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.