bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Kick out the drones day

I'm being removed from the country for a few days -- I'll be back in the hive in middle of next week.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Where I don't shop

This is the main part of the honey display at the shop for the rich (and tourists) -- Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly, London. As I recall the honey display was much larger about six years ago, but today this is more-or-less it. If you want to know what pays for the chandeliers in the background, it's probably the mark-up on the honey which was selling at £6.45 per one pound jar (EU 20.86 per kg).

Now far be it for me to criticise such a prestigious shop, but ... some borage honey was selling crystallized (it's well-known for its run properties), and some of it must have been mixed with other honey to give it a more golden colour (borage honey that I've seen is usually greeny/watery white). The honey in the huge jars at the base of the display is chunk honey. Posted by Picasa

A 6 mm stinger

A hornet that can kill up to “40 honeybees a minute” is thriving in Japan's dry weather this year and taking a larger-than-normal human toll too. Vespa mandarinia japonica workers grow up to 35mm long, have stingers 6mm long and can sting repeatedly.

Monday, October 24, 2005

That Monday morning OMG moment

Even readers of Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman will consider this beecyclist surreal. He also did press-ups covered in the swarm -- 260,000 bees apparently attracted by 10 queens. For all the efforts of this South Korean beekeeper, he isn't even named in the original report.

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

A new type of Christmas hamper

Lyn at Stockbridge Beekeeping Supplies shows a new set of health-related products from Medibee in Sheffield, UK. The hamper retails at about £27-30 or $50. Medibee product details herePosted by Picasa

Rose honey

Does anyone know what colours and flavours this “rose honey” from Turkey? It had the taste of a familiar boiled sweet. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Going solar

A Californian honey company has gone solar and claims to have slashed its electricity bill by 90%.

Miller's Honey, is located in Colton, California and was set up in the early 1900s by Nephi E Colton who the company claims was the Henry Ford of the beekeeping industry. Any colour so long as it's black and yellow? No, the company claims that its founder established travelling bees. I think there might be a few arguments about that, but here's what the company website says:

Nephi inadvertently invented a new method of beekeeping in an attempt to avoid the heavy loss of bees from the freezing winter weather. While on a trip to Southern California, initially to gather more information on processing beeswax, he noticed bees still gathering nectar even though it was December. He realized the increased production of honey that could be had if he were to transport his bees to sunny California during the Utah winters. This he did. In the winter of 1908, the first trainload of bees was sent north on a “test flight”. This is how he became known for his “traveling bees”.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bitter winters that helped defeat Hitler may return

I normally snort with derision at long-range weather forecasts, but an explanation of one made me sit up today: apparently the British Isles have a 65% chance of a very cold winter based on correlation with Atlantic sea temperatures:
Paul Simons, The Times weatherman, said that the shift in temperature was influenced by a phenomenon known as North Atlantic Oscillation, or NAO, influenced by a lowpressure system over Iceland and high pressure over the warm Azores islands in the sub-tropical Atlantic. When the Icelandic pressure rises and the Azores pressure dips, Britain catches blasts of bitterly cold air.

He said: “In the 1940s the NAO turned negative and brought some of the coldest European winters of the 20th century, including the bitter freezes that helped to defeat Hitler’s invasion of Russia. Another bout of negative NAOs in the 1960s included the worst winter for more than 200 years, when homes were buried under snow and ice floes drifted in the English Channel.

“The Met Office is forecasting a negative NAO this winter. Although they cannot tell how severe the weather will be, the past ten winters had such ridiculously mild weather that even an average British winter will come as a rude shock.”
Bees take note!

Terrible twins hit beekeeping hard

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have dealt harshly with beekeepers in the southern states of the USA -- an important commercial queen-breeding area and over-wintering zone for bees.

One beekeeper reports a loss of 1500 hives to Rita; at least three hobbyists have lost their bees -- and their homes; and many apiaries are currently inaccessible. It will be months before the full impact can be assessed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Honeybee navigation techniques

Researchers have discovered that honeybees don't suffer inflight crashes because they automatically adjust how fast they fly by keeping things whooshing past them at a constant rate. So when they are flying high -- they travel quickly with the ground whooshing past beneath, but when they encounter nearby objects, the whooshing sensation seems faster so they slow down.

