Sunday, November 8, 2009

Irish Honey Show

The County Dublin Beekeepers Association run a honey show every year. There are stands
for honey, beekeeping equipment, cakes and tea and various tatty knick knacks. Well the divining stuff was tat at least. The main star of the show is the bee product competition though

The categories to be judged include beeswax candles, honey based cakes, combs of honey, meads and most importantly honey. Watching the judging of the honey is fascinating.

The criteria include pollen in the honey, bubbles in the honey caused by incorrect pouring, weight, viscosity, taste and colour. Water content as measured by a refractometer. Honey should have a water content of about 17%, if it reaches above 20% it usually starts to ferment. The whole judging process is fascinating so if you ever get a chance to observe it you should.

I entered a dry mead made by Laura in the competition but she did not win. The judges find appearance very important so in future we will have to use the regulation bottles and stoppers.

I finally got a beekeeping suit. So I can stop constantly borrowing them. It is a Bj Sherriff suit bought from Ben Harden. I managed to terrify my wife this morning by sneaking up on her in it, nice.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

TopBar Hive

I built a top bar hive last Saturday. I will post soon with a full description of the build

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Illegal urban beekeepers

There is a great video here of some horribly enthusiastic New York beekeepers here.

They don't wear beesuits which seems a bit too trusting to me.

Also on the new beekeeping vibe is this article in the gaurdian. "New plastic hive promises affordable beekeeping". given that this hive costs over 400 pounds that is pretty expensive.

I still plan to go with the top bar hive. Which should cost under 50 euro. It seems Omlet make really cool really expensive huts for hobby farmers. Which is cool and all but I think old school wood and nails is preferable to plastic. Which do you think is cooler a hacked Ikea coop or the omlet one that costs 600 euro?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summertime and the bees are swarming

This is a photo from my brothers in law's back garden. Nice hive of bees there. I am not sure it would be wise to capture them and bring them up to Dublin so I will leave them be. Unwise because Irish beekeepers are being careful moving beehives around at the moment as it can spread bee diseases. Swarming bees are not usually hostile though some people do freak out when the see them.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Bumblebees in Honeysuckle

The honeysuckle is great this year. I think it makes the best honey. Honey from Ling heather tends to win most of the awards though. You rarely find honeys from a particular crop on sale in Ireland. If you ever get a chance to buy or even try them you should though.

In truth no honey is entirely from one crop. Bees are not monophagic and will deliberately vary their diet. So even if a crop is as plentiful as honeysuckle is this year honey will not be entirely made from nectar from a single plant.

More pictures of may flowers and bees here

Bumblebee in Buttercups

Just saw this bee outside my office window working away.

Buttercups look very different to bees. If you see one in UV as this site shows the buttercup looks very different

Friday, May 29, 2009

ELECTION POSTERS: guerilla gardening

Just saw this guy come up with a guerrilla gardening use for election posters.
The description is here. You sir are a genius.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Jar of Honey by Jacob Polley

Has anyone else seen the Phil Jupitus poem on bbc2? He is in a cafe and hands over the jar, then says the poem. I cannot find the video anywhere. The poem is

A Jar of Honey by Jacob Polley

You hold it like a lit bulb,
a pound of light,
and swivel the stunned glow
around the fat glass sides:
it's the sun, all flesh and no bones
but for the floating knuckle
of honeycomb
attesting to the nature of the struggle.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bee Orchid

The bee orchid(Ophrys apifera) lives in an amazing symbiotic relationship with bees. Flowering in June/July in Karst regions they have evolved to look like bees in order to attract the pollinators. Attract in the sexual sense Dawkins in "blind watchmaker" describes how male bees attempt to mate with this flower.

Another Flower that seems peculilarly adapted to bees is the invasive Himalayan balsam.

I have seen them in karst regions of Clare (the photo is of one near Pollballygoonaun cave) in October. It has an unusual pink/mauve color. I would love to see a photo taken in ultraviolet of them. I believe they will show up luminous in bees vision.

