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Beekeeping - boom and bust

We got our first little nuc of bees back in July 2015.  Since then we have been slowly building up numbers, we bought another nuc and three full hives that were already on our property, and we've made several more nucs and hives from splitting those first hives and catching swarms.  Over the last 18 months we've become hyper-observant of all the flowering plants on our property because bees increase their numbers when they have access to plenty of nectar to make into honey.  Suddenly Pete is interested in all the flowers that I've been pointing out for years!  We are also observing our bees and their response to different flowers.

Some of our hives

Since we got the first nuc we have seen hives fill with honey and bees to the point where they are too full and the hive will swarm (a group of bees will fly away with a new queen to start another colony), at other times we have seen them eat all their honey stores, lose numbers and get over-run with the dreaded small hive beetle.  As beekeepers, we have to try to stay one step ahead, by anticipating what will flower next, how much honey it will produce and whether the bee numbers are increasing or declining, whether they need more space or have too much.  All this while not checking the bee hives too often, as it really does disrupt them.

At one stage there we could not build nucs quick enough to keep up with the bees, but now we've lost some of those hives as the 'nectar flow' (that's what beekeepers call it when there are a lot of flowers around) stopped suddenly when we had a run of dry weather and the bees ran out of food.  If we had been alert to this, we could have fed them sugar syrup to get them by until the next nectar flow started.  We are learning!

Apple gum blossom

I don't mind feeding them sugar syrup as a last resort, but I would rather try to plant our property with more trees and flowering plants.  The main bee food on our property is gum trees - ironbarks and apple gums, which only flower for a few weeks a year, as well as purple heliotrope (which seems to be less popular, but ok with they have nothing else) and wattles.

People say that it can be easier to keep bees close to town, as there is always something flowering in gardens that are watered regularly.  This got me thinking about my own garden.  As part of my garden/food forest/orchard, I want to have a range of flowering fruit trees, flowering herbs, natives (bottle brush is very popular) and plants like roses.  I have NEVER been interested in roses before, but a large climbing rose can flower prolifically throughout the year, it might just provide a bit of bee food when other sources are not available.  Flowering trees seem to be the best option for providing sheer volume of blossom, however they will take a few years to grow large enough.

What do your bees eat?  What flowers do you notice are popular with bees?  What should I plant??


  1. We too are 12 months into our first hive. We have added a 2nd,.....and a swarm found us, making 3. They are all still at brood-box stage only. I too have been trying to steer (my) Pete into planting more bee friendly flowering plants. We have the Bee Book which is so helpful. Here is the link if you don't have it. It does not list roses as N or P prolific, but does have plenty of other suggestions.We have found Salvia's successful, and they grow readily.
    We take this whenever we head to the State Flora at Murray Bridge.
    Good Luck.

  2. Hi Liz,

    It is interesting to read about your bees. We have thought about getting hives, but haven't done so yet mainly because we have a source of home grown honey from our friends.

    My last blog post was about some visiting bees to my birdbath. They have a hive nearby, although since the big storm we had I have not seen them. I presume they may have moved on. I really must go and check. The most surprising thing about these bees was where they made their hive. In the petrol tank of an old car of all places! Someone advised us to place a hive nearby and see if they moved into it, but alas we didn't.

    We have plenty of native/arid plants around our area and being such a good year the bees have been in abundance along with many other critters.


  3. Liz, now that you mention it I haven't seen as many bees here since we got the chooks which free range all day as they have dug up a number of plants. Not good. I really need that new chook run built....yesterday :-)

  4. Hi, Grevilleas may be more hardy than roses. has a list of bee suitable plants.

    A different question: have you had any experience or feed back on the blue bee bottom boards for SHB

    Have not had a good season for bees in Beach Grove, south of Vancouver BC. Cold here this winter so can only hope they get through to Spring.
    Heading down to Maleny and Mt. Archer beginning of February. Hurray! Sunshine.
    Regards Janine

