Swarm catcher Susan Morrissey, Kristy Warren and son Seth McDermott inspect a hive on-site at Yass District Beekeepers’ Apiary at National Trust property Cooma Cottage.
An unusually angry swarm of bees was removed opposite Yass Woolworths and brought to the Yass & District Beekeepers Apiary at Cooma Cottage. Experienced beekeepers used the transfer to a more permanent hive as a learning moment for amateurs on Sunday. A dozen of the forty strong local beekeepers club were on site, and the cheerful group marvelled at how much honeycomb the swarm had produced since its capture a week prior.
The beekeepers also inspected the various hives the Club maintains on-site and introduced members to a newly acquired variety of hive box design. The Club hopes to have a demonstration model of every kind to expand members knowledge and experience.
“We’re here to help anyone start who would be a bit wary of starting with nobody to help, and they get a mentor to help them establish a hive. It’s a bit of companionship with people with a similar passion,” said Club member Susan Morrissey.
Some of the members also play an essential role at this time of year, removing unwanted swarms.
Garden shrub, carport, kids play equipment or disused outhouse…if you find a swarm of bees, it’s likely swarm collector Susan Morrissey who will get the call to come to your rescue.
“Every swarm is different. You might find a little ball, a little colony up in a tree. They’re all individual. I love them! They’re all beautiful!” Susan smiled.
Susan has a swag of techniques for catching the queen bee, which is key to securing the swarm because of her unique pheromones which instruct the other bees.
“If it’s on a branch, I place my box below and give a firm tap on the top, and they fall in. In another case, they were on the side of a tree, and I scooped them with my gloved hands and carefully placed them onto some frames. They’re not very aggressive because of how much is in their bellies.”
Most swarm collections require Susan to leave the captured swarm boxed up until nightfall.
“Ideally I would put the swarm in the box, scout bees returning will come back to the scent of the Queen now secure in the box.”
Susan explained bees typically swarm due to overcrowding.
“An overcrowded box is when bees get really cranky. The old queen takes about half the hive with her. They’ll usually go to a tree branch, and this is the swarm that you want to catch. Sometimes they’ll stay for half an hour to three hours. Scout bees will leave that colony, fly all around looking for a permanent home and then bring the message back when they’ve found it. What we usually do is pick them up in that first stage.”
“Before a swarm leaves the hive, they will fill their stomachs with nectar, and then they’ll go, so they don’t need food straight off, their bags are packed. When they get to their final home, they will build up the comb, and the queen will start to lay.”
Susan naturally gravitated to the role of swarm catcher with her first experience retrieving her own hive’s queen.
“I was an amateur beekeeper. I saw a swarm. It was one of my bees which had gone over the fence. So, I hopped over the fence, took my gear and box with me. Knocked them in and brought them back then relocated them a couple of kilometres away because otherwise, they will go back to their original hive box.”
“You might find them right down near the ground. One I had the day before yesterday was right down in the middle of a bush, that was a challenge, but I don’t do them if they’re high up.”
To have a swarm collected, contact the Yass & District Beekeeper’s Club swarm catcher – Susan Morrisey on 0402 915 546. A fee of $60 usually applies, and half goes back to the Club. Swarms are then sold to club members for a fraction of the retail price. The local council should be contacted if a swarm is on public land.
A swarm making a serendipitious stop for an hour in the editor’s yard earlier this week. The swarm paid no attention to the photographer.A typical full hive has about 50,000 bees. Annual harvest in the first couple of years could look like 70-80 kilos of honey with bumper years weighing in at 125 kilos – perfect for farmer’s markets. All beekeepers need to be registered by law with the Department of Planning and Infrastructure, particularly to ensure you can be notified should American Foulbrood turn up in your area.
“You might need to destroy your whole hive and get rid of your boxes with that. That is a lethal disease which spreads and destroys,” Susan explained.
12-year-old Seth McDermott has been involved with bees for three years and described what he finds the most fascinating.
“The Queen bees, the workers, what they eat and look like.” Seth was inspecting honeycomb. “It’s so light!” but didn’t give a taste test a good review “The royal jelly is yuck.” Seth’s interest in colony creatures now extends to ants as well.
