bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Testing for resistance

I'm testing the varroa in that hive for resistance right now -- I should have the results in a few hours.

The plastic jar contains a sample of bees with a special strip of pyrethroid. The object is to see how many varroa that kills in four hours. then to kill and wash the bees to find the remaining varroa that survived the pyrethroid. Then the calculation to see if there may be resistance ... Posted by Picasa

UPDATE 22:30
Well, I'm afraid that test was utterly inconclusive. No varroa were killed by the pyretroid strip and only one varroa (thank goodness for it!) was found in the next washing phase. Possible reasons:

- My sample was too small and not all from the right places: I could only collect about half the required bees and many of them from the door rather than the brood comb because the colony had dwindled so much.

- Four days ago I felt I had to treat for varroa with Apistan (pyrethroid) anyway and maybe that treatment had already killed most of the varroa.

- Maybe varroa had already almost killed itself because it had decimated its host to such an extent.

- Or varroa isn't the problem at all!

I'll ask someone who knows more than me tomorrow ...

Update: See this update for our best guess.

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The 104th use for beeswax (but don't try this at home)

Among the ancients were some curious methods of birth control -- including, you guessed it, beeswax plugs.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A real bug-up

The attempt to rid Greek forests of the introduced bug that is great for beekeeping but slow death for the pine forests has been abandoned.

I posted in May that natural oils were to be used to try to get rid of Marchalina hellenica, but it seems a nasty pesticide was used that was both ineffective and harmful. The EU originaly helped fund the initiative to introduce the insect. Meddle at your peril!

Visions of science

Off-topic, perhaps, but here are some fantastic pictures of science.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Big and juicy despite pollination fears

Despite poor pollination because of varroa-hit bee colonies and cold spring tempoeratures, Minnesotan apple growers are claiming that they have a big and tasty crop. Something must have gone right, they say. (Or a clever marketing ploy?)

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Monday, September 26, 2005

Beekeeper v Bob Dylan

Two people claim to have made the famous/notorious “Judas” shout at Bob Dylan's 1966 concert at Manchester's Free Trade Hall when he played an electric set. The heckle is one of rock music's most famous moments.

One of the claimants was a beekeeper. So, whom do you believe?

We know that one, John Caldwell, was a beekeeper because he died a few years ago after a severe allergic reaction, possibly attributable to his recently acquired hobby -- beekeeping.

In his brilliant BBC Radio 3 programme about the concert and the incident, broadcast last night and available for about a week here, Andy Kershaw favours the former beekeeper's story.

Caldwell comes across as a thoroughly likeable man. He was upset that he couldn't hear Dylan's words and felt betrayed by his apparent sell-out as Dylan moved from folk acoustic to electric rock. And what did he think of the electric set years later -- “brilliant”. Yep, that sounds like a beekeeper to me: opinionated, loud-mouthed, inconsistent, but awfully nice ... ;-)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The effects of varroa

Yesterday (see previous post), I discovered that varroa was on its way to decimating one of my colonies. I'm hot on the trail of discovering why this happened despite my annual treatment for varroa. More news in the next day or two. Meanwhile, here's the evidence. (If you are of a sensitive disposition, look away now.)

A bee whose development has been completely destroyed by varroa. This was one of the emaciated bees I had just pulled out of a cell. Dead sisters still in their cells surround this poor creature. Posted by Picasa

And here's the whole frame:

A frame of what should be maturing brood which has been affected by what I believe to be varroa -- note all the cells which have already been cleaned out. Posted by Picasa

Here's a worker with the daunting task of cleaning out cells in which brood affected by varroa has died. Note the surrounding cells with sacbrood, dead malformed adult bees and holes in the cappings indicating dead brood. Posted by Picasa

A worker emaciated by varroa tries to join in the work of the colony. Posted by Picasa

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Mites take a toll

I've had mixed beekeeping fortunes this autumn.

First the good news -- there has been some late nectar and today I took off another 60 lbs (25kg) honey. Definitely my best year for honey harvest.

But now the bad news. I don't normally treat for varroa until mid- to late-September -- and I've never had serious varroa problems. Some say we should treat in August, but I've never done this. I have three apiaries. In the village apiary, all seemed well. In the apiary on the edge of a town all seemed well -- though I didn't have to unite three colonies into two as planned since one colony (the latest swarm management split) was queenless. The colony had obviously been queenright at one time, stores were high, but numbers were low and there wasn't single sign of brood; even the workers hadn't become drone-layers. Odd, but no real problem.

