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Archive for the ‘Beekeeping’ Category

As is the custom at our Apiary, any swarms that we catch are called by the names of the places that we caught them in – but only for the first year.  If they get through the winter, then they are given new names – which are all virtues.  We started with Faith, Hope and Charity.  The only one of the original hives that we started with five years ago is Faith.  And she has re-queened at least twice.

So on Sunday, we set off to the Apiary to ensure there was enough food in the hives after all the recent cold weather – and to take away any hives that had not made it through the winter.  There were two such hives: Joy and Trust.  Joy went queenless in July and I did not re-queen here because we had so many hives by then!  Trust was very weak at the end of the year – and I was not surprised to find an empty hive.  However, what did surprise me was that Trust had quite bad woodpecker damage around the entrance….which will require a bit of woodwork to mend.

So we now have seven hives!  New names are in bold.  The old hives are in italics.

Unity – Probably the strongest hive of all.  Caught on the day before the wedding of the owners of the land where we caught the swarm!

Kindness – Good swarm caught in a hedge next to the local cricket pitch from a local village starting with the letter “K”.

Melody – Very black bees – possibly from the church belltower in a local town starting with the letter “M”.

Harmony – Imported from Essex two years ago.  Joy was her sister, but Joy did not get through the winter.  Oh Joy!

Faith – (Good old Faith!)  The longest surviving hive of all, having re-queened her with a thoroughbred from the West 4 years ago!)

Grace – also quite buzzy – but not as strong as Liberty.

Liberty – strong but still quite buzzy!  Could be an old queen as this was the swarm from the local golf course (starting with the letter “L”) which later threw a cast onto the same bush about a week later!  We gave the cast to a beekeeping friend – and it has also over-wintered well.

Starting the year with seven hives is a record and a nice position to be in having gone down to one hive this time two years ago.  We have a number of friends who are asking for bees, so I expect that we will be moving a few of them on as the weather gets warmer.

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This week I was asked by a local prison to help give some advice because they want to start keeping bees.  I turned up at the gate and was met by the head grounsdman who showed me around the prison’s very impressive garden.  It had large poly-tunnels of cabbages and other winter vegetables, an orchard an many and several sheds and buildings.  In spite of there being lots of land, none of it was very suitable for keeping bees because most of it was facing South West on an exposed hillside and was being constantly buffeted by  the prevailing winds.

During the conversation, it emerged that bees had been kept in the prison up until six years previously in an adjacent wood which was also owned by the prison.  I was interested, not least because bees have a way of choosing their own home – and if there had been an apiary there previously for several years, then the bees would probably have found it a suitable place to live.  So we set off to inspect the wood.

As we walked up to it, it became clear that this would be an excellent place to site the hives.  Less wind, protection from the mid-day sun, exposure to the rising sun in the East – and a large pond to keep the thirsty bees happy during the summer months.  Ideal.

As we approached the actual spot where the bees had once been kept, the groundsman pointed to a reasonably large flat piece of ground.  He lifted a small concrete slab and drew attention to a small hole underneath – about the size of a couple of shoe boxes.  He then told me the story of why the bees were no longer there:

About 6 years before, some of the prisoners had been encouraged to take up beekeeping.  The site they chose (which we were then standing on) was well away from the main prison – as you would expect.  Once the bees were installed, the wiley beekeeping  prisoners had moved aside one of the hives, lifted the concrete slab and dug a hole – into which they had hidden a few bottles of vodka.

In the warm summer evenings, they used to check out of the main prison gate in order to “inspect the bees” with the other beekeeping prisoners.   What the prison warders did not realise, initially, is that he was really off to “inspect” the cache of vodka as well!

The prisoners were eventually caught doing their “beekeeping-with-a-difference” and the hives were removed!

Oh well.  At least we might be able to get the bees back to where they once were – though this time the cache will be filled in!

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A Polish beekeeper pronounced dead after he suffered a suspected heart attack was about to be sealed up in a coffin when a funeral director miraculously discovered a faint pulse.

Jozef Guzy collapsed as he started work among his beloved hives near the southern city ofKatowice.

An ambulance was called and an experienced doctor declared that the 76-year-old had died.

