Posts Tagged ‘winter’

Happy Christmas to all you beekeepers and bee carers out there!


Happy Christmas to all  readers of my blog, and also to their bees! I hope that you have had a good 2013 and your bees are all set up well to survive through the winter if you are in the northern hemisphere – remember to check on them for levels of stores as well as during and after any adverse weather conditions that we may experience in the UK. Make sure that the hive entrance is clear of both dead bees so that they can fly and excrete waste on warmer days and also to avoid suffocation by snow when it arrives.

BeeXmas

(please note the attached photo taken in 2012 is just stacked honey supers and DOES NOT contain bees before you start to ask….)

I have been busy making bee fondant at the weekend using my normal  Fondant_recipe which can be downloaded from the link, I have found that the bees have happily taken this over the last few years, often not until late February or early March but I like to give it to the bees at Christmas just in case! We have had a warmer-than-average December and this may have affected how much of their stores of honey and syrup that the bees have used in the hives and I lost a colony last year to isolation starvation despite having fed them in the Autumn and given fondant over winter.

I will also be applying oxalic acid when we get a break in the heavy rains and gale force winds – I will aim to do this slightly earlier next year though following the most recent research from Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI) at the University of Sussex that indicate that between the dates of 10th December and Christmas is the optimal time for oxalic acid treatment. They also recommend that you check for sealed brood and destroy any, say, 48 hours before applying acid.

Checking the hive entrance during the winter months

Checking the hive entrance during the winter months

With many tales of beekeepers taking presents to their bees at Christmas I would be interested to know of anything that you do each year, feel free to comment…

I hope to keep adding to this blog as and when time allows in 2014, thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings your continuing comments and questions – this makes it all worth while for me as the writer….

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

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Autumn’s here and my bees look like ghosts…


October has arrived, the leaves are beginning to fall from the trees and my apiary visits are becoming less frequent now that I have finished treating the bees with Apilife Var for the Varroa Destructor (parasitic mite) and feeding the heavy sugar syrup that will help to sustain my girls through the winter and replaces some of the honey that was removed back in August.

Apart from a  very brief cold spell it has been quite a warm autumn so far in the south and the bees are still busy, the queens in two of my hives are still producing brood, once hatched these will be the workers that remain with her over winter and into the start of the season next year, but all the bees are still flying and bringing in lots of pollen. I am very fortunate that my apiary is located in a semi-rural location and falls adjacent to a heavily forested area with plenty of ivy at this time of year, but my bees do not appear to foraging there, they are returning to hives looking like miniature ghosts dusted in white pollen and not only in the pollen baskets on their rear legs but also all over their thorax as well.

Sloes growing on the blackthorn trees

Sloes growing on the blackthorn bushes

After a brief check on the colonies last weekend I took a wander further down the valley to have a look at the sloes growing on the blackthorn and to see if they were ready to pick and seep in gin, as it was they looked ripe but still feel a little bit hard and its probably best to wait a little longer until they are holding a bit more juice before harvesting.

However as I wandered along the paths through the woodland I was greeted by a familiar buzz and could see my girls working the pink flowers scattered amongst the bramble, ferns and nettles.

A woodland path in the Spa Valley, blanketed in flower of the Himalayan Balsam.

A woodland path in the Spa Valley, blanketed in flower of the Himalayan Balsam.

These flowers are the ‘Himalayan Balsam’ (Impatiens glandulifera) and as the name suggests it is a non-native species that is considered by many to be a weed due to its fast growing and invasive nature. It will tolerate low light conditions and will rapidly displace other plants in the area if not controlled. However my bees seem to absolutely love it with virtually every forager returning to the hive wearing white overalls.

You can see from the two close-up images of the flowers below (apologies these were taken with a phone camera so not that great quality) that the hood-shaped flower invites the bee in to drink nectar held in the central ‘cup’ but there is a small pollen brush above with passes over the top of the thorax as the bees enter and exit, this is a very effective strategy for the plant in order to reproduce.

Himalayan Balsam Flower

Himalayan Balsam Flower open for business

Himalayan Balsam Flower

Himalayan Balsam Flower

I can’t help looking at this and being reminded of one of my favourite quotes from the film ‘Withnail and I’ where Withnails uncle Monty, played by the late Richard Griffiths, is having a rant and says ‘ Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees.’

