bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

UK customs seizes nine tons of honey

The Times reports from Hansard (the UK Parliamentary record) that:
Last year, customs officers at UK ports and airports seized products of animal origin weighing 175,435kg (170 tons) — including 9,262kg of honey — and more than 25,000kg of fruit, vegetable and plant products.
UK citizens wanting to know where they can legitimately import honey from, can look here. I've yet to hear a really sound reason for such restrictions.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Goodbye George

I went to the funeral today of George Butler, a well-known and highly-respected septuagenarian beekeeper who brought hundreds of people to beekeeping through his courses.

The funeral service was touching and, as we left, George had his last laugh for us with a departing music hall song, well-known to children and Arthur Askey fans: The Bee Song:

The Bee-song.

Oh, what a wonderful thing to be,
A healthy grown up busy busy bee;
Whiling away all the passing hours,
Pinching all the pollen from the cauliflow'rs.
I'd like to be a busy little bee,
Being as busy as a bee can be.
Flying around the garden brightest ever seen,
Taking back the honey to the dear old queen.

(Choras): Bz bz bz bz, honey bee, honey bee,
Bz if you like but don't sting me,
Bz bz nz bz, honey bee, honey bee,
Bz if you like, but don't sting me!

Oh, what a wonderful thing to be,
A healthy grown up busy busy bee.
Toying with the tulips, tasting ev'ry type,
Building up the honey-comb that looks like tripe.
I'd like to be a busy little bee,
Being just as busy as a bee can be,
Flying all around in the wild hedgerows,
Stinging all the cows upon the parson's nose!

Oh, what a wonderful thing to be,
A healthy grown up busy busy bee,
Visiting the picnics quite a little tease,
Raising little lumps on the maiden's knees.
I'd like to be a busy little bee
Being with the butterfly strong upon the wing.
Whooppee! O death, where is thy sting?

Oh, what a wonderful thing to be,
A nice obedient busy busy bee,
To be a good bee one must contrive,
For bees in a beehive must behive.
But maybe I wouldn't be a bee,
Bees are allright when alive you see,
But when bees die you really should see 'em
Pinned on a card in a dirty museum.

Bz bz bz bz, honey bee, honey bee,
Bz if you like but don't sting me,
Bz bz bz bz, honey bee, honey bee,
Bz if you like but if you sting me I'll wack ye
With this dirty great newspaper!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Bee diversity decreasing

Amateur observation and academic study is showing a decline in the diversity of bees and wild flowers in Britain and the Netherlands. It's a chicken and egg relationship between the bees and flowers, but the fundamental drivers of the decreasing diversity is the changing landscape say the researchers.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

This year's harvest

This little beauty -- borage -- should give me lots of honey this year -- light colour, very sweet and subtle flavours.. Posted by Picasa


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Wasp water nest

Alabama, USA, is having lotsof huge wasp (yellow jacket) nest this year, possibly because of teh very mild winter which they think didn't kill off colonies nor their nectar sources. Here's a huge precarious wasp nest built over water.

Silver cloud with dark lining

More than half of Japanese honey comes from nectar from the locust tree, but the tree may be designated as a pest. The broadleaf trees originally came from North America, but it is very proligic and threatens the habitats of native trees.

The total Japanese honey harvest was estimated at 2,311 tons in 2004, but beekeepers are not amused by the possible designation, which is part of a larger move to designate pest species.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The most expensive honey in the world?

The most expensive honey in the world is claimed to be Sidr Honey -- at $200 per kilo. You can even buy it online.

It comes from the Hadramaut Mountains in the Southwestern Arabian Peninsula, where it is harvested only twice per year. The honey is from bees who feast only on the pollen of the Sidr tree, considered by many to be a holy tree and is one of the most resilient, ancient tree varieties in the area. Sidr honey is reputed to have many medicinal benefits ...

Vicarious pursuits

The long association of the clergy with beekeeping continues. Reverend Christopher Wood, who has just taken up a post in King's Lynn, England, formerly ministered to homeless and prisoners in London where he set up bees in the hostels.
“I set up beehives in central London. I put them in several hostels and it was wonderful for the residents. It was such a powerful distraction from their problems and addictions,” he said.
Why have the clergy such a long history in beekeeping? I'm sure it couldn't possibly be to do with having time on their hands. Why are you looking at me like that?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Late borage forage

When I first started beekeeping about ten years ago, the end of the summer nectar flow was around 15 July, often a few days sooner. By then the blackberry and lime blossom had slowed and although nectar would still come in, it just about balanced the energy needs of the colony.

Over the past few years, however, the season has been extending, largely I believe because of the presence of some new crops, particularly borage. Very localised American Sweet Clover is still going strong, but just over the hill is some borage which my bees may have started to work. And next year, farmers tell me that the borage hectarage around here will increase further. You may remember last year that at first I was disappointed in a very white, at first seemingly tasteless honey that was coming in -- it turned out to be borage, I grew to appreciate its delicacy -- and so did my customers.

MY bee foraging American Sweet Clover at 8pm last night. Posted by Picasa

I raced it back to the apiary -- I'm not sure who won. The bee claimed victory, but I think it has a double.

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I'm not sure whether they've started on this borage yet.

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Flying ant day

It was flying ant day here yesterday. They're departing their home in my compost bin.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

American sweet clover harvest

I moved two of my colonies to a new apiary early this spring (actually one I used a few years ago) and I'm delighted that some American sweet clover is growing nearby -- and yielding realy well. It produces a marvellous honey -- tasting a little bit of butterscotch to me. I was cycling around the area and saw lots of bees and other insects foraging its nectar and pollen.

