Monday, 15 May 2017

Which varroa treatment is best?

Which varroa treatment is best?

Which one should you use?

Why do you need to use several types?

How do they work anyway?

Will mites become resistant to them?

In this article scientist Dr Pablo German outlines the science-y stuff around how various varroa treatments work, and how likely mites are to becoming resistant to each one.

If you need a quick read, here is my non-science-y summary version first (caveat: always refer to the real deal for the total truth, this is just my layman's version!)

Varroa treatments

Apistan and Bayvarol - works on the nervous system of the mites, quick acting, but mites develop resistance.

Apivar - works on the stress response of mites, slower acting than the previous, but mites develop resistance, although less than above.

Thymol - works in a few different ways at the same time, not all of which are fully understood, and therefore unlikely for mites to develop resistance, but not impossible.

Formic Acid - works in a few ways including on the mitrochondria of mites, and unlikely for mites to develop resistance.

Oxalic Acid - works by direct contact with the mites in ways that aren't entirely clear, and unlikely for mites to develop resistance.

Sugar Dusting - works physically, not very effective, no resistance likely.

Oil Fogging - only affects mites on bees and probably works physically, needs to be applied often, no resistance likely.

So, the short answer is - you need several different types of treatments to deal to varroa effectively.

Here's the full article:

This article was published in The New Zealand Beekeeper, May 2017, Volume 25, number 4.


Dr Pablo German, Chief Technical Officer, Pheromite

How do the different varroa treatments kill the mites? Why do they kill the mites and do not kill the bees? Can mites become resistant to a particular treatment? Do we care about answering all these questions?

Most beekeepers do care for several reasons. First, we have the natural curiosity of wanting to understand how things work. Second, the more we know about our varroa mite enemy and the weapons we use, the better we will be able to fight against it. Third, we want to understand what secondary effects the treatments may have on the bees. Finally, the mode of action can give clues about the ability of the mites to develop resistance against the treatments.

In spite of the importance of this topic, there are no good summaries on how different treatments affect the mites. There are also unsupported opinions circulating on the Internet.

In this article, I review the scientific literature and summarise the mode of action of different varroa treatments as the knowledge currently stands. Some of the treatments act as the chemicals are absorbed within the body of the mite, others have direct physical effects upon contact, and others stimulate defensive behaviours from the bees.


The synthetic chemicals tau-fluvalinate and flumethrin (Apistan® and Bayvarol®) belong to the family of pyrethroids that includes a large number of insecticides used domestically and in agriculture.

Figure 1. Tau-fluvalinate.

Figure 2. Flumethrin.

They work by producing an over-excitation of the nervous system of the mite. In particular, they bind to the voltage-gated sodium channel, present on the membrane of neurons. The inability of the channel to close and reset the neuron to the resting state leads to paralysis and death. Imagine if all your muscles contracted at the same time: you wouldn’t be able to move and breathe.

The reason why tau-fluvalinate and flumethrin are such powerful weapons against varroa is that these compounds have a high affinityfor the varroa mite voltage-gated sodium channel. Interestingly, a recent study reported that tau-fluvalinate has even higher affinity for the honey bee voltage-gated sodium channel. The established safety profile of flumethrin in bees suggests that the bees have detoxification mechanisms that prevent the harmful effects. The high affinity for one single target makes tau-fluvalinate and flumethrin very effective at killing the mite, while at the same time being relatively safe for humans.

Unfortunately, this high affinity for one single target also enables mites to become resistant to tau-fluvalinate and flumethrin with a single DNA mutation in the voltage-gated sodium channel. Random mutations occur all the time, so one single DNA mutation in one gene is an event likely to occur when thousands of mites are breeding in one single beehive.

In the presence of tau-fluvalinate and flumethrin, only mites with specific mutations in the voltage-gated sodium channel are able to survive and continue reproducing. The relatively high likelihood of a single mutation in a single gene to occur, explains why resistance to tau-fluvalinate and flumethrin has been broadly reported around the world. In fact, several single mutations in the voltage-gated sodium channel have been identified that produce tau-fluvalinate- and flumethrin-resistant varroa mites.


The synthetic chemical widely used for treating varroa mites is the contact pesticide amitraz (Apivar®).
Figure 3. Amitraz.

