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