But what is good for the bees is not considered to be so good for other species and a biodiversity balance has to be struck, these plants local to my hives are self-seeded and appear to be spreading year after year and supply a rich source of late forage. In July 2011 the BBKA released a statement specifically relating to this plant that says:

“It is unacceptable (actually illegal) to actively distribute balsam seeds to encourage its spread, but this does not preclude the option for beekeepers to have some balsam in their gardens to provide the late nectar and pollen whilst carefully managing it so it does not spread to other gardens, agricultural land and especially watercourses.”

In my opinion it’s nice to see nature fighting back and giving something positive to the bees when there are so many other environmental pressures currently working against them, whether it be agricultural practises that are actively destroying the habitat that they require through removal of hedgerows and wild spaces, monoculture and the excessive use of dangerous pesticides (neonicotinoids) or the spread of parasitic mites and other bee diseases as well as the increasing threat of the arrival of the Asian Hornet in the UK.

I won’t be back to my hives for a  little while now, I hope that the weather holds and as the brood area reduces the bees fill all available space with stores as winter approaches to give them the best chance of surviving again (I lost one weaker colony to isolation starvation last year in the winter). When I return it will be to fit the metal mouse guards to keep out unwanted visitors, the chicken wire to keep the green woodpeckers away is already in place following reports of damage in Hampshire already this year!

Fly agaric

Fly agaric growing in the woodland adjacent to the apiary, October 2013

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog,  feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

 

Death of a colony – a beekeepers loss


The cold spell that has dominated the last couple of weeks has finally broken this weekend and I was keen to get down to my apiary to see how the bees were faring. The hives were last opened and checked at the end of December, about 3 1/2 weeks ago, when I applied the oxalic acid and fed large blocks of home-made bee candy to each.

My new apiary assistant to help with the bees

My new apiary assistant ready to help with the bees

We had five national hives and a poly nuc to check on this visit as the Warre hives are being left to their own devices over winter and we were only checking to see how the bees were doing with the candy feed and replenishing if needed. The first hive that we checked had a late swarm, collected in August and headed by a buckfast cross breed queen. At the end of last year they seemed to be doing quite well, the queen was a good layer, and although the colony was smaller than the others it seemed to be building at a steady rate and the bees were very chilled, beautiful to handle and I assumed they would be one of my success stories of 2013.

A dead colony clusters on the frames

A dead bee colony clusters on the frames

Dead bees clustering on the frame and covering the floor

Dead clustering on the frame and covering the floor

When we opened the hive I realised pretty quickly that there wasn’t the normal activity I would expect to see at this time of year, especially as the ambient temperature was around 9 degrees Celsius when bees would normally have broken from their winter cluster around the queen and resumed normal hive activities during the day. On closer inspection we found that the colony was completely dead with the bees clustering on the frames as they would have done in life.

It was a sad moment for me as this is the first colony I have lost to starvation in five years of keeping bees.

This hive had a reasonable level of stores when checked in December and a 400g block of bee candy was placed over the feed hole in the centre of the crown board but frustratingly this had not been touched despite the bee cluster being directly below it.

The starving bees had filled the cells in the frames head first, I assume looking for food, and many had died in this position.

Dead bees in the frames

Dead bees searching for food fill the frames

The other hives were checked and all appeared normal, three had finished their candy feeds but the fourth hive, with a similar size colony but different type of queen, had only just started to use it.

I have now doubled up the feed on each of the hives to take them up to the warmer weather when I can give a thin sugar syrup as a spring feed to help the colonies build strength again.

Candy feed on crown board just being started

Candy feed on crown board just being started

Doubled up blocks of candy on a hive

Doubled up blocks of candy on a hive

I am left wondering if I had used a small eke (spacer) to raise the crown board and put the candy direct on the frames would they have taken it, but then again they had full access to the candy and were right below it and hadn’t touched it so maybe not. Should I have moved them into a nuc for over-wintering or culled the new queen and consolidated them with a stronger colony? There is no point dwelling on the loss to much but their demise seems harsher than a colony losing a queen or having laying workers as you end up feeling responsible for their fate to some extent.

As a beekeeper it is lovely to have the opportunity to visit your bees during the long winter months, to see them flying again with the promise of another spring arriving and as the new plants are just beginning to appear through the receding snowline.

