12 October 2009

09 October 2009

Vanishing of the Bees

The Vanishing of the Bees is the latest in a flood of bee films (http://vanishingbees.co.uk/)

Stretching credulity, Liam Gallagher presents a short promo on the plight of bees, complete with yoof swagger, Mockney and strange hand movements (see http://vanishingbees.co.uk/blog/liam_and_the_bees/).

08 October 2009

The Last Beekeeper

The bee population is steadily declining. Sure, bees can sting, but they also pollinate plants and fruit-bearing trees. Meaning we can't harvest our crops and grow successful gardens without them. "If all the bees die, what do you have to live for?" asks beekeeper Matt Hutchens.

The Last Beekeeper, produced by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, follows the lives of three commercial beekeepers in South Carolina, Montana, and Washington. Over the course of a year they struggle to come to terms with the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony abruptly disappear. CCD threatens crops and world food supply along with the livelihoods of beekeepers.

PS I was at school with Fenton, four million years ago (although only ten years ago for him, looking at his picture).

07 October 2009

Ask two beekeepers, get three answers.

You see, it would all be so much easier if (a) I remembered what I had already learned and (b) beekeeping was more science than art.

Max (apiary warden) and the bee inspector (David Rudland, I think) noted that the bees had particularly bad infestations of varroa. Part of the problem was that I had put the Apiguard trays on top of the crown board rather than on top of the brood box. This, I am told, makes it less effective. I know pefectly well that the Apiguard should go on the brood box. D'oh.

The second part of the problem was that some beekeepers think it makes no difference - it's purely whether the bees actually take their medicine, not whether it's on the crown board or brood box.

Ask two beekeepers, get three answers.

30 September 2009


Apiary inspection today, because foulbrood has been found within 4 miles (6km).

The apiary warden, Max, wrote "Both [your] hives have very bad varroa. You will see dead pupae and bees without wings. You need another treatment which needs to go on top of the brood box, not the super. Without further treatment the bees probably will not make it through the winter."
Thank you Max. I will be there in the morning.

25 September 2009

What makes a blog sticky?

In the early years of the internet, everyone talked about making their websites sticky. Talk of compelling content (porn), images (photoporn) and user interaction (chatporn) abounded.

What makes a blog sticky?

In my case, trying to extract around 90lbs of honey makes a blog sticky... and most of the kitchen, my hair, the computer keyboard and two small children, for a start.

Honey for home use is put in the nearest jar to hand. Tip top tip: clean former pickled gherkin jars with extra care...

16 September 2009

Wax moth is a consistent and vexing problem

Some sources quote Galleria mellonela as the wax moth. Comparing photos with the moths on the comb, Achroia grisella is a closer physical match.

"Wax moth is a consistent and vexing problem in stored comb; the rate of moth development in a stack of stored supers rivals the imagination! "

14 September 2009

Moth disaster photos

And see the rest of the gory mess on the web (last few pics).

_____Diary of an_____ Incompetent Beekeeper

Failed hive: the culprit...

Over the weekend I took the failed hive apart, comb by comb... and the culprit was Achroia grisella, or wax moth. [OK, the real culprit was my incompetence, but let's skip daintily onwards...]

The infestation was truly total. Oddly, despite killing off the colony, there was not a single dead bee in the hive. Had the bees flown back to the original hive (this was a shook swarm), or had they chosen not to return to the hive and died elsewhere?

The combs were *covered* in fine filaments, forming a dense, cottony network supporting the cocoons and that (I guess) bees cannot navigate. The whole hive had an intensely perfumed, almost headily sweet, smell.

