Keep the spread to toast

WITH more than 80,000 beehives stranded in NSW because of an outbreak of the deadly varroa mite, local beekeeper Mark Woodcock says it’s a timely reminder not to buy hives off online marketplaces without checking that the seller knows what they’re doing.

Although the mite hasn’t been found in Western Australia, the bacteria that causes American foulbrood is found locally and can wipe out a hive.

It’s getting into spring and bees are starting to swarm, and Mr Woodcock says some dodgy operators will collect a swarm from someone’s bakyard, then whack it straight up on Facebook.

He says that risks spreading foulbrood into previously clear areas.

He keeps any swarms separate from his own hives for several months, and also breeds a new queen from his own stock to ensure the hive will carry her good characteristics, such as being mellow and growing a healthy brood.

• White Gum Valley apiarist Mark Woodcock says don’t buy hives off Facebook unless you’re sure the seller knows what they’re doing, otherwise you could end up spreading American Foulbrood to all your beekeepy neighbours. Photo by Steve Grant

“There’s lots of reasons bees swarm, but those bees will suck up honey out of the hive when they leave, because that’s their food source and it’s also what they’re going to use to build wax, and feed young and all those things,” Mr Woodcock said.

“When they get to a new place, unless it’s already an old abandoned hive, then they start from the ground up and you need honey. 

“Without the honey, they couldn’t have the energy to keep building up the wax. 

“But the honey is a carrier of foul brood.”

Apiarists need to get their hives certified with the Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development, which issues them a “brand” which can be used to track and alert beekeepers if an outbreak has been detected.

Mr Woodcock also recommends people join the WA Apiarists’ Society, which holds regular information sessions with experts in the field who can keep them updated with the latest news and techniques to keep their hives healthy and clean.

He’s recently found a use for abandoned election corflutes, which usually end up in landfill; instead a bit of framing helps turn them into a bee clearer board, an essential part of any apiarist’s kit.


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