Bee in a poly nuc

Bee in a poly nuc

The bees in the poly nuc appear to be doing quite well. This a bit of an experiment this year as Paul only obtained the nuc in 2012 and populated it with a swarm he collected. The greater insulation should be keeping the bees warm and require less use of their precious stores but the downfall with this type of ‘housing’ is when it comes to feeding as the ‘crown board’ is a flexible sheet of clear plastic, with no feed hole, and no room under the roof for candy. Does anyone know if you can get a poly nuc eke to raise the roof, or if syrup feed is used in the built-in feeder (bottom of the picture) does it freeze or will the bees even take it during the winter months? Be good to hear of your experiences of using these new hives.

Dead frames, the comb will be removed for candles and the boxes sterilised with a blowtorch

Dead frames, the comb will be removed for candles and the boxes sterilised with a blowtorch

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog,  feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

N.B. clicking on the images opens a higher resolution image in a new window.

The apiary - January 2013

The apiary – January 2013

Acid and candy – a winter days treat!


Seems like it has been a while since I have added anything to this blog, and I guess that’s because this is generally a quiet time of year for beekeepers in the UK on the whole.

The honey (what honey this year?) has been extracted from the comb many months ago, the bees have been fed a thick sugar syrup which they in turn have further reduced and stored to help sustain them over the long cold winter months and the first set of treatment has been applied to try and knock back the parasitic mite, Varroa Destructor, that inhabit virtually every hive in the UK.

Winter checks

Paul doing the winter checks

During late August and into early September, after the honey crop has been removed,  I used Apilife Var, an organic thymol based treatment with Eucalyptus Oil, Menthol and Camphor as additional active ingredients. This has to be applied whilst the ambient temperature is still warm, and there is brood in the hive so the bees keep the internal temperature around 36 degrees Celsius and therefore it is warm enough to release the vapours and allow their circulation. The mites reproduction cycle mainly takes place within the wax-capped brood cells with the bees own young so it is not possible to remove a large proportion of the sexually mature mites at this stage.

A second part of my ‘integrated pest management’ strategy is to apply Oxalic acid to the hives during the winter months. The Apilife Var would no longer be effective with cooler ambient temperatures and a drastically reduced hive temperature there would be no vapourisation of the oils. The hive temperature drops to around 20 degrees during the short period at the end of December and early January when the queen is not laying and there are no eggs  or brood present. The higher temperature normally maintained in the hive is required for brood rearing so by dropping the heat the bees are able to conserve energy and therefore use slightly less of their valuable stores, 50 million years of evolution has taught them how to survive and not starve! The queen will start to build the colony up again soon in order that she has a new healthy adult workforce ready to take advantage of the spring flowers and early pollen and nectar flows that they bring.

It really helps if you have a ‘bee buddy’ to speed up the acid application process and reduce the stress of cold exposure to the bees.

Oxalic acid

Oxalic acid

Trickling acid between the seams

Trickling acid between the seams

Many of the older beekeepers talk of great summers when their hives were taller than themselves, stacked full of supers of sweet golden honey, but sadly these days seem to have been lost with a change in agricultural techniques, removal of hedgerows, over-use of toxic chemical pesticides, mass-urbanisation, a shift in climate and weather patterns and a number of other factors leading to less areas of natural forage and increasing the struggle for colony survival.

I do not really like the thought of using the acid on my beautiful bees but feel it gives them some additional chances of pulling through to the spring. The weak acid is applied diluted in a sugar syrup solution and is carefully trickled into the hive along the seams, or gaps, between the frames.

In order not to overdose the bees it should be applied evenly across the hive at 5ml per seam (10 seams = 50ml), the acid should be harmless to the bees but burns the feet and mouth parts of the mites meaning they can no longer hold onto their hosts and feed on them so is very effective. The hives are only opened for a minute or so and the frames are not removed or disturbed.

IT IS HOWEVER HIGHLY TOXIC TO HUMANS, INSTRUCTIONS SHOULD BE READ AND PROTECTIVE CLOTHING WORN!

One nice thing about applying the acid is that you have a chance to check the bees are still alive, having only occasionally seen any movement around the hives since late October. All my colonies are now clustered at the top of the hives under the crown board, they were surprising active on December 28th when we dosed them with acid but then it was quite warm outside, around 8 degrees centigrade, and a few of the more inquisitive ladies tried to get up my sleeves.

