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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Bee Blogs – December 2017

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Happy New Year. As we begin yet another new year it is easy to miss out on the ‘wonders’ that surround us. Everything can become overfamiliar.  We might take to heart the comment of Hegel, the German philosopher, when he said that,  “generally the familiar, precisely because it is familiar, is not known!”
Routine can dull our perception and the numbing effects of familiarization can distance us from the world around us including the world of bees – we have seen it all before. We take the ordinary for granted and don’t grasp the extraordinariness of the ordinary.
To see the richness of the present moment it is helpful to cultivate the ‘Beginners Mind’, a mind that is willing to try and see everything for the first time. When I go to the apiary or go for a walk, I try to see something new….a bee peeping out at the entrance of a hive, a leaf, a piece of moss, a drop of water resting on a fallen leaf.
I came across this little poem which I liked – making sweet honey from all my failures!
Last night as I lay sleeping, I dreamt
O, marvellous error –
That there was a beehive inside my heart
And the golden bees were making white combs
And sweet honey from all my failures…..
Machado de Assis
It is great that the shortest day has passed and I am now busy convincing myself that there, ‘is a stretch in the evening already.’ I am sure there is – but there still is lots of wet and cold weather to come I suspect. The hazel catkins are lengthening which is always an encouraging sign of new life for me.


It is still worth visiting the apiary at this time of the year – if we get a sunny day the bees will be out on cleansing flights – (bees retain waste in an expanding rectum, when the opportunity arises they fly out to defecate) and you get some sense of the health and well being of a colony by watching the entrance. I also like to keep an eye out for the first spring flowers.
The most important thing at this time of the year is that the bees have enough food (you can only feed candy at this time of year. Put the candy over the feed hole in the crown board and let the bees help themselves) but equally important is that they have adequate ventilation. Bees can tolerate cold, but cannot tolerate damp. If you want more air to circulate throughout the hive, put a matchstick under each corner of the crown-board; this will improve ventilation without creating large gaps.  Also check that the entrance has not become blocked with leaves or debris or even snow.


