Friday, August 24, 2012

Bee Week! - Wax & Bees in Art

Bees excrete wax from glands on their abdomen, sounds bizzare and looks even weirder!

They pull the wax off with their back legs and work it into shape with their mouths to create the comb the queen will lay the eggs in and the workers will store their honey and pollen in.

It takes a lot of energy for a Bee to make wax, they consume about 8oz of honey to create 1oz of wax.

A swarm of Bees can be encouraged to cover objects with wax by the use of pheromones. This sculpture was created by trapping a swarm of Bees in a glass box with a wax covered human form on which they started to draw out comb. The artist had coloured wax already on the form, the Bees drew it out with their own wax to create this amazing work of art.

Here are the Bees building it:

Here is the Artist explaining his work:

He has done quite a few pieces with Bees in this way.

Further Reading:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bee Week! - The Sting - Allergies

Firstly you need to know this - Bees do not sting just 'cos.
It kills a bee when they sting a human, our skin is so tough that it holds onto the stinger and when the Bee tries to fly away, their intestines get pulled out with the sting as it stays behind.
Eeuw, indeed!

Zeus and the Bees

A Greek Fable by the story-teller Aesop

One day the bee, the mother of the candles, paid a visit to the gods and brought them honeycombs and honey. Zeus, the King of the Gods, took great pleasure in the gift and wanted to offer the bee whatever she would ask.
And the bee said: "Zeus, give me a sting to defend my labors from the humans".But Zeus loved the human race too much, so he told the bee: "Certainly! I'll give you the sting, so you can defend yourself if someone takes your honey. But you must know that if you do evil to man, hitting him with the sting, you will immediately die- your sting is your life!"

In all the books and websites I found when I was investigating having Bees it always said, make sure you get tested for allergies to Bee stings before you get  a hive.
I wonder how many people actually do that, I also wonder how many people realise how bad it can be if you are allergic to Bee stings.

We didn't test for allergies in our family....turns out that we didn't need to as none of us started out allergic.
What I also didn't realise was, that you can become allergic, I guess I figured that you were either allergic or not, like some people can't deal with peanuts, gluten, lactose, tomatoes (I have a friend who cannot eat anything from the nightshade family - tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, aubergines etc etc).
I thought you would have been born this way.


Having had the Bees for about 3 years and having been stung about 4 times during that period I though everything was ok, each time I got stung though, the local reaction was more severe than the time before. Starting with a small red bump and a bit of itching, then a bigger area that turned red and swollen, next time it stayed painful and swollen for about 5 days. The 4th Bee sting was earlier this year, I wasn't even inspecting the hive, I was sliding a sticky board under from the back of the hive to check the mite levels. Which is normally a safe place to be. A Bee flew up to check me out, got caught in my hair and rather than squash it, I tried to get it out.
It panicked and stung me.
I removed the sting by scraping it away, (Never try to hold a Bee sting and pull it out as you will end up squeezing more venom into yourself) I put a cold flannel, and some baking powder on my forehead and took a swig of liquid antihistamine.
Within 10 minutes, my whole body was itching, and I had come out in hives all over my face and chest. So I did what any self respecting geek does and Googled my symptoms.
Having come to the conclusion that I was suffering an anaphylactic reaction to the Bee Venom I drove to the Emergency doctors 5 mins down the road. As I was filling in the admittance forms I could feel my throat closing up and started to feel faint, they got me on a stretcher, set up an IV and dosed me up with Hydrocortisone. Luckily I reacted to that and didn't need the adrenaline or the ambulance. I lay there for about  2 hours while the drugs took effect and  they made sure I wasn't going to 'bounceback' and suffer a relapse.

Swelling 2 days after the sting at my hairline.

Next steps, make an appointment with my GP for a referral to a specialist allergy clinic, luckily its only 10 mins up the road from work, and even luckilier (if thats even a word) my health insurance covered the cost of specialist consultations and de-sensitizing injections.
I tested highly allergic to Bees and now am on a course of De-Sensitising injections, I have been having a jab every week for about 10 weeks now, soon I go onto monthly ones. They increase the dosage a little every week, this week I got 1.2 of a Bee. My arm went red, swollen, itchy and sore but the reaction was only localised so I know its working so far. By the end of the course (5 years) I will be up to 2 Bees at once in the injections.
Giving up the bees wasn't really an option if there was a possible way around it, I'm looking forward to the summer now with them even though I still have to carry an epipen with me in case I ever get multiple stings.

