Bee Day

It’s bee day. Damo has decided to keep honeybees and I’ve agreed to be his backup. I guess I’ll be a surrogate beekeeper. They’re just settling into their new home on our water tank.

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The law
The first step was to become a registered beekeeper with the Department of Primary Industries, (Qld). This is a legal requirement to assist with the control of ‘American foul brood’, a destructive, notifiable bacterial disease.

As we have an 813 square metre block, residents of the Brisbane City Council region can keep up to two hives.

Last year we joined the Bayside Beekeepers Association, a local amateur club, and we’ve attended a local field day at the Redlands DPI. Extension officers at Redlands are looking for apiarists willing to let them regularly inspect their hives for introduced pests and diseases – sentinel hives. We’ll sign up for this as Wynnum is right next to the Port of Brisbane, a known point of entry for, amongst other things, Fire ants and Asian honeybees.

A recent change in the law allows beekeepers to use smokers during total fire bans when they must move their hives.

The hive
Last year I met a commercial apiarist, who had attended one of my sustainable living talks in Logan City, and he’s agreed to sell us two complete ‘eight frame’ hives, with a spare for re-painting.

Location
We decided to place them on our concrete in-ground rainwater tank, because this will allow us to face the hive into the warmth of the early morning sunshine. Being off the soil, the solid concrete will keep the hive warm and dry. It will act as a natural barrier, helping to control small hive beetle, a pest, whose larvae pupate most successfully where they can enter soft, moist soil.

Happily, this spot is away from busy parts of our three neighbour’s gardens, and also allows for convenient maintenance of the garden around them.

Bee survival
To survive, honeybees need a varied source of pollen (for protein), a variety of nectars (carbohydrate) and water for drinking. There’s a publication ‘Fat bee, skinny bee’ about bee nutrition for the industry.

Small, weak colonies seem most vulnerable to attack by pests and diseases. Weak hives are also liable to have their honey robbed by nearby colonies. Robbing heightens the risk of pest and disease spread, and the risk is highest if it’s feral bees that rob.

While there should be enough local food to keep one more hive going, you can buy ‘pollen patties’ and make up sugar syrup to ensure they don’t starve.

Colony management
Graeme, our hive supplier, will provide some back up so we can check for pests and diseases whilst monitoring colony size and health. Local club members and DPI extension staff should also be willing to help.

Last month we visited Brisbane’s beekeeping supplier and ordered some accessories, including suits.

Last month we completed a two day ProFarm beekeeping course, provided by Des and Jenan Cannon, at Wollongbar DPI (NSW), so we’re now confident enough to take on the hive.

Jobs to do
I’ll clean up and re-seal a trough so we can provide them with ample drinking water. A good hive can use 2 litres or more a day.

I’ll have to keep an eye out for black ant nests that take advantage of the hive too. They aren’t too bad in a garden, but can rob hives.

We’ll have to collect some fallen pine needles, from the local golf course, to be ready for smoke-making.

It’s rather exciting.

Jerry Coleby-Williams
3rd April 2008