Bee candy

Bee candy placed over feed hole in crown board

Before closing up the hives again a block of home-made bee candy is placed over the central feed hole  in the crown board. Even if you have heaved your hives and feel there is plenty of stores available the bees may not travel sideways in search of food and can starve in a well supplied hive, they will however travel up so it is another insurance process, if they don’t need it they won’t touch it – don’t worry the bees will not get obese – but I would rather it was wasted than they starved. There is of course the argument that a sudden increase in food leads to the queen laying early, increasing colony size when there is no pollen to feed the young and increased activity uses up the food source far too quickly – you make your own mind up. From my experience over the last few years hives standing in the apiary shoulder to shoulder with similar size colonies and amount of stores have used the sugar at very different rates but ultimately all have survived.

Finally the hive entrances are checked to make sure that they are clear of dead bees. I use mesh floors so don’t suffer from flooding but if you have solid floors on it is worth checking that the hive is slightly tilted forward and there is no standing water inside which would make it too damp for the bees to be comfortable and may well lead to their decline. With these visual checks carried out its back on with the woodpecker guards until my next visit which will be in three to four weeks time to see how they are gettig on with the candy.

Woodpecker protection

Woodpecker protection is replaced

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog,  feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

N.B. clicking on the images opens a higher resolution image in a new window.

Applying oxalic acid

Applying oxalic acid

So where do all the bees go over winter?


September is virtually on our doorstep, sadly it is beginning to feel distinctly autumnal in the UK with below average temperatures and continued bands of rain crossing the UK and I am now turning my thoughts to preparing my bees for the long winter period ahead.

I often get asked ‘so where do the bees go over winter?’ I would like to say that they escape for some winter sun, the Canaries are a popular destination …. but the reality is not quite so nice. The bees have worked hard all spring and summer, on the few dry and warm days when they have been able to fly, collecting the various different nectars from flowering plants and trees. The nectar has been converted into honey, then its water content has been further reduced to stop it fermenting before it has been safely stored away inside a ‘capped’ wax cell to help sustain the colony over winter. Along comes the beekeeper in August and a certain amount of this honey is removed from the hives, and although a fair bit is also left on the hives, it is necessary to give the bees something back to try and prevent them from starving over the winter, or far more likely during the early spring period.

Feeding the bees

Feeding the bees

The colony size increases early in the year, with a large workforce required to collect pollen to feed the brood and nectar to feed workers as well as process the stores, but as summer nears its end the queen slows her egg laying down and the colony size reduces again so that there are less mouths to feed over winter. The bees being produced now (all female workers) will have a longer life span than their siblings born earlier in the year, surviving for several months as opposed to about 5 weeks, as the flowering plants reduce and finally disappear these bees will have hive duties only so will not literally work themselves to death. Instead their lives will be about protecting the queen over the winter and preparing the hive for the colony expansion to coincide with spring next year. The job of the drones (male bees) was mainly to fertilise any virgin queens and with this task completed for 2012 their lives as idle layabouts with all needs being tended to ends abruptly, the workers don’t need extra mouths to feed during the hard months ahead, and they are driven out of the hives into the cold and wet when they will perish. The queen will produce more drones next year when they are required!

Once the honey has been removed the hives are assessed for levels of stores left behind and any shortfall is made up using a heavy sugar syrup (1kg sugar: 500ml water). This must be done in August and early September to utilise a workforce that is still large enough to process the syrup and generate temperatures high enough inside the hive to reduce its water content sufficiently, once the ambient temperature drops and the colony reduces in size it would become a much harder, near impossible task and there would be a risk of fermentation which would lead to approximately 12,000  bees with diarrhea being trapped in a small wooden box together for the next 5 months – not a particularly nice thought.

Contact feeder on the hive

Contact feeder on the hive

The sugar syrup is feed to the bees above the crown board on top of the hive. As it is ‘outside’ of the hive as far as the bees are concerned they work tirelessly to ‘rob’ this new nectar source and store it in the comb cells below. Different types of feeder are used, I have always used ‘contact feeders’, an inverted bucket with a gauze panel where the bees can access the syrup. The vacuum in the bucket prevents the syrup from pouring into the hive, this year I am also trialling an ‘Ashforth feeder’  which is about the size of a honey super with holes along one side to allow the bees to climb up into the box. The advantage of this is that you can put a large volume of syrup on the hive in one hit rather than having to keep returning to refill the smaller contact feeder, the disadvantages is that the bees have to climb up into the box and find it. I dribbled a little syrup through the holes when I placed it on the hive and it was near empty after the first week (3kg sugar syrup) so I am now happy that it works.

