulating frames in the brood box and super your hives will be prone to swarming. I suspect that honey will be scarce this season, as Bob McDonald stated, until the summer heat comes and the eucalypts respond with some nectar.

I have noticed that the swarms I have picked up are building comb and laying brood on the North side of the brood box. The South side frames have not been touched and this also applies to the boxes above the Queen excluded where some honey is being stored. The absence of heat means that the honey is not capped and is therefore at the wrong moisture content. All frames have pollen and honey stored around the brood.

It is going to be interesting to see which of the hives will give me the first honey to extract. I suspect that it will be the Phillip Island hive because of the amount of garden flora that has been planted and is now flowering in the spring. The Dandenong hive (on the office roof) has some unsealed honey in it and as soon as the weather warms up the bees should evaporate the water in it and then seal it. The two other ‘garden hives’ are in the same situation with unsealed honey in the super.

I was in Tasmania last week, St. Helens to be exact (N. E.) where the Tasmania Ironbark (as they call it) or Shining Gum (E. Sieberi) as we know it was flowering profusely. The hills around the town were white with flowers and not a hive in sight. A local beekeeper told me that all the hives were on the leatherwood in the North West of Tasmania. He had twenty hives in St. Helens and was taking about an ideal box (1/2 size) each week from each hive, no competition sometimes is a good thing as all the honey was sold locally. He told me that when the leatherwood is producing that he can stack seven ideal boxes on top of the brood box and all will be filled in two weeks. As leatherwood commands a premium in price it is no wonder all the beekeepers are there at this time of the year.

I must thank Chris Strudwick for his comments and further research on the internet on pesticides that affect bees. I am not against the use of pesticides in agriculture as they are necessary for obtaining a good crop. What I object to is their indiscriminate use and the mixing of fungicides and insecticides that have the potential to decimate bee populations. I believe that the VAA Executive should, through appropriate channels, initiate a campaign to make Orchardists or Spraying Contractors in particular aware of unacceptable spraying practices that affect our industry. It is not just good enough to abide by the dose rate on the label on the container of the spray chemical; they must be made aware of the potential increase in toxicity if the sprays are mixed. A cocktail of sprays is more economical to apply but can have severe implication for beekeepers. The APVMA document goes a long way to address this issue but more research needs to be done on combinations of sprays.

A Beekeepers Beginning - by Leo Kuter - Australian Bee Journal (October 2012)

At long last it is starting to get warmer and there is much activity in all of the hives. The forecast from the Weather Bureau is that it will be a hot, dry summer so water may be a problem again.

I have put another box on the Phillip Island hive and have manipulated the frames in the brood box to try and avoid swarming as this hive is putting on weight and has a lot of sealed brood. One of the smaller hives died out and the other is surviving with the help of a frame of brood and honey from the big hive.

The ironbark trees (E. tricarpa) are still flowering at Dandenong and the hive is putting on weight. I have checked to see a few additional frames of honey and I hope that more will be coming in.
At Moorooduc the Pittosporum (P. undulatum) is well and truly out and the bees are working it. I have added a box and manipulated the frames in the brood box. There is a lot of sealed brood and this hive is going to be big and hopefully will bring in some honey.

I have not had a chance to inspect the hive at Mt. Eliza but I suspect that it is putting on weight due to the amount of Pittosporum that is out at the moment.
The three hives at Merricks are doing well and I will have to add an additional box to all of them. The small hive is building up and this is the hive that I will be using as a test hive in the North Country.

At the end of August I went to an information night at the Melbourne Division where Jodie Goldsworthy gave a presentation on the campaign to eradicate/contain the Asian bee. This was most informative and a well explained presentation which invoked a lot of discussion afterwards and the articles in the Sept ABJ on the Asian Bee were done by the volunteers who went up to Cairns.
Comment was also made on the apparent lack of acceptance by the wider agricultural community that bees do matter for pollination, food security and seed production. The Federal and State Governments and the relevant authorities who have in general no beekeeping experience do not appear to understand the ramifications of this pest. Otherwise why have they not contributed more money and resources to eradicate it?
Haven’t they heard of cane toads, rabbits, foxes and blackberry to name a few pests that were subject to a ‘containment’ policy? We have been told that we have moved progressively from ‘eradication’ through to ‘containment’ and now ‘management’. What a farce this has become and the overall management is run by bureaucrats with a minimum of practical beekeeping experience.
It is imperative that all beekeepers take a stand on this one by writing to politicians and to discuss it with the wider community whenever we can. Otherwise if Asian bee spreads throughout Australia as Hanrahan said “we will all be ‘rooned”

