Bee Blogs – September 2017

No comments

September has been a mixed bag weather wise – but we are lucky to escape the ravages of earthquakes and hurricanes. The activity has increased in my hives as the ivy starts to flower. Last year we had a bumper crop of ivy honey and it filled every available piece of honey comb – I get the feeling that this year we wont have the same heavy yield.

Ivy flowers form in clusters between September and November giving off a sweet nectar. Ivy is to autumn what pussy willow is to spring – the pussy willow hums with insects in March and April,  and ivy provides the same abundance of nectar and pollen for insects in autumn.  Pussy willow provides almost the first food supply in the spring and ivy provides the last food for insects in the autumn. It is unusual among native plants flowering as it does in the autumn and producing its blue black berries in spring.  It has many other insects besides bees feasting on its riches among them the stingless hover flies who mimic bees and so are less attractive to predators – they spend the winter as adult flies and a feast of nectar ivy will help them through. Some last remaining wasps can also be found feeding on the abundant ivy flowers. The bees will be active on warm days through the winter but for the wasps this is the endgame – all die but the queen. All these insects provide food for birds which can be seen round ivy clumps. Since we introduced a policy of not cutting ivy here our small bird population has increased.

I thought I had left plenty of  honey on my hives even if there was no late ivy flow. I am ashamed to say, that having been away for two weeks in early September, I found one of my hives dying of starvation. I could not believe my eyes – there was no activity at the entrance of this once very strong colony and then I hefted it – it was as light as a feather. Then the awful scene of bees dead and dying many with their heads stuck in honey cells trying to eke out the last bit of honey. Not a happy sight. The lesson is that we should only rely on ivy to top up their reserves of nectar and pollen.

Recovering from that shock I checked all my other colonies and found one other in need of a feed. The rest are fine and flying hard when the weather allows them to get out and about which seems to be about every second or third day. I need to check the entrances and ventilation and then I can leave them alone until the spring.

We beekeepers tend to regard October to March as the off season. But it is the time to start tidying up and preparing for the next beekeeping year! I always say that to myself but rarely do anything about it. October means we are heading into darker days and we say goodbye to the abundance of summer – though there are  still lots of seeds and berries, products of successful pollination, to be harvested in our hedgerows. The biggest change is in the  colours – there are some beautiful reds, yellows and browns around at the moment.

Here is a thought – if you have some surplus honey why not try making some mead. Mead is simply fermented honey and water with some fruit acid. You need very little new equipment – the main item is a glass demijohn for the fermentation process. The type of yeast and the amount of honey determine the level of alcohol in your mead. Yeasts have different tolerances for alcohol – when this is reached they stop fermenting – the left over sugar will give mead its sweet taste. The more honey the sweeter the mead will be

Ingredients: for one gallon of a medium sweet mead …if you want sweeter or dryer then adjust the amount of honey by about half a pound either way.

Three and a half pounds honey.

Juice of  a lemon -fruit acid.

Half  to one cup of strong black tea.

One teaspoon yeast nutrient.

Yeast and water. There are natural yeasts in honey – it is best not to rely enthuse and use a general purpose wine yeast. Best to use a freshly bought yeast.

METHOD: Make a starter by half filling a honey jar with water and add a couple of teaspoons of dried yeast yeast. Stir and leave covered fro a few hours in a warm place. Put the jar on a saucer in case it overflows.

Place honey in a pan with 2 to 3 pints of water  and bring to the boil and simmer gently for a few minutes to kill the wild yeasts. Once cool pour it into the fermenting jar, add nutrient, tea and yeast starter.

Fill with cold water to 3 to 4 inches below the neck of the jar and put a pice of tough plastic sheet over the neck and secure with a plastic band to act as an air lock. Place in warm place – airing cupboard? When fermentation reduces in a week of so top up with water. Ferment until it clears and sediment builds up in the bottom of the jar. Then siphon off the clear mead and you can repeat each time sediment forms. Mead matures better in bulk so leave in the jar until ready to drink and then decant into bottles.

I was given the following section from a homily by Gregory of Nyssa – it is Homily 9 on the Song of Songs and I include it for your edification!

The Book of Proverbs, desires the disciple of Wisdom to resort for instruction to the bee – and you are perfectly well aware, of the identity of this teacher. It says to the lovers of Wisdom (Prov 6:8): “Make your way to the bee and  learn that she is a worker and makes a serious business of her labours; and both kings and simple folk consume what she produces for their health’s sake. It also says that she is “sought after” and “of high repute,” weak in body to be sure but one who honours Wisdom and is therefore brought forward as an example to the virtuous, for it says, “having honoured wisdom she has been brought to honour “ (Prov 6:8)

In these words Proverbs counsels that one should not depart from any of the good teachings but, flying to the grassy meadow of the inspired words, should suck from each of them something that assists the acquisition of Wisdom and make oneself into a honeycomb storing the fruit of this labour in one’s heart as in some beehive, fashioning for the manifold teachings separate storage places in the memory, like the hollow cells in a honeycomb. In this way one will make business of this noble work of the virtues, in imitation of the wise bee, whose honeycomb is sweet and whose sting does not wound. For the person who exchanges hard work here for eternal goods and who dispenses the fruit of his own labours to kings and to common folk alike for the sake of their souls’, truly obtains a reward, so that a soul of this sort becomes an object of the Bridegroom’s desire and glorious in the sight of the angels, because she has made “strength perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9) by giving honour to wisdom.

