Stores of honey in this frame and visible glistening of the new nectar and pollen

Orphan Hives: Canberra Honeybees Suffer

As we approach winter, bees need to have at least one full box of honey to survive the cold nights, cool days and of course the wet days. Basically, when the weather is cool and wet bees stay at home in their hive.  They huddle together to stay warm and eat pollen and honey. Sounds delightful doesn’t it?

Stores of honey in this frame and visible glistening of the new nectar and pollen

This is what we like to see – stores of honey in the top left and visible glistening of the new nectar and pollen on the bottom centre

Unfortunately, the flip side of “bee utopia” that if the hive hasn’t stored enough pollen and honey for the winter, those bees will huddle up with their sisters in the hive, but they have no honey or pollen to eat.

It’s the kind of situation that leads to poor nutrition and starvation for bees.  Then bee diseases can grip the hive and make the colony sick. It’s quite a dreadful situation.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been worrying and watching a number of our hives struggle to find new nectar to make their honey stores. They have had honey stores in their hive but during recent weeks I’ve watched the amount of stores dwindle. It’s clear the bees are eating their stores because there are no new sources of nectar for them.  It seems, for some suburbs in Canberra there isn’t enough bee friendly gardens to support bees. Some hives have eaten most of their stores already.

This colony have eaten in their stores

This is a concern because this colony has eaten in their stores, and there is no glistening of new nectar

The problem is, if they are already eating their stores in autumn they might not have enough food to survive the winter. Winter is a time when there is traditionally very few nectar producing flowers. People in Canberra will probably be aware that eucalypts in our green corridors haven’t flowered the way they normally do. Unfortunately, the weather hasn’t been favourable to our eucalypts this year. I’d say this unusual situation has exposed how good or how bad our surburban bee-friendly gardening is. This year, bees are totally reliant on the bee friendly gardens for survival, and unfortunately some suburbs don’t have enough to support our Canberra Urban Honey hives.

For some hives, it means we will have to move them from their current host gardens and place them in other areas of the city. Some hives are going to need quite a bit of attention to make sure they survive the winter, and this is easier for us if we have the hives together.


A hive to watch closely - this colony has stores of honey but no new nectar is being gathered and stored

A hive to watch closely – this colony has stores of honey but no new nectar is being gathered and stored

We are now planning to bring the lone hives together to make distinct micro-apiaries with at least two hives in one location. This will make it easier to manage the struggling hives because we can share what honey is available among the hives to make sure they always have access to food. It also means the hives will be more efficient at staying warm because we will push them together. When the bees are in a warm environment, they use less energy to maintain the temperature inside the hive, and that also means they will eat less of their stores.

We’ve been fortunate to have had a host on our waiting list who can take up to 5 hives and will now be the new host for the majority of our “orphan hives”. As we look forward to the winter ahead we have to place the hives in a location that will enable us to give them the TLC we think they might need. Last week we confirmed the arrangements and will move the last of the “orphan hives”  to their new location.

Mar and Peter have helped to pull these arrangements together, can you tell where the orphan hives are going?

Mar Sanchez and Peter Bell

Mar Sanchez and Peter Bell

The problems we’ve encountered with starving bees and the differences we can see in the Canberra surburban ecosystems  has led us to make a few decisions about how we manage the Canberra Urban Honey project as we go forward. But, we tell you more about that in our next post.

In the meantime, watch for us in the Canberra Times because our observation of differences in bee friendliness of Canberra gardens has made the news in a few places, including the Canberra Times.

Kind regards

Carmen and the Honey Delight family.

The Good Food Story about Canberra Urban Honey

Canberra Urban Honey in The Port Macquaire News

Canberra Urban Honey in the Wimmera Mail




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