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.
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.
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.
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.
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.