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Checking the bees and hoping for honeyflows

March 15, 2013 | Beekeeping, Natural Beekeeping | 10 comments | Author:

1303 bee check - 1

The other day Tim Malfroy, our mate and esteemed Warré beekeeper, came over to talk bees and check the Milkwood hives. We had hoped to split our two Warré hives into four colonies this season, but it looks like we’re sitting on that idea now.

Why? Erratic flowering patterns – the eucalypts around here are still sitting on their hands, so to speak. Not a flower in sight. So while our bees have been working our market garden and all the wildflowers and weeds around here hard, they’re still doing it tough. 

The bees. All good, queens laying, babies being born. But no good honey stores.
The bees. All good, queens laying, babies being born. But no good honey stores.
Tim checks the brood while Gondry (french Warré Beekeeper) looks on
Tim checks the brood while Gondry (french Warré Beekeeper) looks on

1303 bee check - 4

A whole lot of nothing... for now...
A whole lot of nothing… for now…
What we'd prefer to see at this point in the season - full frames of honeycomb. This photo is from this time last year however...
What we’d prefer to see at this point in the season – full frames of honeycomb. This photo is from this time last year however…
Gigi pats her first bees...
Gigi pats her first bees…
The seasonal bee check is always an all-in affair at Milkwood. Everyone downs tools and comes along.
The seasonal bee check is always an all-in affair at Milkwood. Everyone downs tools and comes along.

So. Two healthy colonies and no honey stores. Hmm. Come on eucalypts!

Things we can do for our beehives at this point in a weird season when no eucalypts have flowered include:

– Minimise their disturbance. The bees have enough nectar to keep going on, but none extra for us. Rather than checking and opening the hive in the hope of evidence of a honeyflow and consequently placing more stress on the bees, we’ll be watching the hive entrance activity instead.

On the subject of observing entrance activity, there is this excellent book called At the Hive’s Entrance by H. Storch which as a natural beekeeper you should definitely get a copy of.

While not all the info is pertinent to Australia (the section of preventing vole invasion, for example) this book is excellent to help beekeepers attune to the practice of figuring out what is going on with their bees without assuming they need to open the hive to find out.

Opening a bee hive is kinda equivalent to doing open heart surgery on the colony (ie taking the whole hive, and therefore the super organism, apart to figure out what’s happening). And like open heart surgery, this act stresses the super organism somewhat.

So minimal intervention is a darn fine idea, especially in a wild and wooly season like this one, when the bees are doing their darndest to find enough nectar to put away for winter and really don’t need us poking about in there without good reason.

Ladies at their entrance. Lots to see and learn from watching the activity here...
Ladies at their entrance. Lots to see and learn from watching the activity here…

And so we watch and we wait. We watch the hives, with their worker bees flying in with full bags of pollen, but not heavy with nectar.

We watch the wooded hills around us for the faint smudge of white or yellow on the treetops, which looks a little like a dusting of snow. Eucalypts in flower.

And we plan for more, and more, and more year-round nectary plantings, to nudge our system along towards both resilience and abundance.

>> more posts on Natural Beekeeping

We run Natural Beekeeping courses with Tim Malfroy in Sydney and at Milkwood Farm on responsible, ethical, chemical free Warré Beekeeping for the backyard or small-scale beekeeper. No, it’s not just about the shape of the box and the frames within. It’s an entire, apicentric approach. And it’s awesome.

1303 bee check - 1

Big thanks to Tim Malfroy, as always, for his ongoing commitment to best practice beekeeping and also (as always) for putting up with our millions of questions about bees, trees and the hive mind.



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10 COMMENTS


  • John Pannacciulli March 15, 2013 at 8:06 am | Reply

    Scary you’re not seeing tree blossoms yet. Did weather being too wet or dry play a role in interupting the blossom cycle? Here in New England Boston US we had early spring followed by late freeze. Played heck with apple blossoms. Interestingly not all varieties affected. Others rebloomed but missed the pollination window. I am not familiar with the flora in your end of the world, but I ‘d like to visit your unique venture. Try for multiple crop and cross pollinator varieties to buffer the crop damage due to extreme temperature or pestilence.


