A week in the life of Babylonstoren’s VIP garden workers, by our resident beekeeper and entomologist, Arné Stander. 


The weather changed significantly over the past few weeks in terms of temperature, especially night temperature. Though we’ve had some very hot days, autumn has clearly arrived. The hot days are fewer, with more bearable temperatures in the low 30’s. 

The second workshop with 16 guests was held on a sunny, but not too hot, day. We saw many honeybees in the garden – including big carpenter bees and other solitary bees – even at the insect hotel. Holes in logs had been sealed off by mother bees, to protect their offspring as they mature into adult bees. The young adults will chew their way out into the light when the time comes.  

We visited the Soetdoring camp for the practical session and opened a few hives to look at the different stages of the brood’s development: capped brood, pollen, uncapped and capped honey, and newly built wax comb. 

I passed the frames around for guests to observe and feel the weight of a fully-capped frame of honey. They held the frame above their heads, towards the sun, to see the darker spots in the honey. Bees do not mix different nectars in the same cell, but rather keep them separated, hence the darker spots. Each guest received a Margaret Roberts English lavender plant, as they are favoured by our Cape honeybees. 

I harvested the last honey from one of the hives in the Soetdoring camp, which was donated by Mel who volunteered with us during 2023.   

I removed the super and set it aside. I closed the inner lid to keep the bees calm while I extracted the frames one by one, brushing the bees off and inserting the frames into the empty super. 

I added the new frames to their super, placed the super back on top of the brood box, and closed the hive. The bees will build new comb on the wax foundation. Although they won’t be able to fill everything with honey, I’ll remove the super by the end of April or as soon as the temperature drops further. The super will be placed in the freezer for two days to kill off any eggs of the wax moth or black hive beetle. Thereafter, all the supers will be stacked and stored for spring. 

On harvesting the honey, the red-coloured pin was replaced by a blue pin, indicating that there are no more honey frames in the super. I had a look at all the other supers and can see progress in all, except for one. In two weeks, I will remove this super if the situation remains unchanged. The other supers show new comb and some are filled with honey. 

I went through the used frames that need new wax sheets and took 11 supers and approximately 50 brood frames to Gerard Frater, my bee mentor in Paarl. Gerard will put new wax foundation in the frames. In a few weeks, I will take last spring’s catch hives to him for two weeks. 

Next week I’ll extinguish the German wasp (Vespula germanica) nests in the water buffalo camp. I have seen activity around the Chianina cattle, where wasps simply sit on the cattle, possibly scouting for flies. They do also irritate the cattle, especially those with an open scratch mark on them. I have found three nests in the water buffalo camp, quite close to each other. It’s possible that the three queens are sisters who originated from the same nest last season. 

The photo below shows the entrance to a nest situated in the dam wall. It had rained and the morning air was cool. However, these wasps can tolerate cooler temperatures as their nest is in soil, which is much warmer. Wasps flying out at slow speed are carrying soil, which indicates that they are expanding their nest by excavating to add on to the papery nest.  

Final remarks 

Next up: an inspection of the eucalyptus camp and dealing with the invasive German wasps.   


Super - Any hive body, usually a smaller box, used for the storage of honey which the beekeeper intends to harvest. Normally it is placed above the brood chamber(s). Supers are typically medium or shallow-sized boxes. 

Apiary - Colonies, hives, and other equipment assembled in one location for beekeeping operations. 

Beehive - An artificial cavity for a bee colony to live in, usually a box or boxes with movable frames. 

Brood - Immature bees that are still inside their cells. Brood can be in the form of eggs, larvae, or pupae of different ages. 

Capped honey – When bees cover their honey with wax, much like putting a lid on it.  

Queen - A female bee with a fully developed reproductive system. Larger and longer than a worker bee.