bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Blogging off until 2005, but spring starts today

I'm off for a short Christmas break, so Propolis won't be updated again until about 2 January 2005. So do have a good holiday -- if you are having one -- and all the very best for the New Year.

Meanwhile if you are a beekeeper you might like to ponder this list of characteristics confirming that you really are a beekeeper.

I know I'm a beekeeper because I think that winter starts at the beginning of August when the last honey flow has ended, and that spring starts today because the queen is probably just about to start laying in eanest to produce next year's workers.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Honey impounded

Cyprus has impounded 20,300 kgs of honey imported from India because it could contain antibiotic residues. The importer, Efstathios Stylianou Ltd, claims it was to be used as feed for honeybees and was not destined for human consumption. If that's the case, it seems to entail an horrendous risk of spreading disease amongst Cyprus bees (feeding bees other bees' honey risks spreading diseases like EFB and AFB). In any event, I wonder if this is Indian or Chinese honey.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Miksha -- airhead guitar afficionados

Norway, famed for its nul points in the Eurovision Song Contest has a heavy metal band, Miksha, with a boundless imagination.

According to the Beekeeping pages on Compuserve, the band says that it took its name from the American beekeeper Ron Miksha who, they claim, was an expert in biological warfare in the Vietnam War. And Ron, according to the band, took on a kamikaze mission to save the American army by finding alternative means of war. His book Bad Beekeeping, according to Miksha, demonstrated that there were other ways to fight a war without traditional weapons.

Fortunately, Ron Miksha seems to have survived the kamikaze mission and apologetically explains:
Despite the band’s kind words about my service to the US Army and my expertise in pioneering biological warfare, none of this is in my book -- mostly because I was not a pioneer of biological warfare and did not design any weapons of mass destruction for the USA. Instead, Bad Beekeeping is a much tamer book (only one murder, but quite a few bee stings) that might not appeal to biological-warfare-aficionados.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Spinsters at the heart of the British navy

The story about bumblebees in Australia reminded me of the story of how spinsters have been essential to the development of the British navy:
... in The Origin of Species, Darwin wrote that the bumblebee was the only bee capable of pollinating the red clover because the others were unable to reach the nectar. Dajoz [R Dajoz of the Musée national d'histoire naturelle de France] goes on to say that the number of bumblebees is largely affected by the presence of field mice which destroy their nests.

The population of field mice, in turn, is dependent on the cats for which they are a delight. We can then say that cats are a key element in the survival of the red clover. Dajoz cites Haeckel who says that “the red clover is used to feed beef cattle and the sailors mainly eat beef. Therefore cats contribute to ensure that England has a powerful navy.”

Dajoz ends his delightful presentation by citing another author, Thomas Huxley, according to whom “the English spinsters, because of their overwhelming love of cats, would be at the origin of the powerful English navy”.
Thanks to for that retelling.

Australia braced for an invasion

While the UK worries about the demise of bumblebees (Bombus terrestris), Australian ecologists regard them as an invasive species and already a hazard in Tasmania.

In 1992, a bumblebee was discovered in Hobart, Tasmania and is now said to be invading central Tasmania to the detriment of native fauna like the swift parrot.

In 2003 worker bumblebees were discovered near the ports of both Brisbane and Melbourne -- and since workers are not thought to be able to survive long voyages, the presence of a local queen was suspected. Mainland Australia is now braced for an invasion. Although tomato growers want them to boost pollination.

The Australian publication paper that follows these developments goes by the wonderful name of the Feral Herald.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Comvita disappoints

Comvita, the KIWI natural products company focusing on bee products, that floated earlier this year has had it's first stinging attack on the stock exchange. Its profits failed to live up to forecasts (by about a third) and its share price has fallen back to NZ$2.10, just 5 NZcents above its original flotation price. The CEO concedes that the company has had a bout of indigestion.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Massacre on Las Vegas freeway

Twelve million honeybees -- 480 colonies -- were killed after a truck crash at the junction of Interstate 15 and US95 in Las Vegas. The bees which were on their way to pollinate the Californian almond crop.
Authorities summoned beekeepers to help but decided capturing the bees alive would take too much time and money. Firefighters doused the insects with water to kill them.

At last year's prices, that could be a loss of $25,000 in pollination fees this year alone.

UPDATE 22 Dec 2004: Here's a good picture of the accident. Jim Jones, the Utah beekeeper whose bees were killed reckons he's lost between $100,000 and $200,000.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Bees sweeten offenders

I did a double-take when I read this:
According to a 2001 study by the North Lawndale Employment Network, as many as 57 percent of the adults in North Lawndale were in prison, on probation or on parole, and the unemployment rate was 26 percent.
The good news is that it's bees to the rescue. Sweet Beginnings, a programme to help ex-offenders is to focus on beekeeping and has taught drug offender Rhonda Moore “good communication skills, how to work with others, retail, manufacturing, assembling, nature, how to grow food and deal with insects -- everything”.

