bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Friday, May 27, 2005

I will arise now, and go to Innisfree ...

I'm off for a barely deserved holiday. Propolis will become unstuck again on or around 13 June.

I'm off to visit the “bee-loud glade” (picture). Apologies to WB Yeats.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

$1 million for propolis and turmeric

The US National Cancer Institute is providing $1 million funding to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center to research the anti-cancer properties of turmeric and propolis.
Over the next four years, researchers at Wake Forest will study the potential of propolis, a resinous substance collected by bees from the bark and leaves of trees and plants that has a history of use in folk medicine, and the food spice turmeric, to enhance the effects of radiation therapy.

The active component in propolis is caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE), which studies have shown can protect mice against radiation induced inflammation and skin damage, and rats against certain forms of heart muscle damage following chemotherapy treatment.

... “A very interesting property of these compounds is that they have been shown to cause cell death in tumor cells but not in normal cells,” said lead investigator Dr Costas Koumenis, assistant professor of radiation oncology at Wake Forest BaptistMedical Centre.

Let your fears melt away

Starring in a film coming to a cinema near you -- beeswax. House of Wax. It's modelled on the slasher movies of the 1970s and 80s, and is “rollercoaster ride that taps into our most primal fears of being hunted down and trapped”.

Twenty tons of wax were used in the movie and the beeswax inhabitants of a small town were made by artists working twelve-hour days for seven months.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Odd bee behaviour in Barbados

Unusual bee goings-on are being reported in Barbados. Bee-keeper Rudy Gibson says he hasn't seen so many bees in twenty years and thinks a bad hurricane season may be on the way. The bees are travelling east across the Caribbean to Barbados and are reported to be more defensive and better honey-getters:
He suggested the bees could be coming from countries which had volcanic activity, but he still could not understand why they were heading east towards Barbados.

“I wonder if they are sensing something from these islands and heading towards the east for refuge,” he told the Daily Nation.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Honey powder puff

One mention of honey powder on a US TV programme (NCIS) and a company clams a 500% sales surge.

Italian bee business takeover

Large Italian beekeeping company Fileni has just bought more than a 30% stake in feed manufacturer MB Mangimi (worth Euros 2.35m). The remainder of MB Mangimi is held by several other high-profile beekeeping firms. I'm not sure that “feed manufacturer” has been translated correctly since it seems to refer to animal feed and honeybee feed (presumably sugar syrup). Explanations anyone?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Pollination crisis spreads across the USA

The pollination crisis that made the headlines in the world's largest planned pollination event California is now being felt across the USA.

In New Hampshire the harsh winter and varroa are being held responsible for the loss of over 50-80% of bees in some locations. In Minnesota losses to varroa of 30-50% are being reported in the Upper Midwest and a wet, cool and windy May is keeping at bees at home instead of pollinating the apple crop.

UPDATE 24 May 2005: Latest reports indicate that the Californian almond harvest will be 16% down this year. Since California produces some 80% of the world's commercially produced almonds, this decline has global significance.


Sunday, May 22, 2005

This year's model?

I think I'm happy to report my first mated and laying queen of this year -- at least I hope she is this year's model. Just back from an apiary the colony that was vandalised last winter and that quickly set about making a queen this year now has one from the split I made.

The slight worry is that the colony looks substantially more numerous than it did last week and has suddenly built new comb. Last week it was without a laying queen and so low on stores, I gave it a frame of honey. I'm wondering if a passing swarm has taken up residence -- that happened to one of my colonies a few years ago, but then the increase in numbers was very much more obvious. I'm puzzled. The timing for a mated and laying queen is about right, but the vitality of the colony is suspicious. (It was about to rain so I didn't attempt to seek out the queen to see if she looked new or old.) Maybe the newly queen-right colony attracted bees from the queen-making colony next door.

Beekeepers battle vampires

In case you hadn't noticed some beekeeper or journalist in the USA (I presume) has unleashed a new name for varroa over the past few months: “vampire mites”. As metaphors go, I suppose it's not too bad -- varroa sucking the blood of bees and debilitating them, not to mention acting as vectors for honeybee viruses.

Can we expect a spate of B-movies featuring our tormentor? There's quite a few of the traditional style already: even The Fearless Vampire Killers from Roman Polanski. But it's not about beekeepers, I'm sorry to say.