The evidence of the mode of action of amitraz on varroa mites comes from insects and other mites and points to effects on octopamine receptors. The role of octopamine in insects and mites is similar to the role of noradrenaline in humans, which is to trigger the fight-or-flight response. When you are startled by something, your body releases noradrenaline, which binds to the noradrenaline receptor present in tissues and organs throughout your body. Your heart pumps faster, your muscles release quick sources of energy, and you get ready to fight or flee.

A similar stress response occurs in insects and mites when octopamine is released, which binds to the octopamine receptors. Amitraz seems to act by binding to the octopamine receptor(s), which leads to an acute stress response with different effects in insects and mites.

Most beekeepers have noticed that amitraz is slower at killing mites than flumethrin, for example. The reason for this seems to be that by causing this stress response, the mite does not die immediately but its behaviour is completely altered, which leads to death later on. Amitraz is said to act by sub-lethal effects rather than by lethal effects. Humans, and in fact all vertebrates, do not have octopamine receptors, which is the reason why amitraz is relatively safe for humans.

The relatively slow and low onset of varroa mite resistance to amitraz—when compared to resistance to flumethrin for example— seems to indicate that amitraz acts on more targets than just one type of octopamine receptor. Indeed, resistance to amitraz has been reported in fewer cases than the previous two miticides, and studies have shown that the level of resistance is lower as well (the dose of amitraz needed to kill amitraz-resistant mites is not that much higher). In fact, amitraz is still the most effective miticide used in the USA, despite resistance having been reported two decades ago. This seems to point to the fact that one single mutation in one gene is not enough to provide resistance. Although point mutations in amitraz-resistant organisms have been identified, evidence from a cattle tick indicates that resistance to amitraz occurs both by mutations in the octopamine receptor and enhanced metabolism in getting rid of amitraz. In spite of the lower resistance to amitraz by the varroa mite, alternating amitraz with other treatments is still necessary.


So far we have only talked about synthetic chemicals. Other chemicals present in nature are known as ‘organic’. Plants, in particular, constantly have to evolve ways to survive against pests. Hence, it is not surprising that several chemicals from plants have insecticide and miticide effects. In contrast with synthetic chemicals that are generally designed against one particular target, plants have to fight against many different pests at the same time. This makes their chemicals more broad spectrum, usually affecting several targets. Essential oils have been shown to have insecticidal effects and thymol, derived from thyme, is most commonly used against the varroa mite. As with previous treatments, most of what we know about how thymol works comes from evidence on insects.
Figure 4. Thymol.

Similar to amitraz, some essential oils also appear to have neurotoxic effects by binding and affecting the function of octopamine receptors. In addition, thymol binds to tyramine receptors, which are related to the octopamine receptors but whose functionis not entirely understood. There is further evidence that thymol affects the function of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in insects, which are also important for nerve signal transmission.

The presence of multiple targets for thymol makes it more difficult for resistance to occur. In fact, there are no published reports of mite resistance to thymol. This does not mean that resistance to thymol is impossible. One way in which resistance could arise would be by improvement in the detoxification system of the mite. Therefore, it is still best practice to alternate thymol with other treatments.

Formic acid

Other popular miticides used against varroa are organic acids. Formic acid is a volatile acid that works in the hive as a fumigant.
Figure 5. Formic acid.

Initially it was observed that formic acid affects respiration in the mite and this was linked to previous studies suggesting that formic acid inhibits cytochrome c and the electron transport chain in the mitochondria. In addition, formic acid was also suggested to have neurotoxic effects in flies. Later studies seem to suggest that formic acid kills insects, and probably varroa mites, by disrupting the mitochondria in the cells.

What happens when mitochondria in the mite are disrupted? Mitochondria are present within cells and carry out cellular respiration and energy production. When the mitochondria are disrupted, the cells cannot function. This probably leads to neurotoxic effects by disrupting the mitochondria in the neurons and inhibition of respiration. Formic acid seems to cause mitochondria disruption by the physico-chemical effects of low pH.It has been suggested that the bees have higher metabolic and buffering capacity against the acid, which explains why formic acid affects mites more than bees. This mode of action suggests that resistance is not likely to occur as several changes would be needed in the mite. No mite resistance to formic acid has been reported.

