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February – The Australian Beekeeping Season Is Coming To An End

Well it’s the end of February and that means this will be my last article from Australia! I can’t believe how fast my time has gone here and how much I’ve learnt about all aspects of commercial beekeeping. It’s given me lot’s to think about this season with my own bees.

This month as last month has been very much about queen rearing and requeening hives. We are coming towards the end of the season here and we are starting to push hives down to two boxes high ready for them to go through winter. This means we have also been busy extracting honey and sorting comb honey for our customers.

We also had an issue with rain, yes rain! After months of worrying about hives being damaged by fire it was actually water that caused the damage. One of our sites with Nucs became flooded and some nucs were as much as half submerged, amazingly despite being so water logged not a single one died!

Thinking back to my bees at home, I’m starting to plan where my bees will be going this season. I will be looking for sites after June around the midlands so if you have room for 20 hives and think you have a suitable location then please get in touch. I will be also looking for sites on heather moors so again if you have any contacts then please email me at – matthew@holthallapiary.co.uk

Hives at home braced for Storm Dennis

One of my first jobs will be going to see what’s left of the Oil Seed Rape crops I was due to be moving bees onto and then moving as may hives as I can to those locations. Many of my overwintered nucs are almost full already so many will be moved into full hives. Queen rearing will also start as soon as I see drones in the hive, Hopefully around early to mid April as it’s been quite mild.

I’m also excited to say I have a few talks coming up, one to a gardening club talking about bees and planting for bees. The other is to a local beekeepers association where I am talking about my time in Australia and honey extracting.

Next month I’m looking forward to being able to update you on my bees and then I hope to pick one topic of focus each month and write a more in depth blog which will be suitable for people interested in bees as well as actual beekeepers.

Thank you for reading
Matthew Ingram

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Beekeeping, Increasing your hive numbers

Well another month has flown by! I can’t believe that I only have one full month left in Australia, but I’m looking forward to coming home and getting my own bees sorted. One of the first jobs when I return will be taking them to the Oil Seed Rape, which on a side note this year is looking very poor due to the wet weather and increased flea beetle damage.

I’ve decided that I’ll talk about increasing hive numbers as this is something we are busy doing here in Australia and something that is very high on my agenda for my own bees at home.

There’s a number of ways to make an increase, the easiest of which is split a hive that’s planning to swarm, usually called the nuc method. This is one of the simplest forms of swarm control and one I would recommend you use when you find a hive with queen cells. When you see more than 1 or 2 queen cells it is likely the hive is preparing to swarm and you need to do something or you might lose the swarm! The nuc method requires you to simply move the old queen a frame of capped brood and a good few shakes of bees onto foundation. The old queen feels like she’s swarmed because she is now in a small colony with only a small amount of brood and flying bees. You then need to go through the old hive and knock down the queen cells so there is only one healthy cell left. When I do this I put a queen excluder on the bottom so the queen cannot leave and remove it a week later once the queen is laying.

If you are not able to move the nuc to a new location over 3 miles away then the best solution is to move the main hive a metre or so to one side and put the nuc in its place, all of the foraging bees will return to the nuc and make it very strong. If you are going to move the hive to one side then you can leave the frame of brood in the main hive, just be sure to remember the queen excluder because bees on just foundation may decide to try and leave.

One of our queens ready to go to make a new hive

The problem with this method is it requires you already have a hive that wants to swarm. There is also no guarantee that the queen in the Nuc won’t still want to swarm.

My personal preference and the method we use here is to make a new hive using brood from either one or a few hives, plus shaking a few frames of bees. We then have a full hive or Nuc to which we add an already mated queen. All of the colonies will have a mated queen rather than leaving queen cells which means they can expand much faster.

We start by going through strong hives that have previously been checked for disease and finding the queen, this is really important when we want to move frames around. Just checking for the queen on the frame you are moving isn’t good enough because they are so easy to miss! Have a practice with the picture below, feel free to comment with the square you think the queen is in. I will post the answer in the comments in a week so you can check if you were right!

We then select a frame of brood, most of which needs to be capped, and put that frame into a nuc box. If it’s a strong hive you can pull more than one frame of brood but remember that this will knock back the original colony. I suggest you make the nucs with 2 full frames of capped brood, 1 or 2 frames of honey and foundation for the remaining frames. The brood should be moved with the bees on it which is why it’s important to know the queen isn’t on that frame. The nuc can be made from one hive or a combination of multiple hives. While the text books say bees from different hives will fight in these circumstances its unlikely to be an issue because there pheromones from more than 2 hives. I would then close the nuc up and move it to a new location.

If you can’t move the nuc to a new location then make it with slightly less bees, for example move one or two frames without any bees on them and place the nuc in the spot of a full hive, they will then get bees from that hive. You can then either add a queen cell that is ready to hatch, or my personal preference is to introduce a mated queen in a cage plugged with candy that they will release after a couple of days.

This method sounds more complicated but it allows you to make an increase without knocking any one hive back, it can also be used to make sure no single hive gets too busy and wanting to swarm.

For both methods I would also recommend adding a feeder of 1:1 sugar syrup to help boost the nuc. The added feed will stimulate the queen to lay and the bees to draw out foundation. Once the bees have filled the nuc box it can then be moved into a full hive. Making sure the bees have good access to pollen is also important to help with their development

Can you spot the pollen the bee is carrying?

Queen rearing is an important part of the method I use and something which I will talk about next month and something I think all beekeepers should have a go at. While there is almost no end to the number of ways to split hives the methods which I have briefly mentioned are in my opinion the best. This has only been very brief and I’d be happy to answer any questions in the comments below!

