Bee Blogs – October 2016

No comments
October was known as the ‘Yellow month’ by Roman slaves, from the fading of the leaf; to the Anglo- Saxons, it was known as Winter fylleth because of this moon (fylleth) winter was supposed to begin. 
October is the time when work winds down in the apiary. That said, I still keep a close eye on the hives.  If I have to open a colony I am far less invasive then earlier in the year. There is little reason to do an internal inspection other then to check for stores or that brood is present and the queen laying. There is always the alternatively of checking stores by hefting hives from the back and from the side.  One can always learn so much watching the front door of a hive – pollen coming indicates that the queen is present and laying.
Drones have should all been expelled by now. If you see drones at the front door especially during the second half of the month this needs to be investigated, as there could be something wrong with the queen. It could be that the colony is queen-less, in which case you will need to unite it with another queen right colony.
October is a good time to cut back hedges or trees which maybe shading the apiary. Fences and gates enclosing the apiary need to be made stock-proof. Hives should be checked to see that they are watertight and roofs are secure – I place a concrete block on most of mine.
The ivy seemed to  start flowering early this year. I noticed the bees working on it in while I was out walking as my attention was drawn to the distinctive scent of ivy in flower. Like all smells it is almost impossible to describe.  The small green flowers of ivy will go on flowering often till the first hard frost. The flowers produce an abundance of nectar and pollen.  Having access to this high-quality supply of nectar and pollen late on in the season improves the chances of successful over-wintering for colonies. PhD student Mihail Garbuzov, says: “In September and October ivy is the main game in town if you want nectar or pollen. Have a look for flowering ivy from mid-September to mid-October, when it is at its peak. On a sunny day you will be amazed at how many insects there are on it.”
Ivy honey sets very quickly and can be difficult for bees to use during the winter. I met someone recently who harvests ivy honey and that removes the problem. Ivy honey is said to have medicinal qualities and a very distinctive flavour.  Irish ivy honey has recently been shown to contain the compound ‘Hederacoside C’ which may explain its unique benefits.
I sorted my supers three weeks ago – into frames ready for cut comb and those only partially filled. My plan was to give these latter frames back to the bees and winter some of my colonies on a brood chamber and a half. I began the process but then made a serious mistake. I opened a small window to let some stray bees escape and forgot to shut it – the wasps and bees found their way in. I returned three days later by which time the room was a mass of bees and wasps – it was like a swarm had arrived and there was a large number of dead bees on the floor (ones that could not find the open window) but strangely very few dead wasps – wasps seem better at finding their way back out of such situations. The result is that I have lost a lot of bees don’t have any half filled supers to put on and will need to do some additional feeding.
I have removed the empty Apiguard trays and I hope the varroa numbers are down. Varroa can do huge damage to a colony in autumn as this is the time when winter bees are being produced. Winter bees are  physiologically distinct and hope they go into the winter unscathed by the blood sucking mites.  These reddish-brown parasites, just a dot to the naked eye, drain the life out of bees and worse, delivers a deadly cargo of viruses.
To get a sense of the size of a varroa mite in relation to a bee – make a fist and place it on your body. Proportionally, this is how large a varroa mite is compared to a honeybee’s body. It would be similar to having a parasitic rat on your body sucking your blood. If you have access to a microscope it is worth looking at a varroa mite: it is armoured and hairy, with eight legs and a piercing, sucking mouthpart. Since the parasite arrived in Ireland it has made beekeeping much harder.
I don’t know if you read the sad tale about the beekeepers in the  US losing millions of bees as  officials sprayed neurotoxins to kill mosquitos that carry the Zika virus.
A last word: A new study from the University of Cardiff School of Engineering  shows that the cells formed in wax don’t start out as hexagons but as circles. (Darwin suggested that but had no evidence) The cells gradually form into hexagons by the flow of the wax  which is rendered malleable by the heat from specialist heater bees. When it is warm enough the wax starts to flow as an elastic liquid and then it is pulled into  hexagonal cells by surface tension at the junctions where three walls join.
Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – October 2016
read more

Bee Blogs – September 2016

No comments

September – the seventh month of the Roman calendar. The Anglo-Saxons called it the gerst-monath or barley month.

