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Blog – bees, beekeeping & other sticky subjects

Born to beekeep

img_0886With a surname like Mielgo, is working with bees your destiny?

Paulo Mielgo (miel means honey in Spanish) has joined Vita as its new technical manager. He comes from Argentina and beekeeping is in his blood. His father has managed 700 hives across a wide territory north of Buenos Aires and he can’t really remember his first encounter with a beehive because he would have been only a very few years old.

After gaining a degree from a veterinary college in Argentina, Paulo has worked in many different countries including Italy, México, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina.

Paulo comes to Vita from Apilab, Vita’s South American partner, and will be working with researchers and universities to help develop new honey bee health and nutrition products.

On his first trip to see some British apiaries, Paulo called in to see the church at Wooton St Lawrence, near Vita’s HQ. The village church has a great beekeeping history because it was once the parish church of the Rev Charles Butler, author of The Feminine Monarchie, published in 1623 and the first book to promote the idea that the head of a hive is a queen and not a king.

Paulo Mielgo examines the 1953 stained glass window celebrating bees and Rev Charles Butler

Paulo Mielgo examines the 1953 stained glass window celebrating bees and Rev Charles Butler

 

 

 

The glory of heather honey

Nectar from ling heather produces of one of the world’s most stunning honeys. It takes quite a lot of effort to obtain a crop, the harvest is usually limited in size, but the taste makes it all worth while.

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Heather honey gel

Heather honey

Heather honey liquid

Here is one of the fascinating aspects of the end result.

Once extracted, pure ling heather honey is as stiff as a gel. But one quick swirl with a spoon and it turns liquid again before settling back into its gel state. This characteristic even has its own word: thixotropic.

The honey even looks diffferent. If it is extracted with an apple or honey press, bubbles will appear in the gel and won’t disappear. That’s another sure sign it’s pure ling heather honey. Extracting with a normal centrifugal extractor is not easy – the gel will just sit in the cells unless it is first agitated with a special multi-pin, agitating device.

New Forest ling heather in flower

New Forest ling heather in flower

Obtaining a harvest requires some special steps. Ling heather, growing in Britain in upland moors or lowland heath like the New Forest, begins flowering in late July and continues until September. So, any colonies taken to the heather need to be approaching peak condition after the summer flow has finished. They need a young queen and plenty of bees ready to forage.

Healthy bees are vital. The varroa population needs to be low  – at a time of year when varroa populations are near their peak. And care must be talken at the heather in reducing entrances to try to ensure their is no robbing by other colonies. Migratory beekeeping can promote the spread of disease, and plenty of beekeepers take their bees to the heather.

As ever, good weather is essential. Throughout Britain  this August seems to be brought fairly good conditions and there are reports of it being a good heather year. Yields are seldom high, but at worst bees usually fill their brood boxes with plenty of winter stores.

Cut-comb ling heather honey

Cut-comb ling heather honey

And the taste? Ling heather honey is not as sweet as other honeys and even has a slightly bitter taste. Caramel, woody, fruity and tangy spring to mind as taste descriptors. The taste persists for a long time on the palate and the smell of an opened jar is instantly recognisable.  A small amount will go a long way in flavouring foods. My favourite is to have it with Greek yoghurt and banana.

There is a new, very comprensive book on Heather Honey just published by Bee Craft: Heather Honey by Michael Badger. It tells the story of heather honey from its environment and ecology, through the history of ‘heather-going’ to the practicalities of heather honey beekeeping today.

 

Turlough
Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

 

Bees and horses can mix

The new venue of the UK’s National Honey Show at Sandown park race course was very popular with Vita folk who attended. There was lots of space and not many hurdles.

Here are some photos to give a flavour of the event which is a mix of honey show, lecture programme and trade stands.

Jon, Sebastian and Jeremy conversing with enquirers.

Jon, Sebastian and Jeremy conversing with enquirers.

 

Beekeeping traditional style. Beekeepers entering their own skeps (in a competition!)

Beekeeping traditional style. Beekeepers entering their own skeps (in a competition!)

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Drone Congregation Areas 2016 – roundup

To coincide with an article on Drone Congregation Areas to appear in the Bee Craft November 2016 issue, here is a small selection of videos of drones in action and below that a series of links telling of my searches for DCAs over the past two seasons.

1 July 2015 In search of a mate

2 July 2015 Drone Congregation Areas

7 July 2015 Another Drone Congregation Area

20 July 2015 Video of Life in a Drone Congregation Area

28 July 2015 Do drones assemble above prehistoric sites?

3 August 2015 Drone Goal?

10 August 2015 Rediscovering the first recorded Drone Congregation Area

8 September 2015 In search of a Drone Congregation Area SatNav

27 October 2015 Hilltopping

4 July 2016 Greenham Common DCA first visit

16 July 2016 Greenham Common – finding the extent of the DCA

25 July 2016 Drone to Drone

Turlough
Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

Bee Music Live at Kew Hive

The Hive, BE.ONE performance 29 September 2016

The Hive, BE.ONE performance 29 September 2016. Photo courtesy Kew Gardens

Last night saw the first live music performances inside the astonishing Hive at Kew Gardens, London.

BE – the musical collective behind the honeybee-inspited soundscape that fills Wolfgang Buttress’ Hive – performed live inside The Hive at Kew Gardens.

Amongst a thousand flickering lights glowing against the night sky, the sound, energy and symphony of tens of thousands of bees and a few musicians created an awe-inspiring atmosphere.

Wolfgang Buttress’s multi-award winning installation, inspired by the plight of the British bee, was the initial inspiration for a musical project, now available on CD: Be One.

Featuring a repertoire of vibrational messages that honeybees use, the composition has four main elements: Begging Signals, Waggle Dance, Tooting and Tooting and Quacking.

I was there for the first performance which wowed the audience. It was an unforgettable and magical evening. I’d recommend a listen to the CD for any beekeeper.

Turlough
Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

Wolfgang Buttress and BE perform under the Hive. Photo courtesy Kew Gardens

Wolfgang Buttress and BE perform under the Hive. Photo courtesy Kew Gardens 

The Hive, BE.ONE performance 29 September 2016. Photo courtesy Kew Gardens

The Hive, BE.ONE performance 29 September 2016. Photo courtesy Kew Gardens

 

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