Grevillea
Grevillea

Kangaroo Paw

Kangaroo Paw

Protective Bee Suits

Protective suits
Suits for all sizes

Compass
Hives to face North East

Hive inspectionTools for Hive inspections

Hive ToolHive Tool

Cappings Scratcher
Cappings Scratcher

 

Beeco Smoker
Beeco Smoker

  Smoker 2 vents

Showing the 2 vents required when buying a safe smoker.

Beginner Beekeepers

  • Introduction
    & Legal
  • The
    Honey Bee
  • Site
    Selection
  • Buying
    Equipment
  • Hive
    Construction
  • Obtaining
    Bees
  • Extracting
    Honey

Introduction and Legal Requirements

Why do you want to become a beekeeper? Most people want to be a beekeeper for the delicious golden honey those busy bees produce. You may have another reason, whatever your reason, its all interesting and fun.

Before you decide to become a beekeeper its important to know if you are allergic to bee stings or not. If you are, then beekeeping is not for you. If you haven't been stung for awhile and are not sure, then work with another beekeeper to find out, before spending money on equipment. It is very rare to be allergic to bee stings.

Some prospective beekeepers have more skills than others in constructing the equipment such as the hives and frames. Those with woodworking skills tend to have wooden hives, and those that don't tend to buy ready made plastic hives. Some people have to consider the ability to lift as boxes containing 8 frames full of honey are very heavy, but there are ways around that.

There are many different management systems for you and your bees and its just a case of choosing the management methods that best suit your skills. Maybe you have decided you want to take up beekeeping but don't have skills in constructing hives, and the knowledge yet to manage bees properly. Or you may feel you don't have the strength. There are plenty of people out there just like you, and this is where we can help you. By joining your local Beekeeping club you can be allocated a mentor and learn your skills from the support the mentor and club will give you.

We hope to show you many ways to become a beekeeper using the skills you have, learning new skills and finding a way around the skills you don't have.

Legal Requirements

Bees cannot be kept without the Beekeeper being registered. This is FREE for 1 - 5 hives, for more hives cost is very reasonable and covers replacing equipment should you need compensation. The Department of Primary Industries Hobby Beekeeping page will provide you with many useful details.

Registration is free for up to 5 hives. To register and find out more, go to:Registration. Once registered your number needs to be stenciled or burnt onto your hives.

Check your Local Council Rules regarding how many hives you may keep on a Suburban block and how to remain friends with your neighbours.

Look up the following Apiary Biosecurity Code of Practice for all sorts of interesting information.

Honey bee Biosecurity Code of Practice 2016

Free Downloads: Instructions for using a smoker

Step by Step Beekeeping

The honey bee colony

(European bees Apis mellifera)

The colony consists of around 40,000 to 60,000 or so worker bees depending on the time of the year and the strength of the hive. As well as one queen bee and a few hundred drones (male bees).

The brood box contains young bees at various stages of development. Together this makes up a colony of bees.

Italian Bee
Italian Bee courtesy of Seedquest.com

The Worker Bees

Worker bees are all female and carry out a number of different jobs during their short life. They live for about 6 weeks or so in spring, summer and autumn as they wear their wings out fetching and carrying pollen, nectar and water to the hive. That's why its important to have the hives close to these sources.

In winter they cluster together to keep warm and rarely fly, so they live a lot longer. It's important to leave enough honey in the hive to last the bees through winter to mid spring, otherwise the bees could starve to death.

Facts: They have a memory of about 3 days so they won't remember anything you did if its longer than 3 days ago. They fly at about 35 km an hour and beat their wings 11.400 times per minute making the 'buzz' sound.

They have been around for millions of years and are the only insect that produces food for human consumption. They have 170 odorant receptors and differentiate hundreds of different floral varieties and tell whether a flower carries pollen or nectar from metres away. The average worker bee produces about 1/12th teaspoon of honey in her lifetime and visits 50 to 100 flowers each time she flies out of the hive.

