Thursday, 29 December 2016

Beehive Thefts

There's been a rash of beehive thefts lately.

There are a few things going that that might cause this: The price of manuka honey is rising fast. And the bee industry is growing like crazy too, with lots of new beekeepers coming in to the industry to try and make a good dollar.

This also means the value of beehives is increasing too. A 2 box hive used to cost about $700 a couple of years ago, now it is above $1000.

All of this creates an industry where the get-rich-pickings seem irresistable, so the opportunity is there for less scrupulous people to take advantage too. Hence the increase in beehive thefts.

Where are the bee thefts from?

This is not from any official source like the police, but my gatherings of anecdotal information over the last month or so.

It seems that beehive thefts have been occurring in quite a few places:
  • North Waikato
  • Whanganui
  • Tauranga
  • Hokianga
  • South Wairarapa
It doesn't seem to be such a problem in the South Island.

What have the thieves been doing?

Well, this is where it gets a bit bizarre.

There is the usual, which is what you might expect, where thieves take whole boxes. At this time of year it is often 2 box hives. And they leave just a dent in the grass. In one case they took the boxes but left the bases.

And how many hives are taken? It depends a bit on how many hives are at a site. And how many make up a truck or ute load. The numbers are from 12 to dozens.

Thieves have cut through padlocks to get into paddocks. Or lifted the whole lot over wire fences, quite a mission.

In another variation, the thieves took just the frames and bees out of the boxes, and left the boxes behind.

Then bizarrely, there have been a couple of cases it seems, where the thieves took the frames, and replaced them with new plastic foundation frames. Is that weird or not? Well, maybe, maybe not.

Read the full post here for some theories about who these thieves are, and an outline of things you can do to protect your hives.

Friday, 9 December 2016

10 little-known magic medicinal benefits of honey

Jars of manuka honey

The world is in trouble from super-bugs.

Back in 1928 the first antibiotic - penicillin - was accidentally discovered. And it worked a treat, curing all sorts of life-threatening bacterial infections. Other antibiotics were discovered or created. Great! People were declaring the world would soon be completely free from bacterial disease.

But what has happened? Bacteria has developed resistance to our antibiotics. And some of these bacteria are now a huge problem in our hospitals. MRSA is a big one.

Honey as medicine

The answer to all this may well be in honey.

Honey has been used for millennia as a healing agent. And now manuka honey is a thing (and has only been in existence for the last 150 years) it adds an extra layer too (see number 4.).

So, how does honey deal with bacteria?

Here are 10 magical ways that honey can heal bacterial infections:

1. Osmotic Action

The high sugar content of honey pulls water out of the surrounding environment, and effectively dehydrates bacteria, causing them to die.

2. High Acidity

Honey is acidic. This stops microbial growth of bacteria.

3. Hydrogen Peroxide

Glucose Oxidase is an enzyme added by bees - see this post for more about this. It turns into hydrogen peroxide, which is an antibiotic. All honey does this, some more than others.

4. Non-peroxide Activity

This one is manuka honey only. Manuka honey makes methylgloxal (MGO), which is a heat stable antibacterial.

5. Moist Wound Environment

Honey supports the formation of new tissue in wounds by creating a moist wound environment. Most antibiotics delay healing.

6. Debridement

Honey helps with the removal of dead, damaged or infected tissue. This is necessary so the new tissue can grow.

7. Stops Noxious Odours

Deep wounds smell, which is distressing. Honey works to stop these noxious odours.

8. Anti-inflammatory

Honey soothes and relieves inflammation.

9. Anti-fungal

Some honeys inhibit fungal growth.

10. Antioxidants

Honey is an antioxidant. Which we all know promotes good health and longevity.

Isn't that cool? That's for all honeys, not just manuka. Manuka is just extra special, and super powerful.

If you would like to read a bit more of the science, check out the full post at Business of Bees.

If you would like to grow manuka trees, check out the free resources here.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

How do bees make honey from nectar?

The bees are all busy collecting nectar at this time of year, in the spring.

But what do they do with it? How do they turn it into honey?

The short story is, they change the sugars chemically, and remove water. Let's look at that in more depth:

Collecting nectar

Plants produce nectar in nectaries. Nectar is mostly sucrose and water.

The shiny middle is the nectary, and nectar. This is a manuka flower.
When a forager bee visits, she will suck up the nectar with her long mouth part. She stores the nectar in her sac in front of her stomach.

A bee can carry up to about 40mg, which is the size of a large raindrop. Quite a lot, compared to the size of a bee!

Inside her stomach, enzymes are added. These start the process of converting the sucrose to simple sugars of glucose and fructose.

Back to the hive

The forager returns back to the hive with her load. There she passes the nectar to the mouths of waiting hive bees. 

These bees also add the same enzymes, to continue the chemical changes. 

The processing bees spend about 20 minutes holding droplets out on their 'tongues', so some water can evaporate. 

Evaporation continues

Once the moisture content is down to about 30 - 50% the hive bees put the nectar into cells, just lightly packed and spread on the cell walls.

The bees turn the hive into a huge dehumidifier, and start fanning their wings to circulate warm air throughout the hive to evaporate more moisture from the ripening honey. This works best at night when the outside humidity is lower.

They also move the honey around from cell to cell, gradually increasing the quantity in each cell.

The honey comb cells are capped

When the honey is fully ripe, it is repacked into a new cell, full up, and a wax cap put on the top. This is like putting the lid on a jar of honey - it prevents the honey from reabsorbing moisture.

It's important that the moisture content is kept low, as otherwise the honey will start to ferment, and the sugar change into alcohol, which is toxic to the bees.

Honey qualities

So these marvellous bees have:
  • changed the sugar to glucose and fructose - which is an easily digestible form of energy
  • added other enzymes that create antibacterial properties (this is all honey, not just manuka - manuka has another, extra chemical process)
  • evaporated water so the honey won't ferment
  • made it more acidic, which helps it keep
And then they store it, so the whole colony can survive winter. All pretty special for the animal kingdom.

