bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Monday, May 31, 2004

Victoria wants 17,000 bee hives

Almond production in NW Victoria, Australia must be on the increase. One grower, Select Harvest, wants 17,000 colonies this August and expects to need 50,000 in five years' time when the almond groves are in full production. Without pollination, almonds are likely to yield only 5% of their potential.

The Bush Users Group says that Australian pollination costs are half those of the USA, Canada and New Zealand (where prices are $A70-$A100 per hive) because the colonies can recover between stressful commercial pollination contracts with a more balanced diet foraging Australia's nectar- and pollen-rich flora. Nonetheless Victoria's almond pollination contracts are worth $A560,000 each year — and the almond crop is worth over $A30 million.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Raising the bee profile

Nice bit of honeybee promotion by Maine (USA) beekeepers in the Maine Press Herald. Nothing particularly new, but an excellent piece of local journalism to stimulate interest in bees and honey. And another neat promotional idea in South Carolina where Archie Biering has set up Bee City, a bee theme park of sorts.

But could they possibly beat Quince's Honey Farm in Devon, UK where visitors can see colonies in old post boxes and, at the press of a button, separate frames to see bees in action (behind glass)?

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Top of the colony

Today is the 51st anniversary of a beekeeper's ascent of Mount Everest. It's Sir Edmund Hillary in case you hadn't guessed (remember Hillary Clinton can't possibly be named after him). Sir Edmund is 84 years of age. I wonder if he still tends his bees?

Engines imitate wildlife

The late-night engine testing at Hawke's Bay Airport is like living in a room next to 10,000 bumble bees, say Westshore residents Len and Judy Sellars.
Has anyone out there ever heard 10,000 bumblebees?

Friday, May 28, 2004

Entomologist turns forensics investigator

Following the death of a Texan logger by hundreds of bee stings on Tuesday, an entomologist at Texas A&M University is trying to determine what kind of bees were responsible.
Paul Jackson, the state entomologist at Texas A&M University, said he plans to release his findings Friday afternoon. It’s unclear if the bees were Africanized honey bees or regular bees, and he said he might release a “best guess” because the nest was not found and he only got a partial sample of the bees.

“When bees sting, their whole abdomen comes out, so we ended up with torn-up bees that are hard to identify,” Jackson said Thursday.
UPDATE: The results are in: it seems to have been a hybrid mix of Africanized and European honeybees.
“Three of the bees were Africanized (honey bees) and two were European (domestic honey bees).”

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Impoverished Bangladeshi beekeeping

Now that the swarming season is at its peak in the UK, some beekeepers might just be wondering what to do with yet another swarm (I'm sorry to say I haven't had a single call to rescue a swarm yet!). But spare a thought for Bangladeshi beekeepers who would love to have a swarm of Apis mellifera, but find they are just too expensive. Instead they make do with the lower-yielding Apis cerana honeybees.
The yield from Apish Malifera [sic] is almost double that from the local variety ... Besides, Apish Malifera bees are resistant to diseases unlike the Sirana variety.

Masud said ... he cannot purchase those because of high price. A box of Malifera bees are sold at Tk 2500 to 3000, which poor honey farmers can not afford, he said.

He said the Apish Sirana [sic] bees are susceptible to various diseases. ... The preventive medicine is imported and is not easily available.

Abul Kalam of Fulbaria headquarter is cultivating honey since 1992. He has 14 boxes, all with Apish Sirana. He said he tried for bank loan to expand the farming, but did not get.
The article in the Bangladeshi Daily Star (which is “committed to the people's right to know”) suggests that things could be improved with support:

A good number of farmers still cling to their traditional profession amid odds, producing about 1200 maunds of honey a year. The production can be raised to about 4000 maunds, leaving a sizeable export surplus, if the problems are removed and assistance provided, they say.

Marketing problem, lack of scientific preservation facilities, HYV bees and bank loan and high price of medicine to protect bees from diseases are the major problems.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Beekeeping fashionable in Chelsea

This year, Britain's famed Chelsea Flower Show has a beekeeper's garden:
Downderry Nursery’s Beekeeper’s Garden ... has as its theme the re-emergence of the honey bee, following the decline caused by the varroa mite.
Located in Kent, Downderry is home to the National Plant Collections of lavender and rosemary.