I was asked to “re-hive” a colony that had been in a tree for a number of years and that tree had fallen over, snapped and exposed the colony. The safe bet would have been to run away from this challenge but as I had not done this before I thought it would be worth trying. The drawback in trying to re-hive colonies in trees or stumps is that they usually have been in the tree for a long time and are not happy being in a box.
The first piece of equipment was an electric chainsaw in order to keep the fumes and noise to a minimum. The full equipment of the beekeepers was assembled. We cut the tree into manageable blocks and proceeded to cut out the old comb and install it on wire only frames into a box, lots of smoke was used and as expected the bees were angry and we persevered and placed the box as close to the old hive as possible . We drove handfuls of bees into the box and shook lots off into the top of the box and with the lid on we eventually had most inside.
We left the hive there for a few days and all seemed in order however on the third day all the bees had absconded. As Ned said “such is life”.

A big thank you to Bob McDonald for his comments on the season ahead in the south although I would like to hear comment if possible on Messmate (E.obliqua), Alpine ash (E.delagatensis) and Shining Gum (E.nitens) as these trees did not flower profusely last year but all seem to have buds this year.

In letters to the editor Chris Strudwick makes a plea for the VAA to stand up for its members in all forums against the Varroa mite. I feel that the VAA also should take the lead on the use of pesticides that are currently being used in Agriculture, how they are bring used and demand input into various authorities as they examine this matter. They also should have a written policy on pesticides and their uses and a contact whom members can contact in the event of an adverse experience.

A Beekeepers Beginning - by Leo Kuter - Australian Bee Journal (September 2012)

I think by now most beekeepers are sick of the cold, wet and generally miserable winter weather. It has been too cold for hive inspection as the brood would be chilled very quickly if the hive was opened up. The only way to ascertain how the hives are going is to check their weight on a regular basis.

A friend who had put up some nesting boxes for sugar gliders and brushtail phascogales rang me with a problem as bees had got into two boxes and could I remove them even though it was mid winter. This was going to be tricky as we had to pick the warmest day and move very quickly, even then it would be touch and go if they survived. The following technique can be applied to any box hive situation.

Firstly the gear that you will need is the usual beekeepers gear as well as a ladder, pinch bar and bolt cutters, a long bladed knife, large rubber bands and depending on how the box is constructed an electric screwdriver. A single box hive complete with wire only frames and a base and lid.

The method is first to observe the nest box from the ground to see from which direction the bees have their flight path to the opening in the nest box, how the box is constructed and how it is attached to the tree or post. Put the ladder to the side of the nest box away from the flight path as this will save you from the bees flying into you when you are up the ladder.

If the box has a lid on it leave it shut as the comb will most probably be attached to it and if you open the lid you will break the comb and cause the bees to get angry. Now smoke the opening and remove the box from the tree as quickly as possible and put it at the base of the tree adjacent to the hive box. One of the nest boxes was attached with a chain and the bolt cutters came in handy.

Once on the ground I gave a bit more smoke to the opening as the box had to be pulled apart and the best way is to remove a side rather than the top. Cut the first piece of comb out and fix it with the rubber band to a ‘wire only’ frame making sure that the top of the comb is at the top of the frame. Any surplus at the bottom can be cut off flush. Comb is attached with the bands as it is much faster than using string. This first frame is put as the outside frame in the hive box.

The next piece of comb is cut out, installed into the next frame and put adjacent to the first frame and this procedure is repeated so that when the hive box is full of comb the location of the individual combs is the same as it was in the nest box.

The nest box is then laid on its side at the entrance to the hive with the side that had been removed facing the entrance. A few puffs of smoke into the next box will cause stragglers to come out. Leave the hive box at the base of the tree so that any other bees flying about will eventually come to it.

Now for the tricky part. As you have removed the nest box from up the tree any bees that have been out foraging will come back to the tree at the location where the nest box had been attached. These bees will cluster and will have to be coaxed into the hive at the base of the tree. Experienced beekeepers can go up the ladder put their hand under the cluster and bring it down very carefully and place it at the entrance to the hive without getting stung. I have not been game to do this.

I smoked the cluster which caused them to fly around and each time they re-grouped I gave them a little more smoke. This eventually caused the bees not to land on the tree and they sought out the hive box. I then waited almost until night fall or until it got cold and noted that the bees were in the hive. Some no doubt would have died but the majority were safe including the Queen.

