bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Thursday, March 31, 2005

A handful of bees at baseball

Following Sunday's story about bees stopping a baseball game, here's another interesting baseball bees reference:
When it's cold, a pitched ball can feel like a brick when it's hit. Sure, the players use aluminum bats, but don't be fooled. Hit a ball outside of the “sweet” spot on a cold day and you still get a hand full of bees. Those bees can stick around an inning or so, impacting how well a player can field or throw a ball.
I've never heard this metaphor before. It's a good one! I think any ball game player will relate to it.

Worst bee metaphor of the month award

Another bee metaphor -- this time about politics and this time pretty poor. The author calls it the parable of the bees (presumably giving away his religious right tendencies). He relates a bee hive to a self-contained community (and then, hey presto, to terrorism!) and why we shouldn't adopt a policy of live and let live for such communities. I suspect the author knows as little about humans as he does about bees.

I think this metaphor is much more apt.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Indian Ocean island beekeeping project

A number of disabled people have taken up beekeeping on Rodrigues, an island 350 miles from Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Here's the story of one of them:
The story of Eric Speville is typical of how this project has helped a disabled person on Rodrigues Island to live a more independent and useful life. Eric first asked for help from the Project in 1990.

He was born with a severely deformed right arm and hand so is only able to properly use his left arm and hand.

He comes from a poor family and although he did manage to attend a Government primary school, at 11 years old, formal education came to a stop. His prospects for finding employment or any activity were poor.

Rodrigues does not have an established economy, and many young people of his age leave the island to take their chances in Mauritius where job prospects are better, even if for a Rodriguan the problems of housing and adaptation are great.

For Eric with his disability this was not an option. He would find employment difficult to obtain in Mauritius.

He worked part time as a jobbing gardener for some overseas volunteers in Rodrigues, but when they left the island he was again unemployed.

He joined our project in the Woodwork and Crafts Department in 1990 and then when Michael Duggan started visiting us, Eric became interested in Beekeeping.

Today married and with three children, he has his own hives at his own house, and he also works full time in the CARECO Apiary and Honey Bottling department. He also helps train new recruits at the CARECO Centre and visits some of the disabled beekeepers in the CARECO Scheme.

He is paid a regular wage for his work in the Honey Department and he earns more cash from the sale of his own honey. He also gets a Government Pension and thus is able to live a decent life with a regular income.

In 1999 he was able to travel to the UK and man the Rodrigues Stand at the National Honey Show. He has won several awards for his Honey at this show.

He looks back at the events of his life since he joined our project as a real lifeline to progress and success.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A pig of an economy

A nice typo in a story from Kashmir about a beekeepers' conference:
our economy is very weak, we are byres
and have to work hard to be come sellers.

Britain's NHS -- National Hornet Service

A total of 451 people were admitted to British National Health Service (NHS) hospitals last year with hornet stings. Lucky them! I've only ever seen three hornets and one of them was dead.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Almond Board goes looking for bees

California's almond industry is looking at ways to increase dwindling bee numbers.
Overall, the Almond Board funds about 40 proposals a year, for a total of $850,000. Of that, 10 percent was dedicated to bee research, but that percentage increased to 15 percent this year, Colleen Aguiar industry relations manager for the Almond Board explained.
A total of nine bee programmes will now take place, but details will not be released until after the work is complete.

This year pollination rates doubled and beekeepers brought bees from all over the US to meet needs during the almond pollination season.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Bees bring 'em in

Those great macho men of American baseball are attracting bees because of their fancy hair gels and deodorants. No-one was stung, but the game between Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks in Tuscon was called off after five innings. The coconut oil in the pitcher's hair gel seems to have been the attractant:
“I love this game,” Darren Oliver said, “but I like myself a little bit more. I guess I must have smelled good. It was kind of funny at first, but after a while I started getting a little nervous and scared out there.”

Saturday, March 26, 2005

What a to do!

A swarm of bees has “terrorised” a neighbourhood in Texas. Well, a dog and a cameraman reporting the incident were stung. A neighbour says this has been a problem for years and she's glad something is finally being done! Whew! Another major problem addressed. Next?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Bee hiving at school

An open-air school in West Bengal, India has had to close for a few weeks after it was invaded by bees causing 15 pupils to have hospital treatment.

