bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Monday, February 28, 2005

Check out Fairtrade

Fairtrade Fortnight starts on Tuesday 1 March (in the UK at least) and there are some 2,500 events across the country. The Fairtrade movement, now eleven years old in the UK, aims to give disadvantaged farmers in developing countries a better trading deal.

Coffee is one of the key Fairtrade products, but honey features too. There's a slightly incomprehensible article on Fairtrade honey in Mexico in New Consumer magazine, and a much better one about Zambian Fairtrade honey on the Waitrose website.
[In Zambia,] the collapse of the world copper price has cut a swathe through the country's biggest industry, and HIV-AIDS has ravaged its urban population, infecting some 25 per cent of adults, creating tens of thousands of orphans, and leading to a worrying breakdown in normally strong African family structures. It was, he said looking out of the window, down at the deep, lush green of rainy-season Zambia, a tragedy. “Such a beautiful place, such lovely people. But the corruption...”

But Bob Malichi refuses to be pessimistic. “I believe honey is Zambia's future, the solution to our problems,” he says. “Honey is always there. If you look after the bees, they'll produce for you. Our honey is unique because it's organically produced. There's no pollution, nothing is added, it comes straight from the forest.” Straight from the forest, in fact, to Bob's factory where it is barrelled for the road journey to Dar es Salaam in neighbouring Tanzania, whence it is shipped to the UK. Within a month of a beekeeper climbing to his hive, Zambian honey can be spread on a Londoner's toast for breakfast.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Oz bees head to the Golden State

The almond pollination crisis in California is so severe that bees are being imported from Australia.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Mari protest

A beekeeping Russian minority is campaigning for its human rights. The Mari people number about three-quarters of a million, just under half living in Mari El, an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation. Bee-keeping is major business in the region. An international appeal for support has been launched.

With average winter temperatures of -64F, it's a tough place of pine forests, bogs and berries -- but obviously good for nectar, and, I'd bet, propolis.

According to the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization:
In January 1997 presidential elections were held in the Republic of Mari. In the final round of the elections, both final candidates were Russians who did not speak the Mari language. The elections were won by V Kislitsy. Since the beginning of his term, many Mari officials have been removed from key positions in society and have been replaced by Russians.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Crass stupidity in North Dakota

Ten beekeepers and a chemical company have been fined a total of nearly $190,000 for the unapproved use of sodium cyanide in North Dakota. Sodium cyanide has legal uses in mining, pharmaceuticals and chrome-plating, but beekeepers have been using it illegally as a pesticide. It turns into a deadly gas when it gets wet.

The beekeepers' behaviour sees to have been unbelievably stupid:
the beekeepers would mix a plastic ice cream bucket full of hot water and sulfuric acid, throw in a handful of sodium cyanide and run.
The investigation into the stray barrels of the chemical first started as a homeland security issue. The barrels were found last autumn.

Varroa across the media

It seems that the US National Honey Board is leading a PR campaign to highlight the varroa problem in the USA. Lots of varroa stories across the web tonight.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Api birthday

Happy birthday to the world's most famous beekeeper -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko -- 51 today!

The disappeared of the bee world

Kiwi beekeepers are boycotting pollination of squash because they fear that a new pesticide is killing their bees. The insecticide, imidacloprid, is thought to have caused the loss of about 200 beehives over the past six months. It kills insects feeding on the plants and its effects can last as long as the life of the crop. Poverty Bay beekeepers are especially worried if the imidaclprid is used on clover.

Imidacloprid has been linked to disorienting bees on foraging flights and is suspected to have been the culprit in the French Gaucho incidents. After ingesting the chemical bees lose their navigation skills and fail to return to their hives.

Sweet home Alabama

Alabama has voted to replace the monarch butterfly with the queen honeybee as he official state insect. Even though the vote was 82 to 2, some renegades (two??) chanted “monarch butterfly” in the background as representative Sue Schmitz extolled the virtues of bees that she estimated are worth $400 million through pollination to the state.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Spring is coming -- honest!

 Posted by Hello

Monday, February 21, 2005

Locusts threaten bees

Honey production in western Guinea is threatened by a proverbial plague of locusts. Munching their way in from Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, they are estimated to have consumed 4,000 tons of greenery since they arrived in Guinea last month.