If you would like to read a bit more of the science-y bits, see the full post at Business of Bees

Saturday, 26 November 2016

The honey flow is on

Manuka just starting to flower in spring

The manuka is starting to flower! That's here in Auckland. In Northland it is partly over, not been a great season for them apparently as it was quite wet this spring. And further south, the trees will still be budding up.

But right here, we've got about 6 weeks of lovely manuka flowers for our bees to go out foraging on, to make high grade manuka honey. This is called the Honey Flow.

How to tell when the honey flow is starting?

How do you identify when the nectar is ready and the bees are starting to make honey?

There are 4 things to look for:
1. The bees are out and about, on the flowers, and they are non-aggressive
2. The entrance to the hive is very active with bees
3. They are building white wax in the hive, which will become the honey comb
4. If you tip a frame up, fresh nectar will drip out

Why timing your bee build up is so important

It's important to get the timing of the bee colony numbers build up just right.

If the bees build up too quickly, and are at peak before the honey flow, they may starve (and die).

If they build up too slowly, then once the nectar starts, there will not be enough bees to maximise nectar collection and honey production and the beekeeper will miss the honey flow, and have a poor harvest.

It they build up too quickly, they are likely to swarm. And you lose half your bees to some distant tree.

You want a large population of workers old enough to forage for nectar right as the honey flow starts. How many is 'large'? Enough bees to fully occupy more than 1 brood box.

How to take advantage of the honey flow

There are quite a few more steps to ensure you have a good harvest:

1. What size hive is best? Lots of small ones? A few big ones?

2. When do you add honey supers (the boxes that go on the top of the hive that get filled with honey)? How many honey supers should you add at a time? 

3. How often do you need to check the hives?

4. What type of frames should you add? - drawn comb frames or foundation? - this means frames already with the honey comb on them (drawn), or frames where the bees build their own comb (foundation). This will have a definite impact on your harvest.

To read more about these issues, visit the full post here at Business of Bees.

Friday, 11 November 2016

How to grow manuka from cuttings v2

Last week's cuttings didn't do so well now did they? Drat!

So I had a bit of a think about what went wrong. And did some research.

And here is what I remembered, and discovered:

Spring cuttings

Spring v Autumn

There is quite a difference in technique in making cuttings in spring and in making cuttings in summer and autumn.

In spring the trees are just starting to grow. The new tips are soft and tender and small.

In summer and autumn the tips are much hardier. The wood is harder, the tips are longer between the leaves (called nodes).

Both times are good, as the tree is still growing, but a different method of making cuttings is required. And last week's experiment was the autumn way. In spring.

So, how did I do it this time round?

Spring Cuttings

The trick with cuttings is to make them about 3-4 nodes long. Now the problem with this is that manuka has tiny leaves. So 3-4 nodes is tiny also. And in spring the growth is REALLY close together.

In the end, I made mine about 3cm (1 inch) long. Still more than 4 nodes, but about the size my fingers could cope with.

tiny spring cuttings of manuka
And guess what? It worked! They all look pretty much the same, a week later, as the top picture when I had just planted them.

Next up, I'll let them grow until they start producing roots, then let you know just when to pot them up, how to tell, and what to do next.

In the meantime, if you want a bit more in depth information, and more pictures check out the full post in Business of Bees.

And don't forget to sign up for your free Step by step guide to growing manuka from seeds.
Spring's a great time of year to grow manuka from seed!

Friday, 4 November 2016

Growing Manuka Trees from Cuttings

Spring growth manuka

It's spring. Our big manuka trees are shooting forth, creating new leaves on their tips. It must be time to take cuttings.

The first batch of cuttings we did are doing amazingly well. They are 18 months old, over a metre tall, and flowering. Already!

Flowering manuka

So I thought I would make some more. We've done a lot from seeds, but if cuttings grow faster, then that would be a good thing to do too.

Softwood v Semi-hardwood cuttings

At this time of year the manuka trees are just starting to grow and produce new growth tips. Cuttings taken from brand new tips are called softwood cuttings. Because the wood is 'soft' I guess.

The last lot of cuttings I took, in autumn, were from semi-hardwood cuttings - so the wood is firmer and the new shoots are tougher.

The other type of cuttings that you can take are hardwood cuttings, which are taken in late autumn and winter, and when the plants are dormant. This type is usually used for deciduous trees, so not appropriate here.

Both softwood and semi-hardwood are supposed to be good for manuka.

Taking manuka cuttings

How to take cuttings

1. Cut off a tip from a branch.
2. Strip off the bottom leaves.
3. Dip in root-forming hormone.
4. Put into a pot of potting mix and firm down.
5. Water lightly.

Newly potted manuka cuttings

And here they are. Looking good!

But a week later, this is what they look like:

Eek! Not so good huh?

So, what went wrong?

There are 3 things that might have gone wrong.

1. Cuttings need to be fresh off the tree

With these ones the trees were far away from my potting station. It took a couple of hours before I got to turning them into proper cuttings and planting them.

2. Cuttings in autumn are best

These were very soft wood cuttings. The manuka trees I took these from were only just beginning to grow for the season.

I think that spring is best for planting seeds, and autumn is best for making cuttings. The ones I did in autumn were just so much more robust, not all flimsy and floppy and soft.

3. Do not over-water

Its possible they have had too much water. 

It would be ideal to mist them until they strike. But the Department of Weather has not obliged, and it has been raining. Not intensively, but not a fine mist either.

The best way to do cuttings at home

So the best way to do cuttings in your backyard is to do them in autumn. Leave the tricky aspects of cuttings in spring to the commercials. Instead, spring is a great time to sow seeds.

Always something to do...

To get a free pictorial step-by-step guide to Growing Manuka from Seeds, sign up here. And check out Business of Bees for in-depth downloadable courses on establishing your manuka plantation with bees in mind.

Post script:

I tried again, after a bit or research and remembering, and it worked much better. Just needs a 'spring way'. Check out the post here

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Growing Manuka from Seeds - Free Information

There is a honey rush on!

Do you want to be part of it?

Better plant some manuka trees then.

Download your free Pictorial Step-by-Step Guide to Growing Manuka Trees from Seeds. Free!

