Sunday 23 November 2014

Asian Hornet nest in my apiary - 2014

Cheeky or what?

You may find this a bit hard to believe and it certainly is an eye opener but now the leaves have started to fall Lynne spotted this yesterday when I was out for the day – an Asian Hornet nest actually situated almost directly over one of my hives and no more than 30 metres from several others.Click on photos to enlarge.

So what does this tell us? It tells us that maybe, just maybe, the Asian Hornet isn’t quite as dangerous to honey bees as has been thought. It also tells us to always be very careful when drawing conclusions based on limited third party information that may lack a solid foundation or without knowing all the surrounding facts of any given situation, something we can all learn a lesson from.

Of course this doesn’t mean that they can’t be a problem in some circumstances and it may be that they are modifying their behaviour, adapting to local conditions and taking other prey or simply that one Asian Hornet nest won’t have a serious impact where there are a large number of hives. As I have mentioned many times I have seen Asian hornets present around my hives ever since 2006/2007 without observing them being anything other than a minor irritation for my bees.

This one with the one I removed earlier this year from an empty hive makes me wonder just how many nests there have been within flying range of my hives but this is certainly fascinating for me, you can’t beat first hand experience.

Asian Hornets in a Bee hive

Asian Hornet in France


Monday 17 November 2014

Very poor Honey harvest 2014

Churning out bad news isn’t fun but there is no avoiding the fact that honey yields continue more or less year on year to reduce in both my part and many other parts of France. This has nothing to do with any real or imaginary issues with honey bee populations but is simply a result of the amount of nectar that is available for any single bee colony to collect.

These days increasingly large swathes of France are used for growing cereals where it is the main use of the countryside.  I know I’ve said this many times but it’s fundamental in understanding what is happening with just about every non-woodland species you can think of being affected and needless to say honey bees are no exception. As a result of this massive change in the landscape honey bees and their keepers have become increasingly dependent on a couple of crops to produce surplus harvestable honey due to the loss of native habitat and related flora. This isn’t the same as a bee colony having enough for its own survival which it usually will have but about producing an excess that the bee keeper can remove.

Where I live there are essentially three main possible sources that can provide harvestable honey or at least the bulk of it.  These are Oil seed rape, Sweet Chestnut and Sunflower but all three are relatively short flowering and subject to weather conditions being right.

Right conditions in the case of Oil seed rape means a temperature of 16°C or more with good bee flying weather. As Oil seed rape usually flowers here in late March / April these conditions are often not met or perhaps only for a few hours in the afternoon. The flowers last from three to six weeks depending on the weather, (they will last longer in poor wet weather). Another issue with Oil seed rape is that the colonies need to have grown enough to really work the flowers when conditions are right.

The right conditions for Sweet Chestnut are simply long hot dry days, 20 to 25°C being ideal with a flowering time here usually around the second half of June / first half of July. Unfortunately in recent years it has tended to rain a fair amount in this period and heavy rain finishes the flowers off completely. The flowers last a couple of weeks or just a little longer.

Click on photos to enlarge.

The right conditions for Sunflowers to produce a decent yield are more complex and depend on both regular rainfalls while they are growing, then fine weather with a temperature of at least 25°C to produce a good nectar flow. The flowers last a couple of weeks or just a little longer and will be in flower between July and September depending on when sown.

Of course some people will have more favourable conditions and depend less on these three sources if they live in or close to a town, village or hamlet with an abundance of other flowers within flying range, sadly not the case for me although mercifully we do have our own three hectares with quite a lot of bramble and other honey bee flowers.

This year conditions just weren’t favourable for the three main sources where I live and the result was a honey harvest that produced about 25% of what it ought to be. Not a disaster personally but worrying as this is the way the countryside is going and it will lead to commercial producers quitting in even larger numbers. Crazy because we are continually being told that there aren’t going to be enough bees to pollinate the crops but it has to be understood that we need more than the agricultural crops to sustain our bees unless we are to become like large parts of the USA shipping the bees round the country in greater and greater numbers and loosing them in equally large numbers. Recent studies are showing that the best place for bees and many other species is in peri-urban situations but these are not usually places where it’s possible to have concentrations of hives.

