bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Celebrity beekeeper 1 — Paul Theroux

In this age of celebrity, I thought Propolis should join in. I've already written of the British politician Tam Dalyell and the first man to climb Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary. Here's another famous beekeeper:

Paul Theroux, sometimes described as an anti-travel writer, is now a beekeeper in Hawaii:

Here on Oahu, Theroux pursues one of his greatest passions: not writing, but keeping bees. He has more than two million of them. His eighty hives contain approximately thirty thousand bees each. This allows Theroux to run the business he started four years ago: producing Oceania Ranch Pure Hawaiian Honey.

“I got the idea from Sherlock Holmes,” Theroux says. “When he retired from being a detective, Watson visits him in Sussex and says, ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘This is the fruit of my life, how I am going to spend the rest of my life,’ Holmes says. My father used to read Sherlock Holmes a lot and it was influential...I always had that in my mind, [to] be a bee keeper.”
Like many of us he got sucked in:
I got a couple of hives. There was an elderly man nearby who taught me how to operate a hive, you know, how to do it. It's pretty simple. Bees ... do the work themselves. And pretty soon, I had two hives, then four hives, then sixteen hives, then you know, you have lots of hives in a very short time because the bees are prolific.
He says he sells his whole crop to Ellen Wong's gourmet restaurant in Honolulu.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Hive splinters

Yet another story about a swarm closing a road: this time in Liverpool, UK. But there are two great lines from the journalist:
Bee experts believe the swarm followed a “break-away” queen from a hive ...
and then a cracker:
... no local beekeeper had reported any bees missing.
Yeah, would s/he? In any case, I'm not sure to whom you'd report ‘lost’ bees. (Although students of Irish history may recall that the Northern Ireland police force used to have a Special Constabulary called the “B Specials”.)

UPDATE: I've been rebuked for not mentioning that local councils in the UK are often the best place to report swarms — although nobody reports ‘lost’ bees, some people successfully report ‘found’ bees.

TaqMan virus survey

A survey of honeybee viruses is underway in the British Isles. The National Bee Unit (NBU) last month started its TaqMan survey with two main aims:
to use the technology to see if it is a valid method for virus detection. It has worked on pure viruses and on virus-infected bees, but we would like more data from real samples. The second aim is to try to determine which viruses are present in the British Isles. Initially, we will be looking for a small number of viruses, but eventually we would like to extend the technology to cover the whole range of honeybee viruses.
Participants are provided with a small plastic bottle containing a small volume of 70% alcohol. They scoop between 10-20 bees into the bottle, fill in a short form and send it to the NBU. Needless to say, I'll be signing up.

Exporting the unexpected

I knew that New Zealand exported honeybees around the world, but I certainly didn't know they also export bumble bees to the EU and Turkey, leafcutting bees to Australia and even wasps to Japan. I guess the bumble bees are exported for pollination, but I'm not so sure about the leafcutters and the wasps — maybe as bio-controls of aphids?

Beekeeper seeks compensation for loss of hives

Following the probable varroa cross-contamination cock-up, a New Zealand beekeeper is now seeking compensation for the destruction of 40 of his hives. The hives in South Island (belonging to Murchison Trees and Bees) are to destroyed because a varroa mite was discovered in a sample — although even the testers agree that the presence of varroa was probably through cross-contamination from a sample from North Island where varroa is already known to be widespread.

Under New Zealand's Biosecurity Act, it seems the beekeeper has the choice of receiving the market value of the hives or compensation.


Monday, June 28, 2004

Canadian beekeepers split over imports

The beekeeping community appears still split over the importation of queens from the USA which the federal government now allows after a 17 year ban. (See earlier post.)

While the president of the Alberta Beekeepers' Association says there's an optimism the industry can once again grow, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec are worried about the importation of disease and killer bee genes. The President of Ontario beekeepers says the Ontario government will continue to outlaw the import of American bees.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Bee Wilson — one to watch

In the Telegraph's piece on lazy or busy bees, I came across the name of Bee Wilson for the first time. She's at work on a book which should be of great interest to bee people. At only 29, she has been a regular food writer for the New Statesman and the Daily Telegraph. This, from the Guardian in September last year:

Wilson is currently writing a book about the history and cultural significance of bees: “The way human beings have worshipped them for 8,000 years.” It is her first book but is already being touted as the next Longitude. It charts the journey from man's earliest honey-hunting expeditions to the role of honey in ritual and the latest bee-inspired advertising campaign by IBM. “People are sentimental about bees in a way they're not about other insects,” she says.

