How do things happen?
Planning? Good design? Hours of brainstorming.
Sometimes, but quite often chance is the key driver in man's affairs.
Sometimes we facilitate chance, quite unconciously, by pursuing an unrelated activity, that perhaps led to an unrelated act of kindness.
Take my case...
Did I plan to become an apiarist? No.
It all started around 8 years ago, my regular job was installing TV antennas (the unrelated activity), took me to a customer in need of specialised cabling services.
His need was to view via video, the inside of his bird nesting boxes. (His web address is: http://faunature.com.au/nesting-boxes-wildlife-hollows).
On my departure, I was equipped with a few nesting boxes for my own garden.
I was assured that once installed, high up in my trees, the parrotts would move in within a couople of weeks. Obviously I was skeptical. Nest box for rent, green parrots wanted...
Much to my surprise, almost immediately, Rosella parrotts, and Lorrikeets moved in and started laying eggs.
All seemed well.
Success was short lived. Feral bees chased out the Rosellas. What to do? Not happy!
The bees were chased out. The nest box was cleaned and restored. Only to be taken over by media watching Galahs.
The Galahs, should be on The Block. They have extensively renovated their Lorrikeet box during their extended "squat", but they have also raised at least 5 sets of young Galahs, whom have all moved into politics! Have you seen the state of the country??
One box had always remained empty.
The owls never found it or just didnt like the view.
The bees returned and moved into the owl box.
I was older and wiser. We need bees too. Bees need homes too. Perhaps they would boost my gardening results...very hit and miss.
That was at least six years ago.
The bees have been very busy bees. Quietly minding their own business, high up in my gum tree, producing honey and offspring(another TV show??).
Time takes its toll on everything. Bees are not really focussed on home maintenance and have scant regard for the weather. This years weather has been spectacular, and for some quite harsh, but thats Nature.
One fine day...no not really. One thumping big storm, howling wind, horizontal rain and thousands of flashes of lightning saw the Bee palace come crashing to earth.
There it lay in my front garden, quietly crushing a green bush. Unperterbed, the bees went about their business during fine breaks in the miserable weather. Finally the mercury crept up a bit, encouraging me to venture outside and discover the forlorn owl box.
I thought I should at least stand the box upright, before deciding what to do. So, I bent over thinking no problem... WOW this is REALLY heavy, and packed with bees still asleep.
The impromptu hive felt like a 25kg rock!! Full of honey i guess!! How much do bees weigh. Do bees still have weight when they are flying but still inside the box? I stood it up. Here come the bees.RUN..
Well, it couldnt stay where it was.
Thankfully, the extreme cold made the bees reluctant to venture out early. None the less, it took me a week to move the hive a few meteres each day (running for cover when the bees awoke) to arrive at a secluded part of my garden.
Well, they sat for a while. They seemed happy.
I took some advice from a 'legal' friend. They cant stay, they probably can be collected and exterminated by a pest controller!
Hmmm over my dead body...
So, now I'm a registered Apiarist, taking a keen interest in the health of my adopted bees.
27 October, the saga continues...
So the feral bees are now buzzing away in their bird box squat, now on the ground in a secluded corner of my garden.
Where to now?
Well, Google of course!
So, I read a heap of articles on bees. Wow, fascinating creatures. Who's in charge? Is it a democracy or a monarchy?
Do bees only produce honey? Do they all have stingers? Do they get sick? Why are bees on the endangered species list? Why you should help your local bee keeper. How dangerous is the hive? Does the sting hurt, how do you remove it? How can I persuade the feral bees to move into a modern managed hive? Do I know all the answers? No, of course not, but we will soon.
Well, the challenge now is to move the feral bees from their 8 year squat in the birdbox to a modern manageable hive.
I set about building a small hive. I didnt want to use full size dimensions in case the plan failed.
I bought materials for half sized frames. 10 sets. The longer term view is that all hive components should be interchangeable or modular, enabling reuse in other locations, depending on needs. A standard hive typically has ten frames. If you use less than ten frames, then the bees wont build out the comb evenly, and you will have trouble extracting the stored honey.The comb that the bees build is a valuable and costly resource in terms of time and energy input from the bees, this time and effort is otherwise directed to producing honey, that we plan to steal!
Its quite surprising how long it takes to assemble these simple frames. Gluing, nailing and correcting for out of square, before you know its midnight.
After drying you can trim off any glue that has oozed into the wrong places.