The two box colonies, which were transferred by this method, were left at the site for four days then picked up at night and taken to Phillip Island. I have subsequently checked these hives and added a frame of honey to each. I have also put a piece of plywood, cut to the same shape a frame, in the hive to partition off the bees and to keep them as confined as possible.

I have been told that the Almond pollination may take longer than usual and that early crops of Canola are flowering. Coast ti-tree (L.laevignatum) is starting to flower and wattle is out everywhere.

The hives at Merricks are all putting on weight and the bees are bringing in a lot of pollen and as soon as I can get a warm day I will look into them to see how the brood is expanding. The hive at Dandenong is now putting on weight, with the Ironbark (E. sideroxlyon) is still flowering so I will leave it for a few more weeks or until it warms up. One other hive has been moved to another place where there is more garden flora and a lot of ti-tree that is about to come out.

I will have to go to the Northern country soon to check out what is budding up and to try and predict when it will flower.

A Beekeepers Beginning - by Leo Kuter - Australian Bee Journal (August 2012)

Spring is just a month away and this brings us to the ‘start up’ situation for the coming season. Commercial beekeepers will be preparing for the almond pollination then to canola to build up their hives before the nectar starts to flow around the state. Assuming that you have had at least one warmer day to check your hive you should by now know which ones survived the winter, which ones gained weight and obviously which ones died. Weighing hives gives a good idea but does not compensate for a good hive examination.

Small hive beetle, nosema disease to name two problems that could be in the hive. What about wax moth? Will a small infestation increase in the warmer months?

With the onset of spring there are a few management decisions that have to be considered. Do I want the same number of hives this season? Will the stronger hive swarm and leave me with weak hives? Is there enough pollen and nectar in the coming months to avoid spring dwindle?

Let’s start with the idea that you don’t want any more hives. You therefore have to prevent your hive from swarming in the spring. There are lots of management techniques written on this subject and they usually revolve around giving the queen more room to breed by putting empty brood comb near the existing brood and manipulating the honey stores.

If you want to increase the number of hives then either you get a net queen or you split the hive. An interesting technique for splitting the hive in a suburban environment which I am going to try this spring was explained to me as follows.

Firstly assuming that you have a two box hive without an excluder in between and that there is brood in both boxes:
  • lift the top box off and put it onto a base and put lids back onto both boxes
  • then put the second box along side the position of the first box, having it face the same way and this is done in the middle of the day when it is warm.
  • The next day swap the position of the two boxes during the day, as this action seems to confuse the worker bees as to which box they should come back to as there is brood in both. These boxes are then moved apart say two to three metres and the procedure repeated. Both are checked for the formation of new queen cells and the location of the existing queen.

If you have a single box hive then some of the brood can be taken out and put into a new box along with some honey stores and young bees. The hive has to be quite strong to do this as you have to put foundation or drawn comb in as well to both boxes. Boxes are still put side by side and rotated accordingly

If you have a two box hive and have somewhere to take it (at least two Km away), then it is easier to take enough brood and honey out of the main hive and put it into the secondary hive and at night move it to the new location. The box that does not have the queen in it will make a new queen for the new hive.

My hive at Phillip Island has come through the winter in good shape. It weighed in excess of 48 Kg (for a two box hive) at the start of winter and has not lost any weight. There seems to be a lot of pollen and nectar from the plants that have been planted in the neighbourhood as well as a bit of coastal Banksia (B. integrifolia). It will have to be split and I have another location on the island to take the hive to.

The hive at Dandenong is doing as well as can be expected with the street trees still flowering. A little bit of warm weather would not go astray. It is interesting what has been planted to ‘beautify’ the industrial streetscape. As mention previously the ironbarks and spotted gums are planted throughout. However I found what I consider to be an ‘oddball’ eucalyptus growing opposite the bee site. It seems to be Mt Le Grand Mallee (E. aquilana) which comes from a very small area in the south of Western Australia. Why propagate and subsequently plant it in Dandenong? Did it come with a bunch of plants that were planted when the subdivision went in? The buds are large and the pedicle or bud stem is flat and about 5mm wide and 20mm long. The buds look like ice-cream cones and it should flower in the summer months.

I will not be taking my hives to the northern country for Canola this year as the jury, in my opinion, is still out on the effect of systemic insecticides that have been used to coat the canola seed before planting. However I will be going up to try for Yellow Box (E.melliodora) and red Gum (E.camaldulensis) in the summer months. It will depend on how the buds on the trees are progressing and if the weather is hot enough for the trees to produce nectar.

I am waiting for Bob McDonald’s column on the season ahead as it should be interesting after all the water that we have had over winter. It would be great if one of the Commercial beekeepers south of the Divide could share their knowledge to give an equally informative essay on what could happen in the south.