The shape of the flower is evolved to promote pollen being rubbed onto the bees. The petals form a long thin tube that the bees enter to try access the nectar. Half way down this tube the anthers are positioned to rub off the bee. The symbiosis involved between the bee and this flower is fascinating. It has especially long petals that form a tunnel. As the bee goes down this tunnel to access the flowers nectar the pollen is rubbed onto it. This design means that more of the pollen is attached to and collected from the bees then it would if the bees position was not so carefully controlled.

There is a video of the process here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Bóthar Bees

The Fingal beekeepers meet up on the first Thursday of the month for talks. A load of people meet up, if you want to try beekeeping you should call in. Check their website for details.

Information about seasonal activities is handed out.

This month the talk was from Aisling Donoghue of the charity Bóthar. This is an Irish charity that sends livestock to the developing world. They also train beekeepers in the developing world. The aim being to provide people with a source of income. There are similar charities in the UK (bees for development) and America (hives save lives).

The campaign run to donate bees is here. The bees are native species as these are evolved for the conditions in the area.

The bees also have the advantage that they pollinate the crops in the area

There was great photos of the training of the people who receive the beehives. The hives shown in these photos were of the traditional topbar hives but were were told they now use more modern Langstroth hives. I'd be interested to hear from an African beekeeper about how these are suited to the local climate. And whether the extraction tools needed for them are easily available.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

No bees Allowed

I am looking for some space to put my bees in out in Dublin 15. My garden is tiny is surrounded by children and is also home of the worlds boldest dog

so its not suitable

So I asked the local allotments if they might have space. Turns out no because
"Unfortunately, our strict rules are no livestock of any kind allowed on the allotments, and it would not be right for us to make exception for you. However, I would be more than happy to give you some ground in a field beside the allotments,"

Grand stuff but then the follow up mail says this

"there are some issues with regard to having bees near members of the public. Allergies, the risk of getting stung, etc. Unfortunately, for that reason we cannot accomodate you"

Any garden will attract bees. Any garden has to attract bee to stay healthy. The widespread losses of our wild bee population means that they cannot be relied upon for pollination. How can you have allotments without bees? The wild Irish population has been decimated by varroa mites so relying on them for pollination is risky. If your not relying on wild bees but on local beekeepers that seems like a weird hybrid of NIMBYism and irrationality. The logic seems to be something like 'We need bees and need them in the allotments just don't want them near the allotments'.

How much risk are bees to public safety? Surely if your allergic to bees you do not take up gardening. I'm allergic to shark bites so I don't stick my head in their mouths. How can you ban something for safety reasons when it is vital for the activity. It is not like the beehive was in the middle of the allotments either but in a nearby field.

The allotment guy is being really nice and all so I'm not going to go be mad at him but can you think of a good way of persuading people that bees are neccessary?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Don't stand in front of a beehive

It is not up there with don't eat yellow snow but its still good advice. Returning bees don't expect you to be there. So they tend to form in groups on your back. Seeing as they are at about 30 degrees a carpet of the fellas can warm you up a bit.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Marking the Queen

You want to mark the queen bee so you can find her quickly if you need her replace her. Bees are very sensitive to temperature so its a bad idea to stand around for ages with their house open up. Marking her means that you probably wont have to spend ages searching for her should the need to replace her arise.

Find the lady. Finding a slightly larger queen amongst 30000 of her daughters while she tries to hide from the light can be tough.

Queens release pheremones (and queen substance) that signal her authority and generally keep the rest of the hive in line. These she secretes and produces from her mouth parts. Should these run low due to old age or various other reasons the hive stops being a well coordinated superorganism and turns into something like King Lear but with 30000 ungrateful daughters. Replacing her can stop this rebellion that can cause many of your bees to leave in a swarm.

Capturing the queen

Handling the queen can cause your odors to rub off on her. Then when she is added back to the colony she may not be recognised. This causes something similar to an immune response in the superorganism. If you later the odor of the queen badly she can be murdered by the colony. To avoid this some experiments with using gloves are taking place.
In this case the gloves are odorless polythene similar to the ones used at sandwich counters. Unfortunately they are too baggy and so John said he would not use them again.
The queen is having her wings clipped here. Occasionally the when the queen is not producing enough queen substance to keep the colony from rebelling she will attempt to flee with some of the hive. If this happens you can lose half of your hive. If she does leave with clipped her wings shell fall to the ground and those bees who were leaving with her should head back to the hive. Dealing with swarming is a large area.