And there is lots more information on Business of Bees, including comprehensive e-courses in planning, growing and planting manuka trees for honey production.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

18 tips for making $1mill in your first year beekeeping

Can you really make $1mill in your first year beekeeping?

A row of beehives waiting for the honey flow

We have a honey rush on. Everyone is jumping on the bee bandwagon hoping to make millions from manuka honey. Are they nuts, or on to something? Let's do the numbers:

Let's say you get 1000 hives in your first year. Each hive makes maybe 25kg of honey. Manuka honey sells for much more than pasture honey these days, so let's say $40/kg. So that's 1000 hives x 25kg honey x $40/kg = $1mill.

Well, that works. What could go wrong? Or maybe, a better question, what do you need to do right to succeed? 

Here are 18 tips to help you avoid some of the common pitfalls as a new beekeeper wanting to get in on the honey rush. For more information on each item, read the full post on Business of Bees.

Making 1000 hives

1. Bees are excellent at growing. When a hive is big enough, you can split it, and make 2 hives. But 2 split hives are way less productive honey-wise, than one big hive. So it is a trade off - lots of hives or lots of honey.

2. Hives that are too small tend to die. Don't split too much.

3. Splitting requires new queens. Queens are in short supply (lots of beekeepers doing just this, and splitting like mad to create lots of hives). Have a strategy for this.

4. 1000 new hives will require 1000 hive lids and 1000 hive floors and maybe 3000 hive boxes, and 30,000+ frames. And the boxes need to be ordered, and assembled, and painted, and stored.

5. 1000 hives will need 2-3 beekeepers. Who know what they are doing. Not your sister and cousin. Or not immediately, they can come in later when there is training sorted.

6. Your beekeepers need to be dedicated, hard working and smart. There is no free lunch here. Same goes for any other hangers-on. Everyone needs to be earning their keep.

7. Bees die. Varroa, AFB, starvation, swarming. Plenty of things to do all year to keep your bees alive. Find out about this, and know what you are doing. And then do it.

8. Where are these bees going to go over autumn and winter? Have you got sufficient space for them, and food?

Making 25kg honey / hive

9. See 1. Too much splitting means you are growing bees, but not honey. You may actually make 0kg honey / hive. Make sure you are choosing this deliberately, if this is your strategy, or that you have your balance of hives:honey sorted to keep your business going.

10. Where are these 1000 hives going to live? The stocking rate is 2 hives / ha. So that's 500 ha.

11. You will likely need other farmers' land. And agreements for hive placement. This means $, not a jar of honey.

12. Don't crowd your hives. Bees starve if there are too many bees and not enough flowers.

Making $40/kg

13. $40/kg only happens with manuka honey. So...put your bees in manuka. Otherwise you might get $6/kg.

14. A small patch of manuka will not cut it. You need at least 20ha, 50ha is better, so the bees have enough to forage on.

15. High DHA manuka nectar is the way to go. The science is still new on this, so it's a bit of 'watch this space', but something to keep in the back of your mind.

16. Bees don't like manuka all that much. They would much prefer to go to that lovely clover. You need some tricks and techniques to help them do what you want, which is feast exclusively on manuka.

17. Manuka only flowers for 6 weeks. Where are they going to forage for the rest of the year? Got a plan?

And my last, and most important, tip

18. Be passionate about bees. Work hard. Employ others who will work hard. Be smart about what you do. Constantly monitor, measure, tweak and think about how things are going. Just like any other business really.

There might be a honey rush on, but this is not a free-lunch opportunity. Only the best will make it through the long run.

Read the full post on Business of Bees

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Sticky bee droppings on washing

Bees in early spring

If you were a bee in early spring, what do you think would be most on your mind?

Here's a clue: you have been inside for a couple of months. There's not been much to do except cleaning up the queen and larvae's excrement. The weather's been terrible, and you haven't been able to get out.

Oh, and the toilet is outside.

So, the first fine day, everyone rushes the gates and goes out for a poop. They will do their business a bit away from the hive, but not far, say up to 500m.

Bees typically fly in a set flight path between the hive and their current food source. So, if you have your washing hanging out, it's a beautiful day in spring, you have a beehive nearby, and you happen to be on a bee highway...your washing will be covered in sticky yellow bee poop.

So at this point you have a choice:
- to get the sticky yellow stuff out of your washing you will need to soak it for an hour, then wash again.
- if its on your house, then give it a good soak with the hose, and keep it wet for 20 minutes, then wash with soapy water or blast with a pressure hose. That's the theory.
- hang your washing under cover
- hang your washing out at night only - bees don't fly at night, right? - if this works for you let me know, and I'll bring my washing around too.
- talk nicely to the beekeeper and she might give you some honey

But at least you can console yourself with the thought that bees pooing outside the hive is an excellent sign that all is well, and they are healthy. It's the ones pooing inside the hive that is a problem.

For more on this check out Business of Bees

And if you would like to get your free copy of a Pictorial Step by Step Guide to Growing Manuka Trees from Seeds sign up here.

Leave me a comment - do you have a better way to deal with sticky yellow bee poop?

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Feeding sugar to bees in spring

Feeding bees syrup

One of our most important bee management activities happens right now, in early spring.

We feed the bees sugar syrup.

In Auckland our honey flow - the time of the nectar being ripe on the trees for the bees to collect and turn into honey - starts in about November. So, to make maximum honey, we need maximum bees ready to take advantage of that.

Now from egg to nectar collector (a forager) takes about 6 weeks. So about 6 weeks before honey flow, the bees need to decide to start on the baby production. I mentioned the pollen from gorse in the last blog post but they also need nectar, or nectar substitute.

Which is sugar syrup. You can see in the picture it looks like the syrup is being poured directly into the hive. But there is a feeder box sitting inside the hive beside the brood frames, so the bees can stay in and eat. And also so no foreigners come to dinner.

For some more of the in-depth gumpf on this visit Business of Bees

And for a free downloadable Pictorial Step by Step Guide to Growing Manuka Trees from Seeds sign up here.

Don't forget to share this with your friends.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Spring pollen for bees from gorse

Gorse in bloom

The bees are up and about now the weather has warmed up. And the queen is awake and started laying eggs again. These eggs will grow into brood, or bee babies, and then hatch out as bees.