 

Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – September 2017
read more

Bee Blogs August 2017

No comments
Into September – it is on the cusp between seasons and can be very unpredictable – it can be a lovely month but it can also bring gales with wind and rain and it can fall into between these extremes.   Schools are open for business. When I was teaching I liked to finish my bee work by the beginning of September.  Having retired, I can be more leisurely. I have removed some honey and I have Apiguard on to treat for varroa. Taking honey off in mid August gives time to treat for varroa. Temperatures of 15 degrees centigrade are needed for Apiguard treatment. Temperatures can drop as we head into September.
Working in the apiary all is quiet  – flowers are gone except for the odd straggler – ragwort is still in bloom and this provides useful forage for the bees, butterflies and other insects – ragwort is toxic and can lead to cirrhosis of the liver in horses and cattle but cases are extremely rare – most animals are  clever enough to leave it alone. Fresh ragwort is of little interest to them as it has a bitter taste – the greater risk is when the dried plant is eaten among hay.
The bee are also quiet these days, waiting for the ivy flowers to bloom. I noticed the first ivy flower in bloom a few days ago. There is a feast of berries about and fruit trees are laden with their produce. Blackbirds are reappearing round the apiary – they disappear to moult once their young have fledged  – shedding their tatty, faded feathers. They replace their feathers in stages so they are never flightless.
INSPECTIONS: My main concern at the end of another season is the level of stress I cause when carrying out an inspection. I can’t help noticing the turmoil and the many bits of pollen discarded by bees under pressure. This summer I have left my colonies more or less alone and I reckon that they have produced as much honey if not more, than usual. The other positive with this reduced inspection rate is that the bees are much calmer. When I do regular inspections, I feel they remember the last time and are ready to pounce!  Apparently in the 1980’s Russian beekeepers recommended just four inspections a year. That sounds about right. I plan to try it next year.
First inspection  – in early spring to make sure the queen is laying and has enough space – this year I had to remove some brood frames full of ivy honey to give the queens room to lay in.
Second inspection – approaching swarming season.
Third inspection – not sure about this one – but presume I would do it during the swarming season.
Fourth inspection – at the end of the season to make sure all is in order for the winter.
HONEY EXTRACTION: I gave up extracting honey some years ago as I found it very messy and time consuming. I  now do cut comb honey. I use unwired foundation in the supers or use a starter strip of foundation and let the bees draw it down.
I cut the honey out of frame (a good idea is to place the frame over a queen excluder or other metal grill) lying on its side on the queen excluder and positioned over a drip tray. This will allow the honey to drain away and avoids getting your comb soggy. Cut the comb into the size of your container using a sharp knife. You can buy comb cutters but they are expensive and do only one size.
You can also scrape the honey and capping off the frame into a muslin lined sieve. Leave the sieve to drain over a plastic bucket in a warm room. It is a slow process but honey will separate out and drain into your bucket and then you can jar it.  My mother simply removed a frame of honey, cut off the wax capping and left the frame on its side to drain into a large flat dish. The warmer the room the quicker this works. Once the frame was empty she simply popped it back in the hive to be re-filled! When taking honey, remember not to leave your bees hungry!
WASPS: Wasps can be a problem at this time of the year. Wasps like bumble bees survive the winter through their queens. Worker wasps feed their larvae in the spring with protein from insects and caterpillars and the larvae give out a sweet secretion to the adult wasps. In late summer the colony starts to raise drones and queens and worker brood dwindles and the source of sweetness dress up. The workers now switch from hunting protein to searching out a source of sugar such as jam, rotting fruit etc. Once they switch to sugar you can use a wasp trap baited with jam. If used in spring they must be baited with protein – bits of ham etc. To cut down on the possibility of robbing by wasps reduce the entrance.
I hear that the US Vice President’s wife, Karen Pence, has several bee hives at their new Washington home.  Apparently she uses each political and diplomatic visit to her home as an opportunity to invite these influential guests to visit her apiary. She then explains how important bees are to the planet. She is using Langstroth hives!
Jobs for September:
  • Check honey stores in the hive – learn to estimate stores by hefting the hive
  • Top up stores to a minimum of 18kg by feeding heavy syrup
  • Remove, clean and store the queen excluder
  • Remove empty Apiguard trays or other varroa treatment
Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs August 2017
read more

Bee Blogs – July 2017

No comments
I am just back from a three week school camping trip in Kenya. We were there helping in local schools deep in the bush. It is easy to be absorbed by the landscape in a place like Kenya.  Images grab our attention and you neglect the information streaming from your other senses. This bias towards the visual is not surprising given that sight uses one third of our brain and about two thirds of its processing capacity – but it does mean we miss out on other aspects of our surroundings especially the soundscape.  And the soundscape changes far more then landscape which tends to remain constant, at least in the short term.
On this trip I made every effort to attend to the soundscape – especially around the campsite. We were living in the midst of a beautiful, if stark landscape where there was a fast changing and varied soundscape. The soundscape of early morning was quite different from the daytime soundscape which differed in turn from the soundscape at dusk and the night soundscape. Early in the morning, the first sounds, to greet me, while it was still dark was the sound of bees, hard at work at 6 am on Caduca flowers – many trees, particularly the acacia, burst into flower during our visit – and baboons high in the acacia trees could be seen feasting on the flowers.
Bees play an unusual role for farmers living next to Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. They are the last line of defence against elephants coming to devour their crops. Elephants hate bees and run away at just the sound of the angry, buzzing noise coming from a disturbed hive. They want  to avoid being stung around their sensitive eyes, mouth and trunk.
Over a three and a half year period, 253 elephants entered the farming area of Mwakoma village, just when crops were ripening. The elephants were turned away eighty percent of the time by bees and the success has resulted in an increased uptake of so called ‘beehive fences’ by other farmers in the community. I wonder could we come up with some uses for a ‘beehive fence’ in this part of the world?
Lime trees are tall and gracious and found in parks and large estates, often lining long avenues. They are not native to Ireland. I was sorry to miss them flowering – the bees love them and they have such a powerful scent.  They can produce lots of nectar if conditions are right – enough moisture in the ground and warm, sunny weather.  There are two species – the large leaved lime and the small leaved version and there is a cross between these  called the Common Lime.
On my brief visit to the apiary I did notice some wasps poking around the weaker colonies. Beware of them starting to rob and help the bees by narrowing the entrances to hives. Wasps are not all bad! They are useful as pest controllers. They prey on flies, moths and butterfly larvae and spiders.  It is at the end of the life cycle of the colony, when the number of wasp larva and the sweet exudate they produce, declines, that they become a pest to us and bees.
A simple wasp trap is made by cutting the top quarter of a plastic drink bottle and inserting it back into the body of the bottle upside down to form a funnel into the lower section and supplying the trap with water and jam to lure the wasps in.
The trip to Kenya was a wonderful but I didn’t manage to meet any Kenyan beekeepers. I have not had a chance to check my bees since my return but did heft one from behind. There wasn’t that dead weight that I was hoping for which would indicate a good honey harvest!
Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – July 2017
read more

