bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Smart move?

Rufus is moving his bees on Hallowe'en -- out of central London to the wilds of Berkshire in the Home Counties. He's moving them in a Smart car, a brilliant city car, but as a bee mobile ... It reminds me of all those jokes -- How many bees can you fit in a Mini?

Update: Mission accomplished, then victory celebrations turn venomous.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Who or what is The Beekeeper's Daughter?

The Beekeeper's Daughter is
  • an 1881 oil painting by Henry Bacon
  • a poem by Sylvia Plath
  • the sometime name of a film aka Sylvia released in 2003 about the relationship between the poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.
  • the poem was a probable inspiration for a forthcoming album by Tori Amos
  • a play by Ivica Boban about “the horrors of a faraway war, so they threw in a love story, some generation-gap conflict and a couple of nude scenes”.
  • a book by Canadian poet Bruce Hunter
  • and since Google seems to rule the world, a speciality honey shop in California (it tops the Google listing!).

  • Friday, October 29, 2004

    What pollinated this?

    Thanks to that's how it happened, I can direct you to this year's new pumpkin record. Dr Pumpkin set a new Circleville Pumpkin Show record with a 1,353 lbs (615 kgs) monster.

    According to Science Fair:
    [US] pumpkins have historically been pollinated by the native squash bee Peponapis pruinosa, but this bee has declined, probably due to pesticide sensitivity, and most commercial plantings are pollinated by honeybees today. One hive per acre is recommended by the US Department of Agriculture. Gardeners with a shortage of bees often have to hand pollinate.
    But according to the rather dubiously-named Mid-Atlantic Apiculture honeybees do have to get up early and work hard to pollinate pumpkins:
    Pollination must take place on the day when the flowers open ... Pumpkin and squash pollination is most effective in early morning, primarily before 9:00 A.M. ... Honey bees are normally most active in the field from 10:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M., with peak flight occurring near noon. Honey bees are not as effective in pollinating squash and pumpkins as the other cucurbits, since the flowers close at noon.

    Multiple bee visits of at least eight to twelve per flower are needed to produce marketable fruit. ... In general, as the number of visits increase, so does the fruit set, number of seeds per fruit, and fruit weight. Fruit shape also improves up to a point as the number of visits increase.

    Thursday, October 28, 2004

    Pollination versus pesticide

    Some New Zealand pollination beekeepers are facing a pesticide problem, according to the NZ Beekeeping Industry Group. Some colonies are said to be losing up to 80% of their flying bees to carbaryl, an insecticide used to control codling moth and as a thinning agent for unwanted apples. Although it is illegal to use the spray on trees still in flower, orchardists seem not to be telling their neighbours when they are spraying.

    Death by carbaryl has been happening for some years but is now being compounded by varroa losses in North Island. The problem is of particular concern in the orchards of Hawke's Bay, Bay of Plenty and Nelson.


    Wednesday, October 27, 2004

    Honey's healthy anti-oxidants

    Honey may be a healthier choice than corn syrup and other sweeteners because it has more antioxidants -- compounds that are thought to fight cancer and other diseases -- say researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    Indian honey boom?

    India is making more noise about its increase in honey exports:
    Indian honey exports, which have risen from the levels of 100 tonnes in 1997 to 10,000 tonnes by end of 2002, is estimated to exceed 30,000 tonnes by 2007-08.
    Now that the ban on Chinese honey exports to Europe has been lifted, can the existing figures be sustained never mind the targets met? (There have been suspicions that Chinese honey was finding its way onto the world market via India.)

    Nonetheless, over 200 new projects with an investment of 2 billion Rupees “are envisaged” and expected to generate over 100,000 jobs.

    Honeybee photos

    Zachary Huang of Michigan State University has put some brilliant bee photos online. He has compiled a searchable database.
    Here are a few of my favourites:
  • head of a bee
  • stinger with venom
  • a bee trying to escape having stung its victim
  • Apis dorsata in flight

  • There are plenty more...

