Bee Blogs February 2019

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The cold snap means that all is quiet in the apiary. I hope brood rearing has been modest up to now. The mild weather may have encouraged the queens to lay and now the bees  will be struggling to keep the young brood warm. There is pollen available with the snow drops and hazel catkins and some was coming in during January.
It is important to keep checking hives to see that they are secure and each hive hefted to check on  food supplies.  All mine seem heavy but then I left most of the honey on the hives and will take some off when we are safely through the winter months. It makes more and more sense to me to remove surplus honey in the spring. I did remove some in late August as it is such a joy and a pleasure to sample fresh comb honey on brown bread.

 

Also it I useful to keep an eye on the hive entrance. You can always learns so much about the bees by watching  their front door. You may well find a lot of fine particles of wax from the uncapping of stores.  You  may also see spots of faeces or dysentery caused by fermenting stores.
There is plenty to work to be done this month. Stock taking is one thing  – what have I got and what do I need to order for the new season? It is good to order foundation early as it can easily run out in the height of the season.
There is always more to learn about bees and beekeeping. I did not know that bees are descended from carnivorous wasps – some wasps abandoned hunting for animal protein opting for a vegetarian diet based on nectar and pollen produced by flowers. The spread of flowering plants seems to have coincided with the appearance of the first bees.
I find an increasing demand for local honey as people are aware of its apparent benefits to treat allergies. The evidence is anecdotal that local honey makes a difference. Honey in the comb should be the most effective  because it is likely to contain pollen and many allergies occur in response to different pollens. Local honey will contain pollen from plants growing in the area. This may help to  desensitise the body. Taking  a tablespoon of raw, local honey for two to three months, before the hay fever season may help to build up immunity against the allergy. Raw honey also contains useful enzymes and nutrients including  a variety of antioxidants that highly processed honey does not.  Darker honey (e.g., heather honey) has more antioxidants than light-coloured honey. Studies have shown that honey is beneficial to treat ulcers, burns, and wound of all sorts. I have often used it on burns.
A new winter treatment for varroa is available called Oxybee which is meant to be easy to use. It comes in 1 litre bottles of oxalic acid dihydrate plus two sachets of sucrose powder containing glycerol which helps the oxalic acid to stick to the bees. The solution can be kept for 12 months. It is used during broodless periods and when supers are off.  A bottle should treat 20 colonies.
I have never tried treating for varroa during the winter months. I am loath to open the hives during that time but maybe I should re-consider this.
This month, on the 11th February we have the feast of St Gobnait – she was born in the 6th century in County Clare and is the patron saint of beekeeping.
Apparently she kept many hives in her monastery.  A story tells how one her hives was transformed into a bell and was used to call the local people to prayer.
Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs February 2019
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Bee Blogs January 2019

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Bee Notes January 2019
What a warm spell we are having and so little wind. It is very strange. The heather is flowering in the courtyard  and the bees are working on it with the enthusiasm of mid-summer.  I also see the hazel catkins have dropped down and are giving off pollen. This flowering should be happening in late January or early February. The bees will be  using up their precious honey supplies with all this activity. It will be important in the weeks ahead to keep an eye on the weight of hives to see that they are not running low on stores.
I was reading about the Honey Bee Genome Project over Christmas. Over 180 genomes of distinct species have been sequenced. The honey bee genome was the third insect genome to be mapped after the mosquito and the fruit fly. It began in 2003 and took three years to complete at a cost of $7.5 million dollars. The bees genome contains 236 million base pairs and has ten thousand genes organised in sixteen chromosomes. If it was a book the honey bee story would need 236 million characters, arranged in ten thousand sentences divided into sixteen chapters. This knowledge is useful in that it helps us to understand the evolution of the honey bees and how it is similar and different form other bees. Honey bees seem to have begun in Africa and spread from there giving rise to northern and Western European honey bees and the southern and central European and western Asian bees.
Bees evolved slowly and are so well adapted to their environment that they have changed very little over time. We also learnt that they have few genes for immunity and detoxification. This suggests that bees don’t rely on their individual immune system and most of their resistance comes through behaviour – cleaning, grooming.
Bees and Land Mines
Research has shown that bees can be trained to detect explosives using their sense of smell. By providing them with a mixture of sugar, water and the smell of an explosive honey bees can be trained to associate the scent of explosive with food. In response to smelling the explosive a bee will stick out its proboscis signalling the recognition of food source. Honey bees have the potential to detect explosives in parts-per-trillion concentration and are being trained to be land mine detectors.
 How can we help bees?
The first thing is that one does not have to be a bee- keeper. As their natural habitats decrease we can all help them. Mind the hedgerows and  plant bee friendly plants – even a window box can make up for the loss of habitats. Remember that generally it is the small, insignificant flowers that often produce the most nectar. It is good to choose a wide variety of flowers and if you can get them flowering in succession this is ideal as it provides s a continuity of nectar and pollen.  Lists of plants beneficial to bees are widely available. If you check the national biodiversity plan on-line it has a pollinator plan for Ireland.
We can also lobby politicians – remind national, and local government officials that bees are important and need better funding for conservation and research projects.
We also need to pay attention to the plight of  bumble bees- the population of many species of bumble bee, once widespread, in Ireland have shrunk.  They can only survive where our land is managed less intensively – we need to develop more nature reserves where wild flora can flourish. Maybe every farmer should be required to set aside some piece of land for other species and also stop removing or cutting hedges to bits.  Hedgerow bushes such as blackthorn, hawthorn and ivy all produce berries and these will be greatly reduced if insect pollinators are not around – these fruits are vital winter and spring feeding for birds. If these fruits disappear or are cut down then the wild birds that feed on them will also decline. Moreover these bushes and hedges supply shelter and nesting sites.
Pollen Substitute 
It is often difficult to tell if a colony has enough protein in the form of  pollen. In early spring you can get a ‘pollen drought’ and this can limit brood development. I read recently a way of assessing the need to give a pollen patty –   take some frames from the broodnest and ask yourself the following questions:
1. Are the colonies rearing plenty open brood (larvae) If there is a protein shortage the nurse bees will cannibalise eggs and young larvae.
2. Do the larvae have a high rate of survival to pupation as indicated by solid patterns of even aged larvae . Incomplete nutrition results in poor larval survival or disease.
3. The most reliable indicator is to look at young larvae and check the amount of jelly that the nurse bees are placing round larvae. The larvae should be flooded with jelly – when a colony is under nutritional stress the nurse bees cut back on the amount of jelly that they pace around the young larvae – dry brood.
Ten things you may not know about the honey bee…
1. Bees pollinate over 130 fruits and veritable crops.
2. We now know the honey bee genome.
3. A queen bee has exactly the same genes as a worker – royal jelly is what changes her into a queen.
4. Honey bees are not native to Americas and bumble bees are not native to Australia.
5. Bees are herbivores.
6. Drones do have a grand father but no father.
7. Bees see ultra violet light but can’t see the red end of the spectrum – they see the world as more blue than us.
8. Bees have five eyes – two are complex eyes that detect  movement – the other detect light intensity.
9. The sting is a modification of an egg- laying organ.
10. Only female bees sting and many solitary bees can’t sting.
Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs January 2019
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Bee Blogs – November 2018

