Effect of drought and bush fires on urban beekeeping

To the best of my knowledge and talking to the most experienced beekeepers in our region, if you were beekeeper last three years in Canberra, you would be experiencing the best and the worst beekeeping conditions our climate can offer.
Just three years ago with my best efforts to stop my bees swarming they all did swarm and in one case the colony that started as a swarm that year swarmed itself in just 8 weeks. Not to mentioned that I averaged 90kg of honey per colony.
Forward that two years to the current beekeeping season using the same swarm managing technique only one of my colonies has swarmed and I’ll be lacky to extract 30kg of honey per colony. My colonies are still healthy and strong, and they will have enough honey for themselves in winter. Unfortunately, unless we get lot of rain by end of February, I am afraid honey situation will stay the same.
I am observing in my inspections that bees are bringing much less pollen. In my garden they are collecting pollen from the sources they would never touch in the past, probably due to low protein content. There is also less brood, and the wet brood is not swimming in royal jelly either.
One issue that that I would like our forum members to comment is do you experience change of quality of honey this year, and can you smell/taste smoke in your honey?
I’ll extract my honey soon and will share my experience with you.

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Hi, it is funny that you mention “in the last three years” as I commenced my beekeeping journey in December 2016. I’m out at Wamboin and I have noticed a significant difference in my hives between this time last year and now. My last inspection revealed low brood numbers across all of my hives and barely any pollen appears to be coming in. Any plans I had this season of harvesting honey have been put on hold. It has certainly been a very tough time for all living creatures out our way so I am simply grateful my girls are managing to hold on.

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I don’t think what we are seeing is unusual. Bees have a remarkable ability to adjust their activities according to the season. Why else do we see the queen reduce and even stop laying in winter… Fact is that the hot dry weather has not only reduced flowering and pollen and nectar availability in the field but people are not watering gardens with a consequent reduction in pollen and nectar. The flowering processes in plants is quite sensitive to drought and other stress conditions. The girls really are doing it hard.
It will be difficult to consider quality changes when as you report and we have observed the content made up of different species will vary. Smoke and taste effects will be interesting.
It would be interesting to know what the smoke is doing to their every day activities and processes. I don’t share you hope that rain before February will change he situation.

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I have extracted honey from my colonies. There was no effect of smoke or drought on quality of honey that I could observe. One thing for sure is that honey was low moisture content 14.5 to 15%, viscous and hard to extract even at 30 to 34°C during the extraction.
Bees numbers are still high, but very few old drones and not much brood. Pollen situation is worst than 3 weeks ago. I am afraid that after the hail storm in Belconnen pollen supply will get progressively worst.
My only hope nectar and pollen is Ironbark, which did not get damaged as much as other species in the hail storm. The rain is forecasted for end of the week, 90% chance for up to 40mm, and that may trigger some flowering events.

Interesting comment on honey. really reflecting the very low humidities.

The fact that fewer drones and reduced brood indicates a shortage of pollen. I have found that while the honey and nectar stores are good considering the numbers, bee numbers are down, as with you no drones, reduced amount of brood and virtually no stored pollen or pollen on workers returning. Yes the result of a severe shortage of pollen.
When I look around my area (Hawker) there are virtually no flowers in gardens. Not sure it is the result of hail or simply people are just not watering their garden and growing flowers.
I am looking at feeding pollen and pollen substitutes to build up number for a possible autumn flush (hope hope) and to simply strengthen colonies for winter.
Interesting that your ironbark is supplying. There are buds on E.nicolli, E macroryncha but hard to know where they are at.All the yellow box, E. melliodora are doing it hard and many are dying. (borers after some leaf scale??)

The reason I comment about garden flowers is that the eucalypts are to a degree poor suppliers of pollen.The species around here are no exception. Many pollens are deficient in some amino acids and have low crude protein levels. The advantage of the suburban
pollen mix from may sources is the it results in a good supply of balanced pollen (normally). What area in Belconnen are you located?

My bees are in Florey. Close to lake Ginninderra.