Each frame end needs 4 tiny metal eyelets. Once fitted a galvanised steel wire is threaded through the eyelets and pulled tight. Its harder than you might think. Finally, the wire is crimped. A process where lilltle bends or corrugations are pressed into the wire, to further tighten and aid attachment to the wax foundation.
What is foundation? Well, this is another aid we give the bees. Simply put, it is a sheet of bees wax with a hexagonal patten embossed into the surface. The idea is to encourage the bees to build uniform straight comb on both sides of the wax sheet. Generally, the bees follow the plan, and we finish up with honey comb about 40mm deep. The bees fill this from both sides and when the time is right, they seal off the cells preserving the honey.
Having explained what foundation is, I'll finish the steps need for finishing the frames.
Recapping, we now have a rectangular wooden frame, strung with thin steel wire.
The foundation sheets are fitted into a slot in the frame and make contact with the 4 strands of wire traversing the frame lengthwise.
We now apply and electric current to heat the wire, melting the wax slightly and embedding the wire into the surface of the wax foundation. This stabilises the foundation in the frame, and helps to spread the load, once the comb is filled with honey. Each frame could weigh up to 3kg!
The frames need a box to support them.
This is the main body of the hive. It protects the cragile frames, sound to contain edible gold succulent honey from the ravages of weather, animals and other insect predators.
A lip is machined into the 2 ends of the box, to support the protruding lugs at each end of our frames. When the frames sit on this lip, the bottom of the frame must not protrude below the box.
Now we have frames, and a box. Finally, we need a top and bottom piece.
The top piece contains air vents, and a sheet metal layer to protect the flat top from the harsh effects of sun and rain. The air vents need to be covered with insect proof mesh, such that only air can pass through. This is important, as the bees need to remove excess water from the nectar to make honey. Too much water causes the honey to ferment. The vents help control hive humidity.
The bottom section, contains the hive entrance/exit and a baffle board to control or prevent strong wind from entering, and disturbing the delicate temperature balance being maintained by the bees around their brood. That is, the eggs, lavae, pupae and newly hatched bees. The temperature is maintained at 34 degrees celcius.
So, now you know what a standard hive contains.
We now have our first hive constructed and waiting for the feral bees to move in.
My first thought was that if I force the bees to fly through the new hive before entering their squat, they would appreciate the new surroundings and simply move.
I made a modified top piece with a few small holes, and placed the bird box over the holes. Finally I sealed all the other openings in the bird box.
Hooray, the bees have discovered the new way in and out. Everything looks normal. So we just wait a few weeks and the bees will move house, yes?
They're quite happy in their old digs.
Not a total loss though.
The bees have built honey comb onto the new foundation. They've been working hard.
They're even storing honey in the new comb.
Back to Google.
When do bees move? In Spring. Its called swarming.
What makes a hive swarm?
Many things, sometimes we dont really know why.
If they are uncomfortable, perhaps they'll swarm into the new digs.
Replace the modified top with a standard vented top.
At least now we can easily look in and see what is happening.
Create a modified bottom board with a 100mm circular cutout.
Attach a similar board to the bottom of the bee squat (bird box) with matching 100mm hole.
Join the two boxes with a flexible tube, and turn the bee squat UPSIDE DOWN!!
Encase the bee squat in a heavy duty plastic bag and seal it carefully.
The aim here is to keep out any unwanted pests, and keep moisture IN!
Now, perhaps the squat will become uncomfortably hot and humid, causing the bees to swarm into the attached hive.
Plan B is now fully operational.
Externally, things look normal. The bees are very active, coming in and out of the hybrid hive. They seem to be working very hard.
Now, time might be my friend.
The weather is warming up. The humidity should be rising in the hive.
Judging, by the amount of activity, the new frames should be filling with honey. The queen should be laying eggs, the hive should be expanding as we now have more room (the ensuite hive with all new decor). This should add to the pressure to move.
Where to now?
Wait and watch.
1. The queen moves. Place a queen excluder in the path back into the squat, preventing the queen from leaving the new hive. Blow some smoke into the old box to force out the remaining bees. When clear of bees, remove honey and wax. Party time.
2. The queen doesn't move. Try smoking the old box, being careful not to kill the queen. Then do option 1 above.
3. The queen still doesnt move. I could just leave things as they now are. The top section is a manageable hive, giving me a view and a clue as to the overall health of the feral bees. Realistically, this is an 8-10 year old colony. They must be healthy, or they'd be dead long ago. I can treat the new section as a honey "super" (bulk honey storage) and just harvest it as required.
An ongoing experiment.
You guessed it, its time for another look inside, later this afternoon. Fingers crossed!