The researchers were PhD student Emily Baird and colleagues from the Australian National University in Canberra.

Monday, October 17, 2005

A Wie break

Michelle Wie, the 16 year old wunderkind golfer, may have been disqualified in her debut professional tournament yesterday for dropping her ball nearer the hole, but she did get a lucky break earlier. She was allowed a free drop out of a bush -- because “there were tons and tons of bees”. (I suspect a more accurate translation was “ there were a few bees harmlessly buzzing around”.)

Golf has a few of the most unjust laws of any sport I know, but Rule 1.4/11 allows for dangerous situations.

UPDATE 18 October 2005: Michelle Wie's education seems to have suffered because of her golf. She told the golf rules official who was at first reluctant to give her a free drop: “I got bit by a honeybee once.”

My (lack of) winter preparations -- not a recommendation!

Beekeepers in the northern hemisphere have been preparing for winter -- Rufus and Phang have told us what they do.

Me? I hesitate to tell you this, because I wouldn't like to encourage sloppy or careless beekeeping, but after ten years' beekeeping, I've managed to minimize cost and effort in this part of Southern England. Maybe one day I'll get my come-uppance. But I visit my apiaries every few weeks in winter and at the first sign of trouble I'll take remedial action.

I'm not recommending my efforts, but here's what I do and don't do.

What I do

  • treat for varroa (with Apiguard this year)
  • remove and store supers and check that all else seems fine
  • throughout the winter, check to see that hives haven't blown over or been pushed by vandals.
Err, and that's it!

What I don't do -- but maybe should:

  • install a mouse guard to stop little Jerrys squeezing their skulls and bodies through the narrow slit of a hive entrance. But my bees are about two feet off the ground and freezing temps don't usually last too long here, last very long, so the bees will soon break out of their cluster to chase any intruders.
  • put match sticks under the top cover-boards to promote air circulation -- all my apiaries seem to have a nice breeze blowing through them that probably airs the hives quite well. And my hives are always on a slight tilt to ensure that water (rain or condensation) won't sit in the hive. I'll leave the doors ajar a little as winter damp is a much bigger enemy here than cold.
  • dress up the hives in chicken wire and the like to deter woodpeckers -- there aren't many 'peckers around this immediate neighbourhood and in ten years only one has made any attempt to drill a hole in a hive body.
  • feed! Yes feed! I haven't fed my bees for about four years now. Our changing weather means that they get lots of late (and early nectar) and I noticed that they previously consumed sugar syrup in some sort of all-night rave and never actually gained much weight. But I do check hive weights as they go into winter and especially in February, March and April when stores are most needed. A couple of times I've given colonies a soggy bag of sugar in spring if they were a bit on the light side. I've never (yet) lost a colony through starvation. But vigilance and kind weather are key. Also, I use Langstroth hives which can hold lots of stores.
  • give them Fumidil-B -- I don't like to give my bees any treatments that may not be necessary and, to date, I've only had a slight case of Nosema which manifested itself with a slap-dash of bee-poo all over the front of the hive, but nothing much more than that.
  • protect comb against wax moth. Actually, I'd like to do this as most years I lose a lot of spare brood comb because of the blighters, but I'm not prepared to use the (now-banned, I think) PDB crystals. I'm looking forward to the arrival of B401, a bio control.
I know the bee books recommend all these and more -- and I used to do most of it, but experience has shown me that IN THIS AREA I can get away with a rather minimalist approach -- so long as I keep a keen eye on what is happening throughout the winter and be prepared to act quickly.

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A WASP with a bee plate

For the man who has everything -- and drives too fast. Thanks, CatPosted by Picasa

AHB Northern limits extend

Rich Tosches of the Denver Post can write:
Santa Fe - Joel Simko danced wildly across the roof of the house, spinning and hopping past the chimney and frantically waving his long arms over his head. Soon, the lanky man's dance was accompanied by a great chorus of loud screaming and cursing as a swarm of bees dove onto his head and face.