If you’re a member of a club and would be interested in me coming and doing a talk feel free to get in touch – Here. I am happy to talk about any aspect of beekeeping for groups with any level of beekeeping experience. So long as the group is interested in bees or beekeeping I will be happy to come and talk.

Our beekeeping experience dates have also been released so please book in as soon as possible as we are expecting quite a high demand although we have plenty of dates available at the moment. You can find the dates – Here

Thank you for reading this short blog about how I expand the number of hives I have got and please feel free to ask as many questions as you’d like in the comments below.

Matthew Ingram

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, I hope you all had a great Christmas and New Years celebrations! I had a warm Christmas and new year which was a first for me, certainly not the same as being at home but it was nice anyway. New Years Eve I spent in Sydney which was amazing, and it was nice to have a few days holiday!

Firstly I’d like to say a massive thank you to all our customers and readers, I really appreciate the support that you’ve shown to us over the past year. Our beekeeping experiences have gone from strength to strength and we will be running even more courses this year, keep an eye out over the coming weeks for the dates to be published for this summer.

I’d also like to ask everybody reading if there is anything they want explaining, It can be any aspect of beekeeping, I’ll answer any questions and I’m happy to share the way I manage my bees if anyone wants to know about a specific area of beekeeping. Just send me an email to matthew@holthallapiary.co.uk and I will answer your questions in this blog.

My bees at home are going well, a lot now have fondant on, It seems that many people throughout the UK are finding their bees going through food a lot quicker that expected, If you’ve got bees and not checked them recently It may be worth hefting your hive. Hefting is simply lifting one end of the hive off the ground to gauge the weight. If you’re not sure or they feel light then I would add fondant as a precaution. Next year I’m hoping to be able to share with you the weights of our hives as they progress through the winter as I know hefting is something that requires a lot of practice.

Bees Eating through the fondant… and a pesky mouse has messed with the insulation!

Back in Australia it’s been another busy month, this month we have spent a lot of time working with queens. We have started to requeen all of our hives to ensure they are in the best possible shape for next year. We are producing around 100 queens a week at the moment. The queen cells we produce are moved into mating nucs, these are small colonies that allow queens to mate before we collect them and move them into the queen banks.

Mating Nucs all set out in lines

The mated queens once ready to be introduced into a hive are kept in a queen bank until needed. The queen bank can hold 100s of queens, queens can be ‘banked’ for up to a month so we can decide when we use them.

Queen Cages, each one contains one queen

The drought continues and we have had to move a few loads to more suitable locations. The lack of water is really starting to cause an issue with the trees flowering, they are no longer producing much nectar and so honey production is very limited. On some of our sites we’ve even had to start providing water, It’s really amazing just how much water 120 hives can consume in a day.

Bees land on floating mats to stop them from drowning

The good thing this week is that the smoke haze has moved from a lot of our area. Unfortunately for the people of New South Wales the fires are still just as bad, just luckily for us they are no longer as close. The haze lifting has revealed some amazing views from Dorrigo, one of the areas we have a few loads of bees.

Thank you for taking the time to read our blog,

Matthew Ingram
Holt Hall Apiary

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Sun, Bees and Bush Fires!

Well after what feels like 5 minutes since I was last writing a blog post here I am again, the 1st December, two months in and time is showing no sign of slowing down, I’m expecting the next few months to go just as quick and I must admit to looking forward to the start of the UK beekeeping season!

It’s been incredibly hot over the past month which I know many of you in the UK would love at the moment however wearing a full bee suit it certainly isn’t ideal and some days I find myself missing British weather (Although maybe not the rain)

One of the things that has come from the unprecedented heat early in the season here is bush fires, I’m sure many of you will have seen the bush fires on the news. Luckily we haven’t lost any hives and have lost very few sites, so compared to a lot of beekeepers in our area we have gotten off very lightly. We did have a few close calls which required us moving around 50 tons of honey to another location and moving over 400 hives in one evening! A few very busy days but all seems to be calming down now and under control.

Due to the lack of water there has been a lack of forage for bees and so we have been travelling a lot more over the past month, we currently have sites up to about 3 hours away with most at least 2 hours away. On one of our busier weeks we travelled over 1,200 miles checking hives and harvesting honey! In a usual day extracting honey we will be able to extract around 3 tons, some days as much as 5 tons!

Over the next few weeks we are starting to rear queens for our own use through the season, some will also be sold. We expect to need around 2000 queens and the first 200 cells have now been grafted. Hopefully next time I will be able to share many more pictures about queen rearing here.

Back At Home

Things have been busy back at home, a big thank you to my Mum who many of you will have seen braving the weather at our usual markets and a few extra ones for Christmas. Remember we will be at Buzzards Valley Artisan Market on the 8th December and Market Bosworth Farmers Market on the 22nd December. Please come along and support not only us but also the other fantastic traders at both markets, a great place to find special gifts and food for Christmas!

I’m very excited to announce that we are trialing a subscription service for our honey as so many of our customers are reordering regularly. You simply select the type of honey that you would like and how often you’d like to receive it and its that simple, you’ll be automatically billed and your honey will arrive by whatever postage option you select! Find out more – HERE

On to our bees, they are all doing well and winter feeding is finished, there is a small amount of insulation over some of our weaker wooden hives to give them a bit more warmth although the weather is looking quite mild over the next few weeks.

Thank you for reading!

Matthew Ingram

Holt Hall Apiary

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My First Australian Blog!

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!

Matthew Ingram