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To Save Bees Humans Must Change

April 22, 2011 in ,

According to a recent United Nations report, the potentially disastrous decline in bees, impacting the vital pollinating element in food production for the growing global population, is likely to continue unless humans dramatically change their ways. The United Nations define these “ways” as everything from insecticides to air pollution and go on to say:

“The way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st centurey.” UN Environment Programme executive director Achim Steiner said “The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of the worlds foods, more than 70 are pollinated by bees.” Read the rest of this entry →

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Swarming – Things to look out for

August 18, 2010 in

I thought Id write a quick article regarding swarming, in particular some signs to look out for which may denote that your hive is about to or will soon swarm.

Queen Cells1. Queen Cups
One of the most obvious swarming behaviours is the building of queen cells. These cells normally reside on the edge of frames but they can appear almost anywhere. To prevent swarming remove these queen cells, unless you require to superseed etc. See the picture on the right:

2. Queing and Overcrowding
If the hive entrance is fully open (i.e. no mouse guards etc) and bees are queing or you notice a lot of bees gathered around the hive entrance this could be a pre-cursor to swarming. If a lot of bees exit the hive and cluster around the entrance when you approach it, this too could be a sign the bees lack a bit of space. Add more space by adding another brood box and/or super.

3. Large Cluster Bottom
If you look through the hive entrance and the bottom of the bee cluster fills the hive width then they are lacking space and will probably be looking to swarm. Add more space by adding another brood box and/or super.

4. No Laying Room
If the brood frames are all full of brood and honey stores then the hive could look to start swarming. Add another broodbox and frames to help prevent this.

Swarming is most likely to occur between the beginning of June to the end of August. Bit late me writing this now really but hey Ive been busy!!

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Choosing The Site For an Apiary

August 6, 2010 in ,

You need to know what to look for when choosing a site:

1. Books may tell you that the hives should be in full sun all day, and in this country that may well be a good rule of thumb to stick to. However, having kept bees in South Africa for many years, I found that that was not a good idea for two reasons.
The first was that wax melts at 110 deg. F. If we start getting very warm summers, being in full sun may cause a problem. The bees will be spending a lot of time collecting water to cool the hive instead of collecting nectar to make honey. The bees collect water then evaporate it by flapping their wings at the entrance of the hive. This cools the hive using the same principles that your fridge uses at home.
The second is comfort. Mainly your own comfort. Remember that you will have to spend time working on your hive, not only when you rob the hive, but also when to spend time ‘managing’ it, and we’ll come to that at a later stage. You must also consider the bees’ comfort. Bees do not like to be disturbed if it is too hot, too cold, too windy or too wet – and they will let you know that too (adding to your discomfort!).

2. Next we should consider security. I shouldn’t imagine there would be the same problems with human thieving in this country as there is in South Africa. It was heartbreaking to come to an apiary to find £500 damage to the hives and a couple of small swarms left, out of 30+, all for about £10-£20 worth of honey. That was done by the indigenous people, but the same sort of damage could be wrought by badgers. If you have badgers in your area try to make the apiary badger-proof. Failing that you could get some strong luggage straps and strap the hive together.

3. If you have any sort of traffic nearby, people walking past, etc. make sure you have a solid fence. A board fence, wall, or hedge 6ft or higher. Make sure that the bees cannon fly straight out and hit somebody walking past Having a solid fence will force the bees to fly up and over the heads of passers by.

4. Make sure that the hives are out of the wind. Wind will either cause the bees to abscond (leave) to find a better place, or it will cause them to block the entrance with propolis, or ‘bee gum/glue’ as it is sometimes referred to. The bees collect resin from trees and mix it with, amongst other things, wax and pollen, to make propolis. This is not good for two reasons. First, they leave small holes in the propolis for access. This restricts the movement of the bees and ‘slows down’ the work.
Second, it takes seven times as much foraging to make 1 unit of propolis as it does to make 1 unit of honey – waste of the bees’ time.

5. This should have been No. 1 as it is the most important: Proximity to a nectar supply. Bees will forage up to 3km from the hive, but if there isn’t a good enough source of nectar nearby, they have been known to fly up to 12km in search of food. Once they find it they will leave the hive and move closer to the source. This is not good for the beekeeper who will come back and find an empty hive.
Bees need a lot of flowers. When I was running a bee farm in South Africa we would ‘chase’ the crops, moving from one crop to another so we could have honey all year round. We would work on about one acre of eucalyptus, or 5 acres of beans, or 2 acres of citrus trees per hive to provide a good yield of honey. As a hobbyist you could keep a fair number more hives in an area than a commercial beekeeper might.