His ladder was leaned up against the gutter, and he hit the top rung on a dead run. The ladder slid, and the pest-control worker found himself plunging 15 feet toward the ground, bolts of pain shooting through his face and neck as the roar of the swarm grew louder around his head.

In a scientific discovery of some note, Simko unwittingly found what entomologists believe is one of the northernmost hives of Africanized bees in the western United States, a huge swarm that had settled into a gated community just north of this art mecca.

On a slightly less-scientific note, Simko floundered on the ground, shrieking and thrashing as the attack raged on.

Holy smoke

Beeswax left unattended on a stove boiled over and sent flames up the walls in the empty kitchen of the Orthodox Church of St John the Russian in Ipswich last week. Fortunately, the damage was contained.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Bristol Bottle Company in pieces

One of Britain's best-known honey jar suppliers, the Bristol Bottle Company has gone bust. Someone, I'm not yet sure who, is picking up the pieces.

Update 24 October 2005: Compak (South) Ltd from Bristol claim now “to serve the market previously served by Bristol Bottle Company Ltd which is now in administration”. They can be contacted on 0870 8501573. (That's like a premium rate number [fume!] so here's their mobile: 07885 942227.)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

500 million flaps -- with resilin

Scientists have synthesised resilin, the rubber-like substance that enables bees and insects to store and release energy and perform millions of athletic feats. And the prospects?:
it could be used in everything from sports shoes to artificial arteries and spinal parts that would not wear out despite being flexed 100 million times. “That's how many times you move your back in 50 or 60 years,” [Dr Chris Elvin, from CSIRO Livestock Industries in Brisbane] said.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Turlough O'Bryen's legacy


Just about 100 years ago Turlough O'Bryen was cycling up and down the Congested Districts of the west of Ireland.

In Connemara this year, I came across this apiary, tucked away in the corner of a field, doubtless part of his legacy. Their forage was heather and blossoms in the hedgerows -- not an agricultural crop beyond pasture in sight.

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As winter draws in, I thought mead might see me out the other side. Just plain mead -- nothing except for honey, water, yeast, yeast nutrient and some citric acid.

Even the unfermented must tasted good -- so I hope the end result doesn't make my toes curl. Posted by Picasa

Some of us are obviously missing out

A contractor in South Africa was paid 32,000 Rand (nearly $5,000 or more than Euros 4,000) to remove a bee nest at a state office. An enquiry ensued once it was realised that beekeepers might have done the job for free.

The contractor (it went to tender!) doesn't seem very bright:
The contractor at the centre of controversy, Kolisa Madyibi, has refused to talk to the Daily Dispatch, saying she was “co-operating with the investigator”.

“I can't comment. I won't deal with you because this is not your matter, it's a Public Works thing. I will respond to what the paper says about me tomorrow.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A gourmet honey trend?

Facing competition from cheap imports and the ravages of varroa and the hive beetle, beekeepers in Florida think that premium grade, gourmet honeys may lift them out of their doldrums.

An industry steering committee has begun exploring the creation of a honey marketing co-operative. Instead of sending out-of-state for blending, the idea is to sell named Floridian varieties such as orange blossom, saw palmetto, wildflower and tupelo. They want to make Florida synonymous with premium-grade honeys, just as it is associated with citrus today.

Florida's beekeeping industry is estimated to be worth $202 million -- including pollination. It ranked as the third largest honey producing state in 2004 with 20.1 million pounds (9.1 million kgs). There are about 1,200 registered beekeepers, including hobbyists, but now only about 100 commercial beekeepers (with more than 100 hives each).The average yield per colony in 2004 was 98lbs (45kgs).

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Monday, October 10, 2005

The almond economy

Here are some interesting figures about the economy of moving bees from West Virginia to pollinate California's almonds:

Poling said he is charging his average rate of $50 per colony plus expenses. His business will ship about 600 hives. Wade Stiltner, who owns a beekeeping business in Fort Gay, will tack on another 100 hives to Poling's shipment. The almond grower in California will pay the beekeepers a combined total of about $65,000. That includes shipping costs, which are expected to be $22,000 to move the bees to California and back by truck. After other expenses are subtracted, Poling said he will profit by about $31,000.

