Find out some interesting bee facts….
We’ve answered our top FAQs below – if your enquiry isn’t listed there we will get back to you as soon as we can.
How do I become a member?
Woohoo we’d love to have you join us. The Gold Coast Amateur Beekeeper’s Society inc. celebrates its 42nd year in 2021 and has been a wonderful club to help support and educate hobby beekeepers in the Gold Coast and Northern NSW regions whilst making new friends.
Please complete the membership form: Click Here
Annual membership fee includes our monthly Buzz magazine, monthly invitations to events and membership to the ABA (Amateur Beekeepers Association)
When and where are the Monthly MEMBER Meeting?
The Gold Coast Amateur Beekeeper’s Society inc. welcomes new members, existing members and visitors to attend and volunteer at all events.
non-members attending member meetings will be asked to make a gold coin donation.
Our regular meetings are held:
- Committee Meeting: First Monday of each month
- Members Meeting: Third Sunday of each month.
Please refer to the Events menu on this website for all event dates and locations.
Where do I buy bees?
You have all the equipment, read some blogs or books and done a course and ready to go. Whoppee. Now to buy some bees. Bees are usually sold as a nucleus hive consisting of four full depth Langstroth frames of brood, honey and pollen with a locally raised mated queen. Unfortuantely we do not sell nucs to the public but some of our members do. Nucs are advertised on our Members group or there are some commercial suppliers online you can enquire with.
Help! I have a swarm!
please see the following link https://gcabs.net.au/swarms
Are there any City of Gold Coast requirements to keep bees?
Ownership requirements for keeping bees
If you own one or more honeybee hives, you must be a registered beekeeper with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF).
You must also be a member of a recognised beekeeper’s association that has an approved code of practice for the keeping of bees. You do not need to register native beehives.
One of the primary limitations to keeping bees is the real or perceived interaction between the bees and people who live in or use the surrounding area.
Beehives must be set up and managed so they do not interfere with the community.
- setting up hives in a quiet part of the property, away from neighbouring properties, roads, footpaths and parks
- ensuring beehive is not located within a radius of 10 metres of:
- a residence on adjoining premises
- a place used for the manufacture, preparation or storage of food intended for human consumption other than a domestic kitchen used solely for the purpose of the keeper
- a place used for the storage of food
- facing hive entrances across your property or, using barriers, such as hedges, shrubs or shade cloth fixed to a trellis, so to shield adjoining properties from bees coming and going
- managing bee colonies to prevent or minimise swarming – beekeepers are responsible for a swarm and its capture as soon as it forms a cluster
- ensuring each beehive is adequately identified with the keeper’s Hive Identification number (HIN)
see also: City of Gold Coast | Bees
Subordinate Local Law No. 12 (Animal Management) 2013, Part 20, section 55 Minimum standards for the keeping of bees – Local law s14(1)
How do I register as a beekeeper with the department of Agriculture and fisheries?
BIOSECURITY ONLINE TRAINING (BOLT) MODULE
The Biosecurity for Beekeepers online training is now free for all Australian beekeepers.
The honey bee biosecurity training module contains information that is present in the biosecurity manual in an online format and questionnaire. Its aim is to maximise the early detection of exotic bee pests (specifically Varroa mites), and minimise the spread of potential pest incursions though improved understanding of the importance of biosecurity, best management practices and basic awareness of key
Is beekeeping for me?
Beekeeping can be an immensely rewarding hobby.
People start keeping bees for many different reasons. Some simply enjoy honey and want to produce enough for their own needs. For others, a general interest in the honey bee prompts them to acquire hives. Others have economic reasons, and are attracted by the ideas of free honey or pollination.
BEFORE YOU START
Here are a few considerations you should think about before deciding whether to become involved in beekeeping.
It is impossible to keep bees without being stung. Even if you always wear a complete set of protective clothing, you will get stung from time to time. Being stung is always painful and localised swelling and itching is common. Most people do become accustomed to frequent stings, and eventually experience only minor swelling and itching. A few people, don’t adjust in this way, and their reaction to stings may become increasingly sever. If you have these allergic reactions, or have never been stung before, consult a doctor before deciding to take up beekeeping.
Beekeeping is heavy work and requires good physical fitness. Boxes of honey may weigh up to 40 kg when full. When lifing them you will be wearing cumbersome protective clothing, often lifting boxes using your fingertips in relatively small handholds. The heaviest lifting is also done at the hottest time of the year.
You must visit your hives regularly if they are to stay healthy and productive. Certain critical beekeeping tasks must be carried out when colony conditions dictate, not at the beekeeper’s convenience.
