bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Almonds all set

2007 looks like being a bumper year for Californian almonds. Yields are expected to be up 17.5% (worth about $1.3bn in total) while worldwide consumption increases annually at about 5.5%. California supplies 80% of the world's almonds and bees are the key pollinators.


CCD suspects

For an excellent summary of the current suspect causes of CCD, see this release from Cornell associate professor of entomology Nicholas Calderone.

“Just like in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster,” Calderone said, "there are a lot of conflicting and inaccurate reports" circulating in the media. “What we do know is that there are an awful lot of dead bees. We are looking for patterns.”

Genetically modified foods, mites, pathogens, pesticides and electromagnetic radiation from cell phones have all been proposed as possible causes of the bees' demise. But, Calderone said, the actual causes are unknown at this time.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

An apparition

Cycling across Salisbury Plain this weekend, a ghostly figure caught my eye. Perched on a platform jutting out from the side of a hill overlooking Warminster was a beekeeper with probably the best view in towm.

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Earliest harvest

All quiet on my blogging front for a few days because amongst other things I've been busy extracting -- or trying to extract fast-crytallising oil seed rape honey. I've never extracted so much (healthy bees, too much oil seed rape!) so early in the year (good weather). I'm beginning to sound like a real farmer -- grumbling about the harvest whatever it is.

OSR is a pain! As it crystallises, it won't spin out or, if it does, it clogs filters. I know I could melt down the combs in a pratley tray, but I'm reluctant to do that because I hate over-heating my honey.

I tried Bee-Quick for the first time to clear the supers. It worked quite well, but next time I'll know to brush the bottom of the supers before loading them into the car -- bees run away from the almond-like smell of Bee-Quick but a lot gather at the bottom of the super frames. Fortunately, there were not too many neighbours around when I offloaded honey -- and quite a few bees -- from the car at home.


Friday, May 04, 2007

Just hanging out

A textbook swarm -- hanging up about 20 meters from their original home, geting read to move to a final destination.
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Thursday, May 03, 2007

101 uses of beeswax Part II

A (relatively) new church, the Chapel of St. Ignatius on the Seattle University campus, USA, has its internal walls covered by beeswax.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Queen and her retinue

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I clip my queen's wings so that they don't get far if/when they swarm. Swarms in chimneys and elsewhere can be quite anti-social, so I try to make sure that my swarms don't upset the neighbours. Some people object to clipping -- but I see it as the lesser of two evils.

Obviously the clipping cannot do the Queens much harm -- if done delicately. This happens to be the only Queen that has stayed with me over two winters. On all other occasions, my Queens have left me withing one year. Older beekeepers talk about three, four and five year old queens, but they seem to be becoming more short-lived. Some suspect that, for whatever reason, mating is not what it used to be! Some think that drones are either fewer or less fertile.

The constantly changing workers around the Queen are sensing her Queen pheromone with their antennae and spreading it around the colony so that everyone knows that mummy is at home and keeping well. It's thought that if her pheromnones fail, or if the colony is too congested, her scent does not impregnate the colony and the workers then start making a new queen.

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In, out, shake it all about, oooohhhh ....

That mating nucleus in my garden has been teasing me for three days. It's just below my office window and six times in the past three days it has attempted to swarm. No, let me correct that -- five times it attempted to swarm, the sixth time it was successful.

The fifth attempt ended up in my next door neighbour's garden. But they returned, presumably because the queen decided not to go with them.

The sixth, successful, attempt ended up three gardens away. I have caught it in a skep and wonder if they will stay there until dusk.

My questions: why did it take six attempts to swarm? Is this a regular occurrence? Do beekeepers tend to miss this because they are not so close to their hives during the working day? Perhaps they only tried three times and two of the attempts were actually the returning queenless swarm? And did I miss any attempts? And, and, and ...

My twenty-year-old cat, however, seems to have a sixth sense. She knows about 15-30 minutes in advance of when they will swarm and beats a retreat indoors from the garden. Perhaps, she smells the swarming pheromones, assuming there are such things.

The fifth, queenless swarm that returned from its birch tree hang-out:
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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mobile phones and bees -- the researchers speak

“It's not my fault if people misinterpret our data,” said Kimmel. “Ever since The Independent wrote their article, for which they never called or wrote to us, none of us have been able to do any of our work because all our time has been spent in phone calls and e-mails trying to set things straight. This is a horror story for every researcher to have your study reduced to this. Now we are trying to force things back to normal.”
No further comment from me necessary! Full story here. Thanks to Martin for the link.

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