Busy bees or lazy bees?

That research by Professor Menzel about bees not being quite as busy as is commonly believed has provoked a debate in the UK's Daily Telegraph.
Glyn Davies, the President of the British Beekeepers Association, said that bees were not lazy but efficient.

“At any particular stage in its life, a bee has a specific job to do,” he said. “If they are unable to do that job, they conserve their energy by doing nothing. Each bee has a unit of life energy and the faster it works, the faster it dies.”

“It is a mistake to assume that a bee doing nothing is being uneconomic. In fact, it is being very efficient and they don't deserve a bad press. They are being very wise and perhaps humans should try to follow their example instead of running about like headless chickens.”
And the Telegraph's food correspondent, Bee Wilson (yes, Bee, honest), joined in:

“... entomologists will so often dress up their research in ways that anthropomorphise the bees, which I think comes from the deep and irrational affection we feel for them.”
And then it got a bit dodgy when travel writer and beekeeper Paul Theroux entered the fray saying that Prof Menzel's research could have been affected by his national origins:

“Perhaps in comparison to the German rate of work, the bee does look lazy,” he said.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Beekeepers blame leatherwood loggers

Beekeepers have pitched into the logging controversy in Tasmania, Australia. They say that supplies of the state's unique leatherwood honey are in terminal decline as a result of the continued logging of the island's mature mixed forests.

The cost of beekeeping

There's a nice piece in the Business Tribune of Portland, USA touching upon the economies of beekeeping. In a list of costs, comes this:
Gloves: $20
Veil: $30
Jacket: $80
Halting a dinner-party discussion on the charms of author Anthony Wynne by saying you’re a beekeeper: Priceless.
I think most beekeepers will relate to that.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Who's your father?

Genetic diversity helps bees keep their nest at the optimum temperature. To keep their nest and brood at a fairly constant temperature of 32-36 degrees Celsius, honeybees either huddle for warmth or fan with their wings to cool.

Julia Jones of the University of Sydney, Australia has discovered that bees with different fathers start fanning at slightly different temperatures and that the greater the diversity of the workers' genes, the better the temperature regulation. If all the bees had the same genes, there would be sudden colony-wide shifts in temperature regulation activity and greater heat fluctuations. Because queens usually mate with upwards of ten drones, there is usually a reasonably diverse genertic mix in any one colony.

“It’s been shown before that honeybees with different genotypes have different thresholds for certain things — for instance, they’re attracted to different concentrations of nectar,” says Jones [quoted in New Scientist]. “But this is the first time any benefit has been shown from different behaviour thresholds based on genotype in the bees.”

The semen has landed — in a buzz of controversy

Carniolan bee semen has now arrived in New Zealand following a grant of NZ $30,000 from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) in an attempt to breed bees more resistant to varroa. David Yanke, a long-time proponent of diversifying New Zealand honeybee gene pool, recently returned from Europe with the semen. But not everyone is happy:

While the New Zealand Federated Farmers beekeeping industry group supports Mr Yanke's plans, National Beekeepers Association president Jane Lorimer is less happy. ... The association fears the possible importation of bee diseases such as deformed wing virus. There was also scepticism about the carniolan's ability to produce honey.

Ms Lorimer said the association was waiting for a decision, expected this week, on its own MAF application for about NZ $200,000 a year to look at developing varroa resistance in the Italian bees now in New Zealand, and other measures to improve control of the mite.

MAF varroa programme co-ordinator Paul Bolger said the Government had probably spent NZ $10 million (about UK £4 million) dealing with the varroa problem since the mites were found infesting North Island hives four years ago.


Upright behaviour

I love to see bees co-operating. It's been raining heavily during the last few days and I noticed that in the little nucleus (very small colony) in the garden rainwater had collected in a pool behind the door. So I removed the door to try to release the water, but the puddle just sat there. Meantime a bee managed to end upside down in the water and was struggling to right itself. She struggled in vain until another worker came along and more-or-less headbutted her into an upright position. Brutal, but effective.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Zambian enterprise

Here's an encouraging story from Zambia to make you stop and think:
Forest Fruits Zambia Limited, a honey processing company in Mwinilunga, has been earning about US $55,000 per year in organic honey exports... the company's income has increased in the past four years from 35 per cent to 500 per cent... the company ... buys honey from 3,000 farmers in North-Western Province, and there are 2,500 farmers waiting to be trained this year.
It goes on to say that it will diversify into other products, such as pineapple caning, essential oil production and mushroom production, but for the moment honey and beeswax lead the way.