“Best I love September’s yellow Morns of Dew strung gossamer, Thoughtful days without a stir; rooky clamours, brazen leaves, stubble dotted o’er with sheaves – more than Spring’s bright uncontrol  suit the autumn of my soul.” Alex Smith

What a year! I have taken off whatever honey there was- there wasn’t  much to take. The bees got so few opportunities to work – when they did get a fine day or may be two, they used up what they had stored t in the next week of bad weather. I actually found one hive close to starvation with no honey stores at all and had to feed them immediately. I found three colonies with no queen and have united them with a neighbouring colony. I  used two sheets of newspaper with pin pricks in them and the amalgamations have gone well.

Having removed the honey I am feeding a mix of sugar and water in the ratio of two parts sugar to one part water. It is helpful to spill a little syrup over the feed hole so the bees find the sugar more quickly but be careful not to let any drip outside the hive in case you start a robbing spree.  The weather in August and September is generally warm and this helps the bees to draw down the syrup and store it.

There are different types of feeder. I tend to use a bucket feeder but also use a box type feeder which has access to syrup at one end. These latter hold more syrup and are the best type for a strong colony because of their capacity.

It is good to get feeding done by the end of September while temperatures are reasonable. The bees 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. I plan to give one feed to most of the colonies – this plus what honey they have and hopefully, a top up from ivy in late September and October should ensure they have adequate stores for the winter months.

I am now sorting through empty frames and deciding which ones to keep and which to destroy. It is a good question whether we should reuse old frames at all.  Is it worth it? Old, dark comb can harbour disease. Also as the cells are constantly cleaned and disinfected with propolis by young bees, the brood cells narrow giving rise smaller bees. Research shows that replacing over 50% of the brood frames annually reduces winter losses. In Denmark they persuaded all the beekeepers to replace 100% of frames each year and reduced the foul brood outbreaks completely.

It is probably best to melt the old combs and sell the wax for fresh foundation.  I have a solar wax extractor that works well, when and if, the sun appears in the apiary.

Tim Rowe the creator of the Rose Hive, is in no doubt about what we should do with old frames! He suggests that, ‘one of our most important jobs as beekeepers is to throw our old comb so the whole hive stays clean. We have to do this because when we moved bees into hives we interfered with the bees’ relationship with wax moths. Wax moths get very bad press which is a shame because they been an essential part of the honey bee story for millions of years; without them honey bees would have died out long ago because wax moths are one of the very few animals that can digest wax. In their real home – hollow trees – bees build new comb every year and then deliberately abandon old comb…along come the wax-moth caterpillars, like a team of demolishers and told the old, dirty, diseases comb away. The bees have a clean empty space to build in next year. ..In the hive, however there is simply is not the room for bees to do this. They are forced to use old combs riddles with bacteria and moulds – no wonder colonies get sick.  The answer is simple – act like a wax-moth and remove old comb, giving the bees room to build new clean comb. 

The question of reusing super frames doesn’t arise for me as I do cut comb which means I use fresh wax each year. If you are extracting,  honey gets left in frames so they end up getting heavier and less easy to extract. Again it is probably best to change these frames more frequently then we do especially frames that contain pollen.

Brood chambers and supers can be treated with 80% acetic acid glacial to kill off nosema spores – scrape off propolis and wax before treatment at the ascetic acid cannot penetrate them. You can buy acetic acid glacial from any of the chemical supply companies. I got some from MacEoin’s bee supplies in West Cork.

I am reflecting on the effectiveness of the various hive types that I use. I have National, Commercial, Langstroth both polystyrene and wood, and Rose Hives.

There is no doubt that the polystyrene hives build up faster in the Spring than their wooden counterparts. My experience is that they build up too quickly and swarm unless they are split.  The wooden hives on the other hand, seem to be more in tune with the weather and build up gradually and are ready for the flow. The best performing hive this year was the Rose hive – for those not familiar with this type of hive all the boxes are the same size and interchangeable. The fact that it was the best performing hive could have been due to many other factors including the quality of the bees!