    Tuesday, October 26, 2004

    EC stamps on small hive beetle imports

    The European Commission was so fast off the mark in response to the arrival of the small hive beetle (SHB) in Portugal that I almost missed it. Almost as soon as SHB was spotted, the EC banned imports of live queen bees/queen bumble bees from USA with the exception of the State of Hawaii (where many bee diseases and pests are absent).

    Sunday, October 24, 2004

    Cuba — land of sugar cane and honey

    Cuba, famed for its sugar cane production is stepping up it honey production and has some smart things to increase production which has found a lucrative European market:
    Dr Adolfo Rodríguez Piñeiro, director of the National Center for Beekeeping Research, stated that a digitalized geographical information system has been developed to pinpoint where to locate the hives with more precision. This digitalized map of Cuban vegetation will also allow then to know which zones have the greatest amount of space to install more hives.
    Cuba has almost 150,000 operational hives and in 2003 produced 7,200 tons of honey. Prior to this season's hurricanes, they hoped to produce a record 10,000 tons this year. Specific honeys like campanula and mangrove are highly prized and European institutions have certified the island to sell 1,500 tons of organic honey to Europe.

    On a visit to Cuba a few years ago, I could only find honey on sale in the dollar shops. Perhaps it's too precious for internal consumption.

    Saturday, October 23, 2004

    As pissed as a bee

    Honeybees, the most studied insect in the world, are now helping researchers to understand the effects of alcohol on humans. Apparently, alcohol affects bees and humans in similar ways.

    First the Ohio State University researchers treat the bees to a night out on the apiary:
    Honey bees were secured into a small harness made from a piece of drinking straw. The researchers then fed bees solutions of sucrose and ethanol, with several ethanol concentrations ranging from 10 to 100 percent.
    Then they observe their behaviour for about 40 minutes:
    The bees that had consumed the highest concentrations of ethanol - 50, 75 and 100 percent - spent a majority of the observation period on their backs, unable to stand... They also spent almost no time grooming or flying.

    “These bees had lost postural control,” Julie Mustard said. “They couldn't coordinate their legs well enough to flip themselves back over again.”
    Next they want to see if tanked-up bees get aggressive ...

    So now you know what to say if you are accused of being drunk: “Sorry, I've just lost postural control.”

    Friday, October 22, 2004

    Mongolian honey — a ripening market

    Oliver Field gave a talk on Mongolian beekeeping to the Central Association of Bee-Keepers last night at the Wax Chandlers' Hall (see here for a little bit of Wax Chandlers' history).

    Oliver spent some time in Mongolia where he watched its short six-week honey season exploited in a rather unusual way. Some 20,000 hives arrive from China to a semi-desert area of Mongolia and the bees set about foraging mainly one plant. What the plant was, Oliver didn't say, but he did reveal that experts at Kew described it as pretty toxic! It did, however, yield huge amounts of nectar.

    Beekeeping families arrive in the area in their worn-out trucks and pitch camp with their regulation one child and a dog (no family is allowed more than one child unless they live in particular agricultural areas, we were told). Each family has about 200 hives (Langstroth) filled with their very docile bees (Apis mellifera -- maybe an Italian strain). Every morning the bees are watered -- quite for what purpose, Oliver wasn't sure -- and every few days the nectar is extracted (unripened) into barrels for collection by a local honey-packing company. Lots of queens are raised -- not for breeding, but for royal jelly.

    The honey -- an amazing 5,000 tonnes from this area alone -- is taken off to the local honey processing factory where it is heated to drive off the moisture and packed into plastic bottles for dispatch to (mainly) Beijing.

    Then, when the short season is finished, the beekeepers disappear down south to warmer climes, and the honey factory is mothballed for the ensuing freezing winter.

    Oliver cast some light on the apparently common Chinese habit of extracting honey before it is sealed or even ripe. The Mongolian beekeepers say their approach is traditional and appear to know no other way. Perhaps it is a huge cost-savings exercise: it obviates the need for more than one super per hive, the honey never gets a chance to crystallize in the comb, and it avoids the necessity of removing the wax cappings. And it provides a way of keeping beekeepers busy on a near-daily basis.