Interesting enterprise story — but hang on, $55,000 (about UK £30,000) is probably not much more than the average annual salary for a single person in parts of the western world. And it involved 3,000 farmers. Um. Puts some things in perspective.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Bumblebee scavengers

I never realized that bumblebees were such scavengers. I've been using my solar wax extractor and disposing of the honey residue down the drain. After a while the drain cover became very shiny, and then I noticed that bumblebees were going to and fro gathering up what honey they could find. They seemed to be polishing the grate with their probosces, Fortunately my honeybees look elsewhere.

FEEDBACK: Cat on the Rock, in an email, thinks that bumblebees are robbers too and often sees them at the hives in her garden. I've seen them around my hives, too, but I've never seen them gain entry. The bees don't seem to be aggressive towrads them and seem to gently nudge them in anotehr direction. I've heard it say that maybe they recognize them as close relatives, but I suspect it might be because they couldn't get their stings past all that furryness. Now wasps, well that's a different matter...

Kiwis try to be safer than sorry in mite search

Although it is looking increasingly like a cross-contamination cock-up has caused the varroa scare in the South Island New Zealand, its Ministry Of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) is extending its search for the mite:

“Although we cannot discount the possibility of cross-contamination of samples from Murchison, ignoring the possibility that there is a genuine infestation in the South Island is a risk we are not prepared to take”, said MAF varroa programme co-ordinator Paul Bolger
Beekeepers Industry Group Canterbury branch chairman Tony Scott agrees that is is better to be safe than sorry.


Monday, June 21, 2004

Genetically modified creepy crawlies

There's an article in the July issue of Scientific American about genetically modified insects (GMIs).

Although most field trials of such insects are years away, experts say that the science has advanced rapidly and that regulators need to begin establishing rules now for assessing their potential effects on the environment and public health.
You'll need a subscription to see the whole article online.

La grande contradiction

I don't get it — unless it's a joke. Let me explain: manuka honey is one of the strongest tasting honeys I can think of; vodka is the most tasteless alcoholic beverage ever to have passed my lips; and I didn't think there was much love lost between France and New Zealand following French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

But look at what's happened: 42 BELOW Manuka Honey Vodka has won the gold medal at the 42nd World Selection 2004 of Spirits and Liqueurs, Monde Selectiona, and will be presented with the award at the Salon International de L'Alimentation (SIAL) International Food Exhibition in France later this year.

I think I need a strong drink.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

School students win top awards for bee research

Two high school students from San Antonio, Texas, have won top awards for their research involving bees. Russell Burrows and Richard Romeo were placed first in their categories at this year's Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Oregon, USA, which featured 1,400 of the best young scientists from around the world.

Russell, a Health Careers High School student, determined the effects of alcohol and nicotine on the small insects by dissecting their brains and studying their tissue... Ultimately, Russell... concluded that bees could be used instead of mammals in pharmaceutical trials.

Richard, who attends MacArthur High School, tested propolis, the resinous material that seals beehives against bacteria... Richard found that the propolis did inhibit the bacteria [E. coli and staphylococcus aureus, which causes staph infections], and he used an algebraic formula to determine the substance's ideal concentration.
I especially liked the comment from Richard's mother: “He didn't touch a Nintendo or anything like that for a year and a half”.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Mown down by bees

Apart from producing the headline of the day — “Bees swarm over Hasty man” — the subsequent story is a sad but interesting story of a 89-year old beekeeper surviving a 100 stinging episode. The lifelong beekeeper, Earl Henry from Hasty in the Ozarks, had been mowing the lawn around a three-super hive when angry bees came out to investigate and punish. (As most beekeepers will know there is something about the smell of cut grass or the vibrations of mowers that aggravates bees.) Henry survived the ordeal and, on leaving hospital, his first plan was to call in bee experts to see if feral bees had bred aggressive traits into his own colony.

There was also an interesting factoid in the story:
... studies [of Africanized bees] said seven stings per pound is considered fatal, and survivors of multiple stings sometimes suffer from poor eyesight and weakened muscles.
The seven stings claim is repeated here, but it's the first time I've heard it. Does anyone know of the original research?