Ashforth feeder on the hive

Ashforth feeder on the hive

I try to disturb the bees as little as possible during this period, they are not likely to swarm (although not totally unheard of) but it is necessary to treat the colony for mite infestation. There is a lot already written on-line about Varroa Destructor, basically a bee parasite that is an Asiatic mite that breeds in the brood cells and sucks the blood from the adult bees. The mites reproduction cycle is only 10 days so is substantially quicker than that of the bees, they hatch from the bees cells as mature mites often mated and ready to lay eggs, therefore they can increase their number at a much faster rate. As the bees reduce their numbers for the winter the mites still reproduce, further weakening the colony. The mites prefer to reproduce in the slightly larger drone cells but as the queen stops laying drone eggs the mites move into the worker cells and if a critical level is reached they then have the potential to collapse (or kill) the colony.  This has become a widespread problem in the UK over the last 20 years and most beekeepers have an integrated pest management plan that they implement each year to reduce the mite numbers and colony stress.

Varroa Destructor - treatment

Varroa Destructor – treatment

Personally I treat the bees with an organic treatment called Apilife Var during August and September whilst I am feeding the syrup, I then return at the end of December when there is no brood in the hive and treat again with oxalic acid which kills the mite but doesn’t seem to harm the bees. The Apilife Var is a strip of material that is placed  into the hive directly above the brood and then releases strong thymol vapours. This is repeated on a weekly basis for a four week period so ties in nicely with the syrup feeds.

I also use open mesh floors under the hives, this increases ventilation and prevents water pooling in the bottom of the hive (a potential problem with solid floors if the hive is not level or slightly sloped forwards – damp is a bigger killer of bees than the cold!) but it also allows any mites that drop off the bees to fall through the mesh and they are unable to return to the hosts. I am not convinced that many drop off naturally but the main use of a mesh floor is to allow a ‘count board’ to be placed under the hive during mite treatment, or at other times of the year. This is left on for a number of days before removal and the number of mites are counted, divided by the number of days the board was in place and using an on-line calculator gives an indication of the level of infestation in the hive.

More information on managing Varroa can be found at the BeeBase website which also includes the current advisory leaflet.

Invaders must die!

Invaders must die!

Other pests are often removed from the hives by the bees themselves, like this optimistic slug that fancied some honey!

Once the bees have stopped flying for the year they will cluster in the hive, protecting the queen and maintaining a temperature, slightly lower than required for rearing young, but warm enough to keep them from freezing. 100 million years of evolution has allowed them to perfect this comatose state where very little energy is used and therefore very little food is required. However when the queen starts egg laying  at the beginning of next year getting ready for the spring flow the bees will break open their stores of honey and pollen and that is why this period poses the greatest risk for starvation to the colony. If the spring flowers are late again or it is particularly wet the beekeeper needs to feed a light syrup to the bees to prevent this.

With the current changes in the UK weather patterns that have been recorded over the recent years the bees need all the help they can get if they are going to carry on pollinating the crops that produce the  food that we require to survive – only a fool would think that they need us to survive long term, sadly the reversal of this statement is not quite so true.

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog,  feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

N.B. clicking on the images opens a higher resolution image in a new window.

Bee Venom Therapy in action – does it really cure the pain?


Following on from my previous post, titled Bee Venom Therapy (BVT) …. is it a sting too far?, I now want to write a little about the experiences that my wife and I had last year using bee venom to treat her rheumatoid arthritis (RA), if you have just stumbled across this post then I would strongly recommend that you read my previous article to gain some background and understanding of what BVT is and why we are doing this!

Having read Charles Mraz’s book we felt quite confident with the actual direct application of  venom at the target sites. We informally discussed the process that we were about to undertake with our GP so that he was aware, and although western medicine doesn’t really prescribe this sort of treatment I think he was both intrigued and entertained at the same time, however he was not dismissive having heard anecdotal stories of similar treatments in the past and has maintained an interest in the results since.

Before the main treatments began we borrowed an epipen (just in case of an emergency!), we then carried out a single ‘test sting’ on the hand to make sure that my wife didn’t have an allergy to bee venom, even though she had previously been stung we needed to make sure that an allergy hadn’t subsequently developed in the intervening years. This also gave a taster or reminder of the pain that would be experienced in the coming weeks and an opportunity for her to change her mind. This whole treatment had to be very patient led, so I did not push the sessions and let my wife decide where she felt she wanted the stings to be applied. Luckily as a chiropractor who also does dry needling she has a very good understanding of the bodies mechanisms and where the trigger points or target areas should be.