A Beekeepers Beginning - by Leo Kuter - Australian Bee Journal (July 2012)

We have had a terrible start to the winter months with cold, wet and generally miserable weather. The bees have not been flying out and have been cooped up in the hives. On the odd warm day I have seen lots out foraging and bringing in good amounts of pollen of various colours from white through yellow to red. This means that they must be going to different plants that are flowering, although the only eucalypt flowering is the Swamp Gum (E.Ovata).

The hive that I put at Mt. Martha was put in a location that at the time seemed reasonable, facing east and in the sun most of the day. However upon inspecting the top box I found that it was very moist and did not have any bees in it. I took this box off and closed the hive down to one box. When I examined the top box later I found that some frames had drawn comb but no honey had been stored. Some of the frames had bur comb which was very brittle and very white which I suspected might be bacteria. The interior of the box was dripping wet on three sides and the other side was dry.

What does this mean for hive owners?

I think that if your hive is in a convenient or picturesque location in a garden setting that also it should be in a warm location in full sunshine if possible and not in a damp location when the hive is inspected the top box should be examined particularly for moisture as it will ruin the hive. It is also important to have air circulating around the hive in order to get the moisture out of the hive.

I went to the Collingwood Children’s Farm in the last month to look at amongst other things the set up for the hives and associated workshops. This place (the bee area) is very well set up for educational purposes and is supported by a group of dedicated beekeepers. Suburban beekeepers should try and get there on the weekends to participate in the teaching and learning process.

Sometimes I think that we may not have marketed our honey as well as we can and obtain a premium for it. I am referring to Manuka honey that seems to be the domain of the New Zealanders whereas some of out myrtle honey and tea tree honey has the same therapeutic qualities but sells at no where near the same price.

I recently received some Feather Bush (Micromyrtus Ciliata) honey from N.S.W. This is produced from an evergreen shrub that exists west of Bourke and flowers in the spring and summer. It doesn’t taste like the eucalyptus honey that I am used to and has a background flavour not unlike Manuka. This honey I am told has a much higher Active ingredient than Manuka. Similarly Tea Tree (Leptospermum species) honey is very dark and being thixotropic is very hard to extract and is usually associated with other coastal plants that flower at the same time. It is almost impossible to get one hundred percent tea tree honey on the Mornington Peninsula.
I have given a talk as a guest speaker to a Rotary Group on the subject of bees. I find that this is remarkable as about two years ago I new nothing about bees and compared to older beekeepers in the state know less than what they have forgotten, however by going back to basics and having an audience that is interested the job is made a lot easier.

Questions were asked about honey becoming candied as one person said that he threw his out. He was surprised to find that all he had to do was to warm it for it to revert to the liquid state. Another was having trouble in establishing a hive from a nucleus hive. He had been trying for years and the bees just died out over spring and summer. I asked him where his property was located and if there were any orchards or vineyards close by. He was amazed to find that his problem was most probably caused by the spray program of the three orchards and four vineyards that were within a two mile radius of his property. I advised him to try establishing a hive at his holiday house away from the sprays.

Others were surprised to find that honey had different tastes depending on where the bees collected the honey. I found it surprising that there was an absence of any general knowledge about bees, how they operated and how honey was produced.

A Beekeepers Beginning - by Leo Kuter - Australian Bee Journal (June 2012)

The winter months are fast approaching and by the time this is published we will be well and truly into winter.

The hives at home have been packed down into two boxes complete with linoleum under the lid. I have inspected all of the hives and they are still bringing in pollen and some nectar as the swamp gum (E. ovata) is flowering. Not a lot of flowers now but lots of buds that should come out later.

The hive at Dandenong (on the office roof) is doing well as the street trees especially the spotted gum (corymbia maculata) and the ironbark (E. tricarpa) have lots of flowers and nectar seems to be coming in along with pollen. The hive at Phillip Island is very strong with six frames of capped honey in the second box. The pincushion hakea (H petiolaris), bottlebrush (Callistemon species) and coastal Banksia (Banksia integrifolia) are all flowering. The whole hive seems very active on the warm days.

It is interesting to stand at the back of a hive and observe the bees coming in to see the ratio of pollen laden bees to nectar bees. The colour of the pollen also is interesting as some is deep red and other is a pale yellow which I assume means that different bees are sourcing different plants for pollen. I have not yet seen different coloured pollen coming into the same hive at the same time and I do not know if others have.

