bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Friday, June 30, 2006

Bad day for brown bears in Germany

The first brown bear to roam wild in Germany for 170 years has been shot because it was supposedly a threat to humans (have many motorists been shot lately?). Bruno savaged a beehive, raided a rabbit hutch and killed some sheep and managed to evade hunters for more than one month. Now an argument is raging about the legality of the government's granting of permission to kill it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

This industrial age

How can two people sit underneath thousands of insects making a racket and not notice them? My neighbours having coffee in the garden next door were blissfully unaware of my bees swarming overhead (see post below), thinking the noise was someone using machinery. I wonder how much else we miss in nature.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Mating swarm or an aborted swarm?

At lunchtime today I was treated to a beautiful site. I have a little mating nucleus in the garden and as I was making lunch, I noticed a lot of activity at the entrance to the hive. I sat outside to watch it and as I did so the air filled with bees.

Getting ready for some action. Posted by Picasa

One elderly deaf cat oblivious to the excitement around her as the air filled with bees. Posted by Picasa

It looked just like a swarm developing, but they were taking a long time to settle -- first around a birch tree in the next door garden and then around a yew tree in my garden where they even formed a cluster. After about 20 minutes they all seemed to return to the hive.

Air thick with swarming bees. Posted by Picasa

It was a treat -- but I'm not sure if it was an aborted swarm headed by a virgin who somehow got lost, or whether this was a rare sighting of a mating swarm. The little cluster on the yew tree suggested the former, but I really don't know. It's the first time in eleven years' beekeeping that I've been able to watch the whole process.

Calling everyone back to the hive -- bums up waving their nasinov glands in the air. Posted by Picasa

But that wasn't the end of it. A blackbird flew into the top of the yew, but departed rapidly when she saw who else was there. I think she has a nest in the tree. And then I saw a tiny blackbird perched and shivering on the little compost bucket outside the kitchen. I think it had been frightened out of the yew by the bees. I think the little chap/ess eventually found his or her mother before my elderly cat found it. Truly a story of the birds and the bees.

The little evicted blackbird waiting for mummy. Posted by Picasa

UPDATE 28 June: It was a swarm. And they've gone. At 9.45am this morning, they started swarming again, but this time they left the garden and went several gardens away where I can't reach them. So it must be a caste swarm headed up by a virgin queen. I doubt if they will survive the season.

But that will teach me for saying just a couple of days ago that there were no swarms in this area this year because a certain beekeeper had given up!

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Swarming stopped at source

I've been rather disappointed not to have had a single swarm call this season. I've been wondering why. An encounter in the village explained all -- a local beekeeper gave up her bees last year. I'd suspected her as the source of swarms and it seems I was right.

Although beekeeping seems to be ion the increase, I don't think there is another beekeeper within three miles of this village. When I started beekeeping there were at least five others.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Burning enthusiasm

Rwandan honey hunters are being urged to be more considerate of their environment and to stop burning the environment when collecting honey. In a curious and repeated typo, the article keeps talking about creating "smock" to get the honey:
“The district authorities advised us to form an association. We formed one and we were given a plot of land where we have established our firm. We have also been sensitised on environmental friendly methods that do not involve making fire to smock out bees for honey,” Birindwa explained.
But the group seem to be making advances and having realised the value of honey are starting to get modern hives.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Up close and personal

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Old ways aren't always the best

A 73 year-old man in the Eastern Cape, South Africa taking part in a cultural ceremony to remove African honey bees was stung to death by bees. Victor Ndoda Nyembezi had been part of a group of about 100 people who were trying a “traditional” way of removing a hive from a homestead. The bees attacked and all but Victor escaped.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Women beekeepers in the land of milk and honey

Eighty Palestinian woman in East Hebron, 55 kms south of Jerusalem, are being encouraged to become beekeepers are paying $150 for bees, equipment and 30 hours of practical classes. Traditionally beekeeping has been a male pursuit in Palestine. They are expected to earn $200 in the first year, rising to $300 in the second -- very significant income in this area. It is planned that more women will start beekeeping next year when the imported Italian bees have multiplied.

The project is being subsidised by the East Hebron Area Development Programme (ADP)

The trouble with Snelgroving

Snelgroving is a long established way of trying to control swarming -- but it does have its drawbacks: skyscraper beehives (right-hand hive).

Above the Snelgrove board (a board with wire mesh preventing passage of bees, but allowing scents and to pass, and with six doors which are opened and shut to move flying bees from the top to the bottom) is the brood box (and now super)which is making the new queen/s and below with five supers is the brood box with the old queen. When the nectar flow is strong, hives can become a bit unmanageable as more and more supers need to be added. I'll remove some this week for extracting.

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The doors which when manipulated properly move flying bees from the top brood box to the bottom boxes. A top door is opened to allow bees in and out, then after about a week it is closed and the bottom door opened to take in the returning bees. Meantime, a top door on another side is opened to allow top bees in and out.