Bee Blogs – June 2017

No comments

This is the month when we really discover whether our colony management is going to bear fruit. Given good weather the bees have plenty to forage on with plants such as white clover, bramble, lime and willow herb all in flower.  The weather has been mixed so I am not expecting a bumper crop and several of my colonies have swarmed.

The flow started about two weeks early this year and I detected no noticeable June Gap. I had never thought of a June Gap with other wild life  – but it makes sense that if you have a gap in plant food you will have a gap in plant feeders too. There is an explosion of flowers and insects in Spring and then a lull or June Gap – followed by the emergence of the summer generation.  Lepidopterists notice this among butterflies – there are the spring species such as the Peacock butterfly and then a gap before those of high summer emerge such as the Meadow Brown.

I did very little by way of checking my colonies to see if they were attempting to swarm this year. Every time I open a hive and see the pollen dropped and the deep level of upset I cause, I hesitate to do it again. I am more and more inclined to give them plenty of room and let them do what comes naturally and take the consequences.

The splits I did in early May did not work – the halves with queens built up well but the queenless halves failed to raise queens.  I left them for five weeks and then reunited them. I have been away so I am not sure how they have settled since. I doubt I will try this again and will take more seriously  the advice not to split a colony until the bees are ready to do so themselves. I like the idea that only when queen cells appear do you have the ‘bees permission’ to split the colony – until then add supers to give them more room …it is much wiser to wait until the bees themselves are ready  to split!

I read of an extraordinary finding showing that bees bring an added benefit to the plants they visit. It was found, I don’t know how, that the faeces of a ‘typical colony of 20,000 bees increased the nitrogen content of soil and  significantly improved the growth of plants. Who would have thought it.

I am not sure if you have seen or heard of the ‘Flow Hive’ which was created in Australia. It is a standard hive that has special Flow frames in the honey or flow super.   This super has special Flow Frames where the bees store honey – to harvest the honey you turn a handle which causes the plastic hexagons on the frame to split  allowing the ripe honey to flow down tubes through the collecting trough into a jar.  There is clear glass at one end and so you can see when the honey cells are capped and when the honey is ready for harvest.  When I first read about it, I was sceptical but the following review by John Gates is very positive….

“At first I was reluctant to test the invention because I thought the concept of sticking a tube into a hive and turning a value to get honey was ridiculous. I was pleased with the results using the system.  My Flow-frame-equipped hives produced just as much honey as the regular hives. The equipment worked as advertised and the honey quality was excellent. I loved being able to judge the progress of the nectar flow by seeing there frame end cells filling with honey”! 

A reminder about building that SOLAR WAX EXTRACTOR!

A solar wax extractor is a must for all those bits of waste comb. They are simple to make and easy to use! They consist of a simple box with a hinged lid that is double glazed. There is a collector for the melted wax and a metal tray that has an “8” mesh filter at the bottom end. I am regularly asked for fresh wax and it is nice to be able to provide it…

There are many plans available on the internet.

A useful tip and a novel use for women’s tights or panty hose,  is to put the rough quality wax and old comb into the legs and then tied off. The sausages formed are put in the extractor and the fine mesh retains a good deal of the debris whilst the molten wax runs easily out.

Jobs for July:

  • Continue to add supers ahead of the bees’ requirements.
  • Watch the size of the hive entrances – reduce to avoid robbing by bees and wasps.
  • Fill up that solar wax extractor with those bits of wax you have gathered.
  • Remove surplus honey when ready for extraction.
  • Assemble equipment required to extract and bottle honey.
  • Reserve the extractor if you are borrowing it from your local association.