But the nurse bees need to keep feeding the brood for them to keep on growing. So the foraging bees need to start hustling.

There isn't much to eat at this time of year though, most plants have not started flowering yet. Luckily we have gorse, that invasive introduced pest plant, that flowers bang on now.

Basically bees collect 2 types of things. Nectar is carbs, and is used to create wax and honey. Pollen is protein and essential nutrients and is required to feed the brood. Gorse produces excellent pollen.

So all these lovely gorse bushes that we chopped down so heartily pre-bees are going to be excellent food for our newly emerging bees. Although when I took this picture I didn't see a single bee visiting. I'm wondering if the flowers weren't quite open enough. I might need to revisit, test out that theory.

For more of the science-y bits around this check out Business of Bees blog post.

And sign up to collect your free downloadable Pictorial Step by Step Guide to Growing Manuka Trees from Seeds. Free! Did I say?

Leave me a comment too, below.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

September is Bee Awareness Month

A bee in winter in a freesia flower

Here it is, already September. Are we getting old or what?

But, good news! Its officially spring.

And it's also the start of Bee Awareness Month. The good folk at NZ Gardener have set up 2 things for us to do this year.

You can register your bee friendly plantings of this spring on their Plan Bee map. The map looks like this. And for bonus points you get to name your place - so here's the chance to live in 'Queen Bee Karen's Palace' or whatever it is that takes your fancy. Can't ask for better than that!

But wait, that's not all...this year also they have created a Great Kiwi Bee Count. This is a joint programme between NZ Gardener and the scientists at Plant and Food Research.

Here's my early bee above. She was out in early August (so doesn't qualify for the count), but was quite persistent in supping away, even though I was holding this bunch of picked flowers.

I'm guessing that all you beekeepers out there don't need to do a bee count. Might not be quite what the scientists had in mind.

Leave me a comment below, and tell me what you want to know and I'll see what I can do for you. And remember to check out Business of Bees

Friday, 26 August 2016

Planting manuka trees time

OK, so we know that the best time to plant manuka trees is autumn and winter. Then they have a good chance of establishing roots and getting lots of water before they start growing like crazy in spring.

And now its one week off September, and then officially spring. Eek. And yippee.

Our bees have certainly figured out it's spring, last weekend they were out in force.

But, its been raining and raining all winter. And raining, did I say? Not such great weather for the humans planting the trees. And on a lazy Sunday, get all rugged up in the gumboots and coat? Nah. But no worries, we planted some last weekend. Still winter, right?

Here you go:
1. Dig hole
2. Add compost
3. Bung in tree
4. Press down a bit.

Some of our new trees even have flowers. I would be picking these are the ones that we made from cuttings, which helps them reach maturity a lot earlier.

For more pictures (and words) check out Business of Bees Blog.

And, from the hot-of-the-press department, the new Pictorial Guide to Growing Manuka from Seeds (FREE!) is now available. So go on, go and download it and enjoy!

Don't forget to share it with your friends too. And add your comments below.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Manuka Honey Madness

Why is this sight of stacks of beehives going to become more familiar?

The manuka honey industry is growing like mad. The annual value of honey exports is up by 45% to $286mill in the 12 months to December 2015.

Did you catch that? 45% increase! Little old NZ!

So what does this mean? And why is it happening?

Manuka honey stats

Well, it's all from our manuka honey. And guess what? No one else makes manuka honey. IN THE WORLD!

Check out my blog post here on Business of Bees for all the in-depth stats and analysis, but the executive summary is that NZ is punching way above our weight in terms of value of honey exports. We are right up near the top in terms of $ value, although not for volume.

Which means manuka honey is much more expensive than other honeys. Well, we know this...I bought a 500g jar of honey at the market for $60 last weekend. $60! To spread on my toast!

Another great reason to get into this industry

So say you don't actually want to deal with the bees; cute furry little creatures, but they do sting. Well, how about planting manuka?

All those beekeepers are going to need manuka trees to put their beehives near, right? 

It's estimated that a new manuka plantation on marginal hill country can return 10-15% yearly on the cost of establishment.

For more on this check out the resources on Business of Bees

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Why is the NZ honey industry going crazy?

If you wanted to invest in an industry that was growing exponentially, then beekeeping is the thing. For this decade at least.

So, what's been happening?

Back in 2010 there were around 3000 registered beekeepers.
By September this year (2016) it is expected there will be 7000 registered beeks.
That's a crazy increase of 4000, or more than double (133% increase) in only 6 years.

But that's not all....Back in 2010 there were around 375,000 hives, give or take a few.
By September its expected there will be 700,000 hives. That's 186% increase.

And why? Because of the amazing, and recently discovered, properties of manuka honey and its application in medical and hospital situations. The price for a kg of true manuka honey is just rocketing. And, not unlike the Auckland house market, if I put a price on it here, it'll be out-of-date before you know it. So I'll stick to words like thriving, and flourishing, and gangbusters.

You get the picture.

If you want to read more in depth about this, and get a few more gnarly stats, check it out here. You can sign up to my email list for updates and free information here too. And don't forget to make a comment below.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Propolis Mats

Extracting Propolis from a hive

Normally, to harvest propolis, we use a propolis mat. The dribbles of the previous post are just a bonus.

A full propolis mat

Our bees make a lot of high quality propolis, and we think it is because we linseed oil our boxes and the bees just love that. It seems to keep our bees healthy too. A double win.

Another full propolis mat

This propolis goes off to someone else to make high quality health products.

And check out this great video of scraping down a propolis mat - no, its not our beeboys, they have a kiwi twang, and we just send them off and don't do it ourselves. The mats, we send the mats off for a scrape down, not the beeboys.......

If you'd like to more in-depth information, or to be sent free chapters of my new book 'Growing Manuka from Seeds and Cuttings' as they become available, check it out here and sign up to my email notification list.

Saturday, 30 July 2016


Propolis from bees

Our bees are making rich orange propolis by the bucket load. Here is a box in the 'winter scrape down processing department' and the orange dribbles are leftover propolis.

