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39th Annual Beekeeping Field Day

Today we attended the 39th Annual Beekeeping Field Day at the Harcourt Leisure Centre, hosted by the Victorian Apiarist Association’s Bendigo Branch.

Why did we go to such an event I hear you ask, we don’t own any bees, nor do we have any current plans to become bee owners… well, our friend Sue has a beehive she has kind of inherited from a former work friend who moved and had to offload a few of the hives he used to keep in his yard. So now Sue and Lana have a happy little hive sitting in their yard in Brunswick, and inner suburb of Melbourne.

The last couple of times Sue’s friend Arton had come over to help with the honey harvest Sue has felt a little like she was relying on him too much to take care of the bees which are now hers. Further, the last harvest only produced about 1kg of honey, from a hive that should probably be doing 5 times that per harvest, so Sue wanted to find out more about why that might be.

Turns out the low harvest is a very common thing this past season. The apiarists on hand said they all had a low yield of the last year due to the dry weather causing plants to not produce as much pollen and nectar, prime requirements for the honey bee. They have however, already seen bumper crops early this season, mostly for those who live near canola fields which have been in full-bloom this year.

At the event there were a lot of people selling different types of hives and lots of gadgets to go with your hive. Honey extractors, cappers, and all manner of accoutrement you might want/need for this form of animal husbandry.

Things I learnt today:

  • Bees store honey AND pollen in their hive cells. The honey is their carbohydrate supply, the pollen is their protein. They return to eat it as required.
  • An amorous queen can decide to make a bunch of male drones that the hive doesn’t really need. Drones don’t do anything other than mate with the queen. Drones are not favoured by the honey producers, because they don’t leave the hive to find food sources, they 
  • There is sometimes occasions where drones are removed from the hive, if there is space the workers will make the drone cells off the brood frames so they can be easily removed. The queen will also do this at times when the hive is too full, it can prompt a swarm, a time when a bunch of bees will move out. The bees gorge themselves on honey and then do a runner looking for a new home.
  • The queen will become fatigued as she gets older, at some point the bees in the hive may “run up” another queen by feeding pupae royal jelly causing a new queen to be born from a pupa that would otherwise have been a worker. They’ll defend the new queen until she is big enough to take out the old queen and the hive will be renewed. You can also revitalise a waning hive by introducing a new queen. The workers and drones apparently aren’t too loyal, they’ll follow whoever is the younger, stronger queen.
  • Don’t do beekeeping without protection of a bee suit and smoke. They made this point a couple of times during the practical demonstrations, I and many of the onlookers were uncovered, some had suited up for the occasion. There were swarms of bees flying around us, the was actually kind of cool, though I imagine if you had an allergy to bees you’d have been in a frightening position. The short story though is, if you’re not doing too much to upset the bees they’ll leave you alone.
  • Beekeeping is a lot of work. You have to check your hive regularly, you have to consider if your hive needs to be split by building a nucleus box, less you have the queen and lots of your bees abandon your hive. You have to harvest your honey regularly to keep the hive ticking over.
  • Kids look super-cute in their bee suits!

While I didn’t learn it yesterday, I think it’s important to remind folks that beehives are a matriarchy. The ladies rule and do all the work. The males, the drones are incidental to the process, in fact, if food becomes scarce, they are the first to be shoved out of the hive, they are far too easily replaceable when times get better again, but ultimately they are lazy, empty mouths to feed, who really don’t contribute much to the hive. So yeah, 99.9999% of bees you see out and about are female bees. Unless there is a swarm, at which point there will be a higher number of male bees, all attempting to mate with the queen, after which they will die, their lifeless bodies will fall to the ground and will never see their new home.

I really would like some bees, maybe it’ll be something for retirement. Watching the hives on display was very cool, I love looking at them and seeing how they all interact and how they make the precious golden goo we all love to eat.

The folks of the VAA Bendigo Branch have already advertised the date for next year will be 13th October 2019. If you’re a keeper of bees, or interested in becoming one, I’d suggest it’s a good event to attend. The folk there were very knowledgeable and very happy to share their learnings with anyone with questions.

We ended our day by stopping in at Malmsbury Baker with Lana and Sue on the way home for a very nice pie down by the lake in the Malmsbury Botanic Garden.

You can see all 73 of the photos I took at the 39th Annual Beekeeping Field Day on my Flickr feed. A small selection of them is shown below.

 

View the handout from the 39th Annual Beekeeping Field Day

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