Good eyesight is needed for finding Queens, looking for eggs and diagnosing brood diseases. If you need glasses to to see things close up or in fine detail, be sure to wear them.
Beekeeping equipment can be expensive, and keeping just a few hives can be a costly.
There are some restrictions on keeping bees and selling bee products, but generally beekeeping is hassle free provided you are not creating a nuisance to others.
How to get started
The best way to test your liking for beekeeping is to gain practical experience before you get any hives of your own – either with an individual beekeeper or by joining a local beekeeping club.
If you are not prepared to look after hives properly, don’t get any. Neglected hives are a nuisance to the public and a potential source of bee diseases.
A well sited apiary is one that suits the bees and the beekeeper, and doesn’t inconvenience neighbours or passer-by.
In some built up areas beekeeping is subject to council by-laws. If you intend to keep bees in an urban area, first find out if your local council imposes any restrictions.
Choosing where to site an apiary is one of the beekeeper’s most important tasks.
Protection from prevailing winds. Hives should be located in the protected side of patches of bush.
Apiaries should receive as much sunlight as possible, especially in the morning. Hive entrances usually face north-east.
A common mistake among beekeepers is to locate hives without giving thought to access.
Bees should also have access to a reliable source of water.
My honey has crystallised, how do I make it runny again?
Crystallisation is a completely natural characteristic of honey – it’s perfectly safe and normal. To make your honey runny again, simply place your B honey product in a bowl of warm water, which will melt the crystals.
Why must I also join the ABA?
In 2019, The Gold Coast Amateur Beekeeper’s Society inc. affiliated with the Amateur Beekeeper’s Association of NSW (ABA).
Some of the services the ABA provides to us are:
a centralised membership register
an IT platform to streamline admin tasks
collecting club membership fees on our behalf
educational and support services
distribution of ‘The Buzz’ newsletter to members
Some of the services the ABA provides to you, as members are:
membership cards and log books
listing on the ABA Swarm Collector database
optional public and product liability insurance tailored to the needs of beekeepers
bi-monthly newsletter “The Amateur Beekeeper”
website with education resources
lobbying of relevant authorities over matters important to beekeepers
The ABA mebership fee is listed separately to The Gold Coast Amateur Beekeeper’s Society inc membership fee, in case you would like to join more that one beekeeping club within the ABA network.
Can I join more than one Club?
Of course you can. To join another club within the ABA network, email email@example.com with the details of the second ABA club you would like to join. You will need to pay the new club fee. unexpired club memberships are not refundable.
How do I renew or update my membership details?
The Membership year is from 1 July to 30 June.
If you are already a member of the ABA, you can log in below to:
renew your membership
update your contact details
purchase personal beekeeping insurance
If you are logging in for the first time, make sure you choose first time logging in? to setup your password.
What number do I put on my hives to identify I own them?
Once you’re registered as a biosecurity entity, you’ll receive a unique Hive Identification Number (HIN) to brand your hives.
The HIN is not transferrable to other beekeepers. The HIN consists of: the first letter of your surname – followed by three or four numbers.
You must mark or brand the HIN on the broodbox of each hive at least 25mm high. Permanent marker or paint is fine, though some beekeepers prefer to use a branding iron for security as a seared mark is more difficult to disguise or remove.
The first HIN on a hive must be placed in the centre of the front of the hive (position 1). If a hive is already marked or branded, you must place any subsequent marks or brands of the HIN in the corners of the front of the hive in a clockwise sequence, starting from the top left hand corner (position 2).
The truth about bees
All of our ideas about bees are based on one species, the European honeybee. Most of the others are nothing like it
Honey bees are insects and have five characteristics that are common to most insects.
- They have a hard outer shell called an exoskeleton.
- They have three main body parts: head, thorax, abdomen.
- They have a pair of antennae that are attached to their head.
- They have three pairs of legs used for walking.
- They have two pairs of wings.
You can use the illustrations below to explore the anatomy of the honey bee both what you can see from the outside and also the parts of the honey bee located inside.