Jerzy Wisniewski, a spokesman for the Regional Ambulance Service in Katowice, said: ‘The patient was not breathing, there was no heart beat, the body had cooled – all are the characteristics of death.

Three hours later, an undertaker arrived to take Mr Guzy’s body away.

Funeral director Dariusz Wysłuchato placed the man’s body in a coffin and was about to seal the lid when his wife, Ludmilla, asked him to remove his watch.

As Mr Wysłuchato fiddled with the watch chain he happened to touch Mr Guzy’s neck and detected a pulse.

He said: ‘I touched around the neck artery and suddenly realised he asn’t dead after all. I checked again and shouted, “It’s a pulse!”

‘I had a friend check and he noticed the man was breathing. God, it was a miracle!”

The ambulance was called again and the same doctor returned. He confirmed the pensioner had ‘come back from the dead’.

Mr Guzy was taken to hospital where puzzled doctors failed to find anything wrong with him.

After a few days rest, he was sent home.

Mr Wysłuchato said: ‘Thank God I did not close the coffin – if I had done that it would have been a tragedy.

‘Something touched me to touch his neck – I’m so pleased he’s alive.’

His wife, Ludmila, said: ‘I could not believe it when they said he was dead. The doctor put a white sheet over him and three hours later local undertakers pulled up.’

Mr Guzy added: ‘The undertaker saved my life. The first thing I did when I got out of hospital was take him a pot of honey.’

From: http://www.whatsonxiamen.com/news9934.html

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“Buzzing, buzzing, buzzing, my honey-making bees,
They left the musk, and the marigolds and the scented faint sweet-peas;
They gather’d in a darkening cloud, and sway’d, and rose to fly;
A blackness on the summer blue, they swept across the sky.
Gaunt and ghastly with gaping wounds—(my soldier son, alas)!
Footsore and faint, the messenger came halting through the grass.
The wind went by and shook the leaves—the mint-stalk shed its flower—
And I miss’d the murmuring round the hives, and my boding heart beat slower.

His soul we cheer’d with meat and wine;
With women’s craft and balsam fine
We bath’d his hurts, and bound them soft,
While west the wind played through the croft,
And the low sun dyed the pinks blood red,
And, straying near the mint-flower shed,
A wild bee wanton’d o’er the bed.”

From “The Bees of Myddelton Manor”, by May Probyn, found at http://bartelby.org/246/1002.html

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In the work that I do, I am often asked what is the difference between leaders and managers.  So here is an attempt to describe the difference:
Leaders lead people. In order to lead people they need vision of a possible future and a sense of purpose. And they need to convince others that this vision and purpose are something that are worth working towards. Leaders  have to master uncertainty and lead people when the future is uncertain and the outcomes are unclear. To that extent, leaders will need to fall back on their own values and beliefs and express (when questioned) what the future might look like.  They will often answer uncertainty with more uncertainty, but dress it up in a coat of confidence such that the followers believe in the body language and are less concerned about the ideas or words.
Managers manage work. The work might have other people doing the work or it might have machines doing the work. Enlightened managers should also be leaders. But when the people become machines without a purpose other than to turn up and do the work and get a wage – and when the managers become lazy and start bullying the workforce, then managers are on the rocky road to redundancy – working towards redundancy of the process they are managing and, ultimately, redundancy from the organisation they are working for.
Therefore, Leadership is normally described in a positive light – because it is easy to see when leaders are being effective and have enthusiastic followers. Quite simply, mis-leadership is not such an interesting idea, because the followers simply stop following and move on to follow something else!
However, we constantly struggle with the two poles of management – good management and mis-management – simply because our employment laws and the ways that companies create contracts often lock-in the bully-boy mentality to a process, system or business relationship that others will follow simply to earn a wage.
In beekeeping we have a term for a colony that is being well-managed (not just by the queen, but when the system is stable). It is when the colony is “queen-right”.  In other words, there is single laying queen in residence that gives off enough pheromones to keep the colony happy.  It is not simply that the queen is a good leader, but that the pheromones are strong and bind the colony. I often think human societies behave in the same way – except that our pheromones are words!
When the colony is not “queen-right”, there are no binding pheromones.  In such cases, the colony starts to become stressed.  If a queen does not appear from a queen cell in three or four weeks, it is likely that workers will start laying unfertilised eggs.  Although flying bees will continue to bring nectar and pollen into the hive, the hive will eventually die off because no new bees are being produced by the colony.  I have often found that a hive in this state also becomes aggressive – but not in every case.  So in this case there is no “leadership” in the sense that there are no binding pheromones from the queen – yet lots of day-to-day management of tasks that are instinctive behaviours by the individual bees.
Interested to know what others think about these ideas!