However, in the third, remotest, apiary, I had a shock. A colony that I had noticed to be low in numbers earlier in the month is close to collapse. The signs of varroa infestation are unmistakable: a lot of bees looked as if their wings had been nibbled, and the brood was sparse and much was uncapped with dead or dying brood (no symptoms of foulbrood, though).

I'm not quite sure what this means. My colonies have been treated every year in the autumn and this is the first such problem. Has resistant varroa reached this apiary? Or is this colony's demise just a one-of for some reason? Or will my other colonies succumb over winter?

Meantime I've treated them all with Apiguard instead of Apistan this year. We shall see ...

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Honey -- the new wine?

UK sales of honey are booming after a 20-year decline says The Independent newspaper (thanks Martin).

The 115 increase of consumption in the past twelve months is attributed to several reasons: its use by celebrity cooks (British TV is currently plagued by cooking programmes), concerns over obesity and the growing popularity GI diets and slow-release energy foods, new squeezeable packaging and health claims.

A major factor they say is a growing awareness of honey varieties and a connoiseurial approach to exotic varieties. Let me add my own interpretation: perhaps when Chinese honey disappeared from the shelves because of antibiotic contamination, consumers turned to other, named, honeys and realised how much better they are.

Whatever the reason, it is great news for British beekeepers who produce only 10% of the UK's 25,000 ton annual honey consumption. And it comes hot on the heels of some enthusiastic reporting of beekeeping becoming the new smart thing in Britain.

Let's get sticky!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

GM protection -- it's easy!

Here's a response from Dr Janine Baker of the Cooperative Research Centre for Weed Management in Canada who is about to determine whether bees foraging on GM oil seed rape can carry herbicide-resistant pollen, or genetically modified material to other oil seed rape plants. She seems to think in terms of closed systems:

She says results so far show it is a problem than can be managed, because bees do not move large distances and tend to work single varieties of canola.

“It's not a huge issue and it looks as though it's one that we can manage quite easily, because, as I said, they don't like to travel far,” she said.
Easy then? Ha! I think not.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Oh dear! There are beedogs out there. was conceived and created by Gina Zycher. The idea, unlike many of Gina’s other ideas, became a reality ...
We should be grateul for small mercies then.

The 103rd use for beeswax

A British design student has come up with an idea of beeswax fuel to replace polluting paraffin stoves in South African townships and informal settlements: briquettes made from shredded paper or wood shavings mixed with melted beeswax.

The Audi Design Foundation is sponsoring a new look at low-cost, low-tech design.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Purple haze

Lovers of swarming and swarm movements will appreciate this fascinating radar image showing the movement of purple martin birds at sunrise in Oklahoma last month.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Time travel sucks

I usually love travel -- but not this week. I went time-travelling -- back to circa 1995, I think -- and I didn't much like it.

My broadband connection failed and I had to resort to an expensive 56k (albeit mobile connection). How did we ever survive back in 1995 with modems, dial-ups and sporadic email and Internet access? I really can't remember.

But I'm back now in 2005 with a two meg connection. I'm dizzy with this speed.

And the reason for the failure of my broadband? An iTunes upgrade which pooped my BT Voyager router. Who needs viruses when bona fide upgrades can do so much damage? I can't aportion blame, but let's just say that both iTunes and BT Voyager knew it would happen in advance, but seem to have done nothing. We're only users after all. Now, I've got to catch up on nearly two days lost work.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

On a go-slow ... back soon, I hope!

Well, the unthinkable has happened. My broadband conection from BT (grizzle) has gone down and they say they'll fix it but might take up to five days. Yes, five! I'm still coming to terms with this -- the agonies of becoming dependent on fast communications.

So at the moment I'm working off a dial-up mobile connection. In this rural area, good value wi-fi hotspots don't appear to exist. I may have to commute to a London Internet Cafe to work!

So, Propolis will be back when my broadband returns.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Katrina and bees

A reader asked me if I knew if bees have been affected in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the southern states of the USA. I went looking and found a few things:

Bees are supposed to be more tetchy after storms.

A swarm of Africanized bees is supposed to have been blown into Florida by Katrina and has since taken the lives of two dogs.

But more definitively, spraying will be undertaken in many flooded areas because of fears of West Nile fever and other insect-borne diseases:

An Air Force reserve C-130 aircraft will spray naled, an insecticide also known as Dibrom, across the city to kill all mosquitoes, flies and bees. Spraying will continue for at least six weeks, starting on the east bank of Orleans Parish and moving to other surrounding parishes.

Monday, September 12, 2005


Two contrasting smells have been permeating this village over the past week. On scenting the first one, I first checked the soles of my shoes, then blamed the cat, checked the sewerage, before realising that a farmer was spreading “muck” on his fields.