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The farmer grows it in strips as cover and seed for game birds (mostly pheasant and partridge).

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Friday, July 14, 2006

The killer tomato-pollinators

Some of Britain's bumblebee population (of 25 species) may be under threat from importation of Bombus terrestris dalmatinus for commercial greenhouse tomato pollination. The problem is that the imports are escaping out the glass house windows and are viable in the wild.

“Their superior foraging ability and large colony size could endanger native bumble bees through competitive displacement or hybridization.” says Tom Ings, an ecologist at Queen Mary, University of London.
And he's done some experiments that support his concerns.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Loadsa yabber

There's plenty for the Australian beekeepers to talk about at the annual Australian Honey Bee Industry Council in Launceston, Tasmania:

  • they are looking to protect the name of Tasmanian Leatherwood honey internationally. But Chairman Julian Wolfhagen is quoted as saying: “it's a way of protecting unique intellectual property that belongs to Tasmania.” Pardon? Intellectual property?

  • they've admitted that bees aren't always good for the environment: “There are small pockets of plants that shouldn't have bees on them and we as an industry acknowledge that and we want beekeepers to acknowledge that and not to use those areas,” said Executive director Stephen Ware. Now, I know that Australia is very, very big, but how on earth do you stop swarms invading such areas?

  • and soon they will be able to export honey to New Zealand following the controversial lifting of import restrictions. New Zealand has issued a new import health standard for bee products from Australia allowing untreated bee products from Western Australia, where European Foulbrood disease is believed to be absent, and heat treatment for bee products from the rest of the country.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Bee suited

I'll say nothing about this photo of a Taiwanese dressed with 300k bees.

But I have been impressed by the behaviour of my bees recently. I've taken to inspecting some of them wearing just a veil and latex gloves -- well shoes, shorts and t-shirt as well. I've only ever dared doing that with nucleii before -- but this honey flow, my bees are focussed on more important matters than my interference.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Eradication attempts not new

Following my comments on the possible varroa eradication attempt in South Island, New Zealand, Ivan of the Czech Republic tells me:

Hello Turlough,
Just my remark to Kiwis eradication plan.

This method was used in late 70's at former Czechoslovakia to stop or significantly slow down the spread of Varroa. As it is long time ago I would have to search for exact details, however the basics are clear. A 10 km (I guess) area was set around infested hives and all bee colonies were destroyed using baits to discover unregistered/feral colonies.

This worked for few (2-3) years until undisciplined beekeeper moved infested hives across country. I remember he was sentenced to jail. Than eradication was stopped and annual treatment took place.

This was not a bad strategy at that time but we are not an island and new infected swarms were coming from elsewhere all the time. NZ can destroy everything in the infected area with a good safety margin and the problem will be over -- w ell, for some time at least.

Best regards & low mites level,

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News propogation

Normally, I'm a big fan of BBC news, but in this report, perhaps a little more research
was needed:
Pupils at a primary school in Cumbria had to be sent home after it was swarmed by a million honey bees. It is thought the bees, led by about 30 queens, took up residence in drains at Orgill Primary School, in Egremont [Cumbria, England]... There are thought to be up to three nests in the school grounds.
Now I reckon that's three queens, maybe a few virgins and a maximum of 180,000 bees. To top it all, they say that pest controllers have been asked to “rid the area of bees humanely.” The mind boggles.

It's a pity that Cumbrian beekeepers didn't call in to teach the kids about bees. Still, I'm sure the pupils enjoyed an unnecessary day off.

A 100 foot fall or 200 stings -- which is worse?

Two men fell 100 feet and were stung by more than 200 bees. It seems that the venom in their system is causing more concern for their health than the fall!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Rwandan beekeeping project

Msaada, an organisation started in North Dorset with BBC news reporter Fergal Keane as patron, is setting up a "honey for money" bee-keeping project in eastern Rwanda.

The project aims to boost the incomes of 200 impoverished families by developing modern bee-keeping skills in areas where bee-keeping was widely practised before the infamous genocide of one million Tutsi peole in 1994.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Great Dane stung

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has been attacked by bees while cutting his hedge. They stung the 53 year old five or six times and caused his throat and face to swell. An ambulance paramedic gave him an adrenaline injection. He's fine now.

Kiwis consider mass extermination

I can barely believe that New Zealand seems to be considering a mass extermination of bees with varroa in an attempt to eradicate the parasitic mite from South Island.

It would be a world first if it happened and, I bet, a world last to boot. Unless the extermination costs less than an annual treatment for varroa across the whole of South Island (unlikely), it seems utterly pointless as varroa will inevitably make its way across the straits from North Island. As modern jargon has it: “live with it!”

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Thirst as an indicator of quality

I've written before about how good I think the British bee inspectors are. The inspectorate is part of DEFRA, the UK's department of agriculture, so you might expect a bit of resistance from those being inspected -- there rarely is.

In their most recent newsletter, one bee inspector has been thinking how best he can evaluate the service he is giving. Thirst is the indicator. If he returns home in the evening with a thirst, he is disappointed. Obviously he hasn't been offered suffficient cups of tea during his inspections and isn't being appreciated.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Changing crops

As Southern England swelters in unusually high tempeartures (30C), lavender thrives. I wish my bees were near these fields! There are only a few lavender fields around, but over the past few years, more seems to have been planted to take advantage of the hotter summers.

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