Things to do in November

So the clocks have gone back and the nights are drawing in; the bees are all stocked up and strapped down ready for whatever winter will bring. What is left for the beekeeper to do? Maintenance that’s what: –

  • Supers and honey frames should be scraped clean and stored wet to scupper wax moths, stack them on a floor with a queen excluder on it to keep the rats out, put a couple of sheets of newspaper between supers and top with another queen excluder and a roof or a sheet of plywood. The newspaper stops any moths, or caterpillars making their way from super to super. Make the stacks as airtight as possible so the honey won’t draw in water or your supers will be dripping by spring. Last year I wrapped the stacks with clingfilm and that worked a treat. If possible start your stacks in the middle of the floor so you can walk all the way round that way you’ll know if there are vermin at work – a rat can chew right through a super;
  • Get a cat or a better still a couple of kittens – they cost nuppence ha’penny to feed, they’re a joy to watch and the vermin hate them;
  • If you have somewhere light and airy and cold to stack them, so much the better – wax moths are creatures of the dark – light unnerves them;

  • Empty boxes need to be scraped clean and given a light going over with the blow torch. Unless you went for polystyrene…;
  • Brood frames also need to be scraped clean of wax and propolis; old frames with black wax or gaping holes should be stripped down – don’t re-wax till you need them though or the wax will go all hard and the bees won’t work it properly they’ll just draw out weird abstract works with wings and flaps – but you already know that! If your shed is like mine, empty frames can be stored out of the way in between the rafters;
  • Frames can be fumigated using acetic acid – click here for how to do that;
  • Spare gear that’s unoccupied needs to be looked over and repairs made where necessary;
  • All the wax scrapings should be put aside for rendering later;
  • If you’re into propolis – it will chip off best when the weather gets really cold;
  • Think about candle making – I am;
  • Think about next year, make plans and write them down before you forget about it;
  • Improve your bees! Go through your Colony Assessments and do your Colony Appraisals so you know which queens to breed from next year and which to use for your drone rearers;
  • Make new gear;
  • Order a book for the winter;
  • Don’t forget to check your bees after high winds;
  • My bees are still working the last of the ivy here so the queen will be laying away albeit slowly – you need to be aware of that if you are thinking of treating with oxalic acid in the deep midwinter – you’ll need at least 3 weeks after the ivy has finished for all that to hatch out otherwise you are wasting your time.

I’m off out to my shed now.

Click here for Winter Oxalic Acid Varroa Treatment

Click here for Acetic Acid Fumigation

Click here for How to Improve your Bees

Click here for Colony Assessment

Click here for Colony Appraisals

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Honey, Healing and Hayfever

Many hayfever sufferers find a daily dose of local honey to be helpful in controlling their symptoms but how can this bee?

Composition of Honey

Honey is a complex mixture of sugars dissolved in no more than 20% water. So long as the water content is below 20% honey is not readily metabolised by bacteria or fungi including yeast.

The sugars make up 97% of honey excluding water. The 3 main ones are dextrose, levulose and sucrose but there are also other lesser known ones such as kojibiose, isomaltose, nigerose, ab trehalose, gentiobiose, laminaribiose, meleziotose, maltotriose, turanose, 1-kestose, panose, maltulose, isomaltotriose, erlose, theanderose, and O-a-D-glucopyranosyl-(1->6) -O-a-D-glucopyranosyl-D-fructose… the list goes on through about 25 or more in total.

The remaining 3% comprises minerals, trace elements, vitamins, proteins and enzymes and pollen.

So what exactly is responsible for the healing?

Healing

Apart from being a healthy alternative to sugar it has curative benefits including antibiotic properties which can be effective in treating sore throats, skin complaints and open wounds such as ulcers. There is also some evidence to show that if honey is applied to burns it will help them to heal. I personally know a beekeeper whose daughter was badly burned as a child. The surgeons told him his daughter’s arm would be scarred for life. He was the son of a long line of beekeepers and did not accept this; he knew a recipe for a burns remedy including honey and beeswax and he applied this remedy to his daughter’s burns daily. The result was that the child’s wounds healed without scars in a few short weeks.

The observable antibiotic activity in honey is mostly due to the activity of the enzyme glucose oxidase which is probably the most important enzyme in honey – it originates in the pharyngeal glands of bees so it is added by the bees and therefore must have some purpose. Its effect is to oxidise glucose to gluconic acid a reaction which launches a two pronged attack on bacteria. The creation of gluconic acid contributes to the background acidity of honey which in turn has a preservative effect by suppressing the growth of bacteria. But there’s more – a by-product of this reaction is hydrogen peroxide which is a powerful antibiotic. The reputation of honey as an antibiotic is due mostly to the action of hydrogen peroxide.