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The autumn was unseasonably mild and my bees have been busy working on the ivy.  I must check that my colonies feel if they are heavy enough. I have some ambrosia fondant which I can use if any colony feels too light. This is easily digested by bees and good for use over winter. You just score a cross on one side of the pack and peel back the plastic and place this on top of the frames or over the hole in the crown board. They must have plenty of ivy honey  as the flow extended into November. They brought in loads of pollen which should set them up for the winter.
Some people worry that the brood nest can be so full of ivy honey that the queen will have no room to lay in the Spring. This can happen but now is not the time to rectify the situation – we will have to wait till the winter is over to check that out. Some people regard ivy honey as a problem – but as long as the bees can get enough moisture to use the granulated honey, it is a more balanced food source than sugar.
It seems a good idea to add some insulation inside the roof if you have any wooden hives.
We all know that bees are important. According to an article I read recently it is estimated that 1.4 billions farming jobs and three quarters of the world’s food supply – worth about $577bn – depend on the pollination of bees.  And of the 100 species that feed 90% of human beings 70 depend on bees to pollinate them.
In the past 50 years the level of agricultural production that depends on pollination has risen by 300% but the bee populations have dropped. In the UK the number of bees fell by 54%  between 1985 and 2005. In the USA domesticated bee colonies fell from 5.9 million to 2.4 million between 1947 and 2008.
As we learnt recently 40% of invertebrate pollinator species – especially bees and butterflies – are facing extinction.
The reason for this decline could be overuse of insecticides, loss of habitats, the varroa mite or even interference from electromagnetic radiation or a combination of all these factors. And now we have another threat with the Asian hornet on our door step – when this hornet gets into a hive the bees surround it and effectively cook it  to death by raising their body temperatures. If we could measure the hive temperature we could  detect the presence of this predator and do something about it.
The World Bee Project has linked with Oracle, the large IT firm to create a network of ‘smart hives’ to gather data about bees and their relationship to their environment. They plan to monitor the health of bees across the world.
They have developed sensors to place on hives to capture the sounds, the weight of honey, hive humidity, temperature,  local weather and the levels of air pollution.  They are using Artificial Intelligence to analyse the data. This will allow them to understand what they describe as the “signature” of  ‘healthy and unhealthy hives.” John Abel of Oracles says that “sound is probably is the most important data”.
The key is the possibility of identifying early indicators of problems.  For instance bees can swarm due to poor ventilation or high temperatures – getting live data might provide the beekeeper with information and allow them to take preventive measures.
This project will give objective data from around the world and may help us to slow or stop  the decline of bees. If the technology becomes more generally available it might allow us to manage our bees using objective data and cut out unnecessary interventions.
If you are looking for a Christmas present for a beekeeper –  a book recommended to me is one  called, “The  Honey Bee Inside Out”  by Celia F Davis. It details the  inner and outer workings of the bees. The same author has another book called “The Honey Bee Around and About” which explains how the bees fit into their environment and much more.
Happy Christmas….and here is to a bumper 2019.
Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – November 2018
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Bee Blogs – October 2018