    The Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers

    Almost in the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral and in London's historic financial district (The City or The Square Mile) lies the headquarters of a curious institution -- the Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers. I went there last night to hear a talk about beekeeping in Mongolia (more about that in the next post). The building wasn't hard to find: just follow the motley band of characters -- quite unlike the pinstripe brigade around them -- looking up at the door numbers to find Number Six Gresham Street.

    The Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers is one of the hundred or so of London's Livery companies, all of which have received their charters from the Monarchy. The Wax Chandlers date from 1358 and it was awarded a Royal Charter by King Richard III in 1484. The gloriously detailed and colourful charter can still be seen (protected from light by a small curtain) in the main reception in the Wax Chandlers' Hall. (In the opposite corner is a skep, probably the only one in The City of London.)

    The Wax Chandlers, or beeswax candle makers for churches, are a cut above the Tallow Chandlers, any animal fat candle makers for the home. The Wax Chandlers rank 20th, one above the Tallow Chandlers in the Livery League table.

    Some Livery Companies still act as trade or regulatory bodies, but today the Wax Chandlers is simply a charitable institution with rather grand premises that it hires out for receptions of all sorts. It maintains close links with the BBKA and sometimes gives beekeeping grants. (The Tallow Chandlers is now also a charitable institution supporting education in oil-related fields.)

    The Wax Chandlers' motto is Truth Is The Light.

    Somewhat off topic: my favourite Livery company is the Worshipful Company of Carmen. Now, before you get too excited, Carmen were drivers of carts. And their motto? Scite, Cite, Certo (Skilfully, Swiftly, Surely).

    Wednesday, October 20, 2004

    Mad for it

    “Mad” honey, traditionally used in the Black Sea area of Turkey as a sexual stimulant and as a treatment for stomach and bowel problems, has caused an poisoning outbreak according to the Emergency Medical Journal as reported in the UK's Independent newspaper.
    Nineteen patients were admitted to hospital ... suffered nausea, vomiting slowed heart rate and fainting after eating honey. The researchers say they had been poisoned with andromedotoxins found in the leaves and flowers of plants and extracted by bees. ... Fifteen of the patients had been diagnosed with duodenal ulcers which, according to local tradition, can be healed by continuous eating of honey.
    Apparently, poisoning incidents are not uncommon [pdf file] in the area and the toxins are extracted from the leaves and flowers of Rhododendron ponticum by bees. The plant grows elsewhere, but probably not in such great profusion as to cause a problem -- and in any case the honey is not likely to be consumed in such huge quantities.

    There's an amusing report of its full range of effects including how it was used as an early weapon of mass destruction:
    Trabzon locals placed tempting pots of deli bali [mad honey] along the route of the invading Roman army. Strabo, the Roman historian, described the result: “The men tasted the honey and lost their senses. They were attacked and easily dispatched.” In all, three squadrons, or about 1,200 men, were killed by guerrillas.

    Bee in fashion

    Houston Astro fans are taking to dressing as Killer Bs to support their baseball team. If you scroll down that page a little you'll even find a recipe to make your own low-cost Killer B outfit.

    Propolis coffee

    Propolis Gold Coffee Bee has just been launched in Brunei. It contains royal jelly, pollen and propolis -- as well as coffee.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2004

    The Zigbee Conspiracy

    ZigBee, a new wireless protocol, promises to be a standard that will apply to lots of appliances and make them easier to use. But where did the name come from? Rupert Goodwin of ZDNet investigated:

    There's the romantic origin (which might be rumbled by beekeepers) as claimed on the Zigbee FAQ:
    The technique that honey bees use to communicate new-found food sources to other members of the colony is referred to as the ZigBee Principle. Using this silent, but powerful communication system, whereby the bee dances in a zig-zag pattern, he is able to share information such as the location, distance, and direction of a newly discovered food source to its fellow colony members. Instinctively implementing the ZigBee Principle, bees around the world industriously sustain productive hives and foster future generations of colony members.
    And then there's the real origin according to the man in charge of the standard.:
    “Well, we had a big list of names. The ones at the top were sensible wireless networky names, and the ones at the bottom were nonsense we'd just made up off the top of our heads. We went down the list until we found one that passed the trademark lawyer's tests. We got a long way down the list.”

