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Blog – bees, beekeeping & other sticky subjects

More Than Honey – free screening in Basingstoke

There is a new film More Than Honey, highlighting the international plight of honeybees.  Featuring footage of traditional beekeeping in the Swiss Alps and commercial beekeeping in the almond orchards of California, there is some quite amazing and startling footage.

The film has not yet been released on DVD, but has been showing in some parts of the UK. Vita has managed to secure a copy from the distribuutors and in conjunction with Basingstoke College of Technology will be hosting a showing near Vita’s HQ in Basingstoke, UK, on the evening of Wednesday 16 October.

You will need a ticket, but they are free. Space is limited, so book your place now.

Busy again, but where?

Observation hive bees get into autumnal action rushing in and out of their tunnel to the great outdoors.

After a few weeks idle time, the observation hive bees are out and about again as often as the weather permits. I suspect the ivy is beginning to flower after the August gap. Ivy produces one of the few honeys that I loathe, but I like what it does to provide winter stores for the bees.

I’ve heard it said that its crystallization makes it hard for the bees to use in a cold winter, but here in southern England winters are mild enough to let the bees out frequently enough to gather water to help liquefy any solid stores.

This week, I saw the NASA honeybee forage map of the USA. Fascinating — by clicking on each state, you can see what the bee forage is, its significance and when it flowers.

For British beekeepers there is that marvellous short paper by Dorothy Hodges: A Calendar of Bee Plants. Published by IBRA in 1978, but giving average flowering times recorded in the 1940s and 50s it offers an almost frightening picture of climate change: it is very clear how earlier plants tend to flower now (this tardy spring excepted of course!).

And this year, the beekeeper must-have Plants for Bees, an updated version of the 1945 work of FN Howes’ Plants and Beekeeping was published.

But what I’d really like is a flightpath map to show where my bees are foraging. Any ideas?

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

How long can Apiguard be stored?

We’ve received a few queries about how long Apiguard can be stored.

Applying Apiguard

We know that, as long as the product has not been stored in hot conditions (in direct sun or above 30°C), Apiguard is stable for at least four years and probably up to six years in the sealed aluminium tray pack. We say three years’ stability on the label as this is the normal requirement but product dated June 2013 is perfectly OK to use this year.

However, if you are using a 3 kg tub, from which you have already used a large quantity, leaving a small residual amount of gel in the tub, this should be used with caution. If this is the case, you should try a little dose (25g) on a colony at a time to check the bees respond normally to it.  (If there is too much thymol and not enough liquid left, due to evaporation, then the product could be too powerful and will repel bees strongly, so try a little first and see what happens.) This should also be OK but we cannot guarantee used product past its shelf life.

Video on applying Apiguard:

I never knew housework could be quite so exhausting

Bee with a mission

I’ve just been watching — or rather I’ve just given up watching — a house-cleaning bee attempting to remove a bit of larva from the hive.

She clearly doesn’t know the hive layout too well as she cannot find the exit. I’ve watched her run up and down the sides tightly clutching her debris. Tantalisingly, I’ve seen her walk straight over the top of the exit several times. No amount of willing her, enables her to find the way out. But she does seem to understand its around the edge of the colony somewhere.

Perhaps it’s because it’s the younger bees which do the cleaning and are not yet foragers have not mapped their home yet. (John B Free’s book The Social Organisation of Honey Bees gives a very interesting series of diagrams showing the ages at which bees perform certain tasks.)

However, she is determined to remove the trash from the hive, unlike some people I know who just drop litter anywhere.

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Bee Blogger

Never take your eye off an observation hive!

I’m learning very quickly that you cannot keep too close an eye on bees in an observation hive. Yesterday an increasing roar from the hive alerted me that something was most definitely amiss.

Regular blog readers may remember that as the nectar flow was drawing to a close, the observation hive was beginning to get rather too full of honey, so with a few little incidents, I replaced the super frames.

The entrance tube is clear again.

I gave the bees some sugar feedwhich they eagerly consumed and I thought all would be well. I went away over the long holiday weekend and returned to discover that the bees were sluggish and a handful had died. Obviously the nectar flow had dried up completely and the sugar feed hadn’t been enough, so I hurriedly gave them more and they rapidly returned to a healthy buzzing state.