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We are into November with the days closing in.  I always find this time of year a challenge – it  is not so a bad once we are into winter – it is the transition that challenges me. I imagine the bees find it challenging too.  After the carefree days of summer they are retreating into their cluster.  There is still some ivy in bloom and the bees are working it when they get the chance.  I still pass the hives almost every day but rarely do any work preparing for next year.
As the temperature drops there will be a variety of animals trying to make beehives their home for the winter especially mice. It is important to make sure all entrances are mouse proof.
Over the next months the main thing is to heft the hives from the side and behind to make sure each colony has still got enough supplies for the winter.
I am wondering about insulating under the roof of my wooden hives. I know some people who put on an empty super and fill it with wood shavings to keep the bees warm below. It seems a sensible idea and something I have never done.  It is also worth checking that roofs are watertight – dampness brings cold and makes for unhappy and unhealthy  bees.
Ventilation is a very important at this time of the year. To increase ventilation you can insert a hive tool under the rear of the crown board to crack the propolis seal. By placing a match under the crown board you create a small air-gap which will allow moisture-laden air from the winter cluster to escape. In this case you close the feed hole.
I have taken off very little honey. I read somewhere about a beekeeper who takes honey off in Spring when they are sure the bees have survived the winter. That sounded very sensible indeed!   The honey I have taken off I use as comb honey – I do cut-comb rather then extract honey. It is partly laziness but comb honey also has a number of advantages – it tastes better – the flavour is protected inside the comb.  It has health benefits – honey is purest when eaten straight from the comb.  I read about a vet in America who uses comb honey on wounds especially in dogs. Once cleaned, he puts comb honey on the wound to draw out the moisture and reduce the possibility of infection. He believes that nothing works better or faster than honey from the comb.  A dab of honey is very soothing for cuts or burns and protects against infection.
A teaspoon of local honey is thought to relieve allergy symptoms.  Your immune system becomes accustomed to local pollen in the honey. Local honey maybe be healthier because the bees produce it specifically to fight off infectious organism in that area.  One of the reasons honey is effective as an anti-bacterial agent is its hydroscopic quality – honey attracts moisture  better  than almost any other substance. Some people refer to it as a so called ‘dry liquid’. Another antibacterial property of honey is its acidity. It typically has a pH of less then 4. This is more acidic then almost anything we eat. Despite it being so acidic  honey is soothing when put on a wound or sore. It is the sweetness of honey that masks the acidity.
A dose of honey is also said to help relieve insomnia by releasing serotonin s in the brain to calm you down and induce sleep.
I came across a list of bee friendly actions we could all chose to implement.
Maintain natural flowering hedgerows.
Allow wild flowers to grow around the farm.
Provide nest sites for wild bees.
Minimize use of artificial fertilizers.
Reduce pesticide inputs.
A nice thought to end these notes
Last night as I lay sleeping, I dreamt
O, marvellous error – 
That there was a beehive here inside my heart
And the golden bees were making white combs
And sweet honey from all my failures. 
Machado de Assis
Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – October 2018
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Bee Notes – September 2018

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I got the first smell of the ivy in flower last week. It is such a distinctive scent and triggers all sorts of memories as smells tend to do. Let’s hope for some nice weather so the bees can get maximum benefit from this last available food source of the year.
It was a good season for the bees and many have got a lot of honey. A friend nearby tells me she has ‘honey everywhere’. My bees never really recovered adequately to produce a good crop though they did give me a super each and I was able to leave them adequate stores for the winter as well.
The honey is now carefully stored out of reach of wasps and humans. I don’t extract honey as I found the whole process laborious and sticky.  I prefer honey in the comb honey and many other don’t so it lasts longer.  The disadvantage of this method of honey production is that I have no drawn comb ready for next spring and also the production of wax uses a substantial quantity of honey.
FEEDING BEES
If we take much of the bees stores of honey then we need to replace it. I have left my bees with enough supplies to get them through the winter and the ivy flow should provide a further top up if such is needed.
Whatever ones feelings about feeding bees we will probably need to feed bees at some stage to avoid losing a colony through starvation. What is the best food?  The natural food for bees is from plants -pollen and nectar. Plants produce sugars by photosynthesis – the initial sugar is glucose – a simple sugar.The main sugar used in plants is sucrose (our common table sugar) which is made up of fructose and glucose. Nectar contains sucrose plus small amounts of other sugars.
Bees like other animals do not use sucrose for their body functions – they use glucose. In order to get glucose they have to break down sucrose to glucose and fructose using an enzyme called sucrase. Foraging bees begin this process of converting sucrose when they collect nectar and house bees continue the process adding more sucrase.  So bees are able to use sucrose as food. If you give them dry sugar they need to add water to dissolve it and their digestive juices can being to convert it to glucose and fructose. Water is also need to dissolve honey that has crystallised in the comb such as ivy honey.
For winter stores feed the bees with a mix of sugar and water in the ratio of two parts sugar to one part water. Spill a little syrup over the feed hole to enable the bees to find the sugar more quickly.  They need to reduce the water content of the mixture to the consistency of honey. Therefore the sooner they get the sugar syrup after the removal of the honey crop the better chance they have of making it ready for storing.
Some people use fondant to feed their bees. I cam across this recipe developed by Kent Williams for an emergency winter feed.
One part 1:1 sugar syrup
6 parts granulated sugar
Mix and add pollen substitute about two parts
Mix to a dough like consistency  and form into patty (size of a hamburger) place on wax proof paper and put on top bars.
NB: Brown sugar should not be used as bee food as they contain molasses which is toxic to bees. Molasses is not a natural food for bees it is the by product of refining sugar.
BAIT HIVES
In these days when bees are scarce and very expensive to buy it is worth considering putting out Bait Hives – now is the  time to consider making them for the swarming season ahead.  To be successful you need the right design of box put in the right place at the right time of they year!  You can use old hives to make them.
Research recommends the following:
1. Cavity volume – between 20 and 40 litres. A 10 frame Langstroth hive is 42 litres.
2. Cavity shape is not important.
3. Entrance area – 10 to 15 cams – shape not important.
4. Entrance position should be near floor.
5. Entrance direction – facing south or southwest but other directions will work too.
6. Dryness important.
7. Odour – the odour of beeswax is attractive but fresh wood may not be. Include drawn frames.
8. Height – about 5 metres from the ground – on your roof!
9. Well shaded but visible – they avoid ones in direct sunlight.
10. Place at least 100 metres from your apiary.
A bait hive that holds 6 frames (Volume 25 litres)  has the advantage of being easier to set up, take down and to transport. It is best to attach the floor board to the rest of the hive as it is easier  to move about. Bait hives need to be in position a couple of weeks before swarming to maximise the chances of bees finding them. A swarm will send out scouts to search for a prospective home several days before it swarms.
You can be fooled into thinking that a swarm has arrived when you see lots of scouts around the entrance.  Don’t move your bait hive until you see pollen bearing bees entering the hive. This is a sign that the full colony has arrived and set up home. Nest site scouts do not carry pollen. The pattern of bee flight around the entrance can also be a give away- scouts move in and out of the entrance repeatedly. Most foragers leave the entrance in a hurry or stand at the entrance, groom themselves and then fly off.  It is best to move the bait hive in the evening.
At the end of the season it is good to be thankful to our bees. They give me so much pleasure and more importantly scientists reckon say that one in every three mouthfuls of our food depends on them. They are certainly the unpaid workers in our complex web of food production. In the USA it is claimed that they add more than €15 billion in value to farming each year.
Murroe Website EditorBee Notes – September 2018
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Bee Blogs – August 2018

