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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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 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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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.
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?
    ‘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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Bee Blogs – March 2018

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Bee Prayer 
Winged spirit of sweetness, I call on you.
Teach me the ways of
Transformation and fertilisation.
The path from pollen to sweetest honey.
Teach me, to taste the  essence of each place I alight
Carrying that essence with me to continue creations cycle.
Teach me the ways of hope,
Reminding me that what seems impossible
May yet be achieved.
Flitting tears of the Gods
Draw me ever closer to the wisdom
Hidden within beauty.
Give me flight and sunlight,
Passion and productivity,
Co-operation with those around me and
Sharpened strength to defend my home.
May I ever spiral out from my heart
Searching for what I need and return there once again
To tune those lessons into nourishment.
Bee Spirit, I call to you.
The month of April is characterised by increasing day length and rising temperatures  – the days have lengthened but the temperatures are still low. And March was cold though I did get a chance to look through my hives one day when the sun shone. I was shocked at the state of the colonies – particularly my strongest colonies from last year. They are barely alive. This has happened before – the colonies that build up well and work very hard one year are very often the poorest ones the following year. Do they overreach themselves and are worn out the following year? It is a puzzle. I presume the long, wet winter has not helped. I am considering sending off some of the bees to get checked for disease. They had plenty of food but maybe too much of it was ivy honey which they find difficult to use in the winter as they need water to dilute it.
There is little sign of flowers yet- even the dandelions are slow to appear. I hope they haven’t given up in protest at farmers spraying their fields to remove any plant that could deprive their precious grass of space or nutrients. The more I see these huge fields appearing – these green deserts – the angrier and more depressed I feel – hedgerows are disappearing – soon there won’t be a habitat for a rabbit, a bee or a butterfly. What sort of arrogance is this that allows us to dispossess other creatures of a home and a livelihood? I had to get that off my chest. I am planning to write to the Minister of Agriculture to make my feelings known for all the good it will do but I will feel better!
What we need now is farmers who tend their hedgerows as an asset; who let old pastures grow, with their mix of plants and not just cultivate a monoculture of grass. We need to encourage diversity – otherness -it is essential for our flourishing as well as the rest of nature.  A rain forest thrives by virtue of its infinite, interdependent diversity: none of the species could  survive alone.  It is not biodiversity but monoculture that poses the biggest threat.
After all that I notice the chestnut leaves peeping out – chestnut flowers are an important source of pollen and honey. Their flowers have a small patch of yellow which acts as a nectar guide for visiting bees. These turn crimson once the flowers are pollinated – this is important because bees can’t see red and so does not waste time visiting that flower again as it has no nectar or pollen to offer…But then the Japanese have now developing robotic bees to do pollination – they are called Robo-Bees  – bee-like pollinating drone which are designed to make up for the lack of bees in some parts of the world.
This device is made using horsehair, a sticky gel and a drone.  The drones fly into flowers like a bee and inside the flower pollen gets stuck to gel and horsehair  and this pollen is shaken off at the next flew and so on. Surely prevention would be better than the cure. We already have great pollinators on Earth – they are called bees. So instead of building drones that replicate their behaviour, perhaps we should focus on saving the ones we’ve got! Otherwise, we could be working on “Robo-trees” next.
I like the point made by Saint Francis de Sales when he says;
The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them.” I suspect the same would not be true of Robo-bees.  Francis obviously did not know that a worker is a she rather than a he!
Time magazine reported on a study from Harvard’s School of Public Health. It found that pesticides were the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) – the phenomenon in which worker bees suddenly up and leave a colony without warning. The pesticides in question are those that contain neonicotinoids (NNIs) and they are partially or completely banned in the EU, Canada and the U.S.
Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – March 2018
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Bee Blogs -February 2018

