Welcome to the education section of the Archibald Honey web site. Here you can learn interesting and exciting things about honey and beekeeping.

Working the bees

If you have any specific questions please feel free to contact us and we may be able to help you.

History of Beekeeping

The beekeeping industry is a very small industry in Australia. It is an industry that takes a life time of learning to understand properly. This is why you need to be apiarists for generations to be really successful.

Not only do you need to know how to work bees properly, but you also need a very comprehensive knowledge of the trees and ground flora of our beautiful country. Apiarists have to look at trees, and know whether they are going to bud up or grow, when and in what area, and keep a close watch on seasonal weather changes and insect plagues. So many factors govern whether you gather honey or not!

The Archibald family has been beekeeping for three generations. Life, in the early to mid 1900’s was a life, on the move. Constantly moving to chase honey flows. Beekeepers mostly extracted on the job (portable extracting plants, moved on site, where ever the bees were positioned. As one would imagine, amenities were few. Life was very hard, long days, back breaking work, all manual labour, living for extended periods away from home and family, in caravans or tents. The upside of all this, is that you are camped in beautiful, serene bush land at peace with ones self and surroundings. Also there are many good country people met through this work, people who become life long friends from many out of the way places in outback Australia.

Today, beekeeping is changing from a nomadic type existence, to where honey is gathered and the full frames are brought back to a fixed location to be extracted. Where extraction used to be hand operated, it is now done by machined cutters and spinners (extractors). But it is still a very hands on job, as every frame is individually handled and visually graded. Extracting rooms are now under health department inspections and are generally far superior to the old mobile plants.

Beekeeping still necessitates long distance travel, at unusual hours to make moving less traumatic for the bees. Travel is usually at night, trying not to overheat the hives in sunlight. No matter how we try, beekeeping is still a very hard, manual occupation .Lifting boxes by hand for inspecting and workings hives can never be completely avoided. Nowadays Apiarists usually have machinery for lifting hives onto their trucks.

Its funny but true, beekeeping becomes a way of life; it gets into your system and very rarely leaves. Once a beekeeper, always a beekeeper.

Candy Honey

All honeys candy (crystallize) some very fast, some taking years, but all honey eventually crystallizes. This does not in any way affect the nutritional value; this is a naturally occurring process.

Anatomy of Bees

Bees have actually got five eyes: 2 large for day time use which have hundreds of Lenses each. 3 small eyes on the top of their heads are for night time use, they are each a single lens.

Bees have 6 legs. When gathering pollen, they carry it on their legs, it is quite noticeable , little balls of yellow or orange or even light brown.

Bees have four wings, which are hooked together in pairs normally. But if they are upset, they unhook the wings for greater mobility, and then they are ready to sting. They make a different sound when their wings are unhooked and so the beekeeper knows, out of all the thousands of bees around him, which ones are aggressive and really trying to sting him.

A bee sting is like a needle with little barbs on it which prevent it coming back out of human flesh. All the barbs face back from the tip, letting it go in, not out. The end of the sting you see on your skin is a little pump which is still pumping when you have been stung, therefore, never squeeze the sting, just scratch off with a finger nail, fast as possible, so as not to get the full dose of poison.

The sting injects Formic Acid; which beekeepers will tell you, helps with arthritis. When a bees stings us, it dies, because the pump of the end of the sting is part of its stomach. Bees can sting each other again and again, the sting doesn’t get caught like in us.

People can be allergic to bee stings. If you think you have an allergic reaction Seek medical attention. Everyone swells at the site of the sting, that is normal. Don’t rub or scratch, this will aggravate the site, just cool with a cold cloth, or creams specifically for the purpose of easing bites and stings.

A Bee's Life

Bees begin their life in an egg – 3 days, then as a grub for a week in an unsealed cell, where it is fed pollen and royal jelly, by nurse bees. How much it is fed determines whether it will be Queen or worker! Then the cell is sealed over and waits until the bee hatches – 21 days for a worker, 24 days for drones, and Queens only 14 days. Royal Jelly is produced by the bees – it’s baby bee food.

Baby bees first become nurse bees before they are gatherers. Their job is to feed and look after younger bees for about two weeks, then they become field bees – gatherers.

Bees never sleep, in summer when gathering honey, they virtually work them selves to death – they live approximately 6 weeks, but, in winter with not as much to do they live approximately 6 months.

Queen bees live between 2 – 3 years. They are really only egg laying machines. Worker bees feed and clean her. She can lay male or female eggs at will. (pretty clever stuff). As I said before, the only difference between a worker bee and a Queen bee, is the amount of feed in infancy. A worker is an under developed female. She can lay eggs if things get tough – only drones (male bees) though.

Drone bees are male. They do no work, just bludge, so when feed is in short supply, the drones get thrown out of the hive and die. They usually live about 6 months, before getting killed.

Hives will produce queens, only when their queen has become to old or when they have decided to swarm – split from the hive and make a new one.

Keeping Bees

Bees are kept in wooden boxes – 8 or 10 frames in each, 2 sides to each frame. Each frame has a mid rib of honey comb pattern, to ensure the bees build the shape required to be able to extract the honey efficiently.

Hives are worked in boxes of 1, 2 or 3 stacked on top of each other, number depending of strength of hive, amount of honey etc. These boxes have a top and bottom – removable – weather proof, with closable openings.

A three storey hive on average would contain approximately 50 – 60 thousand bees.

When bees have taken nectar back to their hive, they then fan their wings to get the moisture out of it, before they seal it with wax – they make from their glands.

Bees keep their hives at a fairly constant temperature of 22 degrees celcius. by fanning their wings. On a hot summers day you will see them hanging in bunches out of the hives, trying to get cool.

Worker bees hatch out moving like wobbly babys – slow and unsure, But queens hatch out, immediately very active and aggressive, and the first one out kills all remaining unhatched queens. Therefore beekeepers have to be very vigilant if trying to raise queens, and be ready to place them right to time, in hives made ready for them – called nukes.

Working Bees

Beekeepers use veils to prevent getting stung in the eyes or on their faces. Some use gloves and suits as well. Archibalds breed their bees away from aggression, so as to make working the bees a lot easier.

Another name for a beekeeper is apiarist. Apiarists can breed their own queens or buy from queen breeders, who will post the bees out to them. The bees bought this way arrive in little boxes, flywire on top, one queen and 3 or 4 workers to look after her and a little candied honey to eat in each box.

Working the bees

Bees have two main natural enemies. One is bears. Therefore don’t wear dark Woolly clothing near them. That will stir them up and you’ll get stung. The 2nd enemy is fire: This frightens them and they don’t sting – they just try to hide, so therefore beekeepers all use smokers to control the bees.

A smoker is a can of fire with a bellows on it to draw air over the fire and cause it to smoke.

There are three breeds of bees used for honey production in Australia: Carnolian, Caucian & Italian. Italian bees are more yellowy, Caucian and Carnolian are darker coloured, with Caucian generally being the quietest. Bees are bred for their gathering ability and quietness.

The beekeeping industry in Australia is quite small. Many apiarists are part time in the industry, but there are large apiarists as well. Archibald Apiaries and Richardson Apiaries,(brother inlaws) work together, and within a small circle of apiarists, helping each other with information on honey flows etc.