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You will, I hope be reaping the harvest from the wonderful summer. That said, I noted last week that my mother, living in Clonakilty had no apples at all on her four or five trees whereas last year the trees were groaning with fruit. Her big complaint was that no one came to rob them…. ‘They must all be too busy on their phones’, was her comment!

My bees made a recovery during the year and are stronger going into the autumn. I was glad to find  plenty of brood which should provide a good supply of winter bees.

I have taken off some honey but have left them with plenty and so I am not feeding them any sugar syrup.

There is always the question of how best to clear the bees from the honey supers.  Carbolic Acid was used for this process but only worked if temperatures did not get too low. It was a dangerous both for bees and beekeeper and it is banned today. Another chemical Propionic Anhydride was used in the 1960’s – it too failed if temperatures were not high enough.

Benzaldehyde (smells like almonds)  was another chemical I tried but it is no longer in use. I use ‘Bee Quick’ which is very efficient and safe. It is a mix of natural oils and herb extracts. I spray it on a fume board (40mm wooden frame with an absorbent cloth stretched over it-  you could simply pour on an absorbent cloth) and place it on top of a super and the bees clear in a matter of minutes.

Why do bees like honey

A young person asked me recently, “why do bees like honey”? It is a good question. Bees like plants which produce nectar with a high sugar content. The higher the sugar content the better they like it. Hence they go for dandelion rather then for apple blossom and it is why they love oil seed rape as it has a very high sugar content. But honey is what they love best – nectar is mainly water with a small amount of sugars – the bees process it to form honey by adding enzymes and driving off much of the water.  Twenty five pounds of nectar yields approximately five pounds of honey. A National honey super contains about 25lbs. To fill a super with 25lb of capped honey the bees need to drive off over 100lbs of water!  So honey with its high sugar content is the bees favourite. All the work has been done – the water content reduced and the sugars processed.

An new treatment for Varroa!

I read recently about interesting work in Poland on the use of rhubarb (Rheum rhaponticum) leaves to treat varroa. Rhubarb leaves contain small amounts of oxalic acid. It is most active in gaseous form and small amounts can kill varroa mites.  The evaporating oxalic acid fumes in the brood nest hinders the build up of Varroa in early summer when the colony is particularly vulnerable with a large amount of open brood.

TO USE: Fresh rhubarb leaves together with their stalks are place on the brood chamber when the first supers are added in May. The stalks are crushed with a hammer.

After three or four days most all of the soft parts of leaves will be shredded and removed from the hive by the bees releasing oxalic acid and allowing the fumes to circulate through the hive.

The recommended treatment is to use rhubarb 10 times between May to Mid- September.

Much more experimentation is needed but there are positive results.  Mite drop has been monitored and results show that using rhubarb leaves in summer reduces the mite population

Warning about feeding sugar syrup.
A study in the US has shown that syrup may contribute to U.S. colony collapse. Bee keepers who use corn syrup and other honey substitutes as bee feed may be contributing to colony collapse by depriving the insects of compounds that strengthen their immune systems, according to a recent study.