I have put a hive in the backyard of a friend in Mt. Martha on the Peninsula and the hive is doing well as there are numerous street trees that are flowering. More like the Phillip Island situation so it will be a good comparison. All of the hives have been weighed using the spring balance to lift up the back of the hive off the support to get a reading. Whilst this may not be as accurate as electronic scales it gives you a good indication if the hive is putting on weight, holding its weight or losing weight so that you can make an informed decision as to what to do in winter.

As most beekeepers at this time of the year are having a well deserved rest or on holidays it is worth thinking about what to do with and where will you put your hives next year. In suburbia the “…do nuffin.” approach might be alright but why not contemplate moving your hives to a friends place where there will be different flora species flowering from where you usually locate your hives. This will give you great insight to what most commercial itinerate beekeepers do on a large scale. Why not try and get some different honey? Have you tasted or extracted tea-tree (Leptospermum laevigatum) honey or clover honey (trifolium repens) or if a site is close to a reserve the predominant eucalyptus in that reserve?

It seems that most people are not aware of the different tastes in honey from different sources. I had an interesting "honey tasting" with a couple of friends as I showed them ten different honeys. Starting with yellow box and worked our way through garden honey (2yr old), French honey (with truffles) and Greek honey to name a few. We also tasted some overheated honey which was compared with the same type that had been cold extracted. Chalk and cheese was the comment. They were amazed at the different flavours and textures, comparing the fine grained canola honey to the coarse grained garden honey. Which did they like best? Different people obviously had different preferences but all liked the box honey (yellow, grey, red and black) Thumbs down was given to the overseas honey as I guess they were not used to those flavours. The canola, which required an ice-pick to extract a teaspoonful, was considered the most unusual as was the overheated honey. In all a really good educational experience for them. 

A Beekeepers Beginning - by Leo Kuter - Australian Bee Journal (May 2012)

May is the month for preparing our hives for winter. I have not as yet been to the McDonalds’ “pack down” day 29th I can only report on advice that I have received over the last month.

I attended the Melbourne Section meeting in April where they had a discussion on various approaches to wintering bees, three different views were given and it seems the best method is the one that suits you. The common theme was to keep the bees and brood warm on the colder days by restricting the heat outflow, having sufficient stores and restricting the movement of bees within the hive.

The first approach was’...to do nuffin...’ with the hives in a suburban environment. It was considered that as most hives in this situation are protected from the cold winds by fences on at least three sides and the heat out flow is minimal. Sufficient stores means frames of honey in the brood box and four was considered adequate. The hives were not packed down and the preference was for two boxes.

The second approach was to reduce the volume of the hive where there is a possibility of frosts and cold winds. This would be in a rural situation with no protection for the hives. Linoleum on the top of the frames and under the lid restricts the amount of heat escaping. Adequate room around it allows air and moisture to flow out gently. Hives are packed down into one box and big strong colonies into two boxes. Queen bees excluders are removed and honey stores are set at four frames per box. Frames of honey can be transferred from stronger to weaker hives to ‘prop up’ the stores in weaker hives. It goes without saying that you have to be very careful not to transfer pests or diseases. The entrance to the hive is usually closed up to 75 mm to 90mm.

The third approach is a combination of both. Hives are packed down to two boxes with and excluder in between. The linoleum is put on the frames and the top box stores additional honey for the colony, entrances are partially closed and no feeding is done. All hives are checked on a regular basis and frames of honey are manipulated between the boxes if deemed necessary. Hives are put into locations where there is some protection from cold winds and the bees have access to winter pollen and nectar e.g. coastal belt or desert country.

Some people said that they put feed (sugar and water) out for the bees and monitor the amount that they take, obviously if they clean up each feed very quickly they are hungry but equally you could argue that the bees could be complacent as they do not have to go far for a feed. Also there is the possibility if nosema disease occurring. Some beekeepers in other countries have tried with success other fluids such as apple juice as a feeding supplement.

Following on from my previous article about wintering in an urban high rise situation I was fortunate to have a conversation with a beekeeper who has hives on multistorey buildings in the CBD. For wintering he packs down into two boxes with an excluder in between. Linoleum is used to stifle heat loss (carpet tends to absorb moisture) and he closes up the entrances. Most of this hives are on the north facing wall which absorbs the day’s heat and this assists in keeping that side of the hive warm at night and during cold days. He is vigilant in examining the laying characteristics of the queen and gets rid of the ones who have not performed. He sometimes puts the lino on top of the excluder and aims to have six brood frames in the lower box with two frames of honey and just honey stores in the top box.