Propolis on a beehive box

Propolis is a product the bees make from plant resin and beeswax. It's thought it keeps the bees healthy. It definitely glues the boxes together to keep them air tight and cosy. Its name comes from Greek for 'defense of the city', the bee city of course.

It contains a whole bunch of active compounds that seem to have all sorts of health benefits to humans, like antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory. But it is one of those things that is not well studied or understood. You can buy propolis lozenges, capsules, spray and creams.

Propolis from bees

Our bee expert Bob swears by it for health, and these old bee dudes know a few things the rest of us are just catching up on. Sounds a bit like the story of manuka honey doesn't it?

And, as a side revenue stream from our amazing bees, it's all good. Bees do way more than just make honey. More on this in future posts.

Friday, 22 July 2016

What do beekeepers wear?

So what exactly do beekeepers wear? Well, there's the bee hat and the overalls and the thick gloves. Tuck your overalls over your gumboots so the bees don't crawl in.

Or not. Some seasoned pros just go out in their normal clothes, unless they are doing something aggressive like taking the bees' honey.

I think this is a good thing to wear. A birthday present from my kids.

I'm sure Muhammad Ali would agree too.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Collecting Manuka Seeds

When is the right time to collect manuka seeds for planting?

We've been collecting manuka seeds. These ones are from the trees that we found in near the Kai Iwi lakes, but I have also picked some from our own trees in our back yard.

So, when is the right time to collect manuka seeds?

You want to pick them when they are ripe. And ripe means they are starting to open. But on any branch there are ripe ones and not so ripe ones, so my rule of thumb is: if some have already opened then they are ready. If none are open yet, then try a different branch or a different tree. Each tree will be slightly different.

And, what does ripe look like? If you go back a couple of posts you'll see a close up of a seed pod that is just about to burst open. That's ripe. The ones that have already opened won't have any seeds in, they'll just be empty pods. So you want some on the branch opened like that too.

And then what? I store them somewhere dry until I am ready to sow them. These ones in the dish will open over time and the fine seeds will all fall out to the bottom of the dish, with a bit of a shake.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Organic Varroa treatment for bees

Last weekend we went to the Apiculture NZ Conference.

It was 3 days long and there were so many interesting speakers. They were just about all scientists, who all seem to be just starting on their various research projects. Now, as we all know, science takes a long time, there is no "well that seems about right, let's publish that", and definitely no 'anecdotal evidence'. Or at least the anecdotal evidence might create new areas to look into, but it doesn't form the published results. So it all takes years and years to get a good result. Great stuff that it's happening though.

And, apart from the speakers, we found the conference goers to be super interesting too.

And one great guy we bumped into was Dr Pablo German, who is a scientist who is working on an organic varroa treatment. Doesn't this sound a great idea?! His new (hot off the press) company is here . Pablo says:

"Beekeepers currently have three types of treatments at their disposal, synthetic chemicals, organic chemicals, and biotechnological methods. However, they all have limitations. Synthetic chemicals are the preferred method for commercial and many non-commercial beekeepers because of their convenience. This has led to the frequent use of these chemicals, often without the use of alternatives, which in turn led to the rise of chemical-resistant mites, in particular in the USA and Europe. "
"Organic chemicals and biotechnological methods are alternatives to synthetic chemicals. Their limitations are that they are very labour-intensive and the results are often inconsistent."
"Pheromite has developed a treatment against the Varroa mite which is organic, works consistently, is long-lasting and easy to set up."

And if you think this is a good idea, well scientists always are on the look out for funding too, so you can find that bit in his web site too.

We hope he gets adequate funding because if at least one of the chemical treatments for varroa has stopped working in the USA then it might here too any minute. And the traditional organic varroa treatments are very time consuming, so that's OK if you have a few hives, but no good for big commercial operations.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Manuka flower nectar in winter

This is a manuka flower, picked this morning, in June, in winter. Which is pretty good on it's own. But look at the shiny stuff in the middle. That's nectar. And I saw a bee on it too gathering nectar.

Here it is a bit zoomed out. The silvery blobs are the pollen. Apparently bees go for the nectar of manuka rather than the pollen, but collect pollen through gumby-ness, crawling around in the nectar pond rubs off pollen too. Although no doubt there are some bees that target the pollen when they are foraging.

Bees go out to collect either pollen or nectar. At any one time some are on pollen patrol and some on nectar patrol. The amount of each a hive needs depends on the time of year, and the demand of bee brood - the hatching new bee babies who need pollen to create their food. Nectar is turned into honey, and also is food for adult bees.

And here is a seed pod, getting ready to burst forth. There will be zillions of seeds just in this one pod. Each seed is about 2mm long. There's one seed escaped lying on the top.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

A Sculpture controlled by bees

If bees were to create a sculpture, what would it be like?

Well, we do know this - it would be a gorgeous beehive complete with geometrically perfect honey comb.

But what about a more avant garde sculpture?

British artist Wolfgang Buttress has built a sculpture that responds to the vibrations of honey bees in a hive attached to it, at Kew Gardens, open a couple of days ago.

As the Guardian Weekly says "Its 170,000 pieces of aluminium, suspended from the ground, appear as a twisting swarm of bees from afar, but as you come closer it becomes a hive-like structure of latticework whose low humming sound and hundreds of flickering LED lights draws you in to a multi-sensory instillation. The intensity of sound and light is controlled by the vibrations of honeybees in an actual hive at Kew that is connected to the sculpture.

Honeybees communicate primarily with each other through vibrations. By biting a wooden stick connected to a conductor, visitors to the Hive can get a sense of four types of vibrational messages through the bones in their head. These include the tooting and quacking signals that virgin queen bees make when they challenge each other in a display of strength to determine who will be the queen of the hive; begging, when a bee requests food from another another; and the waggle dance which communicates the location of a good food source."

For more gorgeous pictures check out the Kew Gardens page. And if you are interested in the science-y bit, there is a tiny amount of information here.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

What is medical grade manuka honey?

How do you grade honey?

After quite a deep search on the interwebs, I would have to say, the answer is not readily forthcoming.