Pic from http://www.vc66.co.uk/mothweb/bnf1.htm, run by James Duffie

12 September 2009

CCD, Dave Hackenberg, religion

Found a 2007 report on CCD at http://www.manataka.org/page1705.html The piece was written by Linda Moulton Howe. She has her own site, http://www.earthfiles.com/, if you like that kind of thing.
It quotes Dave Hackenberg, often credited as the first person to raise the alert on CCD. His commercial colonies suffer a very great deal from CCD, it seems, which may tell us something.
The Manataka site (http://www.manataka.org/) is full of piffle. I particularly like the homepage image, which (probably unconsciously) demonstrates how religions/cults/kabals/nutjobs and the rest borrow iconography from a single core theme (open hands, rays of light etc).

08 September 2009

Manuka and pseudoscience

I often read claims about honey that I find somewhat dubious, to say the least. Following a comment (see below) from Manuka Honey Health (http://www.manukahoneyhealth.co.uk/), I thought it might be jolly to find out more about manuka.

Manuka is the common name for Leptospermum scoparium, or the tea tree to you and me (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leptospermum_scoparium), as in tea tree oil, tea tree shampoo, tea tree tea (OK, I made that one up).

There is no evidence for manuka honey or any monofloral honey (rape? heather?) being better for you, in any way, than multifloral honey. If there is evidence, let's see it.
One last thought: honey is, in so many words, bee-sick, or perhaps bee-spit.

27 August 2009

Straight dope (no, not that kind...)

Curious article from pre-history, namely May 2007, about why bees are disappearing.

Straight dope = information without adulteration or rigid kind of marujana or honest but stupid person?


Every time I visit the hives, I suit up top-to-toe -- and still the little buggers manage to get through!

A couple of bees were caught in the suit material by my shoulders, and stung me right on the collar-bone. I can now do my very own waggledance.

17 August 2009

Mary Celeste

Visited the hives on Saturday, and one (of three) was eerily quiet. Checked inside...

What seems to have happened is this:

- This hive had the shook swarm, with relatively few bees

- There are *tons* of wasps this summer

- On last inspection, I noticed (and killed) many wasps

- On last inspection, I closed up the hive entrance to help the bees defend the colony

- The wasps won the battle...


- This hive had the shook swarm, with relatively few bees

- The flying bees returned to the old hive

- Leaving an enfeebled colony, which died out

On the previous inspection there were plenty of bees and a laying queen. I will take the hive to bits and inspect more closely.

10 August 2009

Pollen, honey and hay fever

Ian Douglas, who "writes about technology, science, the internet and beekeeping" in the Telegraph, says (and I agree) that honey does not cure hay fever.
He writes "Honey does not contain pollen." Oh Yes It Does. His theory is that because honey does not contain pollen, it will be no good in a homeopathicky way to cure hay fever.
He goes on to add a proper argument, citing a small trial, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11868925, the conclusion of which was "This study does not confirm the widely held belief that honey relieves the symptoms of allergic rhinoconjunctivitis." My only caveat is the small (36) sample size.

05 August 2009

Beehaus & caravan accessories

A new version of Beehaus has been launched. It's a pity that it looks like a 1970s caravan accessory.
In my view, Beehaus is a good idea, because (a) it promotes beekeeping and (b) hive design has been static for years, and Beehaus may move it onwards. The basic design changes in Beehaus are (1)rectangular boxes of five frames each, which allows incremental expansion, and (2) full-depth division board to allow two hives on the same stand.
I use WBC hives - the ones with the sloping sides - probably the worst and most annoying. If I'm feeling flush, I might buy a Beehaus one day to try it out.
More details from http://www.omlet.co.uk/, and that's the photo source, too.

01 August 2009

Propolis, pollen and pseudoscience

Yes, yet more pseudoscience, this time from Rainbow Wellbeing (http://www.rainbowwellbeing.com/):

A source of youth and vitality?

This is the question that many worldwide scientists have been asked about bee pollen and propolis, substances from which bee bread is made. Researchers in Russia have investigated the long living people of the Caucasus region and found that most of them were bee keepers too poor to eat the clear honey, which they sold locally, they however ate the scraps of honey and pollen (bee bread) found at the bottom of the hive. It was concluded that eating these scraps, which were almost pure pollen was the reason for their longevity.