Friday, June 18, 2004

Crystallizing the issues

Here's a curious statement in an otherwise well-informed piece from the University of Florida:
In terms of commercial consumer appeal, granulated honey is generally regarded as unacceptable.
I wonder if this is peculiar to the coarse crystallization of local Floridian honeys. In British honey shows, there is often a category for naturally crystallized honey. Granted, some naturally crystallized honey can give a very coarse texture (crunchy, nice!) or a rock-hard fine texture (spoon-breaker), but a significant amount of UK honey crystallizes naturally very nicely, thank you.

The article also has a scary title: “Is honey thickened by crystallization safe to eat?” For those of you in any doubt, crystallization in itself is a perfectly natural occurrence in virtually every honey (except perhaps acacia and ling heather honeys). But, when honey starts crystallizing and then separates with liquid honey above the crystallized honey, the liquid part has less sugar and unwelcome fermentation of the liquid can become an issue. I've heard some stories about bees having parties consuming their own fermented honey.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Honey war

In a short anecdotal history of bees (“the white man's flies”) in Missouri, USA, Rod Green tells how the cutting down of a bee tree led to war between Missouri and Iowa:
The Territory of Iowa and the State of Missouri had during the first part of the 19th Century disputed their mutual boundary, a nine- to 11-mile area that ran across the shared border. When a northeast Missourian cut a bee tree in the region also claimed by Iowa, a series of hostile encounters resulted in both declaring war in 1839. An armed confrontation, the Honey War, mobilized both militias but resulted in no human deaths.
UPDATE 4 July 2005: More details on the Honey War in the Daily Iowegan.

Bee dance may counter espionage

Bee communication may indicate that spying is an evolutionary trait, according to James Nieh of the University of California. Bees may communicate the sources of nectar inside the hive or nest to ensure that competitors can't eavesdrop.

Some types of bee leave scent markings outside the hive indicating sources of nectar. In comparing aggressor and victim bee species, researchers found that the victims preferred their own scent markings, but the aggressors preferred the scent marks of their victims:
... the bees' responses are adaptive in both cases. The victim species avoids attack by avoiding resources marked by the aggressor species. On the other hand, exploiting the discoveries of other species provides the aggressor species with a steady means to find new rich food sources.

Bees are among a very limited number of species, besides humans, able to abstractly encode information about the physical world into signals understood by receivers. While scientists do not know what kind of communication the two species of bees employ within their hives, Nieh says his team's finding that they are able to spy on each other's olfactory markings sheds light on the long-standing mystery of why some other stingless bees and honeybees evolved one of the most sophisticated forms of animal language, strategies that would allow them to inform their kin about distance and direction to a food source while inside the hive.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Busy as a bee? Think again

A German zoologist is saying what every beekeeper secretly knows: bees aren't that busy at all. Professor Randolf Menzel, a neurobiologist and zoologist from the Free University in Berlin, has studied bees for four decades and says:
“Bees are not particularly hardworking. Instead they sleep a lot and are lazy. They spend up to 80% of the night sleeping and even during the day they often fly to the nest where they rest their wings.”

But to compensate for their apparent laziness, Menzel said they were actually very intelligent. He said they were quick learners, were able to recognise various scents and had five memory phases.
See reactions.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Bees read signs — if not the books

A “massive” swarm (Britain's local newspapers' favourite adjective) of “2,000 bees” caused over-reaction in Manchester city centre yesterday. They settled on a No Entry sign (obedient!). Roads were closed and an ambulance called because environmental health officers were “worried for public safety”.

Maybe mites on South Island again

Another varroa mite has been found on New Zealand's South Island, the first, a deformed specimen, was found earlier this month) but it may be just cross-contamination from a North Island sample. The mite was found on the outside of a plastic ziplock bag used to contain sticky test strips from hives, but it is possible that the mite was transferred from a the outside of a North Island sample bag at the testing laboratory in Christchurch.

The authorities have yet to decide on a course of action. Ricky Leahy, the beekeeper concerned, is relatively sanguine:
"It's a bit of a worry because it sounds like they may have to kill off all the hives on this site, even though they re-tested negative.

"It's pretty annoying for us actually," Mr Leahy said.


Monday, June 14, 2004

National Insect Week in Britain

This week is National Insect Week in the UK. It's a PR push by the Royal Entomological Society and for the first time it will be showing some of its plates and rare watercolours dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries to the public. To find out how to view the plates, call (UK +44) 020 7584 8362.