There seems to be several factors that are measured with manuka honey:

1. MGO

MGO is methyl glyoxal, which is a long lasting antibacterial enzyme, that's not known to occur in any other honey in the world.

All honeys contain hydrogen peroxide, which gives them antibiotic properties, but MGO gives manuka honey antibacterial properties as well.

What's the difference in antibacterial and antibiotic? Google reveals this"
"Antibiotics are a broader range of antimicrobial compounds which can act on fungi, bacteria, and other compounds. Although antibacterials come under antibiotics, antibacterials can kill only bacteria."

2. UMF

UMF is Unique Manuka Factor. Overseen by the UMF Honey Association UMF factor is a measure of leptosperin, DHA and MGO.

3. DHA

(don't you love all these 3 letter words?)
DHA is dihydroxyacetone. Which is present in the nectar of manuka flowers. Manuka honey starts out with high DHA and low MGO. Over time DHA in the honey interacts with various naturally-occurring proteins and amino acids and creates MGO. So manuka honey matures, and reaches peak maturity at about 18 months age.

4. Molan Gold Standard

Named after the pioneer of manuka honey research, Professor Peter Molan MBE, this internationally recognized standard certifies authentic manuka honey. Check out

5. Medical grade manuka honey

Medical grade manuka honey is used topically to treat wounds and ulcers, in medical situations.
To be medical grade honey, it seems (although I can't find the 'bible' on this, and I have looked heartily) it needs to be (I think) UMF 9.5+, microbe level < 500 somethings, and moisture < 20. Plus a range of tests for contaminants - these need to be below the relevant thresholds, so hygiene and straining for impurities and such comes into play. Might be other things as well.

Why the confusion?

Well, it turns out that honey is just honey, and has been for millennia. It's only now that scientists are thinking about quantifying and measuring these things. MPI, our government department that likes to control these things, has only just established an interim guide for labeling manuka honey, in 2014 (yesterday, right?). And they are involved in a study of how to define monofloral manuka honey, due to be released late 2016. So it is all new new science. Check them out here MPI.

How to learn stuff

We're going to the Apiculture NZ annual conference this weekend. And it looks like the speaker programme is heavily loaded with some of the scientists involved in all this research. Which I am tremendously looking forward to. Isn't it so great to be at the beginning of interesting science? 

Honey is, of course, still honey. And the old timers know how great it is, and have been self treating with all sorts of bee products all this time. It's just the rest of us that need to catch up.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Does manuka flower in autumn?

We went for a walk around the Kai Iwi lakes a couple of weekends ago - out sideways from Dargaville in Northland. And here were flowering manuka bushes! In May.

So is this a sign of some wonderful new cultivar or breeding programme for manuka? Could be, the scientists are up to all sorts of things with manuka breeding and research at the moment.

A strange blip of nature? - although there were plenty of bushes not just the one.

Or a sign of a messed up year weather-wise?

Well, the MetService, bless their hearts, do a monthly summary. Here's what they said about May:

A look back at May
May was extremely mild across the country, due to the combination of frequent northwesterlies and warmer than usual seas around the country. The first half of the month was exceptionally warm, and even with the wintry end to the month, many new May temperature records were set. It was the warmest May on record for five of the six main centres (Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch), with Dunedin observing its third warmest May. The frequent northwesterly winds produced extreme rainfall for the West Coast of the South Island - it was the wettest May on record for Hokitika (579mm of rain observed) and Milford Sound (1338mm). It was also wet for Nelson, parts of Southland, Otago and south Canterbury, and the southwest North Island.

And here is April

Looking back at April
April was extremely sunny, very warm and rather dry for many regions of the country. The culprit was once again blocking high pressure, which has been dominant in the New Zealand region since the start of 2016. However, April was the first month in which we saw intermittent pauses in the high pressure, allowing a couple of rain makers to sneak in. However, given the time of year, these were infrequent compared to the norm. Northwesterly winds prevailed over the lower South Island.

Nelson experienced its sunniest April on record, while Wellington recorded its third sunniest April (equating to one-in-thirty-year April sunshine totals). Above average temperatures throughout New Zealand were seen for the fourth month running, with temperatures typically 1.0 - 1.5C above usual. Southland was a stand-out, with temperatures 2C above the April average and the second warmest April on record for Invercargill. Most of the country recorded rainfall around half of April normal, with the exception of the southwest South Island (normal to wet) and Whitianga, which copped localised downpours on the 17th under a narrow band of rain.

So maybe it is the weather after all.
Which all begs the question, is it strange weather in part from climate change? And can we expect more of this in years to come? Probably, I'm picking.

Friday, 27 May 2016

American Foulbrood in NZ

There has been a bit of a problem with an American Foulbrood outbreak lately, in Wellington, caused by the sale of infected boxes (without bees).

American foulbrood (AFB) is a bacterial infection that affects and kills the brood, which is the new bees forming in the brood cells. It has a characteristic foul smell (hence 'foul brood').

Source: wikipedia

New Zealand has strict rules regarding the control and monitoring of AFB, which is part of why all beekeepers need to be registered under the Biosecurity Act, and all their hive locations registered with the Management Agency. All hives need to be inspected by a DECA qualified beekeeper.

Also, an Annual Disease Return needs to be completed by 1 June each year.

If AFB is found, all hives and bees need to be burnt (by NZ regulation), as the spores can last up to 40 years.

Source:By Jrmgkia - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

We take the health of our bees very seriously, and are always on the lookout for signs of ill health, including AFB. AFB is like any other bee problem, it can be avoided with good bee and hive management in most cases.

The official site of the AFB NZ organisation is here if you are interested in all the ins and outs.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

How to grow manuka trees from seed

Our easiest-ever method to grow manuka trees

I've mentioned before about how we grew manuka trees for our bees and how we grew them from seeds when we were starting.

Now we've got our system refined, here is an update on the method we have found to be the easiest for growing them from seed:

1. Collect seeds off a variety of different manuka trees. Ours were from south Auckland and Whangarei, and I made sure I picked them from several different looking trees. That way you are more likely to have genetic diversity, and to extend the flowering season.

2. Pick the pods off when they look dry-ish. These are the bits that the flowers turn into. So sometime late summer to autumn.