Oxalic acid

Oxalic acid is the other common organic acid. As opposed to formic acid that kills mites with the acid vapours, the main way in which oxalic acid kills mites seems to be by direct contact.
Figure 6. Oxalic acid.

There were some reports that oxalic acid may damage the mouthparts of the mite. However, there is no scientific evidence for this and the origin of this concept seems to be a manipulated picture published on the Internet. What we do know is that oxalic acid needs to be in direct contact with the mite and is distributed around the hive via bee-to-bee contact.

Given that oxalic acid has been shown to affect mitochondria in mammals and that mitochondria are sensitive to acids, it is possible that oxalic acid also affects the varroa mite by disrupting or affecting mitochondrial function. In any case, a physico-chemical mode of action would explain why there have been no reports of mites resistant to oxalic acid.

Sugar dusting

There is evidence that sugar dusting with powdered sugar helps increase mite fall and reduce mite numbers. Sugar dusting seems to act in two ways. First, it affects the mite’s ability to cling to bees and they fall off. Second, it stimulates bees grooming themselves and grooming each other, which also produces mites to fall off. Given the physical mode of action, resistance to sugar dusting is not possible. However, sugar dusting has been said to have a small effect in reducing mite levels and may only be useful as a complementary method together with other methods.

Food-grade mineral oil

There is very little literature on the use of food-grade mineral oil (FGMO) for varroa control. However, some beekeepers like to use it either by fogging with thermal insect foggers or with cords. FGMO only affects phoretic mites (mites on bees) and it needs to be applied often to have any effect. Regarding the mode of action, some comments on the Internet point to the oil blocking the pores in the mite’s cuticle and preventing gas exchange, which affects breathing. The cuticle of the mite seems to make it more susceptible than bees. If this physical mode of action is correct, resistance is very unlikely. It is possible that the oil also stimulates bee grooming behaviour.


The mode of action of different varroa treatments has not been studied in detail for most treatments. However, we can still get an idea from studies in insects and other mite species. Different treatments have different modes of action: either chemically after being absorbed, physically by direct contact, or by stimulating defensive behaviours from the bees.

The synthetic chemicals are absorbed by the mite and tend to affect one single protein target, such as the voltage-gated sodium channel (flumethrin and fluvalinate) and octopamine receptors (amitraz). This specificity on single targets makes it highly likely that the mites will develop resistance by mutations in those targets, as has indeed been reported for all of them. In addition, mites can also develop resistance with detoxification enzymes that degrade or get rid of these chemicals from the body.

The organic chemicals act by absorption or direct contact and seem to act by physico- chemical effects on more than one target, making them less specific against varroa mites. This is a logical consequence of the fact that these chemicals are synthesized by plants to fight against different types of insects and pests and not against mites in particular. Indeed, thymol seems to act by affecting octopamine, tyramine, and GABA receptors, formic acid disrupts the mitochondria in cells, perhaps as a consequence of low pH, and oxalic acid may also act by affecting mitochondrial function. The action on more than one target or by physico-chemical effects that disrupt cell structures makes resistance to these treatments less likely. In fact, there are no reports of resistance to these treatments. However, alternation with other treatments is still recommended.

Finally, the less-popular icing sugar and food- grade mineral oil treatments seem to affect the mite by physical effect due to the direct contact and by stimulating bee grooming behaviours. This means that resistance to these treatments is very unlikely to arise.

Table 1. Various treatments, their mode of action and likelihood of varroa resistance.


Complete article with references is available on request from the author at

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Myrtle rust and manuka

Do we need to start eeking? Will myrtle rust wipe out the manuka honey industry? Is this the end?

You have probably heard by now, that myrtle rust has been found in a nursery in Northland.

This article in the Herald is one of the better ones.

But if you have been out of touch lately, the basic facts are:

1. Myrtle rust is a fungal plant pathogen.

2. It attacks plants in the myrtaceae family, which include manuka and kanuka, myrtles (unsurprisingly), feijoas, rata, pohutukawa, eucalyptus, and more.

3. NZ has not had this pathogen to date. Although in March it was discovered at Raoul Island. It has always been a ticking time bomb though, just a matter of time.

4. Australia first found myrtle rust in 2010 in NSW. And since then it has spread north and south, as far as Tasmania.

How does myrtle rust spread?

It spreads really easily. They think this one has come on the wind from Australia.

