bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Monday, October 29, 2007

Brood exhibition

There's a must-see exhibition for anyone interested in beekeeping at Winchester's Great Hall in Hampshire, UK.

Bill Woodrow has Brood — Sculpture from the Beekeeper Series 1996-2007 on show there until 10 December 2007.

The exhibition features honey and wax and the gold glistens. The larvae high in the walls were especially commissioned for the Great Hall.

My photographs of a few of the exhibits do not of course do it justice — so if you can, do go to see it.

I should say something about the Winchester Great Hall. It dates from the thirteenth century and is described as the first and best of its type. On the wall (visible in the pictures) is a huge symbol of mediaeval mythology: The Round Table of King Arthur.

Hive 2005

Rockswarm 2001 

Close-up of Rockswarm 2001 
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Beekeeper and Golden Ring 1998 

Part of Shadow of the Beekeeper 1998 
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Can you see the pupae? 
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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Way out west

Nevada folk call wasps (yellow jackets) meat bees, presumably because they see them eating grasshoppers and insects.

One local stung on his scalp described it as being like having a cattle prod on the head. I suspect all beekeepers can relate to that.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hornet in bonnet?

Lady Masson, a British peer of the realm, has set a hare -- or a hornet -- running by raising the issue of increasing number of hornets in the UK.

A relative of a friend of hers was unfortunate enough to have stood on one as he got out of the bath, was stung and died from anaphylactic shock. She wants more research -- into precisiely what I'm not sure. If it's into treatment and diagnosis of anaphylaxis generally, I'm all for it. If it's about the increase in hornets, I think there are more pressing issues.

Here's an audio interview from the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: go to the 8am slot, 20 minutes in.

As the insect expert said, it's unlikley that anyone else has been killed by a hornet in the UK for the past ten or 15 years.

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Iranian honey production

Every now and again, the importance of honey in the Arab world comes to my attention:

“According to the past year’s statistics there are 2.8 million colonies of honeybee hives in Iran which produce 22,400 tons of high-grade honey with an average harvest rate of 7 to 10 kilos however over half of this amount (11,200 tons) is produced from two provinces West and East Azerbaijan,” said Faraj Allah Molavi, the Executive of the Union of honey bee growers of the province East Azerbaijan.
More on Iranian honey production.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

That Bee Movie

The Seinfield/Spielberg collaboration, Bee Movie, is due for release in the USA on 2 November (it happened to be the subject of one of the first Propolis blog postings).

So, beekeepers, brace yourselves! Here's why Jerry Seinfield wanted to make the film:

“I just thought bees were funny. They live in a small company. They have a product. They have offices. They have bosses. They have employees. They have schedules. So it seemed like a little corporation hanging from a tree, and I thought that was a good situation for a movie - you could tell a good story about what goes on in that company.”
Forgive my purist leanings, but can anyone tell me who the bee boss/es happen to be? I'm damned if I can get my head around that one.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Spot the pest

I heard that someone locally was wanting to get rid of “wasps”. So I called. The conversation went like this:
I hear you are concerned about some wasps?
- Yes
How do you know they are wasps?
- Because they are buzzing around.
But they could be bees?
- No, they sting.
But bees sting too.
- Oh.
Have you been stung?
- No.
Are they causing a problem?
- Two or three came in the house yesterday and another one today.
Why do you want to get rid of them?
- Because you have to, don't you?
- Oh.
I suggest that if they aren't bothering you and if they are wasps, you can just wait for the first or second frost -- that will kill them.
- Oh.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Push-pull pollination

Beekeepers are well aware that plants exert some control over their pollination by attracting them by producing nectar at different seasons and even at different times of day. But here's a very smart plant dating back 300 million years that tells insects when it's time to move on:

Cyads have distinct male and female plants, and both produce large, club-like “flowers”. There is, however, a key difference between them: male flowers provide nourishment to insects, which can eat the pollen, but female plants do not.
So ...

Females produce low and constant levels of a number of chemicals that can attract the pollinating insects. Male flowers produce similar levels of those chemicals for much of the day. But, at midday, when the temperature at the flowers heats up, male flowers start producing much more of these chemicals. They make such high levels, in fact, that insects are repelled from the male flowers—tests in the lab show that high levels can even be lethal to the insects.