The hives are usually in a relatively warm location and it is interesting to hear that they do well and usually swarm in august or early September. He splits his hives every spring irrespective of the condition of the hive. He examines the brood box every two weeks to check on stores, drone cells and brood cells. All hives do well over the winter and he suffers minimal losses.

Around the industrial estates areas in Dandenong and I suspect other industrial estates, the developers were required to plant trees to beautify the bare factory areas. They must have been advised by horticultural people who had an eye on the future for beekeepers.

The Dandenong area must have been on an old river bed or delta as the red gums (E.camaldulensis) are magnificent and very big. Plantings of spotted gum (Corymbia maculata), yellow gum (E. leucoxylon), red flowering gum (E. ficifolia), paper bark(Melaleuca ericifolia), red iron bark(E. tricarpa), coastal banksia,(Banksia integrifolia) and bottle brushes (Callistemom species) have been made along the streetscape. Various others which I have not yet identified occur throughout the estate. Water is available from Dandenong creek.

With all this in mind I have put a two box hive on top of a single level office. The hive has an excluder and I have put it adjacent to a north facing brick wall and it is surrounded by a parapet wall. This keeps the bees ‘up there’ and not outside the front door.

It will be interesting if any ‘industrial honey’ is produced in the month of April and May. If there is excess I may be tempted to rob a frame or two.

I have just got my issue of the ABJ and note that Robert McDonald has an editorial on Wintering of Bees which summarises what I have just written. Also thanks to Ann Thorburn for her kind word about various articles.

A trip to Bendigo for the "Tree Day" - by Leo Kuter - Australian Bee Journal (April 2012)

I was having a discussion with my beekeeper mentor and he related to me a story that probably has significance today and it refers to the use of bees as pollinators. In days gone by he put his hives into an apple orchard  complete with gates to close off the entrance to the hive. He had asked the orchardist to ring him if he intended to spray and he would come up or the orchardist could close off the hives the day before spraying. Imagine his surprise when he inspected his hives after pollination only to find that seventy five per cent had no bees. The orchardist had ‘forgot to tell him’ and had not closed off the hives. This was in the days before contracts and lawyers.

In the book “The Beekeepers Lament” by Hannah Nordhaus that I reviewed previously for the ABJ, there is a section on Agricultural Sprays. By definition an insecticide will kill insects. Bees are insects; therefore they will die if they come into contact with such sprays. Some “systemic” sprays stay in the plant for a while so just closing off the hive for one day may not be enough. In the book at p150 there is an explanation of how this group called neonicotinoids work. At p158 "France banned them in 1999" and … "sales had been suspended in Germany, Italy and Slovenia”. Also at p161…”a spokesman for… are quick to point out that there have been zero reports of CCD losses in Australia, which also used neonicotinoids for many years”. Seems strange that it happens elsewhere but not in Australia.

So if you have bees in an urban environment which are within flying distance of orchard trees, be they single or multiple trees you stand a chance of your hive being wiped out if spraying with insecticide is done. It appears that the worker collects the affected pollen and feeds it to the queen who dies first. Then the young brood is fed the pollen and they die. Finally the workers succumb.

I wonder if any commercial beekeepers that put their hives in an orchard for pollination have had losses because of this. I note that in USA, before bees are put into an orchard there is a contract between pollinators and the orchardist that requires both sides to be mindful of their mutual obligations. In contract law I understand there is an implied ‘duty of care’ on both sides and could well be applied to the manufacturer of products that kill bees. I would hate to think that we lag behind the rest of the world like we did on dieldrin. Google neonicotinoids for more information.

The “Tree day” at Bendigo was very informative and if beekeepers have not heard Bob McDonald talk about his passion for bees and native flora then they would be well advised to go to the Annual Pack Down day on Sunday 29th April. The day was designed to give those who attended an insight to the identification of trees in the Box-Ironbark forests around Bendigo. We assembled at Don McArthur’s place for the preliminaries then had about an hour and a half walk through an adjoining reserve putting into practice what Bob had told  and shown us. He also came along to answer question after question on different aspects of trees.

The main features that make it possible to identify eucalypts are bark, leaf structure and location of tree. The buds and flowers are considered secondary. The bark in this type of forest can be categorised into four types that correspond to Gum trees (smooth) (photo4), Box trees (sub-fibrous), Stringy bark (very fibrous) (photo3) and Iron bark (thick, deep, furrowed and dark to black). Bob then explained these descriptions in front of the trees when we went on our walk. By the end of the walk people could identify the trees in question.