The National Insect Week website has details of lots of events and contacts — just a smattering relating to honeybees, but a lot more about bumblebees.

Saturday, June 12, 2004


I don't believe much of what I read in The Sun (something that is laughably referred to as a newspaper in Britain), but today it has a picture to prove that a swarm of bees landed on a bicycle in Petersfield while the twelve-year-old owner was in a shop. Beekeepers David and Mark Ayling came to the rescue.

Friday, June 11, 2004

The SwarmBots are coming

Swarms and social insects are again inspiring new technology — this time robots. SwarmBots are being developed by iRobot, in Burlington, Massachusetts, the people who brought us Roomba, the floor-vacuuming robots.
Insects make great conceptual models for cheap robots because they have simple local interactions with one another that nonetheless add up to very complicated group behaviors, such as building a hive or foraging for nectar. The whole, in other words, is greater than the sum of its parts.

iRobot's SwarmBots are cubes measuring five inches on each side. They have rechargeable nicad batteries and a pair of electric motors inside, along with a microprocessor and some associated circuitry. A “bump skirt” helps the robots sense and avoid crashing into obstacles. Each has a small color camera for simple object recognition, as well as sensors that detect light. Communications between robots are handled by an array of infrared transmitters and receivers similar to the ones used in TV remote controls.
It looks like iRobot is getting significant funding for its work as it is of great interest to the military. Using cheap, disposable robots to clear land mines or to take over buildings held by the enemy seems to appeal.

But how about some SwarmBots to deal with those pesky killer bees?

Who's counting?

A report is going the rounds in a lot of US papers including USA Today about a Floridian with a supposed 700,000 bees in his roof. Apparently, the weight was threatening to collapse the roof of the West Palm Beach home.

So you might guess that with 700,000 bees, there would be an awful lot of honey. Well, it filled four buckets — a miserable 65lbs (about 30kgs). I'm not sure who was counting these bees — the reported 700,000 would be the equivalent of about twelve very healthy colonies.

To date, I've spotted about 50 versions of this story on the web — just maybe because someone somewhere slipped an extra nought into the number. So now you know how to make the news.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Alternative varroa treatments in an Irish bar

Irish bars have long been places where normally sane people will talk unconscionable rubbish (and I should know!), but sources close to the queen tell me that this year there will be a special treat at Gormanston, the famed annual beefest held in Ireland. For the third year running, there will be an “alternative varroa treatments session”. The venue is a drinking den because The Federation Of Irish Beekeeping Associations will not authorize an official lecture. I suspect the Federation is very wise.

Apparently there will be an overhead projector at the bar. It gives PowerPoint presentations a whole new lease of life. I just hope there aren't too many bullet points.


Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Beekeeper who stole headlines during the OJ trial

Veils off to David Mendes, a beekeeper from Florida, who in 1994 managed to block the New York State Thruway for hours when he had an accident and his migrating beehives took flight from his vehicle. It happened during the OJ Simpson trial and Mr Mendes stole top billing on the news for a while. “People just love to hear about bee disasters”, he says.

This little nugget of an anecdote appears in an excellent New York Times article on migratory beekeeping. Here's another excerpt:
Each spring, the Hackenburgs and a dozen or so other East Coast beekeepers embark on a six-month journey from Florida to Maine. Along the way they stop in orange groves in Florida, apple orchards and squash and pumpkin fields in Pennsylvania, blueberry barrens in Maine, cranberry bogs in Massachusetts, clover fields in upstate New York and other places favored by bees. Farmers pay the beekeepers to place hives in blossoming fruit and vegetable fields.

The bees pollinate the plants (greatly improving crop yields), and the beekeepers keep the honey made from the collected nectar. Out West, a similar migration is made by beekeepers who drive through Texas, the Dakotas, California and Oregon.

Don't bee a has been

The killer bee season is reaching a crescendo with frequent reports on the web — but here's some sound advice on Do's and Don'ts if confronted by the little devils with a timely reminder that those living in Arizona are more likely to be killed by a drunk driver than Africanized bees.

An appeal to all you apostrophe aficionados users out there: why is it Do's but not Don't's?

Under the influence

Nancy Redwine of the Santa Cruz Sentinel is certainly under the influence, but with a name like hers I suppose she has no choice:
It is impossible to talk about honey without lapsing almost immediately into flowery and breathy language peppered with cliched phrases like “food of the gods,” “nectar of the heavens,” or pre-verbal exclamations (gasps, grunts and moans) of celestial transport.