While I was waiting for the results to come back and the options to be presented about de-sensitising I tracked down a Radio New Zealand Podcast by Simon Morton who went through a similar thing last year.
Simon puts out a radio show at the weekend on RNZ called 'This Way Up' all about various interesting things. He has documented his own experiences with installing chickens and then Bees in his backyard. We got our bees shortly after Simon got his and we were rapt by his stories from bee keepers about how you go about getting bees and looking after them. I contacted Simon who is a thoroughly nice chap and had a chat with him about how his treatment was going and how he felt now about dealing with his bees, he couldn't bear to give them up either once he had had an allergic reaction. It put my mind at ease about getting stuck into it and now I am immensely pleased that I have started the treatment. I don't think I would have been able to go through it without  health insurance though as it's not a cheap fix.

Thanks Sovereign Insurance :)

Further Reading and Resources:

Twitter accounts to follow

Podcasts to subscribe to
The Kiwimana Buzz

About Allergies and Desensitising treatments for insect stings in NZ

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bee Week! - Beginning Beekeeping,

I saw an episode of River Cottage a few years ago where Hugh had Beehives at River Cottage and someone else had hives on their roof in East London. They did a blind taste test and the one from the city hive actually came out in front!
I also realised then that you didn't need a 40 acre field if you wanted to keep Bees.
this is the segment that got me thinking about having our own hives.

Urban beekeeping - (River Cottage Spring -... by dafoo

Here in New Zealand the feral honey Bee population has been decimated by the Varroa Destructor mite  since it arrived here in the late 90s, so it's up to Beekeepers (hobbyist and commercial) to keep the managed Bee populations going now.

If you don't feel ready to have and care for your own Bee hive there are companies who will site a hive on your property and look after it, often involving you as much as you'd like. They normally charge a small fee but you will get honey and the experience of looking after the Bees if you'd like. Plus your plants, and your neighbours plants will get pollinated.

Our first hive, right at the top of the garden.

You may be lucky enough to find a local Beekeeper through your Bee club who will put a hive in your garden and not charge you but still give you honey! Bonus :)

Our First Honey

First steps for anyone who thinks they might like to have Bees.
1. Find a local Bee Club, go along to a meeting, ask questions, remember that we all started somewhere so ask whatever you want. They are generally quite a friendly, if often eccentric bunch.
2. Do as much reading as you can about Bees and Beekeeping. I went to our local library and ordered all the books, there were about 15 different publications available, I devoured them all. I spent hours online looking at forums and finding stuff out.
3. Buy the kit, smoker, veil, gloves, hive tool.
5. Buy your first hive from someone you find through the local Bee club.
6. Get stuck in!

Further reading.
Local Blogs, Websites, and Twitter accounts to follow.
Twitter  List!/KerryPayne/bee-tweeples

Starting out
Want someone to look after a hive on your property?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bee Week! - Bee Friendly Gardens & Plants

Look after the Bees and they will look after you, by pollinating your flowers fruit trees and veggies. Bees need water, different varieties of pollen for their proteins year round, and nectar for their energy as well to turn into honey for themselves and us.

A strong hive can use up to a litre of water a day in the Summer! The Bees take it back home to evaporate to cool the hive. as well as drinking it.

One of our girls taking a drink
Hives right by the pond
Most urban beekeepers will make make sure that their hives have a supply of water nearby to prevent the Bees from hitting up the neighbours swimming pool in summer. This can be a slowly dripping tap into a post with stones in, to give them something to stand on and not drown, a poultry drinker, dog bowl or siting the hives near a pond or stream.
Our Bees love to hang out at the edge of the waterfall in our pond which is near the hives.