Saturday, May 21, 2005

The heady allure of beekeeping

“Once you start beekeeping as a hobby, you never run out of things to talk about at a cocktail party,” said Alvin Huie, 74, a Pacific Heights beekeeper.
Ah yes, cocktail parties, remember them?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Seaweed and honey

Two products I didn't expect to excel in the Solomon Islands: seaweed and honey. According to the Central Bank of Solomon Island, seaweed production totaled 204.8 metric tonnes last year and it expects honey production to double by the end of this year. In 2004, there were about 2,000 beehives producing approximately 50 tonnes of honey throughout the country. The European Union is lending support to both industries.

According to the CIA, the islands are rich in undeveloped mineral resources such as lead, zinc, nickel, and gold, but agriculture still dominates the economy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Varroa and the role of bacteria

A new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on varroa has been published which has all the usual information about the role of viruses, but then there is a bit that is new to me:
While researchers know that the Varroa mite is behind the death of bee colonies, the mechanism causing the deaths is still unknown. Yang and Dr. Diana L. Cox-Foster, Penn State professor of entomology, now believe that a combination of bee mites, deformed wing virus and bacteria is causing the problems occurring in hives across the country.

“Once one mite begins to feed on a developing bee, all the subsequent mites will use the same feeding location,” Cox-Foster said today. “Yang has seen as many as 11 adult mites feeding off of one bee. Other researchers have shown that both harmful and harmless bacteria may infect the feeding location.”

...Yang and Cox-Foster injected bacteria into bees. In mite-infested bees, the deformed wing virus blossomed rapidly. In mite-free bees, it didn't change.

A final, fatal step is involved. Worker bees put a sterilizing agent into honey and the colony's food. Mite-infested bees can't produce as much of the agent. Cox-Foster suspects the honey then carries more bacteria.


Economies of scale

Either someone can't count, or this is a miserable return:
A beekeeper has removed some 3 million bees and 50 pounds of honey from the wall of a South Florida home after the owners reported buzzing in the wall.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Dr Who's latest monster

 Posted by Hello
This beauty -- a hornet, Vespula crabro -- was investigating my bee hives at the weekend. S/he was BIG!

Order in chaos

What happens when you forget to put frames in a super. The bees mimicked the position of six of the frames (the vertically aligned combs), but then said 'oh to hell' and added an artistic flourish.
 Posted by Hello

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Wasp central

Visting an empty hive in an unused apiary today, I discovered this hanging from the queen excluder.

Posted by Hello

It's the beginnings of a wasp (yellowjacket -- Vespula vulgaris [pdf]) nest (photographed upside down), but I think the queen abandoned it or died before any eggs were laid.

The curious thing was that the wasp had built it absolutely central in the hive body (count the wire mesh). No coincidence that, but how did she do it? One of the wonders of nature.

 Posted by Hello

So if you really hate wasps (as many do), think of the architectural genius you are killing next time you swat one.

Posted by Hello

The swarm has landed

Armed with a saw and skep, the swarm was brought down to my height, collected and hived this morning.

ready skep? Posted by Hello

bee reskepticle Posted by Hello

How to make a skep -- looks easy doesn't it? It ain't! An overview of skeps -- history, skep making and skep beekeeping.


Saturday, May 14, 2005

Caught in the act

I arrived at one apiary today (Saturday) wondering why my bees always seem to swarm on weekdays. Yes, you've guessed it, a swarm was in progress -- the first I've ever witnessed leaving the hive (largely because my bees are in out-apiaries and not in the garden).

Posted by Hello

The air was alive with tens of thousands of bees in flight. I couldn't even tell which hive they were coming from. I've heard that when a swarm is happening any bees around may join in, enthused by the general excitement.

Posted by Hello

The swarm eventually settled high up in the branches of a blackthorn bush (just above the apex of the hive, in the middle distance). It was out of reach so I attempted to dislodge the bees with a long branch (non-beekeepers are strongly advised not to do this as the bees will become very testy and are likely to sting anyone in the vicinity). They weren't amused, but some of those forced into the air again made their way back to their original hives (showing that both hives had joined in).

I didn't have time to retrieve the swarm tonight, but they are still there, so I'll be back tomorrow morning with ladder and saw.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The anti-sophisticates waggle on

Despite the research that indicates that von Frisch was right about the sophistication of bees' waggle dances, the die-hards won't lie down. UC Santa Barbara biologist Adrian Wenner, who has been a beekeeper in the Sacramento Valley since childhood persists:
“Any experienced beekeeper knows that if you put a transponder on a bee, it will cause a 'flight' response, and all the other bees around it will fly in the same direction,” he said. “This research has all sorts of problems with it because they're trying to prove something they think is true -- but scientists are suckers for the exotic, and this controversy will go on and on for decades.”
In those immortal words: they haven't gone away, you know.

