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I started keeping a hive about 2 years ago after attending a bee workshop. A good friend also attended and we became enthused about being able to utilize the nectar from plants in our gardens and the neighbourhood. This was a really good idea as we share some of the equipment required, support one another in trying to learn more about this fascinating subject, and it helps physically as the boxes become very heavy when full of honey.

We were also lucky to have the guidance of an ‘old hand’ at beekeeping nearby to give advice and point out things our inexperienced eyes didn’t see. Thank you John.

Despite periods of drought this year on the Mid North Coast, there is a profusion of flowering, so it’s a great season of nectar and pollen. Unfortunately this has caused a powerful swarming impulse.

We checked my hive about one month ago and found that the queen had vacated the premises and taken two thirds of the workers with her, to start a new colony somewhere else. She didn’t leave a forwarding address. The effect was that a new queen was hatched, assumed the throne and had to start building up worker numbers straight away. Hence very little surplus honey to date, which we don’t want to rob as it would deprive the hive of vital food for colony expansion.

My friend Gwenda’s hive had a different story. Her queen had also abdicated, taking the defectors with her, but the new queen was discovered to be only producing ‘Drones’ which are male bees which are not really needed in large numbers. They don’t collect nectar or pollen, but their role is to air condition the hive, hang around the hive looking cool etc. When they hatch, the cell they come out of is much enlarged, rendering it unusable for future worker brood to inhabit. It is believed that they have a social role in the hive and help maintain harmony, and are certainly needed for mating so we can’t write them off completely.

The queen was de-throned and a new queen was installed at the cost of $22 – so hopefully the situation will fix itself now and the hive will thrive.

If left to its own devices there is a strong possibility the colony would not have survived.

So when you are buying your jar of honey think of what a tough & stressful time the bees are having this year and don’t forget to leave a shallow dish filled with stones and water for the bees in your area to drink from.

By Glenys Watt