Bees in a jar

Bees waiting their 'turn to help'

The bees are collected into a jar during the normal hive checks and this also set the frequency that the BVT sessions took place, purely through convenience as my bees are located in an ‘out apiary’ (so not kept at home) and we didn’t want to disturb the colonies more than we already do (also bees don’t ‘store’ that well once bottled). The collection jar is just an empty  jar with air holes drilled in the lid and some foliage for supporting the bees as they struggle to grip on the glass sides. If they were being left overnight a little honey was also added although this is best avoided as even the bees get sticky.

When the bees are to be ‘used’ they are plucked from the jar using ‘reverse’ tweezers, sometimes called jewellery makers tweezers, that close shut when the finger pressure is released rather than open as in normal tweezers, this allowed me to clamp the bees ready for application of the sting.

Bee in 'reverse tweezers'

Bee held in 'reverse tweezers'

I can’t say that my wife really relished the thought of being stung numerous times, and although she had seen the minor effect it had on me during my previous seasons as a beekeeper she had also seen the slightly more entertaining and dramatic effect of the histamine production when I was stung on my top lip. With the ‘test sting’ being a resounding success we decided to push on with the BVT.

The bees were collected and stings applied on average every 10 days or so, we applied between 10 – 12 stings at each session. Normally this would involve 2 in each foot or on the ankles, 2 on each of the knees and two on each hand, anywhere on the knuckles but we varied this routine depending if one area was  particularly painful with the arthritis  prior to that session. The stings were left in place for anywhere between 2 and 10 minutes so that  full venom dose was received. When the stingers are removed it is important not to use an alcohol wipe on the sting site as this neutralises the effect of the venom. Unfortunately the bee dies after they have used their sting and they also release a pheromone so the dying bees were removed from the immediate area as the BVT sessions took place outdoors and we didn’t want attract any extra non-participants into the area.  A few bees flying around your head when you are not behind a veil can be very off-putting!

Stings applied to joints on both hands

Stings applied to the knuckle joints on both hands

By the end of the 2011 season my wife had been stung 129 times, so you must now be thinking that she is either a very brave or possibly a slightly mad women, but if you had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 35, if it was in your body and your joints, and you were told that the only answer that modern medicine had to offer was to spend the rest of your life taking a cocktail of anti-inflammatory and other drugs (with pretty unappealing side effects in their own right) then maybe you to would be willing to take the chance that an alternative cure could be found.

Well of course I know that that my wife is an intelligent, level-headed women and as I have previously stated we didn’t start this whole process without a lot of thought, research and planning, I guess it was just a case of weighing up the options available to us and the western medicine route felt a bit like giving up hope.

Sting swelling

Localised swelling shortly after applying the sting

The stings did exactly what it said on the (yellow and black) packet. They caused localised pain for a short period, followed by a slight redness and swelling at the sting site. Then as histamine is produced by the body the swelling spreads across a larger area of the body, often causing  large red swollen areas that last for several days.As the season progressed Emma definitely developed a tolerance to the venom, in the same way that beekeepers often do, and the effects of the venom became less visibly evident.  I think that the most discomfort was caused, not by the initial pain of the sting as one may have thought, but rather by the itching over the next few hours and sometimes days, particularly during the hotter days of the summer.

So was the BVT effective? 

When my wife was first diagnosed with the RA in 2010 she attended an appointment with an NHS rheumatologist. She had blood samples and x-rays taken to assess her current condition and the extent of any existing joint damage.

The early signs are that the RA is in remission but more importantly than that, having just had the autumn and winter period so dreaded by many RA sufferers as their symptoms worsen during this period my wife has not complained of, nor suffered from painfully swollen joints as she  had done during the previous year. So it looks like the BVT has gone some way into reducing both the swelling and pain, the thing we need to find out now is if it prevents damage to the joints or even reverses the process.

The subsequent visits to the rheumatologist has involved further x-rays and tests and although they feel that, against the odds, that Emma is definitely showing signs of remission they do not have much interest in the BVT or accept that it is a potential contributing factor. We will have to now wait until further tests are carried out in future months to see how the BVT is really working, but all the early signs are positive.

