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Vita Bee Health Global Honeybee Health Experts

Blog – bees, beekeeping & other sticky subjects

What’s the honey?

IMG_2659Can you identify this rather distinctive honey? Here are some clues: its aroma fills a room, it’s thixotropic, it’s very late season and in the UK it’s often called the king of honeys.

Yes, it’s heather honey — ling heather honey from the New Forest in Britain to be precise. The harvest is seldom large, but the quality makes up for that and it fetches a premium price (although I can seldom bring myself to sell it).

It’s not much fun extracting it because it is a gel and won’t turn to liquid unless it is stirred — and only then will it remain liquid for a short while. So a spinning honey extractor is of little use. The honey doesn’t respond that well to heating either, so eating it from the comb is the most satisfying solution.  (My favourite is with fruit and Greek yoghurt.)

I took two hives to the New Forest in August and despite that cold month, each colony has produced about 12 kgs (c25lbs) each — enough to see friends and family through winter.

The colonies are just about ready to come home now to their usual apiary, but will need to be thoroughly inspected to ensure that they aren’t going to bring back any diseases from mingling with all those other holidaying honeybees in the New Forest.

For those unfamiliar with England’s New Forest: it’s neither new nor much of a forest. it dates back almost one thousand years when a Forest meant a hunting ground. Today it is one of the largest remaining unenclosed tracts of pasture land, heathland and forest in the densely-populated south of England.

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger



Small Hive Beetle arrives in Europe

Small Hive Beetle

Photo courtesy of the UK Food and Environment Research Agency

Update 2 Dec 2014: See Beetle Blaster, a device to control Small Hive Beetle.

Update 24 Sep 2014: There has been a fourth sighting of Small Hive Beetle  in southern Italy near the first 3 sightings. A 5th is under investigation.

The Small Hive Beetle (SHB), Aethina tumida, damages comb, stored honey and pollen and can be a major threat to the beekeeping economy. The beetles multiply quickly and the larvae tunnel through brood, eating as they go and ultimately wiping out the colony. Once established, it cannot be eradicated.

SHB was spotted in a university bait hive in Italy, in Reggio Calabria, opposite Sicily. Professor Vincent Palmeri of the University of Reggio Calabria said in a report in Apitalia that he found the beetle in three small swarms near the port of Gioia Taura. He couldn’t be sure that the beetle had arrived with the bees as the beetle typically moves in fermented rotting fruit. And since SHB can survive without food for 120 days, there could be several plausible explanations of its appearance.

Professor Palmeri expressed concern at its possible spread throughout country because migratory beekeeping is common in that part of southern Italy. He has urged beekeepers to be on high alert. He does not discountb the possibility that SHB may already be widespread spread in southern Italy and that beekeepers may be fearful in reporting it.

Dr Max Watkins, Technical Director of Vita (Europe) Ltd said “As yet there is no foolproof way of protecting bees from the Small Hive Beetle and it has proved impossible to eradicate them once they have become established. Interestingly, its impact has varied in the different parts of the world it has invaded. In the USA it can be devastating, but in Australia the damage caused by this pest has not been as extensive or severe as in southern USA, although it remains a serious threat. If it does become established in Europe, the full extent of its impact cannot really be predicted. Vita is of course monitoring the situation closely and will continue its investigations into possible control mechanisms.”

The appearance of SHB in Italy seems much more serious than its earlier arrival in Portugal when it was immediately eradicated from an imported consignment of queens from Texas.

SHB is a native of sub-Saharan Africa, but appeared in the USA in 1998, spreading through several states, into the Caribbean, Canada and as far as Hawaii. In its native African home, it is a minor pest as the indigenous bees can defend against it.

The authorities in nearly all countries will want to know of any suspected sightings of SHB. In the UK, SHB is a legally “notifiable” pest and British beekeepers suspecting the beetle’s presence should immediately inform the National Bee Unit of their concerns.

There is a detailed description of the pest and its life cycle on Beebase.

The investigatory and communication power of bees

IMG_2523I’ve made a disastrous mistake. During honey extraction I put aside some very good-looking frames for cut-comb.

Storage was a bit of an issue, but I decided to put them in a super inside a cardboard box. The box was put in the spare bedroom, a north-facing room with no history of bee invasion (you can see where this is going!). A small window was left ajar and the cardboard box wasn’t quite bee proof.

This storage worked as expected for a couple of weeks and I took out frames for cut-comb as required.

Then after a two-day gap when I didn’t enter the bedroom, I went to retrieve another frame and found the room alive with bees! In two short days a bee or two had somehow discovered the slightly open window, found the slightly open box and taken a sample. (The weather was quite cool, so the enticing smell of the honey was certainly not apparent to me.)  The investigatory scouts had then gone back to tell their relatives of a poorly hidden honey hoard.

In less than 48 hours, a golden throng had decimated four frames (one remained intact — I know not why). Sadly some bees died in the exercise as they couldn’t find the small top window exit to take away their plunder.

The bees investigatory and communication powers had made a fool of me in less than two days. I won’t be making that mistake again.

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

How feral colonies fare with Varroa

Feral honeybee colony

Feral honeybee colony. Photo: Julie Lake.

Could feral colonies be a reservoir for varroa-tolerant bees? New research in Plos One suggests not. Abandoning Varroa treatment could leave colonies dangerously exposed, say  the researchers.

Anecdotal reports have spoken of a recent resurgence on feral honeybee colonies and the hope that they may be resistant to Varroa, but new research does not support those hopes.

It indicates that feral colonies in the UK have similar profiles of viruses to managed colonies, and that the feral colonies contained a significantly higher level of Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), the virus that is often lethal to the colony.

Rather than being a distinctive genetic group of honeybee colonies, the research thought that the feral colonies were probably simply escaped swarms from managed colonies. Untreated “managed” colonies closely resembled the virus profile of feral colonies in many ways.

The researchers gave a stark warning about not treating for varroa:

“A workable level of Varroa tolerance is keenly sought by UK beekeepers, but abandoning Varroa treatment without ensuring colonies have evolved a natural resistance to the mite, or without virus-free Varroa, could leave colonies dangerously exposed, particularly in areas of high beekeeping density.”

The fall and rise of beekeeping

What has happened? Beekeeping has become trendy!

In Britain World War II and its aftermath saw a huge surge in beekeeping. rationing was the cause — or rather the government’s granting of extra rations of sugar to beekeepers because honey (and presumably pollination) was regarded as such an important foodstuff. rationing ended in 1954 and there began a dramatic fall in the number of beekeepers in the UK.



The 1970s saw something of an upturn as interest in self-sufficiency grew, but when the varroa mite arrived in the early 1990s, many, especially older beekeepers found the mite and the need to radically change management techniques too much of a challenge.

Again lobbying of government by the BBKA played a large part in raising the profile of honeybees in government, with the media and amongst the general public.

Beekeeping is on the rise again! There’s even a designer urban hive allegedly in the works.

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

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