Looking at the Outside of a Honey Bee
|Head||Location of the eyes, brain, where the antennae attach.|
|Mandibles||Strong outer mouthparts that help protect the proboscis.|
|Proboscis||(Not shown) Tube-like mouth part used to suck up fluids.|
|Ocelli||One of two types of insect eyes used to detect motion.|
|Eye (Compound)||The second type of eyes made of many light detectors called ommatidia.|
|Antenna||Movable segmented feelers that detect airborne scents and currents.|
|Thorax||Midsection where the (6) legs and wings attach.|
|Abdomen||Hind part of the bee and where the stinger is located.|
|Stinger||Or sting, is a sharp organ at the end of the bee’s abdomen used to inject venom.|
|Forewings||Wings closest to the head.|
|Hind Wings||Wings farthest from the head.|
|Forelegs||Legs closest to the head.|
|Antennae Cleaners||Notches filled with stiff hairs that help bees clean their antennae. There is one on each foreleg.|
|Middle Legs||Leg located between the foreleg and hind leg.|
|Hind Legs||Legs farthest from the head. In workers, these legs have a unique set of tools used to collect and carry pollen called the press, brush, and auricle.|
|Coxa||First segment of an insect leg.|
|Trochanter||Second segment of an insect leg.|
|Femur||Third segment of an insect leg.|
|Tibia||Fourth segment of an insect leg; the tibia of the hind leg holds the pollen basket, where pollen is carried.|
|Metatarsus||Fifth segment of an insect leg; the metatarsus of the hind leg holds special pollen collecting tools.|
|Tarsus||The last segment of the leg and what touches the walking surface.|
|Tarsus Claw||Claw found on the last segment of the leg.|
|Compound Eye||A type of eyes of insect eye that is made of many light detectors called ommatidia.|
|Ocellus||A type of insect eye used to detect motion. (Plural: ocelli)|
|Antenna||A movable segmented feeler that detects airborne scents and currents.|
|Labrum||Mouthpart that can help handle food and that forms the top of the feeding tube.|
|Mandible||Strong outer mouthpart that helps protect the proboscis.|
|Maxilla||Mouthpart beneath the mandible that can handle food items.|
|Labial Palp||Mouthpart used to feel and taste during feeding.|
|Proboscis||Tube-like mouth part used to suck up fluids.|
|Glossa||An insect’s hairy tongue that can stick to nectar to pull it in toward the mouth.|
Labeled illustration showing the internal anatomy of a honey bee. Illustration by Walké via Wikimedia Commons.
Looking Inside a Honey Bee
|1||–||Proboscis||Straw-like mouthparts of a bee used to drink fluids.|
|2||–||Maxillae||The outer sheath of the proboscis which surrounds the labium.|
|3||–||Mandible||A pair of jaws used to chew pollen and work wax for comb building. They also help with anything that the bee needs to manipulate.|
|4||–||Labrum||A movable flap on the head that covers the opening of the food canal and proboscis|
|5||–||Food Canal||Like our mouths, this is the opening by which the bee will take in food. Bees’ food is almost always liquid in the form of nectar or honey.|
|6||–||Pharynx||Muscles used to move the labium and suck up nectar from flowers.|
|7||–||Esophagus||The hollow tube through which ingested fluids pass to the honey stomach and later the midgut.|
|8||–||Hypopharyngeal gland||Gland that produces some of the compounds necessary for making royal jelly, used to feed the larvae.|
|9||–||Brain||Honey bees have excellent learning and memory processing abilities. Their brain processes information used in navigation and communication as well as memory. The brain also controls many of the basic bee body functions.|
|10||–||Salivary Gland||The salivary glands have a number of functions. Like the hypopharyngeal gland, the salivary glands produce some compounds necessary for producing royal jelly. The salivary glands produce liquid used to dissolve sugar, and also produce compounds used to clean the body and contribute to the colony’s chemical identity.|
|11||–||Flight Muscles||The thorax muscles, which power the bee’s wings for flying and movement. These muscles work very hard and can help the bee to beat its wings up to 230 times per second.|
|12||–||Heart||Unlike in mammals, honey bees and insects have an open circulatory system, meaning their blood is not contained within tubes like veins or arteries. The blood, or hemolymph, in insects is free-flowing throughout the body cavity and is pumped via the heart. The heart is the structure in red, and acts like a pumping leaky tube to help move the hemolymph throughout the body|
|13||–||Opening of Spiracle||The respiratory system in insects is a series of hollow tubes connected to air sacs in the body. The openings of these hollow tubes are called spiracles. The tubes are called trachea which then provide oxygen and gas exchange to all tissues in the body.|
|14||–||Air sac||Air filled sacs used as reservoirs of air in the insect body.|
|15||–||Midgut||Contains the proventriculus, ventriculus, and small intestine. This is where most of the digestion and nutrient absorption occurs in the insect body|
|16||–||Heart Openings||Openings in the heart tube which take in and pump out hemolymph.|