SimonBee Blogs – September 2016
read more

Bee Blogs -August 2016

No comments
July is turning out to be a challenging month almost every year and not just for us humans but also for bees.  The first two weeks in July seem to be consistently wet and dull. In the 1980’s we ran a Summer Camp in the first two week in July and it always seemed to be wet. And the first two weeks in July are the most important weeks in the year for honey production – clover and bramble are in full flower yielding up their nectar. Early in the month I even got a warning from a beekeeping friend of mine to check my colonies in case they were starving!  I am told Global Warming means we will get even wetter summers. I am expecting a very modest crop of honey this year.
As we move into August, I am preparing the colonies for winter and ultimately for the year ahead. August and September are the key months to ensure bees survive the winter and are ready for the New Year. The bees born at this time of the year have a lot to do – they rear the winter bees so it is vital that are in good condition – sick or hungry bees trying to rear winter bees will mean poor colonies next year. Pollen is vital to build up the fat reserves of the winter bees. Lack of pollen at this time and the presence of disease would mean that the 2017 season is already in jeopardy. The two main tasks are to treat for disease and to make sure they have enough stores of the winter. I do this a bit earlier than most as September tends to be a busy time here.
I will use Apiguard to treat for Varroa. It is vital to follow the instructions.
You need to give two applications per colony at a two week interval.
Peel back the lid of the Apiguard tray leaving one corner of the lid attached to the tray.
Open hive and place on top of the brood frames- needs 0.5cm space above it by using an eke or empty super.
Close hive and replace after two weeks.
Most effective if used in late summer after honey is removed and the amount of brood is diminishing.  Needs temperatures of fifteen degrees centigrade.
I notice the ling heather is just coming into flower. If you have the energy and enthusiasm to move bees to the bog and the weather is good from mid-August into September you can be richly rewarded. Heather honey is dark, vicious and delicious. The bees don’t like working it much and can be very irritable. Only the strongest colonies should be taken to the heather. While there, they have to produce the all important winter bees so the queen needs to keep laying.
Apparently researchers have found that bees produce different vibrational ‘stop signals’ when attacked by predators while out foraging. These signals have different effects depending on the type of danger. A bee delivers a stop signal by giving another bee a brief, vibrational pulse or a ‘head butt’.
If they are attacked at a food source, bees will return to the hive and give stop signals to nest mates who may be recruiting others for the dangerous food source. These signals were known to inhibit recruitment by the waggle dance but up till now researchers did not know what triggered these ‘stop signals’.
This is produced by plant sucking insects such as aphids. It is a sugar rich liquid secreted mainly by aphids (green fly) as they feed on plant sap.
They penetrate the plant tissue (phloem) with their mouthparts and the sugary, high-pressure liquids is forced out of the gut’s terminal opening! Bees and wasps will collect. Trees such a beech,oak, pine, poplar and larch produce honeydew.
1. Forage – essential to have pollen source available all year round – a colony needs up to 200 pounds per year or approximately 10-12mg per bee. Winter flowering heather is a very useful plant.
2. Feed – whenever needed – as thick as possible 2 kilos to 1 litre or 3 kilos to 2 litres. In winter use fondant.  Put fondant over cluster in Feb – leave in plastic container or cover with cling film. Can cut 2.5 kilo bag into smaller pieces. Can spray with warm water to melt. Warm moisture from cluster will also help to soften. When you remove honey – feed and they will store in brood area and have it close to them in winter.
3. Frames only use premium wax. Economy wax is a mixture of waxes. Some advise that you glue frames together as tacks can corrode and frames can come apart. Evostick weather proof glue.


