bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Friday, March 31, 2006

Predicting varroa

I've just acquired a new handheld that has predictive text. The letters var offer up varroa as an option! Honey, beeswax et al don't feature.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

What's in a name? Hype, perhaps.

Thirteen San Diego bands were asked how they got their name:

Buckfast Superbee: The indie-rock group takes their name from a discovery by Benedictine monk, Brother Adam, whose passion was beekeeping. He crossbred a honeybee that was capable of producing 10 times the amount of honey that normal bees are able to do. The new bee was dubbed the Buckfast Superbee.
Ten times, no less!

US beekeepers might be interested to know that I don't know a soul in the UK who rates Buckfast Bees.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Vegans: don't ya just love 'em? I marvel at their inconsistencies and contradictions.

Here's a great example about honey and veganism. It starts well, but then gets muddled.

It begins by referring to an interesting article by a pro-honey vegan proposing that honey is in fact vegan:
I’m afraid that our public avoidance of honey is hurting us as a movement. A certain number of bees are undeniably killed by honey production, but far more insects are killed, for example, in sugar production. And if we really cared about bugs we would never again eat anything either at home or in a restaurant that wasn’t strictly organically grown—after all, killing bugs is what pesticides do best. And organic production uses pesticides too (albeit “natural”). Researchers measure up to approximately 10,000 bugs per square foot of soil—that’s over 400 million per acre, 250 trillion per square mile. Even “veganically” grown produce involves the deaths of countless bugs in lost habitat, tilling, harvesting and transportation. We probably kill more bugs driving to the grocery store to get some honey-sweetened product than are killed in the product’s production.
But our dear anti-honey vegan then muddles on:
... honey is unnecessary cruelty. We may not be able to avoid killing insects when producing crops, driving to the store, or doing other daily activities. But it is really simple to avoid honey, and no one needs it to live. Why should we recklessly abandon our commitment to reducing cruelty in this area of our lives... Honey kills bees. Honey is easy to avoid. Therefore, if reducing suffering matters to you, you should avoid honey.
What a sad person! I wonder if they have ever heard the word “priority”. I wonder if they understand anything about beekeeping. I suspect their brain has been addled by a lack of decent food.

Monday, March 27, 2006


I see Hawaiian beefarmers get an average of $1.82 for a pound of beeswax. I just sold 40lbs to the local beekeeping supplies shop for £1.20 (about$2.10) per pound last weekend.

Hawaiians also receive an average of $1.32 for honey. I sell to retail (jarred and labelled) for £2.00 (about $3.50).

And I thought I was under-paid! Still, I expect the Pacific tropical climate helps output figures.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Board bottoms

Here's the new-style anti-varroa bottom board that's growing in popularity in Britain. It's a wire mesh with room for a sturdy plastic tray insert. It's somewhat similar to the screens used for some ten years, but the crucial difference is that the tray is rarely left in place -- it is simply used for occasional monitoring purposes. It costs about £40 ($70).

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The idea is that without the tray in place, varroa that are groomed off or fall off cannot climb back into the hive and onto the bees. The tray is put in place to monitor varroa drop at critical or suspect times. If you smear petroleum jelly around the edges, the varroa that drop shouldn't be able to crawl away.

The older trays that were left permanently in place proved wonderful breeding grounds for wax moth and have now fallen out of favour.

But don't the bees suffer from no protection from the elements when the trays are not in place? Apparently not. There's a belief that the bees actually benefit: although the colonies can seem smaller in spring, it could be that the weaker bees don't make it and that the strong ones then build up the spring colony very quickly.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Honey in vogue

More signs that honey is becoming trendy -- this time a food detective section in The Times.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Menage a trois

I disturbed some deviants in my apiary today.

I was going back to an apiary I have just vacated to collect an empty hive which was full of brood combs. The colony had gone queenless at the end of last season and when it dies out I closed up the entrance. First, I took the roof and top cover board away, but when I looked ion between the combs I saw a large oak leaf. Strange, how did that get there? Then a smell entered my nostrils -- a bit like the whiff of the rabbit hutch I had as a child. Then a little head popped up to see what was happening.

It was a little field mouse. It thought for a bit, then it went back underneath the leaves between the combs. I didn't really want another pet, so I encouraged it to go. Reluctantly, it went. Then out dashed another. Then a third! They were all full-grown, so I'm not sure why three were sharing the nest. Perhaps, I shouldn't ask.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Spring is late

Spring is rather late in southern England this year. For the past ten years -- ever since I started beekeeping -- it's been early, but it's obviously having a lie-in. Colony development is well behind, but I bet the flowers and the bees will catch up in rapid time and swarming season is probably not as far away as it seems.