3. We then dried them out, by putting them in a little dish on the kitchen window sill and leaving them till we were ready for the next bit. Months for some of them, just a month or 2 for others. Depends what else you have got going on. We just put the whole seed head in the dish, and as they dry the seeds fall out. But you can also crush them a bit and release the seeds when you are ready to plant.

4. When you feel like planting them, fill seed trays with seed raising mix, pat it down, and sprinkle the seeds over the top. They are very fine seeds so you don't need to cover them with mix. I pat them in a bit so the wind won't blow them away.

5. Gently water so they are moist.

6. Depending on what time of year you have sprinkled them, will depend how much of an eye you need to keep on them, to keep them moist but not soggy.

Now the magic bit is, that it doesn't really seem to matter what time you sprinkle them around. We did some in autumn, some in winter, and some in spring. They all basically got growing in spring. The autumn ones did a bit of a spurt before winter, so this would be my preferred time, to get a head start.

But it all depends what else you have on your plate. It's better to do them in winter and actually get it done than to leave it till spring and find you are spending all your time out with the bees and not get it done at all. In my opinion.

And the whole thing is pretty flexible, when you pick the seeds, how long you dry them, and when you plant them. They just keep on going. It does affect the speed that they grow at though, and whether you can gain a year in the cycle. Remember that nature takes it course, there ain't no rushing it.

To get your free copy of the Pictorial Step-by-Step Guide to Growing Manuka Trees from seed click here

For more information sign up to collect your free downloadable Pictorial Step-by-Step Guide to Growing Manuka Trees from Seeds. Free! And there is lots more information on Business of Bees including downloadable comprehensive courses on all aspects of planning and growing a manuka plantation specifically for bees.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

How to Kill Paper Wasps

Ha! Easy peasy.

The answer to 'how to kill paper wasps' would appear to be - ring the council.

They are super keen to get rid of anything that is a threat to people, small children, babies, old people etc. ah...not that small children are a threat to people....oh, you know what I mean!

Only thing is, it is helpful to find the nest first. And my wasps are suddenly absent. A bit like when you have toothache for weeks, finally book for the dentist, and the ache mysteriously disappears and you can't remember if it was the right side or the left.

Maybe it just hasn't been sunny enough.

Oh well, no wasps is good right?

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Do paper wasps kill bees?

My garden has become infested with paper wasps. They come out in the sun, and love to hang around my clothes line and vegetable garden. On a sunny day I might have 100 or so in close proximity to my clothes hanging activities. Not cool!

There are 2 types of paper wasps, Asian and Australian. Check out this Landcare article for pictures of both.

I've spent ages outside trying to find their nest. Landcare suggests that their nests are small, about the size of a pear. And that they fly no more than 200m. So they must be close.

And AAA pest control Auckland suggests looking at dusk, so you can see them flying in.

Well, I have looked. And looked and looked. I can't see them flying in or out of my place. So that would imply they live in my place. But I can't see them in my place either.

But we've got Vespex, right? That'll deal to them. Except, no.

"Vespex® is specifically designed for wide-area control of Vespula wasp species. In New Zealand, this includes both the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) and German wasp (V. germanica). These wasps are also known as yellow jackets in some countries."

and that "Paper wasps (Polistes sp.) get the protein they need by hunting for living insects, especially caterpillars, and are not attracted to Vespex®."

But Clemson University says that paper wasps are good for killing garden pests, like caterpillars, of which I have many. Many many. And that paper wasps will die out in the autumn, and the queen will hibernate on her own over winter. Not sure if this applies to our climate, as we don't have hard frosts in Auckland, but fingers crossed.

So maybe I just need to stop hanging my washing out on sunny days?

And keep looking, I think.

And as for 'Do paper wasps kill bees?'. I have no idea. There doesn't seem to be an answer on the interwebs about this. So I am assuming no. Vespula wasps kill bees for sure though.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Wasp Killing with Vespex

A new Insecticide targeting Wasps only

We've all had the experience of ants over-running the kitchen. So you get out the trusty ant bait, the ants carry it back to their nest, and the queen and all the others die.

Well, now there is a wasp bait that does the same - Vespex.

Our surplus boxes are all coming back to the ranch to be cleaned up and re-dipped in oil and then stored for the winter. There is a huge pile stacked up waiting for attention. And boy, do the wasps just love that. All that wax and residue of honey!

So we put out some vespex traps.

And the wasps were immediately into it.

It looked like they were picking up more than their body weight to take back to their nest.

The next day the traps were not entirely empty, but definitely a bit light on the poison,

Note: to be able to get Vespex you need to complete special Vespex training and be registered as an approved user.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Weed killers and bees

How to tell if a weed killer is toxic to bees

Google is a great thing, but also those 2 hours you spend researching something, you never get back, right? I've done quite a bit of research into specific weed killers for our hosts, and thought I would share the better websites that I have found on the way.

Caveat: there isn't AN answer. You can believe what the manufacturers say, or the 'never ever use weedkillers' crowd, or the 'only true if it has been proven by science' crowd - the problem with this last one is that there hasn't to date been a lot of research around all this, bees just got on and did their thing and nobody worried. But now with big problems with Colony Collapse Disorder, especially in the states, more attention is being given to this issue. But any good science takes years, and even then might not produce a definitive answer.

That being said, here is what I came up with:

Say you are going to investigate Conquest.

Its supplied by Nufarm, so if you google it you get the Brochure. Doesn't say what is in it though.

What you want is the label

which lists the active ingredients

picloram and triclopyr in this case.

So let's take Triclopyr - as the butoxyethyl ester:

 (picloram, by the way, was used to make Agent White, and enhanced Agent Orange during the Vietnam War - just saying!)

So on Wikipedia, doesn't say much except that it is "chemically very similar to the herbicide which it generally replaces, 2,4,5-T, which was phased out in the U.S. in the 1970s amid toxicity concerns".

Toxipedia doesn't say much about bees and triclopyr. Although Toxipedia can be quite useful for some chemicals, just not this one. (and Picloram doesn't even get a listing - depends what weed killer you are using as to what information is around).