|17||–||Ileum||A short tube connecting the midgut to the hindgut. The Ileum also often houses microbes, which aid in digestion.|
|18||–||Malpighian Tubules||A set of small tubes that are used to absorb water, waste, and salts and other solutes from body fluid, and remove them from the body.|
|19||–||Rectum||The rectum acts like our large intestine and is the bees primary location of water absorption for the gut after digestion and nutrient absorption.|
|20||–||Anus||The exit of the digestive system, used to excrete food waste (poop) while in flight.|
|21||–||Stinger||Also called “sting” is used to puncture the skin and pump venom into the wound. In worker bees the stinger has a barbed end. Once pushed into the skin the stinger remains in the victim. The venom sac will remain with the stinger. If left in the body the stinger will continue to pump venom from the venom sac into the victim. Queen bees have a longer and un-barbed stinger. Drones (males) do not have a stinger.|
|22||–||Stinger Sheath||The hardened tube, from which the stinger can slide in and out.|
|23||–||Sting Canal||The sting is hollow, allowing venom to pass through the stinger. This is also the canal via which an egg is passed, when the queen lays an egg.|
|24||–||Venom Sack||Holds the venom produced by the venom gland, and can then contract to pump venom through the stinger.|
|25||–||Venom Gland||The gland which produces the venom that damages tissue if injected into the body.|
|26||–||Wax Glands||Worker bees start to secrete wax about 12 days after emerging. About six days later the gland degenerates and that bee will no longer produce wax. The queen is continually laying eggs to maintain colony size and to produce more new workers that produce wax.|
|27||–||Ventral Nerve Cord||Like the nerve cord in our spine, which holds bundles of nerve fibers that sends signals from our brain to the rest of our body.|
|28||–||Proventriculus||A constricted portion of the honey bee foregut or honey stomach, which can control the flow of nectar and solids. This allows honey bees to store nectar in the honey stomach without being digested.|
|29||–||Honey Stomach (Foregut/Crop)||A storage sac, used in honey bees to carry nectar. The honey stomach is hardened to prevent fluids from entering the body at this location.|
|30||–||Aorta||Blood vessel located in the back of a bee that carries blood from the heart to the organs.|
|31||–||Esophagus||Part of the bee digestive system that begins below the mouth and connects to the honey stomach.|
|32||–||Ventral Nerve Cord||Same as 27. This is a large bundle of nerves from the brain that sends signals to the rest of the bee’s body.|
|33||–||Labium||In bees a tongue-like appendage used to help drink up nectar. Like our tongue bees can taste with this organ. The labium fits inside of the maxilla (2), kind of like a straw.|
Need to use an Extractor?
The Gold Coast Amateur Beekeeper’s Society inc. has three extractors available for hire to members only.
It is a condition of use that this equipment is returned in a clean, wax and honey free condition.
Cost of hire: $15 per 48 hours, or part thereof.
To book an extractor, contact:
V’s Bee’s Qld
3/90 Spencer Rd, Nerang
located inside Allied Bearings and Seals
Phone: 0415 192 662
What is the life expectancy of the Queen?
If left alone, the queen can last up to 5 years. However, she is not usually left alone. She is often replaced by the beekeeper or the bees themselves. As the only individual in the hive that lays eggs, the size of the population is clearly dictated by her maternal powers. She is at her prime from 2-3 years, after which her powers begin to decline, and it is at this time, that many beekeepers will replace her with a young mated queen which has been specially bred.
If the bees are not happy with their queen, they will replace her by a process called supersedure. A small number of queen cells will be produced, and a new queen raised. This queen will then get mated and take up laying duties, sometimes alongside her mother. This is the only time when two queens are tolerated in the same hive, but it doesn’t usually last long, eventually the old queen will be discarded
Do I need to pay the Honey Levy?
The National Honey Levy is a compulsory levy established in 1962 at the request of the Australian honey bee industry. Honey that is produced in Australia and sold, exported or used in the production of other goods attracts a levy and export charge. The government collects the levy on behalf of the industry and invests the funds on the recommendations of the Australian Honeybee Industry Council (AHBIC).
Who pays the national honey levy?
If an individual beekeeper produces more than 1,500 kilograms of honey in a calendar year and sells their honey by designated sale or uses their honey in the production of other goods, the individual must lodge a return and make a payment to the Federal Department of Agriculture.
How much is the national honey levy and what is it used for?
The levy is currently 4.6 cents per kilogram of honey. The levy funds research and development (R&D), essential biosecurity programs, and national honey residue surveying with AgriFutures Australia, Plant Health Australia and the National Residue Survey.