The difference between the two boxes, Grey (E.microcarpa) and Yellow (E. melliodora) was apparent after Bob pointed out the differences in the leaves and bark (photo5).
With the Long Leaf Box (E. goniocalyx) it was apparent as soon as the leaves were inspected (photo2). The location of the trees on the reserve was important as well. For example the Red Gum (E. camaldulensis) was in the creek bed or depression and never found on top of a hill in this type of forest (photo1).

Bob made and interesting point with eucalypts. He found that because of the competition for pollinators between plants before the bees arrived, Eucalypts species do not flower at the same time in this type of forest. He has noticed that Yellow Box comes out before Red Gum which is followed by Grey Box. Cross pollination does not occur and hybrids in the Eucalypts species do not occur. This has been confirmed by scientists in that there is a specific gene that triggers flowering. It would be interesting is to know what are the conditions that activate this gene, bearing in mind that some Eucalypts do not flower each year.

It was pointed out that in higher rainfall areas and better ground conditions that the marked sequence of flowering may become a little blurred.

Street trees tend to flower at the same time as they would in their natural location. For example if an Ironbark (E. tricarpa) comes from say Condoblin NSW and would flower in autumn then it would most probably flower in autumn if it was planted in say Warrnambool.

The analysis of buds and the prediction of when flowering may occur could be the subject of another field day with advice from beekeepers who have years of experience. It would be good to take buds from different Eucalypts, note the month in which they were gathered and then get advice.

Photo 1: Red Gum
Red Gum
Photo 2: Long leaf box with buds
Long leaf box
Photo 3: Red Stringy Bark
Red Stringy Bark
Photo 4: Yellow Gum
Yellow Gum
5: Yellow Box next to Grey Box canopies
Yellow Box and Grey Box

A Beekeepers Beginning - by Leo Kuter - Australian Bee Journal (March 2012)

I have had a look at a few old ABJ’s for the month of March and found the general theme of the contributions is that March is the “holiday” time for some beekeepers that have had a reasonable season. 

The season is winding up for those of you, North of the Divide, as the honey has come in, been extracted and sold or stored punting on higher prices from the packers. 

For those who have not had a good season for one reason or another March is the time for praying for the Grey Box (E.Microcarpa) or the Messmate (E.Obliqua) to give a final burst of nectar and honey.

For the rest of us now is the time for thinking about autumn and winter. All sorts of management decisions and discussions will be made about what to do with the hives and where to locate them. Has enough honey been left in the hive to carry then through winter? Are there any diseases or invasive insects in the hive that could cause it to collapse if the winter is severe? Can the hives be moved to a location where the bees may collect enough nectar to make honey in autumn to have sufficient stores for the winter?

Taking Bob McDonald’s advice this winter I will be packing down my hives into two boxes or one depending on the weight of the colony.

Beekeepers that have access to good winter locations are very fortunate. Some can take their bees to the desert others can winter in the coastal areas. Both have trees that flower through winter which have both pollen and nectar. What about the beekeeper in an urban situation?

The decision to feed will be based on the strength of the colony and the amount of honey that has been left after extraction this season. If you cannot move your hive to a ‘warm’ location the next best thing would be to make sure that it is protected from cold weather and is in full sun during the winter months.

It would be interesting to hear from beekeepers that have their hives on city buildings as to what they do in autumn and winter.

The Phillip Island hive has made some Manna Gum (E.Viminalis) honey and has been working all the ‘garden flors’ within a reasonable radius. It is well protected from the elements and I will not be moving it rather packing it down to a smaller number of boxes.

Hopefully the Northern hives will be “on the Grey Box”. When I last went up the Grey Box (E.Microcarpa) was just coming out and the bees were going berserk in the trees. You could hear them and see them in quantities working the flowers. Unfortunately I cannot report on what has happened as this article will be at the editors before I go up.

I will have to bring them back for the autumn and winter and I hope to put them onto Coastal Banksia (Banksia Integrifolia) for the winter but give them a top up on the Messmate (E.Obliqua) which is just coming out on the Peninsula. The Swamp Gum (E.Ovata) may have some nectar for autumn but I cannot be sure. 

The CSIRO is doing some research on the genetic biodiversity of the Yellow Box (E.Mellidora). Seems that the yellow box has been cleared from farming land and the ‘plant people’ are wondering if there is a sufficient gene pool for the tree species to survive. Following on from the excellent paper produced by Dr Melanie Birtchnell on Flowering Patterns of Melliferous Eucalypts I asked the scientist if they could look into the various natural triggers that may suggest that the Yellow Box will produce nectar, which would be important to beekeepers. 

