Blog – bees, beekeeping & other sticky subjects
It was going to happen one day
I knew it was going to happen one day – and that day came last night after more than twenty years.
I knew I’d have a honey spill carrying buckets between the warming cabinet and bottling in the kitchen. But at least I had the foresight to move the honey-warming cabinet downstairs. And at least I took care to make sure the lids were on each plastic bucket before moving it. I even knew to take care using these new-fangled all-plastic buckets (my older and better ones are sturdier and have metal handles).
But it happened anyway – the plastic handle broke and on hitting the ground the lid broke – more than 7 kg of warm liquid honey surged over the kitchen floor. At fifteen minutes to midnight, the silent assassin had struck. It was all so quietly done. Well, apart from my single-syllable, anglo-saxon outbursts.
The good news is that I had reached the kitchen having successfully carried the honey over the hall carpet. There was more quite unexpected good news: the kitchen floor is very slightly concave. And the honey was quite viscous. But there the good news ended for the next hour.
I discovered new things: honey is not just sticky, it’s slippy, very slippy! Taking off my socks to wade through the warm goo, I almost ended up where I least wanted.
Rushing to get towels to soak up the slowly spreading lava flow, I had to try to clean my feet – and of course the flow was strategically placed between me and the sink.
I have no photos of my joy. Even in the age of the selfie, I had another priority.
Thank goodness for the slightly concave floor. This morning, apart from unexpected stickiness in unusual places and a faintly sinister gleam off the floor, I think all is well and there is no need to let bees loose to clean up the mess.
I knew it would happen.
Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger
Turlough’s confession time
I’ve been keeping very quiet about this, but now I can speak (writes Vita’s Guest Blogger).
Last autumn, I ran out of time to unite the observation hive colony with an apiary colony. To make matters worse, the colony had hardly any food – not a single sealed cell of honey. I was due to be away over for three weeks over Christmas, so the heating would be turned off. They were doomed!
Feeling guilty, I gave them some sugar syrup in the autumn. The queen had gone off lay in November. I went away for Christmas and on my return expected a sadly deceased colony. But, to my amazement, they had survived. I could see the queen but no brood. I gave them a little more sugar syrup. Foraging days were virtually non-existent.
By mid-February, the colony was very slowly declining in size but still alive. There was no brood, though.
Then at the beginning of March, I noticed some larvae. The queen had been off-lay for about four months, so I though perhaps she could or would never lay again.
Today and yesterday, they have been foraging eagerly. Pollen has been pouring in at a startling rate for such a small colony It looks like they will survive. What a resilient species!
Vita’s Guest (and contrite) Beekeeper Blogger
Buzzing at Bee Tradex
Top topics at the Vita stand at Bee Tradex 2017 were the Bee Gym and the Asian hornet trap. Although Vita doesn’t sell at the show, its distributors were there and we understand the Gym was selling especially well.
Also very popular were the new Healthy Bees Flip Cards. These information-packed cards detailing bee diseases and how to combat them were given away free to visitors. Some association representatives were keen to take away several for their beginners’ classes.
The next Vita stand will appear on 7-8 April 2017 at the BBKA Spring Convention in Telford. Come along and get one of the flipcards for yourself (or a few for your association).
Social Media Calendar Winners
Here are the ten Social Media winners (drawn randomly from the proverbial skep) of the limited edition Vita 2017 Calendar.
If your name/handle is below, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your address to claim your calendar.
Maria Emilene Correla
Following the Wild Bees
Many thanks for this book review by Richard Rickitt, editor of the Honey Bee Times, the newsletter of the Wiltshire Beekeepers’ Association. The book could make a very good Christmas present for beekeepers with all the hive tools they can handle.
Following the Wild Bees by Thomas D Seeley
Princeton University Press
Professor Thomas Seeley, author of some of the most fascinating recent books about honey bee research, has taken time out to write a quite different sort of book: Following the Wild Bees.
Bee hunting or bee lining is the practice of following honey bees from their foraging sites to their nests. This is not as simple a task as it might sound and whilst Seeley has found some wild colonies in less than an hour, others have taken him more than three years to locate.
Seeley describes how bee hunting in the USA was developed by early woodsmen searching for wild nests made by bees that had been first introduced to the continent by European settlers. Their reward was valuable honey and wax, but sadly it often entailed the destruction of the colony. One Victorian bee hunter apparently earned a small fortune from the 1700 lbs of honey that he found and gathered in just one season.
Contemporary bee hunters require patience but very little in the way of equipment. The main device is a homemade box for scooping up and holding bees as they collect nectar from flowers. Once several bees have been captured, they can be fed sugar syrup laced with a tiny amount of anise. The well-fed bees are then marked before being released.
If you are lucky your original bees will return with recruits – and by recording the returning times and direction of flight, it is possible to estimate the distance and direction of the nest. After collecting and releasing bees several times, you can move your feeding station to a new position in the direction that the bees are flying, hoping that the returning bees will find you in your new position. In this way, you gradually move closer to their home. Each time you record the time it takes for each of the bees to return.
Seeley has found that it is surprising how many detours are made by the bees, who rarely fly directly towards their home, but often take a curved or angled route which takes into account various obstacles and geographic features.
Eventually, there should come a time when you have moved close to the nest and the bees are taking almost no time at all to return to your nectar source. Then it is a matter of studying the nearby trees to find their home – a task which can be exceedingly tricky when there are dozens or even hundreds of trees within sight.
Seeley describes bee lining as a leisure pursuit or even as a sport – a sport that is all about the chase and not the kill. The general text is very informal in style, but it is also interspersed with what Seeley calls Biology Boxes – fascinating research-based sections that explain the detail of the science behind the hunt. The reader even learns about the different flying speeds of bees in search of forage and those returning with full loads.
As someone who doesn’t have an athletic bone in their body, this sport appeals greatly to me, combining as it does a gentle walk in the countryside, close interaction with honey bees and the use of a little bit of gadgetry in the quest to solve a mystery. The reward is the discovery of a bee colony that might otherwise have never been known to anyone.
Beyond the pure pleasure of the hunt, Seeley believes that it is important to find and record colonies of wild bees, enabling us to keep track of which ones manage to survive without human intervention. It is those colonies that prosper despite the threat of varroa and brood diseases that he thinks are the key to the survival of the wider honey bee population. Indeed, Seeley now only restocks his own apiary with bees acquired using bait hives placed near to the location of wild colonies.
Attractive though the activity sounds, I wonder if bee hunting might be quite so rewarding in the UK where, instead of finding a nest in a 1,800 ha (4,500 acre) forest, British bee hunters might be more likely to find themselves blundering into a fellow beekeeper’s garden in search of a colony. That said, Seeley does say that he has successfully used his methods in many countries, including the UK, and even in urban environments.
Whether or not you intend to take up bee hunting, this book is an elegantly written and absorbing read. The author’s love and respect for honey bees is clearly evident and quite infectious. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about bees and our relationship with them.