Bee Blogs – January 2017

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Happy New Year. I hope it is a good year for the bees not just in terms of honey production but more importantly in terms of bee health and reproduction.  I see the hazel catkins are already well extended an encouraging sign but also a bit alarming that it is happening so early in the year.
The day I posted the December notes, I was riding my bike and round a corner I was surprised by the strong scent of ivy blossom. It was truly the last vestige of autumn.
The 7th of December, was the feast of St Ambrose, the patron Saint of Beekeepers and it was so mild the bees were flying hard and I got stung. They were working on a heather bed which is in full bloom. Two polystyrene hives were going flat out and the apiary sounded more like it was high summer. It was good to see activity at every hive and pollen loads arriving frequently. The bees are also working on Mahonia x media outside the library. I think I have the right name for that yellow flowering plant.
Since the bees require minimal attention at this time of year,  it gives us a chance to get equipment ready for the coming year – clean old frames and have them ready to be waxed up in the spring.  It is also a chance to catch up on reading those bee books that have accumulated during the year.
HiveAlive is a supplementary feed developed for bees. It has been the subject of recent research and has received high praise.  It was developed by Dara Scott in NUI Galway in collaboration with other researchers and beekeepers and is  a blend of Irish seaweed extracts which have anti-microbial, anti-viral anti-fungal and immune boosting properties as well as high levels of vitamins and minerals.
The research suggests, that if used annually, it leads to an increase in population and to a quicker build up of colonies in the Spring. I have used it for the last two years and it seems to work.
It is said to have two other benefits:  first it prevents syrup from fermenting which is handy if you want to keep syrup for  a while and secondly brushing foundation with syrup that has HiveAlive in it  seems to encourage bees to draw it out.
Bees work to beat the winter cold by forming a cluster which can contain as many as 20,000 bees. They move to the centre in shifts and eat honey from the combs and using the energy generated to flex their wing muscles and create heat. The queen is protected at the innermost area
In my experience New Year’s resolutions rarely stick – we are too fixed in the familiar patterns we create for ourselves.
I like the idea of taking up mono-tasking even if it only while beekeeping. I am a self-confessed multi-tasker – on the phone, answering emails, reading a snippet from a book, all at the same time  – flipping from task to task trying to get as much done as possible. The result is usually that none of the tasks get done particularly well and leave little satisfaction in their wake.  Mono tasking is committing to focus on one task at a time. I know it would be good practice, both for my physical and mental health to slow down and stop overloading my system and be fully present to one task….
There is a piece of research carried out at the University of London which suggests that multitasking can cause a dip in your IQ!
One of the main ways to fight a cold is to get plenty of rest. For generations people have also taken a hot toddy to ease the aches and pains of the common cold and with good reason. The alcohol helps fight infection and discourages the growth of microorganisms. Whiskey is a great decongestant  -the alcohol dilates the blood vessels making easier for mucus membranes to deal with infection – and combined with the squeeze of lemon, honey and the warm steam emanating form the drink, you have the perfect concoction for helping clear up your cold symptoms….and it also makes you groggy  and sleep comes more readily.
How do bees allocate their jobs for the day?  There is no obvious foreman or manager.  Some form of self-organisation occurs resulting from interaction between bees who are working. Each bee responds to local knowledge..
We know that ants leave a trail of chemicals when they find a source of food – other ants follow the chemical trail to the food.
Some ants also laid down pheromones while they searched for food. Scientists placed a bridge between a tub containing a colony of ants one containing food. A quarter way across the bridge it split into two branches – both led to the food but one path was twice as long as the other. The ants quickly worked out which was shortest
The pheromone trail was key – as more ants picked the shorter route it accumulated more and more pheromone increasing the likelihood that other ants would choose it!  Two ants set out across the bridge at the same time. The first takes the shorter branch and the second the longer one. By the time the first ant reaches the food the second is only half way across the bridge. By the time the first ant returns to the colony  the second ant has just arrived at the food. To a third ant standing at the split in the bridge at the point, the pheromone trail left by the first ant would be twice as strong as that left by the second ( the first went out and returned)  making it more likely to take the shorter branch!
The more this happens the stronger the pheromone trail grows and the more ants follow it.  This self-organisation means they don’t need a foreman telling them what to do. Perhaps there is a similar mechanism at work with bees.

Here’s hoping that all our hives will be healthy, strong and productive during 2017.

Murroe Website EditorBee Blogs – January 2017