Here's a photo taken of daffodils in my garden today and snow on a blooming daffodil last year. The photos were taken exactly 13 months apart. So, by that reckoning the spring is at least four weeks behind last year. Yes, they always did say global warming's effects would be unpredictable in the shorter cycles.

No bloom on 22 March 2006.
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The same clump of daffodils in bloom, albeit with snow headgear, on 22 February 2005.
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Monday, March 20, 2006

Bees disturb good and evil

A Hindu festival marking the triumph of good over evil, was stopped during the first prayer when bees started attacking spectators at Phagwa celebrations in Trinidad yesterday. Two people were hospitalised and the ceremony was delayed for nearly two hours.

The bees were said to have been disturbed “by the sound of snocone and cotton candy machines and attracted to a barrel of beer which was to be used by celebrants”.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

EU stops Brazil honey imports

In 2005, Brazil exported 14.4 thousand tons of honey to the European Union, worth US$18.9 million. But exports stopped yesterday until Brazil conforms to EU honey standards.

Friday, March 17, 2006

What's the sentence?

You may remember the case of the couple caught selling counterfeit Norfolk honey. The Bakers were found guilty and were supposed to be sentenced last month, but there has been no word on the web since.

So perhaps we should have a competition. What should their sentence be? Here is my suggestion:
Three weeks in solitary, a week cleaning cells, a week's community service in soup kitchens feeding the needy, one week as a security guard and three weeks' hard labour.

Over to you, the judge and jury ...

Update: Sentenced at last!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

South Island's acid test

I haven't gone away, you know ;-) Back to regular blogging shortly. Meantime:

New Zealand's South Island is about to undergo a huge varroa search: 22,000 hives will be tested for varroa over the next two months. There will be a focus on the top and the bottom of the island. Previous searches have focussed on areas around ports and airports. South Island is thought to be varroa-free, but this could be the acid test.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Cuba retaliates against Dennis

Cuba is taking action to increase honey production after they claim that the 2005 Hurricane Dennis wiped out many many plants, known locally as “bejuco indio”, which contributes 68 percent of local bee forage.

They plan to move colonies to better foraging locations and to increase production of “ecological” (presumably organic) honey for export to Japan and Europe. Activity seems to be mostly in the south of the island around Santiago de Cuba.

Another story suggests that bejuco indio may be being lost because of rather overzealous harvesting of its roots to create a favourite refreshing drink going by the name of pru. Any enlightened comment welcome!

Bankrupts' winter stores discovered

A Montana couple were caught concealing honey worth almost $9,000 and approximately 600 bee hives in their bankruptcy proceedings.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Almonds aren't forever

An excellent round-up from BBC News Online of the almond pollination challenges of California and the role of a British company in introducing a treatment (Apiguard) for resistant varroa mites.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

The spread of AHBs

Shame about the colour scheme, but here's a map of the spread of Africanized honeybees in the USA.

Grumpy bees leave the village

When I take friends on an apiary tour, the thing that usually surprises them is the different temperament of the bees. The variation is usually most striking between the three apiaries rather than within them. Yesterday, there was a graphic representation of this.

Last season, friends wanted a hive in their very large garden and I duly obliged. But, by the time autumn came, I realised that these bees had a distinctly grumpy disposition. So I decided to move them out -- and, in a grand restructuring exercise, to close one apiary and open a new one.

So, three colonies were being moved. Two barely seemed to notice that they were being transported. But that third one was decidedly upset. Hundreds of its bees appeared at the travelling screen to see what was going on -- and what a racket they created. They are now safely established in their new countryside apiary and I'll see if they settle down. But already I'm planning to requeen them as soon as our late spring allows.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Spring surprises

It's that time of year when beekeepers are keen to know if their colonies have made it through winter. Here in Britain, we won't (or shouldn't!) have peeked inside the colony for at least five months -- and won't do a proper inspection for another few weeks. Meanwhile the queen should be laying and her offspring consuming stores far faster than the ageing winter bees can forage on the occasional warm day.

So, hefting the hive tells all? I remember a couple of years ago seeing bees flying from a colony, hefting the hive to find it was very heavy with stores and thinking that these bees must be well set for the season. Error! A few weeks later I opened them up to find a fast-dwindling colony without a queen but lots of food from last year because the future generation wasn't there to spend its inheritance. C'est la bee!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Going down

US honey production was down 5% last year, and the number beekeepers with more than five colonies was down 6% to 2.41 million. Honey prices were down 15%.

North Dakota topped the honey production league for an individual state for the second year in succession. California came second.