U.S. bee keepers lost nearly a third of their colonies last winter continuing the on-going and largely unexplained decline in the bee population that could hurt the U.S. food supply.

A bee’s natural food is its own honey, which contains compounds like p-coumaric acid that appear to help detoxify and strengthen a bee’s immunity to disease, according to a study by scientists at the University of Illinois.

“The widespread apicultural use of honey substitutes, including high-fructose corn syrup, may thus compromise the ability of honey bees to cope with pesticides and pathogens and contribute to colony losses,” according to the study, which was published on May 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Apiary Inspectors of America said in May that more than 30% of America’s managed honeybee colonies were lost during the winter of 2012-13, up sharply from around 22% the previous winter but still close to the six-year average. The losses vary year to year, but a huge and prolonged multiyear decline threatens the species and crop pollination

Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – August 2018
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Bee Blogs – July 2018

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INTRO
What a summer – I hope your bees, if you have them, reap the benefit of the great weather.
At last we have got some rain which the plants need to go on yielding – plants need sun, carbon dioxide and water if they are to make nectar. It is hard to get all three together! Normally there is plenty of water but not enough sunshine! Blackberry and clover have yielded well and Rosebay Willow Herb is showing pink in many areas.
It is always important to make sure there is an accessible water supply for your bees. Thorne’s I see sell a very cheap water feeder one you can simply insert into the hive entrance.  It gives an immediate water source. The feeder fits most disposable water bottles.
I have not inspected  my colonies all summer and I am looking forward to seeing how they have done without my interference. I expect them to be quiet and easy to handle.
HONEY CROP
As I am sure there will be a bumper honey crop this year,  try and avoid ending up with half filled combs – you can check supers and remove empty combs and replace with partially filled combs and try to get as much of the honey ripened and sealed as possible by the end of the flow.
Flower honey keeps best if its moisture content is in the range of 17-19%. If it is not ripened properly then it will ferment – it is best to extract only honey which has been sealed.
If you have unsealed combs, take a frame and hold it over the hive and give it a good shake. If no honey splashes out it is ripe and could be extracted, but beware that its moisture content could be near to the critical limit.
Great care is needed when removing supers  as they quickly attract other bees and can start  robbing. Ideally, honey supers are extracted immediately or kept in a warm room and extracted that night or the following day. Warm honey is extracted easily and does not incorporate as much air during the extraction and straining process as it does when it is cold and thick.
HEATHER HONEY
There is another crop available from heather. Ling heather has started to bloom early this year – it is a great source of nectar. Normally it yields around the middle of the month and if the weather is right it yields  more nectar in the first half of its blooming period.
Heather honey is very viscous and the bees don’t like working it in my experience and can be very angry when you inspect them.  But it does produce a delicious dark, rich, thick honey. It can’t be extracted hence the honey must be pressed out of the combs or else used as cut comb.
In a normal year, you would select your strongest colonies and move these to the bog. . It is important that the queen keeps laying while at the heather to produce ‘winter bees’. Therefore a young queen is preferable.
About the tenth of August the hives are moved to the heather. In the evening prior to moving, close up the hives by placing a piece of foam rubber in the hive entrance. Don’t forget to close the feed hole on the crown board as well. The hives can be moved during the night or first thing in the morning.
Rape Honey also Ivy honey.
Oil Seed Rape like Ivy produces honey that granulates quickly  Once these kinds of honey are in your comb any residual trace tends to “seed” subsequent nectar and cause it to granulate. The combs of set honey can be fed back to the original bees by uncapping the frame and soaking it in fresh rain water. The bees will take it down but it will contaminate other frames and simply defer the problem.
Someone sent me an article on, ‘Plan Bee – Oxford’s bee hotels’
The University has launched an exciting conservation initiative to provide accommodation for Oxford’s solitary bees. Bees are vital pollinators but numbers of are dwindling, and one of the main reasons is loss of suitable habitat.
The project aims to create a network of new homes for solitary bees around Oxford. This involves distributing specially-made ‘bee hotels’ around the buildings of the University estate and also to local schools. The hotels provide bamboo tubes of various sizes for the bees to nest in.
More than 30 of them have now been installed at colleges, departments and other buildings around Oxford, and more are going up.
The boxes don’t just provide good homes for the bees; they also provide a research platform for both scientists and ‘citizen scientists’ – members of the public who want to get involved with science by recording their observations of nature and submitting them to professional scientists for analysis. At the moment the scientists are focusing on the relationship between the diversity of bee species in an area, the location of particular nests and the habitat surrounding them, and how successful the bees are in their efforts to breed. Over the long term, the nest boxes will also help shed light on the relationship between climate change and the diversity of solitary bee species living here.
See cover picture taken from Mulcair Menshed  The park bench and 2 bug hotels that were commissioned by Rearcross Tidy Towns
Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – July 2018
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Bee Blogs – June 2018

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What a spell of weather – the warm sunshine over the last weeks should produce a great crop this year. My bees are still in recovery mode and unlikely to generate any surplus. I am letting them do their own thing this year and hoping they will grow strong and healthy over the season with no stress from me! I am not going through them and am happy to let them throw off a swarm or two into the wild.

It is a great year to have a solar wax extractor!