I was passed on the results of research in UL which shows that honey bee colony losses in Ireland were the highest in 29 countries. The loss rates vary considerably between countries. In their survey the highest losses were recorded in Ireland and Northern Ireland followed by Wales and Spain. Problems with queens contributed heavily to the losses.
Dr. Mary Coffey of the National Apiculture Programme says: ‘the highest losses (over 30%) were in some parts of Counties Cork, Kerry and Kilkenny’.
SimonBee Blogs -August 2016
read more

Bee Blog – July 2016

No comments
Forty-four tons of aluminium was installed at Kew Gardens. It is a a beehive-inspired structure produced by the artist Wolfgang Buttress in partnership with designer and engineer Tristan Simmonds. “The Hive” was originally built as a centrepiece for the UK Pavilion at the Milan Expo last year where it won the gold award for architecture and landscape. The installation is to demonstrate to visitors the importance of protecting the honeybee.
After the beautiful weather of early June, the mixed weather of late, has seen the bees gathering just enough supplies to keep themselves going but not enough to add any surplus. Lets hope for better things soon.


I was asked about my beekeeping philosophy by a fellow beekeeper. Nice question! I am leaning towards minimal intervention. Bees know the working of their hives better then I do and I think we are seeing the consequences of too much intervention over the past century. It may be better to allow bees  find their own balance in the world and that may require that we step back and focus on creating a healthy and safe environment for bees.  I also notice that some beekeeping friends of mine seem to produce just as much, if not more honey, using minimal intervention!

Wax Foundation

This year I bought some wax foundation from a a supplier in Manorhamilton. She explained that her wax foundation was made from chemical free wax from Africa. She explained that the only place  clean, chemical free wax can be found is in Africa! I will be interested to see if the bees notice the difference! The foundation is beautiful and looks a different class. It is good to give our bees the best!

Beavers and bees!

Last month I gave a  beekeeping lesson to some Beaver scouts – aged between six and nine. I was wary and uncertain on how to deal with this age group. I prepared thoroughly, props of all sorts including a glass observation hive, even handouts.
I decided to begin by talking about the sting – I showed them a diagram and explained about the poison a bee injects into you. I was sitting on the floor with 25 children and one boy in the front row put up his hand. He told me that there was only one poisonous snake in the world, the rest were venomous. Following this logic he pointed out that bees injected venom not poison! Poison is something ingested whereas venom is injected! I almost lost my nerve!
‘When the Lord God created animals, He gave each a weapon with which to defend itself. He asked the bee what kind of weapon she would like and she begged for a sting which should be so poisonous that it would kill anyone whom she stung. But God would not grant her request; He gave her, indeed, a sting but it was not the person whom she stung who would die, but she herself.’


Four causes have been identified as likely causes for CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder)
1. Pests (varroa) and diseases. 2. Lack of forage (monoculture) and nutrition. 3. Exposure to pesticides. 4. Hive management.

Rearing queens

It is very useful to have a supply of queens to replace one that is failing or if a colony has become queenless or you want to alter the traits of a colony. You may also wish to expand your number of hives – you can split your colonies and introduce queens into the queenless half.
Only breed queens from your best colonies and select for docility if for nothing else. The simplest method is to save queen cells made for swarming and placing them in mating nucs. Cut them out with a sharp knife – cut a inch in diameter around the cell being careful not to injure it.
You can also put a frame in the centre of the brood nest of a chosen colony. When it has eggs in it and before they start hatching remove and place in a strong colony from which the queen has been removed (placed in a nuc) and all combs containing  eggs of brood (you can place these in a weaker colony). The bees start raising queen cells and when mature can be cut out with a sharp knife and put in mating nucs.
Last year a lot of queens were poorly mated….and this year we have had some queens becoming drone layers.

Thermotherapy treatment for varroa.

Varroa is very sensitive to temperature – just a few degrees higher than the optimum it can’t reproduce. Exposure to temperature above thirty eight degrees centigrade causes irreversible damage and above forty degrees it destroys the mite completely. Scientists are looking for ways to exploit this information and replace chemical treatments.
Work is going on to develop a thermo-solar hive. This can increase the temperature of the brood nest up to forty degrees. The hive is specially insulated and the temperature is maintained for two hours.  Mortality of mites in capped cells is 100%.  Throughout the treatment the beekeeper can control the temperature – if there is a risk of overheating the temperature can be controlled.
Short, intense thermal treatment is applied two to four times a year.  Since it is carried out with the entrance open the heating needs to be repeated after 10-12 days to get the mites that were previously stuck on adult bees and so escaped the first heating.
The two stage treatment ensures the colony is mite free. Unlike house bees and brood, adult bees can tolerate the higher temperature for a limited time and can leave the hive if they over heat. Correctly performed thermo-therapy does not damage brood.

