Feeding Fondant!

Having given the bees all that sugar water back in September they really should still have plenty of stores. However, just to be on the safe side, we gave each a cake of fondant today. It’s there if they need it, and if they don’t, they’ll just leave it alone.

It was good to have a quick look through the polycarbonate crown board.  Caitlin in Hive 1, Rebecca in Hive 2, Sam in Hive 3 and Hope in Hive 5 were all busy just under the crown board. In fact, some of the bees from Hope decided to come out and see us off!

Claire in Hive 4 and Susan in Hive 6 had no bees in sight and this was the case the last time I had a peek in!  However, I had a good look down between the frames and I could see bees so they’re still in there!

Next visit will be to treat for Varroa in January or February.

Winter preparations.

We’ve spent the whole month of September feeding the bees. They’ve consumed 120kg of sugar, that’s 72 litres of sugar water. Thank goodness for Aldi, although it was starting to get slightly embarrassing buying 24 bags of sugar every week!

We’ve been battling the wasps all this month too. My homemade wasp traps were full after 2 weeks and we had to replace them with fresh traps, which are also now full. The hive porches definitely helped and, although there were still wasps about today, I’m hoping the numbers will start to diminish soon.

We ‘hefted’ the hives to see how heavy they were to judge the amount of winter stores. They were very heavy so we removed the feeders. We’ve left the smaller hives with a single brood. However, the larger ones have been left with a brood and a super (brood & a half) just to ensure they have enough stores for the winter. We’ve removed the queen excluders from between the brood & super so that the queen is free to move with the colony throughout the hive and stay warm. We also put in Apivar strips to medicate for Varroa, changed the crown boards to clear polycarbonate and put on insulation.

Once home, I cleaned all the removed equipment in a 1:5 solution of Soda Crystals and water and I will blow torch the equipment made from wood to ensure it’s sterilised before being stored for the winter.

The bees were out flying today in the beautiful warm October sun but they know winter is on it’s way!  Our final job will be to add the mouse guards once the wasps have gone and remove the Apivar strips in 6 weeks time. After that, the hives won’t be opened again until the spring.

Hope by name, Hope by nature!

We did a quick inspection today and our lovely friend Lynda joined us as a beekeeper apprentice. What a natural – well done Lynda!

The exciting news is that Hope in Hive 5 definitely has a laying queen. Although we still haven’t seen the Queen, there was a lovely brood pattern over several frames and the hive was healthy and mild.

Drones have been expelled and the supers are not being refilled so the bees are definitely feeling autumnal. Clearing boards were put on every hive to clear the bees from the empty supers and these will be removed in a few days. After that, we’ll start feeding sugar water so they have enough time to process it into stores for the winter.

As Autumn takes hold, the bees will reduce for winter and inspections will be fewer as the temperature drops. I’ll miss the buzz, excitement, stress and bewilderment but I’m absolutely thrilled to have 6 viable hives, particularly as 2 of these were made by splitting existing hives.

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Neonicotinoid insecticides and the impact on bees.

There as been much coverage of late about the harmful effects of neonicotinoid insecticide on bees. As with all these controversial topics, I’m always a little bit skeptical of the medias’ sensationalist approach to reporting the issue, the government’s honesty, the bias of the industry-sponsored impact reports and the environmental groups ‘no compromise’ approach.

However, it is a fact that the European Commission did restrict the use of 3 neonicotinoids (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam) for seed treatment, soil application (granules) and foliar treatment on bee attractive plants and cereals. These restrictions came into force on 1 December 2013 for a period of 2 years.

15 Member States supported the restriction, 8 Member States voted against (of which the UK was one) and 4 Member States abstained.