Honey is an important part of the agricultural economy (worth 40% of farmers' incomes in some parts). The threat is not just to the blossomability (I'll take credit for that new word, if you like) of plants, but also directly to bees because pesticides to kill the locusts will have to be bee-friendly.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Dirty deeds in Tasmania?

Tasmanian beekeepers are wondering if recent hive vandalism is retaliation to their protests against leatherwood logging.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Tualang -- the king of honey trees?

The caviar of honeys is in short supply in Malaysia this year because of drought. So, the tualang trees haven't quite so many bee nests as usual this year -- a mere 13 to 20 instead of the usual 40 or even 100. The combs are often six feet across.

The remarkable tualang tree grows in SE Asia and can reach 250 feet (80 metres). It's common but not abundant because it grows individually rather than in stands. The tualang's survival may be because it is so hard to fell, and in any case it is highly valued for its honey which is often used for medicinal purposes. It is also heavily entwined with the local culture:
Local people perform a ritual honey harvest with mixed Islamic and Hindu symbolism. Singers chant ancient prayers to cajole, charm and calm the bees. On moonless nights in February and March, honey hunters climb the tualang trees with smoldering torches, banging them on the branches above the nests. This creates a rain of fire, and as the sparks fall to the ground the awakened and enraged bees take off in pursuit of the embers. The bees become disoriented and remain on the ground until dawn, leaving the nests unprotected for the honey hunters to finish their harvest. About 1,000 pounds of honey can be gathered from one tree.
But beware the Tualang at dusk! The Apis dorsata bees may rain on you with golden showers. As the sun sets they evacuate not only their nests but also their bodies for a brief after-work celebration.

These golden showers may even have been the “yellow rain” feared by US soldiers in Vietnam to be biological warfare. Here's the scientist who thinks he identified the bee poo.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Varroa Agency Inc, but is it already too late?

New Zealand's National Pest Management Strategy to control varroa starts tomorrow (well, today, since it's already Friday downunder) and will be run by Varroa Agency Inc.

The main objective of the strategy is to keep the South Island varroa-free. Seasoned varroa specialists in the northern hemisphere think that varroa may already be in South Island since first sightings often seem to be long after first arrivals.
The new agency will take over responsibility for inter-island movement controls on bees and beekeeping materials, raise public awareness of varroa, and survey the South Island each year for signs of a varroa outbreak.
The costs of the strategy are expected to be NZ$730,000 each year and 25% will be met by a levy on beekeepers, the rest being from local government.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

A gentle game with a sting

Perhaps the most inappropriate game ever: Attack of the Killer Bees. I especially love the safety bit:
Once the colorful bees swirl their way to the top of the tube and out, they gently flutter to the ground while the children try to catch them with the custom nets. Because the nets are connected to their bodies at the waist, it is impossible for them to accidentally strike one another.
Yeah, right. Where I come from, the kids would turn this into a mighty violent game!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

More bee booze

More boozy honey beer in Australia, Beez Neez being one of the biggest sellers.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Digit disabled by honey

It could only happen in the USA. Miami Beach, Florida to be precise. It's a case of bees, a swarm, honey and allegedly “gross negligence” -- oh yes and a $1.4 million law suit focusing on a disabled digit:
Explains attorney Michael C Gongora: “The defendant Valerie Schields was attacked by a swarm of bees early in the day on September 29th requiring emergency medical treatment. Subsequently, her building employees located a massive beehive in the wall of one of the Sandra apartments. As the hive was removed, a large amount of honey dripped all over the lobby stairs. It was not cleaned up, and no warning signs were posted and my client slipped and fell down the stairs, which resulted in a serious injury requiring surgery of his finger, which will never regain normal use.”
The litigator is Alexander (Buck) Winthrop, a Miami Beach “publicist and author”. Get the finger out, Buck!

Overblown bees

You really ought to look at these two extraordinary bumble bees.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Tori Amos stings

Tori Amos' new album, Beekeeper is due for release this month. Apparently it includes a stinging attack by the 41 year old daughter of a Methodist minister who now lives in Cornwall, UK on current political leaders and their use of biblical symbolism.

I haven't heard the album yet, but it seems that there is an apiculture connection. She is reported to have said:
There's a beekeeping tradition within the Celts and the Welsh that has sustained all the invasions that this little island has had to take on board and I think that it spoke to me.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Poor bear

The US National Honey Board has abandoned its bear logo

 Posted by Hello
and replaced it with a dripping honey hexagon. The Board said that the bear was outdated and being used without authorisation in other contexts. Pity they didn't orientate the hexagon the correct way -- bees always build their cells with the points at the top and bottom.

