In deepest Oxfordshire, between two days of torrential downpours, Phil Spillane, the Seasonal Bee Inspector, came to inspect our Soho Farmhouse apiary.
The BBC weather forecast through the end of November envisages temperatures in London and the South East remaining around double-digit degrees centigrade. And I’m still running to work and back in just a white T-shirt and black lycra shorts. But funnily enough, this extended period of warm winter weather threatens two problems for bees: starvation and disease.
The fact that temperatures are remaining high enough for bees to fly and that there is some forage still available may tempt bee colonies to continue brooding and therefore continue flying to provide the fuel for their energy-hungry brood. This could cause a diminution of honey stores in the hives as the bees expend more energyon brood than they bring in (pollen and propolis are available, although nectar is rare at these temperatures) and lead to starvation later this winter. It is worth hefting hives now to monitor food stores – remember that a national hive typically requires 25kg of honey stores to be sure of reaching Spring in good health.
Disease is a threat, especially if brooding continues. New brood will permit the parasitic varroa mite population to build up, just as the number of adult bees in the hive is in seasonal decline. Thus the concentration, or “load”, of varroa may increase, leaving the colony vulnerable to higher level of infection by diseases. Although beekeepers should not enter hives at this time of year, using a varroa inspection board under an open mesh floor of the hive will give beekeepers an idea of the numbers of varroa present in each hive. That knowledge can be used to decide which, if any, varroa treatment will be appropriate. Personally, I always treat for varroa around the Winter Solstice – on 21st December this year – by trickling oxalic (rhubarb) acid when the brood cycle is at its low . The reason for this is that the empty wax brood cells make this the one time of year when the mites are forced to live on the bees, rather than sealed in the cells to feed on bee-larvae, and the “knock-down” of varroa mites from the sugar-syrup/oxalic acid dose is at its most efficient.
So I’ll be taking some luggage-scales and a varroa board to my town and country bees this weekend, as I check the hives’ temperature and moisture monitors. As the old beekeeping proverb goes: “Lycra on a November morning, starvation warning“.
Or something like that….
Kenyan newspaper The Star reports that Africa’s largest bee laboratory has opened in Nairobi. I’d never heard of “Colonial Lapse Syndrome” before!
“A Sh1.44 billion state-of-the-art bee health reference laboratory has been launched to help study disease and pests in a bid to enhance food security through pollination.
The laboratory is located at the African Insect Science for Food and Health (Icipe) headquarters in Nairobi. It is one of the largest in Africa and will help in investigating bee diseases, sterilisation of bees, genetics, study pesticides that are harmful to bees, GIS mapping, pollination and breeding of bees.
Prof Suresh Kumar Raina, the principal research scientist and team leader of the European Union Bee Health Project in Icipe said management of bee disease and pests is very essential for food security in Africa.
“Pests and diseases are attacking bees more in developed countries than Africa, especially the devastating Varroa mite that is viral and many other fungal and bacterial diseases which affect bees. There is also the Colonial Lapse Disorder where bees have been mysteriously disappearing.
“The exact cause of this disorder is not known as adult worker bees from a honeybee colony on foraging flights simply do not return to the hive. These are some of the research issues we will be investigating in the bee reference laboratory,” said Prof Suresh, adding that the impact of climate change on bee diseases and pests and how substantial the diseases and pests problem in Africa will also be determined.
Bees supply food and are also required for pollination of food plants such as pumpkins, cocoa, coffee, papaya, oranges and passion fruits.
They are crucial for the functioning of our environment as they pollinate 250,000 species of agricultural, medicinal, fibre and other flowering plants, some of which provide food for other organisms. Suresh said the state-of-the-art facility has very expensive equipment in the laboratory, the best ever in the African continent.
“Our research will help farmers improve on their markets quality assurance too, this laboratory is just what many farmers needed,” said Prof Kumar.”