Nature's stock market report

Rome, Italy, June 9 - The assessment for the spring collection of honey is “excellent” as regards acacia, “negative” for citrus fruits and dandelion, and “fair” thistle and silla.
And a detailed report follows. How does AGI Online get this information??

Hi-tech honey dressings

The case for the healing properties of manuka honey is growing and now a company has devised a new way of applying manuka wound dressings without creating a sticky mess. Comvita, the New Zealand bee products company moving towards a full New Zealand stock market listing, has developed a manuka dressing that is like a sheet of rubber and isn't sticky to touch.

Much of the work on Manuka healing properties has been undertaken at the Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato, in New Zealand. BBC News Online reports Biochemist Professor Peter Molan as saying:
“In all honeys, there is — to different levels — hydrogen peroxide produced from an enzyme that bees add to the nectar.

“In manuka honey, and its close relative which grows in Australia called jellybush, there's something else besides the hydrogen peroxide.

“And there's nothing like that ever been found anywhere else in the world.”

That “something else” has proved very hard to pin down. Even now, after more than twenty years of research, Peter Molan admits he still has no idea exactly what it is.

But he has given it a name: unique manuka factor, or UMF.

And he has found a way to measure its antibacterial efficacy, by comparing UMF manuka honey with a standard antiseptic (carbolic, or phenol) in its ability to fight bacteria. The results are astonishing.

He said: "We know it has a very broad spectrum of action.

“It works on bacteria, fungi, protozoa. We haven't found anything it doesn't work on among infectious organisms.”
And manuka has been used in really tough cases:

Cancer specialist Dr Glenys Round has also found honey to be an effective treatment. “We've been using honey to treat fungating wounds, where the cancer has broken through the skin,” she said. “The results in that situation have been excellent.”

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Honey money

A Welsh beekeeper, Graham Heath, has been awarded a £14,000 processing and marketing grant from the Welsh Development Agency. He now intends to extend his business from 10 to 50 hives. Lucky man!

Bee products going mainstream

I hope their products are better than their news releases, but a NASDAQ-listed company, Nutraceutical International Corporation, has just bought out Montana Big Sky, a brand of bee product nutritional supplements, for about $600,000. And if you really want to see what passes for communication in the corporate world — be my guest.

Cyclists take to beeswax

A competitive cycling website is advertising Eco Lips, giving:
“lasting protection as it softens and moisturizes your lips. The all-natural formula, including certified organic beeswax and SPF 15 or 30, ensures protection from all the harsh elements: sun, wind and cold.”
Now I wonder if Turlough O'Bryen, the Irish cycling beekeeper, would have used such a thing as he encountered the raw end of nature up and down the west coast of Ireland.

Only one varroa mite discovered in South Island

One “deformed varroa mite” has been discovered in New Zealand's South Island, but nothing more as yet despite an inspection of 100 hives in the Canterbury area over the past few days.
One possibility being investigated was that the mite could be “contamination” on a board brought down from the North Island.

The sticky boards, coated with a miticide, have a life of five or six weeks, but are only used for 24 hours at a time in testing hives.

They are irradiated to kill pests or diseases, then re-used. Because they are coated with an insecticide to kill the mites, there is no restriction on their transport from the North Island to the South Island, because the boards are not seen as a risk for spreading live mites, Mr Bolger told NZPA.


Monday, June 07, 2004

Smear on that foaming propolis

Apparently, last weekend's Sunday Mirror supplement (Celebs on Sunday) had a host of bee-based beauty products: not least L'Occitane Honey Harvest Foaming Jelly
“a silky, fragrant, luxurious foam to delight all the senses. A blend of propolis, honey, and royal jelly soothes and softens skin and hair, leaving a sweet, delicate honey fragrance.”
I seem to spend a lot of time getting propolis OFF my fingers!

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Africanized bee chasers

Trying to trace the facts behind a reported sad incident in which a Texas farmer died after being attacked by bees before accidentally falling under the tractor's shredder, I came across this gory site. It reports Africanized bee incidents — noting with some disdain that (according to the Los Angeles Times):
The Tucson Citizen “... all but stopped reporting routine bee incidents” as early as 1994.
So re-reports as many incidents as it finds. Why? Because it supplies emergency-use insect veils “preferred by policemen, firefighters” and others. For a rather silly photo, look here.