 This is a good moment to check your equipment – repair and tidy up any damaged parts – also useful moment to sterilise hive tools and put your bee gloves and suit through the washing machine!
A recent article in the New York Times suggests that bees recognise faces and they do it in the same way we do – piecing together the components of a face – eyes, ears nose, to form a recognisable pattern.  I have suspected this to be true for a long time!
Researchers created a display of hand drawn images some were faces and some were not. The faces had bowls of sugar in front of them while the non faces had bowls of water. After a few failed trips to the bowls of water the bees kept returning to the sugar filled bowls in front of faces. The images and bowls were cleaned after every visit to ensure the that bees were using visual clues and not leaving scent marks. After several hours training the bees picked the right faces  about 75% of the time..
Winter Heliotrope  has large, distinctive kidney shaped leaves and is useful for the bees – in fact it was introduced to Ireland in the early nineteenth century by beekeepers. They planted it near their hives to provide nectar for any early emerging bees.  It has spread rapidly since then. It is often found on the borders of roads and motorways, railway embankments and smothers most of  the other vegetation – at present Winter Heliotrope’s status in the register of invasive species is ‘medium impact’.   Apparently it has a “heavenly smell” which can be detected from quiet a bit away. I can’t say I have ever detected its scent.
One of the most important things for bees is a good source of pollen, this is especially true in spring when the queen begins laying. It supplies essential protein plus trace minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium for brood rearing.
There is disturbing evidence that the protein content of pollen is dropping. The herbariums at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History are the home to samples of Goldenrod dating back to 1842. These samples make it possible to prove that the protein content of its pollen has decreased by 30%  since human activity increased carbon dioxide in the air. There is concern that ‘hidden hunger’ (decreasing amounts of valuable substances) could pose problems for us all – bees and ourselves included.
If the bees have no preserved pollen in early spring they will be unable to rear new bees until the season’s flowers are yielding. In some places this can be quite late. Hazel, snowdrops and crocus are useful early sources of pollen.
Later in the year when re-arranging combs consider their pollen content. The proper place for combs of pollen is on the outer sides of the outermost combs of brood. Never put pollen between brood.Twenty pounds of pollen is not too much for wintering and this with forty pounds of honey should keep the colony safe and sound over the winter.   Never allow a stock of bees to go into winter without examining the combs for pollen. If there is plenty well and good if not every effort must be made to give pollen combs from other stocks.
Don’t store pollen combs away from hives during the winter as it does not keep unless preserved with honey. Bees pickle some pollen in honey. That which is not covered and sealed will become mouldy during the winter.  The waste can be reduced by feeding syrup in the autumn – sugar syrup will preserve the pollen in the same way as honey does. Remember we can always make up for a shortage of honey but it is more challenging to do the same for pollen! There is a pollen substitute which I have never tried. Candipolline Gold is advertised in An Beachaire.  Another type is Feedbee – here is what they manufactures say. “Feedbee is a tried and tested pollen substitute from Canada. It has one of the highest protein contents of any pollen substitute at just over 36% and contains no chemicals, preservatives or soy products of any kind.  It can be fed at any time of year as a Slushy Patty, a Soft Patty, Liquid Feed or in powder form – it can even be applied with a grout gun along the top bars! It is highly palatable, nutritionally balanced and highly efficient. The resulting benefits of using Feedbee can impact enormously on brood rearing, colony population and honey crop and it contains high levels of vitamins and minerals that are key to honeybees resistance to AFB, EFB, Varroa and Acarine.
The fact that Feedbee does not contain any soy based products is important as soy products contain inhibiting enzymes that restrain digestion and absorption of certain proteins in the digestive tract of honey bees. Soy products also contain toxic sugars such as Stachyose and Raffinose which are highly toxic to bees. Research on feeding of Feedbee in a variety of forms has been carried out in Canada, USA, Spain, Italy, Jordan, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries. All results show a greater acceptance of Feedbee over soy based products.  Visit for further scientific information and numerous testimonials on the product. Details of how to make the patties can be found on our website.
In case you have lost it – here is the hangover recipe once again..

6 oz honey

4 fl oz grapefruit juice

Crushed ice

Combine ingredients and take at bed time to prevent a hangover. Note too that one tablespoon of honey before a party can neutralize some of the effects of alcohol.

Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – December 2017
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Bee Blogs – November 2017

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A friend sent me a card the other day which read, “Somehow we will squeeze through these dark December days”. It described how I felt. I like Blaise Pascal’s idea that in difficult times, you should always keep something beautiful in your heart or I might add in your pocket. Beauty makes a difference.

The bees adjust their life style to each season of the year, why not us? With our technologically-adapted life style we are cut off from the natural world – and we imagine that the natural world plays no part in our lives. D.H. Lawrence in Lady Chatterley’s Lover describes this disconnection as a catastrophe:

“Oh what a catastrophe for man when he cut himself off

from his union with the sun and the earth.

This is what is the matter with us. We are bleeding at the roots,

because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars and

love is grinning mockery, because, poor blossom,

we plucked it from its stem on the tree of Life and expected

it to keep on blooming in our civilised vase on the table”

In a book on, Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom, the author Acharya Shunya, explains how we are connected to the natural world and still need to adjust our life style to fit the time of the year. A ‘seasonally adjusted life style’ makes sense to me – eating the same foods all year, exercising in the same way throughout the year doesn’t make sense – Ayurveda recommends specific protocols for each season of the year.  Some of these recommendations are in autumn, with darkness closing in and wind and rain increasing- it is easy for our inner world to become a little shaky so Ayurveda advises stabilising ones routine – especially routines of eating and sleeping and also recommends settling in our ideas and convictions. As winter settles in, a change of diet is helpful – eating hot, spiced and warming foods – soups, stews – also getting out into early morning light and engaging in creative activity.  I know I have a lot to learn about this idea of managing myself round each season. Maybe I could learn more from the bees. The church too provides a change especially with the Gregorian chant for Advent and this lifts me over the lintel and into a different mood.



