The bee saga (part 1)

In the fall, due to some crookness, a very quick onset of a very cold winter and some other extenuating circumstances, we didn’t pack our beehives down. With a very wet spring on us, the question is obviously – will we seriously regret not just manning up and forcing through the pack-down?

We left each hive with 3 supers on through the winter. For non-beekeeping readers, a super is a box with 8 frames, in which the queen lays eggs for new bees (called brood) and in which the worker bees make and seal up the honey they make from pollen (called capped honey). Pack down means removing the top boxes so that bees have a smaller area to manage and keep warm throughout winter. In addition, you have to be very awake in the springtime – even if the hives are extended, if there isn’t enough space in there, the bees may swarm, and you may just lose the queen in the process; something we have experienced before…

So, with a very small gap of sunshine before the next onslaught of rains, I made a gap one Tuesday afternoon over lunch and we got into the first hive. The hive was incredibly busy and looked in a healthy state. We extracted 3 full frames, from which we later spun out 6kg of honey, and put some empty frames in for them to work on. Of course, in the rush I got stung on my wrist, which didn’t go so well over the next few days…

Bee-sting side-effects

We had a quick look in the second hive and was met with very few bees and a rancid mouldy smell. There were many frames with capped honey – basically the whole top super – but it was all spoiled and even though we didn’t see many beetles, the tell-tale larvae were all over the place. We had a full small hive beetle infestation! The third hive looked quiet too, so we didn’t even open it up. We removed the top super on the second hive, cleaned the lid and put it back, sealing the infested frames in black bags. After we did our extraction and spinning, we did a lot of very urgent research on managing small hive beetle infestations!

That evening, despite the onsetting rain, I dunked and submerged the whole super, frames and all, in a heavy soap water mixture. The larvae were just peeling out of the frames and getting drowned instantly. I left them underwater for a full 24 hours, and then bucket by bucket took the mess to the drain cap in the bottom of the garden to flush them down. But then the question was – what to do with the infested frames? We don’t have any freezer space, which the recommended treatment for an infestation, so I proceeded with my brainwave plan B! I scraped all the frames as if we were going to spin them out, and then put them back in the crate, on bricks, above a new batch of soap water and left them for days through rain, some sun, more rain, cold nights, and more rain. All the infected honey dripped out into the soap water, so I could flush that out too. The good news is that I saw no new larvae activity in there – and if there was, they’d all be drowned. Meanwhile, the rain kept coming down – if any larvae escaped they would surely have been drowned in the puddle surrounding the crate.

In between all this going on, on the Friday afternoon we had some sunshine, so we climbed into hive 3 – almost literally! This hive was way busier than appeared from the outside, and we harvested 6 frames from which we spun out 13kg of honey the next day.

In between all the rain, I built a new metal frame from some leftover metal we used for our fruit tree nets and lay that ready for the big hive fixup. Part of the problem was that our hives were too much in the shade, which is very inducive for small hive beetles. The plan was to move all three hives further into the sun. I also laid the new frame on shadenet so that any larvae emerging from the hives cannot penetrate soil and palpitate – so thereby breaking their life cycle. In the meantime, the new beetle-trap bases we ordered also arrived. These contain a metal grid through which the bees chase the beetles and their larvae, so then they can quietly and quickly drown in some vegetable oil in the tray below, which can be taken out, inspected, and cleaned without having to open the hive. We’ve also ordered some aluminium beetle traps which we’ll add to the top of each hive, even the healthy ones. You don’t want these beetles to spread.

Moving a heavy three-frame hive onto a new base is no small task, but the biggest challenge is obviously dealing with the infected hive. After a week of non-stop rain, on Sunday, after a very late night of tequila tasting and music making, the only sunny day on the forecast dawned and I had to jump to deal with the infected hive. I ended up putting the recently cleansed super in as a new base, for the bees to start anew, with the old second super again as a second super. I removed the old base super and started processing it through the same soap and flush treatment. When that’s done, we will have to repeat it with the last super that has not yet been treated, hoping that the infestation won’t flare up or take over while the cleansing is going on – as it takes a few days. The old base was so slimy and gross, I sealed it in a black bag and binned it. All in all, a bit of a practical towers of Hanoi challenge in real life, with some frames getting moved in between, without mixing contaminated and clean frames.

Infested hive moved and re-based!

We don’t normally do heavy garden work on a Sunday, but the whole neighbourhood was buzzing with lawnmowers and whipper-snippers, as it is the only non-rainy day for the next week or so. We were just finishing the lawns at sunset when the rain set in again.

The wet rainy weather leaves us very few gaps and makes it very conducive for the beetles to breed. But hang in there – I’ll report in a few weeks how it all hopefully worked out, and whether those traps actually work. In the meanwhile, here are a few photos of our town’s little creek, which has turned into a raging river. Everywhere is so saturated, and it just keeps on raining bucketsful by the hour, so nothing penetrates anymore, and the creek is overrunning bridges and banks everywhere.

About (207 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, horse-riding, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

3 Comments on The bee saga (part 1)

  1. Fascinating read! I love honey, even though I’m no sweet tooth… but honey is special.

    Being completely uninformed in bee-keeping, this opens up an interesting window into the whole business (ok… bees-knees; I really tried to avoid that one). All the trials and tribulations apart from the obvious; getting your wrist properly damaged by your beasties for instance, or having to make an unscheduled appointment at the dentist is another one. But beetles and rotten honey… I thought that couldn’t happen!

    Can’t wait for episode 2!

  2. Hey B. Hope all is well. Thinking of you.

    • // May 15, 2023 at 8:42 am // Reply

      Hey J! All well as can be, thank you B. Hope with you too. Ha ha, your comment inspired another post 😉

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