Urban Beekeeping

Urban beekeeping is becoming increasingly popular which is good for both the city and the bees. The idea is to take advantage of urban spaces such as roof tops to use as apiaries. Urban beekeepers provide increased pollination and also fresh local honey. The taste and colour of the honey is determined by the plants the bees visit. Thehoney tends to be darker than clover and absolutely delicious!
SimonBee Blog – July 2016
read more

Bee Blogs – June 2016

No comments

This morning, May 27th I saw my first clump of clover in West Cork. It seems to flower ever earlier. The clump was set between large banks of bluebells and wild garlic. I found the scent of bluebells very pronounced in the evening and the wild garlic in the morning. I am not sure if this is a reflection of my olfactory capacities or a reality of these plants?

I had my first swarm last week. It was a prime swarm and went into a decoy hive. I was quite excited about it because I thought it came from an untreated, feral colony in a nearby roof. I got a shock when I opened it somedays later to discover a queen with a yellow dot – one which I had marked this year and thought I had clipped to stop her flying!

It is now the beginning of June and we are having a great spell of weather – much appreciated by the bees. They have quite a crop gathered from the blossom so abundant this year. The ‘June Gap’, when all these flowers are gone and the clover and blackberry are not yet out – should not be an issue this year as they have plenty of stores on board.

It is a busy time and I am frantically making up frames to make sure the bees have enough space – it is easy to leave them short of space at this time of year. I am moving more and more to using Langstroth hives. I like them and the bees seem to prefer them. Equipment is not as readily available which can be a problem.

The solar wax extractor is working flat out with the sun shine. I must find an outlet for what I have produced! May be I should start making candles. Liturgical candles have to be made of at least 51% beeswax!

Jobs for June

Perform regular colony inspections with
Swarm management as required
Check for signs of disease especially varroa. A quick method of checking for mites at is to uncap drone brood – easily visible on pupae at the ‘purple eye’ stage.
Monitor food stores and feed if necessary.
Add or remove supers and extract honey
Queen rearing may be undertaken


One of the less known problems for bees is the toxins in plant nectar. Nectar from Rhododendron ponticum, the common, wild purple variety, contains toxins which are lethal to bees but not to bumble bees.This invasive plant contains a neuro toxin called grayanotoxin (GTX) in its nectar and pollen.
It is not uncommon for plants to produce toxic chemicals to defend themselves against herbivorous insects like aphids and caterpillars. Sometimes these are found in plant nectar which seems strange. Why and how are they impacting on bees?
Researchers in TCD are studying drivers of bee decline and a current project focuses on a ponticum. They have found no impact of GTX on bumblebees but found profound effects on honey bees. Within 20 minutes of consumption the bees began twitching and lost antennal function. Some unrolled their proboscis and could not roll the tongue like structure back in and within 6 hours the bees were dead.
What does this mean for bees and beekeepers. Probably not a huge problem – we do not see honey bees foraging on ponitcum in the field. Honey bees have a remarkable ability to communicate and it is likely that they quickly learn to avoid this toxic plant…..
Two other species R. thomosonii and R. arboretum and R. pratti have been found to be especially poisonous.
You will recognise the effects of poisoning – bees a scattered on the ground in front of the hives usually lying on their sides or backs, legs and wings trembling as if having an epileptic fit. The tongue is nearly always extended.
Why do we not hear more often of bees poisoning with so much ponticum around. It flowers later than most of the exotics and I have not seen any poisoning casualties once the exotics have finished flowering…..