The second was rather more plesant -- coriander. And yesterday I found my bees wortking furiously (very unusual at this time of year) and bringing in what I believe to be coriander nectar. The honey is excellent (I sneaked some from brace comb).

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Apimondia talks

My final words on Apimondia 2005. The number and range of papers were considerable -- but rather odd that virtually every presentation is limited to just 20 minutes. And even odder that not all bee pathology researchers seem to be up-to-speed on varroa findings in other continents. Still, I suppose that's not so unusual in academic circles ...

The biggest Irish honey packer, Boyne Valey Honey, produced an excellent glossy book In Praise of Honey that was in every delegates' pack.

Just a pity that the organisers did not produce enough books of the conference abstracts. With a fee of over Euros 100 per delegate that seemed a bit of a cheek!

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Bumblebees look and learn

Bumblebees have been shown to watch and copy the foraging preferences of other bumblebees (and even dummy bumblebees) according to bumblebee researcher Bradley Worden of the University of Arizona.

The work on bumblebees by Worden is just another nail in the coffin of the idea that there is a fundamental difference in mental abilities between vertebrates and invertebrates, said Chittka. “The idea that insects are simple reflex machines, because of their short life span and miniature brains, has to be abandoned.”

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Apimondia pix

Don't say I told you, but here are the Apimondia official photos. Here's my favourite -- the original beehive hair-do.

Apimondia winners' homecoming

Apimondia winners, Virginia and Carl Webb, returned home to Georgia with the coveted title of Best Honey in the World for their jars of sourwood honey.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

An Apimondia exhibit from China

The Apimondia exhibition was excellent with displays from all over the world.

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Kitted out for Kenyan beekeeping

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Practising and preaching

The Grammar Nazi was uncomfortable with this spelling! In British English, the verb practise is spelt with an S whilst the noun practice is spelt with a C. Ah, I feel better now ... Posted by Picasa

Bottomless bottom boards in vogue

A French exhibitor shows his bottom board designed to inhibit varroa development. I think the idea is that when varroa fall from bees they fall out of the hive and can't jump back on bees. Apparently the bees won't propolize the plastic tubing and inflow of air causes no problems even in cooler climates. I suppose it makes sense for varroa treatments that repel but don't kill varroa. Posted by Picasa

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Argentinian selection box

Argentina turned out in force at Apmondia -- together with a selection of honeys from around the country. Posted by Picasa

Loads of honey

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Beekeepers can be so cruel

On seeing the new Miss Apimondia, a broad Australian accent behind me remarked: "The Sheila may be pretty, but she certainly has beekeeper's knees." Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 05, 2005

Apimondia closes amid high drama

I'm just back from Apimondia 2005 in Dublin, Ireland. Dublin is a great city to visit at the moment -- it's enjoying a huge boom right now (doubtless thanks to relatively low Euro interest rates) and I do hope reality doesn't return too abruptly. If you go, do try the literary pub crawl -- it's a real treat.

I have quite a few stories about Apimondia, but let me start with the rather dramatic ending.

The closing session was a mixture of tedious bureaucracy and high drama. Apimondia is held every two years and the next one will be in Melbourne in 2007. But at the closing ceremony, voting delegates had to select the venue for 2009.

Five candidate cities gave two-minute presentations (there had been lots of other information and visits for voting delegates). France (Montpelier), Austria, Spain (Madrid and Granada -- separately), Bulgaria, and Argentina were the candidates.

The French two-minute summariser was backed by what looked like local heavies; the Granada advocate had more than verbal charms; the Bulgarian representative looked like an Eastern Bloc Grand Dame (and I thought gave the most relevant presentation); the Austrians sent an almost totally irrelevant but mildly entertaining video; and the Madrid team sent a letter that wasn't read out in its entirety because its Irish reader couldn't manage to do that in the time available.

The French make an offer you can't refuse Posted by Picasa

A plea from Granada Posted by Picasa

The Argentinians -- who seemed confident and were there in force -- came with a short video, but the wrong one was played. After some tense discussions, the oficials asked voters and competitors if there were any objections to the correct one being shown. Someone seems to have objected and to the general dismay of the audience the correct one was not shown.

So the voting began -- amidst some hilarity about the overt display of empty ballet boxes.

Apimondia's magician Posted by Picasa

No candidate city received more than half the votes, so it went to a second head-to-head round between France and Argentina. Although Argentina had most votes in the first round, they barely gained any more in the second and Montpelier emerged as the winner. The French seemed rather surprised. The thoroughly disappointed Argentinians appeared to stage a mass walk-out. It was a sad if dramatic end to what appeared to be a very sucessful Apimondia.