Glucose oxidase can withstand temperatures up to 60 degrees centigrade after which it will become permanently denatured and no longer chemically active – effectively a dead molecule. Mass produced honey is routinely heated to over 75 degrees to pasteurise it. Pasteurisation is not necessary so long as honey is ripe. Beekeepers know this and only warm the honey sufficient to run it through a fine cloth to remove debris. Pollen and colloids pass through the cloth.

Manuka honey, which is a produced in New Zealand by bees foraging on the Leptospermum scoparium, has an additional active ingredient methylglyoxal and it seems to have more pronounced antiseptic activity than other honeys. However, recent studies in Sligo have produced comparable results using Irish honey and in Scotland, honey from Portobello Community Orchard has been found to have antibacterial activity similar to that of Manuka.

Hayfever

Hayfever is a terrible thing to bear if you have it. Some people believe that a daily dose of a tablespoon of local honey will help, the rationale being that the honey contains the pollens of the local flora and therefore if it is eaten regularly – the exposure will de-sensitise them. Some people swear by it although there is little scientific evidence to prove it. It is worth a try, it can do no harm and at the very least – it’s something nice to eat.

However, if your hayfever comes on late in the summer the chances are that you are allergic to grass pollens in which case no amount of honey will help as grasses are wind pollinated and not visited at all by bees.

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What is honey anyway?

Nectar

Nectar is the raw material for honey and is what the bees collect from flowers. It consists mainly of an aqueous solution of sugars, nitrogen compounds, minerals, organic acids, vitamins and aromatic substances. Sugars and water make up the bulk, with 1% or 2% containing the remaining ingredients.

Sugars

The three main sugars present in nectars are:

  • Sucrose;
  • Glucose;
  • Fructose.

Nectars from different flower species vary both in the concentrations of total sugars, which may be anywhere in the range of 5-80%, and in the proportions of the different sugars present. The total sugar content of a nectar can be analysed and the amounts, types and proportions of the different sugars present can be quantified; together they are known as the sugar spectrum of a nectar. Plant species and sometimes plant families can be characterised by their sugar spectra. Honeybees are quite fussy about the nectars they will gather and it is thought that they are not only influenced by the concentration of total sugar, but are also interested in aspects of the sugar spectrum of a nectar. It is thought that they prefer a mixture of sugars rather than a single type.

The rest

  • Nitrogen compounds including: amino acids e.g. proline, glutamic acid and lysine; proteins (including some enzymes and hormones of plant origin) and amides.
  • Minerals include: potassium, sulphur, calcium, chlorine and iron.
  • Honey tends to be slightly acidic. Organic acids include: acetic, butyric, gluconic, malic, succinic.
  • Vitamins include: thiamine, riboflavin, pyridoxine, nicotinic acid, pantothenic acid, folic acid, biotin, meso-inositol and ascorbic acid or ‘vitamin C’.
  • Nectar also contains some pollen and more is added and ingested by the bees who are of course covered in the stuff. There may also be spores and microorganisms some of which are harmless and some of which are not.
  • Some nectars also contain substances that stop pollen from germinating and may also contain things that are harmful to bees or humans or both.

Nectar to Honey

J.W.White in The Hive and the HoneyBee says “to know the composition of nectar we need only to examine the contents of honey the only difference being the water content and the inversion of sucrose” if so, the converse must also apply and honey contains what nectar contains but without the water.

Honey is what bees make from nectar to store in honeycomb for use as food. Before it can be stored, the water content must be reduced to 20% or less to prevent fermentation. However, dehydration is not the only process involved in the production of honey. In addition the bees make chemical changes via the use of several interesting enzymes and here things get complicated…

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Scottish Flummery Recipe

According to Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary of 1901 Flummery is an ‘acid jelly made from the husks of oats’ and water but it has since come to mean ‘an empty compliment or anything insipid’. A recipe for traditional Flummery seems to bear this out, with its description of a rather flaccid, glutinous dish, resembling porridge but with the oats carefully removed. Continue reading Scottish Flummery Recipe

Cooking with Honey

In the beginning there was honey…

Honey has been a sought-after commodity since ancient times. Although there were always medicinal applications, its primary use was as a sweetener for other foods, and of course for its own sweet sake. As such, it enjoyed luxury status for aeons and the hazards and pain primitive man was prepared to risk, shinning up trees and breaking into wild hives, especially before he discovered the efficacy of smoke is extraordinary. However it is easier to understand when we realise that the only real alternative sweeteners, certainly in this part of the world, were wild carrots, parsnips and get this… crab apples!

Then there was sugar… Continue reading Cooking with Honey

Sloe Wine Recipe

Sloes are good this year – just managed to pick 9lbs in less than half an hour.

Here’s a recipe for sloe wine with honey:

Ingredients

  • 3lb sloes;
  • 3.5lb honey;
  • 1 gallon of water;
  • red wine yeast;
  • yeast nutrient.

