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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Bee Blogs – June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A reminder about building that SOLAR WAX EXTRACTOR!

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

There are many plans available on the internet.

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

Jobs for July:

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


Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – June 2017
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Bee Blogs – May 2017

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

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‘The absence of sadness may create bitterness. This saying is illustrated in the tale of the bee. After a long winter, she found a flower-bed. Three days later, the bee exclaimed : ‘I cannot think what has happened to this nectar, it has become so sour.’
The first bit of good news is that all my colonies have survived the winter and now, as April brings forth a burst of blossom, the bees are busily working hard to harvest lots of pollen and nectar. The dandelion has yielded well and my hives are now stocked with new pollen and honey.
I opened my hives on the 22nd March. I am glad I did as they were so full of ivy honey that the queens were restricted in their laying. I removed about three brood frames from some hives and have replaced them with frames of foundation.
When you get a chance to examine your colonies make sure the temperature is around 14 degrees and don’t spend too long at it and close up quickly. While manipulating try to cultivate a calm, deliberate gentleness avoiding all jarring and crushing of bees – crushing a bee will set off the alarm signals  from the scent of the sting venom. Try to establish a routine for opening a colony eg. put each hive part in a set place etc.
If the temperature goes down, and it can do so quickly at this time of the year, the brood can get  chilled – so short quick inspections are best. Use Hooper’s five questions and try and mark the queen.
Hoopers’s five questions:
1. Room  have they enough room
2. Eggs – is the queen present and laying
3. Development – is colony building up as fast as other colonies – queen cells present?
4. Disease – varroa mites?
5. Stores.. Enough till next inspection?
Always keep an eye on the outside of the hive – note how the bees are behaving. Bees are constantly giving us messages and if you become familiar with their behaviour you will learn a lot. If you have mesh floor boards you may notice wax pieces falling through onto the ground telling you that they are chewing their way through stores and seem to be healthy and well.
Don’t forget to make sure there is good supply of accessible water for them – bees need lots of water in the spring especially if they are to break down crystallised ivy stores .  It is a good idea to set up a water source in the sun so that it is warm for them. Bees prefer collecting from a shallow place as the water warms more quickly – you can use containers filled with peat or potting compost and topped up with water as they make landing easy for bees. A container filled with pebbles and water also works. Water shortage may not be something you would think of given that we have so much of it – it is about making it accessible to bees. Also don’t place the water in the flight path of the bees as it could be contaminated.
Ivy honey is hard to deal with unless you have some people who like its particular taste. I have found a few such connoisseurs of honey and they will use all I have. I will keep some for feeding bees later in the year or when I split some colonies. Three or four of my colonies are very far ahead and bursting with bees. I had to give two of them a second super (they were wintered with one). These are good candidates for splitting and that is what I plan to do. I must set a date but obviously it can’t be done until we have drones on the wing to mate with the new queen when she is on the wing.
Using honey to treat Insomnia.
Honey can be used as a sedative. If falling asleep is difficult take a teaspoon of honey at your evening meal. Should sleeping problems continue try the following.
 2 teaspoons apple vinegar
 2 teaspoons of honey
 1 glass of water
Combine the ingredients and take 3 tablespoons at bedtime.
A friend of mine sent me a nice poem by Saint Thomas Moore on the virtues of growing rosemary.
As for Rosemary
I let it run all over my garden walls
Not only because my bees love it
But because ’tis the herb
Sacred to remembrance
And therefore friendship,
Whence a sprig of it hath a dumb language.
St. Thomas Moore
Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – April 2017
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Bee Blog – March 2017

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The Ass

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

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

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

‘Ghost Hills’ – pale green foliage with pink flowers

‘Perfect White’ – pale green foliage with white flowers

All varieties flower from winter through to late spring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Murroe Website EditorBee Blog – March 2017
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