Beginning with Bees
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3 June 2006
The next best thing to "mucking around with boats" must be discovering about Bees. They are no where nearly as dangerous as people like to think, because , being female, they respond to plenty of attention, and get grumpy if ignored. But starting out with bees involves commonsense and some practicality. Its ideal for kids about age 11, as I was when I started. Even if you can't keep bees at home, you can find someone with enough space very easily. They can be placed somewhere so they don't provide a worry for anyone. The reward is hard to imagine at first, but nothing compares with the magic of discovering a world in which nature is continually renewing itself, and thriving to produce abundance. In Australia, June and July is the best time to prepare. Buy a moderate size colony, perhaps consisting of a double deck hive, from a beekeeper who you feel you can trust. The colony will not be strong at this time of the year , and won't mind you occasionally inspecting their condition, provided it is not too cold on the day. Use a few puffs of smoke from burning hessian in a proper smoker, puffed into the hive entrance, and in a moment or two they will settle down while trying to understand what might come next. Observe how the colony concentrates itself to the middle of the hive, to keep warm and conserve energy. Observe if the combs are clean, or perhaps dirty and brown or "cobwebby" from wax moths. Close the hive gently, and make a plan to acquire repacements for frames and wax sheets that may be needed. Now is the time to buy brand new boxes, frames and the other items you need to prepare before the August increase begins. Take great care to buy only standard Langstroth pattern hive bodies and frames. A box may cost about 16.50, but if carefully prepared it will last 20 years, ( 80 cents per year) Treat it with wood preservative, primer, undercoat and quality paint to protect it from moisture, which is as much a problem inside and out. The idea is to prevent dry rot. Allow it to sit in the sun for several weeks to loose the smell of paint. Assemble the frames, add the wire, and wax, and in early August be ready to transfer half of the bees from your first colony to the new box. (Be sure to call the Department of Agriculture to apply for a licence which costs only about $18, but has many benefits.) They will make their own queen if necessary, but it is a good idea to find out how to buy a carefully bred queen, who will have the capacity to increase the colony by 3000 eggs a day from mid August. In no time at all, you need a second box ready to put on top to give them extra room to store honey. Separate the bottom box from the top box with a sheet called a queen excluder so only honey can be stored in the top box. Setting up to keep bees, with two hives can cost about $32O including a hat, a hive tool and a smoker. but a good hive can produce about $400 worth of honey in a season, and that can happen year after year. For more information, subscribe to the Australasian Beekeeping magazine which is really full of information and contacts, or look up beekeepers, such as me, in the Yellow Pages. (under Bees ). An occaisional sting, is OK, just go about things more gently. Treat stings with a paste made from soluble asprin and a drop of water, patted on the skin, and the pain goes in no time at all. Honey also works. Scrape, don't pull, the sting out first. There is nothing quite as nice as being able to give a friend a jar of honey that consists of all the flowers in your garden, or the nearby bush. What girl wouldn't prefer a whole hillside of flowers in a jar?
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