Mistletoe, the partial parasite of apple, lime, popular, or hawthorn trees is evergreen, and grows into a large spherical mass on the host tree. It produces a root like structure which grows into the tree and sucks its nutrients from the tree. Its seeds, spread by birds, are covered with a sticky, viscous gel that attaches them to the bark of a tree. The Mistle Thrush gets it name because it loves Mistletoe seeds.

It flowers in early spring with male and female flowers on separate trees. Bees, among other insects do the pollinating and provide us with those shiny, waxy white berries at Christmas. After each kiss you remove one of the berries  – once all the berries are gone that’s it – no more kissing!



According to a new study streets with trees may help against asthma attacks. Researchers from Exeter University studied the impact of urban greenery on asthama. By comparing 26,000 urban neighbourhoods the researchers found a link between areas highly populated by trees and lower rates of emergency visits to hospital for asthma. The association as even stronger in highly polluted areas.

The study showed that an extra three hundred trees per square kilometre was associated with approximately 50 fewer emergency asthma cases per 100,000 residents over a 15 year period.



We know how harmful insecticides are for bees –  fungicides may also be causing harm.   A study at Cornell University in the USA has found signs of a “surprising link” between fungicides and declining bumblebee numbers. This could be important for to us because of our damp climate we use lots of fungicides.  Ireland has ninety eight species of wild bee, twenty one of which are bumblebees. According to the National Biodiversity Data Centre, 30% of Ireland’s bee species are threatened with extinction mainly due to habitat loss. It is suspected that fungicides could change the nectar composition of flowers or harm the micro-organisms that live in bees’ guts. Fungicides have also been found to react with insecticides and make these toxic to bees. More research is clearly required in the Irish setting to see how fungicides impact our native bees.



There is an interesting treatment for American Foul Brood coming from Australia. They use gamma radiation to sterilise equipment (same thing as used to sterilise medical equipment). It is popular as it does not use chemicals so there is no residue in treated parts and they can be used immediately. This is ideal for bee equipment where it can be difficult to ensure chemicals and other treatments reach every area. Gamma radiation penetrates every part of the equipment which means that any pathogens or insects are eliminated.


This eliminates AFB and equipment can be treated over and over again. This would be a welcome new treatment and a more effective control than just burning hives which I had to do many years ago!



I am not getting great reports on the usefulness of the Bee Meditation. Maybe I need to test it myself. But thank you for the feedback from the brave people who tried it!


There is little to be done in the Apiary at this time of year. If we get snow, do check that snow doesn’t block the entrance to the hives. Bees don’t hibernate and if the sun comes out and it warms up, they will be out and about, taking cleansing flights. They are very hygienic and save their waste until they get a chance to get outside their home!


Some people give some extra protection to their hives by adding a blanket under the roof. In my experience, good ventilation is more important. A blanket can get damp and ultimately trap cold, damp air in the roof space.


The best gift we can give bees at this time of the year is not to disturb them! But do go and ‘tell them, ‘yes it is Christmas – rejoice and be glad’. I hope someone whispers this to you too!


Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – November 2017
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Bee Blogs -October 2017

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No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds!
The 19th century poet Thomas Hood wasn’t too enamored of November – there are times when I would agree with him. I often feel caught by this transitional stage of the year. It is the time when the last leaves, that is the leaves that managed to withstand the battering of the recent storms, are torn from their lofty perch and drift towards the ground.
November presents opportunities too – ivy, being ever-green, retains its leaves and it is still in flower and the bees are flying at every opportunity they get. I must heft the hives to see if they have enough stores on board.
As we enjoy the fruits of the bee’s labour it is good to remind ourselves that honey production takes lots of hard work  – a bee makes just a twelfth of a teaspoon in its life time ( I am not sure who measured that so carefully or how it was done!)  – a one pound jar represents the nectar of two million flowers. In Ireland we use 5500 tonnes annually.  It is a mix of about 80% sugars, 18% water and 2% minerals vitamins pollen and protein. 70% of sugar is made up of glucose and fructose  and the balance of these two determines whether a honey is clear or set.  Both are equally pure and and additive free. Some honey contains more glucose then fructose and will crystallize quickly e.g. Oil seed rape…honey can be made liquid by standing in warm water for an hour or so.
I came across a Bee Meditation designed for those who feel they can’t meditate.  I confess I have not tried it yet but here it is.
First, find a place you can be alone for a few minutes – sit comfortably with your back straight.
Scan your body and notice how you are feeling.
Close your eyes and put your thumbs in your ears and gently cover your eyes with your forefingers to block these two senses.
Inhale and on the exhale making a bee humming sound.
Repeat the inhale and hum sequence for ten breaths.
When completed keep eyes closed and rub your hands together to generate heat and place your hands over your face.
Gently open your eyes and remove hands.
Scan your body and notice how you feel.
A question keeps coming up as to how many hives one should have. Most people start with one hive but quickly realize they need a second after the first swarm emerges!
A single hive is never a long term prospect. If you only have one colony and it becomes queen less you have few options. The best way to confirm if a hive is queen less, is to give it a frame of eggs from another hive to see if Queen Cells are created (where will you get them from?). If you only want to a have a single hive you will need at least a Nucleus hive.
It is good to ask yourself how many colonies you want to overwinter. This number can double in the season if you take into account swarm control. In that case you may need up to twice the number of boxes you plan to overwinter. Winter gives us an opportunity to work out how much equipment you need for the coming season.
I try to have a spare nucleus of bees at the end of the season. There is always a colony that needs a boost.  I find that if I take any three colonies, one will be doing well, another will be doing poorly compared to its performance last year, and the third will be a complete puzzle! And by next year they will all have swapped roles! But at least I have options with three hives.  I have a supply of drawn comb, a spare Queen, sealed brood, and even stores if required.  I can unite two colonies if they are weak.
I have never been very good at keeping hive records. It is a very helpful if you do it. Some useful advice I have used:
First: you must differentiate one hive from another – numbering hives permanently is not a good idea as they get moved during the season so it can get confusing trying to keep track of them. The best solution is to buy numbers and pin them to a the hive and it can then be transferred to other boxes as the queen is moved.  Attach the number to the brood box and you can use the colour of the drawing pins to denote the year the queen was born.
There are options for recording your information for each hive. One is to use a notebook – the advantage of this method is that you can take it home and study it – another way is to put some packing tape on the roof of each hive or on crown board and make notes on it. A third way is to use colony record cards that can be stored on top of the crown board.
Records do not need to be long and some form of shorthand is useful – invent your own abbreviations: Q for queen present, DL = drone layer. QC= queen clipped. No queen cells = X  etc. The list of things you can record is long!
Hive number  Year  Date
Queen cells
A final note: Bees are much better at adjusting to the changing seasons then we are. I tend to do the same things regardless of the time of year and don’t make any real seasonal adjustments to my life style – I sleep the same amount, do the same exercise routine, eat the same food, run around as busy  as ever etc.  As we enter November and deeper into autumn I like this read this advice – it reflects my experience,  ‘At this time the wind blows and the inner universe becomes shaky. It is important at this time to stabilize our routine of eating, sleeping and eliminating. Becoming steady in ideas and convictions may help us to deal with this season of change.”  Makes sense!
Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs -October 2017
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Bee Blogs – September 2017

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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
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Bee Blogs August 2017

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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
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Bee Blogs – July 2017

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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
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