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In his book “Sacred Geometry – Philosophy and Practice”, Robert Lawlor has an interesting picture on the connection between sacred geometry and the honey bee.  Lawlor draws attention to the ubiquitous relationship between One and the Square Root of Two (or 1:1.41421356…) and shows this in the diagram below:


Sacred Geometry and the Honey Bee - Mysteries of the Melissae

Excerpt from page 31 “Sacred Geometry – Philosophy and Practice”

Next to it he writes a rather elegant piece on the root:

“The Root of a Plant, like the mathematical root, is causative, the former being embedded in the earth, the latter embedded in the square. The visible growth of a plant , its proliferation into specificity, depends upon the root for stability and nutrition. The Plant root nourishes because it is able to break down ( divide) the fixed, dense mineral constituents of the soil.”

“In the vital sense the geometric root is an archetypal expression of the assimilative , generating, transformative function which is root. Like the vegetal root, the root of 2 contains the power of nature which destroys in order to progress ( it severs the initial square) and it also contains the power which instantaneously transforms 1 into 2 ..”

Further on in the book, Lawlor states that:

“The Fibonacci Series perfectly delineates the breeding pattern of rabbits, a symbol of fecundity, and the ration of males to females in honey bee hives”.

The Fibonacci Series is a mathematically beautifully elegant number that I came across when I was about 13.  I was so excited when I discovered it, that I thought I had created one of the most brilliant mathematical break-throughs of the twentieth century – only to find that Fibonacci had beaten me to it (and prior to that Indian Mathematicians) many centuries before!   The golden number (as it is often called) is denoted by the Greek letter phi and approximately equal to 1.61818….

If Lawlor is right, it  would mean that there would be many more drones in my hives than I see every year… the male to female ratio (drone to worker ratio) is not anything like 1:1.6… – there are far fewer drones than that – and many of them are probably itinerants from other colonies!  The proportion also changes through the year – as the drones are pushed out of the hive in the Autumn by the worker bees and there are none in the hive over winter (unless it is a queenless hive).  This is probably because the drones eat three times more than the worker bees!

So, as elegant as some of the theories are in this book, I feel that sometimes the myth is created to make the magic!  However, I am sure you will agree that there is much evidence on the other posts on this site that there is still considerable magic in studying the lore of the honeybee!

The book contains amazing insights and illustrations on the theme of sacred geometry.  You can see more if you take a look at the link below:

Originally found at: http://www.milliande.com/Mysteries-of-the-Melissae-Sacred-Geometry-and-the-Honey-Bee.html

See also: https://beelore.com/2008/01/20/the-melissae-and-aphrodite-in-ancient-greece/

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We think in this age of beekeeping as a small time pursuit for either the small business or for some form of esoteric pass-time. In the past bee-keeping was anything but that. As an industry in Eastern Europe it probably reached a climax around 1200-1400. The reason that Eastern Europe was probably much better at producing honey than the west was simply that it had larger relatively undisturbed forests…. Or at least the forests had a smaller head of both human and domesticated animal population. Large quantities of grazing will eventually produce grass, whereas a smaller quantity of grazing will induce flowering ground cover and ideal areas for bees.

Couldn't find a picture of a Bee Tree from Russia!

The Germans in classical times used to venerate their beekeepers (this reference I can not find) and they achieved a priest like significance within their tribes. I could never quite get my head around this until I understood the economic significance of honey as well. Most of the following comes from Studies in Historical Geography (1983 Volume 1 (Academic Press) edited by Bater and French). The particular essay is Russians and the Forest by R.A. French p23-44.

