We caught two more swarms to add to our apiary in December! The first one was just before Christmas and was hanging from a kids swing set only a foot or two off the ground making it very easy to catch. Although a storm had quickly built up by the time we got home and we had to hive them between rain showers.
The second one was a week later and a bit more fiddly. The swarm was clustered around a spiky young Cedar tree and the Queen was quite difficult to dislodge . So after shaking/brushing as many bees into the box as we could we saw the queen hiding between the needles of the tree and had to catch her and put her into the box by hand to encourage the rest of the bees to follow. Once inside it wasn’t long before most of them had come to join their Queen.
This brings our apiary up to three hives. The first swarm we caught in mid November is thriving on the diverse mixture of flowering plants in the local bushland and private gardens. We inspected the broodnest for the first time a few weeks ago, and it was full of healthy bees of all ages with no sign of pests or diseases. Their population is booming and hopefully they will be well prepared to take advantage of the upcoming flowering of the local bloodwoods (Corymbia gummifera). If all goes well they should store all the honey they need for winter and provide us with our first honey harvest!
All of our bees have turned out to be very gentle and calm, they’re perfectly happy to have us loitering near their hive entrances at all times of the day. They didn’t even make a fuss when we opened the hive up to look at the combs. Although there has been a single very avoidable sting. Maybe lifting the hive and peering up into it from underneath without a veil over my face wasn’t the best idea. A bee fell straight into my eye and stung me on the eyelid, making the next few days a bit shit. (see last photo)
After a hot, dry start to spring the temperatures mellowed a bit in late spring and the thunderstorms started. It’s been a very unusual humid summer so far for this area, with consistently warm days without any scorchers, and plenty of storms. We’re not used to consistent temperatures and regular rainfall, but it’s a welcome change to the erratic weather we often experience here. These must be perfect growing conditions because we can hardly keep up with the thriving garden! We’re flat out weeding, pruning and harvesting fruits and veggies, rather than constantly watering and trying to nurse plants through heat waves. After a few failed attempts over the years, we finally have rock melons and watermelons setting fruit!
All the waiting has finally paid off, with an email last week from a local beekeeper who had a swarm on her front verge in Katoomba. Our hive was all set up to house a swarm so all we had to do was collect it and transfer them to their new home. The swarm had been hanging in a Banksia tree for a few days already and the forecast for the afternoon was strong winds, so we rushed off as soon as we heard. By all reports the swarm issued from a very healthy, locally adapted colony, so we were very keen to make them our first addition to the apiary! They turned out to be very gentle bees and were easily corralled into a cardboard box and brought home. We took the roof off the hive and shook them down onto the frames of the top box, waited for most of them to climb inside and sealed it up. A quick check the next day revealed a good tight cluster of bees already working on drawing comb, and a few days later they started to bring pollen back to the hive. We haven’t seen the queen yet but the fact that the foragers are bringing plenty of pollen and nectar back to the hive indicates that she is alive, and hard at work laying the first generation of workers for the new colony. One week on and we did another very quick check on a nice warm day, revealing a top box nearly full of beautiful white comb!
Satin Bowerbirds – not exactly a food growers best friend, but it’s still a special treat to watch these intelligent, eccentric birds in their practice bower.
We finally got around to tackling a neglected area of the garden underneath a Japanese maple, Angophora and Black wattle. We dug out many clumps of Agapanthus, a few other weeds and some old tree stumps. The trees in this area have always attracted a variety of small birds, so we are trying to create a protective understory to provide food and shelter and possible nesting sites.
This part of the garden gets plenty of winter sun (with dappled shade in summer) so we have planted mostly endemic species that flower in winter/spring. A new pond made from an old bath, as well as plenty of rocks and hollow logs will hopefully attract frogs, insects and lizards. Many small birds feel safer using elevated, shallow bird baths so we have provided one under the Maple.
Some of the new plants chosen for this area are listed below. Many of the flowering plants have also been selected for their ability to attract native bees and other beneficial insects.