Monday, May 24, 2004

Gaza stripped

Israeli raids in Gaza continue to affect beekeepers:

For beekeeper Naeem Hejazi, the damage could not be undone.

He said Israeli army bulldozers that levelled a citrus grove about one kilometre from the Jewish settlement of Rafiah Yam crushed his cash crop — 350 boxes of bees that produced about two tons of honey a year.

“I was watching from my house as the bulldozers approached my bees. Once the bulldozers started knocking them down and burying them, I forgot about the risk and ran from my house holding a white flag,” Hejazi said.

“I begged them for my bees. They did not listen to me and told me to get away or they would shoot,” he said, weeping.
See earlier incursions.

Honey is beesness in Italy

Italy's spring honey harvest is disappointing, but the real interest in the story for me is the authoritative overview of Italy's honey business, a “Special service by AGI on behalf of the Italian Prime Minister's office”.

More apimorphism

Bees continue to provide analogies and metaphors for mankind. I bet you can't guess where this one from John Maxwell of the Jamaican Observer leads:
Anyone who has studied the honeybee soon realizes that bees make four types of cells: honeycomb cells and brood cells for Queens, Drones and Worker bees. Queen Bees lay the same eggs in every brood cell. Some cells are differently shaped and sized for Drones and Queens. When a hive loses a Queen it simply transfers an egg from a worker cell to a Queen cell, and presto, a new Queen. Queens go on laying eggs for life, once fertilized by a Drone.

Any human brain, fertilized by injustice, can, similarly produce a hero or a terrorist. As the careers of Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon demonstrate, the differences between them may not be visible to the naked eye.

Biopharming opposition

Friends of the Earth and and the US Public Research Group have just issued a report claiming that opposition to biopharming (the production of GM crops for pharmaceutical and industrial purposes) has been growing over the past two years.
“There is no doubt that drugs will enter the food supply at some level if the government continues to allow open-air cultivation of pharmaceutical-producing food crops,” said Bill Freese, research analyst at Friends of the Earth and author of a comprehensive study of biopharming. “...One corn-grown drug, the blood-clotting protein aprotinin, has been shown to cause pancreatic disease in animals and also to increase honeybee mortality.”

Agricultural terminology

The British underworld seems to have a new bee expression: “as easy as milking a honeybee”. Curious. I think something in the scam artist's education was lacking.

The original bicycling queen

Bermuda has been enjoying an over-egged story about “one to two million bees” on a bike causing havoc in Hamilton, Bermuda.
Hamilton looked like the set of a B-grade horror movie yesterday as a massive swarm of bees forced the closure of a portion of Queen Street.
As many as a million bees swarmed around a Smatt’s livery cycle parked on the side of the street around noon, forcing residents to take shelter in stores to bar themselves from the onslaught.
Local beekeeper Dejuan Seymour came to the rescue with a bucket:
“The Queen bee went on the bike and the rest followed,” Mr. Seymour said. “That’s why I shook the majority into the bucket.”

But excess bees were still clinging onto the livery cycle. Mr. Seymour tried to remove the stubborn bees with a broom without success. Ten minutes later the beekeeper and his assistant simply picked up the entire bee-covered bike and put it in the back of his van. The bees and the beekeeper drove away up Queen Street.
Non-beekeeping readers might like to know that a swarm is unlikely to have more than a small number of tens of thousands of bees.

Canada says yes to US queens

US honeybee queens and their attendants can now be imported into Canada.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Honey to dream of

Alfred L. Wolff of Germany (see earlier post) offers 130 honey types from all over the world and lists some “honey to dream of”. Nice idea! The company's selection:
Leatherwood honey from Australia
Blue Borage and Manuka honey from New Zealand
Quillay honey from Chile
Lemon Blossom honey from Argentina
Orange Blossom honey from Brazil
Sunflower honey from Bulgaria
Clover honey from Canada
Avocado, Mangrove and Oaxaca honey from Mexico
Coriander honey from Romania
Champagne and Lavender honey from France
Coffee Blossom honey from El Salvador
Rubber Tree honey from Vietnam
Acacia honey from Hungary
But where is ling heather honey from Britain?