From the diagram below it can be seen that of every 4.6 cents collected 2.7 cents is put into a fund for emergency pest responses (eg. fighting Varroa incursions), 1.5 cents is allocated to R&D investment via AgriFutures Honey Bee and Pollination Program, 0.3 cents is used for National residue testing and 0.1 cents goes to Plant Health Australia.
Primary Industries Legislation
The honey levy is provided for under, the:
Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Act 1999
Primary Industries (Customs) Charges Act 1999
National Residue Survey (Excise) Levy Act 1998
National Residue Survey (Customs) Charges Act 1998, and
Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Act 1991.
This information is a guide only. If you are required to lodge a return and make a payment to the Federal Department of Agriculture it is your responsibility to remain aware of your obligation under legislation.
If you have any questions about levies and charges, your levies account or how to lodge your return, please contact the Levies Helpdesk via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1800 020 619
Bearding Vs Swarming: How To Tell The Difference
Bearding and swarming are two different phenomena that occur in the lifecycle of honeybees. In both cases, a large number of bees cluster together – which is why many people mistake bees bearding for bees that are about to swarm. While there are some similarities between the two, you should be able to tell the difference by looking a bit closer.
What Is Swarming?
Swarming is when the queen and a large group of worker bees leave their hive. It can happen for two reasons.
The first reason is when the bees abscond or abandon their hive in order to survive. It could be because there is insufficient food or water, problems with disease, frequent disturbances, or issues with the queen that threatens the survival. In this instance, the entire colony leaves the hive.
The second reason bees might swarm is as a natural means of reproduction that occurs when a colony of bees run out of space in their existing hive. Rather than the entire colony leaving, it splits into two separate colonies.
The queen and a large number of workers leave the hive to create a new one. Before swarming, bees will deprive the queen of food so that she loses enough weight to fly. They will then create a number of queen cells so that a new queen can take over the hive.
Scout bees will fly to find a new location for the hive to cluster temporarily (usually for a few hours), before sending more scouts to find a suitable place to create the new hive.
What Is Bearding?
Bearding is when, rather than go inside the hive, bees hang outside the entrance in large clusters. Because of the shape, it often gives the appearance that the hive has grown a beard of bees.
Bees beard to control the internal temperature and humidity levels of the hive. You see, when the hive becomes too hot, the brood begins to die, threatening the existence of the colony.
On top of that, the high level of humidity means bees are not able to reduce the moisture content of nectar and turn it into honey, which could leave the colony without enough food to survive.
That’s why bees beard outside the hive – so they can create more space inside the hive which allows for more ventilation. Sometimes you might even see them sitting at the entrance of the hive fanning their wings to help with air flow.
Bearding is a completely natural behaviour and the sign of a healthy hive. Swarming, on the other hand, indicates there may be something wrong. That’s why, if you’re not sure whether your bees are bearding or preparing to swarm, it’s a good idea to check.
The Differences Between Swarming And Bearding
Bearding bees might look like they’re preparing to swarm at first sight, but there are a few differences you can use to be sure of which one is happening.
Time Of Year
The first clue as to whether your bees are swarming or bearding is the time of the year.
Swarming typically occurs during mid-late Spring, because many flowers are in bloom. This allows bees to collect a lot of pollen and nectar, providing optimal conditions for the queen to lay more eggs and the colony to grow in size. When the colony becomes too large for their hive, some of the bees will start preparing to swarm.
Bearding usually occurs during Summer or when the weather is very hot. A hot and humid climate can make it more difficult for bees to regulate the internal temperature of their hive, forcing them to hang outside as they wait for it to cool down.
Time Of Day
As well as the time of year, the time of day also usually differs between bearding and swarming.
Bees tend to swarm in the middle part of the day, between 10am and 2pm. This gives them enough time to cluster and scout a new location for their hive.
Bearding, on the other hand, typically occurs in the late afternoon or at night. That’s because bees are out of the hive during the day collecting pollen and nectar. When they return to find the hive is too hot, they cluster outside.
The Level Of Activity
Bees preparing to swarm are typically very loud and active. You will likely see large numbers of bees moving rapidly and some flying around.
When bees are bearding, they will be very docile and rarely take flight. Instead, they tend to cluster together in a large group on the landing board or around the outside of the hive. You might see some of the bees fanning their wings into the hive trying to increase ventilation.
Amount Of Space Inside The Hive
Bees swarm when they have run out of space inside the hive to continue building more comb – which is essential to store food and raise more brood. When this happens, the colony has grown too large for the hive, and will decide to split it in two.
If you suspect your bees are preparing to swarm, check the hive to see how much space is left on each of the frames. If the bees have built comb all the way to the edges of the frame and have nowhere left to build – especially if the comb is full of food or brood – they could very well be preparing to swarm.
