bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Setting the video

It's that time of year again, when I disappear to warmer climes, but I'm definitely setting my video to record the David Attenborough Life in the Undergrowth BBC programme next week on social insects. It's a marvellous series and a preview clip from next week shows an Asian honeybee colony doing its version of a Mexican wave to ward off dangers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

It gets worse

The trial of the Bakers allegedly mislabelling honey in Norfolk continues and this week it transpired that “Baker told the jury he would feed any unsold Argentine or Chinese honey to his own bees to establish their hives”.

I shudder! Can anyone suggest a better way to spread disease?

Leave well alone!

A test of twenty honeys revealed contamination by antibiotics in six of them says Pro Teste of Portugal. Exactly what honeys (and royal jellies) were tested is unclear, but the message is not good. But it's better than a similar test in 2003!
From the twenty samples of honey that were tested, six contained residues of antibiotics and/or sulphonamides, and of the three royal jellies, one contained chloranfenicol.
I guess that the antibiotics are some sort of attempted treatments for foulbrood and/or varroa.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Ooh la la

Christian Science Monitor has a nice piece on the beekeeping of Jean Paucton, a former props man for the Paris Opera House. Inspired by a colleague who kept fish in the basement of the Opera House, Jean decided to put five hives on top. He harvests an impressive 100 kg each year and has the usual sort of little challenges:

“When neighbors see a hive they get stung, and when they don't see a hive they don't get stung,” he shrugs. “That's how neighbors are.”

The only WBC worth having

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Normally I dismiss the traditional English hive, the WBC, with a snort. But this one I love! I have it for one year in recognition of one of my honeys being voted the best by local beekeepers. As you can see, the trophy has been around a bit and is in need of gentle bashing by a silversmith.

Perhaps I should explain my antipathy to WBCs. Mmmm, where to start? Let's just start by saying that they are double-skinned, so involve lots of lifting to take the hive apart; have miserable frame sizes; have lots of places for waxmoth to hide ... But they do look nice don't they? The best use I ever saw of one was as a compost bin.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Celebrity Beekeeper Number 6

Beekeeping has obviously had a keen following behind the Iron Curtain. Latest beekeeper to be revealed is Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov.

I've mentioned Viktor Yuschenko, President of Ukraine before. I've heard it said (page 3 of this pdf file) that beekeeping was the one occupation that the Soviets didn't know about and couldn't control.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Bakers' honey?

Remember the Norfolk couple and the alleged honey scam (foreign honey sold as local)? Well the wife and co-defendant has been cross-examined. According to this report, she claims innocence and says her husband did the labelling.

But best of all: why did she lie to some shopkeepers by telling them the honey had been produced by her brother?:

she told the jury it was simply a means of avoiding lengthy discussions about beekeeping and was not an attempt to cover her tracks.
She can't be a proper beekeeper then -- she avoids long conversations about beekeeping!

Friday, December 09, 2005

New Zealand days in clover numbered?

New Zealand's pastoral landscape is endangered because of varroa says Kiwi beekeeper, Bill Savage. Varroa management will ensure the future of horticulture, but the absence of feral colonies will, he says, lead to increasingly poor clover pollination. New Zealand pasture relies on the nitrogen fixed by the clover rather than artificial fertiliser.

Overseas, where varroa has been for many years, it has been found that there is a 10-year gap after the mite arrives before the clover seed bank in the ground is used up, says Savage.

“In this sort of country, 90 per cent of clover dries out because we are summer dry, so the seed in the ground now will germinate during the next 10 years. That is the seed bank we have built up over the last 100 years. Then there's nothing left.”

Farmers will have to look at flying clover seed over pasture every year or nitrogen fertiliser to replace the nitrogen that clover is not fixing.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Do your bees recognise you?

Bees can recognise faces according to researchers at Queen Mary, University of London.