Best honey ad in the world?

Bees and honeycomb are often exploited as incidentals and backdrops by advertisers, but tonight I saw an entire advert on British TV devoted to honey. It featured a Scottish beekeeper, Murray McGregor, and his annual trip to the heather moors with his bees. Beautifully shot, the advert promotes Waitrose supermarket's heather honey — and by implication the quality of its food. Nice one!

Non-British readers might be interested to know that Waitrose has long been regarded as one of Britain's classier supermarket chains.

Non-heather-honey eaters don't know what they are missing. It is a very different, strong-flavoured honey which is fantastic with yoghurt. And if it's ling heather honey, it has an extraordinary texture — thixotropic — a gel filled with air bubbles that will only flow when stirred, and, if pure, never crystallizes.

The honey purifiers

There's more to cakes and buns than I'd ever expected. In the latest edition of Bakery & Snacks, new ingredients are improving “mouthfeel”, “break & shred properties”, and the “performance of retarded dough”. And then there was a bit about improving the safety of honey:
Wolff is the world’s leading supplier of honey ingredients, with customers in the bakery, dairy, beverage and confectionery markets, and said that the demands of the food industry now required honey to be supplied with greater safety guarantees than ever before.

As a result, the company has developed a new technique which can remove microbiological organisms and potential pathogens such as Botulism without affecting the quality and taste of the honey itself.
Is that really necessary?

Waspish travellers

There was a nice believe-it-or-not-story from Florida yesterday — a “hive” of yellow jackets (wasps) filling the interior of a small motorhome. The exterminators estimated that there were 200,000 wasps, but gave no indication of their holiday destination.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Disneyland's unstung hero

I bet you didn't know that California's Disneyland has an official swarm collector. His name is Mark Hoppe Fernandez (sounds onomatopoeic to me) and his greatest achievement to date is to have “extracted a bee tornado out of Goofy’s Bounce House”.

UN wants genes for the poor

Just days after Monsanto “realigned” its research portfolio and stopped marketing its GM wheat, the United Nations (UN) has issued a statement proclaiming the potential of the gene revolution in its broadest sense (ie not just GMs) for the world's poor. In a careful balancing act, the UN's Food and Agricultutral Organization (FAO) did however note theat the bio companies are ignoring staple crops:
Basic food crops of the poor such as cassava, potato, rice and wheat receive little attention by scientists, FAO said.

“Neither the private nor the public sector has invested significantly in new genetic technologies for the so-called ‘orphan crops’ such as cowpea, millet, sorghum and tef that are critical for the food supply and livelihoods of the world's poorest people,” said FAO Director-General Dr Jacques Diouf.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Kiwi beekeepers' GM questionnaire

This Friday is the closing date for New Zealand beekeepers to complete a questionnaire [pdf file] about the usefulness of a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to tell them about the location of Genetically Modified (GM) crops should they ever be introduced into the country.

It would raise a few international eyebrows if GM crops were ever introduced into New Zealand bearing in mind the country's stringent bio-import controls, but:
The Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) is responsible for assessing any application to import, develop, field-test in containment or release any new organism, including GM organisms. The Government recently amended the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act to include a new type of approval called conditional release. A conditional release approval allows ERMA to set controls on the release of a new organism in order to manage any potential risks. Location controls could be used by ERMA to manage certain risks. For example in the case of flowering plants, location controls may limit where certain plants can be grown and may require that information is made available on where and when plants are being grown. This type of information could be captured in a GIS-based register for use by beekeepers.
Elsewhere in the document ERMA says that is already aware of beekeepers’ general concerns regarding GM and that these will also form a part of its assessment. The results are expected to be reported to the Government in October 2004.

Any Kiwi beekeeper like to give further background on this?

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Politician foolishly turns venomous

The Mayor of Avon, Ohio in the USA has done what may beekeepers have done — rushed a job and had a stinging rebuke. He thought he'd just put on his veil and not light his smoker to quickly remove his varroa strips — and his bees reacted. One trip to the hospital later, he had to face the local press and politicians.
Smith couldn't say just how many times he was stung, but he did say that “the bees had a smorgasbord on me”.