 Posted by Hello

US Beekeepers sound the alarm

The American Beekeeping Federation has taken to publicity in business circles to try to get funding for bee research because of the pollination crisis resulting from resistant varroa.
The American Beekeeping Federation has established a research and education foundation to collect private funds and direct them to bee research. Last year, the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees granted scholarships to six graduate students working in the subject. The Foundation is repeating its scholarship program again this year.

“We are attempting to attract bright young minds to the field of beekeeping research,” said Foundation Chairperson Randall Johnson of Nampa, Idaho. “Regrettably, we are getting started a bit late, and we have very limited funds to work with.”


Thursday, February 10, 2005

Happy St Haralampi Day

Today is St Haralampi's day. He's the Christian Orthodox patron saint of bee-keepers, and is believed to be the first to have discovered the healing powers of honey and bee products. (More apisaints.)

Today an expo in Bulgaria is discussed plans to develop beekeeping in the country from funds anticipated from the European Union. Last year the EU enforced grants for countries with three-year national development programs in the sector.

Last year Bulgaria exported 5,620 tones of honey, 70% of it to the EU.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Danish black bee under threat

The Læsø Black Bee is under threat because the Danish Department of Food and Agriculture is to allow other races of bees onto the Island of Læsø (location).

According to a news release from David Ashton, a freelance journalist, the Læsø Black Bee absorbs the sun's rays better in northern climes and is “a lot older genetic version of the other honey bee varieties”.

Despite various genetic preservation orders, the Black Bee is now threatened because a Danish beekeeper wants to import other bees to the island and has the support of the Government in pursuit of a free market economy.

Propolis is one year old today

 Posted by Hello

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Be kind to bees

Lobsters and other invertebrates feel no pain says a new report looking at welfare implications of everything from cooking live crabs and lobsters to keeping bees. But be good to your bees!

Professor Wenche Farstad of the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science in Oslo says:
honeybees deserve special care because they display social behaviour and a capacity to learn and cooperate. But invertebrates do not feel pain because they have basic nervous systems and small brains.

...Peter Fraser, a marine biologist at the University of Aberdeen, says crabs and lobsters have only about 100,000 neurons, compared with 100bn in people and other vertebrates. While this allows them to react to threatening stimuli, he said there is no evidence they feel pain.

Monday, February 07, 2005

China starts exporting honey again

The world's largest producer of honey has just re-started exports to Europe after three years following the EU ban. Chinese honey had been found to contain antibiotics. The EU actually agreed to lift the ban last July.
Although production has continued to rise the number of bee colonies in China has declined in the past few years from a high of 6.5 million to around 5.7 million in 2001. This decrease, Access Asia says, is due to the introduction of smaller beehives and reduced choice of bee yards. Additionally, many agricultural co-operatives have shifted from honey production and bee cultivation following the poor harvests of 1998 and looked for more high-margin products.
Now what will happen to honey prices in the shops?

Sunday, February 06, 2005

California's problem again

There's a good article in the Los Angeles Times about bees, mites and almonds.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Miss Olive Brittan, Libya's last queen bee

I missed the beginning of a correspondence in The Times last month, but here's the gist of what I've been able to track down so far:

A Mr Philip Venning of London visited Libya in 1965 and stayed with an Englishwoman who was employed by King Idris to run what she claimed was the world’s only pedigree bee farm.
The fertile site, in Cyrenaica, was so isolated that the ancient bee colony had never had contact with other bees, it was said. Her best honey, juniper, was strictly reserved for the King, a chain-smoker who used it to soothe his throat.
Mr Venning ended his letter wondering if Colonel Gaddafi had kept the tradition alive.

Today, two responses came from other readers:

Sir Peter Wakefield (Consul-General in Libya from 1965-69) named the Libyan royal beekeeper as Miss Olive Brittan MBE and explained:
Sadly, after Colonel Gaddafi’s arrival Miss Brittan’s role came to an end and she had to leave, as, indeed, did the last of the British military mission to Libya. However, she insisted on a proper ceremonial leave-taking, and marched the colonel of the mission and myself to the top of “bee hill”, where she unfurled the Union Flag for us to salute. The flag was then folded away and carried back down the hill, past the hives of the slumbering royal bees.
A Mr Peter Cook, the then Commanding Officer at the RAF Supply Depot in Tobruk, said that after Gaddafi's coup a detachment of Royal Irish Rangers was sent to Cyrenaica on a rescue mission:
They returned with a charming but reluctant and indignant lady bee-keeper.
LATEST: I'm delighted to have received a picture of Miss Brittan.