Method

  • Pick through the sloes and remove stalks, leaves etc;
  • Wash the fruit;
  • Boil the water;
  • Pour boiling water on the fruit then mash with stainless steel masher;
  • Cover and leave for 5 days stirring daily;
  • Strain off the fruit and pour the liquor over the honey, stir till dissolved;
  • Add the yeast and nutrient;
  • Cover again and leave for a week while ferment dies down a bit;
  • Pour into demijohn, fit airlock and leave till ferment is finished;
  • Siphon off the lees and leave for a year;
  • Pour it down the lavatory.

Update 30.1.14 – this wine is now fermented out, it is crystal clear rich crimson in colour and very drinkable – if a little sweet.

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Native Bees

The Latin, or family name for the European Honeybee is Apis mellifera. The species occurs from southern Scandinavia and the British Isles south across Europe and into Africa and Eastwards all the way to the Urals mountain range which forms a boundary between Europe and Asia. Within that enormous area there is correspondingly enormous climactic variability so little wonder 28 subspecies have evolved.

After the glaciers of the last ice age began to retreat northwards some 12.5 thousand years ago, they left behind barren scoured rock but soon plants began to colonise and with the plants came animals including insects and including little A.mellifera. These intrepid first bees were those which could tolerate colder weather, shorter summers and much more rain than the majority. Some of the pioneer characteristics were already present as natural variability within the species  – they would have been hairier, thriftier and perhaps larger. As these bees continued to move northwards these features and others would have been further honed by the weather and the landscape as conditions became harsher. In addition, others would have occurred by natural mutations and if they conferred an advantage they would have persisted and indeed these too would have become further refined. These adaptations would have served to isolate these bees and the isolation would have led to even more deviation from the parent species.

Eventually the features of these bees became so distinct that they became indentifiable as a subspecies – Apis mellifera mellifera. Along with the visible features were behavioral characteristics which allowed them to interact more effectively with their surroundings. As this process continued over the next 12 thousand years the whetstone of evolution created for A.m.mellifera a behavioral and morphological ecotype which was as ecologically effective as it was possible to be. These features were to the bees like an organised bundle of razor sharp tools – all the right tools – but loosely bundled so that they could be dispersed with cross breeding, which is less than ideal. But then mother nature didn’t bargain for the beekeeper.

Imagine a carpenter as an evolved ecotype! The best carpenters would be those born with all the right tools while the bad ones would go extinct. Imagine then a brilliantly evolved carpenter interbreeding with a car mechanic/plasterer hybrid. Instead of the required set of razor sharp chisels, the resulting hybrids arrive with – say, a ring spanner, 2 chisels, a car jack and 6 assorted plasterer’s trowels and a saw.

But go back to the carefully evolved carpenters, not the hybrids. Within that multitude of correctly tooled-up individuals would be the full spectrum of ability – from the genius to the fool. It’s the same with bees – the native bee is an ecologically tooled-up cohort and within the full spectrum of ‘ability’ is all the variability we need to breed from. Native stocks will breed true. Native bee bred with Native bee will beget native bees all equipped as they should be and not with some mixed bag of swarm triggers picked up in… Germany, drone congregation instincts from… the Alps and wintering behaviour from… where… Italy?

Doesn’t make sense does it? No wonder crossed bees are cross bees.

Great article by John Dews here http://www.dave-cushman.net/bee/thebestbee.html

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Honey and Blackcurrant Wine Recipe

Mead flavoured with fruit is known as Melomel. I’ve got 6 blackcurrant bushes in my garden; I planted them in 2004 as cuttings. Each year now, in July I make between 10 and 30 gallons of wine from the currants they give me. Instead of sugar I use some horrible honey I bought in haste – I’m drinking my mistake. If you’re out there Frank – you know who you are – cheers!

If you have a wine hydrometer, you won’t need me to tell you how to use it and you can be more precise about how much honey you want to add.

Here is the recipe:

Ingredients

  • 3lb blackcurrants
  • 3.5lb honey
  • 1 gallon water
  • Red wine yeast and nutrient
  • Pectic enzyme

 Method

  • Mash the fruit in food grade plastic bucket. Do not use metal – I use a plastic bottle full of water as a pestle;
  • Boil honey and water in a large pan, remove scum and pour still boiling over the fruit;
  • Cover with a cloth;
  • When cooled to blood heat add pectic enzyme as per instructions on container and leave for a day;
  • Next day add the wine yeast and yeast nutrient, stir and cover;
  • Keep covered in a warm place, stirring once per day, for 5 days;
  • Strain into a demi-john, fit airlock and leave till it stops fermenting and wine clears;
  • Syphon off sediment into a clean jar;
  • Drink it.

Cheers!

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