He began to feel lightheaded, and went to the emergency room at St. Joseph Community Center, where he was treated and released that night. Since then, he's only been suffering jabs from other people around City Hall.
Rarely for a politician, he admitted he'd been foolish.


Baghdad's Honey Market

Opened for 14 years, Baghdad's Honey Market has only been closed during war. But you won't find much honey there. It is a honeypot for middle class Iraqis and foreign expats with dollars seeking imported foodstuffs and comforts:
Products range from dried sheets of Barilla lasagna to El Paso taco shells, Heinz ketchup to Nutella chocolate spread, Lady Speed Stick deodorant to Windex spray cleaner, Kent cigarettes to Romeo Y Julieta cigars.
Even during the sanctions period, its supplies, mainly from wholesalers in Jordan, just kept coming. And the difference post-Saddam? There isn't so much paperwork for the owners to complete.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Bees to protect Vietnamese coconuts

Half a million coconut trees threatened by coleopterous insects are to be protected through the introduction of bees (species not mentioned) in a province in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Apparently the method has been tested and the bees eat the pests.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Varroa resistant traits discovered

Last month, I was a tad sceptical about claims that queens with varroa resistant traits were available in the Baton Rouge for just $12. But now a more convincing report is available from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Researchers at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, say they have discovered two heritable traits that may protect bees against varroa, the parasitic mite that has spread globally and kills off colonies of Apis mellifera. The researchers want to provide beekeepers with some immediate relief in their battle with mites and have discovered non-reproducing mites:
These are mites that enter brood cells to reproduce — but don't, for one reason or another. Most notable of these are female mites that don't lay any eggs. Harbo and Harris [the researchers] believed a trait of the honey bee was causing this to happen.
This SMR trait has been bred for and in an agreement that ended last year, queens with the trait were made available to Glenn Apiaries, a commercial queen breeder in California.

The second trait the researchers are studying is called P-MIB:

the potential trait — dubbed "percentage of mites in brood" or P-MIB ... Mites reproduce only in brood cells, so selecting for low P-MIB would diminish the rate of mite reproduction.

“It would complement SMR well because it affects mites while they are outside, rather than inside, a brood cell where SMR has an effect,” says Harbo. The two traits together may enhance resistance to Varroa mites.
The work is still at evaluation stages.


GM wheat ground down

Following Bayer's decision to stop its Genetically Modified (GM) maize trials in the UK, Monsanto has decided to stop marketing GM wheat.

In an agricultural turn of phrase, Monsanto said that it would not market its strain of GM wheat because it "does not have a strategic fit with our overall strategy". It says that the commercial development of its Roundup Ready wheat, modified to resist the Roundup weedkiller, would be deferred so that it could concentrate on research into GM maize, cotton and oilseeds.

Anti-GM campaigners are delighted and claim there isn't a market for GM food. Meanwhile, the biotech industry is going ahead with GM crops not directly produced for human consumption.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Bees hamper rescue

I read a sad story this morning from New Zealand where a turning truckload of bees was in collision with a car near Mount Ruapehu. The bees took flight and hampered rescue operations despite the help of four beekeepers. Eventually the occupants of the car were taken to hospital where one was reported to have life-threatening injuries.

I was just wondering why bees were in transit so close to the Southern Hemisphere mid-winter. The latest I've ever moved bees in Britian was in October — after that I leave well alone until March.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Canadian support for importation of US queens

The plan to re-open the Canadian borders to US-bred queens also has its Canadian supporters:
An emotional, politically-connected group of beekeepers have been using unsubstantiated, unscientific, irrational alarmist arguments to deny essential supplies of queens and package bees, not only to their own region, but also to all of Canada.
Dick Allen, a beekeeper and cattle producer in Alberta, is urging Canadian beekeepers to support the renewal of queen importation.

Australia's new illegal immigrants thwarted

A swarm of “Asian honeybees” on a boat from West Papua about to arrive in Cairns, Northern Australia, was intercepted on arrival. The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service says it could have cost businesses millions of dollars: “It's difficult to predict exactly what their impact would be but indications are that from other places around the world where they have invaded, that they take over.” Um, I'd like to know more about that.

