GORMANSTON 2016 -part 11

It was time for Tuesday’s next lecture: Eamon Magee on Swarming Prevention and Control and Using the Swarming Instinct to Your Advantage. “Most healthy colonies will attempt to swarm once a year.” Tom Seeley

Why do bees swarm? To increase their population of this planet and to found new sources of drones.

Reproduction cycle: play cups and eggs. Sealed queen cell at 9 days and then the queen goes with the swarm. She is replaced by the virgin queen when it emerges and mates.

The beekeeper should do a 12/14 day inspection, looking for eggs in queen cups. If any are found, the queen should be re-housed in a nucleus with sealed brood, stores and bees, feeding if necessary.

In the discussion afterwards there was a show of hands indicating that one member of the audience uses an incubator for raising queen cells.

I’m sure that there was much more to the lecture than that but I was distracted by a spelling mistake on one of the earlier slides: Tom Seeley in persuit of…!

After the evening meal we crowded into the lecture theatre to see Dara Kilmartin taking his senior lectureship exam on bee stings. I didn’t take detailed notes except that it was an excellent talk, the best so far! It was informative and he kept our attention by keeping on the move, but not as much as Simon Rees does!

After the main talk, Dara had to choose one of three sealed envelopes containing the subject of his second lecture which he had to deliver after 10 minutes preparation. Logically, he chose the second envelope, labelled ‘B’.

The subject was ‘What Really is the Difference between Our Eyes and the Bees’ Eyes?’ This  was an ideal choice as Dara is an occulist by profession!

He told us that bees’ eyes have 5,000 – 8,000 units whereas we have only 1 per eye. Flicker fusion frequency means that bees are 10 times better at detecting movement than we are. They can also detect and make use of ultra-violet and of polarised light.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

GORMANSTON 2016 – part 10

The first lecture after lunch was Tom Prendergast on the subject of 10 hives : 500 pounds of honey. He took it at the gallop and I, and others, had the usual post-prandial powerpoint problem: nodding off at times. As a result, my notes are sporadic and not all legible.

50lbs of honey per colony is a reasonable expectation – not a big ask – if conditions are ok. Decisions need to be made and acted upon at the right time. Have a plan to follow.

We all have an excuse: the weather!  Bees survive whatever the weather. Local bees are best though. Bad mating: they manage some years better than others. Varroa. We never blame ourselves!

The reality is that in every apiary in Spring there may be good, ok, bad or dead hives but they should be fairly even by mid June. This is when you should start thinking about the following year.

Odd jobs: disease check; Varroa control; frame changes in brood chamber and supers; apply pesticides; feed when needed. Check hygiene with the needle test.

‘Brexit’ might mean bee-exit, ie fewer imports. Drone are important. Know where your neighbours are.

After the lecture I took the advantage of the coffee break to visit the Honey Show. Standards were high as always, which is why the Irish walk off with so many prizes at the National Honey Show in London. I’m not very interested in honey but was very impressed by the encaustic paintings of Lorraine and by a picture of a colony that had built a home in a bush, by Ettamarie. I took a photograph of it and posted it on Facebook..


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

GORMANSTON 2015 – part 9

Time for coffee and biscuits, then back to the hall for the next lecture: Jamie Ellis on ‘Honeybees as Superorganisms’. I got the timing wrong, assuming that it was an 11.30 start rather than 11.15, so I snuck in and sat at the back. I wasn’t the last.

I wonder whether there had been the usual hassle with computer and projector as Jamie seemed only just to have started. I managed to make two pages of notes, some of which are legible and from which I glean the following information.

Superorganism: super = above. Complex structure of interdependence. Is the honeybee colony an organism? Yes. The bee is the cell and the colony is the bee. Cell or tissue generation and ‘rejuvenation’.

If a cohort of bees is removed, other bees will ‘fill the gap’ by changing to the task of the missing older/younger bees. This is mostly controlled by pheromones.

Glands and secretions: endocrine system – hormones – pheromones to the bees are hormones to the colony.

They gather food from a 3 – 5 mile radius, which equals 28 – 79 square miles! The foraging pattern tends to be amoeboid.

Trophyllaxis and ‘communal stomach’ spreads food resources throughout the nest: group digestion.  True food – royal jelly for bees is as milk for mammals.

Respiration – gas exchange. Side fanners circulate air inside the hive at a rate of three breaths a minute in the daytime and 0.4 at night.

Worker excretion – bees ease their bowels about 40 yards away from the hive.