Carlson Wade writes in his book Bee Pollen and Your Health, "Two of the greatest gerontologists of the USSR, professors Nikita Mankoysky and D. G. Chebotarev, have also found that pollen is able to cause self-renewal or rejuvination and add years to the life span."

(a) bee bread is not almost pure pollen [that would be called 'pollen'], it is pollen, honey and all kinds of things, such as fungi and bacteria
(b) citing a researcher is from Foreign Parts with a funny-sounding name does not make the research valid (see http://mellifera.blogspot.com/2009/07/ever-wondered-how-bee-is-able-to-fly.html)
(c) quoting from a book does not make the evidence any better than asking your granny (I should know, I have written two books)
(d) most importantly, hens' teeth in a light suspension of snake oil is much more effective than propolis and pollen at extending human lifespan (I should know, I am 371 years old and from the far galaxy came I did).

So there.

30 July 2009

eye of the beeholder

Did I publish this link? http://eyeofthebeeholder.blogspot.com/

The Eye of the Beeholder is probably the blog I meant to write, if you know what I mean... Good info on bees, plenty of pictures, and written with both wit and charm.


29 July 2009

Ever wondered how a bee is able to fly?

""We're no longer allowed to use this story about not understanding bee flight as an example of where science has failed, because it is just not true," Dickinson* says.
The secret of honeybee flight, the researchers say, is the unconventional combination of short, choppy wing strokes, a rapid rotation of the wing as it flops over and reverses direction, and a very fast wing-beat frequency.

Read more at http://www.physorg.com/news8616.html

*Michael H. Dickinson, the Esther M. and Abe M. Zarem Professor of Bioengineering (and his postdoctoral student Douglas L. Altshuler and their colleagues at Caltech and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas).

27 July 2009

Lifecycle of the honeybee

Are my bees too big for the queen excluder?

In one hive there were probably twenty worker bees stuck half-way through the queen excluder. They had starved to death, I think.

Are my bees too big for the queen excluder?

Honey crop - so far

From two hives, three supers in total. In the third hive there are three more full supers, none fully capped.

23 July 2009

Andrew's Bee Blog

We're all out there doing our stuff: http://andrewsbeeblog.com/

Click on the link to the swarm capture, then click on the photos for a neat slide show.

21 July 2009

Not so urban

Satisfying levels of calm incompetence, describing the difficulties of uniting hives and the bees simply not going along with it. Generally, a pleasing blog, beautifully presented.

20 July 2009

Bees in Space (I am not making this up)

On the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, I searched for 'bees in space.' And Oh Yes, there is a site: http://www.beesinspace.org/

Hissing down

Local Weather Statistics, June 2009
Average daily maximum temperature 21.8 oC (0.9oC above average)
Highest daily maximum 29.7oC
Lowest night minimum 5.8oC
Rainfall was 33.4 mm 68% of the average.

This information was obtained from John Smith’s website at: http://www.london-weather.eu/

This fails to note that on every occasion during June, it has absolutely hissed with rain every time I have opened the hives.

16 July 2009


Quick look at one of the hives this evening, shortly before (as per usual) the heavens opened.

There were probably eight or ten wasps in the hive - and those were just the few I could see. The bees were chasing them around, but not out.

Not sure what to do about this.

Pic from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_jacket

Pseudoscience (quack, quack)

You *must* read this: http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/DSH/bee.html

Huge thanks to Anonymous, who posted this as a comment.

15 July 2009


I fully realize I am the last person on earth to know this.... http://www.beesource.com/ is well worth visiting.

09 July 2009

Peeping Tom Beekeeping

Took a brief look at the hives, peeping through the fence from outside the apiary. The two originals (Alpha and Beta) look busy enough, the third hive (Omega) with the shook swarm looks very quiet.

02 July 2009


In summary - belting hot weather, strong signs of swarming, artificial 'shook swarm,' heavens open...