A few more considerations, not dealing on the position of the apiary, but important none-the-less are:

a. Make sure people, especially children and animals, cannot enter the apiary by accident. If you are keeping the bees at home you need to just warn guests of the presence of bees. If your bees are on somebody else’s property, a farmer for example, make sure the site is secure.

b. The hives should be placed on stands as:
i. It raises the hive and places less strain on your back when you’re working on it.
ii. It keeps the hive off the ground. This is to prevent rain from splashing into the entrance and also keeps it above the damp of the soil and surrounding vegetation. This helps to prevent rotting of the floor and sides of the brood chamber.
iii. It (should) raise the hive above the weeds which would impede the flow of bees going to and from the hive. Proper maintenance of the site should include periodic weeding in front of the hives. This should be done in the evening after a few good puffs of smoke into the entrance of the hive as bees do not like the smell of cut grass or disturbed vegetation too close to the hive.
iv. This may not apply in the UK, but if there is an ant problem in your area, there are ways of making the stand ant-proof. Ants are tolerated by bees but a large enough colony of ants nearby can have a serious effect on the amount of honey there is left for you to take.

I’ve said quite a lot about the apiary here, all of which is important, but have not left any time to go on to the ‘paraphernalia’ as I had promised. We’ll have to do that next time.

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Why do people import queens?

March 14, 2010 in , ,

I just dont understand it! Why oh why get a queen from abroad? I mean what possible benefit can be gained from doing so, or is it easier to get queens from abroad? Im not sure I mean how difficult is it to phone your local beekeepers association and see what they say? Failing that a chat with local beekeepers should provide fruitful and perhaps queens can be found at no cost.

Not only that if you find a queen locally it gives you a chance to see the hive and discuss with the owner the temperament and other traits.

The Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Associations (BIBBA) are offering to help beekeepers to rear queens that are more suited to their geographical locale. The areas covered are England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

All the National BKA’s advise to source bees locally and NOT to import. The reasoning is that the bees may carry disease and pests but are also unsuited to live in the country’s weather conditions.

There are still experienced beekeepers who think that all bees are the same! This is not the case and bees can be more suited to certain weather conditions or forage availability.

So we are all in agreement that bees and their queens should be sourced locally. So the Local Queen Programme is being setup to encourage beekeepers to raise their own queen from the best thats available in their locale. Your local BKA will hopefully play a big part in this scheme and help you every step of the way.

The aim of the scheme is a pyramid system with member beekeepers in the base with them teamed with a local BKA doing the propogation of queens. It is also hoped that specialised breeding groups will form locally with a more keen interest in this area of beekeeping.

BIBBA has annouced it will help local BKAs. More info can be found on their website and lectures and tuition is available.

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Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) Honeybees

February 27, 2010 in ,

Agricultural Research Services (ARS) are making positive strides in creating a strain of honeybee which is proactive in attacking the Varroa mite head on!

ARS are focusing on creating honeybees with a certain genetic trait; Varroa Sensitive Hygiene. The VSH trait in the bee means it is more likely to find and remove mite infested pupae from the capped brood developing sealed inside the comb cells. This can be obviously difficult for the bees to detect as the mite attacks the brood within the capped cells and so rely on the protective layer of wax to escape the bees natural sanitation tendencies.

ARS scientists at the agency’s Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Unit in Baton Rouge, LA have developed honey bees with a high expression of this VSH trait. The VSH is a specific trait and form of hive hygeine that not all honeybees possess. The VSH developed bees show an aggressive pursuit of Varroa in the hive.

Varroa on LarvaeThe Bees form groups and chew through an mite infested cell cap, lift out the infected brood and eject them from the broodnest.

This hygiene destroys the mite’s frail offspring preventing the reproductive output of the mites and preventing the usual Varroa mite hive takeover!

The team at ARS conducted field trials using 40 colonies with varying levels of VSH bees contained in each colony. The mite population growth was significantly lower in the VSH and hybrid colonies than in the colonies without VSH developed bees.

Of course if you believe in evolution the bees will eventually develop this trait on their own but would the bee population be too decimated by then to recover. After all bee breeders have been messing around with bee behaviour for years, perhaps to the detriment of the bees themselves; perhaps breeders have been focusing on certain traits like honey production and temperament and not hygiene and disease resistance.

Personally I think the discovery of the VSH trait is good for bees and humankind. I just wonder if fiddling with genetics is ever a good thing to do? What are your thoughts?

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Jonathon Goodwin the escapologist

January 6, 2010 in ,

Jonathon Goodwin the escapologist uses bees to “entertain”. Below is a video of him playing bee roulette and in his new show on the Discovery channel he is covered head to toe in bees while he escapes a locked box. At least he gets stung a lot! Numpty.

Im unsure if I agree with what he is doing as his over reaction to bee stings in the below video teaches people nothing about how they should react (which is dont flap your hands and arms around like an idiot). It also increases peoples fear of bees as they scream and dance around in pain from a sting!! Come on guys its really not that bad, for me a wasp sting hurts so much more!