But it can also be transferred by insects - that might be bees - and birds, and humans, and equipment, and other plant material.

Basically, once you have it, there's no getting rid of it.

There's lots more technical stuff on myrtle rust here from MPI.

What does myrtle rust do?

It causes deformed leaves, defoliation, reduced fertility, dieback, stunted growth, and eventually death in severe cases. Death of the trees.

It thrives in warmer climates, so Northland and Auckland and coastal North Island are most at risk.

There is no known method of controlling the disease in the wild. You can apply fungicide in small areas (like in the nursery where it was found), but hard to fungicide a whole forest.

Do we need to panic?

Well, possibly, but possibly not.

Apparently it rarely kills mature plants.

It attacks different species with different severity. In Australia, it took 3-5 years (so, just a year or 2 ago then) before the leptospermum / manuka showed signs of being affected. And so far, they are not being wiped out. method of its spread is by insects. And, even worse, bees apparently are attracted to the fungal spores and collect them in the same way they collect pollen. So an excellent way to spread the disease then?

And, our weather is pretty good for its thriving - the rust that is.

But, manuka is pretty hardy too. And maybe if the leaves suffer the flowers won't? Who knows? Well, we will, in 3-5 years, I guess.

And, the scientists don't know how it is going to affect our manuka, as they couldn't do any tests (probably at risk of actually spreading the disease?).

So maybe it is OK, but maybe not.

Always a good plan not to have all your eggs in one basket though, as also shown by this year's terrible manuka flowering. So maybe we all need to diversify, in the interests of survival?

Friday, 5 May 2017

How to preserve Hive Boxes

When you think of beehives, I bet you think of rows of lurid pink and rusty red and hospital green boxes, all stacked on top of each other. I haven't quite got to the bottom of these colour combinations. Are bees attracted to such mishmash colours? Bees like blue flowers apparently, but pretty-flower-blue is not a beehive colour that springs to my mind. Are beekeepers colour blind? Is the paint used to do the boxes the returns to the paint shop - you know, that colour you brought home but the family said "No, never, what were you thinking?".

Whatever, bee boxes do need to be preserved. The wood is untreated, so the bees are not poisoned, so it needs some weather proofing. Our beekeepers Will and David, here, have come up with an ingenious method of dipping them in linseed oil.

So, a pictorial step-by-step of dipping bee boxes:

The oil comes in huge and heavy drums, premixed with turps, and is poured into the heating vat.

Bee boxes arrive as flat slabs. They are all screwed together first, hundreds and hundreds of them.

Once the oil is hot, in go the boxes.

Soaking away, like a good spa. The longer the better, it's a trade off between ages and only getting a few done in a day, and too short and not soaking in enough.

Hauling them out. Looks easy, but they are really heavy once they are in the oil. Needs a good strong arm.

 Dripping on the side for a while.

Out on the drying rack for a few days to let the oil soak in properly, and become un-sticky.
Now isn't this so much more beautiful than hospital green?

We've adapted this a bit too, by standing them to dry on their bottoms. Otherwise the flat sides against each other don't dry properly, and are prone to damp damage.

And the boxes that are coming in now from the hives get scrapped down and redipped. Longer is better here too, gives them a chance of some sort of sterilisation. The oil doesn't get much above 60 deg C, so not exactly boiling them, but hopefully will do something useful in killing pathogens. Or this is the unscientific version.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

C4 Sugar in Manuka Honey

There's been a few problems this year with high C4 sugar readings in manuka honey in the whole industry.

Honey that is exported has to pass a whole raft of tests, including normal food-type tests - does it contain poisons such as tutin, does it contain bacteria, does it contain impurities - plus some special honey tests. And testing for adulteration with sugar is one.

In this blog post I talk about ways that manuka honey fraud might happen. Now I don't really want to give a primer on how to beat the system (and my brain is far too pure to even be good at it, heh!), but one other way that honey fraud can happen is adding sugar to honey.

I think the basic motivation to adding sugar is effectively diluting the honey with sweetness, so you make more jars from the same amount of honey.

And you can test for this with the C4 sugar test. If your honey has more than 7% C4 sugar, it fails. Check out Analytica Laboratories excellent description.

Feeding sugar syrup to hives

One way C4 sugar might show up in honey is if the bees have been fed sugar at the wrong time. Especially if the honey is harvested early in the season. Check out Analytica's more in depth report here, if you like the science.