  • rabidlittlehippy March 15, 2013 at 8:14 am | Reply

    Sending flowers and blooms your way. May your eucalypts get their butts into gear. I saw a few orange flowers out on a tree last Friday and thought of you. I hope it’s a sign that the flowers are on their way.


  • Kirsten Seaver March 15, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Reply

    Same here in the sub-alpine area of North East Victoria – eucalypts have tiny buds – but little or no flowering. I have decided to go all out with herbs, lavender and fast growing grevilleas in my understory as a back up plan – fingers crossed for next spring/summer. Good luck to you all. :)


  • mac March 17, 2013 at 8:49 am | Reply

    We had a great December ( averaged better then 50 kg of honey per hive) but then the floods came and rain, rain and more rain. In a reasonable year we should average about 150 kg per hive. The best ones top 200 kg.
    I’m not sure if the text and photos are for the current situation?
    It appears that there are at least 3 supers on this Hive? If there is no honeyflow I would reduce the size of the hive ( more beefriendly, less work for them)
    Looking at the brood pattern I would oberve that the queen is not performing.
    I would chance a guess that this hive has swarmed in recent times?
    On which Euc’s did you find buds? Our territicornis are budding and if winter is not to dry we will get a good flow.
    Good luck with the seasons!


    1. milkwoodkirsten March 18, 2013 at 5:25 am | Reply

      Hi Mac, these are warre hives – yep they show the current situation – there’s more boxes (sometimes) on a warre as the queen is free to roam so the brood nest is elongated… each hive has an empty box at the bottom, awaiting a honeyflow – we’ll pack them down to fewer boxes each at the end of autumn for winter cosiness, but they’re fine for now while the weather is still warm… becasue the empty box is at the bottom and not the top it doesn’t stress the bees out, so all good :)

      the brood pattern within the back hive (which Tim as squinting at) is patchy indeed in the frame you see, but that’s as it is this season… from our learning the patchy brood pattern indicates as much about the season and overall colony health as it does about the queen herself… to our minds she’s performing fine, under trying circumstances –

      and the manna gums down by the creek have just started flowering! huzzah!


      1. mac March 18, 2013 at 7:11 am | Reply

        Thanks for the clarification. I know nothing about warre hives. I did read somwhere that it is quite common to “crush and strain” the honey comb as the frames don’t fit a standard extractor? I could not do this to my girls :)


  • Jim March 17, 2013 at 9:47 pm | Reply

    We, at Tamworth just a couple of hours drive from you, too are having a bad nectar season due to the hot, wet and dry season however I harvested 9.2Kg from our hive in early February and hope to go again in mid April. (Last year we harvested in February, April, May, July and September with some 35Kg bottled from a hive set up in August 2011. What a difference a season makes).
    Our bees are very busy at the moment so hoping they are rebuilding the frames I harvested.
    I too was going to split the hive but decided not to do that because of the unstable season. Will reconsider that project in early spring again.


  • The Forager March 26, 2013 at 8:38 pm | Reply

    Same story at Wombeyan Caves, SE of Oberon – no harvest this year. Even if they do get some late flowering, I’ll leave them with the honey for our winter cold and dearth. I’ll even feed sugar syrup if I have to (despite the Warre reluctance I suppose it’s like eating in the day during Ramadan – something about being permitted for the infirm (hungry colony) and travelling (through tough times) as I recall…


  • mac March 26, 2013 at 9:50 pm | Reply

    Is this a Warre “weakness” or are other ” normal” hives in the area suffering the same ?


    1. milkwoodkirsten March 27, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Reply

      A lot of the langstroth hives in the area are the same or worse – quite a few local ‘normal’ beeks have been put out of business by this summer in the central west…



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