UPDATE: Here's another report of the reseach in Wired with some excellent links.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

EU regulates for the world

There have been lots of grumblings from the USA about the necessity to meet EU regulations on all sorts of things. Uganda is certainly on-the-ball with honey:
Uganda's honey entry to the European Union (EU) has been launched with a warning to all dealers in honey and other bee products against abusing quality standards since this would threaten the opportunity to export in the vast market.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The waggle dance is verified

It seems that the waggle dance doubters have been proven wrong. Radar tracking seems to prove that bees are able to interpret the complex dances of foraging and scout bees. They have show that bees do fly precisely to the sources indicate by the dancers.

The doubters suggested that the dance was to attract the attention of other bees, make them cluster around the dancer, pick up the odour of the source plant and fly out of the hive to find the food source using smell.

But the research just reported in Nature magazine seems to show that Karl von Frisch was right all along and that the bees do interpret the dance in great detail.

I'm glad! The doubters' theory never really made sense to me. How could such a sophisticated dance be so redundant.

Solitary bees do it in numbers

The Oxford Bee Company is building its business on the pollination abilities of Osmia rufus (red mason bee). It is also producing these nests for gardens. I've had no joy, but a neighbour a few doors up is having lots of success. This is just the second year that the nests have been in position.

The red mason bee lays up to six eggs in cells separated by mud in each straw of the nest. In late March (in the UK), they start to hatch. The first laid egg hatches and nibbles the bum of the one in front -- and so on until they all realise it's time to fly. This picture taken just an hour ago shows a female returning to lay an egg or to seal one with mud and pollen for next year's pollinator.

Rufus can be very important as an early pollinator.

 Posted by Hello

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Pining away from too much attention

An EU initiative is alleged to be destroying Greek forests. With a grant of 2.1 million euros from the EU, Greek beekeepers have populated 15,000 hectares of pine forests with insects that secrete a substance that bees collect to make honeydew (yes, that's right, honeydew honey is effectively insect poo and bee vomit). But the forests are reported to be dying under the the infestation of the insect.

The insect in question is Marchalina hellenica, found in the eastern Mediterranean, and it sucks pine tree sap and then secretes a white cotton-like wax in the process. Honeybees forage this and it is thought it accounts for up to 8,000 tons of pine honey each year. Overall it accounts for some 60 percent of Greece's honey (I haven't checked those reported figures.)

Natural oil sprays containing thyme and lentisk are now being considered to deter the sap-sucking insect.

Another bee limerick

Limerick #2808 from OEDILF -- the Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form:
The haughty hive owner named Keyes
Boasted, "I have the best breed of bees.
It quite adds to my wallet
So I'd rather you call it
Apiculture, not bee-keeping, please!"
See also these.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Journalist gets the beekeeping stereotype all wrong

Back to yesterday's story repeated in today's The Independent about the ruckus in British beekeeping. It began:
For generations, beekeeping has been one of the most genteel of pastimes - a world of flower meadows, village fĂȘtes and white-veiled enthusiasts pottering around, puffing smoke into hives.
What a load of twaddle. As my late uncle used to say: beekeeping is all about sex, violence and daylight robbery.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Pesticide money

There's a ruckus in the British bee world according to The Independent on Sunday.

The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) has received sponsorship from pesticide companies claiming that it can influence them by getting close to them. In particular these companies produce pesticides that are lethal to bees if not used correctly. Some affiliated organisations disagree and, having failed to vote down the grants, are reported to be threatening a break-away. The BBKA website is keeping a low profile on the affair.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Almonds need bees

As California's almond season progresses, the LA Times sums up the situation and looks to the future:
The industry predicts that the acreage of bearing almond trees will grow by nearly 40% to more than 750,000 acres over the next five years. At that rate, California almond growers will require 1.5 million of the nation's 2.4 million commercial beehives to pollinate their orchards during the mid-February to early-March bloom each year, Brandi [Gene Brandi, a Los Banos beekeeper and former chairman of the National Honey Board] said.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Bees to be conscripted