The school is the dreamchild of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore who believed that if pupils were taught in the lap of the nature they would be more attentive than inside a closed room.

Maison de miel a Paris

On a recent trip to Paris (with a fellow-blogger), we stumbled across one of the best honey shops I've ever encountered: Les Ruchers Du Roy, in the Le Marais district close to the famous Hotel de Ville (map).

It stocks a large range of single source and regional honeys along with all manner of honey cakes, jams and other goodies based on bee products. The shop is as interesting as its website.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Sorting out the bad eggs

Here's an interesting tale from Science News of colonial insects and how they treat worker-laid and foreign eggs.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Kiwi retailer fined for false honey claim

A New Zealand company has been fined for making false representations about the properties of its honey. Tomorrow Dream Line Limited, a tourist shop, claimed to be selling UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) manuka honey and could not justify its claims. Two company directors were fined a total of NZ$35,000 (about $30,000).

The judge added an extra sting: he said that Mr Kim showed “extraordinary degree of deceptiveness, dishonesty and fundamental absence of good old integrity”. Mr Kim was “overtly ripping off the public by being as dishonest as anyone” he had met in this area.

UMF honey can sell for up to ten times the price of other honeys.

GM crops in Britain dealt a major blow

The prospects for GM (Genetically Modified) crops in Britain have been dealt another blow because the latest research shows that bees and other beneficial insects can be harmed. Reporting the research, Nature said:
Butterfly numbers were cut by up to two-thirds and bee populations by half in fields of transgenic winter oilseed rape (canola), according to the final results of a three-year study commissioned by the UK government.
The bees and butterfly numbers dropped because the weed population changed. There are also fears that this could have an impact further up the food chain, especially for song birds.

At the end of a report in the Independent, a British national newspaper, there is a useful summary of the four trials and of the changing debate over GM crops.

Who'll buy my bee?

Bean-counting ecologists are pricing the environment in the USA. A single honeybee is valued at $20 by a Utah researcher after he estimated the value of its rabbit-eye blueberry pollination out west.

Mmmm, that comes in at $1.2m a full summer colony. At last, I'm a millionaire -- a multi-millionaire, no less! I'm off to e-Bay pronto!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

O'Bloggery break

Turlough is sneaking off for a long St Patrick's weekend. Back to the blog on Tuesday 22 March.

Bumblebees log on

I saw my first bumblebee of the year a few minutes ago, so I duly recorded it on the Springwatch phenology website. Mine was about the 14,000th first siting, some dating back to January.

The BBC has created some timeline maps showing the first spring appearances of six species.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Chinese Rover car plant to displace bees

The UK's Daily Telegraph reports that hundreds of Chinese peasants have been cleared off their land so a factory can be expanded to make Rover cars under the company's proposed buy-out by the Chinese government.
One woman, Qian Zhihua, who has a thriving bee-keeping business that she said brought in 50,000 yuan (£3,500, about $6,300) a year, complained: “They have offered me 150,000 yuan for our house and our land, but that is not enough. What about my bees?”
A number of people are refusing compensation and trying to stay put.

Monsanto tries PR again

Monsanto is trying to talk up GM (genetically modified) crops in the UK again, but Friends of the Earth is rubbishing the claims.

On BBC Radio this morning, Monsanto president Hugh Grant said that his company's research showed that most UK farmers want the chance to grow GM and claimed that GM crops would be grown in the UK within ten years. But Friends Of The Earth says farmers are sceptical and consumers do not want the crops because of safety fears.

It will be interesting to see how this new Monsanto PR offensive will be treated following its track record of bungled GM PR activities in the past.

Propolis on tour

I see Propolis has had a whole new audience over the past 24 hours -- Swedes, Czechs and Slovaks. Welcome!

I think I understand the Swedish connection (lots of good bee-related links there), but can anyone explain to me how this made its way to the Czech Republic and Slovakia?

BTW, with temperatures of 15C today in Southern England, this is probably the first day in months that my bees have been flying freely. That's most unusual as often we'll have some reasonably warm days in February and early March -- but not this year.

UPDATE: Ivan of the Czech Republic tells me that he too is seeing his bees fly after a couple of months internment because of very cold temperatures.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The strangest foragers

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Dr Chris O'Toole speak of his enterprise -- a low-tech spinout from Oxford University -- that aims to increase agricultural pollination through the introduction of solitary bees (much more of that soon).