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One of the things missing in our results driven world, is a sense of wonder – it is easy for everything to become over familiar  and we  lose our innate, childhood sense of wonder and can even develop a low grade of depression where everything seems grey.
I recall some years ago daffodils appearing near my bees and caught myself saying to myself, “Oh no, not again.” I couldn’t believe my reaction – the irritation that they were back again! I had become over-familiar with them and as with all things familiar I failed to see them. It was Hegel who warned that, “that generally the familiar, precisely because it is familiar is not known!”
It is a good question to ask oneself at the end of a walk, at the end of a day: what did I really see? I am often surprised at how little I saw. My eyes function automatically all day without seeing anything – while you were looking out from yourself, you never or really attended to anything.
So the challenge is to open our senses to the reality hidden in the most ordinary things and events – see the extraordinary in the ordinary things and events of life. “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking out new landscapes but in having new eyes. Proust.  The problem is that technology has sidelined our senses and they are now so underused that we are oblivious to the hints and messages coming through them.
As this beekeeping season approaches, maybe we could take a step back from our management techniques, our plans and take stock of our sense of wonder – it was G.K.Chesterton who said wisely, “We are perishing for want of wonder not for want of wonders. And there is no shortage of things to wonder at in the world of the honey bee.
Bees, like all life, are responding to the lengthening days.  On the shortest day of the year December twenty first there was only seven hours and forty four minutes of daylight.  By the first of  February it was up to nine hours and six minutes of daylight and this triggers increased activity in all colonies.
Now into March – this is one of the most vulnerable months of the year for the bees. Make sure they have enough food – starvation is one of the main causes of death in colonies at this time of year. It is still too early to give syrup but you can feed fondant if needed. If in doubt feed a bag of fondant. Fondant comes in a plastic bag. Cut a hole underneath and place over the hole in the crown board. If you take off the plastic the fondant will dry out. Towards end of March you could use a contact feeder with 2-1 syrup mix. In March brood rearing is increasing significantly and adding to the workload of the bees…..more pollen needed, water needed to dilute crystallised winter stores…winter bees dying off and slowly being replaced by young bees.  Some people add a layer of insulation (probably better earlier) to help the bees retain heat – most heat is lost through the roof. You can place a super on the crown board and fill it with insulating material such as old papers, sawdust shavings, an old blanket. This will retain heat making it a bit easier for the bees to keep the temperature up. The ratio of adult bees to brood can be low sometimes making it even more difficult to maintain suitable brood temp. The insulation could stay on till April.
Once we reach Saint Patrick’s day I will be watching for a good day to do a first inspection – the temperature would need to be somewhere near 15 degrees. Opening a hive leads to heat loss and could result in the bees killing the queen or balling her.  All beekeepers develop their own methods of management.  It is important to keep learning and modifying your techniques. Once you have mastered the basics you can gradually develop your own methodology.  There is a lot in beekeeping that you won’t find in books and will only learn with experience.  Inspections must be done for a specific reasons and be part of a management system – there is no point performing them without understanding what you are trying to achieve. One of the fascinating things about keeping bees is that there is no guarantee that any method will work every time!

Be ready to mark the queen if she is not marked and remember the following questions to answer during an inspection:

Do you see the queen?

Is there sealed brood? Is it in solid slabs with few missed cells?

Are there any signs of disease in sealed or open brood?

Has the colony got adequate food supplies?

Is it as strong as its neighbours? If not why not?

Has it got adequate room?

The Bee Research Centre at the Hebrew University in Israel reports that if you give bees a ‘menu’  they will instinctively choose dishes that provide the right balance of nutrients; sugary nectar plus pollen full of protein, fatty acids and micro nutrients.

They conclude that,  “bees are dying for all kinds of reasons – there is the ongoing debate as to the causes. We believe there are multiple causes and they synergies. The three most important factors are the use of pesticides and poisons in the environment; the Varroa mite and the viruses it transmits and the lack of proper nutrition or malnutrition caused by shrinking amount and variety of wildflowers. 
Nutrition is the basis of everything, because malnourishment leads to a weaker immune system that cannot fight the effects of pesticides and viruses”.
I am looking forward to seeing the first dandelion appear…no sign of one yet!  I hope they haven’t all been nuked by sprays. Meanwhile here is a recipe for a honey tea cake.

Honey Tea Cake – it is a hard cake. Take six pounds of floor, three pounds of honey ,one and half pounds of sugar, one and one-half pounds butter, six eggs, one half ounce baking soda, and ginger to your taste.

Directions- have the floor in a pan or tray. Pack a cavity in the centre. Beat the honey and yolks of eggs together well. Beat the butter  and sugar to cream and put into the cavity in the flour then add honey and yolks of the eggs. Mix well with the hand adding a little at a time during the mixing the half ounce saleratus dissolved in boiling water until it is all in. Add the ginger and finally add the while of the 6 eggs well beaten. Mix well with the hand to a smooth dough. Divide the dough into seven equal parts and roll out like gingerbread. Bake in an ordinary square pans made for pies from 10 X 14 tin. After putting into the pans mark off the top in one hand inch strips with something might n sharp. Bake for an hour in a moderate oven. Be careful not to burn but bake well. To keep the cake stand on en din an oak tubm tin can or stone crock – crock is best. Stand the cakes up so the flat sides will not touch each other. Cover tight  and keep in a cool dry place and don’t use for three months at least. The cake improves with age!

Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs -February 2018
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BEE BLOGS – January 2018

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February is often considered to be the dullest, of the year – tough to get through for bees and humans! However the days are getting longer and when the sun shines there is a feeling of spring in the air. There was one such day last week when the sun shone and the bees came out in force collecting nectar and pollen from snowdrops and crocus. There is gorse flowering, as it seems to all year round, and that too yields pollen. The gathering of pollen is a good sign; it means that there is brood and also a queen present.
I am busy assessing my equipment and my needs for the coming year. I ordered wax and frames this week and a friend of mine ordered two nucs to be delivered in May.
February is the time when we could lose colonies from starvation. It is important to heft the hives from behind and also from the sides to check for stores – if a colony feels light, give them some fondant. We might remind ourselves that, for the most part bees are pretty self sufficient. The four things they need are water, propolis, nectar and pollen. Water they use during the summer to cool the hive and during the spring to dissolve old granulated honey, to clean and free up comb so the queen can lay in it. Propolis is used to fill in cracks and crevices, and to line the inside of the cells prior to the Queen laying eggs. Propolis has antibiotic and anti-microbial properties and is used to clean and protect the nest.
I read recently that Ireland is on the list of European countries which ‘trans-ship foreign honey’ and re-lable it as Irish honey.  We all know about the bizarre fact that sales of Manuka honey way exceed the volume of Manuka honey produced each year! This practice is often described as ‘stretching’ honey with sugar syrup and has been going on for a long time.   Professor Garcia notes; ‘Honey is amongst the sadly select group of foods with most reported cases of economically motivated adulteration” Honey is third in the world for adulteration after milk and olive oil.


Apparently bees also have sweaty feet.  They have glands on their feet which leave chemical footprints on the flowers they visit. These footprints tell other bees that these flowers have been visited and it is not worth visiting again. The chemical footprint wears off so that the indicator “there is no nectar available here” only remains for a short time. By the time the supply of nectar has been replenished the footprints indicating the flower has been visited have gone.


An interesting report by Heather Mattila (Wellesley College, Mass. USA) is suggesting the far reaching consequences of poor nutrition in the life of the colony. The study showed that when larva were raised  with a limited pollen supply as could happen during periods of bad weather or following habitat loss, there were multiple negative consequences. The pollen stressed bees were lighter and died younger then well fed bees, fewer of them learned to forage and those which did forage began earlier and were likely to die after just one day foraging. Pollen stressed workers were less likely to perform waggle dances than well fed larvae and when they danced they gave less accurate info about the location of food sources but their dances were often visibly inconsistent and almost disorientated in the worst cases compared with those of better nourished bees.
In Ethiopia honey is regarded as having healing, even spiritual qualities. Folklore says that bees constructed hives – chewing wax until soft, then bonding it to create honeycomb cells – in the windows of Ethiopia’s earliest churches before the first congregation in 488AD. They still produce ‘holy honey’ or mar, reserved only for healing.
In the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia, honey is part of daily life and a symbol of social status. Families with larger numbers of hives and a higher yield of honey are held in high regard. Ownership is sacred, and theft of other beekeepers’ honey or hives is rare: if caught, the culprit is shunned by his neighbours.
Spoonfuls are taken in the morning, the antibiotic properties believed to ward off illness and soothe the soul. Bees pollinate up to 20 different plants, resulting in a complex, perfumed honey.
Spring is a busy time for bees and beekeepers. The Spring build up requires us to pay close attention to our colonies and to check the following. In March after Saint Patrick’s day I will pick the first mild sunny day with little or no wind to inspect the bees (50 degrees Fahrenheit [10 degrees Celsius] or warmer)
First: Observe the hive entrance. You can always tell a lot by watching the entrance. Are there many dead bees around the entrance? A few dead bees are normal, but finding more casualties than that may indicate a problem.
Second: Lightly smoke and open the hive. Do you see the cluster of bees? Can you hear the cluster?
Third: Look through a few combs – check for brood. If you see no eggs or brood, consider ordering a new queen from your supplier.
Fourth: Does the colony have honey? If not, or if it’s getting low, immediately begin feeding fondant to the bees.  Maybe give the colony a pollen substitute to boost brood production.
Fifth: Use a screened bottom board or the powdered-sugar-shake method to determine Varroa mite population. Take corrective action if the population of mites is heavy.
Happy Beekeeping – be ready and let’s be ready for that first inspection!
Murroe Website EditorBEE BLOGS – January 2018
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