We've had some manuka honey unexpectedly rejected this year too.

So our first question to ourselves was to review our processes. Were we feeding sugar syrup to our hives too close to nectar flow? Or maybe we were feeding sugar to our nucs and they were too close to our productive hives and some robbing was occurring?

Always room for improvement, right?

But nope, all looks pretty good.

So, what else could be going on? And it is a problem that has affected lots of beekeepers this year too, for some reason.

Special manuka honey properties and C4 sugar

Manuka honey initially contains high levels of DHA. Over time the DHA converts to MGO. And MGO gives manuka honey it's magical properties.

But the chemical process of DHA to MGO also messes with the C4 sugar readings. Or so it seems.

I'm paraphrasing wildly here, and the science is not yet conclusive, but if you really want the down and dirty on all this science try these 2 articles 'The Unique Manuka Effect' and 'Adulteration Identification'.

What is 'C4' sugar anyway? (bonus points for science geeks)

Why not just 'sugar'?

Again, the short answer: there are 3 types of ways that nature stores carbon (C) in plants through photosynthesis. Two of them are called C3 from a system called the Calvin cycle, and it produces nectar.

The other method is for producing cane sugar and high fructose corn sugar, as in maize, and is called C4 sugars (system is called Hatch-Slack cycle, don't you love it?).

And you can test for each type. Using, if you must know, isotope ratio mass spectroscopy (IRMS).

And if you are still with me here, perhaps you'd like to write me a little blog post outlining all the technicalities? Contributions always appreciated!

But what we all really want is our honey to not be rejected unfairly. Currently all you can do is mix it with other honey so the levels drop to below 7%, a bit like you do with tutin honey.

I guess the scientists, and hopefully MPI's review of manuka honey will cover some of these issues. Fingers crossed. I seem to be saying that a bit lately.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Manuka Honey Fraud

What is manuka honey fraud? Is there fraud that is technically legal? How do we stop manuka honey fraud?

I think the answers are 'complicated', yes, and 'that is the million dollar question that MPI is trying to fix' - see last week's post on the New manuka honey regulations.

To me, simplistically, manuka honey fraud is when honey sellers, either in NZ, or (I would guess more likely) overseas, take honey that is only slightly manuka and try to pass it off as good grade manuka.

There are several ways this might happen:

False labeling

The easiest I suppose, is just to make false claims on the label. So say the honey is manuka UMF 2. Well, how about calling it UMF 8+ on the label then? Or MGO something huge. Or even NPA something large, although this is not so well known as a label. Check out the previous post for what these 3 letter words all mean.

But this is quite easy to catch, you would only need to do a test of the honey to realise it is not what it is claiming to be.

Doctoring the honey

Well then, what about adding chemicals to the honey that mimic the natural honey chemicals that produce say a UMF reading of 8+? Then if a spot check was performed on the honey, it would pass muster.

Out and out crookery of course.

Legal mislabeling?

This one has just crossed my radar recently - what if you were to label honey technically truthfully, but still indulge in misleading advertising by implication? That's a lot greyer now isn't it?

For a bit of background, we need an understanding of honey qualities. See this post on the medicinal benefits of honey first.

The short version is that all honey has some pretty amazing properties. And one of those properties is hydrogen peroxide. All honey has hydrogen peroxide in varying degrees. And hydrogen peroxide helps heal wounds.

So if you have been confused about how the ancient Egyptians used honey to heal (and they did) but that manuka honey has only ever existed since the Europeans brought honey bees to NZ around mid 19th century (and no, it's never been an ancient Maori remedy), then this is the answer. The healing properties of Egyptian honey came partly from hydrogen peroxide.

And you could describe the measure of hydrogen peroxide activity in honey as 'Active 10+' or whatever number it comes out to.

But the special thing with manuka honey is the MGO, also kind-of known (it gets a bit complicated science-y here) as NPA, which is ...ta dah... NON-Peroxide Activity. So to qualify for the high status, high price as manuka honey, it needs to have Non-peroxide activity. Exactly NOT plain 'active'.

So you see where we are going here - who's seen honey that is labelled as 'Active 10+' and selling for a truck load of $, but has no mention of UMF or MGO? It's probably even slightly manuka, so it can be truthfully called 'Manuka active 10+' too. Otherwise that would be false labeling wouldn't it?