French talks of the vast quantities of berries that could be picked by the peasants of Russia with productive areas producing up to 100kg/hectare of berries (bilberries and cowberries) per year as well as up to half a ton of mushrooms etc. However the honey was the most impressive with one village in 1599, Oreshenko in Belorussia having 1044 “bee-trees” listed in their records. 94 were oak and 950 were pine. 99 swarms were counted with an occupancy of roughly 10:1. In other parts the occupancy got as high as 6:1.

Bees made it into the Russian law books in the 12th century when the law codes, Russaya Pravda, were produced. In 1529 Lithuanian statutes also laid don laws against bee-tree destruction, determining that you could not go too close when ploughing or damage the tree by fire. In economic terms bees provided the most valuable forest resource and was one of the key drivers to eventual Russian expansion into Siberia.

Just how important was this industry? It was a major trading commodity in both Russia and Lithuania. As an example one nobleman, one Prince Suyatoslav of Kiev, had a honey store, in 1146, that totalled 500 berkovtsy, or 80 tonnes. At some times peasants were supposed to give half their honey takings to the crown in Russia, so honey became the business of everyone from peasant to csar.

In some areas peasants were employed to look after the crown’s bee-trees, and even in making new ones. (This was done by hacking out appropriate hollows in the trees.) The volume of honey produced was one thing but also beeswax was bought and sold as well. In the sixteenth century Customs Rolls of boats going down the river Neman to Konigsberg 600tonnes of beeswax was recorded as having passed by in just 6 weeks. Even in the 18th century the trade continued with the expansion towards the south and east and prime honey lands were moving east and south with the expansion. At that time the Province of Voronezh was exporting 900tonnes of honey per year. It was thus not really difficult to see why both the peasant and the aristocracy were interested in bees.

With the expansion of Russia in the 16th to 20th centuries one finds the forest quality of the interior diminishing and thus the bee-farming being pushed more often than not towards the frontiers. Here the “natural” (I am not a fan of this word as it implies no human interference, which is rubbish) forest was less disturbed and the berries still proliferated and thus was the perfect bee place. The more livestock the less bees I am assuming.

(Kindly posted by Archie on this site.)

Picture from: http://www.beesfordevelopment.org/info/proceedings_HTW1/thailand_international_honey_trade_status.htm

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Honeybees have been “voting” in single winner “elections” for 20-50 million years.  They’ve held far more elections than humans, for a lot longer, and to decide something that mattered to each bee voter a lot more than most election winners matter to most human voters: where should we locate our new nest?

Each spring, about half the inhabitants of each beehive leave with their queen to start a new hive –  in a swarm usually containing between 2000 and 20000 bees.  The most important decision they need to make is: where to build that new hive? They usually find about 20 different options within about 100 square kilometers, and about 90% of the time, the bee swarm succeeds in selecting (what appears to entomologists to be) the best one. Occasionally, however, they select a sub-optimal choice or even fail to reach a decision. The latter is very bad since there is only one queen – who cannot be divided in two!

Details: Lindauer in observing 19 swarms reported 2 that failed to reach a decision. In the first, the swarm split in two, each trying to get the queen to go to its choice; but after it became clear this attempt failed, the swarm rejoined and recommenced negotiations, which after two more days resulted in an agreement. In the second instance, the swarm had still failed to find an attractive housing option even after 14 days, at which point it ran out of stored food and inclement weather approached. It then, apparently as a fallback option, decided to construct the new nest in open air right then and there, contrary to the usual policy of nesting in natural hollows. Open air nesting usually leads to the death of the hive in the winter, but in this location the winters were mild enough to make survival probable.


So bees, while not perfect decision makers, are quite good. To provide a little perspective, consider the “plurality voting method” that is the most commonly used system in human single-winner elections.

Computer simulations  show that 1283 plurality-voters, given 10 choices, will succeed in choosing the best choice 32% of the time. While 32% is better than just making a random guess (10%), it is a far worse performance than bees.  If the simulated-humans instead employ “approval voting” (approving choices with value greater than midway between the best and worst available) then they get the best choice 54% of the time – better, but still far worse than bees. If the humans use 0-100 “range voting” (scoring the best choice 100, the worst 0, and the rest linearly interpolated) then it’s 79%. That is at least approaching bee-like decision-making quality.