 

Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – June 2017
read more

Bee Blogs – May 2017

No comments
I had my first swarm in early May and missed it. The second one I caught as it landed conveniently on a near by bush.
I split my two strongest colonies on the 6th of May. They seem to be doing well as far as I can tell from the outside. I moved the queen and three of four frames of brood and stores into new hives and took them to an out apiary. I checked them two days ago and the queen had laid in all the brood combs. Hopefully this brood will hatch and be ready for the flow although it looks like the flow will be early this year. I notice the bramble flowering already and the clover not far behind so we are going to have an early flow and no noticeable June Gap, I suspect.
I have left the other two hives, (the ones with no queens) alone and I hope there is a new queen and that she is laying by now. I will give them another few days before checking them.
The great thing about the split hives is that you can forget about them and have only minor worries about swarming. The rest of my hives, I am watching trying to work out what is happening and never sure!
Give Drones a Chance!
I am still inclined to cut out drone brood as a way of controlling varroa. Varroa prefer drone brood because of their longer pupation time allows the varroa an extra brood cycle. Because of this many drones will tend to be under nourished and hence under developed and probably carrying a heavy viral load – it is not hard to understand why queens may not be mated properly.
We need to encourage drone brood and it is not a bad idea to put some drone brood foundation in each hive or to put a short strip of foundation in a frame allowing the bees to build their own drone brood.
We need to improve our drone stock or we will continue to have poorly mated queens. Poorly mated queens will fail in the first year or over winter and some will become drone layers. Try and give drones a chance and go easy cutting out the drone brood – there is some evidence that more drone brood improves temperament and can reduce swarming
Jobs for June
Make sure the bees have access to a plentiful supply of water.
Regular colony inspections with swarm management as required
Check for signs of disease especially varroa.
Monitor food stores and feed if necessary – can have the ‘June Gap’.
Add supers.
Queen rearing may be undertaken.
Lavender 
The lavender I bought and planted last year is in flower. The bees love it but bumble bees seem to love it more. There is research which explains this – some types lavender have flowers whose tubes are too deep for honey bees – e.g. ‘Grosso’, a type of lavender has flowers with tubes 7.5mm deep. Bumblebees have longer tongues than honey bees. Bees whose tongue is 6.7mm in length requires more open and shallower flowers for their foraging.
Lavender has been shown to have calming effects on angry bees. The research involved exposing honey bees to different odours while a  rotating feathery object to agitate the insects.  As expected the bees stung the feathery object. Yet when exposed to lavender even in combination with the sting-alarm pheromone and with the feathery object brushing them the bees did not attack.
A French research team tested these results in the field applying odours to the front of beehives ..the calming odours reduced the aggressiveness of the bees even though they had been agitated by a jiggling flag at the hive entrance. Maybe we should take to wearing a sprig of lavender when working with the bees.
Over last 20 years there has been a lot of interest in treating bee diseases with herbal extracts not just thymol but also laurel, mint, lavender etc.  oils. A Spanish researcher into the effectiveness of the essential oils of lavender, laurel and thymol in killing varroa mites gave claims that, ‘all essential oils cause mite mortality without sever harm to the bees. The old advice to add a tiny drop of thymol to syrup feed has been validated by research….
Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – May 2017
read more

Bee Blogs – April 2017

No comments
‘The absence of sadness may create bitterness. This saying is illustrated in the tale of the bee. After a long winter, she found a flower-bed. Three days later, the bee exclaimed : ‘I cannot think what has happened to this nectar, it has become so sour.’
The first bit of good news is that all my colonies have survived the winter and now, as April brings forth a burst of blossom, the bees are busily working hard to harvest lots of pollen and nectar. The dandelion has yielded well and my hives are now stocked with new pollen and honey.
I opened my hives on the 22nd March. I am glad I did as they were so full of ivy honey that the queens were restricted in their laying. I removed about three brood frames from some hives and have replaced them with frames of foundation.
When you get a chance to examine your colonies make sure the temperature is around 14 degrees and don’t spend too long at it and close up quickly. While manipulating try to cultivate a calm, deliberate gentleness avoiding all jarring and crushing of bees – crushing a bee will set off the alarm signals  from the scent of the sting venom. Try to establish a routine for opening a colony eg. put each hive part in a set place etc.
If the temperature goes down, and it can do so quickly at this time of the year, the brood can get  chilled – so short quick inspections are best. Use Hooper’s five questions and try and mark the queen.
Hoopers’s five questions:
1. Room  have they enough room
2. Eggs – is the queen present and laying
3. Development – is colony building up as fast as other colonies – queen cells present?
4. Disease – varroa mites?
5. Stores.. Enough till next inspection?
Always keep an eye on the outside of the hive – note how the bees are behaving. Bees are constantly giving us messages and if you become familiar with their behaviour you will learn a lot. If you have mesh floor boards you may notice wax pieces falling through onto the ground telling you that they are chewing their way through stores and seem to be healthy and well.
Don’t forget to make sure there is good supply of accessible water for them – bees need lots of water in the spring especially if they are to break down crystallised ivy stores .  It is a good idea to set up a water source in the sun so that it is warm for them. Bees prefer collecting from a shallow place as the water warms more quickly – you can use containers filled with peat or potting compost and topped up with water as they make landing easy for bees. A container filled with pebbles and water also works. Water shortage may not be something you would think of given that we have so much of it – it is about making it accessible to bees. Also don’t place the water in the flight path of the bees as it could be contaminated.
Ivy honey is hard to deal with unless you have some people who like its particular taste. I have found a few such connoisseurs of honey and they will use all I have. I will keep some for feeding bees later in the year or when I split some colonies. Three or four of my colonies are very far ahead and bursting with bees. I had to give two of them a second super (they were wintered with one). These are good candidates for splitting and that is what I plan to do. I must set a date but obviously it can’t be done until we have drones on the wing to mate with the new queen when she is on the wing.
RECIPE
Using honey to treat Insomnia.
Honey can be used as a sedative. If falling asleep is difficult take a teaspoon of honey at your evening meal. Should sleeping problems continue try the following.
 2 teaspoons apple vinegar
 2 teaspoons of honey
 1 glass of water
Combine the ingredients and take 3 tablespoons at bedtime.
A friend of mine sent me a nice poem by Saint Thomas Moore on the virtues of growing rosemary.
As for Rosemary
I let it run all over my garden walls
Not only because my bees love it
But because ’tis the herb
Sacred to remembrance
And therefore friendship,
Whence a sprig of it hath a dumb language.
St. Thomas Moore
Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – April 2017
read more

Bee Blog – March 2017

No comments

The Ass

‘I know that there will be clover when the weather improves,’ said the ass, ‘but I want it now. Everyone gets hay. How to solve the problem? I don’t know, I’m too busy thinking about the clover.’  