If this is the case, you will likely notice an abundance of idle worker bees who have nothing to do – because there is barely any room to store more food or raise more brood.
Sometimes a lack of space can also make it difficult to regulate the internal temperature of the hive, which could force bees to beard outside. So not enough room does not necessarily mean the hive is going to swarm just yet – but it’s likely they will at some point in the near future.
Either way, if you notice a lack of space, it’s time to either add more frames or another brood box or honey super, or split the hive.
The Presence Of Queen Cells
The presence of queen cells is a big giveaway your hive is preparing to swarm.
If bees are preparing to swarm and split the colony in two, they must raise a new queen to leave behind. To do this, they build queen cell cups, into which the current queen will lay eggs. These are long, vertical beeswax cells that can usually be found on the bottom or outer edges of the comb.
If you suspect your colony is preparing to swarm, then inspect your hive and search for queen cells. If you find some – especially ones that contain eggs or larvae – it is highly likely your hive is preparing to swarm. If you find capped cells, the swarm is imminent.
It takes around 9 days after capping for the new queen to emerge. So, if there are capped queen cells, it means the hive will swarm sometime within the next 9 days.
If the queen cells are capped, the swarm could happen any day.
If your bees are bearding, on the other hand, they have no reason to raise another queen – so there should be no queen cells.
Swarming Vs Bearding: How To Tell The Difference
|Swarming typically occurs in mid-late Spring or early Summer, when flowers are in bloom, as this creates optimal conditions for the colony’s population to grow rapidly.||Bearding typically occurs during Summer when the weather is hot and humid, making it more difficult to regulate the internal temperature of the hive.|
|Swarming will most likely occur during the middle of the day, between the hours of 10 am-2 pm, giving the bees enough time to cluster, before scouting for a new home.||Bearding will most likely occur in the late afternoon or evening when bees return home after collecting pollen and nectar only to find their hive is too hot inside.|
|Bees that are about to swarm are typically loud and active (especially aerially).||Bees that are bearding tend to stay grounded and huddle in large clusters on the landing board or outside of the hive.|
|Before a colony swarms, they need to raise a new queen to take over the hive – so you’ll find queen cells (vertical, peanut-shaped beeswax cells) on the outer edges of the comb.||If your bees are bearding, you may notice some fanning their wings towards the entrance in an attempt to improve ventilation and cool down the hive.|
|Bees swarming is the sign of a strong colony that has outgrown its hive, so you’ll notice there is little or no room to build additional comb on any of the frames.||A lack of space can contribute to bees bearding – but it’s also something you need to resolve as soon as possible, because it means they will likely prepare to swarm sometime soon unless additional space is provided.|
Bearding is when bees hang outside the hive, typically in the late afternoon or at night. They do this to reduce the number of bees inside and help cool down their hive.
Swarming typically happens as a natural means of reproduction and occurs when the colony has outgrown the hive. Around half the hive, along with the queen, will leave to find a new home.
If your bees are preparing to swarm, you will need to split the hive or provide additional frames upon which they can continue to build comb – which is necessary to store food and brood.
What Is A Honey Refractometer And How To Use It
A refractometer is a tool that measures the refractive index of a liquid substance. In other words, it measures the degree light bends when passing through the solution. It is used in many fields to identify the purity and concentration of substances in liquid samples.
A honey refractometer is an instrument that measures the degree light bends when passing through honey. This helps estimate the moisture content in the honey sample – giving beekeepers more certainty over the risk of honey fermentation and whether or not to apply corrective measures.
How Does A Refractometer Work?
Most of us have heard of refraction and how light bends or changes direction when it goes through a liquid like water.
Remember that experiment with a pencil or straw in a glass of water and how it bends as it passes through water? – this is called refraction, and it’s the principle under which refractometers work.
Refraction happens when light travels from one transparent substance to another. Following the previous example, when light travels from the air into the glass of water, light bends because of a change of speed – light slows down when it travels from air into water.
The degree of refraction or bending light is affected by the amount of liquids or solids present in a solution or substance. So, a solution with more dissolved solids will bend differently than one with less.
A refractometer takes the angle at which light enters the liquid and compares it to the angle at which light exits to calculate the refractive index.
What Makes A Honey Refractometer Different?
Beekeepers use the refractometer to measure how much water or moisture there is in honey.
Given one of the main components of honey is sugar, honey refractometers use the Brix scale, which measures the amount of sugar in a solution.