I should point out that during the period that the stings were applied my wife was also undergoing other treatments such as acupuncture and a cleansing diet (to me this was harsher than the stings!) so any remission may be attributable to a combination of these treatments. When we reached the end of the beekeeping season in 2011 my wife became concerned that with the bees being ‘away’ and no longer being stung that the symptoms would become worse again and she became quite worried about not being stung, a complete reverse of a few months earlier!

Over the last few weeks my wife has also started to take ‘honeygar’, a combination of honey, cider vinegar and a little water, as a medicine. This come highly recommended in Margaret Hills book ‘Curing arthritis the drug free way’ as well as having more modern day champions such as Ranulph Fiennes, who swears by it for his own arthritis control.

So what is the plan for the future?

As the new beekeeping season is about to begin in 2012, and the girls are out flying again, we will also be starting the next set of BVT sessions. This is my wife’s choice so it shows that she must feel that there was a strong enough benefit from last years BVT to subject herself to the pain and swelling again and hopefully we will continue to see the RA in remission. In the testimonials that I have read people are sometimes ‘cured’ after just a few treatments and others have a longer journey. I guess it is part dependant on the level of RA being treated in the  patient as well as other factors such as the level that their auto-immune system is functioning at.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this article, if you have any experience of BVT, either personally or anecdotal, or would like to make a comment I would love to hear from you. It is still early days for us but sharing this experience is important and maybe it can also be of help to others.

October and the wax moths attack


Its getting towards the end of my beekeeping year and as well as sorting out the bees for the winter I am also trying to get my ever expanding collection of beekeeping equipment in order. Whilst moving the honey supers and spare brood boxes to get them ready for branding (see previous blog entry on hive security) I realised that I had now got a new problem. I had stored all the unused brood and honey boxes with their dry combs inside with sheets of newspaper in-between each box and I didn’t use any chemicals to protect them. This was the same procedure that I followed last year and I didn’t have any problems with wax moth, but then I wasn’t trying to store quite as much comb off the hives and over the winter.

Wax moth larvae

Wax moth larva

The wax moth is most active in August and October and will lay eggs in the hive given half the chance. I had seen some evidence of this earlier in the season as the worker bees had uncapped some of the sealed brood – a problem in itself called baldbrood.  Wax moth larvae will not be tolerated in the modern hive by a healthy strong colony but they will take advantage of stored brood comb, such as mine.

If you find you have a hive over run by wax moth it is likely that there are other problems stressing the colony that has prevented them from evicting these unwanted visitors.

Once the larvae are fully grown, having destroyed the comb,  they burrow into the woodwork of the hive to start their pupa stage causing further damage.

Destroyed comb

Destroyed comb

The larvae of the wax moth eat the cocoons, or linings, in the brood comb and this would happen in feral or wild colonies and would help to remove the unused or diseased comb from the cavity that the bees were occupying so would actually benefit the bees by  removing old comb and therefore creating more space for the bees to create fresh comb free from disease and parasites.

Wax moth larvae trail in comb

Wax moth larvae trail in comb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luckily for the beekeeper they do not pose such a problem to the comb in the honey supers as this has not held any young and this is one of the beekeepers more valuable assets as it allows the bees to store honey as soon as the nectar flow starts each year without having to spend time and energy (and honey) drawing the comb from scratch.

As you can see from the photos the comb was totally destroyed so it has now all been cut,  from the frames which in turn have been cleaned in washing soda, the brood box itself has been flamed with a blow torch (paying particular attention to the corners and any crevices) so hopefully this will now remove all traces of the wax moth.

I asked a retired NBU inspector what was the best way of storing brood comb over winter and he replied ‘you don’t!’.

If it is brood comb you don’t store it as it is far better to put swarms direct onto fresh foundation and let them draw it out. If they are a swarm collected from an unknown origin then they will use the honey in their honey stomachs up producing wax for building comb rather than storing it in ready drawn comb and this can help prevent the spread of disease.

Comb destroyed by wax moth

Old brood comb destroyed by wax moth

He also gave the following advice:

When not in use stack the brood boxes and supers withtheir comb outside with queen excluders below and a raised clearer board on the top to allow ventilation and of course a roof to top it all off. Spiders will enter the stack and happily eat any moths that enter.

Hope for a cold winter as when you get a frost the temperatures will kill all wax moth and their eggs in comb and frames .

Do not use mothballs or chemical that can taint the wax and eventually end up in the honey – if you do this and it is detected you will be in line for a hefty fine!