I was delighted to find an oak tree on our front avenue with bees flying in and out – a wild colony in its natural habitat! It has been a rare sight in recent years. I will keep an eye on them to see if they survive. It would be a great sign if they do survive without any treatment for varroa and the like.

Use of Smoker – one of the mistakes we can make is using too much smoke on our bees. We were all told the story that smoke makes the bees think there is forest fire and as result gorge themselves on honey and ignore the beekeeper! To ensure they ignored us we over do the smoke – the more smoke the better. But all this does is stress the bees and cause chaos among the bees and makes it almost impossible to find the queen.

Use the smoker sparingly – a few gentle puffs in the entrance and then a couple under the crown board should be enough. If it isn’t enough it may be best to leave them alone for the day. You can generally tell by the sound of the colony how much smoke to use. The key is to have the smoker well lit and close at hand so you can deploy it readily. It is also important to put in enough fuel so your smoker does not go out…it can easily happen. It is a good idea to have spare fuel in your bee box.

I was interested to read of a beekeeper who found himself short of foundation and gave the bees some forty year old wax foundation which had white bloom and had lost its aroma. He laid the foundation out in the sun for a few moments until the bloom disappeared and the wax became flexible. He let it cool, put it into frames and the bees built out the combs perfectly!

Nucs 

Nucs are an important resource for beekeepers – you can use them to house a small swarm – to keep a queen – and it can be a source of spare brood to add to a colony. You can also create a nuc as a form of swarm control.

To make a nuc – have a nuc box ready – if you find ‘charged’ queen cells then you must find the queen. She will normally be on a frame of brood – transfer this frame to the empty nuc – make sure there are no queen cells on this frame or on any of the frames you transfer to the nuc. Transfer two or more frames of brood, one frame with stores and plenty of pollen and one frame with honey. The final frame can be a frame of foundation allowing the bees to draw out fresh comb. Shake in at least two frames of bees.

Move the nuc up to 4km away and leave for several weeks – you can leave the nuc in the apiary plugging the entrance with grass  – as it dries out the bees fight their way out and re-orientate to the nuc box. Be sure to remove the grass if they don’t find their way out a day later. The old queen will start laying and the nuc will grow into a new colony. The speed with which this happens will depend on the weather. If the weather is poor it is wise to give them a feed.

The original brood box will have open queen cells – leave a good queen cell and fill with frames of foundation. After three or four weeks you can check to see if the new queen has started laying.

It is a good idea to change combs – some people are recommending changing all the brood frames every year to control disease. I have read about two method you can use.

 

Bailey frame change.

You need a second brood box with undrawn wax  – take one frame of brood with the queen from the old brood box and place in centre of new brood box.

Block the bottom entrance, put on a queen excluder and make a new entrance above the queen excluder for the new brood box.  Sit that brood box on the old one and leave it there until the remaining brood below has emerged. As they emerge the bees move to the top box to mind the brood the queen is laying.

Give it a gallon of syrup and feed till all the frames are drawn out.

After three weeks all brood in the bottom box will have emerged and so you can remove the bottom box with old frames ready to be melted down. Gradually work the old frame in the new box to the side and remove once it is empty.

 

Method twoShook Swarm

Move the hive to one side and put a new brood box with frames in its place – mix of drawn and undrawn frames or just drawn or foundation depending on what you have available – on the old location.

 

Find and cage queen. Hang her in a queen cage with candy in the new brood box – the bees will let her out in a day or two. Shake all bees off the frames of the old brood box.

Give them a gallon of syrup and feed till frames are drawn….it might be an idea to put a queen excluder under the brood box to prevent queen absconding! It can happen. Once there is brood you can remove it.  You do sacrifice some brood, so do it early in the season before much brood has appeared.

 

The most important thing about changing the frames is that stocks have clean drawn fresh frames for the season and you have removed any pathogens and chemical residues that may be in the old frames.

 

Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – June 2018
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Bee Blogs – May 2018

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Introduction.

My bees are still struggling and I am struggling to come to terms with the decimation that occurred this winter and into the spring. Last week I met a bee-keeping friend in Tyrone, Larry Monteith who  had a similar experience this spring.  As he rightly said,  “we always tend to blame ourselves first when things go wrong”.  He puts his losses down to the exposed location of his colonies and the long drawn out winter. Here is an explanation on the Thorne’s webpage. “This winter past we have observed a large loss of colonies. The colonies that have died out seem to fall into three groups: sizable colonies that have died out with lots of stores (usually ivy or rape honey, set so hard the bees can’t use it), small colonies too weak to survive, that probably should have been united to give a stronger stock (20/20 hind sight is a wonderful thing). The third group are colonies that appear to have dwindled away (sometimes the queen is still present, often she isn’t). This latter group are usually put down to poorly mated or failing queens”.

As  I said last month, I am trying to nurse my remaining hives back to health and have given them pollen supplement and I also treated them for varroa using apivar, a treatment I have not used before. Apivar is a longer treatment process than others but it does hit the mites at all stages in their breeding cycle during the weeks it is in the hive. This gives a lower mite drop in the first instance but a larger mite drop overall.

There is no sign of swarms although Larry had a swarm arrive in one of his vacant hives last week. There are two colonies of bees in the eaves of  roofs here – I am hoping that they may throw off a swarm and go into one of the bait hives I have set up. What is very good news is that they have survived the last two winters and no one treated them for varroa or gave them a pollen supplement!