Although worker bees are female, they are infertile and cannot lay eggs. Worker bees have a sting, but once they have stung they die.

Although these are all European bees (Apis mellifera), there are a few different races as shown in the images. Not to be confused with wasps.

The Waggle dance. Worker bees have a special 'dance' they do that show other bees where to find pollen and nectar.

"If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live?" ~ Albert Einstein

Canolian bee
Carniolan Bee courtesy informedfarmers.com

Caucasian Bee
Caucasian Bee courtesy of Seedquest.com

Bee and Wasp

Waggla Dance

The jobs worker bees do:

Younger bees tend to stay in the hive and do the hive tasks and as they get older they forage for pollen and nectar.

  1. Feeding the larvae (young bees)
  2. Cleaning the hive and cells so that the pollen and nectar can be stored in clean cells.
  3. Building new combs
  4. Making Royal Jelly
  5. Guarding the hive entrance against ants and other invaders.
  6. Collecting pollen, nectar and water, using their special dances to show other workers where to find food.
  7. Fanning the nectar to reduce the water content to take into the honey stomach to change nectar into honey.
  8. Cap the cells of cured honey so that it can be used at a later date.
  9. Look after the queen bee by cleaning her and feeding her.
  10. Feeding drone bees
  11. Keeping the temperature of the hive as consistent as possible.

 

 

Social behaviour

Image courtesy of Beespotter Beespotter web site

The Queen Bee

There is only one queen bee in each colony. They can live to five years old, but only lay eggs really well for the first two years. That's one of the reasons why beekeepers replace the queen at the latest after two years. Queen bees can sting but unlikely to.

The queen bee will lay up to 2,000, - 2,500 eggs a day when conditions are right. When the temperature is warm, when the worker bees are bringing in a lot of pollen and nectar.

The queen bee has a much larger abdomen than worker bees to accommodate her reproduction organs and the eggs she lays.

If the queen dies, workers will create a new queen by feeding one of the worker larvae a special diet of a food called "royal jelly." This special diet enables the worker to develop ovaries to become a fertile queen. Queens also produce pheromones that guide the behaviour of the other bees in the hive.

An older queen is much more likely to lay drone eggs than a young queen.

The web site that provided the images has detailed and illustrated content on Queen Bees, Drones, and Hive Management.

Images courtesy of Informed farmers.com Queen Bees

Queen Bee
Queen Bee

Queen Bee Marked

Marked Queen Bee

Drones

Drones are male bees, and they are fat and lazy and don't need to do much, including feeding themselves. They are purely there to mate with the queen to fertilize her eggs.

Each drone produces up to 10 million sperm cells which are all genetically identical with each other and are the same as the egg from which the drone developed. Readiness to lay drone eggs increases with age of the queen.

Drones can't sting, and most of the drones are pushed out of the hive as the weather gets colder. Worker bees don't want to have to feed them over the winter months, so they get rid of them.

Drone bees Informed farmers

 

Drone Bee

Site Selection

There may be no choice as to where you place your hives, as you may only have one position in your backyard for them to go. If you do have a choice take into consideration the following points:

  1. Face your hive/s North East so that the morning sun encourages them out.
  2. Protect entrances from prevailing winds otherwise the bees cannot control the temperature of the hive.
  3. Place your hives as close to their food and water source as possible. If the bees have to fly a long way for their pollen, nectar and water, it wears them out and is not productive.
  4. Near a reliable water source that is shallow at one end if possible so that the bees don't drown. Pebbles can be placed in a deeper water source so that the bees have somewhere to land and can get to the water without drowning. If no close water source is provided they may get water from a neighbours swimming pool which may cause problems. Again don't waste the energy of the bees by making them travel distances for water.
  5. Look at an automatic water source that refills from a hose such as a small pet or chicken water feeders. There are also chicken water containers if a hose is not nearby. Both types will need pebbles in the tray to stop bees from drowning and kept in a shady position. Images below. Even if you provide a water source it doesn't mean they will use it!
  6. If the flight path goes over a fence to the neighbours, make the fence taller so that bees are directed higher above neighbours heads.
  7. Choose a sunny spot for winter. In summer afternoon shade or dappled shade would be appreciated.
  8. Keep the area around the hives mown. If the area is damp, make sure hives are up off the ground.
  9. If the hives are going to be kept in a paddock, make sure stock cannot knock them over.
  10. About half way up a slope or hill keeps the hives away from damp areas at the bottom and the wind from the top.