    Monday, October 18, 2004

    Naughty doings in North Dakota?

    A stray barrel of sodium cyanide fell off the back of a lorry (I kid you not) and has been found, after an intensive search, in a ditch in North Dakota. Sodium cyanide, which turns into a lethal gas when it gets wet, is not registered for use as a pesticide, yet it seems that it may have been used by North Dakotan beekeepers to fumigate hives at the end of the season.
    Bonnie Woodworth, president of the North Dakota Beekeepers Association, said cyanide was used illegally many years ago in the state, but it was an uncommon practice.

    “It's kind of unusual because these days people don't usually kill their bees because they're very valuable with pollination prices the way they are,” said Woodworth, a Halliday, N.D., beekeeper. ... “We used to have to kill off about one-third of our colonies when we brought out bees to Texas, but things have changed. Now, we spend more time trying to keep our bees alive.”

    Saturday, October 16, 2004

    A culture of fear

    Am I alone in thinking that the following story is a load of old codswallop?

    There is an article in an Oregon (USA) newspaper about “funnel stinging”. It claims that “most runners” are experts at being stung. Apparently:
    Running shorts are great bee funnelling devices and thus add to the excitement of running in bee country. The shorts open up a tiny bit at each stride and this allows the bee to slip into the short for a clean shot of your non-bee zone.
    I don't think I'll go on. But the article does. It certainly lends great credence to the idea that someone out there is trying to frighten us with fatuous scares.

    Hands up out there: how many of you have been stung whilst out running? Is Oregon such wonderful bee country? If so, I must go there.

    Friday, October 15, 2004

    SHB's arrival confirmed

    Reports about the arrival of the small hive beetle (SHB) in Portugal have been confirmed. In a news release, the UK's NBU said:
    The SHB has this month been intercepted in an unauthorised consignment of queen bees imported into Portugal from Texas. Positive confirmation was made through Laboratory diagnosis on two suspect larvae detected in the queen cages. The Portuguese Veterinary Authorities took rapid action to isolate the infested apiaries, and treat both the soil and destroy all colonies and associated beekeeping equipment. It is hoped that these measures successfully eradicated the SHB.

    Thursday, October 14, 2004

    Varroa fungi foray

    Scientists believe they have found a fungus that will combat varroa without harming bees. The fungus Metarhizium anisopliae is also claimed to kill termites. The scientists from the US Agricultural Research Service Beneficial Insects Research Unit at Weslaco, Texas have been investigating the topic for several years and are now preparing to transfer the product to industry.
    To test the fungus, the scientists coated plastic strips with dry fungal spores and placed them inside the hives. Since bees naturally attack anything entering their hives, they tried to chew the strips, thereby spreading the spores to the whole colony.


    N17 beekeeper

    As any apiarist knows, the stereotyping of beekeepers can be a bit frustrating. I won't relate the stereotype here for fear of perpetuating it. Suffice to say here's a story -- not very pleasant -- that will shatter some preconceptions.

    One of the chief hit-men of the “November 17” group that was convicted of several murders including that of the British military attache Stephen Saunders in Athens in 2000 was Dimitris Koufodinas, a 45 year-old amateur beekeeper. Mr Koufodinas was sentenced to 15 life sentences plus 25 years.

    He is now one of five N17 members on hungerstrike and is in a critical condition.

    Small hive beetle in Europe?

    There are unconfirmed reports on Bee_L that the small hive beetle has been found in Portugal this month (excellent pdf NBU leaflet on the hive beetle). It is suggested that the beetle arrived in an illegal import of honeybees from the USA. The hive has been destroyed and the surrounding land treated, but no-one can be certain that the beetle has been eradicated.

    This, I believe, is the first sighting of the small hive beetle in Europe -- something European beekeepers have been dreading.

    EFB to be declassified?

    In a follow-up to yesterday's story about the planned cut-backs in the UK bee inspectorate, an article in today's Financial Times [subscription] seems to suggest that European Foulbrood (EFB) may lose its notifiable status.