05 June 2009

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay

I ordered a new hive two weeks ago, ready for possible swarms... and it has not arrived. The excuse?

"Thank you for your order. This is an assembled hive and this department is
extremely busy. It should be despatched in two or three days."

Curious how they focus on their issues rather than their customers' requests. "Sorry" would have helped.

Of course the moral of this story is... order your hives in good time.

26 May 2009

Murdering beekeeper gets caught out by honey trap


Now work that one out!

My two WBC hives stand in the same apiary, around 2m apart, facing the same way, with bees split* from the same original colony in May 2008.

Hive Alpha (the original) has a brood/half, and four supers. Two supers are full and capped, and the other two are about half full each.

Hive Beta has exactly the same layout. No supers are full, and there are fewer bees than in Alpha - at a guess, half the number - and the bees are smaller.

Now work that one out!

*I avoid the 'artificial swarm' term. It was more like 'incompetent jumbling.' See entry

“Incompetence - When you earnestly believe you can compensate for a lack of skill by doubling your efforts, there's no end to what you can't do.”

23 May 2009

Plight of the bumblebee

In the garden this afternoon, I noticed that on a single plant there were six bumblebees. On a nearby flowering redcurrant, ditto.

Though these were not the big fat fellers, they were definitely bees of the bumble kind, and plenty of them.

No honeybees, though.

21 May 2009


Found this on http://www.apitherapy.biz/home.html :

"The law requires that we make no health claims, whether true, supported by scientific research or not, for the remedies we make and sell. Supporting scientific research is available elsewhere on the internet and we are always happy to answer your queries or problems either by email or on the telephone. This is a free advisory service."

And on the same page, this:

Royal Jelly - nature’s rejuvenator may help in the relief of symptoms of ailments such as PMT and arthritis, may encourage healthy skin, hair and nails and may help with the promotion of overall wellbeing. This product is shipped in a cold pack to ensure maximum freshness on receipt."

By the way, Royal Jelly retails at £10 per 50g (that's £200/kg, or about £50/lb).

20 May 2009

Why become a beekeeper?

Small section of an article in http://www.theecologist.org/pages/archive_detail.asp?content_id=2468 about Tony Spacey, ex-paratrooper now beekeeper:

‘I got into bee farming because my hands won’t fit up their arse,’ Tony tells me by way of introduction. ‘I come from a farming background in southern Africa. When I was four I saw my grandfather’s arm well and truly buried in an uncomfortable place in a cow and the old boy turned and smiled at me and said, “One day, you can do this.” From then on I decided to become a soldier.’ He spent 18 years as a paratrooper, leading bayonet charges in Angola, winning several medals and generally being ‘not really a pacifist’.

Find Littleover Apiaries at http://www.littleoverapiaries.com/

The site is full of cobblers about 'active honey' and general pseduoscience, but Tony S is obviously a successful and (I guess) very good beekeeper.

17 May 2009

Yet another excellent bee blog

Try out http://muratakin26.blogspot.com/

I am embarrassed even more than usual to say that the language is entirely foreign to me; I'm guessing at Turkish...

I often intend to post explanatory pictures about the techniques of beekeeping, but the pictures on http://muratakin26.blogspot.com are waaaaay better than I could hope to produce.

16 May 2009

C'mon, Colin

Disappointingly, Colin (who commented on my rude remarks about pseudoscience at www.yourhealthfoodstore.co.uk) has not yet sent me the research that backs his claims about the antibacterial and other properties of propolis.

Dettol, I understand, is antibacterial, but you won't catch me drinking it. Ditto propolis.

12 May 2009

Top-bar hive: diary of a novice beekeeper

I particularly like this blog, for its incompetent sub-text... "So I have built the top bar hive to his design + a few deliberate changes and few inadvertant modifications."