I didn't quite believe the story at first, but their research seems good and suggests that perhaps there could be a special place in the human brain that recognises faces (I think mine (face-memory segment, not face!) was obliterated at birth).

There is no suggestion that bees actually recognise beekeepers, but if their research is good, that might be a possibility. However -- and no offence to the researchers -- but their findings seem so incredible that I'd like to see a peer review of their work.

Update 11/12/05
New Scientist reports that the bees could remember a face two days' later.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Biosecurity or protectionism?

Kiwi beekeepers fear that Australian honey may be allowed to be imported into New Zeakand in a deal which will give apple growers access to Australian markets.

Me and my mead

After exactly eight weeks, I've racked (decanted) my now fermented mead. I mad two gallons -- one just honey, water, citric acid, nutrient and yeast; the other with the substitution of some concentrated grape juice for honey (this pyment will mature more quickly and enable me to slake my thirst sooner).

Interestingly, the honey-only mead is sweet and the pyment is bone dry. They both started out with similar sugar levels (Specific Gravity 1110 and 1104), so I'm not quite sure why they should be so different (now SG 1016 and 996). Perhaps the better-balanced pyment enables the yeast to ferment further.

Anyway, they both taste very promising. Only one year to wait!

Where in the world are you?

While several countries flirt with the idea of registering beekeepers, Frappr has gone ahead with a sort-of voluntary registration (hat-tip to Toni).

It has predominantly American entries at the moment, but you can pinpoint your apiary on a map for everyone to see here. I'm wondering how too put myself up there without compromising my anonymity!

I've been thinking of starting a Readers' Hives section here, but would anyone be interested?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Chinese regulate their honey

New national compulsory Chinese Honey Standards hint at what may be going on:
The compulsory standards stipulate that any starch, sugar and sugar substitutive substances may not be added to or mixed into honey. The standards also ban the addition or mixture of foreign substances such as preservatives.

SHBs like Australia

A German researcher says that the Small Hive Beetle which arrived in Australia just three years ago is producing the worst infestations he has seen anywhere in the world. Apparently, it's not that significant pest in its native South Africa, but elsewhere its impact can be devastating. It seems that they like some climates and ecosystems better than others.
The speed with which the small hive beetle conquers honeybee colonies is astonishing. Led by Dr Peter Neumann, researchers set up a bee colony in Sydney and then introduced the beetle. Within a week, all the honeybees were dead.

Museums and odours

Thanks to Cat for this link to an Apicultural Museum in Slovenia.

And thanks to Toni for this story about wasp hounds sniffing out the baddies.

Sensing tsunamis II

In January, I commented on reports that animals and perhaps the honey-loving Jawari tribe on the Adaman and Nicobar islands being able to sense the 2005 Tsunami in advance. Apparently the tribe wouldn't speak about it then. But on a BBC TV programme tonight, Tsunami: Seven Hours on Boxing Day, a tribesman (I presume to be of the Jawari tribe) explained:

Apparently, they believe that the world is balanced rather precariously on a giant tree. An earthquake happens when a spirit shakes the tree. They also believe that nothing is permanent and that there is a constant battle between the land and the sea and that the boundary between the two fluctuates. When they saw the water retreat before the tsunami struck, they knew to flee to their camp in the hills because they expected a bad spirit to shake the tree and cause the water to return with a vengeance. It certainly did.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Propolis propensities

Self confessed Texan science nerd Camden Millar is just 14 years old, but she's already winning awards and has studied propolis (no not this one!):

Last year, she tested two kinds of bacteria's resistance to propolis. Miller said she found bacteria with a cell wall stopped growing when propolis was introduced, but the propolis couldn't penetrate bacteria with a cell membrane.
What is she studying next? She won't say, but it involves propolis.

Blue honey!

In a 50 mile radius around Fayetteville in North Carolina, some beekeepers get blue honey. No one is quite sure what gives the colour, but it could be the huckleberries (a low bush blueberry) that once eaten leaves a blue-stained tongue for days.