    Currently, in the UK both EFB and American Foulbrood (AFB) are notifiable diseases -- meaning that anyone who suspects their bees may have either disease is under a legal obligation to report that fact to DEFRA (the government department for the environment and agriculture).

    This does not bode well for British beekeeping. EFB is widespread in Southern England and difficult to control, although the bee inspectorate has done much to keep it in check. Without the inspectorate, EFB is likely to become much more widespread because it is such a difficult disease to identify in its early stages.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2004

    British beekeepers alarmed at Bee Unit cuts

    The British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA) has warned that cuts in the number of bee inspectors in the UK will lead to more bee diseases and have a detrimental effect on the British economy.

    The UK Government is reported to be making cuts in the National Bee Unit (NBU) (from £1.25m to £1m -- approx $2.2m to $1.75m). And the BBKA fears that this will mean cuts in seasonal (part-time) bee inspectors who are paid about £10,000 (approx $17,500) per year. The bee inspectors are primarily on the look-out for the infectious foulbrood diseases, EFB and AFB, as well as varroa infestations and other bee health problems.

    British beekeepers are rightfully proud of the NBU and its bee inspectorate. The inspectors are held in high regard by beekeepers -- unlike many other types of inspector I could mention. They are frequently invited to beekeeper meetings and are generally regarded as a friend of the beekeeper. The inspectorate (and a policy of destruction of AFB infected hives) has, for example, been largely responsible for a very significant lowering of the incidence of the dreaded AFB in the UK.

    Here's a job advert and job description for a Regional Bee Inspector, a full-time post, which entails a salary of £21,000.

    The BBKA has done well to get publicity on a very influential BBC Radio programme -- The Today Programme. If you are quick, you may be able to hear a recording of the interview.


    Tuesday, October 12, 2004

    Bees aiding and abetting policeman's helmet

    I've often heard claims from beekeepers that honeybees are always good for the environment. Well, it's not always that simple:

    I've noticed that a lot of Czech interest in my blog on gorse in New Zealand. It transpires that they have a problem, not with gorse, but with another weed that is attractive to, and pollinated by, bees: Impatiens glandulifera (known in the UK as Indian or Himalayan Balsam) (picture).

    In the Czech Republic, it seems problems can arise along banks of rivers: Impatiens glandulifera overhelms other plants on river banks, but after the early autumn frosts the banks are left nearly bare and are more easily eroded. Here's how Czech volunteers try to fight it. The photos are from Prateleprirody (Friends of Nature), a nonprofit organisation focusing on nature preservation on Labe (Elbe) river.

    In Northern Ireland, where the balsam is called “Policeman's Helmet”, it has also flourished. On the Flora of Northern Ireland website, a related problem is explained:
    The plant has similarly colonized many rivers on the European continent and recent research by two German botanists has shown that it competes for pollinators such as bumblebees with the native riverbank species, and so reduces seed set in these other plants. Its success in this is in part due to a very high rate of sugar (nectar) production -- for instance about 47 times greater than the great willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) and about 23 times greater than purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). Seed set in marsh woundwort (Stachys palustris) is reduced by some 25% where it grows mixed with Himalayan balsam plants as compared to pure patches.

    Monday, October 11, 2004

    Going, going ... stung!

    There are only two more days to bid for this sign on ebayPosted by Hello

    Sunday, October 10, 2004

    Kiwi beekeepers on the thorns of a dilemma

    New Zealand is facing a dilemma and beekeepers' interests are at its heart. Gorse (Ulex europaeus), a spiky evergreen bush with bright yellow flowers, was introduced by European settlers, but is now classified as a pest in the Bay of Plenty and its destruction is encouraged.

    The difficulty arises because gorse provides much-needed early pollen for honeybees (also an introduced species) which are vital to the region's kiwi fruit and avocado pollination. Estimates put the pollination contracts at over $NZ 8 million and the value to growers much higher still.

    Gorse also happens to be a good nurse plant for native bush tree species; it provides a niche habitat for small birds; and it is an effective nitrogen fixer, improving soil fertility.

    Bay of Plenty beekeepers are meeting their regional council to discuss the dilemma.