But it is not anywhere near Manuka UMF 10+. Which is very good, strong manuka honey. Worth a lot of money.

And what's more, I've done a little sample with a friend in California, with the manuka honey available in her local wholefoods shop, and half the samples were just 'Active'. Only a couple were properly labeled UMF or MGO. Not all the honey was in jars with NZ brands on the front either, so probably has been packaged somewhere other than NZ. And as an aside, it all was WAY CHEAPER than any manuka honey available to me to buy here in NZ. What's up with that?

How to catch manuka honey fraud

This is, of course, the million dollar question.

The UMF association has a standard that they are trying to promote, to label manuka honey with some quality assurance. UMF stands for Unique Manuka Factor, so that should rule out pretend honey you would hope.

They are currently involved in a big public awareness campaign in the UK.

And MPI are involved in rewriting the manuka honey standards too. Which we are all awaiting with bated breath (or not) to see what this will mean to the industry, and our personal honey harvests.

Quite a tricky situation, all and all. Fingers crossed for a good outcome.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

New Manuka Honey Rules

MPI (Ministry of Primary Industries) is re-jigging the definition of manuka honey.

Word on the street is that there will be a 'discussion document' released in April 2017, and the final documentation will become law in June or July 2017.

Here's the official link MPI Honey Review.

But that doesn't tell us much.

The manuka honey problem

The problem that MPI are trying to solve is how do you tell manuka honey from other honey, what is just 'nearly manuka' rather than full blown manuka, and how do you detect (and stop) honey fraud. Oh, that's 3 problems. There's probably a few other permutations too. So you see the problem.

This is A HARD problem.

And...they need a test, or tests, that are easy to do anywhere. So if you have some honey land at say Fortnam and Masons, they might want to verify that it is the real deal.

Add to that, there have been several different versions of measuring manuka-ness of honey.

Current ways to grade manuka honey

There are 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. NPA

This is Non-Peroxide Activity of honey. A bit similar to UMF. But not quite. Check out Apiculture NZ's take on it. And if you want to know what non-peroxide activity is, have a read of this post.

6. 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?

None of these tests quite covers the fraud issue. Read here for more on manuka honey fraud.

How exactly do you tell that manuka honey is the real deal, and not just normal honey with a few chemicals added, to mimic some of these tests?

One way is to look for leptospermum pollen markers. Another might be DNA tests. Who knows? The scientists do, I guess, I'm just making stabs in the dark here, based on the local industry gossip.

We'll find out soon enough.

What is it going to mean for beekeepers?

The street story is that the new regulations will mean that anything labelled 'manuka honey' will need to be 10+. 10+ what is the question of course.

But, let's say equivalent to 10+ UMF, or NPA - now that is a pretty high standard.

So what does this mean to the ordinary beekeeper (OK, I know none of you are 'ordinary').

Well, maybe it means that a lot of so-called manuka honey that is being produced now, is going to fail. And only the beeks with large manuka holdings, or access to large manuka holdings, will benefit from the manuka honey craze. And those beeks are likely to be the bigger guys and gals.

So if you are making 'only-just' manuka honey, what is your strategy going to be?

And just in case one of your strategies is 'Plant More Manuka', check out the resources available for growing and planting manuka - Free How-to for seeds, E-courses for everything to do with establishing a manuka forest.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

When to plant manuka trees

If you've been busy making manuka seedlings, you might have something that looks like this in your backyard.

I did too, but that was last year, and now mine are a lot bigger, and suffering a bit, as I discussed in this blog post.

So if you are wondering when is the right time to plant them, I think the answer might be now.

Normally I'd have said wait a bit. Still lots of the summer to go, and it can be hot and dry for a good couple of months more.

But this year? It's not looking at all like being consistently hot and dry. If it does stay cool-ish and moist-ish the trees will love it - so much time to put down roots before next summer.

And the bees have packed up shop mostly, and I'd say they know a thing or 2 about the weather. Just don't quote me to the weather department.

If you haven't started on your seeds yet, and would like to know how, check out this free Pictorial Guide to Growing Manuka from Seeds.

And if you'd like to know where to plant your trees, Module 3: Choosing your Forestry Spot will tell you what you need to know.