One degree Brix is equivalent to 1 gram of Sucrose in 100 grams of solution (or one percent of sugar).
While you can use other types of refractometers, you might want to make the task easier for yourself and get a honey refractometer.
The difference is a regular refractometer will show the reading as a percentage of solids dissolved in water. Honey refractometers do the opposite – they give the measurement of moisture in solids.
A honey refractometer has a reduced Brix scale. Instead of presenting values between 0-100% water in the sample, it will display a number between 10-30% water (equivalent to 70-90% solids in the sample).
These features will make testing the moisture in honey more straightforward – it will show you what you need, without having to make any additional calculations.
Why Should You Buy A Honey Refractometer?
Not every beekeeper has to own a refractometer. However, it’s a handy tool when it comes to harvesting honey.
The amount of water present in a batch or jar of honey will affect the rate at which it ferments. Therefore, it is crucial to measure moisture, especially if you plan to store your honey for a long time, sell it or give it away to other people.
While there are many refractometers with a wide range of prices, it’s not necessary for you to buy an expensive one as a beekeeper.
A handheld honey refractometer will be adequate for you to monitor the moisture in your honey.
Types Of Honey Refractometers You Can Buy
There are two main types of honey refractometers you can get. These are analog and digital refractometers.
The main difference is how the result is read. When using an analog refractometer, you will need to look through an eyepiece for the analog type and read the results from the scale presented. In contrast, a digital refractometer will show the reading on its screen.
The other big difference you might find between these is the price. Digital refractometers tend to be more expensive.
Which one you choose is entirely up to you. Both will serve the purpose – it’s just a matter of how much you’re willing to spend and which one you feel most comfortable with.
Parts Of A Honey Refractometer
While a digital refractometer is simpler to use, an analog refractometer is more accessible in terms of price. Therefore, it tends to be the most common.
- Prism: This is the section where you place your honey.
- Cover – Clear lid or cover that protects the prism.
- Calibration screw: It is often covered with a plastic lid. With the help of a screwdriver and a calibration liquid, you will be able to calibrate the instrument by adjusting the screw.
- Focus ring: This will allow you to focus on the image so you can see it clearly.
- Eyepiece: This is where you will look to read the results.
What Else Comes In The Box? – Analog Refractometer
Note: This varies according to the seller so keep this in mind when you are buying one. While some of these items can be replaced by everyday household items, you might want your set to include them – make sure you ask the seller what’s included.
- User manual: The instructions specific for the model and brand you bought. It will most likely include the steps for calibration and measuring, and taking care of your refractometer.
- Calibrating solution: A liquid that comes in a little bottle that will help you calibrate your instrument.
- Screwdriver to calibrate
- Pipette dropper: This will help you take a honey sample and put it on the prism. If yours doesn’t have one, it doesn’t matter. You can still use other things for this, like a plastic spoon, a popsicle stick, or even your finger.
How To Use A Honey Refractometer
Analog refractometers are easy to use but can be a little intimidating at first. So, here is a guide for you to know how to use your refractometer.
How To Calibrate A Honey Refractometer
Before you can start measuring your honey samples, making sure your honey refractometer is well-calibrated is vital. This will guarantee your readings will be as accurate as possible.
Most refractometers will come calibrated from the manufacturer; however, it never hurts to check before using it. The screw can loosen up during transport or over time if you don’t use it too often.
What you will need:
- Reference or calibrating liquid
- A source of light
The reference liquid is a substance that has a known Brix reading or moisture content. If your set came with one of these, its Brix or moisture content will be written in the calibration instructions.
Before You Start
- Open the lid or cover and clean the prism with a microfiber cloth or lint-free fabric. I would recommend you do this every time you are going to use the refractometer.
- Another essential step before calibrating and using a refractometer is to ensure both the refractometer and the calibrating liquid have the same temperature (ideally room temperature: 68˚ F or 20˚ C). This is because temperature affects refractive index readings.
- You also need to keep the refractometer, the calibrating liquid, and the honey you will measure at the same temperature. For this, it might be helpful to do the calibration and measurement in a room you can keep at a constant temperature.
Step By Step – Honey Refractometer Calibration
Lift the clear cover on the prism and add a few drops of the calibrating liquid on the glass. Use just enough to cover the entire surface of the prism, without going over the edges.
- Close the cover and make sure there are no air bubbles by gently pressing down the transparent lid.
- Take off the cover of the adjustable screw and keep the screwdriver at arm’s reach so you can adjust it if needed.
- Take your refractometer and look through the eyepiece, while directing it towards a source of light
- Move the focus ring until the scales and numbers become clear to you. You will see the background is divided into color blocks, most likely blue and white.