The heather is still flowering  in the Monastery Cloister Garden and the bees are enjoying it! The heathers we planted are as follows:

‘Kramer’s Red’ – dark foliage and dark red/purple flowers

‘Ghost Hills’ – pale green foliage with pink flowers

‘Perfect White’ – pale green foliage with white flowers

All varieties flower from winter through to late spring.

We are moving into the ‘busy- bee’ season. I am putting together nice new frames and will be adding foundation soon so I am ready for the new season. I am expecting to peek into the hives around Saint Patrick’s day and will make an assessment of how they are progressing. I just need a nice warm, sunny day!

I met a beekeeper up North last week who had already had a quick look inside his colonies. We discussed what tactic we might adopt this year to manage our colonies – would we clip and mark the queens or would we go for minimal intervention and see how it goes? Like good politicians, we didn’t reach any conclusion!  I am away for much of July so I may be forced into the minimal intervention solution.

My main reason to look into the colonies early is to ensure the queen has enough room to lay and that there is a queen laying. Many of the brood frames could still be full of ivy honey from the autumn. I will also check that they have enough stores.

While it is still cold and the propolis is hard, it is a good time to clean spare hive parts and recycle your frames for the coming season.  Put all floors, brood boxes, supers, crown boards, queen excluders and roofs in a to-do pile. I use a scraper hive tool and a blowtorch. You can clean and scrape all the bits into an upturned roof.

First scrape the inside surfaces, clean off brace comb and the propolis. Once you have removed most of the debris flame the inside surfaces and stop when the timber changes colour. The finished item will be clean and hopefully sterile (free of disease).If you have plastic runners this will be a problem. Using metal runners gets over this problem..

I read an interesting piece on foundation. Thorne, the bee equipment suppliers are now offering 4.9mm foundation for sale. I didn’t know there was such a thing as 4.9mm foundation.  This is as a result of a project carried out at Reading University.

They are studying varroa to see whether the use of smaller cell foundation (4.9mm) makes a difference. The investigation is being carried out with beekeepers in the local area as well as in the apiary at the university. The study will evaluate the use of small cell foundation  alongside  regular sized  (5.4mm) foundation and compare the varroa loads during next spring and summer.

Apparently beekeepers in other parts of the world have had success using this small cell foundation but many others have not. Some previous studies found that varroa counts increased in the short term when small cell foundation was first used. The new study will evaluate what happens once the bees have fully adjusted to small cell foundation and if there is a significant impact on varroa loads.  I will wait and see the results before changing my order of foundation.

BroodMinder – a new piece of kit which uses the latest technology and integrated circuit temperature and humidity chips to monitor your hive and it is not too expensive and seems easy to fit. It generated data every hour on the what is going on in the brood chamber. The idea is to reduce the need to open the hive. The data is sent to your smartphone or tablet. BroodMinder-W measure hive weight and outside temperature. Worth a look at broodminder.com.  Happy Beekeeping!

 

Murroe Website EditorBee Blog – March 2017
read more

Bee Blog – February 2017

No comments
A story about disguise 
Once upon a time there was a bee who discovered that wasps didn’t know how to make honey. She thought she would go and tell them, but a wise bee said to her, “wasps do not like bees, and they will not listen to you if you approach them directly since they are convinced that bees are opposed to wasps”.
The bee thought about the problem for a long time and then realised that if he covered himself up with yellow pollen eh would look so much like a wasp that they would accept her as one of them.
Now, disguised as a wasp who had made this great discovery the bee started to teach the wasps about making honey. The wasps were delighted and worked hard under her direction.
Then there was a pause for rest and the wasps noticed that in the heat of the activity the disguise had worn off the bee and they recognised her..
With one accord they fell on her and stung her death as an interloper and ancient enemy: and the half made honey was abandoned…for was it not the work of an alien?
The bees have had a gentle winter so far and have managed to get out most days. On mild days they are working on the heather which is still flowering here. If the bees have had a gentle winter it means the varroa have too. There is a new study comparing the ability of two strains of bees to defend themselves against varroa by grooming – this is where bees brush mites from themselves or brush mites from their nest mates. It has been known for sometime that different strains of bee differ in their resistance to varroa. In particular Africanized bees  appear more resistant than European strains. Scientists have found that this resistance is partly due to grooming behaviour. This may be a step forward in the fight against varroa and finding bees resistant to varroa.
I am getting frames ready for the new season – scraping off excess wax and cleaning them up ready for new foundation. I am also scorching brood boxes and supers to try and ensure no disease survives in them.
ANOTHER PEST
There is news that the dreaded Asian Hornet has reached England and Wales. This is a new threat to the bees. We have no native hornets though the wasp is a close relative.
It arrived in Europe from China in 2004. It was first spotted in France and has since spread to Spain (2011) , Portugal and Italy and male hornets observed flying in Belgium in 2011/12.  It has now been found in the UK.
The worrying thing is that one to two thirds of its diet consists of bees.They have already devastated colonies of bees on the continent. They attack the colony by picking off individual bees as they return to the hive. When the colony is weakened a group of them attack and devour the bees and any stores that remain. It is predominantly black and brown with brown abdominal segments that are brokered with a fine yellow band. Only the 4th segment is almost entirely yellow/orange. Its legs are brown with yellow ends and the head is black with orange red face.The queen is about 30mm long and the workers about 25mm and their legs are yellow.