Anyway watch the video below and keep a look out for his big bee stunt on Discovery channel and let me know what you think and if hes doing the plight of bees any favours!

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Quiet time for Beekeepers

December 17, 2009 in ,

Well December without doubt is one of the quietest months for beekeepers. Winter should well and truely be here and all the hard work done by the bees and their keepers. However there are a few things we can do in this quietest of months:

Check the hive is weather proof; a water leak could be disasterous. If a period of sunshine follows a heavy snowfall you may want to shade the hive entrance so any bees do not feel tempted to venture out, rapidly chill and die.

Its also a great time to read up on some of those beekeeping books, you can buy some good ones below:

Practical Beekeeping (1997) by Clive de Bruyn
Bees at the Bottom of the Garden by Alan Campion
Guide to Bees and Honey by Ted Hooper
Honey Bees: A Guide to Management by Ron Brown
Beeswax (1995) by R Brown
A Manual of Beekeeping (reprint 1999) by E. B. Wedmore

Also check out my beekeepers year post here. It gives a breakdown of things beekeepers should be doing every month of the year.

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Top Ventillation or not in Winter?

December 2, 2009 in ,

There is a lot of advice online which tells beekeepers to ventillate the top of their hives by putting an entrance there. The reasons behind this are:

1. Bees release metabolic water as they consume honey. The warm moisture rises up to the lid of the hive and will condense and rain down on the bee cluster.

2. If you only have one entrance at the bottom it may get blocked by snow and the bees could suffocate.

I say and a lot of seasoned beekeepers say nae! With the proper ventilation neither of these reasons are valid.

I think we are all in agreement mesh floors are the way forward, they offer the right ventilation which cancels out these problems. I know a expert beekeeper who has many apiaries across Scotland. She inspected her hives in the Spring for CCD and noticed hives sporting mesh floors faired far better than those not.

My advise dont mess around with upper ventilation, just invest in a mesh floor for your hive.

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Feeding Bees over the Winter – Using Fondant or Feed Paste

October 7, 2009 in , , ,

Well its getting to that time of year again when liquid feeds are no longer an option, by the end of October the cold weather should have taken hold rendering the bees unable to cope with syrup feed.

Depending on how much honey has been harvested or the strength of the hive will depend on the required feeding. If you have a strong hive and you have not taken any honey it would be fairly safe to say the bees have stored enough honey to get them through the Winter. Although checks should be made throughout the season to make sure (generally done by lifting the hive to determine weight, if its light feeding must be done).

However lets assume you want to feed your bees anyway. Using fondant or feed paste is the suggested feeding strategy in Winter, however its not, as a lot of people think just ordinary cake fondant (Im sure a lot of people use this successfully though). The fondant can be made up at home or can be purchased from somewhere like Thornes. Thornes supply fondant called Apifonda and it contains extra sugars like fructose and glucose. What you will notice about this fondant mixture is that it is in no way as hard as ordinary cake fondant, its much more malleable and will actually absorb a little moisture when placed in the hive.

This is why I would suggest either making your own fondant or buying something ready made like Apifonda, plus it has extra sugars that will help the bees. Ordinary cake fondant tends to go to hard when left in the air.

So now we have our fondant what exactly do we do with it? Well it is advised to place it on top of the brood frames (if the super is to remain on with honey you could place the fondant on top of these), spread it out and push it down between the frames slightly, so the bees dont need to move far to get it. A pack of Apifonda combined with their honey stores should tide them through until Spring but remember to do the weight check just in case.

When adding the fondant to the hive you should notice the bees hightened aggression, this is to ensure the safety of their stores, so make sure you have all your gear on to prevent stings.

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Bumble Bee Identification Poster – Cuckoo Bumble Bee

September 27, 2009 in ,

Below is a poster that can help you identify Bumble Bees. There has been some recent talk about the not very well known Cuckoo Bumble Bee.

I must admit I never even knew the existence of the Cuckoo Bumble Bee. Seemingly it finds a different bumble bee varietys nest then it will either kill the queen bumble bee straight away or hang around the nest for a while picking up the scent and then get rid of the queen.

The workers are sterile and dont really have much other choice but to accept the new Cuckoo Bumble Bee Queen and rear its young instead. The new queen will lay as many larvae as the workers can cope with these then mature and leave the nest and the cycle begins again.

The main difference between a Cuckoo Bumble Bee and other varieties is that the Cuckoo has no pollen sacks on its legs. Because it is parasitic in its nature it does no work and therefore does not need the pollen sacks!

Amazing. Anyway below is the poster which I hope you find useful. Click on it to enlarge it (you may have to use the zoom in bottom right if using Internet Explorer):

Bumble Bee Identification Poster

Bumble Bee Identification Poster

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