Monday, 27 February 2017

What do the bees eat when the manuka is finished?

This has been a terrible year for manuka. All over NZ it seems, the manuka flowering never really got going. And just like that - a whole honey season is done!

So, what do bees eat when the manuka is finished?

Well, it turns out that even though manuka honey is the prized honey, the bees are just so-so about manuka nectar. They'll go to manuka if they have to, but given the choice they'll go somewhere else first.

Good beekeepers have a few tricks up their sleeves to encourage bees to go to manuka flowers. If you'd like to learn what these are, check out Module 5: A Good Apiary Site, which will show you the secret tricks to placing your hives, as well as all the things you need to know to ensure your hives are healthy.

But back to the question: What do the bees eat next?

One of the big food sources right now is clover. And the bees just love clover.

Clover is one of the legume family. It has nodules that fix nitrogen in the soil. And nitrogen is an important fertiliser. So getting your clover to produce well is a very cheap form of natural fertiliser.

Clover is an important food crop for grazing animals - think cows and beef. And the big benefit of bees on clover is that they pollinate the flowers. So the next year the clover reseeds more abundantly.

So here we have it - a win win - the bees love clover, and the clover loves bees.

Clover honey is not a pricey as manuka honey, but the bees need to stay alive too. Ready for next season.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Australian Manuka Honey - OK or not OK?

New Zealand is not the only country that grows manuka. Australia does too.

And in fact, Australia has far more varieties of leptospermum than NZ. We have one, leptospermum scoparium, but Australia has 83 types. 83! That's a lot!

And what's more, Australia manuka honey is antibacterial too. Just as good, maybe better, depending on who you talk to (um, that would be a NZer or an Australian).

Check out this report on the good qualities of Australian honey.

But all good, right? The world needs all the natural antibacterial products it can find?

Well, you would think so. And by the looks of all the celebrity endorsement, even the normal properties of manuka honey are useful too. Try googling say Kardashian and manuka and see the face mask recipes that pop up.

But trouble is brewing. After all, 'manuka' is a maori word. So...should the Australians be allowed to call their leptospermum honey manuka?

Well, you pick. But my take on it is that it's still the same excellent honey. And it is the healthy and medical benefits that are important. Especially as other chemical antibacterials are struggling.

So why not share the love around? It seems there is plenty of room for all. Especially if you look at news like this Manuka Fraud. Which would imply that the demand is far greater than NZ's ability to produce.

And all honey industries have their own challenges. Here in NZ we've had an appalling season, honey production-wise. And on top of that have had honey rejected in the UK, and China has increased their scrutiny and requirements for imports. All of which is making it a very skinny year for beekeepers this year.

But this article would suggest that Australia has it's own challenges.

So maybe we should start working together and aim to create a win win situation?

Well, that's my tuppence worth. What do you think?

If you would like to try growing your own manuka trees, check out the free Pictorial Step-by-Step Guide to Growing Manuka from Seeds.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

6 Mistakes I've made with my manuka seedlings (and are you making them too?)

I've made about 2000 manuka seedlings in the last couple of years. Purely in the interests of science and experimentation of course. I don't actually have anywhere to plant them.

And they have been growing pretty well too. But 2 years on, some of them are taller than me.

And the flaws in the system are starting to show.

So, what mistakes have I made? (and are you making these mistakes too?). Here they are:

1. I put all the plant bags straight on the bare earth

So all the roots have gone out the bottom of the bags and into the earth. And when I go to pot them up, it's quite a mission.

Such a mission, that some of them do not like their roots being disturbed, and they keel over. They are firmly attached to the soil underneath, and won't let go, and I end up breaking their long tap roots.

2. I haven't potted up soon enough

This is partly the reason for issue number 1. These trees are getting quite big, and should really have been potted up much earlier.

3. I've not been that diligent with weeding

So all the couch grass and convolvulus have grown over the pots.

Sometimes the grass grows up through the bags, and when I lift them the plants definitely do not like it.

4. I've not been diligent enough with watering

Eek! This is the hospital quarters. NOT ENOUGH WATER!

Also, problem 1, their roots were disturbed when I potted them up, and they never really recovered.

But some water might have saved the day.

There's not all that many, compared to the 2000 originals, but these are the big ones, and every death is traumatic.