A honey moon or honey-month was traditionally the month after a wedding.
Its origins is unclear – it may have signified a sweet and happy first month but may also refer to rituals involving honey. Many cultures use honey in the wedding ceremony. Hindus often have a bowl of honey present at the marriage ceremony and as the groom kisses the bride he would say to her, ‘honey, this is honey, the speech of thy tongue is honey, in my mouth lives the honey of the bee, in my teeth lives peace”.

SimonBee Blogs – June 2016
read more

Bee Blogs – May 2016

No comments
How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower.
Isaac Watts
We are now entering the business part of the bee keeping year – not just the business end but the busiest time of the year also – the time when one has to make difficult decisions about intervention in the life of your hives.  It is the time when you should have all your equipment ready and probably don’t…life gets in the way!  I am busily getting frames made up and waxed.
The unseasonable cold weather over the last three weeks must have checked the development of colonies which should mean that swarming will be later this year. The cold has also prevented any full inspections in the last month. There is in fact a danger of losing colonies from starvation. Food supplies will be running down just at the time when the quantity of hungry brood is increasing. Keep an eye on food supplies – I hear that there have been many losses especially in the South of the country. I got a call from a beekeeper recommending that I feed all colonies with some warm syrup to give them a boost.
Don’t forget bees need lots of water at this time of year especially if they are depending on breaking down crystallised ivy stores.  Set up a water source in the sun so that it is warm for them. Bees prefer collecting from shallow place as water warms more quickly. Containers filled with peat or potting compost and topped up with water are ideal as they allow easy landing for the bees. A container filled with pebbles and water also works. I think I mentioned before not to place the sources in the flight path of the hives as it could get contaminated.

At this time of the year I need to remind myself that our bees are not domesticated animals and the degree to which we can exercise control is limited. We can influence behaviour primarily by selecting queens with the characteristics we desire.

May is the month of the queen – she determines the economy of your hive. By now she should be clipped and marked . If you don’t do this, or at least mark her, management is extremely difficult.

May is also the swarmiest month – the bees will be building up and  thinking of reproducing and setting up a new colony.  Describing it like this makes it sound like there is some sort of decision- making process in the hive. There is a process but there is no inner council, committee or ruling group!

Jurgen Tautz in his book “The Buzz about Bees – Biology of a Superorganism” (2008 Springer-Verlag) describes the process in these terms: “The bee colony is a complex adaptive animal community, consisting of many thousands of individuals that are continuously active and respond to the conditions of their surroundings and to the presence of their nest mates. There is no ruling body, instead the overall behaviour of the colony results from the co-operation and competition between bees”.

The colony may decide that the best course of action is to reproduce itself. If that decision is made then a  number of queen cells are created and eggs laid or placed in them and these hatch into larvae. These  royal progeny are fed on a constant diet of Royal Jelly that causes them to develop into queens.

Once the first queen cell is ready for sealing, the first or Prime swarm containing the original queen, the mother of the colony, flies off taking at least half the flying bees with her to begin a new colony elsewhere.

Virgin queens start to hatch and one may take over having killed the remaining queens or a number may be retained to swarm separately. The first swarm after the prime swarm is known as a ‘cast’ and will be considerably smaller then a prime swarm.

Subsequent casts will be smaller again and sometimes no bigger than an adult fist. You want to avoid these casts as they are depleting your colony even further. The way to do this is to cut out all but one of the queen cells once the prime swarm has left.

It is received wisdom that the best queens are those reared naturally under the swarming impulse. That may be true but it is also true that some strains or ‘lines’ of bees are much more inclined to swarm than others and it is generally not a good idea to have colonies of bees headed by queens that genetically carry a propensity toward swarming.

We tend to be very wasteful of valuable queen cells. Maybe I should just speak for myself! When I find multiple queen cells, I tend to cut them out and destroy them rather than harvest them and rear them so I always have a supply of queens. Obviously you would only harvest them from your best hive(s). But you need to be organised to do this – each cell needs to go into a mini hive or Apidea or a nuc or used in a queenless colony.

NB If you are buying wax and are given a choice between premium or economy wax chose the premium as economy tends to be a mixture of waxes from multiple sources and may well harbour undesirable chemicals.
SimonBee Blogs – May 2016
read more