New Zealand prepares to import

New Zealand is preparing to open up to imports of bee products. At present, it only allows imports from a few Pacific Islands claiming disease risks. But a risk analysis is about to begin with the expectation that some import barriers will come down.

The NZ Bee Industry Group realises that it must play ball and face more competition.

Meanwhile the director of the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council, Steven Ware, said that after a ban of more than a decade, he would believe a trade link when he saw one.

Gi ' us a job

There's a new blogger on the block and he's looking for honest work, possibly in beekeeping. Nicolaita Dan is from Romania, he has kept 20 colonies of bees, he can do the splits and he left his last job because “Salary under 150 euro/month and powerful corruption in all the country”. He also has acacia and multifloral honey for sale.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Trachea photograph

There's a marvellous micrograph (220 times magnification) of a bee's windpipe (trachea) infested with tracheal mites on today.

The accompanying report says that some bees have become genetically resistant to the tracheal mites because they fastidiously groom themselves. Trachael mites are often associated with acarine, a disease that often kills colonies. (I once lost a colony to acarine.)

Monday, December 13, 2004

Bad timing

In the week that we had a series of hard frosts, a British journalist writes about global warming and a ridiculously early spring.

The UK Phenology Network of 12,000 recorders has already reported a developing bumblebee's nest near London and snowdrops two months early in Hampshire. I suspect that even before the ink dried on the newspaper, those developments had received a severe set-back.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Honey plant explodes

The walls of honey plant in Winifred, Montana, USA collapsed after an as yet unexplained explosion. The owners, AH Meyer and Sons, don't seem to be very lucky: the building had been rebuilt after a fire about 14 years ago, and in 2002 fire destroyed their beeswax rendering plant about a block south of Friday's explosion.

Hungarian beekeepers buzzing in Brussels

Sixty-five Hungarian beekeepers have been protesting in the centre of Brussels about cheap honey imports from Asia and South America which they claim not to be up to EU standards. Apparently 70% of this year's Hungarian honey production remains unsold.

Péter Bross, president of the Association of Hungarian Beekeepers estimated that Hungarian honey export will drop to half because of the competition.

While honey producers were paid Ft900 ($4,92) per kilo last year, this year they only get Ft500 ($2,73), which, they say, does not cover their expenses. Moreover, the image of Hungarian honey is being lowered by the cheap quality of the mixed honey.

Western European traders use Hungarian acacia honey, said to be among the highest quality in Europe, to upgrade the cheap Chinese imports, but does not indicate the ratios on labelling.

The association is keen on modifying the regulations so that the cheaper quality honey would be classified as second or third grade; that it be mandatory to include the origin of the honey on all labelling and that the mixing of honey from different countries would be banned.

If Bach had been a beekeeper

by Charles Tomlinson

If Bach had been a beekeeper
he would have heard
all those notes
suspended above one another
in the air of his ear
as the differentiated swarm returning
to the exact hive
and place in the hive,
topping up the cells
with the honey of C major,
food for the listening generations,
key to their comfort
and solace of their distress
as they return and return
to those counterpointed levels
of hovering wings where
movement is dance
and the air itself
a scented garden

from The New Criterion

What's The New Criterion? -- here's its description of itself (they take no prisoners):
The New Criterion has emerged as America's foremost voice of critical dissent in the culture wars now raging throughout the Western world. A staunch defender of the values of high culture, The New Criterion is also an articulate scourge of artistic mediocrity and intellectual mendacity wherever they are found: in the universities, the art galleries, the media, the concert halls, the theater, and elsewhere.
You have been warned.

If Bach had been a beekeeper
also happens to be a musical composition by Arvo Pärt.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Scratch 'n' sniff Christmas in Germany

In a bid to make letters more interesting than emails, The German post office is giving away millions of stickers smelling of honey and fir trees for letters and envelopes.

To bring back my childhood memories of Christmas, I'm afraid the stickers would have to smell of Christmas trees and cat pee -- somehow the cats always managed to scent our tree before we brought it into the house.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Beekeepers urged to lobby European Commission

Opposition is growing to the European Commission's plans to make bee medicines prescription-only and therefore available only through vets.

Because bees are classed as food-producing animals, they are falling within the remit of a new European Directive that requires all medical treatments for food-producing animals to be administered or at least monitored by vets.

Beekeepers fear that this added layer in the medicines chain will significantly increase treatment prices, discourage use of approved products, and result in a lot more bee deaths. Irony of ironies, the legislation is likely to lead to more contamination of honey because some beekeepers may resort to unapproved treatments. To top it all vets (in the UK at least) have no formal training or professional knowledge of honeybees.

