Thursday, 18 December 2014

Honey collection from Native Australian Bee Hive...


Over the years we have expanded from one Australian Native bee hive bought for a Birthday present to seven hives of various shapes and sizes! For the first few years we concentrated on building strong hives and getting the splitting right. Last year we started putting honey supers on the  hives in order to start collecting some tangy bush honey, sometimes known as sugar bag honey!

We had a hive that was made sub standardly and decided to split the good half and transfer the other half into a new hive entirely. This gave us the old honey box that the hive had come with to deal with and see what honey we could get out of it...

Here's what we did...


This is the empty hive after we had done the split and the transfer. The left is where the Tetragonula Hockingsii brood was; the right is the stored honey. 


First we simply tipped it on its side and let the honey drip out at its own pace. Its sitting on a board over a large plastic container with the back slightly raised with a small wedge at the back.
 
The big issue which we hadn't foreseen was that the bees wouldn't leave the storage area. We had assumed that opening the hive and moving it across the yard would have them all flying back off "home" to where the old hive was, but this didn't seem to be the case.
 
The honey area was chock full of bees and no amount of prodding and poking the hive would entice them to leave.
 
 
If you look carefully, You can see al the black dots and blobs in amongst the honey comb - they are the recalcitrant bees...
 
Our honey extracting technique ended up being that we poked the comb with skewers, forks and various other implements constantly over a few days to release the honey and let it drain into the container. We rescued as many bees as possible by lifting them out of the comb with the skewer but the were incredibly reluctant to leave. It was very frustrating.
 
As the hive we had moved the brood into was brand new, we thought they may be after the supply of honey and/or resin so ended up taking the top off it and placing a big blob of comb, honey and all in the top where they would normally be storing their honey and pollen in the hope that more of them would journey back there and stay there working on the new hive
 


This is the part of the storage area that we took out...
 

and the opened top - pristine and empty...


 
The first bit of comb goes in...


 Our theory was that they would sort it out. Apparently they can reuse all the components so we popped it in and sealed it all up very tightly and left them to do that.
 
 
This hive had the brood put in by the door and within hours they had built defences over the door and started protecting themselves. We helped out when ever we were around by using a paintbrush to brush away ants who are attracted to the scent of honey and anything else that looked like a threat to the hive. This hive was put just above the chooks nesting boxes and so we were visiting it at least twice a day to help them defend their hive.
 
A few months later, they seem to be happy and healthy and there is lots of zooming in and out. We have never reopened the hive to see what they did as we think that will just make them vulnerable again. We will see next spring how they are going and see if we think we can split them or even raid the honey. In the meantime, we will let them get on with uninterrupted by our curiosity. 
 
 
Back to the honey extraction. As I said earlier, we ended up poking the comb with a variety of implements and letting it drain over a few days. The biggest problem with the method is that it attracts every honey loving creature in the back yard - and there is quite a few of them! At the end of the weekend we had the hive on a few bricks in a moat of water and the honey container was in in a similar situation to protect it from the ants.
 
However every flying bug known (and unknown) to mankind was hovering around for their share. By then of the weekend we sat and made a conscious effort to remove as many bees as we could before pounding the comb into a pulp and squishing as much honey out as possible. We ended up with roughly a kilo (700mls) and strained it into a jar to get all the bugs and bees out of it using a tea strainer. It poured easily through the strainer as it is MUCH runnier than normal commercial Italian honey bees honey.
 
This is the only extraction we have done so far. We have looked at a few websites since and even found a few videos that show other trick and tips to collect native bee honey.
 
 
A video by Dr Tim Heard,  famous bee-oligist
 
 
Honey extraction from native bees seems to involve more loss of bee life than we had expected. We are looking to refine out technique for next year...
 
Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for harvesting honey from a sustainable source. 
Frugal-ness: Native bee keeping is not very frugal as hives are expensive to make or but at $65 a kg for the honey - maybe it will work out in the end!
Time cost: Depending on your temperament anywhere from an hour to two days...
Skill level: poking and prodding - great job for a young (or old) person fascinated with creating rivers and waterfalls of honey!
Fun -ness: great fun - if you can keep the kill rate as low as possible...
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