Check your Local Council Rules for bees kept in suburban back yards. Follow the advice for remaining friends with your neighbours.

 

Automatic water feeder Chicken water feeder

 

Buying Equipment

New equipment is guaranteed disease free and will give you years of use. Second hand equipment is cheaper but you are advised to obtain a certificate verifying it disease free before purchasing.

Parts: The equipment you buy depends on your skills, the tools you have and your budget. If you are capable of putting together your own hives and frames from standard bought wooden parts, then of course its cheaper. It is not advisable to make the actual parts yourself as the measurements are refined and exact, based on a lot of research and its advisable to buy standard sized parts.

Pre built: If you don't have the skills, tools or are time poor to put hive parts together yourself, then you are better to buy pre built boxes and frames which are more expensive of course. Wooden frames made up with foundation can be bought fully constructed or plastic frames with plastic foundation, that last a long time.

Plastic hives: Pre built completely maintenance free plastic hives with plastic frames and foundation are available. All you have to do is buy the bees, or pick up a swarm and they are ready to go.

Plastic hives don't melt in hot temperatures and bees don't die of heat and melted wax foundation. Plastic hives and plastic frames don't melt in hot temperatures, as shown on Black Saturday in 46 deg, the plastic survived where the foundation in the wooden hives melted. Bees don't care if their hive is wooden or plastic. Both types need to be left for a couple of weeks to get rid of the smell of paint or plastic.

Boxes come in different depths: A full depth box is used at the bottom for the brood box which gives the queen room to lay her eggs, and doesn't have to be lifted very often. Then there are boxes that go on top for the honey, these are called 'supers'. These come in full depth, 3/4 depth and 1/2 depth. As these become full of honey they get very heavy to lift, and you choose which depth suits you. You can buy frames to match all sizes in both wood and plastic. Not all plastic hives come with all sizes available, so check out with the maker. You can get frames from one maker to go into another maker's hives.

Accessories you will also need: A Hive Tool, bee brush, a double vented Smoker such as a Beeco, instructions for using the smoker, a gas lighter to light it, and pine needles for fuel. A queen excluder, a bee suit, gloves with long sleeves, gum boots.

Hive Box

Timber Boxes come in 8 or 10 frame size. The 8 frame is popular due to less weight. Both sizes can take standard wooden or Plastic Frames. The boxes can be purchased pre built or parts only. Victoria tends to use 8 frame boxes and the rest of the world uses 10 frame boxes.

The video below is 1 min 13 sec long and demonstrates a quick way of assembling hive boxes.

Hive body assembly fixture

Below some of the timber parts to put boxes together. Plus bottom boards and lids.

Box Parts

Wooden hives need a lot of maintenance and wear out after a few years if not maintained.

Hasson's Aussie Plastic Hives

Aussie plastic Hives

Hasson's Aussie Hives well worth going to their website. Maintenance free, keeps stable temperatures and minimises disease.

http://www.aussiehive.com.au/

Australian Made Beeco Smokers

Beeco Smoker

Always purchase a double vented, quality smoker, not only are they easier to light and easier to use, they are also much safer.

Plastic Hive

No Maintenance, no construction, just add the bees. Go to their website to see the variety available.

Better Bee Hives

Plastic Frames come with plastic foundation that does not need to be replaced, and no wires are required. Provided by Jeeralang Apiary supplies and Redpaths.