In short, the new legislation seems crazy and counter-productive. Beekeepers are amused by the idea of vets coming to see their bees to prescribe treatments. “You want to see all the bees? Let me round them up.” Or do beekeepers take a hive to the vets? “What do you have in your pet carrier?”

Beekeepers across the EU are being encouraged to lobby for an exemption of honeybees from the legislation and are being urged to contact the relevant agency in their European Union Member State. Already the agency in the UK -- the VMD (Veterinary Medicines Directorate) -- is committed to pushing for the honeybee exemption.

The new legislation is also causing some consternation amongst those who deal with what are affectionately known as “non-food chain horses”.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Getting stoned in the Stone Age

Neolithic man seems to have discovered the pleasure of alcoholic beverages in China at about the same time as wine was first made in the Middle East.

Chinese pottery up to 9000 years old has been found with traces of certain chemicals, beeswax and tartaric acid. The chemicals indicated rice, the beeswax pointed to honey and the tartaric acid probably came from a fruit, possibly the Chinese hawthorn berry. All adding up to a good night out in the Stone Age.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Just because I'm paranoid ...

Much as I sympathise with and admire the resilience and resourcefulness of the people of Cuba, I did have to have a giggle at a list of so-called “terrorist actions against Cuba”. They included:
1991: Acariasis disease which affects bees is discovered, just as Cuban honey begins to be exported.

1996: Varroasis, another bee disease, is diagnosed in three apiaries in Matanzas. Previously unknown in Cuba, this disease is the worst of all that affect honey production in the world.
There are often mutterings about how various bee diseases have jumped oceans, but I would reckon that Cuba has been remarkably fortunate in getting these diseases rather later than might have been anticipated. I'm curious that Africanized bees don't yet seem to have appeared in Cuba.

Still, there's nothing quite like a good conspiracy theory ... and this is nothing like a good conspiracy theory.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Boston Candler

Bostonians desperate not to listen to their new Republican President can turn a deaf ear by taking to some local ear candling. (I'm usually very tolerant of alternative therapies, but ear candling sounds sheer madness.)

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Birthday girl

A very special beekeeper is celebrating her birthday today. Altogether now ... Happy Birthday dear ...

Friday, December 03, 2004

Bee products help fight cancer

Croation researchers say that natural honey-bee products such as propolis, royal jelly, caffeic acid, honey and venom may have applications in cancer treatment and prevention.

Nada Orsolic and colleagues from the University of Zagreb have found that bee products significantly decreased tumour growth and spread in mice.

Their article is published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

Viktor the beekeeper

Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko who is claiming that the recent elections were rigged is a beekeeper. Not many people know that.

He says on his website:
It’s true that the bees’ world is a unique community. My father, my grandfather and great-grandfather took up the beekeeping. My brother and I have since the early childhood joined to this striking occupation.

Bees’ community is functioning perfectly: all the duties are sharply defined. Some bees stand guard over their hive, some of them bring the honey and others feed their babies. Bee-garden is a big well-organized family, a single whole. You see, all of them perish but feed their queen till the last day. That’s the struggle for the sake of posterity…
UPDATE (30 minutes later): Viktor the beekeeper has succeeded in obtaining an election re-run on 26 December 2004.

Bees that bite?

I'm mystified. There's a report on an Indian website that a girl died after being bitten by a honey buzzard, described as a poisonous bee with poisonous saliva. Until now I though honey buzzards were birds of prey with a penchant for honeybee larvae. I've googled honey buzzards and can only trace the bird. Can anyone explain?
A two-and-half-year-old girl died and eight others were injured in honeybee bites here on Wednesday. Reshmi, daughter of a migrant labourer and a resident of Thoradi village in Kotda Sanghani taluka, died after being seriously wounded in bites by poisonous bees called honey buzzards.
My grandfather did always say: never believe what you read in newspapers -- except the date because you can check that. And sure enough the Belfast Telegraph was once published with the wrong dateline.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Honey Queen discovers bees in an unlikely place

Here's the Pennsylvania Honey Queen, Susan Fletcher. The story has a nice picture of her and (to British and Irish ears) an unforgettably rude sentence:
She never saw a bee hive until last year when she attended the Big Knob fair in Beaver County.

Zach on the scent of an application

In a follow-up interview to his research that discovered the pheromone responsible for keeping young bees in the hive, Zachary Huang indicated how his pheromone finding might have a very practical use:
Huang added that the pheromone could be used around schools or other congested areas to temporarily suppress bees from aggressive behavior.

He said finding applications for the new pheromone is a waiting game, but pointed to a queen bee pheromone recently uncovered as an example. When it was first discovered, the queen bee pheromone didn't have many applications, but a Canadian company later used it on apples and other crops to increase pollination rates, he said.

Zachary Huang at work at Michigan State University.
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