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Back to Milkwood

Bringing home the bees

Project: Milkwood

Posted by Kirsten Bradley over 13 years ago

Much excitement this week as the bees finally arrived at Milkwood Farm. Tim Malfroy, Australia's premier natural beekeeper, brought around 3 Warré beehives, complete with bees, to come live at our place...

Tim checks how the bees traveled. Floyd looks on respectfully.

Much excitement this week as the bees finally arrived at Milkwood Farm. Tim Malfroy brought around 3 Warré beehives, complete with bees, to install on our farm. And so I have officially become a Warré beekeeper, with all the fascination, responsibility and of course delicious raw honey that goes with that territory…

Bees at the entrance. Aren't they amazing creatures?

I have a theory that beekeepers tend to develop really crazy eyebrows in sympathy for their bees – a bit like how some dogs and their owners seem to merge in facial attributes. I’ve had this theory since i was a child, and have done a sporadic survey over the years whenever i see honey sold at markets.

I have to say I never thought I would become a beekeeper until recently, but now I am one, I suppose i will have to keep a check on my own antennae-eyebrows progression. Hmm. I’m sure it will be worth it.

3 warre hives all set up

The place we chose for the hives is up in a little nook between the top dam and the suntrap ( i.e. the former top dam. All is explained here). This nook is protected from the hot western sun and all the wind sectors on the farm. It faces north-east, which we’re told is ideal, and is directly uphill from our slowly emerging upper food forest, which is scrambling across the slope.

Getting the hives level is important

We made 3 separate pads for the hives and leveled them carefully. As bees ‘draw’ their own comb in Warré hives (as opposed to building on existing artificial foundations), it is important for the hives to be level as the bees draw comb using gravity as their compass.

If the hive is off the level, the bees will draw comb which is slightly diagonal, and makes it very hard to inspect the hives without breaking the combs.

As we’ll be using these hives for demonstration in our Natural Beekeeping courses at Milkwood next year, Tim thought it would be good to try 3 slightly different hive formats, so we can all benefit from a bit of experimentation.

The experimental 'full frame' warre hive

The first hive has full frames, but with only a beeswax ‘starter strip’ of foundation in each frame, to get the bees going.

The experimental 'side bars' warre hive

The second hive has ‘side bar’ frames, with no base, and again a small starter strip. The bees will attach the comb to the sides of the  frame, but will define for themselves where the comb stops on the bottom.

The third hive has just top-bars with a small starter strip, and is closest to a classic Warré hive.

Kirsten holding her first comb

The experience of getting up close and personal with these intricately made creatures was nothing short of amazing. What impressed our crew the most, though, was how calm the bees were, and how comfortable we felt with them by the end of the morning.

Tim nudges the bees aside to put the inner lid back on

I think at one point someone said “i can’t belive we’re all just standing right here, next to an open beehive”. I understood Tim being calm, he does this every day. But here we were, Nick, I and 3 interns, less than a meter away from thousands of buzzing, crawling bees who were busy settling into their new homes.

And we were all grinning our heads off.

Whether this is a tribute to natural beekeeping and gentle bee-handling or we just got lucky with ‘gentle bees’ I don’t know yet. But it was a great start to what I hope will be a lifelong relationship.

Bees getting accustomed to their new location

The hives arrived as three boxes which contained three colonies who had already started drawing comb. Each box arrived with an entrance board beneath it, and so were essentially a one box hive.

Once we set each box and entrance board up on its pad, we then nadired a second box underneath so that as the colony grows it can progress down into the box below, leaving a dome of honey above. By the time we harvest, these hives may be 5 or even 6 boxes high.

And when this dome of honey above the colony is big enough that we can have some without depriving the bees of their wintering supply, we get some honey! Maybe in the autumn. It depends how this season goes, i suppose. But there is many a flower a-bloomin’ on Milkwood this luscious spring, so we are hopefull!

If you'd like to learn more about warre beekeeping (permaculture beekeeping by another name), take a look at our Natural Beekeeping courses in Sydney + Mudgee, or read up on the technique with our Way of the Bee: An introduction to Natural Beekeeing.

Comments (3)

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Chief Phillip 'Cloudpiler' Landis
Chief Phillip 'Cloudpiler' Landis : I've got a neighbor who teaches natural bee keeping here in Missouri. This spring we will set up hives here at the Nemenhah Model Village. His hives are shaped like natural logs. One day, I stood with five other people while he taught us at the hives. He took out the combs to show us how the bees build. What struck me is that none of us were wearing protective clothing. He didn't use smoke. None of the bees got out of control. In over an hours talk, nobody got stung, and we were all bending over the hives!
Posted over 13 years ago

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Alexandra Berendt
Alexandra Berendt : I really enjoyed reading this blog and am looking at taking the beekeeping course in Mudgee in November. I'm pretty excited now but will need to pay my car rego before signing up to the course lol Can't wait!
Posted almost 12 years ago

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Deaf Monche
Deaf Monche : This is some reason why western fashion is enormous styles and deep weight qualities. It is beautiful though. I love to read this series of blog. félicitations à vous
Posted 13 days ago

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