5. Too much hot sun

I'm a bit short of space in my backyard, so these ones at the front (which are the tall ones) get all the hot hot sun.

Which contributes to problem 4, and means I need to water them every day.

6. Seedlings under dense tree cover

And just to show you can't win either way, some of the seedlings behind these tall ones, are under a big dense magnolia tree. Lots of shade, but they weren't getting wet when it rained.

Which would have been alright if I had watered them, right?

All of these problems really come down to one thing - I should have planted them out when they were no more than a year old. Sure, some would have died out in the field, but they would all have had a much better chance at surviving than left to my neglect.

4 Tips to avoid manuka seedling deaths

So, if you think you are in danger of doing some of these things, here are some tips:
  • Plant manuka seedlings within a year of sowing, before they get too big
  • Put your seedling bags out on cardboard, not the bare earth
  • Water! water water water
  • Pot them up sooner

If you are only in the 'thinking about getting started' stage with your manuka seedlings, and wondering how to sow them from seeds, get your free Pictorial Guide to Growing Manuka Trees from Seeds here.

And if you'd like more information on all aspects of growing and planting manuka trees, check out the DIY Manuka Forestry Courses.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The 2017 Honey Season in NZ

How has the honey season been this year? Terrible!

The manuka has hardly flowered at all, around our place. And it looks like it is universal, across the country.

Comvita has come out and said that it expects their honey harvest to be only 40% of normal. Check out the article in the NZ Herald.

Why is the season so bad? Must be the weather. It has been quite cold for summer, for most of the season.

The season is not over yet, and I guess it could still surprise us. My apple tree has decided to blossom. Again. So it has blossoms AND apples on at the same time. And my magnolia is equally confused, it's doing a second round of flowers, after the normal October flowering. Almost like they think it is just spring now.

So what can you do when the weather wrecks your honey season?

Not a lot, but check out these suggestions at Business of Bees.

And may the force be with you. Everyone is in the same boat this year, it seems.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

3 fatal mistakes to avoid when starting a new bee business

Are you making these 3 fatal mistakes in your planning for a new bee business?

You've decided that there is money to be made in the manuka honey industry. You've done the research on the interwebs and found a wealth of useful information. It all looks like a dream run. What could go wrong?

Well, that's all fine. And not. 

Here are 3 fatal mistakes to avoid in your planning for a new bee business to take advantage of the burgeoning manuka honey industry.

1. Trying to do everything

Paying people to do some of the tasks is expensive, right? So, no problem, you'll do them all yourself.

Here are some things that are involved in creating honey and bee products and getting them to market:
  • own your own hives
  • be the beekeeper
  • run all aspects of the business
  • build boxes
  • make queens
  • extract honey
  • package honey
  • sell honey
  • make other products, say hand cream or candles
  • own the land the hives are on
  • grow your own manuka
Doing all this means you are self-sufficient, a grand and wonderful thing.

It also means you are very busy. And very busy translates to only being able to do so much. For a full description of what you are likely to achieve and what to do about it, read more here at

2. Not allowing for the weather

We have weather, pretty much guaranteed. And some weather is not ideal. You can bet your bottom dollar on this one too.

So does your financial and business plan allow for a bad season? Or bad parts of the season?

2015/16 was a poor season in parts of NZ, a storm stopped short the manuka honey flow. 2016/17 is not looking too grand either. Word is, it is not so flash in many parts of the country - it's not over yet, but not going good so far. Even though the weather has been pretty benign, you would think.

What if next year is poor? And the year after? Does your plan suggest you will survive? Or do you need a string of bumper crops to make it all work?

Which brings us to mistake no. 3:

3. Using the wrong numbers

The internet is a strange place. You can find just about anything you want. But finding the context is a bit harder.

So here are some numbers the internet might suggest are good for bee business planning:
  • growing about 1000 hives in your first year
  • getting 40 kg honey per hive
  • making $40 / kg on your honey
That sounds great doesn't it? No problem with making a profit then. But there are a few traps using these numbers just straight. It's all a bit more nuanced than it might first seem. 

For more detail on how these numbers can go wrong see this blog post.

And for some ideas on how to fix this, check out the full story in this blog post.

If you can avoid these 3 fatal mistakes and still make your financial and business plan look like it'll work, then you are ahead of the game, and have a good chance of having a business that will work.