    On a personal note, although I can understand why New Zealand considers gorse a weed, I was brought up amongst it and love its butterscotch-like scent and the colour it provides all year around. It's said in Ireland that gorse is in flower every month of the year.

    The velocity of honey

    I've just come across a fairly new book: The Velocity of Honey and more science of everyday life. The author Jay Ingram homes in some intriguing phenomena that we frequently encounter.

    Take honey, for example. Have you ever noticed how it drizzles on to your morning toast. It doesn't flow out evenly in all directions. How it spreads is affected by the distance between the spoon and the toast -- which affects the velocity of the honey. It falls as a spiralling stream, an ever-folding ribbon, or just plain drops. Jay Ingram explains why. He also tells how when honey is about to fall in a drop, it is still connected by a neck to the honey above. We can see that with the naked eye. But what we don't see and what high-tech photography reveals is that as the neck appears to break, another much narrower strand appears -- and so on, possibly ad infinitum or perhaps until the strand is only one or two molecules thick.

    There's lots more in the book from why strange journeys seem longer on the way out than on the way back to the physics of ‘ducks and drakes’ and why time seems to pass faster as we grow older. The book is designed be read in droplets -- a good read.

    You can buy or find out more about the book on here or here. And if you do make a purchase via these links, you'll do me a great favour because I'll receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

    Friday, October 08, 2004

    Winter sweeteners

    Winter is coming and I must be becoming hyperphagic. I've been given some really interesting honeys lately and I've gone out and bought some more. I wish I had the language to express their flavours.

    First to arrive was a Dorset (UK) ling heather honey bought at a local fair (in Thomas Hardy country). It wasn't pure ling (and so wasn't thixotropic, a gel), but the flavour was fantastic. It's very strong and almost has a bitter taste with its sweetness. And the aroma -- that nearly pervades the kitchen when the jar it is opened.

    Then came an early season honey from Nantucket, Massachusetts, USA. Beautifully clear in the biggest honey jars I've ever seen, it has a surprisingly strong taste, healthy viscosity with a confectionery overtone I'm still trying to place.

    And last weekend, three honeys were brought back from a stall by the Spanish Steps in Rome. A wonderful mountain honey, one of the tastiest traditional honey blends I've had in a very long time. There was also a very pale honey with a beautiful texture and delicate flavour -- unfortunately the label fell off and I can't remember the nectar source. And then there was a sweet chestnut honey. Ugh! It's one of the very few honeys that I have ever found unpleasant (along with buckwheat and ivy). Perhaps it's an acquired taste.

    Yesterday, I was in Waitrose, one of the UK's posher supermarkets, and was very impressed at their range of honeys -- all good value. I chose Romanian coriander (“a hint of citrus” -- I'm not sure I'd agree with that) and Scottish heather (bell heather, I suspect) honey (“a rich burnt caramel flavour” -- that's for sure) from the well-advertised Murray McGregor.

    What we need is a good handbook on honey flavours ...

    Thursday, October 07, 2004

    Any advance on $200?

    Now here's an entrepreneurial beekeeper (in Indiana, USA):
    Johnson corralled a cluster of 30,000 bees Tuesday afternoon that made a home two years ago beneath the floorboards of a vacant Franklin farmhouse. For his 90 minutes of work, he made about $200 and took home 100 pounds of honey to jar and sell.
    The most I have ever charged is £50 (about $90) for removing a colony from a soffit while a house was being refurbished. It was in February and there wasn't a drop of honey to be recovered.

    Anyone do better than $200? (I still think $200 is very good value considering the fees of most so-called experts in business.)

    Wednesday, October 06, 2004

    Political beehives

    I knew that the New Zealand parliament building (picture) is called The Beehive (it's shaped like a skep), but I didn't know about the website in the USA. It is described as
    a multilingual web portal that the Brookings Institution calls the de facto standard for online outreach to low-income communities, to address specific domestic issues important to low-income Americans.
    Kerry and Bush are using it to try to reach out to low-income voters.