Wax for storage. Pesticides are lystophyllic (spelling?) and are stored in wax. Wax moths recycle all comb every 2 – 3 years. Wax is almost the liver/kidneys of the colony.

Thermoregulation: the brood nest is kept at about 95 degrees F: therefore bees are cold blooded  but their colonies warm blooded.

Communication by pheromones, the Nasenov gland providing a homing signal. Dancing is adjusted for the movement of the sun during flight time. 3 ocelli can detect the position of the sun on cloudy days. Bees have local dialects.

Communication through the comb – vibration using the comb as a phone – a cell phone!

Colony immune response. Honeybees have far fewer genes that code for immune response than other insects but the colony response is stronger.

Colonies that collect propolis have fewer problems than those that don’t. Colonies get ‘fever’, raising the core temperature if pathogens are present.

The superorganism’s method of reproduction is swarming, and also the production of drones.

All organisms die. When is a honeybee colony dead?  When it swarms? When the queen dies? When genetic information is lost? – when is that?

“A  superorganism is more than the sum of its parts” Tautz – “The Buzz About Bees”.

Queens tend to fly to further drone congregation areas than drones do.

Then came lunch. Maraid was waltzing around in clad in her Honey Queen sash for the last time before she’s superseded.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

GORMANSTON 2016 -part 8

Again I was awake and up earlier than usual and was early in the queue for breakfast, skipping the porage as I’d discovered where they’d hidden the muesli and yoghurt.

The first lecture of the day, Tuesday, was Bee Health: What and Where are Our Problems? by Mary Coffey. She knows her stuff and delivered it at the gallop. She talks faster than I can listen! My notes tell me she started with pests, pathogens and pesticides. Varroa undermines the immune system so the bee is more susceptible to viruses and nosema.

Neonicotiniods cause suppression of the immune system and fungicides inhibit de-toxification and both cause increased mortality. Neonic are applied as seed dressing and then enter the growing plant where they become available to the bee via guttation fluid. They’re not toxic but reduce efficiency and homing ability of our bees and also bumble bees.

Carla Sulis is undertaking a protein profile of bees and finds lots of proteins reduced in Varroa-punctured bees.

The COLOSS survey of winter losses had a response of 450 in Ireland -about 15% of beekeepers. Winter losses were 29.5% of which 12.5% were caused by queen problems and the rest dead colonies for no specified reason.

Internationally, 29 countries take part with 18,693 beekeepers responding who own 399,602 colonies. Ireland (both parts) and Wales had the highest losses, but Scotland was ok. There were no data for England. Smaller scale beekeepers had more losses than larger ones through poor Varroa control, age and quality of queens and the crops foraged on: oilseed rape and maize being the worst.

Comb changing – various methods eg Bailey. Queen age: half 2015, half older: not much difference. Insufficient control of Varroa – need good winter bees. The chances of using Bayvarol again successfully are minimal. Apiguard/thymol is about 85% effective but there is high variability. The treatment lasts 6 weeks and the ambient temperature must be above 15 degrees C so do it early.

MAQS is a 7 day treatment with formic acid. Mean efficacy is 70%, ranging between 60% and 99%. There is some mortality of bees and of brood but it is not a huge problem. Only 2 queens were lost. Some mites survived in the brood and reproduced successfully.

Api Bioxal is oxalic acid applied by trickling  or by vaporising. It is more than 90% effective in winter.

Conclusions: use Apiguard and oxalic. Treatments are diverse and winter losses high. Nosema ceranae are increasing but Nosema apis is going down. Some have both. More than 90% of colonies have Deformed Wing Virus.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

GORMANSTON 2016 – part 7

The dinner on Monday evening was again about as much as I’d normally eat in a day or more, followed by choir practice about which we’d been worried as it wasn’t on the programme. I kept in touch with last year’s leaderine, Claire Kehoe, by Facebook messages all week. She was in the country but not in the area but hoped to pop in and see us later in the week.

I hobbled with Molly, also on crutches, along the corridors to the Chapel as the grass on the lawn was wet. We were relieved to find the door unlocked as it isn’t always.  Then came the difficult bit. The quire gallery is reached by a spiral staircase, the steps of which are only about 2 feet wide: not easy on crutches! We managed, slowly and carefully.

Mary Berry was on the organ as she had been last year, standing in for Sean Barrett. Claire’s role was taken by Lorraine Priestley and she did it very well, but not with the exuberance of Claire. She did, at one stage, say “I’m being Claire now.” when she asked us to smile while singing to improve the tone.  Strangely enough our choir mistress at home, Jen Muggleton, also requires us to smile.

