What do beekeepers wear?

What do beekeepers wear?

So what exactly do beekeepers wear? Well, there's the bee hat and the overalls and the thick gloves. Tuck your overalls over your gumboots so the bees don't crawl in.

Or not. Some seasoned pros just go out in their normal clothes, unless they are doing something aggressive like taking the bees' honey.

I think this is a good thing to wear. A birthday present from my kids.

What to use in a bee smoker

We normally use chopped up coffee sacks in the smokers as they make a good smokey smolder.

Sometimes they are hard to get, so recently we got a big pile of them, left over from a wedding where they were covering hay bales as the seating arrangement for a country-style event.

A couple fell off the back of the truck ;-) and have been re-purposed as cat beds. Quite popular, they are too. The dog loves hers too.

How to Buy Bee Hives

How do you start owning bees? 

Well, on the weekend we met some lovely people who were interested in getting started with some bee hives. We'd been down to New Plymouth for the weekend. Admired the new Len Lye bridge, below. Spot Mount Taranaki (hint: the bridge is perfectly aligned).

Admired the rugged west coast beaches.

Discovered all manner of groovy places and food spots. Had a lovely trip back through the Forgotten World Highway. Just got out of that when, poof! Radiator hose split. And, in the manner of the country, discovered some lovely people who were all keen on offering all sorts of useful help - off to find the local mechanic, water for the radiator, a bed to stay in should that be required. Just amazing and great.

And...in the serendipitousness of things, they were interested in getting started with bees. So here are our tips on how to buy bees and what to do next.

1. The best time to buy is probably now, or soonish. Don't wait till spring, because you will have all winter to get the hang of it and build up your hive, so you can get more honey.

2. TradeMe is a good place to buy hives. 

3. You should make sure the seller is DECA registered, which everyone is required to be by law. This means they will be abiding by the law for important things like American Foul Brood treatment and varroa. And your bees should then be pest free.

4. Inspect before you commit. This is the tricky bit. You are looking to see if the bees are healthy - they should smell good, look fully formed - no stunted wings etc, be busy. But if you have never seen inside a hive before, how will you know? Take someone experienced with you. See 5.

5. Join a local bee keeping group, there are quite a few around. So I googled 'Auckland beekeepers' and came up with this one 

Auckland BeeKeepers Club

 but you could do the same with your area.

6. I follow Backyard BeeKeeping NZ facebook group, always useful advice for newbies, and you can post a 'Help!' too whenever you are stuck. Both these types of groups might be a source of someone to come with you to inspect.

7. Carry your bees home in the dark, they will all be snug in the hive then. Block up the entrance way before you leave. Tie the hive on well to your trailer. Don't put your hive inside your car! Bees do escape.

8. When you get home, put your bees somewhere where they will get early morning sun, out of the wind if possible, and is flat and easy to access - you want to be able to check on them often.

9. Register yourself with DECA, and do the training.

10. Then you need to buy a book on beekeeping for beginners and get going!

Beekeeping statistics

Bee Labour Boy has been furiously making beehive boxes. And they are making quite a stack in the garage.

And the drying rack of completed and dipped boxes is getting a bit low.

So I volunteered to help dip them. Yippee, I thought, a fun adventure.

WRONG! It was quite good fun for the first 10 minutes, then it became deeply un-glamorous (yeah, I know, the other bee boys have been making millions of these, what is my problem?). 

So I compiled some statistics, to help time pass:

Boxes in a batch: 6

Total number of batches: 28

Total number of boxes dipped: 168

Time taken: 3 hours

Steps taken for each batch, garage to dipping vat (me): 150 steps

Steps taken for each batch, dipping vat to rack (a bit of me): 840 steps

Screws per box: 20

Total screws (used by Bee Labour Boy): 3360

Squares of chocolate eaten: 18 (2 people)

Water drunk: 2L

Weight each box, undipped: 4Kg

1 calorie = 10 steps carrying box

Calories per hour: 300 (yep, not quite the choc intake)

Plus the oil dipper Bee Man and his efforts. But he is practiced, having done heaps before, so that doesn't really count, does it?

Here they are, drying on the rack.

And look at all this space, ready for Bee Labour Boy to get cracking on making more.

Moving Hive Boxes

In a previous post 'Bee Equipment Logistics' I outlined the to-ing and fro-ing involved with all the hardware required to grow bees. Well here it is in action. 

Having spent ages making all the boxes and then dipping them in oil and letting them air dry, they need to be taken to the farms where the hives actually are. So we (ah, that would be the beekeepers) load them up on to the ute and a HUGE trailer, tie down every which way, and then some - none of these babies are going to fly off down the motorway - ready for transport.

And, because the bee box supply depot is at the other end of the island to the bee farms, the bee boys get up before sparrow fart and drive all day. Probably NOT the most satisfying part of their job.... but it certainly looks impressive all loaded up, and driving a big load could have its charms, at least the first time.

How to Build a Platform for Bee Hives

How to put beehives on a steep hill? One of our home sites is in Wellington, that wonderful city of extreme verticality. Bush covered hillside can be lovely - from the window. But once you try to set up beehives you are in trouble.

So the bee troops came up with the great idea to build a platform, to level out the hives a bit.

The bees will have an excellent view. And don't need a cable car to access their hive, although the beekeepers might.

And the idea worked so well, we made some more in Auckland. Not nearly as steep in Auckland on the whole of course, but pretty useful to have an easy platform.

Bee Equipment Logistics

Sometimes I wonder whether keeping bees is just one big logistics exercise. So, here's how it goes....

1. get bee hive

2. get more box bits

3. make up boxes

4. get more floors and mats and frames and all sorts of other bits.

5. store the bits and pieces (but not hives, ha!) somewhere dry and safe that is not your bedroom (although lounge and dining room is fair game)

6. put some of the bits from 2 and 3 together.

7. get the assembled bits and take them away from 5.

8. drive things to host farms.

9. load bits from 1 with bits from 7.

10. drive things away from host farms.

11. return some of things from 10 to 5, and some to 8.

12. repeat steps. For more points, vary order.

The only rule - do not store hives in bedroom. Everything else is up for negotiation.

Might be able to run an army provisioning platoon with enough practice.

How to Preserve Hive boxes

 When you think of beehives, I bet you think of rows of lurid pink and rusty red and hospital green boxes, all stacked on top of each other. I haven't quite got to the bottom of these colour combinations. Are bees attracted to such mishmash colours? Bees like blue flowers apparently, but pretty-flower-blue is not a beehive colour that springs to my mind. Are beekeepers colour blind? Is the paint used to do the boxes the returns to the paint shop - you know, that colour you brought home but the family said "No, never, what were you thinking?".

Whatever, bee boxes do need to be preserved. The wood is untreated, so the bees are not poisoned, so it needs some weather proofing. Our beekeepers Will and David, here, have come up with an ingenious method of dipping them in linseed oil.

So, a pictorial step-by-step of dipping bee boxes:

The oil comes in huge and heavy drums, and is poured into the heating vat.

Bee boxes arrive as flat slabs. They are all screwed together first, hundreds and hundreds of them.

Once the oil is hot, in go the boxes.

Soaking away, like a good spa.

Hauling them out. Looks easy, but they are really heavy once they are in the oil. Good thing our guys are really strong.

 Dripping on the side for a while.

Out on the drying rack for a few days to let the oil soak in properly, and become un-sticky.

Now isn't this so much more beautiful than hospital green?