bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Thursday, June 30, 2005

That morning after feeling

No matter how bad you are feeling today, you can hardly have felt as bad as this bumblebee. It fell into a honey jar overnight. I thought it was dead, but then saw some movement, so I fished it out and put it on the breadboard. Absolutely smothered in honey, it barely managed to stagger off the breadboard but decided to climb back aboard to try to clean itself. Within an hour it was flying-fit and disappeared out of the window. Posted by Hello

Charles Clarke, failed beekeeper

For once, a reasonably good bee analogy from a non-beekeeper but excellent Parliamentary sketch-writer (who probably researched his bees a bit) Simon Hoggart. It's about a UK Government Minister trying to push through an ID cards bill in the clumsiest of fashions:
Charles Clarke yesterday introduced the second reading of the identity cards bill. He must have felt like a failed beekeeper, whose swarm has gone berserk. Every few seconds he had to bat away another ferocious attack.

... Mr Clarke gravely divided his speech into five sections and announced that he would take interventions at the end of each passage.

But demented insects don't understand that kind of thing, and they were up and buzzing round his head all the time he spoke.

... Finally Mr Clarke finished his speech, and was allowed to sit down. The bees seemed to relax too.
Non UK readers might be interested to know that Britain doesn't (yet) have ID cards and the subject always arouses passions and suspicions about invasion of privacy and Big Brother.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Homing in

This may seem a tenuous beekeeping link, but lease tell me if you can see your bee hives using this rather cool software, Google Earth. If you can spot your colonies, please send me the co-ordinates or address so that I can have a peek too. (From what I've seen so far, North American resolution is far better than in the UK.)

Be warned, this software needs a pretty good PC or Mac spec -- and is guaranteed to addict you!

Varroa Inc

Varroa gets its first government agency on Friday -- in New Zealand. Varroa Agency Incorporated (VAI) is a management agency made up of New Zealand's South Island Councils and beekeeping organisations trying to keep varroa out of South Island (if it's not already there).


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Irish honey investigation

Suddenly Ireland seems to be producing more honey that its climate should allow, so the Federation of Irish Beekeepers has introduced a ‘guaranteed Irish’ stamp to try to combat mislabelled honey. Meanwhile the Food Safety Authority of Ireland is doing some forensic pollen analysis.

What's in a swarming season?

Isn't it amazing what people will do when a good summer's evening is spoiled by a thunderstorm? Here are a few anagrams of swarming season:
swearing on mass
organisms as new
SOS! Swearing man
No mass swearing!
There, I thought that would make you feel better.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

AHB trade-off?

A Propolis reader in Florida tells me that some beekeepers are looking forward to a little mix of Africanized bee (AHB) genes because they think that might increase resistance against varroa (because the US is running out of effective anti-varroa treatments). Some seem to see the arrival of AHB in Florida as bringing an opportunity for a trade off-between gentility and virility.

I'm not so sure you can get a mild cross with AHB genes -- as I understand it, it's pretty much all or nothing. Good luck Florida!


Saturday, June 25, 2005

Bee body

Philip McCabe, head of the Irish Beekeepers Association is trying to set a record for the number of bees on his body -- half a million. The current record is 350,0o0 bees, according to the Guinness Book of Records. He is going to cover himself in honey (and presumably queen pheromone). He is raising money (€100,000, he hopes) for two charities: Bothar and Bees for Development.

UPDATE: Mr McCabe failed in his attempt today. He only managed 200,000 bees and wasn't stung until the end when he received, and I quote, “seven prods”. Non-Irish readers might also like to know that in Ireland, Protestants are known as “Prods”, so I'm not sure if there is a hidden message there.

Here's a great picture.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Swarmy nostalgia

It's been one of the best(?) swarming seasons for years here in south central England. And there are a few theories floating around.

This is my twelfth season of beekeeping and I well remember the first weekend of May in my second year of beekeeping in 1995. There were over 100 swarm calls to the local authority -- all on one weekend! It had been a long and nectar-rich spring and the weather had turned really good at the start of May, so the bees had fun. At that stage varroa hadn't yet taken a significant toll (perhaps none).

But by the end of that season, varroa wreaked havoc and took out a high percentage of managed colonies and nearly all the feral ones -- in this area at least. Since then swarms have been few and far between. I was pleased if I received one call a year!

This year is different -- I've had four calls over the past few weeks. Swarming usually occurs here in May, but June has seen most swarms this year.