Plastic Frame

The red plastic frame below opens to insert wax foundation and then clicks back together again. As shown on the video that gives details of purchase. Video is about 7 minutes long.

Plastic Frame red

All frames fit in all hives. However, there are different depths of boxes and there are frames to match the different depths. Choose the depth depending on the weight you can lift.

Wooden Frames can be purchased in parts with separate foundation to be made up by the beekeeper or they can be purchased already made up.

Wooden Frame

How to make a Wooden Frame video with foundation already embedded with wire. About 7 minutes long, link below.

Making a Wooden Frame

There are many methods, and these can be shown to you at a Field Day or similar demonstration.

 

Nuplas plastic hive

Nuplas Plastic Hives can be obtained from:

Nuplas Plastic Hives

Hive Construction

Standard Hives are 8 frame and 10 frame. The 8 frame are popular due to the weight issue. Both consist of:

  • a bottom board

  • a brood chamber for the brood frames and combs
  • a queen excluder to keep the brood separated from the honey.
  • a super, identical in measurements to the brood chamber, in which bees store honey. This often has cleats or handholds for lifting.
  • a lid, usually with a metal cover, to protect the hive
  • a strap or clips to bind the unit together.

Using 22.2 mm thick timber.

Many beekeepers also add a vinyl mat with a slightly fluffy back (an off cut from a vinyl floor covering) cut to sit on the top frames under the lid. Ensure there is a generous margin around for the bees to get air circulation.

Small beekeepers should stay with one design that have the same measurements. This allows you to exchange components from one hive to another. All parts will fit any of your hives.

When switching components from one hive to another, make sure you are not spreading disease.

Buy components that are easy maintenance.

 

 

 

 

Hive components

Figure 23 is taken from 'The Bee Book: Beekeeping in Australia' (2005). Permission has been granted from the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation for its use.

Obtaining Bees

There are a number of ways to obtain bees

  1. Buying a nucleus colony
  2. Packaged bees
  3. Collecting swarms
  4. Dividing an existing colony
  5. Buying disease free hives

Links:

Obtaining Bees

 

Buying a nucleus colony

Nucleus colonies come with a queen, 3-4 combs with worker bees, brood and honey.

When you pick up the nucleus hive, you transfer the frames with the bees and queen into your own standard hive. Add more frames with either new foundation or drawn frames into your hive to fill the box. Reduce the entrance to your hive.

The nucleus will then slowly build up to a stronger colony. As it does so, you can add a queen excluder and another box on top until you have a full strength hive.

This is usually done in September and October.

Nucleus Hive

Nucleus Hive (half the size of a normal hive).

Return the empty Nucleus Hive box back to the supplier.

Packaged bees

Consists of a caged queen and about 1kg of worker bees. (Cages come in all shapes and sizes)

In late afternoon place the cage containing the queen into the hive removing the cork to the candy.

Shake the bees into the frames of the hive and close the lid. The bees will eat the candy and release the queen. The queen can then start laying eggs.

As there are not many bees, reduce the hive entrance so that guarding the entrance, keeping the hive warm and keeping out pests is easier for this small colony

Packaged Bees

Images on right came from Foxhaven
Packaged bees

Queen bee cage
Caged queen.

Installing packaged bees

Installing Worker bees.

Collecting swarms Article written by Bill Ringin

The natural way bees
increase the number of colonies is by swarming. A swarm is a cluster of bees, containing a queen that has flown from an existing or parent colony.  The aim of the swarm is to establish a new colony.

Swarming occurs in spring to early summer – usually September through to December when a large brood nest is present and nectar and pollen are in good supply. 

Prior to swarming the colony begins to prepare queen cells to provide new queens. When these are sealed and generally around mid-morning on a sunny day about half the bees along with the queen tumble out of the colony entrance and after a short flight, settle on a nearby object forming a cluster.  At this time the bees are quite docile, having gorged on honey prior to leaving the parent colony.

This is the best time to capture the swarm.  Scout bees will begin flying out looking for a suitable new home.  This cluster may move several times if no suitable place is located.

