Hot Honey

We really like honey bees. They are enchanting, and we are putting lots of effort into growing our hives. On a recent hot summer’s day, we set out to inspect one of them.

Objective: See if the bees were in need of more living room. If the Hive was running out of space, we would add a new box to the bottom of the hive, allowing the bees to build comb downward.

Robert suits up and arrives with the new box

Bees must be treated with respect. Opening a hive requires preparation and care. We suited up and deployed our ‘smoker’ – smoke calms down bees and renders them less aggressive towards bipedal interlopers.

Inspecting a frame full of honey

The Warre hive is arranged in frames upon which bees build their comb. While the hive is open, we sample a few frames and inspect their health. In particular, we are looking for signs that the ‘brood’ is healthy. Brood is the section of the hive where new bees grow.

A frame filled with brood comb – Note the healthy larvae in the centre

In this case, we found the hive to be very healthy, but not yet in need of a new box. So we carefully closed it back up.

Delicious honeycomb melting in the summer sun

While opening the hive, we gently pry apart joints where the bees have sealed the structure with their various secretions, including honey. A byproduct of that prying is a small amount of honey, which we devoured instantly! It was outrageously yummy, and we can’t wait to be able to share it with you.

Hive Inspectors

Today is perfect for a hive inspection – sunny, clear and only a gentle breeze. We check the health and progress of our hives regularly.

Busy little bees

Our second hive started only a month ago from a bait box, and so they are still building comb and growing the hive population. The top box is healthy with fully formed comb and capped honey cells at the top. There are capped brood cells below – mainly flat capped cells with (female) worker brood and some larger domed cells with (male) drone brood. The colony is still forming comb in the lower box and so it will be a month or two before we think about adding another box.

Our first hive started from a large swarm two months ago and the colony is larger. They have completed the comb in all the frames in both boxes and the cells are almost full. So we added another box underneath. They now have a three-story apartment they can call home.

Brenden takes notes after inspecting the hive

Time to write up our report and get out of these space suits.

Oh, and if you are wondering why we add the box underneath, it’s because bees naturally build new comb downwards as the hive grows. Makes sense when you think about it.

First Swarm

Bait hives are set around the property to attract swarming bees in spring. We check them every day to see if they are working. On this day there is no sign of activity in the bait hives. But there were a lot of bees buzzing around the Chinese Pear tree, which was odd because it is not yet in flower. On closer inspection there it was: a large swarm
formed on the ground under the Chinese Pear.

Lord Howe Island Bees Thornleigh Farm
The swarm sitting on the ground

Our Milkwood natural beekeeping course had not prepared us for this. Swarms are supposed to rest in trees, not on the ground. One of our Warre hives was placed next to the swarm with a ramp to the entrance covered in a white sheet. After trial and error (rewarded by bee stings for both of us) we worked out we could place sticks into the swarm and then shake the bees that clustered onto the sticks into the hive. It took a few hours but once the queen was in the hive the stampede began. Within 30 minutes the swarm had marched into the hive.

Lord Howe Island Honey Bees Thornleigh Farm
The swarm marching into the Warre hive

We gently set the hive onto its stand and strapped it down and retired to nurse our wounds and celebrate with a few beers. The workers had sealed the entrance to the hive with the bee equivalent of a human shield. We guessed this was to insulate the hive from the cool evening air to help them get the hive to its regulation constant 35 degrees.

Lord Howe Island Thornleigh Farm Honey Bees
Bees blocking off the entrance after the swarm entered the hive

Next morning at first light the bees were busy building their new home in the Warre hive. We will open the hive again in a few weeks to see if they have started building honeycomb.

Want to learn more about natural beekeeping? The way of the Bee: An intro to Natural Beekeeping