And then Pesticideinfo which has a whole bunch of science-y information (which both my mother and brother, being chemists, would get all excited about, but the rest of us...not so much).

But down in the Terrestrial Ecotoxicity it does mention bees.

Which might be too tiny to read on this blog, but what it says is it is 'slightly toxic to bees'. And that
"Population-level effects on honeybees may occur even if a pesticide has low acute toxicity. For example, certain pesticides interfere with honeybee reproduction, ability to navigate, or temperature regulation, any of which can have an effect on long-term survival of honeybee colonies. The neonicotinoids, pyrethroids and keto-enol pesticides are some types of pesticides causing one or more of these effects".

So all up, doesn't look dire. Not great either. And I think I would take the bees away before spraying this around. And wait at least the half-life time before bringing the bees back, probably twice the half-life time - which in this case is 39 days see here. So quite a while. (the half life is the time it takes for half the product to be gone, in the soil in this case).

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Pesticides that kill bees

Neonicotinoids kill bees

There is a major class of pesticides  - Neonicotinoids - that is known to kill bees. This is a HUGE problem in the United States, where last year beekeepers lost 42% of honey bee colonies, and neonicotinoids are thought to play an important part in that loss.

One pest control company in the states Ortho, has just announced that they are going to "immediately transition away from the use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides".

Read the whole Huffington post article here including some great links to further resources.

And Wikipedia states that "The neonicotinoid family includes acetamipridclothianidinimidaclopridnitenpyramnithiazinethiacloprid and thiamethoxam. Imidacloprid is the most widely used insecticide in the world."

And it also provides this handy list of which products contain them (this is 2011 data)

NameCompanyProductsTurnover in million US$ (2009)
ImidaclopridBayer CropScienceConfidor, Admire, Gaucho, Advocate1,091
ThiamethoxamSyngentaActara, Platinum, Cruiser627
ClothianidinSumitomo Chemical/Bayer CropSciencePoncho, Dantosu, Dantop439
AcetamipridNippon SodaMospilan, Assail, ChipcoTristar276
ThiaclopridBayer CropScienceCalypso112
DinotefuranMitsui ChemicalsStarkle, Safari, Venom79
NitenpyramSumitomo ChemicalCapstar, Guardian8

We do have our own rules governing the use of neonicotinoids, from the EPA, read about them here. But they basically say you're not to spray near beehives or on flowering plants. So they haven't been banned at all.

Neonicotinoids are used to coat some seeds, and these are still sold in NZ.

Two products available in NZ that contain neonicotinoids are "Yates Confidor" and "Yates Rose Gun Advanced".

Also "They are sold here under the common trade names of Cruiser, Gaucho and Poncho, the active neonicotinoid ingredients of which are thiamethoxam, imidacloprid and clothianidin respectively. Gaucho is also used on potatoes, winter squash and pumpkins."

And from Apicare NZ:

Why neonicotinoids are bad for bees

There has been much talk about this group of insecticides globally.  There are now bans and trial bans in place in many areas around the world.  This is not so in New Zealand, so we need to keep a particular eye out for the ingredients we spray in our gardens and on our farms.  Neonicotinoids work as an insecticide by blocking specific neural pathways in insects’ central nervous systems.  At ‘sub-lethal doses’ the chemicals impair bees’ communication, homing and foraging ability, flight activity, ability to discriminate by smell, learning, and immune systems – all of which have an impact on bees' ability to survive.  Neonicotinoid pesticides have been linked to the dramatic collapse in bee numbers over the last decade.
Domestic Sprays that contain neonicotinoids - Many domestic gardening products on sale in hardware stores and garden centers contain these chemicals.  If you're buying any kind of pest control check the ingredients – anything that contains acetamipridimidaclopridthiacloprid or thiamethoxam should be avoided to maximise bee health.
While the topic of bee safe sprays is relevant topic it is also one that can also be rather confusing. There are so many different garden sprays available in the market place and so many different chemical names, brand names and generic names that making a considered choice can seem impossible. We have tried to simply the issue below by providing some brand names commonly available in the New Zealand market place.
  • There is evidence overseas that the use of a group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids cause bees to become disorientated when out foraging and may be a major contributor to the phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder which is decimating bee populations in Europe and North America. Neonicotinoids have also been shown to cause chronic bee mortality through reduced immunity.
  • Bees do not have to come in direct contact with the spray residue, they can absorb the neuro-toxins via the plants pollen and nectar.
  • The common names for neonicotinoid insecticides are Acetamiprid, Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam.
  • Neonicotinoids are often used for agricultural applications but can also be available to the home gardener. The two products that New Zealand gardeners are likely to come across (containing Imidacloprid) are Yates Confidor and Yates Rose Gun.
  • It is not just neonicotinords that can be harmful to bees. Other common pesticides that are toxic to them include insecticides containing Acephate, Carbaryl, Spectracide, Permethrin and the rapid flying insect killer Resmethrin, to name a few. Ther is an extensive list on Wikipedia under pesticide toxicity to bees.
  • Sprays that are safe to bees if sprayed at dusk when the bees won’t be foraging for a number of hours (i.e. they are safe to bees as long as they are dry and no longer wet): Spinosad (Yates Success Naturalyte Insect Control), Yates Guardall, Yates Mavrik Insect & Mite Spray, Pyrethrum (Yates Nature's Way Fruit & Vegie Gun, Yates Insect Gun Ready to Use, Yates Natures Way Pyrethrum, and Neem Oil.
  • Sprays that are safe to bees (though it would still be best to spray them at dawn or dusk when bees aren’t flying): Sulfur, Serenade, Insecticidal Soap Based Sprays (Yates Nature's Way Insect & Mite Spray and Yates Mite Killer), Petroleum based oils (Yares Conqueror Spraying Oil), B.T. (bacillus thuringiensis), Herbicides (like round-up).
So if you are at all interested in the survival of honey bees, please DO NOT USE any of these toxic chemicals.

Others are bad too, although not as dire, and in the next post I'll outline how I research these things properly and how you can find out what ingredients are suspect, rather than just relying on the supplier saying it is "not toxic to bees".