People often say to me, Glenstal must be an idyllic place to keep bees – all those big, brightly coloured flowers – rhododendrons etc. The truth of the matter is somewhat different – rhododendrons can cause paralysis in honey bees though bumble bees seem to love them!

It is not the brightly coloured flowers that produce nectar it is the less showy ones and ones which you often don’t even notice. Why is this? Flowers have a problem with sexual reproduction – they can’t move! And so they need to employ an outside agency to deliver their male gamete to the female. Some plants use wind and others use insects. Insects need some incentive to persuade them to come visit.

We have elaborate strategies to attract a mate but plants had invented them long before we came on the scene – bright colours ( red, yellow, purple) – scent and nectar. Nectar is a food reward for the insects.

Some plants hedge their bets and use belt and braces – colour and scent – others use scent and nectar…others just produce nectar. It is this third category that are of most interest to bees and other pollinators; bramble, clover, sycamore trees, white thorn, and ivy. As these plants  produce nectar, they don’t need to dress up in elaborate, brightly coloured petals to attract insects – their flowers remain so small that some people don’t even notice the flowers -many people are surprised to hear that ivy has a flower at all.

Several flowers also use colour for a secondary purpose – to help insects save time and not  visit a flower when it is already pollinated and no longer producing nectar. The horse chestnut flower when it opens has a yellow spot at the base to guide the bees to the nectar pot – when the pot is empty flower the yellow spot goes red. Bees don’t see red and so this labelling device stops bees wasting time on flowers that are no longer productive.

Bees under threat.

A third of Irish bee species are threatened with extinction with bumblebee populations are falling year-on-year due to removal of hedgerows and ditches, use of pesticides and insecticides and climate change.

May 20th was the first ever global World Bee Day and hopefully the EU ban on insecticides linked to declining bee populations ,will help prevent further deterioration of the pollinators here.

We can help bees by maintaining hedgerows and planting bee-friendly flowers including snowdrops, wallflower, lavender and crocus. Professor Jane Stout, of TCD, who helped establish the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, said while “pretty tough”, bees were under pressure.  “It’s not just pesticides but fungicides and insecticides too,” she said. “It’s also changes in how land is managed, which impact on habitats to nest and over-winter, and there’s fewer flowers to feed on. “We also have diseases which are becoming more prolific along with changes in climate with extreme weather events. “Bees are pretty tough, but all of these different drivers seem to be pushing them to the edge.”

The recent survey of Irish bumblebee populations in 2017 found that they had fallen by 14.2pc compared with 2012. Of the 100 bee species here, 30pc are under threat of extinction.  I must get myself a guide to the bumblebee species in Ireland. I was watching and listening to them working on a huge rhododendron last week – there were at least three species evident.

Gerry Ryan, from Dundrum, Co Tipperary,  president of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations, said cutting of hedgerows, removal of ditches and use of pesticides was having an impact.  “The natural environment is the best,” he said. “This time of the year you have the blackthorn in flower, and next week you’ll have the whitethorn and they’re very valuable for our bees. Bigger farmers and horse owners are taking out all our natural hedgerows left to us by generations of people who have gone before us.

“There is a decline, but in honeybee terms we’re holding our own. I’m in a nearly organic environment, but we have members in south Tipperary, Meath and Kildare who are decimated.”

 

Some interesting and important points about Drones also on Thorne’s website

Last year I decided to increase the number of drones in my hives to improve mating. Various beekeepers advised against it… The general perceived wisdom is that drones cost the hive in honey, they contribute nothing and act as a vector for Varroa, the removal of them to trap Varroa is their only redeeming benefit. If this is the case why do wild colonies contain between ten and twenty percent drone comb?

 

I put one frame of drone comb into my 14”x12” Nationals as part of a Bailey comb change, ensuring the comb was spaced to allow the drone cells to be capped (the standard spacing of DN4 Hoffman frames only allows one bee space between frames, stopping the capping of Drones). The drone comb was placed in the middle of the nest; it was the first comb drawn by the wax workers, and the first comb laid by the Queen.

 

Once the drones started to hatch I monitored the Varroa levels very carefully, there was no discernible increase. The temper of the two colonies I did this to was fine to start with, and if anything they have become even calmer and more laid back. There is a suggestion in the literature that an increase of Drones in the colony reduces swarming… Both colonies I did this to last year produced no cells at all, and only an odd play cell so far this year.

 

The books suggests that workers are genetically only 50% related to the Queen, and come pre-disposed to try and raise an egg from their cohort to a Queen Cell, having a 75% investment. The Queen is happier with lots of her Drones around as they are all 100% snapshots of her DNA, a happy relaxed (less stressed) Queen should be in better pheromonal control of her colony. The increase in the number of drones from one in a hundred to 10 or 20% makes the activities of the workers futile and Queen cell production is reduced.