I had an interesting observation within a hive recently that had three boxes with a queen excluder above the second box. I put four wet frames in the top box along with some foundation only frames. The colony was considered to be not very strong. The bees cleaned up all the honey in the frames and appeared to stack it in the top corner of one frame and capped it. Three days later all the honey was gone presumably taken downstairs. They have not brought any nectar/honey into the third box as yet but are starting to draw wax on the foundation even though there a lot of street trees out. There is no sign of disease and the queen is laying brood.

I have been tasting honey from overseas recently, Greece and France. This honey is produced from forest trees and is very different from our eucalypts. The Greek honey appeared to have a bitter finish and the French honey was very watery. Although we have very different sources of honey, and in particular I refer to Manuka and Leatherwood, it is educational to taste honey from different sources in a similar way to tasting wine of the same grape but produced in different locations.

A Beekeepers Beginning - by Leo Kuter - Australian Bee Journal (Feb 2012)

I must thank all the beekeepers that I have had conversations with and I have found them only too pleased to help a beginner. Beekeepers, I have found to be quietly laid back in their approach to many things. So I ask the question, do beekeepers get excited when they open hive after hive full of honey and very strong colonies? Do they say to themselves ‘bloody good job done again’ or do they just say ‘it will be a long day extracting that amount of honey’?

I got really excited when I went to the Northern Country and inspected the hives and found enough capped yellow box honey to do an extraction, mind you there was not a huge amount but enough to supply the family for a while, but what great honey. The queens in the colonies had been breeding profusely over the last month and there were lots of bees in all hives.

This brings me to another point (which was raised by Bob McDonald in Jan Issue) on safety in the bush and dry farm areas where bees are kept. I carry a fire extinguisher which is always within reach when using the smoker and have an aluminium tray to store the smoker when not in use. A drink bottle is sufficient to douse the smoker after use and I had to be very careful on one occasion when I lifted the cap with the wind blowing. The smoker burst into flames but was doused quickly.

Another item to consider for those who work in isolated areas alone is a personnel EPIRB*. This is the equivalent of a boat EPIRB which is mandatory for boats which work two km off shore. 4WD companies have the equivalent and personnel EPIRB’s are available from camping stores. These items are expensive and obviously must be weighed against the safety or security that they give in the case of an emergency.

I come again to the weather South of the divide and would be interested to know if commercial or amateur beekeepers on the South side have, to quote Bob McDonald…’surplus honey’ from their southern hives or are they doing it tough because of the colder weather.

The Phillip Island hive is just holding its own and has produced a small amount of ‘garden honey’. Beekeepers in the suburbs of Melbourne may have their hives in warm locations and could be producing a reasonable quantity. Others may be on white clover Trifolium repens which should produce a good flow if it ever warms up. Messmate Eucalyptus obliqua is budding in our district and may produce in March but it all depends on a hot Summer and a warm Autumn. If honey is not produced we will have the problem of not enough stores to take the bees through Winter again.

In the December issue George Winterton canvassed the idea of taking beekeeping to the classroom, which should be endorsed by all beekeepers. It is important that children have a good understanding of all forms of Primary Industry otherwise they may grow up as some American Kids thinking for example that cows milk comes from a carton! I would like to endorse this and suggest that it is in the interests of all beekeepers that a proper understanding of our industry is communicated to the public at large.

In order to avoid misunderstanding of bees in suburbia by both residents and Council Officers who have to act on complaints I suggest that beekeeping clubs or the VAA approach Local Councils to run practical information nights for their Officers who police the Local Government Act in relation to the keeping of bees in suburbs. I am sure that funds could be extracted from either the DPI or Local Councils to support such an education program.

For those of you with a small number of hives and do not want to go to the expense of an extractor try this for extracting honey.

Buy two plastic tubs, one that is able to fit inside the other and is half its depth. Make sure that they have a lid and that a frame of honey fits inside the top one. Drill a series of holes (2.5mm) across the whole floor of the upper tub. Put a frame of honey in the upper tub and put the whole lot out in the sun. The wax and honey will melt/run into the lower tub and when cooled the wax will float on the honey. Honey can then be drained off and the wax re-melted into a block. The only drawback is that there are no ‘wet’ combs to put back into the hive. Works well and is cheap.

* EPIRB stands for Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon and they are used to locate a person or boat in the case of an emergency. They are registered with the Aus Govt and when activated send a signal to a satellite which notifies someone in Canberra where the beacon is. Rescue people are notified and assistance is given.

Last update 3-Mar-2017
Back to content | Back to main menu