And the theory goes like this: Last year during the May swarming season, the weather took a decidedly nasty turn. As a result many of the new queens may not have mated properly. Mine certainly didn't -- and some tried to swarm again last June to replace poorly fertilised queens. Other queens held out for the season, but beekeepers are now paying the price. A number of people around here are reporting (genuinely) queenless colonies. And queens which may have lasted more than a year are rare.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Africanised bees settle in Florida

After interceptions of swarms on boats since 1987, it seems that Africanized bees have arrived for good in Florida. The state's estimated $16 million industry faces some tough questions.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Bee medications and vets -- EU regulation

Last December, I wrote about the European plans to make bee treatments only available through vets. The UK consultation has been completed and although no decisions have yet been taken the situation now looks brighter. They had lots of comments about bees, so the authorities received a clear message.

In the UK, there will be no changes in the current system until at least 1 January 2007. But, more importantly, the European Commission is drawing up an exemptions list -- and the UK is pushing for bees to be on that list. Nothing is definite yet, but the future does look brighter than in December last. I haven't yet heard reports from any other EU countries.

(The original plan was to make bee medications available only through vets -- potentially disastrous because prices would probably rise, treatments become less accessible distributed by those knowing little about bees, and ultimately encourage non-treatment, quack cures and possible honey contamination.)

Monday, June 20, 2005

Hive rack

A little something in which to store your mead.

Bees make UK national newspaper

Christopher Booker, a journalist for the UK's Daily Telegraph national newspaper, has taken up the cause of British beekeepers -- both in terms of the cuts in bee inspectors and the EU regulation about medication for bees. (News on the consultation is due about now.)

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Propolis toothpaste

Comvita were represented at a local health expo today, so I bought a few of their products including propolis toothpaste and what they are calling jelly bush honey -- from Australia -- reputed to have special Manuka-like antibacterial properties but not fully researched yet.

I can't comment on the effectiveness of the Propolis toothpaste, but the taste is good -- not too sweet -- quite foamy in the mouth but a fairly horrible puce green colour. I certainly prefer its mild taste to my normal toothpaste.

The Jelly Bush Honey is fantastic, A rich, dark taste with crunchy bits -- presumably partly crystallised (which I understand is quite deliberate). It tastes quite like eucalyptus but I understand it's from a Leptospermum species (the same species that yields manuka honey) -- I certainly prefer it to the manuka flavour. I'll investigate its origins further -- it's delicious.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

USA pollination crisis deepens

First it was Californian almond groves, then the Minnesotan apple orchards and now it's the Massachusetts cranberry bogs.

New England's cranberry growers fear there aren't enough bees to pollinate the cranberry blossom. Colony losses of between 40% and 80% are being reported. For the moment, they've run out of effective varroa controls and paying the price for not applying Integrated Pest Management controls (alternating different types of treatment).


Comfort food

These poor bees are actually pretending things are normal -- they've just returned to the site of their old hive only to find it gone. Comfort food is the best thing on offer. Posted by Hello

All of a whirr

 Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Trouble bruin

Bears are causing problems in Maryland, USA -- especially to beekeepers. But animal rights activists are opposing efforts to control bruin populations.
“Three years ago, I had eight hives of bees,” said 82 year-old KO nelson. “Then after the first bear attack, I salvaged three hives. Last year [there was] another attack, and I was wiped out. I bought two hives this past spring and thought I would try again. On the nights of June 1, 2, 3 and 4, the bear was back. He or she would upset only one of the two hives each night. I straightened up the mess each of the following mornings, and I was able to save the two hives, although they are now in a weakened state.

“[On a Sunday] the bear came in the evening while we were out. We came home before dark, around 6:30, and he had already been here. Today, Sunday the 5th [of June], I set up one of my 10-by-10-foot dog pens with an electric fence around it. If this doesn't work, don't expect any honey this fall.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Stingless beekeeping disappearing

The beekeeping of stingless bees (Melipona beecheii) by the Mayan people of the Yucatan in Mexico may be on the way out say researchers:
“In our initial surveys of bee keepers working with native bees in the eighties, we estimated that they maintained more than a thousand active hives. In 1990, we only found around 400 hives, and in 2004, only 90. At this rate, we would expect the art of stingless bee keeping to disappear from the Yucatan by 2008,” said David Roubik.
The reasons for the decline are numerous: Africanized bees produce more honey, over-harvesting of honey from stingless bees kills off colonies, nectar sources are failing because of deforestation, and few young people are inheriting stingless beekeeping skills from the old hands.

UPDATE 2 July 2005: National Geographic has a good article on the situation -- thanks, Val.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Bumblebee enjoying Rowallane

I'm just back from my blogging break and thought you might like to see this Irish bumblebee working a rhododendron in Rowallane Gardens in Co Down, Northern Ireland. Rowallane is a wonderful sight at this time of year and even though the bumblebees risk their health working rhododendrons (in excess the nectar can poison them), they do so with gusto. Posted by Hello

Rowallane Gardens. Posted by Hello