Visit http://novice-beekeeper.blogspot.com/

Great photos, and here's an example: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_V_Ri-waWrlg/Sf28RUB6n0I/AAAAAAAAAEQ/s2AVeEtd-Aw/s1600-h/IMG_7107.JPG

What has happened to Turlough?

The best bee blogger on earth has stopped blogging. What has happened to Turlough?

News, please.

11 May 2009

Fears of global decline in bees dismissed as demand for honey grows

The Times Online 8 May 2009 reports: "While bees have been dying out in Britain, Europe and the US, managed bee numbers worldwide having been thriving because of global demand for honey, biologists suggest in the journal Current Biology. They also say that the bulk of agriculture, including wheat and rice, does not rely on pollination."

The article is based on an academic study, titled "Global Stock of Domesticated Honey Bees Is Growing Slower Than Agricultural Demand for Pollination."

Summary [from the article]

The prospect that a global pollination crisis currently threatens agricultural productivity has drawn intense recent interest among scientists, politicians, and the general public [1], [2], [3], [4] and [5]. To date, evidence for a global crisis has been drawn from regional or local declines in pollinators themselves [6], [7], [8] and [9] or insufficient pollination for particular crops [9] and [10]. In contrast, our analysis of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) [11] data reveals that the global population of managed honey-bee hives has increased not, vert, similar45% during the last half century and suggests that economic globalization, rather than biological factors, drives both the dynamics of the global managed honey-bee population and increasing demands for agricultural pollination services [12]. Nevertheless, available data also reveal a much more rapid (>300%) increase in the fraction of agriculture that depends on animal pollination during the last half century, which may be stressing global pollination capacity. Although the primary cause of the accelerating increase of the pollinator dependence of commercial agriculture seems to be economic and political and not biological, the rapid expansion of cultivation of many pollinator-dependent crops has the potential to trigger future pollination problems for both these crops and native species in neighboring areas. Such environmental costs merit consideration during the development of agriculture and conservation policies.

Credit: Tara C found this article for me!


09 May 2009

How much honey will I get this year?

Currently I have two WBC hives, with a total of seven supers. Last year, one hive with three supers produced about 25kg of honey, and I still have masses of it yet to give away (~not for sale at any price~).

A) How much honey will I get this year? (10 marks)
B) What the devil am I going to do with it? (90 marks)

Answers, please. Additional marks for use of English and clarity of expression.

07 May 2009

Fruity-Sweet Hilltop Beekeeper

Nice story from http://hilltopbeekeeper.blogspot.com/2008/12/solstice-in-bee-yard.html

So making it to late December with six of my seven hives still alive and kicking is pretty good. I pulled the top cover from the dead hive, popped off the inner cover and peered inside. There was no cluster of bees to obscure my view through the three boxes to the bottom. But strangely, the bottom of the hive had very few dead bees. I had a bad thought: colony collapse disorder? A lifeless hive mostly free of dead bees is one of the signs.

I started taking the hive apart so I could clean it up for spring and store it. I removed the top box. Then the second.

In the bottom box: a tiny cluster of live bees, tucked away in the rear left quadrant of the hive.

I was happy (an understatement) to see them, but of course they weren't glad at all. In a flash, a few of the bees were up in my face and tangled up in my hair. I was able to swat most of them away, but a couple caught me in the hand. In another second, I could smell the fruity-sweet scent of their sting pheremone.

Neat blog, http://hilltopbeekeeper.blogspot.com/

06 May 2009

Opening the doors to Iraq's students

Among bad news, we find some good: the Brits are offering beekeeping courses to Iraqi students.


05 May 2009

This you have to see...

This you have to see: http://azizler.blogspot.com/ with some tremendous links to other sites.

Turlough, are you watching? (http://turlough.blogspot.com/2007/09/bell-jar-bees-slide-show.html)

04 May 2009

Regina Mortuous Est? Vivat Regina!

Despite my reshuffle of the boxes on my last visit, I discovered that there are still larvae above the queen excluder in Hive Bravo.