 

They make nests in trees and tructures such as garden sheds and garages. The nests have also been found closer to the ground and in basements. They avoid pure conifer stands and seem to prefer oak, populars and acacia trees.
ASIAN HORNET YEAR
They are active from April-November. In April the queen emerges from hibernation and the colony builds up to average population of 6000 individuals. They begin preying on bee colonies once the brood require animal protein. Drones are produced later in the season and queens mated in September.
Possible routes of it to Ireland
Imported wood and wood products, flowers – overwinter under bark. In soil, freight containers and transport vehicles.
WHAT TO DO? Remember they do sting!
In France traps work well especially in Spring and Autumn.
They use a mixture of dark beer, strawberry syrup and orange liqueur wine – others use set mixtures of wine, sugar and water. At the height of the season you can add high protein foods  such as fish.Notes on building a trap form two plastic litre bottles can be found at the National Bee Unit guidance notes on monitoring for Asian Hornets.
The ApiShiled trap. It is a modified base for the hive with a decoy entrance into a trap as well as the normal entrance for the bees – it works because the invaders choose to enter by the decoy entrance rather than face guard bees – this can also be used for robber bees, and wasps. It works by ‘teaching’ the colony to use the front  entry and then opening the  decoy entrance at the side which fool the predators and trap them below the real floor…
Watch out for it- if it arrives it will have potentially dramatic consequences for changing the structure of insect communities and adding further pressure on our already beleaguered  honey bee population.
If you find one report to the National Biodiversity Data Centre  with a photo. Can kill by placing in a freezer over night.
THE THREE ‘F’s
1. Forage – essential to have pollen source available all year round – need up to 200 pounds per year! 10-12mg per bee. Winter flowering heather useful plant.
2. Feed – whenever needed. As thick as possible 2 kilos to 1 litre or 3 kilos to 2 litres. Apiinvert or ambrosia best type of sugar…check for it online!
Put fondant over cluster in Feb – leave in plastic container or cover with cling film to prevent it drying out. Can cut 2.5 kilo bag in to 3 or 4. Can spray with warm water to melt. Warm moisture from cluster will also help to soften.
3. Frames only use premium wax. Economy wax is a mixture of waxes.
Glue together – tacks corrode and frames can come apart. Evostick weather proof glue. Glue top bar and uprights and also the bottom bar opposite the piece you remove….. and tack as well.
DEAD HIVES
If you find a dead hive in the apiary and it is very possible during the winter, it is best to remove it immediately and scrape off all dead brood. You can fumigate the brood box using  80% glacial acetic acid. 100 ml per brood box. You can put acetic acid glacial in a bowl and soak it up with a cloth and place on brood box.
BIOLOGY LESSON
And now for a biology lesson! I marvel at the number of glands this small creature has in its body –  we should be familiar with at least some of these, especially the Nasonov, wax and sting glands.
Hypopharyngeal glands
One on each side of head. Found in young bees and used to produce brood food and royal jelly.
Nasonov gland
Found on the abdomen and releases a pheromone or ‘come join us’ scent. It This attracts bees to a swarm, marks a water source and foraging sources as well as the hive entrance. It is also used to call the queen back after mating and stragglers back into their hive.
Wax glands
Four pairs found on abdomen. Produce wax for capping cells and making cells.
Tarsal glands (Arnhart)
Six of them on each leg. Produce oily substance which leaves a footprint odour on flowers visited.
Sting scent gland 
Found in the sting chamber in abdomen. Puts bees into attack mode and provokes stinging.
Sting alkaline gland or Dufour gland
Produces alkaline liquid which lubricates the sting mechanism and neutralises excess acid.
Sting acid gland or venom gland 
Produces venom
Mandibular glands
Two each side of head above the mandibles.
In young bee produce 10 hyroxydec -2-enoic acid the principal fatty acid of brood food and royal jelly. In older worker 2-heptonaone – alarm pheromone to warn intruders. 2 -hepatanone is also an anaesthetic delivered on biting.
Post cerebral glands behind the brain and thoracic glands – two of them in thorax.
Together form salivary glands and they produce a liquid to lubricate food in the proboscis and the pharynx. It also contains invertase to convert sucrose to glucose and fructose.
Murroe Website EditorBee Blog – February 2017
read more