There were fewer of us in the choir this year than last, under a score. Possibly this was because, not being on the programme, not as many were aware of it, or else they had given priority to the event with which the practice clashed: Billy o’Rourke taking the Senior Lectureship exam by speaking on the subject of Swarm Prevention and Control in Kerry.

After hobbling down the staircase again, I made my way to the lecture hall for the Dave Cushman Memorial Lecture: Beekeeping in Africa by Dr Grace Asiko from Kenya, with whom I’d been chatting at the reception the previous evening.  Unfortunately I didn’t have my notebook with me and cannot now recall what she told us.

Afterwards, people mingled in the Refectory where there was a bar with no beer but plenty of wine. During the first week or so after I broke my leg the whole foot swelled up and became very tender: like gout but ten times worse! For the past week it had been going down and I was able to wriggle my toes again and they weren’t as cherry-red as they had been. The stretching and swelling must have killed off the outer layer of skin which was peeling off in large flakes and tendrils.

This was noticed by a Wise Woman (white witch) whom I recognised but couldn’t place at the time. She kindly presented me with her small pot of potion she had made from beeswax and comfrey (the herbal healer). The pot was almost empty as she had been using it to reduce her age spots but there was enough for me to apply some morning and night and I am still using it over a week later.

After a pleasant evening nattering, supping wine and catching up with the world via my tablet computer, I had an early night to catch up on sleep.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

GORMANSTON 2016 – part 6

We’re still on Monday! After the tea and biscuit break it was back to the main lecture hall for Pam Hunter on Toxic and Unpalatable Honey and Pollen. This was another interesting lecture and Pam certainly knows what she’s talking about!

The question was posed: why would bees collect harmful stuff?  There are very few truly toxic plants in the UK and Ireland, unlike New Zealand where honey from the Tutu tree is toxic to humans and can be fatal!  The problem is caused not by nectar but by ‘vine hoppers’ producing honeydew from the sap. Mention was made of the NZ laurel and of the solanace family, which includes spuds, tomatoes and datura, the thorn apple or angel’s trumpet.

Honey from Rhododendron ponticum was used during the wars in Asia minor over 2,000 years ago to poison invading armies unaware of the consequences of feasting on that honey.

In this country, we have buttercups and monkshood which, if bees use them, are potentially harmful. The only time I have ever seen bees working buttercups was last year at Buckfast Abbey.

Ragwort was said to produce an unpalatable honey, although I don’t mind the taste, but it looks a little cloudy. There’s no evidence of it causing damage to us or to the bees.  People seem to have forgotten that it’s an offence under the 1959 Weeds Act to allow it to grow as it is blooming everywhere at the moment!

Lime can stupefy bees but doesn’t do so every year. Maybe the weather’s a factor.

Nicotine and caffeine, besides being addictive to humans is also to bees so attracts repeat visits which improves pollination.

Time for dinner!


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

GORMANSTON 2016 – part 5

The first lecture after lunch was by Jamie Ellis from Georgia, a professor at the University of Florida.  He’s one of my favourite lecturers! He was accompanied by his son, Jude, age 4 and a half who spent all the time playing silently on one of these new fashionable electric toys.

I have attended a version of this lecture, on Honeybee Biology, before at the National Honey Show, and you can view it on their web site.  Hmmm… lots of the lectures at Gormanston were videoed. I wonder whether they will be available on-line: does anybody know?

My very brief notes (it’s difficult to note one subject while he’s moved onto the next!) are that the record number of drones with which a queen has been proved to have mated is 59!  Workers can switch back and forth between their usual roles based on supply and demand. A worker cell will be visited about 5,000 times and the larva fed 1,000 – 2,000 times. The average worker spends 90% of her life resting!

Jamie’s lecture had clashed with the workshop of Lorraine Priestley on Encaustic Painting. I would have liked to have gone to it as I had tried it at home for the very first time only a few days earlier using a piece of scrap plywood as a ‘canvas’. It looked horrible close up but, on the far side of the room with a good light, it’s rather good! Somebody has asked if they can have it!

Caroline Luxford went to the workshop and afterwards showed me the picture she had made with which she was, rightly, thrilled! With the use of only white and silver on a black postcard she had produced a landscape with water, plants, hills, sky and a bird.  I must do more of it!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment