Greetings from rural Western Australia! I’m very keen to start beekeeping, but I work regular stints offshore. This means that I’m typically home for 5-6 weeks, then away for a similar period. Can I leave my beehive to cope on its own for 5-6 weeks? If I can, I’ll be buying one tomorrow. Thank you very much folks!
Hello, and welcome to the Flow forum!
Oh dear, you are not going to like my answer… I have to say, it depends!
The first thing to remember is that bees have survived for many millions of years without human beings managing them, so they will likely survive if you are not there for them. However, that doesn’t mean it is optimal.
If you leave them for 5 or 6 weeks during a nectar flow, they may build up enough numbers to swarm without you knowing. That doesn’t hurt the bees, but you won’t get nearly as much honey, and your neighbours may not be very happy.
The next thing is that if they get a nasty disease like American Foul Brood (AFB), you won’t see it before it has spread to other hives around you. This is not a common situation, but it does happen. I don’t know if WA has rules on inspection intervals, but there are plenty of forumites here who will know that.
Finally small hive beetles can run amok if not controlled. Your area of of WA may not have them, but again, I am not an expert. I hope that some of our other wonderful members may advise you.
One other thought. If you join a local bee club, you may be able to find a member who will keep a watch on your hives while you are away. If they can take a look once every couple of weeks, that should be fine.
I don’t want to put you off, just want you to have realistic expectations.
Thank you very much! I don’t know if you’re an expert beekeeper or not, but you’re certainly an expert from this novice’s viewpoint.
OK I’ll take it from there…
Hi Jim, I do my hive inspections every 2 to 3 weeks so that I am looking after my hives and can quickly get on top of any issues before they get really bad.
You lucky that so far you don’t have SHB there which can become an issue but there are other nasties in the West and bluntly I would not be happy to have my hives nearby to someone who has hives that weren’t checked except every 6 weeks.
As a bee keeper you are responsible for livestock, which bees are so please think about it, as you are doing by asking, In 6 weeks you can have a healthy hive die on you.
Another option, depending on your property and location, is to host hives. You will have the pleasure without all the work. If you do host you will get to learn until your situation changes.
@onehivehoney is down your way, perhaps they can advise on inspections.
Now that I’ve done the post code search I’d also suggest having a chat to Ripple Farm Beekeeping. They are Albany based and spending time helping people get into beekeeping around the WA South coast.
In winter yes- 5 weeks is no problem. In spring NO- 5 weeks and your hive will likely swarm- as many as 4 times. Beekeeping is quite seasonal. You have the most work to do early in spring, preparing the hive for the coming honey flow and taking steps to try and dissuade it from swarming.
It also depends on where the hives are: if they are in a rural/remote setting swarming may not be much of an issue- if they are in a suburban/urban situation swarming could cause some real grief with your neighbors. If, like many of us- you already have issues with you neighbors this can be a cause for fresh warfare. If on the other hand you are very friendly with your neighbors and they are not scared of bees- it may be OK.
Also if you can find a local beekeeper who can help you, perhaps doing some inspections or emergency work when you are away- then you may be ok.
the main thing about beekeeping is that it requires some effort and a desire to get in there and learn. If you don’t have the time or inclination to learn and buy the equipment you need then perhaps beekeeping is not something you want to do at this time.
Delighted to see that this is such an active forum…
Thank you SO MUCH for all the helpful replies. FYI I am truly rural, so no neighbours to upset. I’m also very very keen. I’m now 60, and retired from one job (still just the occasional offshore ‘jaunt’ - hence my question).
I shall follow up on all suggestions, and keep you good folk posted. Thank you again!
May I dare be bold and argue otherwise Jack? I am no authority on beekeeping, of course, but I do know a bit more about local wildlife. Birds are my thing.
Swarming bees in remote and natural areas are a problem, especially for birds that nest in tree hollows. You may think that tree hollows are in abundance, but unfortunately they are not. Some species of birds only nest in old hollows, which are even more scarce due to logging and tree clearing.
Some endangered birds, like the Black Cockatoos are competing with feral bees for such nesting hollows and every beekeeper must make sure to control swarms wherever they are. In rural settings, even more so in my opinion. Feral bees also take over nest boxes set up for such species.
Hi Stefan, thanks for your post. I never even remotely put any consideration into this issue (bee swarms affecting native fauna) and always was thinking along Jacks line. Thanks
Thanks for that info Stefan, the video is a real ‘eye opener’ to all bee keepers to employ best practice in hive management.
The honey bee is not a natural part of the Australian Fauna and it would be a very sad day if the honey bee is a part of the cause of the extinction of our natural bird life by the bee taking over the sparse natural nesting sites of so many of our parrot species that are already in decline.
I’m just up the road 1/2 to kendenup.
Let me know where you are and can come round.
5-6 weeks is ok as long as they’re not on the canola. Ants are also an issue.
Winter is no problem. We go away for 4 months.
Send me a pm and will contact you.
I agree with @onehivehoney.
On the swarm issue during spring time. You can do a sizable preemptive swarm control split before you leave, that will buy you plenty of time. The only thing is, you’ll need to check on the split as soon as you arrive home, to make sure it’s queen-rite. Other wise a laying worker will commence if it’s not.
Interesting divergent views here.
For the benefit of @jimthegeo and those clueless like me following the thread, any chance we can have a bit more meat on the bone on why, and why foraging on canola makes all the difference in this case?
Yes- correct about honey bees taking up tree hollows. I suppose I really meant it’s not such a problem for the beekeeper directly.
and as for the rest: ask two beekeepers for an opinion and you will get three answers. I guess also we all come from different micro-climates. And our bees are in different situations. Some of mine for instance are just 1 meter from my neighbors house… luckily they find the odd swarm in their yard to be an interesting phenomenon that they get to observe first hand…
as for Canola- I am assuming he said that because canola honey candies in the frame very quickly and needs to be harvested before that happens.
If you get an invasion of wax moth or SHB in 6 weeks a lot of damage can be done in a hive, it can even get to a situation where a slime out can occur. You are lucky so far that SHB hasn’t reached you there. In 6 weeks a hive that is struggling can explode in population or the reverse.
Canola from what I have read and seen can boost a hive extremely fast and multiple swarms can occur. It is great to put a weak hive on it but a case of too much can be a bad thing.
Opinions and advice can vary depending on the climate conditions the hive is in and how conscientious the bee keeper is about his bees and the environment.
Thanks. I had to look up candied honey.
One must hope that beekeepers won’t just manage swarms if it effects them directly, but also take into consideration the natural environment and fragile eco systems which are already under a lot of pressure, from habitat loss, climate change, fires and other introduced species… etc.
Hi Jim, to send a private message (PM), click on the persons name and click ‘message’.
I sent you an email.