But, meanwhile, he did introduce his talk by speaking of the huge numbers of solitary bees, few of which produce honey and some of them foraging off the most peculiar things -- like jaguar vomit.

Monday, March 14, 2005

A honey of a buyers' market

Australians say that it's a buyers' market for honey after a good season downunder, Chinese honey re-entering world markets after being banned, and other countries having increased harvests.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Prevention worse than the disease?

The population of the Eastern seaboard of the USA appears to be at risk to West Nile Disease, an undoubtedly nasty condition. If contracted, it affects 0.66% people very seriously, but 80% of people don't show any symptoms at all. It's transmitted by mosquitoes.

So US authorities are spraying to try to reduce the mosquito population. And, surprise, surprise, the insecticide (containing Sumithrin) being sprayed in at least some areas can be detrimental to other insects -- including bees -- and some crustaceans. They may be targeting spraying very well and the concentrations may be low, but it seems that information about the spraying isn't exactly being broadcast widely -- this story may have some way to run.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Honey nut chokers

According to the Times of Malta, some 80 boxes of Nestlé's Honey Nut Cheerios have been recalled because “lumps of honey and sugar” that might conceivably choke consumers.

I suspect the lumps were a bit more sugar than honey, but Sugar Nut Cheerios doesn't have the same ring does it?

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Spot the victims

Bees “attacked” about 50 people in Bhadohi, India.

Poor folks? Perhaps not:
The bees attacked the victims when they threw stones to destroy about 25 beehives in an export house built on the industrial development authority building, police sources said.

Some of the victims were injured when they fell on each other in an attempt to escape the bees.
Excuse me if I question who the “victims” really were -- the stung or the stoned?

Bees' mental smell maps

Bees and other insects seem to have mental olfactory maps that closely correspond to brain activity -- the codes may be species specific and help insects in their search for food. (Simple summary, scientific paper).

The researchers demonstrated the “perceptual distance” between different chemicals for bees. Their findings seems to correspond well with previous research showing neural distances between centres of activity in the brain which were stimulated by different chemicals.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

101 uses of beeswax

The remains of a 3350 year-old boat have been discovered off the coast of South Devon, England. It was about probably twelve metres long, more than two metres wide and made of oak planks sewn together with yew branches, made watertight with moss and -- you guessed it -- beeswax.

The boat has long since rotted, but contents have survived: a solid gold neck ring, a gold bracelet, three bronze rapiers, three spear heads, three axe heads, several dagger blades, an arrow head and part of a bronze cauldron.

Bear-baiting with honey

How do you catch a bear cub on the loose? Put out bait of honey, coconut oil and fruit.

A one-month-old Malayan Sun Bear was caught yesterday after it strayed into a Malaysian housing estate. Its mother had been shot by a hunting party four days earlier after residents reported that a family of bears had been roaming around their houses. This time, residents did not want to harm the cub and formed a round-up party.

The enticing mixture took just ten minutes to attract the hungry, young bear. Bees (and termites) form a large part of the bear's usual diet.

Bees attracted to Pumas

Watch out for a new Puma shoe advert showing a honeybee zeroing in on a shoe's heel, which looks like a honeycomb. It's to be part of a global TV publicity campaign about its new spring shoes and sportswear.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Wanted -- beekeeper who can do the splits

Rufus wants some advice on sourcing early queens in the UK.

I haven't any easy answers.

In previous years we have been able to buy New Zealand queens early in the season (for example, by bidding for them at the beekeeping auction in east Hampshire every May). I'm not certain that they are still available though. Although they are beautifully docile, some feel they are too susceptible to diseases in our climes. I've also heard it said that when their offspring start to cross breed, a nastier temper emerges.

I've tried Hawaiian queens later in the season, but they nearly succumbed to acarine the following winter.

Perhaps you can find a good local beekeeper, perhaps a semi-commercial beefarmer, who will do a split of a colony or create a nucleus in May.

But I wouldn't take a queen or a small colony from any old beekeeper. I wouldn't offer mine, for example, as I'm not altogether happy with colonies on either of my apiaries. On one they are beautifully docile, but a bit too laid-back -- their nectar-gathering capabilities are in question. On the other apiary, they are great honey producers but decidedly grumpy -- though that might be because of nearby overhead power cables.

