We love our bees. Besides them being brilliant pollinators around the flower garden, veggie patch and fruit trees, they also provide us with delicious honey. When we came to our small farm, there was already a hive on the property and a steep learning curve followed in how to manage the bee box.
The first time Frans opened the hive to take a look at the mechanics of it, he really had no idea what his was looking at or what he was looking for. Of course, before he even got to this point he had to kit himself up in the ‘proper’ gear. Many hours were spent researching the best type of suit, gloves and tools. His first capping tool or knife, was a conventional piece of equipment, and the job of capping the frames when he finally harvested his first batch of honey was slow and messy. And so began the gathering of all things ‘bees’. Electric heated knives, double spinners, food grade buckets, locks and pourers and the ultimate piece of equipment, a beautiful Italian made stainless steel spinner, soon found their way into the kitchen.
To say that keeping bees can become a serious interest is probably an understatement. The bookshelf is groaning with books on the subject.
We’re constantly learning more about these fascinating insects. For instance, they use the sun to navigate their flight paths, and they do so even on a cloudy day. We know that just a short distance from our farm is the Otway National Park, and here you will find dense leptospermum bushes, or tea trees. There are many varieties of these bushes, but we’re quietly waiting for test results to see if the varieties that grow in the forest are those that provide the bees with just the right pollen and nectar to make the famous Manuka honey that is produced in New Zealand. We were uncertain whether the bees would even know the flowers were there, as the hives face East, and the forest is directly West. We didn’t need to worry though. On a bright sunny morning, you can see the bees fly directly from the hive opening towards the sun and then do a big U turn and head the opposite way into the bush.
We know they love blue and purple flowers, so the flower garden is planted with this requirement in mind. Lavender and flowering rosemary bushes are among their favourite blooms. They don’t restrict themselves to purples though, so each spring I’ll make sure I pop flowering annuals such as salvia, sunflowers, zinnias and poppies into the garden beds.
The bees require quite a bit of work. Over the summer months, Frans will suit up every couple of weeks and inspect the hives. He makes sure he always has a new hive box, complete with frames ready to go if there’s a swarm. After the last honey is harvested in autumn, the bees are put away for the winter. This usually involves surrounding them with hay bales to keep the cold Southern Ocean winds from battering the hives. Bees need to maintain a certain temperature inside the boxes. They expend a lot of energy in winter to keep warm, and this is when they consume the honey left in the hives. Extra feeding is sometimes required, especially on those days or weeks when it rains continuously and they’re unable to forage for their food.
Not only do we feed the chooks and cows each day, but the bees get fed too. Frans has constructed a number of ‘test’ feeders and a nightly ritual is to mix up sugary syrup and go out after dark to top up the feeders. Stepping out late at night means he can get close to the hives without needing to pour himself into a suit for a five minute task.
These little creatures may seem insignificant and annoying should one buzz around your head, but without them our future in growing food crops is severely compromised. So if you have a reasonably sized back yard, get some bees!
Till next time,