Then yesterday as the day warmed up, the bees started to roar and that roar increased as the day grew warmer. I noticed that they were racing around the hive, but that none were leaving or entering via the tube. Obviously it was blocked! The dead bees they had been removing had become stuck in the bend of the tube and blocked it!

So it was time to empty and clean the observation hive once again (performed with rather more skill having learned from the  previous attempt, I might add!).

The bees recovered quickly and all is well again, but I have learnt a very sharp lesson: in a colony as small as in an observation hive, the food supply can change with remarkable speed.

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

 

Intruder

Intruder

A wasp dared to enter the observation hive and had a torrid time as a result. I watched the hive on-and-off for at least two hours as the wasp was chased around the hive having tussles (like this one in the photograph) along the way.

Eventually the wasp was trapped with its head hanging over a bottom bar and its body above it as the bees explained that its presence in the hive was unwelcome.

I last saw the very disoriented and clearly injured wasp in the plastic exit tube being brushed aside as the bees went about their business. It was so confused — or perhaps drawn by the smell of honey —  that it would try to go back towards the hive when the bees rushing passed it allowed it to move anywhere.

I didn’t see its final and inevitable demise. I wonder how long it actually underwent its harassment and am surprised that it wasn’t actually killed outright, just mortally wounded.

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Bee Blogger

Asian Hornet alert

A “possible” siting of an Asian Hornet near Maidstone in Kent, south east England, has been reported by the UK National Bee Unit (NBU), a government agency.

The NBU has described the reports as “credible” but following a field investigation by a local bee inspector “has not been able to verify the report”.

Asian Hornet. Picture courtesy: C Villemant, A Perrard, Q Rome, O Gargominy, J Hazaire, E Darrouzet & A Rortais.

Vita first reported on the Asian Hornet, Vespa velutina nigrithorax, threat in 2010. The Asian hornet was first identified near Agen in France in 2004 and is thought to have arrived in Bordeaux from China in a consignment of pottery. By 2007 apiaries around Bordeaux were suffering up to 70% colony losses. Since then it has been spreading at a rate of about 100km each year into neighbouring countries and further north in France.

In June, we reported that it had been seen in Italy. There has been an expectation that it would reach south or south east England at some point.

Asian hornet nests are hard to spot until the leaves fall from their nesting trees in autumn.  But the damage they do is unmistakable: groups of five to 50 hornets hover in front of a hive, picking off single honeybees, decapitating them and stripping off their wings and legs before making off with the “meat ball” to their nest to feed their young. As the attacks continue, the honeybee colony stops flying and has to consume its own stores, eventually weakening it to such a point that an invasion force of many hornets enters the hive to rob it out.

There’s a very good identification sheet by the Non Native Species Secretariat on the Asian hornet downloadable here. NNSS asks for reports of suspected Asian hornet sightings to be emailed to: alert_nonnative@ceh.ac.uk

Vita has been working on a trap for the Asian hornet and soon  will have had its first limited production run for France where the Asian Hornet problem is at its most acute.

Does your national government help your honeybees?

The frenzy is well underway in European Union countries as governments finalise their plans for the upcoming funding cycle for honeybees and beekeeping.

In September, the EU is expected to approve each Member State’s national programme for support of the beekeeping sector. The coming three-year cycle runs from 2014 until 2016 and is intended to cover areas including Varroa control, applied research, technical assistance, laboratory support, migratory beekeeping and the restocking of hives.

I think it’s worth looking at the different approaches taken around the continent.

Provided they fit the broad areas (listed above) outlined in Article 106 of the relevant EU Directive (here, if you’re interested), governments are free to allocate the funding as they choose. In practice, approaches tend to fall into three groups, outlined below.

1 – ‘We do quite enough already, thank you very much’
Here in the UK, beekeepers don’t get a whiff of EU funding. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it is simply allocated straight to FERA, who provide support for the beekeeping sector in the form of the excellent National Bee Unit and our network of regional bee inspectors. Other countries adopting a similar approach include Ireland, Sweden, Holland and Denmark, all of whom plough the EU subsidy directly into research programmes. While research into bee health is clearly vital, what irks some beekeepers is that it can appear that work is simply being carried out for its own sake. Perhaps commercial organisations (with Governmental support) are better placed to carry out at least some of this research, given the clear imperative for a return on their investment.

