Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Summer bees - rigging up more shade for the hive

After Melbourne's record breaking hot spell 2 weeks ago, we're in for more hot weather this week.  Our bees seemed to come through that recent hot spell fairly well. I weighed the hive just before it started and immediately after it ended - the measurements showed that the hive had put on weight, indicating the bees were continuing their honey making efforts despite the weather.

I'd been thinking about how to add more shade for the hive when I noticed a large piece of Masonite in a hard rubbish pile nearby. Needless to say I grabbed it and it is now being used as shade for the side of the hive.  Leaning the Masonite against the hive stops direct heat hitting the hive which has a beneficial effect. Plus it's heavy enough that it won't blow over easily - not too much of issue for us as our hive is quite sheltered from wind.

With the combination of the broccoli box full of water and foam floats on top of the hive, the cardboard shading the top box and the Masonite shading the side, the hive looks like a bit of a mishmash ...but if it helps keep it cool then that's all that matters.


Saturday, 18 January 2014

Purifying beeswax collected during honey processing

The only good thing about the recent Melbourne heatwave is that it presented a perfect opportunity to try out the low impact, solar method for purifying beeswax.

We use the 'crush and strain' method for processing our honey. It's a simple, low-cost, and low-tech method that's well suited to those with a small number of hives. You can read about the honey harvesting process we use here, here and here. At the end of this process we're left with the wax from the honeycomb. In order to be able to use this wax for other purposes such as candles or cosmetics, it needs to be purified. The picture below shows the gunk stuck to the wax after it had come out of the oven and cooled down:

We first tried using a double boiler on the stove to clean the wax. This is shown in the picture below. The wax is put in a heat proof dish with water and then placed on top of a saucepan containing boiling water.

the double boiler process in action

As the wax melts you need to scoop the impurities out. Once the you've scooped them all out, turn off the heat and let the wax cool.  The end result is a disc of wax floating on the water in the bowl.  With this method there's a reasonable amount of time and effort required standing in front of the stove keeping an eye on things. We found it pretty hard to get all the impurities out. At the end of the process our wax still contained some gunk as you can see below.

upper side of wax

underside of the wax

A much easier, low-impact way of cleaning the wax is to use a solar extraction method.  This is simple to do and only requires some very basic equipment.

You'll need the following:

- a polystyrene broccoli box (free from the green grocer)
- a sheet of glass that covers the whole top of the box
- a stainless steel strainer
- 2 sheets of paper towel
- a pyrex (or similar) ovenproof vessel with some water in it.

the equipment required (the sheet of glass is resting against table in foreground)

Wait for a warm day and set up your system. Layer the 2 sheets of paper towel in the strainer and place the wax in it. Break the wax up into pieces as required. The wax must be dry as you don't want the paper towel to get wet.

Sit the strainer holding the wax over the oven-proof vessel containing the water. Our oven-proof vessel wasn't deep enough to rest the strainer directly on it, so we had to improvise. We used 2 metal tins to suspend the strainer above the vessel.  (If you find you have to do this, select something that won't melt as it could get quite hot inside the box)

Our improvised set up before it went into the box

Place the lot in the polystyrene box and top with the glass.  You'll notice in the picture below that we've used a brick to make sure the supporting tins didn't move.

Leave the box out in the sun and let the sun do it's thing.  The paper towel will catch any impurities as the wax melts through it.  That's it - easy, huh?

So how well did it work?  The results speak for themselves as you can see below.

some hours later

When the glass is removed you can see the paper towel has done an excellent job of filtering the impurities.

 the impurities left behind

Here's the result - lovely, pure liquid wax:

The purified liquid wax

And here's what it looks like after it has cooled down and solidified:


Lo and behold, the final product:

As you can see you're left with a beautiful clean disc of wax. The whole process couldn't have been easier.  All it took was a few minutes to set up and the energy for the process was supplied free from the sun. I know how we'll be cleaning our beeswax in the future :)

The technique worked just as well for all the bits of wax scrapings left from cleaning frames,  the burr comb from the top of frames etc, all of which contained a lot more impurities. It's worth collecting those little bits and pieces as we found they really add up when it comes to how much wax you can extract from them.

We came across this method from the lovely folk that run the Collingwood Children's Farm Apiary (thanks Barry!)

Friday, 17 January 2014

Keeping the beehive cool (or at least trying to)

This has been a very hot week in Melbourne - the last 4 days have been over 40 degrees celsius and not cooling down much at night.  No air-conditioning at our place means it gets pretty unpleasant inside after a few days of those sort of temperatures.  Thinking abut how best to handle the heat made me realise my usual method of shading the hive with cardboard alone wasn't going to cut it for such an extended period of time.  Luckily the Victorian Apiarist's Association Melbourne branch sent out some handy tips to members about ways to help keep their beehives cool.  Here's the method we used.

We removed the emlock and placed the cardboard directly on the hive where it will provide some shade for the side. Then on top of the cardboard we placed a polystyrene broccoli box (you can get these free from the green grocer) weighed down with a couple of bricks. We 3/4 filled the box with water and used foam floaters (polystyrene packing bits) to insulate the water from direct heat and to provide landing pads for the bees.  It'll be easy to check the level and top it up as required. We have other water sources for bees in our backyard but this setup might help the bees during this extended hot period both by insulating the top of the hive and by giving them an extra source of water.

Polystyrene box full of water and foam floats

The photo below was taken on a 43 degrees celsius day - bees were clustered outside the hive entrance.

While watering the garden on those hot evenings I noticed the bees took advantage of my activities by hanging about and gathering water from the ground and off the plants where I'd been hosing just moments before. It was also good to see that they were using the water we supplied for them. When I checked the polystyrene box I saw them perched on the foam floats drinking from the water. I also saw them drinking from the chicken waterer we always have sitting in a shady spot for them:

Apparently we have just experienced Melbourne's most intense heatwave on record. Let's hope this week is the last of it.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Backyard Inspiration

Having a shady spot in the backyard to hang a couple of hammocks has long been an aim of ours.  Don't these backyard hammocks look inviting?

Images: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Saturday, 4 January 2014

In the garden .....

As much as we don't mind sharing some of what we grow with the local wildlife, if we didn't take some action to protect the harvest, then the birds, fruit bats and possums would get the lot. They've already had more than their fair share this season... we didn't get much in the way of apricots or cherries and they've been busily helping themselves to the rest of the fruit trees.

It was definitely high time to break out the nets. As a result, here's what the garden looks like at the moment.

Anzac peaches under black netting
More peaches

Pink Lady apples

Apple - double graft of Jonathon and Granny Smith

And after struggling for some years using not-that-great netting solutions, this year we bit the bullet and bought some extra good quality (=expensive) netting.  As a result, here's the net to end all nets:

Nectarine tree - with maximum protection!

There are still more apples, pears, a mulberry and a fig tree to net - that's a job to get done sooner rather than later.