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Mass murder on Bribie

By Alistair Gray

I was just about to leave the property when the phone rang and Gordon Buckley told us there had been another mass bee-killing. What do you do when you have bees in the walls of your house? Do you call a pest controller or a bee removalist? There is a big difference, as you will see.

The caller said they discovered bees in the wall of their home. They had searched for a bee removalist and found a pest control website advertising bee removal—not realising that instead, the bees would be chemically exterminated, not relocated to another site as they had intended.

The results are not a good outcome for the bees or the homeowner. Not only did they kill the bees at the site of the problem but once bees are dead and no longer protecting the hive, bees from another hive can enter to rob the honey, taking the honey and the poison back to their hive and either kill or weaken that hive.

Worse still, the customer is not getting a long-term solution to their situation as without cutting into the wall, removing the tubes of honeycomb and the dead bees; pests are likely to be attracted to the site including small hive beetles. These beetles breed in the honeycomb and dilute the honey to a stage where it ferments, causing a terrible stink. If not done correctly in the first place, the homeowner will have to cut into the wall later to remove the fermented honey because of the smell. However, when you use a bee removalist, the bees are safely relocated to a new hive using a vacuum process, and the residue honeycomb is removed from the wall to ensure the bees don't return. After all, killing bees is terrible for the planet's ecology, so let's save the bees.

Gordon mentioned that many houses on Bribie have had bees in their walls or ceilings. One way to prevent this is to block up weep holes and other small holes in your walls with fine insect mesh, still allowing the building to breathe but keeping the bees out.

Gordon and Louise Buckley have been farming bees on their Beachmere property since 2007, starting with one hive which they split. Today, they have 26 hives on their property and spread around the local area. They have been slowly renovating a beautiful old Queenslander, with the honey processing carried out on-site. Once the honey is extracted, the leftover wax is cleaned and ready for making various biproducts.

They share a fascination and passion for bees and, as a result, have been developing an eco-friendly business, Buckley's Bees. They are members of the Queensland Beekeeper's Association and affiliate Northside Beekeepers Association Inc. Through the interaction of members, Gordon and Louise have developed their skills and knowledge, with Gordon often called upon for advice and help in relocating swarming bees or those who have set up homes in walls and ceilings. Louise is also a midwife working as a practice nurse at Bribie Doctors and Gordon an insurance assessor.

Visiting their property and learning more about beekeeping, putting on protective gear and looking inside some hives was a thrill. It brought back many memories of watching fascinating documentaries about bees. I was amazed to see how small the worker bees were. It was strange to have them buzzing around my head so close. Then, I felt how heavy each frame of honey was. A whole hive would be very heavy, with about 10 frames in one hive section. Honey production is seasonal and depends on how much rain we get for the plants to flower. If we go through a dry patch like the predicted El Nino, you could go without honey for six months, and for producers, this means no income.

“So far this year, honey production has been phenomenal,” Gordon said.

They have emptied all their hives of honey three times this year and now, they are taking four frames of honey each week and can still take more. He said we had been lucky to have had a very mild winter with enough moisture to encourage flower growth. It is important every time Gordon harvests the honey to always leave about one-third of the honey produced to feed the bees should the weather turn to avoid manual feeding.

One of the challenges of being an apiarist in Beachmere is the very sandy soil and the need for flowering plants. The poor soil and lack of water require some hives to be located away from the property to maximise honey production and local planting of blooming plants that can tolerate the conditions.

Queen bees can lay up to 2000 eggs a day. These grow into foraging worker bees and survive for 30 days during spring and summer when they produce the honey. The Queen can live for about five years, though Gordon will introduce a new Queen every two years.

A beehive has two main parts – the brood box, at the bottom where all the bees live with the Queen. It is here where the Queen lays all her eggs. The box on top of that is where the bees build the honeycomb and fill it with honey. That's what they use if they need to look after themselves over the winter and why it is necessary to leave some honey for the bees. The two boxes are separated by a small grill called a queen excluder to keep the Queen producing in the brood box and away from the top box. The worker bees move through to the honeycomb in the top box. There is so much to learn about beekeeping and space doesn't allow me the opportunity to go into more detail.

To learn more, check out videos on YouTube or attend one of Gordon’s information sessions at their property in Beachmere. Besides pure, raw honey and honeycomb for sale from the farm gate, Louise makes and has available beeswax wraps, long-burning beeswax candles and furniture polish. For more details, please go to their Facebook page, Buckleysbees Beachmere.


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