We’ve had a week of warm weather in Sydney, and this has kicked off “swarm season”. This is where happy hives all across Sydney decide it’s time to divide into two: one group staying in the hive, and the second group off to find a new home.
I’ve already caught two swarms, one in Camperdown, the other in Rozelle. Both are fairly big, so they’re likely to be “prime swarms”, the first (and largest) swarm from each hive.
Both swarms are now happily in hives, temporarily sitting in our front garden. Later this week, they’ll be heading down to Kangaroo Valley, to some eco friends of ours who live in the middle of a jungle. Lucky bees!
In Sydney, honey bees never go completely dormant over winter. With not even frost where we live, they can keep foraging on the native plants that flower during winter.
With the two weeks of solid rain at the beginning of spring, absolutely everything is in flower at the moment. That makes for a very strong ‘honey flow’, and abundant early harvests.
Last week I was therefore able to take the first harvest from my main hive. On a very warm Saturday morning, I had the help of a bunch of other local natural beekeepers (organised via the Natural beekeeping in Australian and NZ mailing list.)
The whole top box (8 frames) were totally full of honey, some laid down over winter (dark in colour), and some fresh from recent flowerings (light in comparison). We also harvested two frames from the box below, making 10 frames in total!
Making use of the Sydney bee club‘s honey press, I was able to harvest 13.75 litres of honey. That’s a good start to the season!
That makes for plenty of jars, so give us a yell when you see us about and about, and we’ll sell you a jar or two 🙂
This blog has been a bit quiet because it’s been full-on swarming season in Sydney. This has made a mess of my plans, as I drop everything and rush off to catch bees.
With such a warm winter, and plenty of early Spring rain, the bees have all decided to spread out to new homes.
So far I’ve caught six swarms:
- Castle Hill: as previously blogged, an easy going swarm in a tree, caught by cutting off the tree branch and shaking into a box.
- Maroubra: also up a tree, but high enough to make it quite a challenge, with success only coming by nightfall.
- Ashfield: a prime swarm (the first big swarm from a hive), from a nearby wild beehive in a tree trunk (more on this one later).
- Beaconsfield: a small wild hive — complete with comb — in a bush (see above). This was in the front of a good friend’s house and after trimming the bush, I was able to shake the bees into a box, then take the remaining comb.
- Next door: a win for my bait hive (see below), catching a good strong swarm.
- Drummoyne: a wild hive high up in a tree — got stung a lot trying to catch it, and still didn’t get the queen — will have to go back for another try.
- Ashfield (again): another swarm from the same tree trunk, this time smaller and very conveniently located at chest height.
Some of the swarms I’ve kept, and others I’ve given to local natural beekeepers who have all the boxes, but no bees (good karma in a future life). I’m sure these won’t be the last swarms of the season…
PS. The next few posts will also be about bees, but I promise we’ll get back to wider eco and permaculture topics shortly! 🙂
Soon after we moved into our house in Lewisham, we dug up a section of the nature strip, and planted citrus trees and herbs. While three of the citrus were immediately stolen, we continued to build up the strip in front of our door, until it was lush and vibrant.
A year ago, we pulled up another section of the nature strip, and native plantings quickly took over.
As it turns out, the local council would actually prefer us to pull up little sections of grass, rather than leave them squeezed in amongst other plantings. This makes life easier for the council staff who do the mowing, and helps to reduce the cost of maintaining the streets.
So with just one piece of grass left between the two sets of plantings, we sorted that out this last weekend.
The process of pulling out the grass is easier than it looks. The roots are shallow, so some mattock work lifts out chunks of grass. It’s then just a matter of digging through the soil to get out as many remnant grass roots as possible.
I then topped it up with some spare soil, and added a little native plant fertiliser.
I’ve been growing a number of native plants from cuttings, so these provided the start of what should become a thick bushy area. Plants include mint bushes (prostanthera), correas, dianellas, and a number of ground covers (including pigface). (We planted the grevillea six months ago.)
I collected some free mulch from the local council nursery, and the end result looks rather good I think. Over the next month I’ll finish off the plantings, and by then I’m expecting the seedlings to start putting on some serious growth.
Another piece of grass replaced by native plants, yay!
Spring is a busy time for beekeeping, so it pays to be prepared. And with a warm winter, and a week of much-needed rain, there’s every sign that things will be taking off early this year in Sydney.
So for the last few weekends, I’ve been making bee hive boxes, hive lids, plus extra bases. (All for Warré hives, otherwise I could just buy new boxes.)
For the boxes, I’m finger jointing them, using the new jig that I’ve purchased for my router table. As first attempts, they’re not great joints, but practice makes perfect! The bees will plug up any gaps with propolis in any case… 😉
My plan is also to scale up this year, so I have enough honey to meet the needs of our two local cafes.
In addition to a few more hives at our house, several friends have expressed interest in having a hive in their backyard. So I’ll be doing all the setup and management, and we’ll put in place a produce-sharing arrangement. 🙂
Onwards to spring!
We let many of our herbs and vegetables go to seed. We do this for three reasons:
- The flowers attract beneficial bugs into the garden, which keep the aphids (etc) in check.
- We practice ‘seed saving’, which allows us to keep sowing our favourite vegetables without having to buy new seeds.
- Down the track, the seeds end up germinating throughout our garden, giving us extra crops of our commonly-eaten plants.
Our lettuces are a perfect example. The photo above shows a lettuce that self-seeded in the middle of our driveway — a very useful weed! Lettuces have also sprung up amongst our beetroots, and in our other garden beds.
Fresh food with no effort? That’s what I call productive gardening 🙂
A month ago I reported our bee catastrophe, when our bee hive was blown off the roof. Thanks to a rapid response by Gavin, the bee hive was reassembled from what remained, but the question was: would it recover?
Last weekend was a busy bee weekend, with a hive opening on the Saturday in Maroubra, and a second opening at our house in Lewisham (both organised via the increasingly busy natural beekeeping AU/NZ list).
Katrina & John were kind enough to come over to help out, and Katrina took a pile of wonderful photographs, which are featured in this post.
The good news: the hive has recovered well, and is going strong. Phew!
While we’ve lost a bunch of honey, there are still plenty of bees, and the hive as a whole is healthy. Now we just need to give it a bit of time to fully recover, but that shouldn’t take long if the good weather continues.
Onwards to more honey!
Thanks again to Katrina and John, and to the whole Sydney natural beekeeping community for their help and support!