Given that female chemical output doesn't change, the authors assume that the insects will move on to their flowers, bringing the pollen to its needed destination. As things cool down in the evening, male plants drop back to normal levels of the chemicals, and the cycle can repeat. The authors term this "push-pull" pollination.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Elephant scarer

Elephants will turn tail (and trunk) if they hear the buzz of bees say Oxford University researchers trying to find a way of keeping them away from villages. They set up recordings of buzzing and, for the moment, they are effective as elephant scarers, but they fear that elephants may soon understand the con.

It's not just the elephants that are smart, the bees are no dummies either -- they sting elephants inside their trunks.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Welcome to New Zealand!

The Federated Farmers organisation of New Zealand is calling for a tax on tourists to meet the growing biosecurity costs necessary to keep the world's pests from the islands' shores.

It points the finger at tourist sailors and trampers (hikers) whose equipment they say brings in the nasties.

Federated Farmers president Charlie Pedersen spoke of tourists in “silk-bottomed waders” who he says probably introduced didymo and tourists on expensive yachts who probably introduced sea squirt.

Thank goodness he didn't get around to beekeeper tourists. Faceless, leather-gloved bumblers in dirty white suits, perhaps?

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Nut size isn't everything

Although the California almond harvest is -- at 1.3 bn pounds -- the biggest ever, the nuts are small, about 15% smaller than usual. No one is quite sure why, but it may have resulted from very good pollinating conditions which ensured that more blossoms than usual were pollinated resulting in trees laden with almonds.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bees, pollen and electricity

Bees mighn't like power lines, but they seem to generate a lot of electricity themselves. I can't say that I understand all of the abstract below (from researchers at the University of Cambridge and Tel Aviv), but as I understand it pollen grains may be able to jump significant distances to ensure that they land on stigma and not some other part of the flower because of the electrostatic charges of honeybees. Shocking! (Thanks Slavik.)

The measurements of Yes'kov & Sapozhnikov (1976) suggest that electrostatic potentials on foraging honeybees can reach hundreds of volts. Pollen grains of oilseed rape, Brassica napus L., subjected experimentally to potentials of this order, jumped a distance that increased approximately as the square of the voltage, between two pin electrodes on which, in some experiments, were impaled an anther or stigma of oilseed rape or a freshly-killed honeybee. Most floral surfaces were insulated, but there was a low-impedance path to earth via the stigma, and the electrostatic field due to an approaching charged bee must therefore concentrate there. Thus, if electrostatic potentials of this magnitude occur in nature they may increase the chance that pollen from bees will reach the stigma rather than other floral surfaces, as well as enabling pollen to jump from anther to bee and from bee to stigma across an air gap of the order of 0.5 mm.

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It's a wind-up

The New Zealand Varroa Agency set up in 2005 to try to stop the spread of the varroa mite throughout South Island will close next month.

The Agency claims to have established a good biosecurity control model and that the mite has not strayed far from the apiaries it was first identified in South Island. It will consult with Biosecurity New Zealand on border control being transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The equestrian beekeeper

I thought bees and horses don't mix, but I read of an equestrian beekeeper in a book, Extraordinary Exhibitions by Ricky jay, “which explores a mix of “sensational, scientific, satisfying, silly, and startling attractions ranging from an armless dulcimer player and a singing mouse, to an equestrian bee-keeper and a mermaid.”

Can anyone explain?


Lavender's Head man into bees

Norfolk Lavender Ltd plans to merge with Gleneagles of Edinburgh. "I will also bee keeping [sic] a close watch on the progress of the fragrances division," said Mr Henry Head, MD of Norfolk Lavender.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Kiwi honey conquers kissing disease

The good ol' Daily Mail (for readers not familiar with the British press, there's a touch of irony in there) suggests that manuka honey might be useful in countering what it calls the kissing disease -- glandular fever.

Be aware that honey has just as much of an effect on blood sugar levels as sugar, although I would make an exception in the case of Manuka honey from New Zealand, which has been shown to have strong anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.

Even taking the lowest strength of Manuka honey (basic factor ten or 15), a teaspoon twice a day, may help your granddaughter's immune system to get over the virus more effectively.
(The grandaughter in question had just succombed to glandular fever. I think the kisser should be named!)



Slow blogging from me lately as I have been caught up with other activities. But I have been amazed at the response to the bell jar bees. A German beekeeping magazine expects to be featuring the pictures, so I look forward to that.

I've had an interesting email from Manuel in Portugal who tells me that as an amateur beekeeper with 100 colonies, he is concerned with the attitude of his government to beekeeping. As a result he thinks beeekeeping is not financially sustainable in Portugal and that consumers tend to look at honey as a medicine rather than an important food.

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