Poling's bees will be shipped in November and return to West Virginia around March. Shortly after, they will be shipped to Winchester, Va., to pollinate apple crops. Poling said he also expects about 20 tons of honey to be produced from his hives in 2006.

Loss of queen leads to anarchy

Working policing -- how workers police colonies by eating other workers' eggs -- is the focus of an article in Nature.

In a study of Apis florea at the University of Sydney, researchers found that when the queen dies, worker policing stops, worker egg laying increases and parasitic bees invade the colony. The report here leaves a lot of loose ends, but makes interesting reading.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Love ugly

Here's a neat competition taking a sideways swipe at our obsession with good-looking (and often poor-tasting) food. Enter your ugly fruit and veg photos here.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Australian foulbrood outbreak

Last month a major AFB outbreak was discovered near Bateman's Bay, New South Wales, Australia. A total of 300 colonies were destroyed, but the authorities think the outbreak is under control. Some of the infected hives had been previously reported as stolen. The area attracts may beekeepers chasing nectar from spotted gums in the area.

Friday, October 07, 2005

When half a loaf is little better than none

A further update on my varroa mystery: I've spoken to one of the beekeepers who moved hives into my area and it transpires that he was using a treatment which claims to repel rather than kill varroa. (In fact my sources tell me the treatment claims to be a repellent mainly to avoid the need for registration -- it does in fact kill, but at rather low levels which I can't see as being much help at all.)

So, in short, if people use these sorts of inadequate treatments they and neighbouring beekeepers may suffer. Circumstantial evidence, I know, but it's seems pretty persuasive to me.

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

South Island New Zealand still seems clear of varroa

Test results from 80% of 18,000 hive tests in South Island, New Zealand show no signs of varroa at the beginning of their new season. Other stories on this topic.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Share your honey -- or else!

Children's author Jan Brett has written an illustrated book based on an African legend:

“The true part of the story is that the honeyguide [a bird] searches for help to open beehives,” Brett says. “It is not strong enough to open a hive itself, so it leads people and an animal, the honey badger, to crack it open. The honeyguide likes to eat the beeswax. The legend of the honeyguide is that if you don't share the honey with the honeyguide once it has led you to it, then next time it will lead you to a lion!” This is just what the honeyguide in Brett's story does, teaching all a valuable lesson.
Christmas presents for 4-8 year olds solved!

Picture this ...

The Asian Wall Street Journal innovation awards shortlist included:
honeybee seller Mohammad Saidullah’s amphibious bicycle that can also float on water.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Bring on the cork hats

Britain will be plagued by flies later this century if global warming continues say researchers at Southampton University.

Houseflies and bluebottles breed faster in warmer temperatures and computer models suggest that fly and bluebottle populations could rise by nearly 250% by the year 2080.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Probably no resistance

I've had my chat with an expert about what might have happened to my colony that is being decimated by varroa. Here's our best guess:

The Apistan that I put into the colony on the Sunday would kill varroa on the bees very quickly. So by the time I arrived with the resistance test kit on Wednesday, the varroa on bees would have been mostly dispatched. The bees I sampled therefore had no varroa drop following the four hour pyrethroid test. The fact that only one varroa was found in the wash-out suggest that resistance is not an issue (yet!).

So why did that colony show signs of collapse? The colony (one of two then in the apiary) was treated with Apistan last September (as usual) and I wouldn't have expected a problem this year especially as the colony is quite some way from other permanent apiaries.

However, a local farmer planted borage about 3km from the apiary and the bees loved it. Two semi-commercial beekeepers spotted the borage and moved some colonies into temporary apiaries near the crop. The suspicion is that there was robbing by or of my colony and a significant exchange of varroa -- ie the excess of varroa may well have come from the colonies of the “visiting” bees. Why only one of my colonies was affected is a mystery -- but a mystery that is frequently encountered when individual colonies are decimated by varroa.

Of course little of this is certain, but it's a best-guess.

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Saturday, October 01, 2005

Geeks turn to apiology

Pollenator™ is an interface serving as a bridge between Yellowjacket® 802.11b users and BeeKeeper™ Wi-Fi 802.11b software for laptop and desktop PCs.
Yeah, right ... more