So thinking positively and working with what I’ve got I’ve been raising, splitting and planting hundreds, (thousands), more plants in our fields to increase the quantity of bee / insect friendly flowers which if nothing else will look nice and provide the variety of nutritional sources that honey bees need to be healthy and at the same time be beneficial to a whole range of other creatures.


Sunday 16 November 2014

Pollen supplements and pollen traps.

Next time you buy or think of buying pollen for your "health" this is the true cost to the bees of pollen production.

Pollen is required by honey bees principally as a protein source to feed their larvae and maintain the colony population. As most people will be aware honey bees collect the pollen from flowers and transport it back to the hive using special hairy receptacles on their hind legs called corbiculae. It's an extremely energy intensive activity and efficiency is paramount in making sure that other colony activities aren’t diminished.   

Pollen trapping is dependent on the use of a screen or perforated metal grid of about 5-mesh per inch through which the pollen-collecting field bees are forced to enter the colony and this grid forcibly removes the pollen from their legs. This grid is used with a pellet collection container that is covered by 7- or 8-mesh screen to prevent bee entry. This basic principle is common to all pollen traps.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Of course what this means in practice is that the colony is starved of pollen and more and more bees will be diverted from other duties to pollen collection in an attempt to feed the colonies brood. What makes this situation even worse in recent years is that the bees are increasingly fed artificial pollen using soya flour made into patties via the top of the hive a practice that I consider to be total folly. It’s quite clear, (and there are studies to prove it), that healthy bees require a variety of natural pollens in exactly the same way that we require a balanced variety of healthy foods.

Unlike honey which is produced and stored in bulk long term by the bees pollen is foraged according to colony requirements and rarely stored for any length of time.

You will have guessed by now that I don’t like pollen traps or anything else for that matter that treats our honey bees like industrial machines to satisfy our ever-increasing thoughtless demands so please spare a thought for Honey bees.


Not so much a secret as just not talked about.

Some years ago I was out with a couple of friends doing a bit of birding and generally poking about in the countryside as one does when we saw one of those fields that had recently been sprayed with Glyphosate and had turned that lovely characteristic rusty orange colour which triggered yet another conversation about the use of toxic substances in agriculture.

Click on photo to enlarge.

One of the people I was with works in the agricultural sector in the UK and can be a bit of a wind up merchant and I’m never sure whether he is being serious or not. Anyway he does understand the sector as an insider which is always useful, especially as trying to get a straight honest answer from farmers where I live is a total waste of time. Somehow or another during the course of this conversation he mentioned that wheat is sprayed with glyphosate, (Roundup),  in the UK as a pre-harvest crop desiccation, that is to kill off the crop to enable uniform and rapid drying just before harvesting. I have to say that at the time I wasn’t sure whether I believed him as it seemed to be such a ridiculous and stupid idea but it transpires that this has been happening for a long time and not only on wheat and not only with glyphosate, (for potatoes carfentrazone-ethyl is used). The majority of Oil seed rape in the UK is also sprayed, (up to 80%), and much of this also goes into the human food chain.

Is this an issue? Well yes it most certainly is because it turns out that Glyphosate residues are to be found in biscuits, bread and other cereal products according to the UK governments’ pesticide sampling reports. There are a number of independent studies that indicate harmful effects from Glyphosate ingestion such as one from Denmark that showed that the health of pigs was being adversely affected by eating feeds containing elevated - but still legal - levels of glyphosate. There are also a growing number of people that believe there may be a connection with this and the increasing number of people with wheat intolerance, (not Coeliac disease which is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that occurs in genetically predisposed people of all ages).

Of course Monsanto makers of Roundup dispute that there are any possible harmful effects from Glyphosate and insist that the herbicide is safe BUT then they would say that wouldn’t they?

As far as I can ascertain this specific type of spraying isn’t practiced in France or not to any great extent due to more favourable climatic conditions for natural ripening and drying although it is used on a massive scale for preparing fields for cultivation and domestically in peoples’ gardens.

Glyphosate was first marketed as a herbicide in the 1970’s as Roundup and is now has global market dominance. 

Whatever else you may think about this product it certainly shouldn't be in our food.