Back at the parent colony the new queens begin to emerge and one of these, after mating, will become its new queen. (The old queen having departed with the swarm).

Catching a swarm
Prior to working with bees the smoker should be well alight and protective gear in place.


If the swarm has clustered on a small branch the beekeeper may be able to, after light smoking, cut the branch and drop the cluster, using a jerk of the branch, into an open box containing a couple of
drawn frames and some frames of foundation.

If the bees are on a larger object they may, after light smoking, be dislodged by a sharp bump or use of a soft bee brush, placed into a box – then close the box.  Any air born bees and some you may have missed will reform a cluster so after a few minutes these can be collected and added to the box.     

 
                             
More rapid acceptance of the box as their new home can be achieved if a frame with some un-capped brood is added, however this may not always be available.

If it is possible to allow the box to sit and bees settle until dusk this is best.  If this is not feasible secure the box, closing any entrance and it can be shifted to its desired location and the entrance opened.

Bee Swarm

On some occasions due to access or height problems swarms may be difficult to box and it might be helpful to catch them in a cardboard box, bucket or other container.  These should be temporarily bee proof – a tea towel can often do the trick – prior to putting them in a proper box. I once caught a swarm with a long handled fishing net lined with hessian.

Encouraging the bees to enter a box (hive)
To aid the bees entering a box via the entrance, a piece of wood, cardboard or stiff paper can be placed as a ramp leading to, but not obstructing the opening.

If notified of a swarm, the sooner you respond, the more likely they will still be clustered where you were told.  Also enquire about the height and access to the swarm.  A ladder and other equipment may be needed.

Dividing or splitting an existing colony

This can only be done with a strong hive, while on a good nectar flow and plenty of pollen coming in.

Divide half the existing brood box into a new empty box. Put honey frames against the walls and frames with foundation or drawn frames with pollen if you have them on each side of the brood. Add about half the bees. Make sure you know which box the queen is in. Re Queen the queenless box with a mated queen.

Take the new box about 3 km away otherwise the bees will just return to their original hive. After two or three weeks return them to their new position. If strong enough add a queen excluder and another box on top.

Hive

Close the entrance and take it 3 km away or more. Open the entrance but make it quite a small entrance to help bees guard it and maintain hive temperature.

Buying disease free hives with bees

The following web site has hives for sale. Check they are disease free and ask if they have been checked by an Apiary Inspector.

Hives for sale

Vichoney.com.au

Hive Home Hive Home

Extracting Honey

In Gippsland this can take place, depending on the season from around December – April.  Also varies from East to West Gippsland.

When deciding how much honey to harvest, you need to leave ample stores in the hive to over winter and have some in reserve in case next spring has a bad stretch of weather. Leaving enough honey for the bees will save you a lot of possible problems including losing your bees.

Clearing Boards advantages

Some of you may use clearing boards that are added under the honey supers 24 hours beforehand.  Bees can get out but not back in again so that you can collect your honey supers more easily.
Check your hives to see the extent of capped honey that is ready for removal and extraction.  If you are a hobbyist you will probably have a small extractor or access to a 2, 3, or 4 frame extractor.  Make sure you have equal numbers of frames with capped honey in your hives to make it worth extracting.  Example, if you have a 3 frame extractor do you have 6, 9, 12 etc. frames of capped honey ready to extract?

Clearing Boards disadvantages

There are downsides to this such as an extra trip to the hives to install the clearer boards.  While no bees are looking after the honey, beetles can cause a problem.  Some examples of bee escapes work better than others so the supers are not completely free of bees.

Remove frames from your hive that have at least 85%  sealed honey (ripened).  This honey is ready for extraction and will keep. 

If you have a 3 frame extractor, remove frames from your hive bearing in mind that each set of 3 frames need to be of similar weight so that the extractor spins smoothly. The same goes for other sized extractors.

Sealed honey

Sealed/ capped/ ripened honey.

