Where should I site my hive?
You should ideally site your hive in a semi sheltered position with the entrance facing between north and east. Somewhere to catch the morning sun but that is protected from the hot mid day and afternoon sun. Under the edge of a deciduous tree works well as it is protected from the sun in summer but exposed to the warmth of the winter sun when the leaves fall. Under an eave also allows protection from the elements. Position your hive at a comfortable height for viewing the activity at the entrance. Make sure there is nothing in the immediate area in front of the entrance which will impede the flight path of the foragers as they leave and return to the hive.
Avoid positioning the hive near a heat sinks such as a large areas of concrete (driveways etc), the western side of brick houses or even large landscaping rocks. Areas such as these can raise the temperature in the immediate area and hold the heat longer. I believe these heat sinks contributed to the hive losses in January 2014. In regions where temperatures can hit the mid forties it is definitely better to place your hive in a cooler protected site.
Can I move my hive once it is place?
Once you have released your bees you should not then move the hive somewhere else in your yard. This can result in the loss of the foragers as they will return to where you first released the bees from the hive. When the bees are first released at your property they will reset the navigational markers they use to find their way back to the hive. These markers are generally objects like trees, buildings, fences etc. Constants they use as landmarks to return to the hive.
If you decide you want to move the hive to different or better site on your property there are two ways of going about it.
The first method works well for short moves. You can step the hive about half a metre a day, moving the hive and stand, until it is in it’s new position. You will notice the returning foragers initially hovering around where the hive was until they recognise the hive entrance, albeit slightly moved.
The second method is better for bigger moves as if you want to shift the hives a hundred metres or so the first method will take a too long. For the second method the hive is sealed at night when the foragers return and the hive is then moved to an temporary site for about six weeks. This holding site has to be a least a kilometre or two from your property, further than the flight range of the bees. A friend or relative’s place is good as they can keep an eye on the hive for security. It’s needs to be far enough away that the foragers cannot see any of the original markers used to return to the hive. After about six weeks all of the foraging bees will have died and been replaced by new foragers. The hive is then again a sealed at night and moved back to the new site at your property. As none of the original foragers are left in the hive, the new foragers will simply reset their markers which to them is at a completely new site.
How often can I split my hive and when do I know when to do it?
Hives can generally be split every 18 to 24 months. Feeling the weight of the hive and assessing the amount of bee activity can help you decide if the hive is strong enough to split. Only strong hives with good bee numbers are suitable for splitting. Hives are generally strong towards the end of spring and into early summer. I suggest this is a good time to assess your hive and split it if you deem it is strong enough. This allows hives plenty of time to recover over summer and autumn before the following winter. There is a booklet available from the aussiebee.com.au website as well as a couple of Youtube clips which show the splitting process. Late spring to early summer is also a good time to harvest honey as most of it should be fairly fresh. The longer ‘sugarbag’ honey stays in the pots the more sour it will taste as it takes on the flavour from the resinous pots in which it is stored. Environmental conditions play a big part in the health of a hive and whether it should be split. The last couple of seasons have seen extremely long periods of drought in months that should be wet. A lot of plants flowered a lot later than they would in a normal season and I adjusted my splitting times accordingly. My hives actually lost weight last summer and put it back on over winter with the mild conditions. There is no definitive answer as to when exactly to split your hive. Getting to know your hive (it’s weight, normal bee numbers etc) and then taking into account the time of year and amount of floral resources present will help you make the decision about splitting.
Can I view inside the hive without hurting it?
Most of the hives from Kin Kin Native Bees which have a honey super also have a clear plastic viewing under the tub inside the super. To view the ‘standard’ hive unscrew any screws holding the lid on a lift it off. The lid of the ‘Old Fashioned’ hive simply lifts off. If you have one of the ‘tub’ style supers have a look to see if there are any bees in it. Lift the tub out and put a piece of tape or your finger over the tube which comes up through the perspex . You can now observe the activity within the hive. I find doing this at night and using a small torch gives the clearest look. The bees will eventually blacken out the viewing panel with time.
There are no bees coming out of my hive, what’s wrong?
When it is cold, windy or very we,t bees will be a lot slower to get going. On days below 17 degrees celsius the bees may well not emerge at all. Hives of Tetragonula hockingsi show a lot less activity on colder days than Tetragonula carbonaria. I’ve had a few people ring me, convinced their hive has died, only to ring back on the next warm day to say it has burst back into life. If there are ants coming out of the entrance of your hive there could be a problem. I have found that ants don’t generally effect strong hives but can indicate that something else has killed the hive and they are in there cleaning up the left overs. Ants will often take up residence between the cracks of a hive or under a lid etc, but are not going into the hive proper. I tend to leave these as they are not doing any harm and trying to treat them would do more harm than good. Some people concerned about ants will grease the poles their hives are mounted on or even sit the hive stand in a water bath. I don’t bother myself. Spiders will often set up home under the pitched tin lid of the hive or under the eave. I brush the webs off when I see them as they account for quite a few foraging bees.
The question of heat.
January of 2014 saw a number of very hot days with one day in particular hitting highs of 44 – 46 degrees celcius. This resulted in the loss of hundreds of boxed hives of native bees. A survey was put out to a lot of people to determine if there was any pattern to the hive losses. Basically the results showed hives of many different designs and materials were effected or lost. The biggest factor was the ambient temperature around the hive. Certain regions seemed to be just a degree or two above others and accounted for large numbers of the lost hives. Even some log hives, which are generally more resilient to the heat and cold, were lost if they were exposed to full sun. As mentioned earlier, I try not no site hives near any heat sinks such as driveways, large landscaping rocks etc as these can raise the temperature just that extra degree or two extra required to kill a hive.
I use tin caps to create a safari lid on my hives as well as having an overhanging eave on the hive. I put ventilation holes in the upper back of the hives so hot air cannot get trapped inside.
I keep a close eye on weather forecasts and use the BOM site regularly. If there are conditions similar to what we experienced in January forecast again I will probably move as many exposed hives as I can into the air conditioning.