(See http://mellifera.blogspot.com/2008/06/time-will-tell.html and following. Do you ever get the feeling that history is repeating itself?)

Owing to stupendous incompetence, my last visit (see http://mellifera.blogspot.com/2009/04/chancing-it-yet-again.html) failed to solve the problem. On today's visit, in effect I moved the excluder rather than messing about with individual boxes, and swapped everything top to bottom. I am fairly confident that her majesty is now below the excluder.

Incompetent coda: Though these are WBC hives, I have a couple of second-hand National boxes (they kind-of fit) with no castellation lugs and the frames to not have spacer tabs, either. When I picked up the first box the loose frames all slid down together, concertina-style, squishing lots of bees and, possibly killing the queen, too.

If that's the case, let's trust in good weather and the bees' instinct to re-queen. Regina Mortuous Est? Vivat Regina!

Super photo from http://www.beemaster.com/site/honeybee/qpage.htm a really useful site.

03 May 2009

Decimation, NZ-style

Reasonably current summary of the plight of bees in New Zealand, written by Sue Kedgley, the NZ Green Party spokeswoman on food safety and the environment.

See it here: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=10570113&pnum=0

Sue, if I may be so familiar, says "But sharp declines in populations in the US, Canada and Europe have sparked global concern about bees, and the future of the world's food supplies if they continue to be decimated, as bees are essential to pollination and food production."

Besides the loose syntax of the sub-clause, I really dislike use of the verb 'to decimate' to refer to something that is clearly not decimation.

How fogeyish I am become.

01 May 2009


Thank you, Colin, for the comment on yesterday's post (http://mellifera.blogspot.com/2009/04/propolis-and-other-sticky-topics.html):

"The fact is Toby, that without PROPOLIS there would be no bees, no hives and no honey.
It has been proved to be a natural antibacterial agent, it strengthens the immune system, and moreover acts as a protection against the flu virus.
All proved in research."

You may well be right , though I question your grasp of cause and effect. I suspect it runs more like bees then honey and propolis. Regardless, you still won't catch me eating propolis (which, let's face it, is "No More Nails" for bees.)

Let's have the links to the research, then.

Pic from http://www.makingdiyeasier.co.uk/unibond/nomorenails.html

30 April 2009

Propolis and other sticky topics

Personally I find propolis to be a monumental embuggerance, and the last thing I would do is drink it, eat it or rub it on me.

More pseudo food science can be found at yourhealthfoodstore.co.uk

29 April 2009

Accuracy not a strong point in BBC bee report

The announcement of a new beekeeping course also contains the usual hand-wringing about bee decline. The report includes the following:

"A decline in the number of flowers as food sources has led to a poorer environment for honeybees and is likely to have been a major factor in the 75% decrease in the number of hives over the past 100 years."

"The number of bees has decreased by 75% over the past 100 years."

Well, which is it? Were all bees in hives in past 100 years? Or perhaps the 75% of hives that went were the only full hives, and the remaining 25% devoid of bees?

None of the statements are sourced. For example, has the number of flowers (how do you count 'em?) declined? What about the vast fields of oilseed rape?

26 April 2009

Box-switch-queen-excluder escapade (cont.)

Max, the apiary warden, has been kind enough to check on the bees while I child-wrangle our latest arrival. Max wrote: "If you are working as hard as your bees the wife should be happy. The top super is untouched but they are filling the next one down. If this weather continues it will be fine."

Yes, providing my box-switch-queen-excluder escapade in Hive Bravo actually worked...

Pic from http://www.beesource.com/pov/hayes/abjaug85.htm, well worth a visit

24 April 2009

Who killed the honey bee... Martha Kearney?

Quite a good film on BBC4 "Who killed the honey bee" by Martha Kearney.

The odd part was, having not seen the intro titles, I was convinced that it was by Alison Benjamin and Brian McAllum, who wrote "A world without bees." In many ways, it was a televised version of their book.

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