As the internet allows us to do more sophisticated voting for many ranges of issues, surely there is still yet more we can learn from the bees to make better decisions for the planet!  I wonder how one can get these ideas over to politicians, though, who will often have self-interest higher on their agenda than good decision-making.

More at: http://rangevoting.org/ApisMellifera.html

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The late E.F.Woods was the inventor of the Apidictor.

“Sound engineers are familiar with a phenomenon known as the ‘cocktail party effect’. This is the ability of the human brain, in a room full of chattering people, to pick out and concentrate on one conversation, not necessarily the loudest. Eddie was blessed with this ability and it served him well when listening to the medley of sounds that his microphone picked up in the hive.

One sound that caught his attention was a sort of warbling noise that varied between the notes A and C sharp; that’s 225 – 285 Hz in terms of frequency. He noticed that this sound got steadily louder, then it stopped and a day or so later a swarm took off.

Eventually, he decided that it was made by the 4-1/2 to 6 day old nurse bees, his reasoning being as follows:

In a normal colony there are about 4,000 nurse bees, half of which feed the brood and the other half, the queen, who eats 20 times her own weight in a day.

When a colony decides to swarm, its first action is to reduce the supply of food to the queen in order to slim her down into a condition for flying. This puts some of the nurse bees out of work and reduces her egg laying. Hence, a few days later, there are fewer larvae to feed so more nurse bees become unemployed and the whole process is progressive.

The nurses have to get rid of the energy that would go into food production so they probably stand there exercising by flapping their wings, fanning in fact, but how do we account for the peculiar frequency?

In flight, an adult bee flaps its wings 250 times a second but when fanning, it grips the comb and this brings the frequency down to 190 Hz. (Hz is just an abbreviation for Hertz which is the engineer’s word for ‘times a second’.) However, a young bee’s wings do not harden completely until it is 9 days old and until then the resonant frequency is higher. It may be that 4-1/2 day wings resonate at 285Hz and the 6 day old ones at 225Hz and the sound is a mixture of single frequencies rather than a collection of warbles from individual bees.

Eddie built a simple audio frequency amplifier with microphone and headphones and incorporated what is known as a bandpass filter. This allowed the frequency band 225-285Hz through to the ear and blocked off the rest, making it easier to hear.

Note that the flight frequency of 250 Hz falls in this band which is why the tests should be made in the evening after flying has stopped.

Eddie stressed that the warble does not necessarily indicate a swarm; it indicates that the queen has gone off laying and there could be other reasons. In any case, it means a brood nest inspection is needed.

If you give a hive a knock with the flat of the hand, the bees hiss at you and this is something that Eddie listened to very carefully. Under normal conditions it is a short sharp noise, lasting about 1/2 a second, starting and finishing quite suddenly; the bees are alert and defensive. If a swarm is in the offing, the bees are in a happy-go-lucky mood, the sound is not so loud, rising and falling less sharply. Eddie described this as a loyalty sound and he fitted another filter to help pick it out.

With this instrument he found he could get up to three weeks warning of swarm preparations and was alerted 10 days before queen cells were started.

Lots more, including down-loadable plans at: http://bit.ly/6d4B9I

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It is a mystery that has had scientists stumped. But now experts in Scotland believe they have discovered why bees have been abandoning their hives and vanishing.  Scientists at the Roslin-based firm Global Bioenergetics think disturbance to bees from mobile phones, radio signals, wi-fi and microwaves is disrupting them with devastating results.  They think increased airwaves could be interfering with their ability to do the bee dance, which they use to tell other bees where to find pollen.  Stress caused to the bees by the radiation could be damaging their immune systems, leaving them prone to increasing levels of herbicides, insecticides and fungicides sprayed on crops.

The scientists are trying out a new device, called a Bioemitter, that transmits electromagnetic waves to provide a stable environment and reduce stress for the bees in their hives, boosting their immune system.

(Trials started in 2008 – but we are not sure yet what the conclusions are from the research.)

More at: http://bit.ly/85ZKKk

Also more on the issue at: http://doitnow.typepad.com/good_vibrations/2009/11/emfs-and-declining-bee-populations.html

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