2 – ‘What hurts most? Let’s try to help’
Many Central and Southern European Member States like Germany, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia, as well as Portugal and Italy, new Member Croatia and Accession candidate Montenegro use their EU funding to subsidise Varroa control. This has the dual benefit of aiding the fight against ‘enemy number one’ while incentivising a national register of beekeepers. This register could be considered a vital tool to track the spread of disease or pesticide resistance and cut down on rogue practices. As @SheffieldHoney pointed out on Twitter recently, in the UK one requires a licence to catch a single fish but not even a cursory check to keep millions of bees! Implementation of this strategy varies from subsidising the cost of Varroa treatments on an ‘approved list’ to handing out product free of charge but the key continuum is that support is given to registered colonies only.

3 – The combined approach
France is unusual in allocating funding to almost all of the areas covered by the EU directive, at least to some degree. France uses their budget to subsidise Varroa control, as well as for the rationalisation of seasonal migration, supporting research labs, restocking colonies and providing technical assistance.

Colony losses
Interestingly, a crude look at colony loss data (the figures I used relate to 2009-2012) would imply that the second approach leads to lower overall losses.

Looking forwards
It will be intriguing to see what happens when the national programmes are publicised next month. We already know, for example, that Slovenia is moving away from a system whereby every registered colony in the country received free treatment but the beekeeper had no choice of product – only one product was offered and the overwhelming criterion for the choice of product was lowest price, rather than effectiveness or ease of use.

We hope governments will see this round of funding as an opportunity to get support to where it really counts.

Sebastian Owen, Commercial Development Manager
Follow me on Twitter: @SDWOwen 

Sugar rush

The feeder in place. Empty again but there are still bees investigating it.

I’ve often heard it said by experienced beekeepers that feeding bees sugar involves a lot of waste because the bees get so excited they consume lots jut by being excited.

And now I have seen evidence of that in the observation hive.

I had to replace the original super frames because they were becoming so full. As soon as the flow ended the bees rapidly consumed the little that was stored in the replacement frames. It happened with frightening speed and I think I just started feeding in time.

They quickly consumed the first kilo of sugar syrup — but there isn’t much to show for it in the way of stores in the comb. In fact I can’t really see any! But oh did they get excited! I think it all vanished in their sugar rush.

It just goes to show how closely an inevitably undersized colony in an observation hive needs to be monitored.

I’m lucky enough not to have to feed my apiary bees in the autumn. I used to feed them, but never enjoyed the messy process. So now I make sure — one way or another — that they have plenty of honey stores to take them through winter and watch closely to make sure they have enough in the dangerous months of March and April when lots of stores are needed to feed the developing larvae.

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

Time for varroa treatments but no time for complacency

Now that the honey flow is coming to a close, it is time to treat for varroa mites. Anecdotal reports from northern Europe suggest that varroa mite populations may be relatively low this season, but it is vital that beekeepers are not complacent. It could be that sustained and regular treatment with approved products over several years is having regional or even national impacts and it is therefore extremely important that  those treatments continue.

Close up of a varroa mite on a honeybee. Photo courtesy BetaTec.

Dr Max Watkins, Technical Director of Vita (Europe) Ltd, explained: “Initial anecdotal reports in northern Europe suggest that varroa populations may be relatively low this season, but we would like to hear many more reports before we can be sure of that.

“If these reports are representative, it could be the result of two factors. Firstly, the late spring may have delayed the breeding of varroa, just as it delayed the development of honeybee colonies.

“But, secondly, it could also be that sustained treatment with regulated products over many seasons is inhibiting the development of large varroa mite populations over the longer term. We know that there are few feral colonies around now to act as reservoir for varroa mites and that some beekeepers have lost colonies through inadequate or no varroa control management.

“We have also noticed that in countries where Vita products are popular, the varroa situation seems under relatively good control. In contrast in other countries or areas where Varroa treatment is spasmodic or with non-regulated materials, colonies seem to be experiencing greater problems.”

The safest way to proceed is clear: treat regularly using approved IPM products and methods.  In the Vita product portfolio that means treating each season alternately with Apiguard and Apistan — where there is no resistance to the active ingredient of Apistan.

Although there has been evidence that regionally some colonies have become resistant to fluvalinate, the active ingredient of Apistan, and some other first-generation varroa control products, there is also evidence that Apistan is becoming effective again in areas which have not used Apistan for a number of seasons. There is a quick rule of thumb test for resistance to Apistan here on the Vita website.

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