Bees need pollen all year round to feed their babies, it is their source of protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Therefore a variety of plants, some of which flower in winter and autumn as well as the summer and spring flowering varieties is a good idea. Some research into CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) suggests that urban Bees do better than their rural counterparts as they have a wider variety of pollen and nectars to feed from. The monoculture environments where Bees are shipped from orchard to orchard for their pollination services (in the USA for example in the almond or stone fruit industry) will only provide pollen from one type of tree/plant. It would be like you or I only eating one type of protein rich food all the time, we would eventually lack some of the vital minerals, vitamins and amino acids our bodies need to be strong and fight infection. It has been suggested that that Bees who feed only one kind of pollen all summer are more likely to contract disease as well as succumbing to the deadly Varroa Destructor mite.

Bee with full pollen baskets on her legs 
Bees store Pollen as 'bee bread' in the frames next to the honey see the different yellow/orangey coloured cells? 

The primary energy source for Bees. Nectar contains sucrose, fructose and glucose. Again, different species of plants produce different types, flavours etc of nectar, this can give the honey some of its characteristics.

Each worker Bee in her lifetime only produces one teaspoon of honey - think about that the next time you get to the bottom of the honey jar and there is a teaspoon left.

Bees take the nectar back to the hive by storing in a separate 'honey stomach', when they get home they transfer it to a house Bee by mouth to mouth, the recipient house Bee mixes the nectar with enzymes from their stomach, this breaks down the sugars, starting to turn the nectar into honey. This nectar is stored in the cells of the honey comb and once most of the water has been evaporated from it, it is capped over with wax for storage.

Bees transferring nectar, mouth to mouth
Our early season light floral honey

We have found that if we take honey off the hives early in the summer it tends to be light and floral in taste, if we take the honey off towards the end of the summer it tends to be darker and richer.
This produces honey which are advertised as 'Clover',  'Pohutakawa' or Manuka' where the hives have been placed in locations where there is an abundance od one plant flowering at a time.
Bees tend to visit one species at a time, so If you do plant flowers for them its a good idea if you can, to have a lot of the same species so the pollen and nectar produced are utilised by the Bees.

Further Reading.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bee Week! - Why Bees are dying off and how we can help.

There has been a lot of press over the past few years about Bees dying off, many theories have been put forward over this time and they seem to be distilling down into a few things working with each other that weaken colonies enough to prevent them surviving.
CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) is where they just disappear, one day the hives are busy with tens of thousands of Bees going about their business, the next day there are only a few baby Bees emerging, dying or dead brood (from getting chilled as no Bees to keep the hive warm inside).

The latest theory about this is that Bees become disorientated when out foraging, can't find their way home they die in the field at night, cold, alone and frightened. This can happen as a result of them absorbing pesticides that contain neonicotinoids which are found on pollen, nectar and the leaves, flowers and stems of plants that have been treated with it.
Studies have shown that Bees exposed to the Neonicotinoids have trouble navigating and aslo learning (including learning the routes from the pollen and nectar sources back home)
some countries have taken the step of banning this chemical and subsequently seen increases in Bee population, specifically France.
A study in which Bees exposed to neonicotinoids found that they were especially vulnerable to the Varroa Destructor, a common Bee parasite. Another study found that neonicotinoids dramatically increase the toxicity of fungicides to the affected Bee population.

The real scary shit is that once this stuff is in the soil it will affect the water quality in the aquifer and will never actually disappear from the bio cycle of the earth and water-table.

What we can do about this.
On a scale of 'really easy' to 'really passionate' here are some things you can do to help.

1. On a small scale these pesticides are also available scarily enough in your local garden centre. So firstly don't buy them, choose something else, read the labels and see whats in it before you hit the checkout. the thing you don't want in there is Imidacloprid

2. If you do see them in the Garden Centre, DIY store, mention it to the person on the floor or ask to see the manager and suggest to them that they stop stocking such a nasty chemical ( there are plenty of other pesticides out there that are Bee friendly and work just fine.
3. Let all your friends and social network know about his step, make others aware that they are contributing to the problem by buying this. 
4. Write to the company responsible here in NZ ask they to reconsider selling this or making it more apparent that this chemical is responsible for declining Bee numbers.
Yates New Zealand,
PO Box 1109,
Auckland 1000.
6. Write to David Carter (Government minister for Primary industry in NZ)or your local MP , Bayer Industries and/or the USDA, urging them to reconsider the viability of this poisonous chemical.
5. Make your garden a bee friendly place - more on this tomorrow.

Further reading.