UPDATE 9 October 2004: Over the past couple of weeks, quite a few US users have been googling “bee chasers”. Can anyone tell me why? Please add a comment or email me.

Who pays the varroa bill?

Now that it looks almost certain that varroa is in South Island, New Zealand, the question of who pays the bill to manage the situation is coming to the fore. Because there is no pest management strategy yet in place (the current ministerial enquiry is expected to produce that), both of the main beekeeping groups say that the government should foot the bill if an eradication strategy is attempted. But surely they won't attempt an eradication strategy?


Saturday, June 05, 2004

South Africa expands beekeeping

Today is World Environment Day and while the main theme is the world's oceans, in South Africa there is an increasing focus on the honeybee.

A private company, the Bee Foundation, based in Pretoria plans to help 10,000 people in rural areas set up in beekeeping over five years (the newspaper article quotes different figures, but I think these are more accurate). It will sell specially designed hives (with bees) at about half the market rate (R400). It will also collect the honey harvest paying R780 per kilo, earning each beekeeper a gross income of an expected R16,000 each per year. Each beekeeper's net monthly income should be in the region of R1,000.

South Africa currently has approaching 10,000 beekeepers, and industry analysts say that figure could be doubled.

Shared Interest (the US, not the UK organization) is contributing to the project and giving emphasis to the production of organic honey and to non-destructive methods of honey harvesting. In the past, many honeybees have died by fire in the harvesting process.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Varroa suspected in South Island, New Zealand

The inevitable usually happens. Yesterday varroa was thought to have been found in South Island New Zealand despite the attempts to keep the island mite-free. Confirmation is expected next week. Varroa effectively decimates honeybee colonies and requires ongoing control measures. Estimates put the cost of varroa in South Island at $NZ10 million annually for 30 years, but that's rather a bold attempt at costing the damage caused by the parasite.

The suspect mite has been found near Christchurch which is deep into South Island. Where this leaves the New Zealand Board of Enquiry into varroa remains to be seen.

Varroa was first identified in North Island, New Zealand in 2000. Usually the first positive identification of varroa is as much as a few years after its original arrival.

See results of inspections.


Thursday, June 03, 2004

Bees, lasers and land mines

A story I first heard a few years ago about bees detecting land mines has resurfaced in Montana. (Here's a Wired story from 1999.)

While the bees can be trained to sniff out the mines by rewarding them with sugar solutions, it seems it's been very difficult to keep track of the bees — the show-stopper question as they've coined it.

But now a laser system is being used to detect the bees and to map the minefield:

“Whatever the laser beam hits, light scatters everywhere,” Shaw said. “Some of that light scatters back and is picked up by the telescope” next to the LIDAR. A computer program stores the images.

So the bees find the mines, the LIDAR tracks the bees and a deadly mine field can be mapped without anyone stepping onto the mine field. Humans would still have to go in to remove the mines, but their work would be safer and more efficient.
Some fine-tuning is still required to make a full-scale operation feasible. Jerry Bromenshenk, the UM professor at Montana who came up with the idea of using bees as detectors has established a company (Bee Alert Technologies) and is looking for $1.5 million investment capital. With funding, he claims, it could all be up-and-running in 18 months.

Hampshire Bee Talk Propolised

The June issue of Hampshire Bee Talk (UK) has a page of stories from Propolis. So, welcome to Hampshire beekeepers.

Any other newsletter editors who would like to reproduce stories from Propolis are welcome to do so — just please acknowledge the original source/s and give the URL of this site. And I'd really like to hear from anyone who is taking up the syndication ;-)

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Pure magic

There's a heartening story about a Ugandan beekeeper in Now 68, Edward Tinkamanyire learnt the craft from Benon Kakwavu, a Rwandan refugee, 20 years ago. Today Tinkamayire tends 200 hives — with an air of magic:

"Residents believed the 40 years Kakwavu had spent in the beekeeping industry had something to do with magic from Rwanda," Tinkamayire says. The two having spent sometime together, Tinkamayire says, he proved that the secret was not magic at all but only love for the bees and determination to do the work.

"I started with a few beehives but now my project runs to about 200 locally made beehives from where I raise an annual income of not less than sh2 million," he says.
He recalls that once he harvested 27 jerricans of honey in a year.

Beekeeping has been fostered through a Government project and, from his beekeeping, Tinkamayire has been able to build a house and pay the school fees of his children.