You may remember my post about Inscentinel after seeing them at the Stoneleigh beekeeping expo. Well, it has just announced that it will launch its inaugural product for the military this year. It has received financial support and interest from “unnamed Western governmental bodies interested in applying the security aspects of the technology”. Probably sniffing out chemicals in weapons.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Simple bee brains help addiction studies

Studying bees' brains is helping understand addiction. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, are using the simple brain of the bee to build computer models of how a bee assimilates and responds to information about rewards. Predictions from computer modelling of the bee brain can be tested via human brain imaging studies.
For example, Terrence Sejnowski [a professor of biology at both the Salk Institute and UCSD] said that by using functional magnetic resonance imaging, which measures blood flow to reveal which regions of the brain are active, researchers in his laboratory have discovered that our brains process information about rewards differently if a reward is granted immediately for a simple behavior or if a person must work to receive the reward.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Rape in the countryside

Out cycling this weekend I noticed an awful lot of oil seed rape in bloom (I thought it was declining in popularity, but that's not the impression you would get in Hampshire). I looked for foraging bees -- but didn't see a single honeybee or bumblebee. There were plenty of mayflies though. Quite what they were doing there, I'm not sure as they only live for a day, so nectar is hardly the reason.

I've often wondered why some call oil seed rape “canola” -- and I've finally discovered why. It's short for Canadian oil where they developed a GM version.
Canola is a genetic variation of rapeseed that was developed by Canadian plant breeders specifically for its nutritional qualities and its low level of saturated fat. ...For 4,000 years, the oil from the rapeseed was used in China and India for cooking and as lamp oil. During World War II, rapeseed oil was used as a marine and industrial lubricant. After the war, the market for rapeseed oil plummeted. Rapeseed growers needed other uses for their crop, and that stimulated the research that led to the development of canola. In 1974, Canadian plant breeders from the University of Manitoba produced canola by genetically altering rapeseed. ... Each canola seed contains approximately 40% oil. The rest of the seed is processed into canola meal, which is used as high protein livestock feed.

Do the beekeeper walk

Holy Jim Trail in Orange County, California, was named after a beekeeper -- actually he was far from holy and relished mouthing bodily parts (if you'll forgive the expression). His real nickname was Cussin Jim Smith, but the cartographers had a nice sense or irony. He lived there in the late 1800s, but his holiness lingers on.

EU bureaucracy cocks-up again

EU regulation is under criticism again -- this time by Italian beekeepers who say that EU honey labelling is excluding some forest honeys from labelling because of:
a not precise interpretation of the phrase “nectariphaires sources”, as to say sources of supplying of nectar, that was translated with the word “plants”.
(I fear this translation from Italian news has gone a bit haywire too.)

Bees an election issue in Britain!

It's the British General Election on Thursday and, bizarre as it may seem, the issue of bees has entered the fray.

You may remember that over a year ago I berated a rather ignorant Labour Party Chairman, Ian McCartney, for dismissing the significance of bees to the UK economy. Well, the Labour Party is at it again.

At its morning press conference, the Labour Party gave journalists a list of “100 spending commitments the Liberal Democrats can't fund because their sums don't add up”.

I'm glad to say that Matthew Tempest of The Guardian newspaper quoted one of these spending commitments in full and added his own caustic comment (thanks for the link, Martin):
“Bees. Twickenham has one of the best bee keeping centres in the country. Many local people support it. Benefits from bees' natural pollination activities are enormous, worth billions of pounds. There is however negligible research into damaging diseases and I have pressed the ministry of agriculture for a bigger research commitment.”

With all due respect to Labour, if that counts as an “uncosted Lib Dem spending commitment”, then I hear the sound of barrel bottoms being scraped.
Maybe a bit of context will help -- and in any case gives me a rare chance to opine about British party politics:

The election is on Thursday. Labour seems bound to get back into power although Tony Blair may not last too long in the top job. The Labour Party has moved so far right that the Conservative Party (the biggest opposition party) doesn't know where to go and resorted to xenophobia. The Liberal Democrats (the third biggest party and traditionally the centre party) have moved to the left of Labour and are likely to pick up votes from disaffected Labour supporters (and there are many especially because of Iraq) and even Conservative supporters who can't stomach their current leader and his policies. Labour is getting worried that the Lib-Dems will take too many of its votes and allow the Conservatives in -- or maybe even that the Lib-Dems will become the main (and more effective) opposition. Hence the barrel-bottom scraping.