Winter wonderland 

We live in a very lucky land and a very lucky city. In spite of grim grey skies over Brisbane, my garden insists on thriving. 

While not a whole lot of variety for the bees, my girls are still getting good pollen and nectar from lavender, Rosemary, cosmos, chilli, rocket and apricots (I know weird right). 


Brisbane – perfect place for a bee to be! 

First harvest from Flow Hive™ Frames (and a lesson in what not to do)

Last weekend was a significant milestone for Virgin Honey – the first harvest from the Flow Hive frames in Madonna’s hive.

Flow hive honey harvest

Shamus changing out Honey jars…in the pouring rain!

You see, when I first got my flow hive, I read my instructions for assembly and harvesting honey with great eagerness. However that was many moons ago (July I think) and I didn’t think to re-read the harvesting instructions again!

Fortunately for me, the bees and all involved, Nadine is an information sponge and we were soon able to rectify some of the more glaring issues. As you can see in the video below, we did lose a fair bit of honey in the process but certainly know now what not to do for next time.

The Flow Hive frames make harvesting honey fun and, when done correctly, very easy and stress free for the bees. People considering investing in Flow Hives still need to know all about bee management but the harvesting process is something you can get any novice involved in.

I think that the more people who know and care about the welfare of all bees, the better we our planet will be.

One of the wonderful benefits from being able to harvest this way, is the ability to get absolutely unadulterated honey which is what Virgin Honey is all about. It will take my bees visiting over 2 million flowers to gather just 450g of honey – a curious fact that never ceases to astound me! Honey will always contain a mix of nectars (unless your hive is in a mono-culture) but the Flow Hive allows you taste greater nuances since bees are fairly methodical in their storage of honey, you are likely to get a concentration of a particular flower’s nectar on a single frame.

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Shamus with two jars from 2 different Flow Hive Frames. Notice the colour variation.

Flow Hive honey will be a little bit of a rarity as I presently have only 3 frames (versus 28 standard) but I look forward to sharing a few jars of it with you soon.

Big thanks to Nadine from Feast Photography for the video and photos on the day.

The virgin honey harvest for Virgin Honey

So I estimated my first harvest (or as I’ve now heard it called – “robbing”) would happen in early November. The beauty of living in sunny sub-tropical Brisbane, is that I had to revise that estimate and organise for the virgin honey virgin harvest to happen last weekend due to a bee explosion and a good honey flow in my area.

So it was with much excitement, a few litres of Margarita to lubricate the workers, and much hilarity that good friends Nadine (@madamehoneybee), Natalie and her daughter Eva and I extracted the first honey from my hives.

While I thought we would be taking 4 frames from H1/A (Hive 1/Honey Box A), I only had 3 truly full frames, so it was agreed to leave the girls with the 4th frame.

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The fun of extraction was completed rather hazily on Saturday night, but it wasn’t until late yesterday that I had time to bottle my wares. From the 3 frames, we extracted 7kgs of honey – approximately 2.3kg per frame. In no way a record weight but for my first ever extraction I was delighted! While it was not white clover which would have been too much to ask for, the honey is a beautiful light colour and quite floral.

If anyone has been eagerly waiting for a taste, I’m afraid that the virgin harvest has been accounted for. It saddened me to have to put aside a small sample for quality control (as pictured below). The good news is that the 3 Flow frames will be ready for harvest in about 2 weeks and I am really looking forward to that. I suspect that that will be a more populated extracting party than Saturday night as there are many who are interested to see if and how it all works!

Virgin Honey's first honey sample

PS: Yes there were photos taken whilst we extracted but will not be posted to this “family friendly” site. We discovered a new drinking sensation of one sip of Margarita (from a salt rimmed glass) to one finger-full of honey. It is the bees knees! xx

Don’t move your bees – fact or fiction??

I had been warned by many seasoned bee keepers that you moving your bees a short distance is a big no no and if absolutely necessary should be done less-than-a-meter at a time over an extended period of time. There is solid science and a lot of data to back up the cleverness of bee GPS and the importance of not mucking with the location of home, but sometimes you just don’t have a choice!

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I have been working hard to have my bee stand area paved and ready since I ordered my bees from The Bee Lady many months ago. Alas I was about a week short of the time I needed to finish the job before I went into surgery last week (yes I’m fine – thanks for asking). Of course doctors orders were that I can now do no heavy lifting for 8 weeks which made me want to weep since my back yard has been a construction zone for long enough!

