Hello! It's Spring and we're gearing up for a busy season, with many new deliveries so far.
Due to the wet and cold spring so far, the bees have been camping indoors and getting itchy and scratchy with nothing to do. But the queens haven't been idle, in fact busy laying up to 200 eggs an hour, some of them new queen cells, to get their population up and going for the summer 'honey flow', when many flowers are in full nectar production. This means there's loads of brood and bees coming on, and the horrid weather has held the bees up from getting out to work! When a good day happens, the old queen may bust out and leave the packed hive and swarm, taking a crowd of worker bees with her. The new 'princess' will stay and take over the hive. Sometimes, if more than one hatches, there may be several smaller swarms. When bees swarm, it isn't actually dangerous, but does look and sound scarey!
A cloud of swarming bees needs somewhere to settle and gather into a bunch, sometimes temporarily, before swarming off again to find a safe haven to build a hive, sometimes hanging there permanently. They are not aggressive in this state as they are vulnerable and not protecting any hive or honey stores.
So if you see or hear of a swarm,
please let us know.
If bees are left out in the wild, it's nice to be re-populating the country-side with honey-bees, after the ravages of the varroa mite, but sadly those same mites will soon kill the bees off. We can often catch them and re-home them healthily :)
If you want the coolest and most original (ok, a few have already done it) Christmas prezzie for a gardener friend or someone who has everything, our orders close at the end of November (30th). We decided we should take some time out over the festive season this year :) Make your decision soon, we have some lovely new hives, with new queens mated and laying, ready for new gardens to work in.
Our workshop team has grown this year, grateful thanks go to our 'Beautiful Assistants' Ezra, Michael and Phil! Between them, we've put over 2000 frames together - built from kitset, wired and foundation wax applied - and made over 200 boxes and painted them! It's been huge, but fun. Ezra and I whipped up some creative paint colours in the school holidays and painted more boxes, so you might see one or two on your hive! :)
You may have noticed another storey on your hive from our last visit. We've been pleased with how well the bees have come through winter and spring and are in good health. The varroa strips are out and honey supers (boxes) are on and the hives are increasing in height, to give the bees room for all that honey that's starting to come in. The queens are laying up well, with plenty of brood (eggs, larva and pupa) coming on, ready for the extra labour force they need, to bring in the honey over the summer honey flow.
Your gardens are looking great, with the lush spring growth, helped by the rain..:/ but now the warmer weather is meant to be starting (I wonder where they got that info from..??!) We heard a rumour that it should be a hot, dry but windy el Nino summer, so here's hoping - just right for the bees!
See you soon, Matt and Catherine.
It's been an odd summer, as you know, with a reduced honey crop (by about 40%) Some hives were fantastic, some produced enough for their feed over the season and for winter, and some needed to be fed! Very odd, they seemed to produce in 'pockets'.
We've at last got all the honey off and most extracted and tested, hive health checks done, varroa strips in, most honey delivered and some new queens reared and replaced. We still have a couple to requeen and will do so in the next few weeks when they are ready.
We are still waiting for the pollen count so we can send you the lab results showing what percentage of which kind of honey you have! It's interesting to know if you have manuka, clover, pohutokawa, willow, borage etc in your honey. We send a sample of honey from each batch (Marlborough or Nelson) to a lab. They do a pollen count, finding which plant pollens are present in what quantity, and send us the results. I'll let you know soon :)
Our honey is as pure and natural as we can get it, keeping within the New Zealand regulations of public food consumption. We don't heat or micro-filter it. Some countries don't buy foreign honey, so their suppliers filter it so finely as to remove all traces of pollen, thereby all trace of origin. Some is heated to ensure it remains liquid and/or won't solidify over time or cooler temperatures. This heating can alter the molecular structure, damage the pollens and destroy the health benefits in the honey, making it basically sugar syrup. To us, they're both silly and unethical practices.
We hope you enjoy your honey, don't forget to keep some in reserve for yourself - everyone you give it to will be back for more! :)
You may notice bits of wax outside your hive now and then. When we work the hives, we scrape off built up wax from inside the lid and along frames. Sometimes there's honey on it, so we leave it for the bees to clean up and take back into the hive. You're welcome to pick it up and use it if you want it, or leave it there & we'll collect it next time. We recycle our wax and send it off to become new foundation wax for the next years' frames.
Some updates to answer a few questions we got this month . . .
bees clustering outside the hive
Recently, you've probably noticed bees clustering outside the hive. This isn't a problem, but the bees are trying to reduce heat in the hive, because, even though it's wet, it's quite warm. Liz has erected an umbrella over her hive - thanks, a great idea :) Lots of bodies in the hive means a good amount of heat generated, so they'll camp outside to reduce it. They also do this in the dry, hot weather. It's not a precurser to swarming, and this shouldn't be a problem at this time of year. You're wlcome to place a shade over the hive if you like, to give some shade, although the bees will be ok as they are.. A dish of water placed nearby, with shingle or a rock in it helps give a safe water supply if there's no natural water available. Bees use water to help process nectar to honey. You may see bees at troughs, puddles or bird-baths etc sometimes.
Another concern was swarming. We did have a few swarms head off early in the season. This is normal bee behaviour, their natural way of spreading! The old queen leaves, with a group of workers to find a new site. Scouts will have already been and searched out a new spot to make the new nest. Back in the original hive will be some new queens about to hatch, reared especially to take over the hive in the old queens' absence. There will also be lots of brood in various stages and enough workers to care for the remaining hive. Drones will usually be lurking around too, or will have taken flight to chase other queens out on their mating flights. So both hives will survive and continue as normal. The new queens hatch and the strongest one will either kill or chase off lesser ones, who may sometimes make a smaller swarm and leave to find a new home.
A swarm of bees looks scarey, and the movies have made a meal of it, but bees are actually very passive and a swarm can be handled quite easily by the brave and/or initiated, as they are not protecting their hive or honey stores. If you see a swarm or your hive swarms, please let us know. We can sometimes retrieve it or call someone who can. It's sad to let them get completely away, as the varroa will soon kill it off. Sometimes, however, it can't be helped, and it is after all, a natural behaviour, which we can't always prevent. Giving plenty of space for the queen to lay into usually helps, although sometimes, even after we added a brand new box to Craig's, they still went - half an hour later! Nature can't really be bargained with, ay :)
Queen bees have one mating in their lifetime. When she first hatches, she'll spend a week or two as a virgin, hanging around in the hive getting strong, with the occasional practice flight. Then she'll decide 'it's time' and leave, alone, flying high in the sky, her pheremones (sex hormones) calling drones from all over the region (they can 'smell' a queen, much the same as dogs will smell a bitch in heat from miles away!) She will lead the boys higher and higher, until only the strongest guys will be able to keep up. She'll mate with many of them over a couple of flights, thus gaining good, strong and varied genes for her thousands of offspring. Throughout her life (up to about 5 years in the wild) she'll lay all her eggs from this one period of mating flights. She won't continue mating through her life, nor does she mate in the hive with the drones present (her sons!).
Contrary to popular belief, drones don't mate with their mum, but will fly out to mate other virgin queens on their maiden flights. They then die, spent but happy lads :) You may sometimes see drones (larger than workers) dead on the ground in early summer. (you'll know it's a drone by the smile)
Please check your hive, as this wet weather may cause flooding around the hive and it may need to be moved to higher ground. Many thanks to those of you who have done so! You can block up the entrance quickly with a cloth/towel and will need two people to lift or drag the hive, making sure you hold the bottom board (base) and take care not to push the boxes apart :) Don't leave blocked overnight though, or they may suffocate if lots of bees. Please only do this if you feel confident.