My best bet would be to ask around at a local association and see whose bees are docile and hard-working. Or you could of course chase a swarm -- but then that would just be pot luck and you could end up with any old (even diseased) rubbish, perhaps with a propensity to swarm!

Any other suggestions?

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Finding Propolis

Regular readers might like to know there's any easy way to remember the Propolis url -- you can get there now via:

or even

Australian males have problems down under

Australian drones may be suffering from low sperm counts.

You've been mangoed!

The Philippino town of Boliney in Abra is claiming that its honey yields have dropped 70% because of insecticides used on mango trees. Bees leave but don't return -- sounds familiar?

Iran to select best of breed

More evidence that Iran is an up-and-coming honey-producing nation: Iran's honeybee research centre is planning a breeding trial in four provinces influence the reproductive and defence characteristics of bees. Interestingly, honey production was mentioned a little as an after-thought.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Disaster masters

Bees and ants are providing useful models for researchers studying first responders at disaster sites. The insects are very effective in co-ordinating their responses on the basis of only local information -- the researchers at the University of Illinois, USA, think that agencies working in disaster zones could learn from these reactions.

Unfair Fairtrade?

We're midway through Fairtrade Fortnight and Rufus of That's How it Happened has made an interesting comment on my earlier Fairtrade post:
I had a feeling that both the Adam Smith Institute and George Monbiot were opposed to “Fairtrade”. I can't really see the point of creating an artificial honey price. Unlike other agricultural products home grown honey isn't the recipient of big EU subsidies.
He has a point, but I suspect that Fairtrade is doing more than giving producers a decent price for their honey -- it also seems to be providing a framework to get honey production and marketing moving in developing countries. There seems to be a degree of collaboration between Fairtrade and other organisations like Shared Interest (providing reasonable interest loans to encourage enterprise).

I have heard it argued that Fairtrade is effectively supporting the richer enterprises in developing countries, but Fairtrade vigorously denies this.

In any event, I suspect that the biggest global producer of honey, China, effectively sets an artificially (low) honey price abetted by the use of some curious practices (see here and here).

Meanwhile, in the UK it appears that all locally-produced honey finds a market -- and in fact you could argue that hobbyist beekeepers are artificially deflating prices of British honey by selling at well below the real production cost (ask any of the few commercial beefarmers in the UK!).

So, in a world of decidedly unfair trade and with the wealthiest nations adopting policies that don't even approximate to free trade, I'll back the Fairtrade movement when I can. When all is said and done, it's the consumer's choice to support Fairtrade operations.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Not just any old honey dressing

MRSA which is reported to be responsible for an estimated 5,000 hospital deaths in the UK each year and adds £1 billion to the NHS budget, is being targeted by manuka honey dressings in a programme that started this week. But there is a warning from a medic:
“It could be disastrous if people treated wounds with ordinary honey, because it has not been sterilised or standardised,” warns Dr Cooper. “Clostridia bacteria, present in some honeys, can cause gangrene.”
First time I've heard that one.


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Iran's Agricultural Jihad measures its honey

Iran's general director of poultry and beekeeping in the Ministry of Agricultural Jihad says that 28,500 tons of honey have been produced by the country's 2.7 million bee colonies in the past year (about one super per hive). That takes Iran to number 11 in world producers with 2.2% of global output. A modernisation programme also seems to be underway, so production might just be about to soar -- it has already since 1984 when annual production according to Eva Crane was just 6,000 tons.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

North Dakota swims in honey

North Dakota is now the USA's biggest honey producer -- beating last year's top state, California into fourth position. The Golden State's production dropped by 45% in 2004. South Dakota and Florida were in second and third positions.

I haven't been able to find this year's full results online yet, but here's what happened last year.

Varroa, war and insurgency hit Iraqi beekeeping

From half a million hives in the early 1980s, Iraq's managed bee colonies are now thought to number 25,000.

Though a traditional mountain pursuit for centuries, beekeeping only began using movable frame hives as late as the 1950s. But since then varroa and two Gulf Wars have severely hit Iraqi beekeeping. During the wars, hives were “looted” and broken up for firewood. Today migratory beekeeping is virtually impossible and many orange bushes are no longer pollinated by bees.