Well what a first month! I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone since I arrived here to start work on a bee farm with around 1,800 hives! For the past three weeks there has been just 4 of us working here so it’s been very busy and a massive learning curve to a different style of beekeeping to the UK.
The first major difference to the UK is obviously the weather, it’s around 30 degrees here most days although this is very much only spring time here. The bees do not face the same cold wet winter as they would do in the UK but that poses challenges in itself, the queen continues to lay all year so the hives go through far more food even when there is little or no nectar around.
Around 80% of the honey produced in Australia comes from tree nectar, the problem here is that unlike the UK when everything flowers yearly the trees here which are mainly different varieties of Eucalyptus some which can take up to 5 years to come into flower again. This means the flow of honey is quite unpredictable and when a good spot is found lots of commercial beekeepers move into that area.
I’m just writing this after a busy 3 days around 300km south of where we are based, we have around 900 hives there at the moment because the Iron Bark Tree is just coming into flower, having tried that honey for the first time yesterday it’s already one of my favourites! Almost every few miles you see commercial beekeepers sites (you can tell they are commercial because they are generally in large groups of up to 120 hives) Yesterday alone between 5 people we managed to put supers on 740 hives, and removed around 300 supers this morning.
The scale here is truly enormous, I’m very happy with my extracting setup at home but this really shows me what is possible, we are able to extract around 3 – 4 tonnes of honey in 1 day here using a full extracting line which uncaps the frames and they slide into a 60 frame extractor! Last year on this bee farm they harvested around 200 tonnes which is just a mind blowing amount of honey.
One of the things I was most interested to learn about while in Australia was bee pests and diseases. One of the first and most common pests here is the Small Hive Beetle (SHB) It’s a small beetle who’s larvae will eat through almost every part of a beehive, to smaller weaker hives they are deadly and will kill a hive however stronger colonies can defend themselves. This is particularly interesting as it’s expected that the SHB will eventually make its way to the UK through the importation of bees from abroad.
One of the other interesting things for me as a beekeeper is getting hands on experience with European Foul Brood (EFB) and American Foul Brood (AFB) both are notifiable in the UK, meaning that if we find either in our hives we have to let DEFRA know and the hives are destroyed. Here both types can be treated with antibiotics although they often aren’t as you can’t extract the honey from those hives for at least 3 months. EFB is seen here as being a minor issue, one that to my amazement the bees can and do actually recover from naturally in some cases. AFB is certainly seen as more serious with infected hives moved into isolated apiaries and amazingly they also remain strong for a long time and I was surprised at how slow the infection takes to spread between hives. This obviously doesn’t change my reaction to either disease at home and I urge all beekeepers to report any suspected cases to the National Bee Unit, however it’s very interesting to see how differently it’s dealt with here.
A quick word on my bees back home. The bees are finally coming up to winter weight now, slightly behind last year but that was to be expected with me leaving part way through winter feeding. A massive thank you for my family who have been doing a great job of feeding the bees with very little beekeeping experience and with only a little guidance from myself and fellow bee farmer Nigel Collier who has very kindly agreed to stop in every couple of weeks to check on the bees.
Thank you for reading this quite wordy post, there is so much to talk about here and I will be sure to keep you all updated in a month!