Australia to Texas: Beekeeping – Part II

Reader Contribution by Jim Christie
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The previous blog had a lot of information and pictures from the classroom and practical exercise weekend. And while we did have more practical exercise than normal due to the rapid expansion of one of the hives we were examining, there was still a lot more practical exercise to go. The instructor wanted the weather to be a bit warmer before opening the hives significantly, so the pictures following are about three weeks after the previous pictures.
Activities we conducted during the past weekend were:

  1. On the regular hives we had examined in the previous class exercise, we  examined the hives, made sure everything is healthy, properly structured the hives and took any remedial action necessary. We also made sure there was a functional queen (either spot the queen or insure that there is good, recent egg formation).
  2. We built hives for two of the students who are ready to go on their own with home beekeeping. We built these new hive boxes from two groups of bees that had been gathered by the instructor. One was from bees gathered from a “possum box” and placed into a single hive box and the other was from bees retrieved from a barn and put into a single hive box.
  3. We examine a hive where the instructor had killed the queen (bees too aggressive) and attempted to insert a new queen. We wanted to see if the new queen has survived and examine the hive for other “queen-making” activities.

Here I am in a borrowed half suit (jeans on the bottom, bee suit at the top). Also I have borrowed gloves. The big problem with this outfit is that it is a bit small. The sleeves are too short, leaving room at the top of the gloves for bees to get in. The suit is also a bit short in the torso, meaning that when I bend over to work on the hives, I’ll risk exposing some skin around the waist. Still, I’m ready to go and start smoking the first hive we’ll be working on.


And here’s our team for the day.  he instructor, me and two other students. The other two are building their first hives from some of the “captured” bees that the instructor has had on site for a couple of weeks now. These bees have been organizing their own hives, getting settled and now should be ready to be examined, organized and moved to a bee box where they’ll be ready to transport after the sun goes down and the hive “goes to sleep” for the evening. 


The area where the hives are located is just part of a normal suburban back yard. The tall fence to the left and rear of the picture meets the Australian Department of Primary Industries (DPI) rules of being at least 2 meters tall (else the hive boxes must be at least 3 meters from the fence). Given the size of the backyard, the property can only support two hives and by taking the reclaimed bees and putting them into hives that will be transported later this evening, the remaining two hives meet the requirements.


Here’s one of the students, Tajn, finishing up her hive box with the last frame. The bees have been carefully taken from the open box to the right. This hive built from bees taken from a “possum box” that had been inhabited by a swarm of bees.  The instructor was called to help remove the bees and they were placed in a hive box and brought back to his back yard. During the past few weeks, the bees have built up their hive nicely within the new frame boxes and are now being relocated to another box for transport to their new home.


Here I am working with a group of bees that are much more aggressive than the two groups we had just transplanted into new hive boxes for transport to their new homes. This hive is going to remain in this location but we were working to locate the queen. The instructor had killed the previous queen as the hive was too aggressive. His hope was that the bees would take to a new, more docile queen and that once we found her, we would mark her to make it easier to find her in the future. This activity with two hive boxes and 16 frames, took a while. Since the bees were already aggressive and it took us 15 to 20 minutes to find the queen and mark her, the bees found the obvious flaws in my half suit and I wound up with a couple of bee stings. One sting was on the wrist between the suit and glove and the other right at the waist band where a bee had gotten in. It was good to discover that I still don’t have much effect from bee stings. The sting on the wrist was hardly noticed and removing the stinger quickly meant almost no sense of having been stung. The one on the waist band was a bit more noticeable as I had to walk across the yard and get someone to remove the stinger and pull the top part of the suit down better. Still, that took a minute and then back to work. We did find and mark the queen and you can see in the following picture that a marked queen is really easy to find.


I really enjoyed this “beekeeping” day. We spent about two hours working with the bees in a real world situation. It is early spring here in Australia. The bees are very busy and there is much work to do with the hives. We sorted out two hives, re-queened one, and took two “rescued” hives, sorted them out and re-boxed them for transport to their new homes.

Lesson learned: Get a very good, full length bee suit. And one that fits properly. A poorly fitting half suit is an invitation for bee stings.

I’ll now try to get involved with one of the local beekeeping clubs and see if we can get some practical experience (yesterday was just an introduction) prior to going it alone at our homestead in Texas. From my research on the Web, the closest beekeeping club to our homestead is 35 miles or more away. Not too far, but far enough to make sure there’s probably no one around the corner who can help me out.