The background to this restriction is that in 2012, the European Commission asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to study the safety of three neonicotinoids, in response to growing concerns about the impact of neonicotinoids on honey bees. The study was published in January 2013, stating that neonicotinoids pose an unacceptably high risk to bees, and that the industry-sponsored science upon which regulatory agencies’ claims of safety have relied may be flawed. The review concluded, “A high acute risk to honey bees was identified from exposure via dust drift for the seed treatment uses in maize, oilseed rape and cereals. A high acute risk was also identified from exposure via residues in nectar and/or pollen.”

When first introduced, neonicotinoids were thought to have low toxicity to many insects but, as the research from EFSA and others suggests, there is a potential toxicity to honey bees and other beneficial insects even with low levels of contact.

Neonicotinoids may impact bees’ ability to forage and learn and remember navigation routes to and from food sources. Bees can fail to return to the hive without immediately dying from toxicity.

Bumble bee colony growth and queen production may be affected. Exposure to Neonicotinoids may significantly reduce the ability to produce bumble bee queens. As they are the only bumble bee to survive the winter, no queens means no new colonies the following year.

A 2012 study by Purdue University scientists showed the presence of thiamethoxam and clothianidin in bees found dead in and around hives situated near agricultural fields. Other bees at the hives exhibited tremors, uncoordinated movement and convulsions, all signs of insecticide poisoning. The insecticides were also consistently found at low levels in soil up to two years after treated seed were planted, on nearby dandelion flowers and in corn pollen gathered by the bees.

Two studies published in 2015 in Nature provided further evidence of the harmful effect of neonicotinoids on bees, although further research is needed to corroborate the findings: Oilseed rape seed coated with a combination of clothianidin and a pyrethroid “reduced wild bee density, solitary bee nesting, and bumblebee colony growth and reproduction under field conditions”.

Interestingly in January 2013, (just before the Member States voting) the Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture (HFFA), concluded that the restrictions would cost billions of Euros to the agricultural industry and significant job losses. The greatest losses would be in wheat, maize and rapeseed in the UK, Germany, Romania and France. The lowered production would induce more imports of agricultural commodities into the EU.

There is a wealth of independent scientific research suggesting neonicotinoids are dangerous. There is government and industry-sponsored research suggesting neonicotinoids are safe. The government has a report suggesting a restriction on neonicotinoids would be economically damaging.

My personal opinion is that neonicotinoids are dangerous to bees! It was with great disappointment that in July I learned of the UK Government’s decision to lift the restriction on two neonicotinoid pesticides for 120 days on about 5% of England’s oil seed rape crop. These products will be supplied by Bayer and Syngenta and will be deployed to ward off the cabbage stem flea beetle.

According to a report in The Guardian in July, Barry Gardiner, Labour’s shadow Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) minister, said the Europe-wide ban on neonicotinoids was an essential element of the protection of pollinating insects. “By lifting the ban government is giving in to short term commercial pressures at the expense of the future of British of farming.”

A Defra spokeswoman said: “We make decisions on pesticides based on the science only once the regulators are satisfied they are safe to people and the environment. Based on the evidence, we have followed the advice of the ECP and our chief scientist that a limited emergency authorisation of two pesticides should be granted in areas where oil rape crops are at greatest risk of pest damage.”

David Cameron, said: “The EU put in place the ban on neonics, but if scientists start telling us that these things are safer than they thought then perhaps we can licence them.”  Fair enough, but where is this scientific evidence?  Defra apparently told its expert committee on pesticides (ECP) to halt its normal practice of publishing the minutes of meetings at which the neonicotinoid applications were discussed, in order to avoid “provoking representations from different interest groups”.

Disappointing as it was, the lifting of the restriction in the UK was an emergency authorisation, for limited products, over a limited time period, with limited application. However, is this a sign of things come? The European Commission is set to review the restriction at the end of 2015. That’s imminent! Let’s hope they make the right decision. Lets hope the UK Government respects it!  If you’re asked to sign a petition banning neonicotinoids – have a think about it! Let’s hope we can keep the honey bee, bumble bee, solitary bee and all other pollinators safe for their and our own sake.