Bee Blogs – January 2017

No comments
Happy New Year. I hope it is a good year for the bees not just in terms of honey production but more importantly in terms of bee health and reproduction.  I see the hazel catkins are already well extended an encouraging sign but also a bit alarming that it is happening so early in the year.
The day I posted the December notes, I was riding my bike and round a corner I was surprised by the strong scent of ivy blossom. It was truly the last vestige of autumn.
The 7th of December, was the feast of St Ambrose, the patron Saint of Beekeepers and it was so mild the bees were flying hard and I got stung. They were working on a heather bed which is in full bloom. Two polystyrene hives were going flat out and the apiary sounded more like it was high summer. It was good to see activity at every hive and pollen loads arriving frequently. The bees are also working on Mahonia x media outside the library. I think I have the right name for that yellow flowering plant.
Since the bees require minimal attention at this time of year,  it gives us a chance to get equipment ready for the coming year – clean old frames and have them ready to be waxed up in the spring.  It is also a chance to catch up on reading those bee books that have accumulated during the year.
FOOD SUPPLEMENTS
HiveAlive is a supplementary feed developed for bees. It has been the subject of recent research and has received high praise.  It was developed by Dara Scott in NUI Galway in collaboration with other researchers and beekeepers and is  a blend of Irish seaweed extracts which have anti-microbial, anti-viral anti-fungal and immune boosting properties as well as high levels of vitamins and minerals.
The research suggests, that if used annually, it leads to an increase in population and to a quicker build up of colonies in the Spring. I have used it for the last two years and it seems to work.
It is said to have two other benefits:  first it prevents syrup from fermenting which is handy if you want to keep syrup for  a while and secondly brushing foundation with syrup that has HiveAlive in it  seems to encourage bees to draw it out.
WINTER CLUSTER
Bees work to beat the winter cold by forming a cluster which can contain as many as 20,000 bees. They move to the centre in shifts and eat honey from the combs and using the energy generated to flex their wing muscles and create heat. The queen is protected at the innermost area
NEW YEAR.
In my experience New Year’s resolutions rarely stick – we are too fixed in the familiar patterns we create for ourselves.
I like the idea of taking up mono-tasking even if it only while beekeeping. I am a self-confessed multi-tasker – on the phone, answering emails, reading a snippet from a book, all at the same time  – flipping from task to task trying to get as much done as possible. The result is usually that none of the tasks get done particularly well and leave little satisfaction in their wake.  Mono tasking is committing to focus on one task at a time. I know it would be good practice, both for my physical and mental health to slow down and stop overloading my system and be fully present to one task….
There is a piece of research carried out at the University of London which suggests that multitasking can cause a dip in your IQ!
HOT TODDY CURE
One of the main ways to fight a cold is to get plenty of rest. For generations people have also taken a hot toddy to ease the aches and pains of the common cold and with good reason. The alcohol helps fight infection and discourages the growth of microorganisms. Whiskey is a great decongestant  -the alcohol dilates the blood vessels making easier for mucus membranes to deal with infection – and combined with the squeeze of lemon, honey and the warm steam emanating form the drink, you have the perfect concoction for helping clear up your cold symptoms….and it also makes you groggy  and sleep comes more readily.
WORKING IN A BEEHIVE!
How do bees allocate their jobs for the day?  There is no obvious foreman or manager.  Some form of self-organisation occurs resulting from interaction between bees who are working. Each bee responds to local knowledge..
We know that ants leave a trail of chemicals when they find a source of food – other ants follow the chemical trail to the food.
Some ants also laid down pheromones while they searched for food. Scientists placed a bridge between a tub containing a colony of ants one containing food. A quarter way across the bridge it split into two branches – both led to the food but one path was twice as long as the other. The ants quickly worked out which was shortest
The pheromone trail was key – as more ants picked the shorter route it accumulated more and more pheromone increasing the likelihood that other ants would choose it!  Two ants set out across the bridge at the same time. The first takes the shorter branch and the second the longer one. By the time the first ant reaches the food the second is only half way across the bridge. By the time the first ant returns to the colony  the second ant has just arrived at the food. To a third ant standing at the split in the bridge at the point, the pheromone trail left by the first ant would be twice as strong as that left by the second ( the first went out and returned)  making it more likely to take the shorter branch!
The more this happens the stronger the pheromone trail grows and the more ants follow it.  This self-organisation means they don’t need a foreman telling them what to do. Perhaps there is a similar mechanism at work with bees.

Here’s hoping that all our hives will be healthy, strong and productive during 2017.

Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – January 2017
read more

Bee Blogs -December 2016

No comments

Thou art a miser, thou busy, busy Bee!

Late and early at employ;

Still on the golden stores intent,

Thy summer in heaping and hoarding is spent,

What they winter will never enjoy;

Wise lesson this for me, thou busy, busy Bee!

 

Little dost thou think, thou busy, busy Bee!

What is the end of thy toil.

When the latest flowers of the ivy are gone,

And all thy work for the year is done,

Rhymester comes for the spoil.

Woe then for thee, thou busy, busy Bee. 

Robert Southey.

The ivy flowers are gone and with them that wonderful pungent scent that surprises me round so many corners. So we are into December – the quiet month in the apiary. There is little to be done except to check that the hives are upright and water tight with no leaks. Bees can survive temperatures as low as -39 degrees celsius but dampness will kill them. The mesh floor has reduced dampness in hives. Make sure you have entrance blocks in place too..

At this time of year there will be little or no sealed brood in the hives, consequently the vast majority of

varroa mites will be on the adult bees. Some people spray these adult mites during the winter. I have not tried this method.

Frosty weather makes wax brittle and easier to remove – it is a good idea to leave queen excluders and frames outside for a short while as they are easier to clean.

Last month I bought two lavender plants to place near the bee house. During the summer, while visiting some friends in the UK, I noticed bees working enthusiastically on lavender and I was determined to plant some to supplement the diet of my bees even if just in very small way.

I have just read about the Chinese Bee-Bee Tree (Tetradium daniellii) which flowers in the late summer providing a useful supply of nectar and pollen just when most plants are dying away. They have white flowers which give off a beautiful scent.  It grows to a height of 15 meters and prefers the sun and is not picky about the soil as long as it doesn’t get too dry.

IVY

The influx of pollen in the autumn is vital to ensure good, healthy winter bees. The great flow of nectar and pollen from ivy this autumn should mean that colonies will overwinter well.