    And when I started googling, I came across the Beehive Design Collective:
    Taking aim at corporations and western colonialism, the Beehive Design Collective “cross-pollinates” its message through huge and intricate pen-and-ink posters depicting the horrors of corporate globalization. The “anti-copyright” posters have focused on biodevastation and free trade agreements, using insects to represent various players—European wasps leaving their nest to create more like them in North and then South America, complete with military bugs and bloodsucking mosquitoes with corporate logos on their sides.

    Tuesday, October 05, 2004

    We'll mead again

    The October Revolution changed many things -- including the drinking habits of the Soviets, according to the St Petersburg Times. Until then, honey-based alcoholic beverages had dominated, but then began the move to vodka and beer.

    Now the St Petersburg Institute of Honey-Brewing (Institute Medovareniya) has renewed production of mead and apple cider, and is planning to launch other almost forgotten strong alcoholic drinks, such as shibach (a strong mead) and medvyack (made with honey “using cognac technology”). One of the new mead companies goes by the name of Khlebnoe (“slurping”). The new companies are uncertain how the new products will be received across Russia and are initially focusing on the St Petersburg region.

    Monday, October 04, 2004

    Honey on 4

    BBC Radio 4's Food Programme this week focused on honey -- and honey laundering. And it's definitely worth a listen. If you call up this site this week, you'll be able to listen to it. You'll need Real Player, but you can get find out how to get a free download of the software here.

    The programme focuses upon honey laundering -- the Chinese honey ban and honey misrepresentation. Interviewees include a pollen analysis specialist, The Honey Association, a UK beefarmer (Chain Bridge Honey Farm), one of Britain's biggest honey packers (Rowse) and the Bees Abroad charity about its work in the Himalayas.

    If you do listen, you'll realise how good BBC Radio 4 can be. It's speech radio (not talk radio!) at its best and the Food Programme is a great example of its output.

    Corn syrup cavalry

    Florida's honeybees seem to have survived hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, but some beekeepers are having to call on corn syrup as an emergency feed:
    ... the plants they normally would feed on to make their famous wildflower honey are stripped of flowers. That includes everything from melaleuca trees to bottle brush trees, Brazilian pepper trees and palms.

    Sunday, October 03, 2004

    Dear John ...

    Australian Prime Minister John Howard “sees himself as the queen bee and the voters his drones”, according to The Australian.

    Right, who's first in the queue with an extension of that analogy? I bags the four-letter one about what the drones are designed to do to queen bees.

    Saturday, October 02, 2004

    Snapped but not stung

    The photographer of a famous bee picture has died. Richard Avedon whose 1981 picture of a near hairless beekeeper “Ronald Fischer, beekeeper” partially covered in bees (looking like tattoos) has died in Texas aged 81.

    The story of the photoshoot makes for an interesting read (and listen). Apparently, there was a Buddhist and a Christian version of the photo. In the Buddhist version, the beekeeper was serene, in the Christian version he grimaced with pain. Avedon chose the Buddhist version as the final print.

    There's something about Lassie ...

    The Lassie TV series is fifty years old. And now the truth can be told. Lassie was a female impersonator. Male collies are more photogenic, they say. Lassie could obey about 200 commands, but the one he hated most was “nurse”. That was the signal for Lassie to be suckled by young pups -- more than any self-respecting dog could stand. And how did they do it? They coated the poor dog's fur (I hope not his bits) with honey.

    Friday, October 01, 2004

    US Honey Board stuck for words

    What is it about some business folk that they hate communication? Take this from the US National Honey Board press release:
    the National Honey Board will introduce ten new product concepts and product extensions designed to move honey front and center in mainstream formulations. The Honey Board’s New Product Showcase, which is open and complimentary to all food manufacturing and foodservice product decision-makers and to members of the honey industry, will present honey as an integral ingredient and purchase incentive in breakthrough applications such as extruded corn chips, blendable beverage syrup, processed poultry coating (reduces the need for preservatives by 15%), enriched adult nutrition beverage ... The Honey Board anticipates its market-ready prototype products will provide a creative springboard ...
    Need I go on? Where didn't they learn plain English? Are they frightened that if they say what they mean, their ideas will be shown up for what they really are -- pretty feeble?

    If they mess around with food as much as they do with the language, I don't think I'd want to touch it.