Seth’s mother, Kirsty Warren, featured centre of our feature image, has progressed rapidly from a novice three years prior, to confidently handling the frames abuzz with hundreds of bees.
“I wouldn’t have had a clue where to start doing this. They talk you through every procedure every year. Then you get to graduate from being a learner showing others, and everyone knows teaching something is the best way to learn.”
Kirsty also gave a practical tip on a common problem for beekeepers warding off ant intruders. “I run chickens around mine; they tend to keep ants away.”
Cristian Gorton from Yass River has been a member for three years and confidentially transferred the very active bees to a new Slovenian hive the Club just acquired.
“My dad down in Bega signed me up when it was just starting, and I’ve been a club member ever since. I started as a complete novice.”
The next opportunity for the public to join Club members on-site at the Cooma Cottage Apiary will be the second Sunday in November, the 8th at 1 pm. Visitors, including children who are keen to learn more, are welcome. A few suits will be available to borrow on the day. To become a member email firstname.lastname@example.org
by Jasmin Jones
From the President of Yass & District Beekeepers Club – Joe Morrissey
Yass and District Beekeepers Club has been going informally since 2015 and was officially incorporated in 2016. The Club is part of the New South Wales Beekeepers Association.
I would like to describe briefly the history of the Club and the way we work. When my wife and I arrived in Yass in 2011, we wanted to keep bees as we had done before and to link up with other beekeepers.
We discovered that the nearest clubs were in Canberra and Goulburn. As we settled, we found out that there were some other beekeepers in the area, but all on their own.
By mid-2015 we were of the view that the best way ahead was to form a club in Yass. We put some notices in shop windows around town calling a meeting to see if there was any interest in forming a club. About a dozen or so people attended. Some, like ourselves, had some experience of beekeeping. Others had had no experience at all but were interested in finding out more.
At about the same time, we became aware of the Amateur Beekeepers Association of New South Wales (the ABA). When I contacted their secretary, he told me that for a club to be formed and recognised by the ABA we would need about 12 to 15 members. Those of us who attended that first meeting decided that we would meet informally for about a year to see if we could sustain the interest and recruit enough other people to be able to meet the requirements of the ABA.
During that time, we did two things that formed the basis of the Club’s operations and sustainability. We met at a different person’s place every month in the warmer part of the year. This was so that we could do whatever work was needed on that person’s hives at the time. That could be checking the brood, adding boxes to the hives, requeening a hive etc. For example, requeening a hive has its own challenges. First, you must order the new queen from a breeder. You then wait for her to arrive by mail. Yass Post Office is very good at letting us know when our queens arrive, but many people are astonished when I tell them the queen comes in the mail. When the new queen arrives, you must find the old queen and kill her, and then install the new queen.
This way of operating, we saw as essential in bringing together people with a range of experience. Beginners could get up close to a hive and become fascinated by the way bees go about their work. Experienced keepers could swap ideas. If you get three beekeepers together, you’ll probably get at least five suggestions for the task in hand.
The other thing we did during that year was to maintain contact with the ABA. By June 2016, we were confident that we had enough interested people to form a viable club. From 1st July 2016, the Club was formally established. We had about 20 members. In the years since then, we have grown to over 40 members. I cannot overstate how crucial the support of the ABA has been in that time.
In 2017 we were approached by local supporters of the National Trust here at Cooma Cottage. They asked us if we would like to put hives on the property so that honey produced in the hives could be extracted and sold through the shop at the cottage. We quickly agreed in principle. The Trust saw the benefit of the honey. We saw the benefit of having an apiary where we could hold field days and have educational activities.
The apiary is now the place where we hold our field days. We meet monthly in the warmer months (weather permitting). The apiary is in a paddock in the grounds of Cooma Cottage. Now there are three hives, all of a similar pattern. The Club is in the process of introducing different varieties of hives so that members can see how the various hives can be used. Each hive variety was developed with a different purpose. For example, there is a hive pattern designed specifically for developing countries that need minimal equipment to make and to manage.