STORING SUPERS

Supers should be stored away undercover ensuring that the stacks are bee-proof with two layers of newspaper between each super. If supers are wet the wax moth wont touch them. The moth also finds it difficult to break through the newspaper layers

WINTER STRATEGY

Insects are cold blooded and most do not survive the winter and die once the weather gets cold. Most species survive by either leaving a queen to overwinter or an egg to hatch out the following spring. Insects that live as a colony through the winter have to make elaborate preparations to do so.  Preparation starts in early autumn as the days shorten and the temperature drops. The drones are evicted and the numbers of workers is reduced and stocks of honey and pollen are in place. Winter worker bees build up a store of carbohydrate, protein and fat in the form of fat bodies. Their main job of these winter bees is to get the cluster (and its queen) safely through the winter – they have to maintain a minimum cluster temperature of 8-10 degrees celsius at the surface and 34-35 degrees at the centre of the cluster if winter brood is present. Heat production by the inner bees and insulation by the outer bees allows this temperature to be maintained. A healthy, well stocked colony in the autumn should see winter bees live on into mid-February. Diseases tend to shorten the life of the winter bees and therefore of the colony. Lets hope our colonies have good healthy winter bees.

PATRON SAINT St Ambrose Patron Saint of Beekeepers.

His feast day is on the 7th of December.  He was bishop of Milan in the second century and has been venerated as the patron of beekeepers for many centuries. He is often depicted with bees. There is a story recounted by St Paulinus that a swarm of bees settled on the mouth of the infant Ambrose and then departed leaving the child unharmed. This led to Ambrose being called ‘honey-tongued’ as he was famous for his rhetoric.

BURY ME WITH HONEY!

When Alexander the Great was killed his body was placed in a gold coffin filled with honey for transport home.  In England the first four Earls of Southhampton were buried in honey filled coffins – honey that was still free flowing and sweet according to the workmen who excavated the containers and sampled the contents centuries later – before discovering what lay in side.

MOBILE PHONE

It may be important to leave your mobile behind when working with bees.  A new study by Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has concluded that cellular phone calls disrupt vital honeybee communication signal – known as ‘worker piping’, causing the bees to become terminally confused and die.

DANGERS OF MANUKA HONEY – TOO VALUABLE!

I was sent the following article on the problems facing manuka honey producers in New Zealand.

It was the day the bees died – tens of thousands of them in 300 hives, mysteriously killed. “The massacre”, as it is being called, happened in the otherwise idyllic landscape of Doubtless Bay in New Zealand’s far north.

And for David Yanke and Rachel Kearney, co-owners of Daykel Apiaries, the cause of death was obvious: malicious poisoning.“It is a nightmare, I don’t feel safe any more,” says Kearney as she sits at her kitchen table on her family’s farm, 40km east of the Northland hub of Kaitaia. “I feel violated. It has almost turned into a PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] experience for me.”

So far there has been no official ruling on what led to the Daykel bees’ demise, although a biosecurity incident has been ruled out by the government. But Daykel and many other apiarists are in no doubt that the mass bee death is just the latest act of violence in the increasingly crime-ridden manuka honey industry. The global craze for manuka, highly valued for its medicinal properties, has created a gold rush in rural New Zealand that some believe is rapidly spiralling out of control.

Last year a record amount of nearly 20,000 tonnes of honey was produced, a 15% increase on the year before. In 2010 the top price fetched for bulk manuka honey was NZ$37.50/kg (£22/kg) – today it can command more than NZ$100/kg. The export market to the UK, China and other countries is expected to reach NZ$400m in the next few years.

On the back of the boom, hive thefts, vandalism and poisonings have become standard fare, with every beekeeper interviewed for this article the victim of one or more serious crimes. Verbal threats and physical beatings have also been reported and there are unconfirmed reports that beekeepers now travel in packs for protection to work remote hives.

Manuka is a native New Zealand plant, whose potent pink and white flowers have made the once maligned weed a sought-after crop. The honey produced by bees who feed on those flowers has become highly valued for its medicinal properties, especially as a salve or wound dressing.

Positioning honey hives close to the plants means beekeepers can market their honey as “manuka” and sell it for triple the price of standard clover honey, even if the active manuka content is so low as to be negligible.

Supplementary feeding on sugar syrup, which used to be rare, has become a necessity for every apiarist and there is dark side of which Yanke and Kearney have come to know intimately.

Only months after they had buried the corpses of their bees, the midnight raids began. Farm gates were cut open with cordless tools, hives dumped into plastic rubbish bags and tossed carelessly into the back of open trucks.

The couple have memorised every detail of the thefts, because they were captured on CCTV cameras, which were installed after the bee massacre.

The raids also always occurred on the fifth of the month – another clear indication that intimidation tactics were being used against the beekeepers.

“We want to get out of the industry,” says Yanke, a Canadian with an encyclopedic knowledge of bees. “We want to get out before things get worse.”

Bruce Robertson understands the pressures now bearing down on an industry that is being overwhelmed.

As the managing director of Haines Apiaries in Kaitaia he has watched the boom happen in front of his eyes.

Although Maori people had used manuka honey as a wound dressing for years, the apiculture industry was wary of the product, as it was tricky to work with, had a short flowering season and somewhat bitter taste.

“I got into the industry when manuka was selling for NZ$10/kg and we thought that was an incredible price,” recalls Robertson, a no-nonsense, old-school beekeeper. “Now it is commanding up to NZ$200 at the high-end – it has gone really stupid.”

Robertson has become somewhat hardened to the scale and frequency of attacks on his 3,000 hives. Over the past five years, he’s had hives stolen, vandalised and poisoned, and estimates three to four are pinched every week, at a cost of NZ$3,000-4,000.

Happy Christmas and if you happen to get a present of some manuka honey, spare a thought for the producers.

Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs -December 2016
read more