bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bitter honey harvest

Here's a raw view of the depth of feelings in Judea and Sumaria. Jews are claiming that Arabs are stealing “Jewish honey”. I use the terms Jews and Arabs to reflect the tone of the article.

Shimshon Erlinger, Deputy General Manager of Israel's Honey Council, says that 900 beehives were stolen from Israel by PA Arabs in the past two months alone, as compared with 1,500 stolen beehives in all of 2006 ...

“The state of Israel has abandoned us,” says Erlinger. “When they do catch a thief, they release him in less time than it took you to file the complaint. In the end he gets a plea bargain, pays a small fine, and goes off happily to steal again. The producer, however, has been devastated.”

“From now on we will not be tzadikim (saints),” says Erlinger. “We have decided that when we go on raids we will not only return the hives that are clearly marked as Israeli, but also the ones that have had the identifying marks removed. Let them chase us instead of us chasing them.”
And if you think that's a bit robust, you should see the comments at the end of the article.

Labels: ,

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The modern face of India

A role for beekeeping in the modernising of India is noted in The Times:
For women in the poor, remote rural areas, life without an education means marriage and children at the onset of puberty. Anita Kumari, a beekeeper from a small village in the backward state of Bihar, was forced into a marriage at the age of 15. Unlike her peers, she refused to give up her studies or her employment in what was considered locally to be a man’s job.

Now aged 17, she owns more than a hundred hives, manufactures her own honey under the brand Anita, attends college, rides a motorcycle and tutors her mother at night. “It was easy to work with the bees and continue my studies because, unlike other professions, bee keeping doesn’t require much of my time,” she said.

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Whisper it gently

I missed this one at New Year: no lesser an authority than the UK Royal Society of Chemistry has declared that a breakfast of toast and honey is an ideal hangover cure.

Honey, or -- don't even think about it -- golden syrup, provides the body with the essential sodium, potassium and fructose it needs after a good night out.

Labels: ,

Varroa sparks political points scoring

At long last it looks certain that South Islanders in New Zealand are accepting that they must learn to live with varroa. Opposition parties are blaming the government because they failed to get clearance from the German manufacturers of Fiprinol for its use to kill off feral colonies of bees that might be carrying the mite. Management, not eradication is now the focus. (And some of us might mutter: not before time!)

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Drifters aren't always anti-social

Wasps drift from nest to nest helping colonies that are close relatives, says new research undertaken in Panama. Although suspected, the phenomenon hadn't been properly observed until a newish technology, RFID, enabled tags to be attached to the wasps' backs.

The researchers believe that the wasps are boosting their chances of propagating their genes by nurturing relatives in nearby nests.

Drifting is of course a well-known phenomenon in beekeeping, but is usually regarded as a disease-spreading mechanism, or, if deliberately encouraged, as a harvest-boosting technique.

As yesterday's post alludes, it is usually recommended that bee hives are not placed in regular lines as this encourages drifting.

A well-known Hampshire beefarmer tells of his first visit as a youngster to the New Forest for heather honey: He went with more experienced beekeepers and he was told to put his hives at the end of the line. He learnt that lesson quickly -- his more experienced colleagues knew that the bees would drift towards their more centrally-placed hives, boosting their honey crop and leaving the youngster with little honey and few bees at the end of the visit.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Line 'em up

It's often said that beehives should never be put in a straight line as the bees can locate their own hive more easily if the positioning is less regular.

Well, now we have another reason: one tree took out five lined-up Victorian ornamental hives at Hodsock Priory, near Worksop in England during our big blow last Thursday.


Bee origins

The four most common subspecies of honey bee originated in Africa, not Asia, and entered Europe in two separate migrations, according to honeybee genome research published in Science.

And American bees were a complete mix of the three different introduced European subspecies -- and now Africanised bees.

Labels: ,

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Rurality rules

India has a guru -- an intriguing economic one. Professor Anil Gupta of the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedebad is one of the brains behind the Honeybee Network, “a vast repository of often clever rural inventions and village wisdom about plants and animals in danger of being forgotten in the new brand name-driven India”. The Network gives financial backing to the best ideas.

The knowledge os often collected by a Shodhyatra, a walk to find knowledge, and he is to come to Britain this spring to walk between the old industrial cities of Liverpool and Manchester.


Out of the blue

Beekeeping crops up in the most surprising places:

It's a slight metaphor in Syriana, the geopolitical thriller starring George Clooney, when wold be suicide bombers are shown to be beekeeping (carelessly). No bees starred in the film, but -- you guessed it -- a sting did.

And in Norman Mailer's new “nonsensical”, The Castle in the Forest, there are 60-odd pages (with an emphasis on odd) on beekeeping describing what happened when part of a colony mysteriously died and the rest had to be gassed in order to save the hive. Possibly a metaphor for the gas chambers, even Mailer hints that the reader might want to skip the pages. Sounds absurdist.

Labels: ,

Settlers transporting bees

Mike, a reader of this blog, has posed a question I've often wondered about:
How did the early settlers manage the transportation of their honey bees from Europe to places like Australia, New Zealand, & America?