Friday, February 04, 2005

From charcoal making to smoking bees

Zambian charcoal makers are being encouraged by a mining company to take up beekeeping because local forests are being depleted by mining operations.
Bwana Mkubwa Mining Limited (BMML) has donated bee keeping equipment worth about K20 million [about US$4,250] to Kansafwe community in Chief Chiwala's area in Ndola [Zambia].

BMML company secretary, Andrew Hickman, said his company was determined to conserve the environment and natural resources, hence their reason to sponsor the bee-keeping project.
Cynical palliative or responsible industry?

European Parliament debates arcane regulations, not policy?

Thanks to Martin, here's a tale from the New Statesman about lobbyists in Brussels. And guess who leads the article? Hungarian beekeepers:
A few dozen Hungarian bee-keepers with their bee-yellow baseball caps are leafleting outside the European Commission on a sub-zero Brussels Monday morning. On the small traffic island allotted to such demonstrators they are campaigning with many exclamation marks for Purer Honey! Cleaner Environment! No Foreign Imports! Ignored by most of the pedestrians crossing rue de la Loi between the Commission building and the Council of Ministers headquarters, the protesters buzz into startled action when I stop to ask about their aims.
The journalist (“buzz” -- what a wag, eh?) doesn't go into further detail about the Hungarian lobbyists' aims, but I suspect it's the same as before. An earlier report claimed that 70% of the Hungarian honey crop from last year remains unsold and they are selling for just over half the price of the previous year. They are concerned about the quality and quantity of imports.

In any event the Hungarian beekeepers have their work cut out:
There are probably already as many lobbyists as there are Brussels bureaucrats and they could soon form the city's biggest industry as well as its fastest-growing.
And rather disturbingly:
Most of the corporate lobbyists in Brussels can reasonably argue that, when they press their case for changes to draft regulations, they simply represent, as friendly experts, the continent-wide consensus that supports free trade, a business-friendly environment and light regulation. When a group is out of step with that consensus - such as those bee-keepers who want to keep out foreign honey - its campaign is dead in the water, no matter how many leaflets it hands out and whether or not it employs a lobbyist.

What is missing within Europe is not just democratic structures but any proper political debate. The European Parliament, far from maturing into a parliament that can discuss foreign policy, alternative economic strategies, relations with the US, or even the admission of new members, is stuck as a technocratic forum for harmonising arcane regulations.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Swarm sense

Just a few bees may be able to direct a swarm according to a researcher at Oxford University, UK. Iain Couzin developed an algorithm that shows how simple animals can use simple rules to make complex group decisions. Only a few animals need to know what they should be doing, and, as the group gets larger, the proportion of clued-up animals actually falls.
The algorithm gives its virtual animals several rules of thumb. One is that they try to avoid becoming cut off from the crowd. ... Another rule is that group members should avoid getting so close that they crash into one another.

In addition to these opposing forces, the virtual animals are given a power of persuasion that depends on their desire to lead the group in a specific direction. Completely naive animals, with no idea of where to go, have zero power.

The simulations show that even when naive and informed individuals cannot recognize one another, the novices spontaneously respond to decisions by the experts, because they follow their tendency to stick with the group.


Snow sense

In a rather disappointing Reuter's article about weather prediction, I came across this:
“Bees have built their hives close to the ground. If it was going to snow very heavily, they would have built them higher up,” said Chris Goss, who runs a smallholding in the northeast U.S. state of Vermont.
I'm afraid that doesn't make much sense to me. Bees occupy their nests for many years given the chance. In that case, bees with any genetic sense should be building their nests high up in snowy areas.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Bee bonanza in California

Anecdotal reports” indicate that pollination rates for the Californian almond crop have increased from $40-50 per hive last year to $120 and $140 this year because of bee shortages. See earlier reports for the background.

Other reports suggest that bees are being transported from all over the USA to meet California's needs. What trouble could be brewing as a result of that?