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