Sticky journalism

I think there should be a competition to see who can write the most sickly-sweet and sentimental article about bees. Here is my first nomination — from the Cook County News-Herald. It starts:
In the wee small hours of April 27, Kathy Rice rose from her bed and tiptoed through the dark to the nursery. First nights home are tough on new moms, especially moms with 10,000 babies to raise.
And goes on:
Kathy Rice tends her new baby bees several times a day ... Once at the plain-looking box, she inclined her head and listened. A comforting buzz came from within. Mother Bee could rest easily.
And on:
... as she fussed over gently coaxing some of her pretty babies back into the hive.
Fortunately, the article does get better, but ... Any more entries?

Thursday, May 06, 2004

New beekeeping charity for Africa

A new charity is to be launched next week in London aiming to to alleviate poverty in the rural areas of Africa by equipping beekeepers with better hives. Hives Save Life-Africa (HSLA) is the brainchild of Richard Unwin, a British businessman who claims to have started a beekeeping organization of 84,000 beekeepers in Uganda.

UPDATE 22 October 2004: I've just noticed that the HivesSaveLives website is now live, although the navigation is in need of repair.

Canadian NFU wants Canadian queens

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is in the news again (see earlier stories on honey recalls) after proposing to allow importation of queen bees and their attendants from the continental United States as early as this spring. A ban on queen bee imports, their attendants, and packaged bees has been in place since 1987 — originally to try to prevent the spread of varroa.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) of Canada objects to the proposal claiming that it risks importing strains of treatment-resistant varroa, diseases and Africanized queens (ahem — that far north?). In any event, the NFU claims Canada has a healthier bee industry than the USA since the border closures.

See update.


Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Hillary Clinton named after an unknown beekeeper?

Edmund Hillary was a beekeeper before he conquered Mount Everest. And where did I see this little nugget of information? In an article about Hillary Clinton and her occasional tussles with the truth:
Take an apparently innocuous example: her [Hillary Clinton's] nutty claim that her mother named her after Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest.

Meeting Sir Edmund by chance at the Katmandu airport, Hillary apparently made up the story on the spot, telling reporters she was named after the intrepid explorer. To bolster her claim, she piled on the details: While her mother was pregnant, Hillary extemporized, she had read an article about Sir Edmund and noticed that he spelled his name with two l's - “which,” the first lady said, is how her mother “thought she was supposed to spell Hillary.”

She continued: “So when I was born, she called me Hillary, and she always told me it's because of Sir Edmund Hillary.”

But Sir Edmund didn't climb Everest until May 29, 1953 - 5 1/2 years after Hillary Rodham was born. In fact, until 1951 Sir Edmund Hillary hadn't even left New Zealand for his climb in the Himalayas. Before that, he was an unknown beekeeper.
New York Post
Update 25 November 2004: If you are hesitant to trust the New York Post as a source, there's a very fair assessment on

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Bees chill out in Southern California

Bees have taken a fancy to a pier in Southern California. A swarm of bees arrived on Mahattan Beach Pier (pretty picture) on Sunday and the pier was closed for two days because a beekeeper was unable to remove them on the first day. It's thought that high temperatures (100 degrees F) may have made the bees seek a cooler location, but that doesn't seem too convincing.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Progress may take a step backwards

In an article on genetically modified insects, The Christian Science Monitor suggests that insecticide-resistant honeybees might be created “to protect investment in honeymaking”. Am I alone in thinking that this idea is plain stupid? If bees were unaffected by pesticides, what do you think might find its way into honey?

Why didgeridoos buzz

Apparently, beeswax has traditionally been used to soften the mouthpieces of didgeridoos. Well, I'll be blowed.

Hive hype

Just back from a May Day weekend break and I'm met with a news item about a “revolutionary hive management system” that takes “hive management to a new level”. There's nothing like a bit of understatement — and that's nothing like a bit of understatement. I could be forgiven for not even bothering to look at the Xen-Apiary website, but I promise I will — sometime, when I'm brave enough to wade through the meaning-free hype.