  5. You've got a nice little apiary there Liz, and this is a great and informative post. It's so up and down isn't it? Just when we were ready to harvest some honey, we got rain and cold weather, so by the time we waited for a warm day, we found that the bees had eaten all of their own supplies. Well, that's really why they store honey isn't it? This has been happening all spring and summer, with our unusual weather here in SA this year. Then when the bees could get out to forage, we found that the flowers weren't releasing nectar. The bees are showing great interest in the gum flowers now, so we have fingers crossed that we might harvest in a week or two, depending on the weather. So we have very little or maybe no honey this year, and have had to decline an invite to have a stall at the one market we do every two years. It's a market where we have built up a good customer base, but as in everything agricultural, we just have to accept the bad years with the good. Our customers are learning about good and bad seasons too, and they will need to wait awhile before they buy our honey again. And although we have lots of trees and a couple of big flowering private gardens nearby, ours and two neighbors, we still have to move our bees for half of the year to where there are flowers, so we've planted a lot of Lucerne trees, and have some Manuka tube-stock on order.

  6. Liz, I'm not a bee-keeper but live in an area surrounded by gum trees, we can always tell when the trees are in bloom as we can hear the bees going crazy. The other time when they go crazy is when the lily pilly hedge and trees are in bloom. We have two types which bloom at different times so the 'season' is longer. As they are a Bush tucker plant think they should adapt to your climate easily. I've grown some seedlings from the berries and they are coping really well with the heat and lack of rain at the moment on Central Coast. You can also use Lilly Pilly for preserving and wine making (allegedly) so dual purpose! Native stingless bees love them too but it don't know if you get them where you are - it may get too hot for them.

  7. I have a ' year round' Basil plant, I don't know what the proper name is but it flowers a lot for most of the year, I don't like the taste of it so just let it grow for any visiting bees.The flowers are small and purple and are always full of bees, the plants seem to be pretty hardy and grow well so it might be worth planting some.
    Therevis a vine with bright orange flowers and small dark green leaves that flowers through Winter so that might help,too.
    Fingers crossed that this awful heat doesn't impact on your bees. I read 6 months ago that some hives in Texas had melted honey and honeycomb and killed most of the bees, these hives were right out in the open with no shade at all, I thought they would have to have at least afternoon shade to survive the Summer extremes, but I've never kept bees.
    Hope you are able to keep cool and sort out the bee food.

  8. when my macadamia tree flowered late last year (everything was late) couldn't get near it for the bees, there were honey bees, native bees & several other species of nectar feeding bees & flies on it, the noise was deafening! Macadamia trees do fairly well in hot dry areas with little rain once established. i too am getting in to planting many natives which are nectar & fruiting for the bees & the birds & other wild life.
    glad to hear your bees are doing well
    thanx for sharing

  9. I've tried grevilleas, and the only one worth it was Honey Gem. It's the most long lived variety. Contrary to popular belief, natives don't actually outlive some of our exotics in harsh growing condition, like the Mexican Orange Blossom. And natives need a lot of pruning to prevent legginess. Otherwise they will die in about 2 seasons. Sadly this has always been the case in our inhospitable garden. I really wanted the natives to work out.

    The best native I have found that does well, and the bees love, are any kind of emu bush. They are tough and flower profusely. A little pruning doesn't hurt them, but they're not going to die like the grevilleas do, if you don't prune.

    The flowering plants I can recommend, that grow in our area without too much fuss, are the Grevillea Honey Gem, Mexican Orange Blossom, Bush Rosemary, Emu bush and you could look at growing smaller native trees, such as Tulipwood or the Tuckeroo. Also cumquat trees grown on root stock, flower profusely as well. I have found the cumquat (Meiwa) and Tahitian Lime, will flower more regularly than my oranges, on less rainfall. I'd plant cumquats, rosemary and emu bush, around the border of your vegetable area - to take advantage of the grey water you use there. I find these plants don't need a lot of water to put forth blooms.

    If you're looking for a Hardy rose, and passing through Toowoomba any time, check out Brindabella Country Garden, in Highfields. We told them about our clay soil, lack of rain and heat. They recommended the tiger rose, and it's as tough as they claim. We prune it once a year with the brush-cutter - that's what they told us to do! They bred this variety to avoid getting a disease, roses are renown for getting (I think it's black spot) in the heat. Ours haven't succumb to anything nature has thrown at it. We probably mulch them, once every 3 years.

  10. Just checking in from mum and dads in NZ and I would suggest herbs like comfrey, chives, borage, lavender, rosemary and bush basil,


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