 

One observation from last year suggests that I should have moved the Drone Comb to the side of the brood nest once the queen had stopped producing drones; as it was the workers filled the Drone comb with honey splitting the nest into two. The Queen continued to lay in the 5 frames on the warm side of the hive, the other half of the nest hatched out, and was then filled with honey. I wondered if the queen would start to one side of the barrier in spring… I needn’t have worried first inspection in March showed the nest on 7 frames – 3 frames on either side of the Drone frame, and the drone frame fully laid up with drones. This was mirrored in the second colony, and the Varroa numbers are still low and bees happy and healthy. There may be something in the saying “A happy hive is a hive with drones”.

 

Useful tip: Cross fire Smoking

If you smoke straight in the front of a hive you are likely to split the bees and encourage they to move to the sides of the hive and make it more difficult to find the queen – an alternative is to point your smoker left and right and encourage them to move to the centre.

 

Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – May 2018
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Bee Blogs April 2018

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Finally the dandelions are in bloom – they are almost a month late. I don’t know why people dislike these orange sunbursts – they brighten up our dull lawns and grey road sides and it is the only plant that represents the sun, moon and stars! The yellow flower resembles the sun, the puff ball  of seeds resembles the moon and the dispersing seeds are the stars.
We almost think they are gold as we pass
  Or fallen stars in a green sea of grass.”  John Clare
John Clare saw the beauty in a bright blaze of dandelions, a flower whose name comes from the French ‘dente de lion’ – teeth of the lion – a good description of its leaves.  Up until the 1800’s, people would pull grass out of their lawns (Note the piece at the end on lawns and their care!) to make room for dandelions and other so called weeds such as chickweed, and chamomile. Every part of the dandelion is useful; root, leaves, flowers – the root has medicinal qualities, the leaves can be used in salads and the flowers make wine. They were considered a delicacy by the Victorian gentry and used in sandwiches and salads.  They have one of the longest flowering periods of any plant. The furze is one I can think of that has a longer flowering period.
I have been through my hives a second time and four have perished despite having enough food. The rest are way behind. I suspect part of the reason for this is that they have not been able to gather enough pollen for breeding and also the winter bees have died and have not yet been replaced in sufficient numbers to allow the colony to build up. And there was another frost last night.  I recall, Mrs Clarke, the school secretary for many years, telling me, that in the old days, if there was snow on the Galtee Mountains in May no rates were paid.
I am leaving my colonies alone hoping that they will recover and build up in time for the flow. I have taken one precaution – and feeding them with Candipolline gold – a pollen and sugar supplement. They are taking it very slowly and it is possibly too little too late. But I feel as if I am doing something to help the cause.
I saw a cuckoo last week and it sang for me. Br. Alphonsus, a Capuchin friar I met on retreat recently gave me this poem:
The cuckoo sings in April
The cuckoo sings in May
It whistles a tune in the middle of June
And in July it flies away…
I noticed beekeepers protesting outside the Dail about the hedgerow issue. I wrote to the Minister of Agriculture protesting at the disappearance of hedgerows all over the country. They are being removed to make way for bigger fields of grass for our ever expanding cow numbers. I feel it is so arrogant to remove the habitats of so  many other creatures – soon there won’t be a butterfly, a bee or a rabbit – we will be on our own with our cows. What a dull world we are creating.
ROUTINE HIVE INSPECTIONS
The mechanics of routine beekeeping will become habit the more you visit the hive. Look for these specific things and follow these procedures while inspecting your bees and their hive:
  • Observe the “comings and goings” of bees at the entrance. Do things look “normal,” or are bees fighting or stumbling around aimlessly?
  • Smoke the hive (at entrance and under the cover).
  • If you’re using a screened bottom board, check the slide-out tray for varroa mites. Determine if treatment is needed. Clean the tray and replace it.
  • Open the hive – remove the first frame
  • Work your way through the remaining frames.
  • Do you see the queen? If not, look for eggs. Finding eggs means that you have a queen. If you are 100% certain there are no eggs (and thus no queen) consider ordering a new queen from your bee supplier.
  • Look at uncapped larvae. Do they look bright white and glistening (that’s good) or are they tan or dull (that’s bad)?
  • How’s the brood pattern? Is it compact (with few empty cells) and does it cover most of the frame? This is excellent.
  • Is the brood pattern spotty (with many empty cells)? Are cappings sunken in or perforated? If yes, you may have a problem.
  • Do you see swarm cells? Provide the colony with more room to expand. Check for adequate ventilation.
  • Always anticipate the colony’s growth. Provide additional space by adding honey supers. Give them room before it’s obvious that the bees need extra space.
  • Replace all frames and close up the hive.
I love this conversation recorded between God and Saint Francis on lawns and their care! 
GOD to ST. FRANCIS:   You know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet?  What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago?   I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colours by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.
St. FRANCIS: It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.
GOD: Grass? But, it’s so boring. It’s not colourful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?
ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilising grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.
GOD: The rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. make the Suburbanites happy.
ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it-sometimes twice a week.
GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?
ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.
GOD:  They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?
ST. FRANCIS:No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.
GOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilise grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?
ST. FRANCIS: Yes, Sir.
GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.
ST. FRANCIS: You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.
GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It’s a natural cycle of life.
ST. FRANCIS: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.
GOD:  No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist.loose?
ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.
GOD: And where do they get this mulch?
ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.
GOD: Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?
ST. CATHERINE:
    ‘Dumb and Dumber’, Lord. It’s a story about…. GOD:
    Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

 

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Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs April 2018
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