My flatmate is terrific and very accommodating of the fact that I’ve become a crazy bee lady – a much tidier and less pungent smelling version of a crazy cat lady. That’s not to say he necessary likes the bees or wants to have much to do with them, but he tolerates them well enough that I can’t complain. I”m sure he would have probably obliged had I asked him every second day to move each hive a few inches each night. I’m just not sure that our happy flatmate state would have survived it.

So I took the plunge and late on Monday night and had my flatmate move one hive and again late last night move the other. The distance was not ideal – it was approximately 3 metres for the first hive and 2 metres tor the second hive to the new spot.

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The blue stand  on the left was the original site of the second hive. Enough to cause disorientation for the bees!

For most of Tuesday, I walked the stand (saw horse) between the original site and the new site, carrying a dozen or so bees at a time. I’m not sure how much good it did. By sundown there were perhaps three dozen bees that had succumbed to exhaustion from trying to find the hive without success. I had much less casualties today, probably because the new site was in their flight path to their original site. Fortunate because the original stand they were on was far too heavy for me to constantly lift back and forth carrying stray bees.

Given that there were definitely casualties from the move due to disorientation I would say with absolutely conviction that you should not move bees short distances quickly – only if doctors orders mean otherwise!!

Stingless bees protest “we’re working hard too!”

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I will admit that my lovely little Australian native stingless bees (Tetragonula carbonaria) have been left to their own devices over the last few months while I’ve been busily setting up my honey bees. Today however, I took a wander through the garden and checked out what these little guys have been up to. 

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Bless them they’re very hard at work harvesting and pollinating my apricot, Chinese flat cabbage, broccoli – none of which are of any interest to my honey bees. They also happily share the basil, lavender and nasturtiums with the honey bees.

Also hanging out with the bees were heaps of hover flies who love aphid larvae so I’m always happy to see in the patch.

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Bee explosion in Madonna’s house

On the way home yesterday, I was talking with friend beekeeper Nadine from MadameHoneybee. Nadine also attends Bee School with me on Saturdays, and as a professional freelance photographer, she’s also able to occasionally attend the Wednesday class as well.  Nadine was making me jealous telling me that both last week and again today, the class encountered swarms which needed to be captured. All my bee school classmates would agree that swarm capturing is one of the things you need to know how to do before you graduate bee school.

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Bee buddy Nadine shooting the bees 🙂

The two swarms this week were from new nucs that have just been set up in the last month.

One had swarmed due to a severe infestation of Small Hive Beetle which had occurred in just 4 days (since the nuc had been checked on Saturday); the second seemed to be caused by simply too many bees in the nuc box.

The first swarm is more than a little alarming and the hives at John’s will all need to be closely monitored, but it was the second swarm that I was most interested in. You see, that swarm was from fellow schooler Scott’s nuc hive and Scott had collected his queens from Corrine, the Bee Lady the same day I received Madonna. Having both hives set up around the same time, I wondered whether I might have a similar problem at home.

So it was with a little trepidation that I approached my hive yesterday afternoon and noticed a lot of bees sitting outside the hive. Opening the lid was like opening a soda water bottle after shaking it. The bees just crawled out from everywhere and were in quite a buzz and seemed to just keep coming! A quick check on the foundation frames that were put in showed me that there is not a lot of storage room for them.

While not ideal given that by now it was already dark, I have put the new Flow Hive Lite box on top with a queen excluder.

This morning the bees seem a lot calmer with the new honey box on top. Honey may be coming sooner than I had planned! 

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Queen Magdelan arrives

First was Queen 3L LS (Queen Madonna that I received 11 days ago) and today I welcomed Queen 71L (Queen Magdelan) along with the nuc split from North Brisbane Bee Keepers Association’s Treasurer, John’s healthy hives from just around the corner in Geebung.

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The queen is kept inside a purpose made cage with a few of her workers which is then sealed with candy (an icing sugar type mix). It is the job of both the queen and her new bees to eat the candy out to free her which should take between 2 days and a week. This allows the hive to acclimate to her.

So it was a very busy day at Bee School with 12 new queens being introduced to 12 new Nucs so we really tested the boundaries of the established hives as each Nuc needed 2 if not 3 frames of brood as well as a good store of honey.

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A lot of hands on deck for the procedure so not nearly as stressful as I expected. Thanks bee school team!!