It seems generally agreed that they were transported in straw skeps.

Tom Turpin gives a version of the story implying that honeybees were confined on board ships on their 6-8 week journey to the USA -- and that there were many losses (like only one of twelve colonies surviving the trip to California).

However, Tammy Horn in her book Bees in America (p36), quotes a nineteenth century Belgium report by Edward Goodell:
“The bees were placed on deck as follows: A strong oak platform was built on the stern of the ship, the crate containing the skeps was bolted to the platform facing the sea at the rear of the ship. This kept the bees as far as possible from the ship's crew and passengers.”

This still leaves many unanswered questions like: how many bees lost their bearings if they could fly out the back of the boat?; what colonies survived the transport best?; on the very long journeys to Australia and New Zealand were they fed en route?

Update: Cat points out that Tammy Horn also writes:
By 1621, the Virginia Company was sending ships loaded with "divers sorte of seed, and fruit trees, as also Pidgeons, connies [rabbits], Peacock maistives [mastiffs], and Beehives," according to an invoice sent from the Council of the Virginia Company in London sent to the Governor and Council of Virginia.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hardest working criminal in New Zealand?

There must be an easier way of making a criminal living. Two hundred beehives and 10 tonnes of honey were stolen from a beekeeper (Robert Davidson) in South Island, New Zealand last year. He thinks they were stolen to order and shipped to the North Island.

My best guess is that they were stolen for a bet and that the bet must have been more than the value of the stolen goods. In a population of three million, with a fairly tight-knit community of beekeepers, how on earth did they get away with it!


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sri Lanka needs you

It's not beekeeping, I know, but I couldn't resist giving travellers encouragement to visit Sri Lanka where we spent Christmas and New Year.

Still making a remarkable recovery from the 2004 tsunami (road, rail and telecoms links were back up within weeks though house-building seems to be lagging), Sri Lanka is going through a tough time at present. With trouble in the north and east of the island, most western governments are advising against travel to the whole country. Only the British government seems to be taking a reasonable line (I would give a link, but its website has been inaccessible for days!) Tourists are very thin on the ground which is a huge shame.

I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Sri Lanka -- even right now. The people are wonderful (touts notwithstanding), the food is fantastic and the variety of scenery and the historical heritage is breathtaking. And after you've paid for your airfare, the cost of travelling is very low to dollar and euro travellers.

One word of advice: don't hire a car in Sri Lanka! Hire a driver with car -- it'll be significantly cheaper than a renting a car in most western countries and much more relaxing. The rules of the road there are -- ahem -- a little different. Drivers communicate with their horns, but informatively, not angrily. Overtaking on bends and brows of hills is normal practice and amazingly not fraught with danger because everyone expects to meet a vehicle on the wrong side of the road. I didn't see a single accident on the whole trip.

So if you'd like a taxi driver in Sri Lanka who can been hired for a day or a few weeks, I have the very man: Jagath Kumara (telephone Sri Lanka 0777681754). His driving is excellent, he won't take you to tourist traps and will do exactly as you ask. He knows his country well and his English is improving with every visitor he meets (he'll have an odd accent after our visit though!) He also has a very good sense of humour!

Posted by Picasa

Jagath Kumara, highly recommended Sri Lankan driver based in Galle, who will drive you safely all over the island at very reasonable rates. 0777681754

Labels: ,

Monday, January 15, 2007

Back from the tropics

Well, that was quite a break -- I'm back from Sri Lanka and have finally found time for a little blogging. So let's start in the tropics.

I hear a surprising amount about beekeeping in Sri Lanka, but after this second visit to the teardrop below India, I still haven't seen much evidence. But here is some.

While trekking up to Ella Rock in the tea-growing highlands in south central Sri Lanka, we were -- as usual -- graciously picked on by a wannabe guide. Sri Lankans know full well that an hour or two with a foreigner can earn a few dollars that will go a very long way in Sri Lankan rupees.

He was a schoolboy just starting his Christmas holiday (yes even Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic Sri Lankans celebrate Christmas just a little). We didn't need a guide, but he was a little charmer and anyway he'd keep away other would-be guides. To my surprise, he earned his fee.

We asked him if he knew anything of beekeeping and he told us how his father would go even higher up into the mountains to raid wild bee (presumably Apis dorsata) nests. Then he remembered that there was a bee tree nearby on the edge of a tea plantation. So he took us there. Sure enough we could see several crescent-shaped nests hanging from branches. Apparently the bees like a particular type of tree, but I'm afraid I don't recollect its name.

Posted by Picasa

We photographed the (empty) nests and then, as we left, a woman called out to our guide in Sinhalese. The boy told us to follow him and her as she made her way back to her home. Her husband was also a honey-hunter and he showed us a large jar of mashed up comb and honey. It didn't look too appetising, but they insisted I taste it. It was good. They then fetched a little medicine bottle which they insisted I fill with honey to take away. I think they were delighted when I gave them some rupees -- either that or they were too stunned to react or too disappointed to smile!


Posted by Picasa

The home of the honey hunter in his plot of vegetables.

Labels: , ,