19 Oct 2011

Observations of a newbie

New to beekeeping (about 2 months now), perhaps there is some use in documenting what I've noticed in case it helps others in the same situation? Having a hive in the garden for the first time is like the moment you bring a baby home from hospital (well, sort of . . .) you feel so alone and responsible.

So I guess I see things that experienced keepers may take for granted . . .

  • The bees tend to stay in the hive when very cold and when raining. OK, no rocket science there. It's interesting to see how the morning temperature (cool, warm) affects their activity levels.
  • Finding bees walking around the garden. I noticed that I always have a few bees wandering around the garden - often a long way (for such a small insect) from the hive. These bees have lost their ability to fly (old age) and seem to be busy just walking around until they die. Just beware that you might not want to wander around the garden in bare feet once you install a hive . . .
  • Dead bees at the front of the hive in the morning. The nights fatalities removed by the workers - probably 2 or 3 per night at most for a small colony. Also the occasional mal-formed grub extracted and dumped.
  • Around mid-day or early afternoon - activity outside the hive may suddenly increase with bees crawling out and over the box, on the floor, flying around and looking in all of the nooks and crannies and hovering facing the front of the box. It all looks incredibly busy and then after an hour or so they all go back inside. Compare this with the field worker bees who fly in, land get inside, drop their load and fly out - no messing around. This mid-day activity is known as 'orienteering' where the mid life bees are being 'promoted' from duties inside the hive to foraging outside of the hive. They come out to practice flying and imprinting the location of the hive for their future navigation. To me, they look like teenagers at their first party - awkward, not exactly sure what to do and watching each other for clues.
  • Do not wear perfumed anything. This applies to de-orderants, shampoo/conditioner, perfume, soap, clothes washing soap etc. These artificial smells seem to upset the bees, or at least cause them to be more interested in you than you'd like.
  • I thought all bees stay inside the hive in the dark. On warm nights, a gang of them like to relax on the porch, like us humans. I read that they may be fanning fresh air into the hive for added ventilation.
  • Don't have bright lights in the bee garden, don't use torches at night next to the hive. The lights can attract the bees and encourage them to fly. Not very comforting having stinging insects chasing you in the dark.
  • Leave them alone. Bees seem to thrive without constant attention from humans. Being a beekeeper may mean NOT dressing up in all the gear, smoker in hand and constantly opening up the hive to take a look. I'm tempted to see how my 'babies' are doing and it's prabably a good learning experience for me, but I prefer to let them be (bee) as much as possible. Plus I reduce the chance of stings.
  • The smell of a hive in warm weather. It was described to me as 'intoxicating' and it surely is as it wafts across the garden on a warm day. Must be very heavy inside the hive itself and this apparently helps provide a safe environment for the bees and their young.
  • Protect the landing strip (if you have one at the hive entrance) from collecting puddles of water in times of rain. The water easily traps the insects departing or landing and can drown them. Same for the ground area in front of the hive itself, I have concrete pavers there and the bees often get stuck upside dwn (wings trapped on the wet pavers), They trash until they die exhausted unless I rescue them with a small twig. :-) I'm thinking of putting a rain roof over the top of the hive box to divert water to the rear of the hive.
More coming as I think of them . . .

Tony.

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