Image from: http://jlharrah.wordpress.com/

Equipment can be bought, borrowed or hired and all equipment must be spotlessly clean:

  • Uncapping Knife:  Plain, electric or Gas or an uncapping machine (see image)
  • Capping scratcher
  • Container for the cappings
  • Extractor 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12 frame extractors, or very large commercial ones.
  • Sterile Jars, plastic containers for the honey.
You can get as sophisticated as you like, or keep it as simple as you like.

Uncapping machine

Uncapping machine at the Marong field Day

If you don’t have an uncapping plastic container as in the image, then uncap the frame at the end of a bench top with a bucket standing on the ground for the cappings to fall in to. Slice downwards where possible.

The frame sits on a bar over the bin. As the hot electric knife removes the cappings they drop into the plastic container.

If you have a non-powered uncapping knife, have a tray (that the knife can sit in) of hot water over a small gas flame keeping the water hot so that you can continually put the knife into the hot water to uncap otherwise it won’t do the job. Or use an old Fry pan big enough for the knife to sit in.

Uncapping bin

Cappings Container. Honey drips through the sieve into the container below, leaving the wax on top.

  1. Use a capping scratcher or kitchen fork to scratch awkward cells that the knife missed. Once you have uncapped the number of frames that fit into your extractor, insert frames of similar weight into the extractor all facing the same way.
  2. Spin hard in one direction and all the honey will spin out, then spin in the opposite direction until the honey has stopped coming out. Watch Extractor speed to avoid damaging beeswax foundation and comb.
  3. Turn the frames around so that the honey facing the inside is now facing the outside and repeat spinning one way first and then the other.
    The honey should hit the walls of the extractor and slide down to the bottom.
  4. The frames should now feel light and empty.  These are called ‘stickies’.  Put them back into the hive as soon as possible (same day or the next day) for the bees to clean them up and start re using them.
  5. Fill up your jars or containers straight from the extractor and leave to settle in the containers.  Any bits of wax etc. will come to the top and can be skimmed off before putting the lid on. 
  6. You may prefer to strain the honey before putting into containers. It will most likely need to strain overnight.
  7. Continue until all frames have been extracted. If it becomes hard to spin, it could be that the honey in the bottom of the extractor needs emptying into containers.
  8. Clean all equipment thoroughly with hot water and store or return.

Capping scratcher

Extracting

Bill Park demonstrating how to extract honey at the Dumbalk field day.

The gate of the extractor has been left open so that the honey can flow into the bucket.
If you don’t have a honey bucket, leave the gate shut and periodically fill up sterile jars or plastic containers straight from the extractor.

What to do with the cappings
If you have used a cappings container that has a mesh sieve, then the honey will run through and leave the wax behind.

The wax will still have a little honey mixed with it.  If your cappings have gone into a bucket then you may want to sieve it to get the honey out.

Add the cappings to a large pot of warm water where the honey will melt and the wax will be clean. Discard the water.

Safety: Be careful and don’t allow the water to boil or the melted wax floating on the water could overflow and contact the heat source; wax being flammable could cause a fire.

Pot with cappings

Cappings placed in a pot of warm water to separate honey and leave you with clean wax.

Throw the water away. If one of your hives is carrying a disease, feeding it back to your bees may spread it to other clean hives.

Allow to cool slowly and the wax will solidify on the top of the water. When cold it can be lifted from the top and impurities can be scraped off the bottom.

Some people have made mead (honey wine) from the wash water.  If you plan to do this, find a good formula for mead.  Mead and other honey recipes are available in Ann Cliff’s book The Bee Book.

Small amounts of wax can be put into a solar wax melter.  It is a box in which a tray of wax is put. 

The box is then covered with a pane of glass and placed in the sun.  Often the interior of the box is painted black to absorb heat.   Place on a small incline so the wax will melt and flow to the bottom part of the pan into a container.  Queen excluders can also be put in to melt the wax from them.