- The line dividing the two is what indicates the value in its corresponding scale.
- The substance you are using to calibrate already has a known or given Brix or moisture content value. As you look through your eyepiece, identify if you can read that given value or if your refractometer is showing a different one.
- If it’s different, you will have to calibrate your device by adjusting the screw while still looking through the eyepiece until the line between the blue and white meet the known or given value.
- Your honey refractometer is calibrated and ready to use. Clean the prism with a damp microfiber cloth or lint-free fabric, wipe it dry and cover it. Put on the cap or cover on top of the adjustment screw, and you are ready to go!
My Honey Refractometer Didn’t Include A Calibration Liquid. What Now?
What if your refractometer doesn’t come with a calibrating liquid, you ran out, or the Brix/moisture content is unknown?
In this case, you can still use your tool and get accurate results calibrating with different substances that can be easy to find.
The first thing you must keep in mind is that the substance you choose to calibrate should be compatible with the scale of your refractometer.
Commonly, honey refractometers will have a 90-60 Brix scale or 10-30% water scale, which means, if you are using one of these refractometers, the calibrating substance you use should have a known Brix between 90 and 60 or 10-30% water content.
For other refractometers with the full scale, you can use other solutions with Brix that go from 100-0 Brix (or moisture).
Calibrating Honey Refractometers With A 90-60 Brix Scale
Most people these days use olive oil in their cooking, given its increase in popularity, so it’s very likely you already have some in your kitchen. If not, you can easily find it in your local supermarket.
Olive oil can be used as a calibrating oil. It won’t be as accurate as a calibration oil made specifically for this purpose, but it works well to test honey.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), olive oil has a refractive index between 1.4677-1.4705, equivalent to around 70.9° Brix – 71.9° (as per ICUMSA standards).
Calibrating Refractometers With A Full Scale
The easiest way, and probably most accurate, to calibrate a refractometer with a full scale is to use distilled water which should read at 0° Brix.
So, to calibrate, take one or two drops of distilled water and put it on your refractometer’s prism, and read the results against a source of light. If it doesn’t read 0° Brix, then you need to adjust the screw until it does.
How To Use Your Refractometer To Measure The Moisture Content Of Your Honey
Now your refractometer is calibrated and ready to use, let’s move on to how to measure the moisture content of your honey.
Before You Start
- Take your refractometer and honey to your extraction room, or somewhere you can control the temperature to keep it constant. You want both the refractometer and your honey to be at room temperature (around 68˚ F or 20˚ C).
- Stir your honey well if it already sits in a jar or bucket. This will help to get a more accurate reading. The moisture content of honey taken from the top layer of a pot or bucket will be slightly different than a sample from the bottom.
Step By Step
- Lift the clear lid on top of the prism. Use your microfiber cloth to make sure there is no dust.
- Take a couple of drops of honey with your dropper and put them on the prism and spread it on the whole area. Alternatively, you can stick your fingertip in honey and smear it on the glass. You only need enough to cover the prism area.
- Close the prism cover and squeeze gently to get rid of any bubbles.
- Take the refractometer to your eye and hold it in front of a source of light while looking through the eyepiece. Use the focus ring if you need the image to get clearer.
- You will see the background divided in white and blue with the border that separates the two. Most analog honey refractometers will have the water content scale and the Brix scale. Find the point where the line meets the water content scale and read the number. That is the water content or moisture of the honey you just sampled.
- Clean the prism and the clear lid with a microfiber or lint-free cloth.
- Take multiple readings from the same sample and calculate the average, as a single drop might give a poor indication of the entire batch. This is particularly important if you are taking the sample from honey that has been sitting in a bucket or jar.
- If you are taking honey directly from your supers before extraction, collect a sample from different parts of the honeycomb.
- Making labels from masking tape with the moisture or the frame and date/time will help you track the progress if you are trying to decrease the moisture content.
How To Take Care Of Your Honey Refractometer
How you take care of your honey refractometer will increase its longevity and provide you with more accurate readings.
Here are few tips to make sure to take good care of it:
- Always wipe your prism with a gentle, lint-free fabric. This will get rid of dust particles before you calibrate and use your refractometer.
- After using, clean the prism and the transparent panel or lid with a moistened lint-free cloth.
- Make sure you put away your refractometer in its box after every use.
- Always close the clear panel or lid after you are done using the refractometer. Getting scratches on the prism will most likely affect the readings.
When am I considered a Commercial Beekeeper?
Generally, when you reach 50 hives you are considered a commercial beekeeper.