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Varroa seen on South Island, New Zealand

It finally arrived -- varroa is in South Island, New Zealand. At the north end of South Island, near Nelson, to be precise (where most of the New Zealand wine you drink comes from). Anyone wanting to move beehives in Nelson, Buller, Marlborough and Tasman districts now needs a permit. The extent of the infestation is being investigated.

The identification is 16 months after the Varroa Agency was set up.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A fine year for clover

More signs of honey as wine --from the New York Times no less.
It's apt that Mr. Rosenthal imports wine as well as honey. Many of the same factors that distinguish a reserve cru from a pitcher of house red — a distinct varietal, a particular place, propitious bursts of sun and rain — determine whether honey is packaged in a costly jar or pumped into a plastic bear-shape bottle. And with more single-flower honeys on store shelves and farmers' market tables, chefs have been dispatching their wildly different flavors to dishes the way sommeliers pair wine with food.

Honeydew health

That strangest of all honeys -- honeydew, loosely defined by a friend of mine as insect poo and bee vomit -- has remarkable health-giving powers according to work by a Swede in New Zealand.

Lisa Daginder, an exchange student from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Skara, researching at New Zealand's Lincoln University analysed the antioxidant content and physical properties of various honeys:

Honeydew and thyme honey contained the highest levels of phenol compared to the other honeys, while thyme and rewarewa had the highest antioxidant activity of the ten honeys giving them the potential to play an important role in providing antioxidants to humans in a pleasant from.
In case you are wondering: honeydew comes from insects secretions after they have fed on tree sap. The bees collect it to make honey. If you've ever parked under a sycamore tree on a hot summer's day, you'll know exactly where honeydew comes from.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

East End honey

Some yummy honey recipes in a British national newspaper, The Independent. Be quick on the link, as they'll start charging 50p soon. Fried aubergines with honey - er, yum?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Where's Mummy!

Live at the hiveside: two hours after I removed the queen from this nucleus at lunchtime, many of the workers have realised she's gone and are calling for her with bums up wafting nasinov pheromones into the air. Others are wandering about the entrance in a bit of a quandary.

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and just one hour later word is obviously getting around. Posted by Picasa

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Food chain photo

There's something of the Russian Doll in the winning entry of the North Carolina Photographic Exhibition of 2005: it shows a hummingbird chasing away a honeybee that is searching for nectar in a flower.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Last hurrah!

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) may have been eclipsed by Paisley's DUP party in Northern Irish politics, but they are still up to making statements about bees! I think I should quote the spokesman in full as it may be the last you ever hear of the party:

Ulster Unionist environment spokesman Sam Gardiner called on all gardeners to grow more traditional local plants “to help reverse the decline in the bee population”.

“Bees perform a vital role in the pollination of plants and are vital to eco-systems. Without bees, many native species of plants will disappear and this will have a knock-on effect on other species,” he said.

“Many crops depend on bees for pollination and some, such as broad, field and runner beans are heavily dependent on them. Without the insects there would be little or no crop to harvest.”

Tribal area beekeeping promo

A beekeeping promotion project in the Pesahwar tribal areas of Pakistan hopes to help increase Pakistan's honey exports from $3 million to $10 million in five or six years.

Over the next four years, there are plans to train 8,000 beekeepers, 1,000 of whom will be women, and 2,500 bee-boxes will be distributed at subsidised rates.

“Identity cards will be issued to the bee-keepers to ensure easy access to resources.” Mmm.

Monday, June 05, 2006

A Bulgar day out

The Bulgarians tried to set a Guinness Book of Records on honey eating last weekend. I don't know if they succeeded, but four tons of stickiness was consumed in South Park. But the real motive was to interest youngsters in beekeeping.

Lifting the veil

More on the trendification of beekeeping in Britain from The Sunday Times. The bit that made me laugh was:
“One chap who keeps bees says he can’t eat the honey because he is diabetic but he does it because he needs some danger in his life.”


Splatology -- a fine word to start the week, coined by Mark Hostetler who drove 11,000 miles around the USA with a net strapped to the top of his 1984 Honda Accord to catch unlucky insects.

A few years ago he wrote That Gunk on Your Car: A Unique Guide to Insects of North America.

A red splat is probably from a female bug, most likely a mosquito, because that's the gender that does the most biting.

The smallest splats that leave a dot of wet sap are probably biting midges, tiny flies known in the South as no-see-ums.

Most insects fly 4 to 5 feet off the ground -- perfect striking distance by cars. Butterflies are a common victim because they're attracted to the yellow reflector lights on the highway, he said.

... It was lovebugs that got Dr. Hostetler started on this unusual research in the first place. While driving along Florida's Interstate 75 in May 1993, he pulled into a gas station. A guy from out of state, who could barely see out of his windshield because of the all the bug splats, asked him what all this stuff was.

Most prevalent in May and September, these black bugs fly in copulating pairs (hence the lovebug nickname for Plecia nearctica) and their splats can literally cover a windshield and car grill. Originally from Central America, they're working their way up the East Coast and have been spotted as far north as North Carolina.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The other lucky country

Remarkably South Island of New Zealand is still thought to be varroa-free. A survey of 22,000 colonies couldn't find the mite.

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