Marking the queen with a special low odor marker.

The queen is kept separate from the hive while the marker dries and the smell wears off. She hides from and dislikes light so the box was turned over after this photo was taken.
What happens to the queen if she has the wrong or not enough odor to stop the hive rebelling? A grisly regicidal spectacle called "balling the queen". Her daughters gang up on her entombing her in a ball of their bodies that smothers and boils her to death. It is a good expression I'm not sure why its not more widely used.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fingal Beekeeping Course

The Fingal North Beekeepers Association run a beginning beekeeping course in Spring. It consists of six nights Tuesday and a demonstration on a Saturday.

The course includes Ted Hoopers 'guide to bees and honey'. Has extensive handouts and covers bee zoology, diseases, hive manipulation, honey appreciation, swarm avoidance and loads more. The cost is so low that it probably does not cover the rent of the room.

I am amazed and thankful for the amount of effort the Fingal beekeepers put into educating and encouraging beginning beekeepers.

I have more photos of the demonstration here. I will describe the demonstration in a later post.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Nettle Beer: Even slugs hate you

A night outside and the nettle beer failed to tempt even one slug.

I left vodka mixed with skittles out for half an hour a while ago and this was the result.

That is how bad this drink was skittle cheapo vodka was infinetely more attractive to dipsomaniac invertebrates then it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Nettle Beer 2

I made 1 liter with a modified version of a recipe from this book. To make 4 liters you need

1 kilo nettle tips.
10 grams ginger
Danstar Windsor yeast
2 lemons
800 grams sugar
200 grams honey
4 liters of water

Pick the tops of good clean nettles then rinse them. If you get dragged through the nettles by your dog make sure to keep your dignity.

Simmer the nettles for half an hour with the lemon juice and the ginger. I strained off the liquid from the nettles. When this strained off water starts cooling you can add the sugar but I left the honey till the water was at about 60 celsius.

Add the yeast when the water is at about 20 degrees as any warmer and you risk killing the yeast. Well when I give this recipe of things to do, you would be better off if you did not bother.

After a week I gave it a go. The odour my wife kindly described as "smelling like death". The taste was not that bad but I would not recommend it. If you know how to fix the recipe please tell me in the comments.

In fact I've used it to bait the garden in an attempt to kill off the slugs that plague my life. I have checked before and slugs show no preference for different beers. So hopefully they get rid of this crap for me.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bamboo Bee House

I just got this in Sainsbury's. I can find some similar products on the interweb here. There is a good description of similar houses here. I'm not quite sure if any of the Irish species of beers are suitable for this house and most solitary bees I see are a lot bigger then the holes in the bamboo.

So Im going to hang a hanging basket bracket off the shed tomorrow. And hang this up off it. What should I bait the bamboo with? I have propolis, beer and I reckon I can find Citral and Geroniol.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nettle Beer

I went picking nettles tonight. I'll post up the recipe for nettle beer in a week. It takes that long to ferment and I want to taste it first to make sure its drinkable.

So bets on whether It will be palatable?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Birch Sap Mead Failed

So I'm walking out of the undergrowth wearing gardening gloves and holding a black bin bag gingerly. When a Garda car cruises past, The Garda inside takes a quick look at me. The car darts into the next turn off. So now I have to firstly get myself looking less like someone cleaning up after a murder secondly decide what to tell them when they started asking awkward questions.

For some reason my outfit looked suspicious...

Artists impression

5 minutes earlier I got back to the birch tree and found the tube for the sap had fallen out. I must not have put it in deep enough and I think I put it in too low. I examined the tree and the demijohn and there was very little evidence of sap for either of them. So I sealed up the trunk with mud and decided to try again with another tree in a week. It is very important you seal up any hole you make or you risk injuring the tree.

Anyway police in Dublin 15 are like hens teeth. A busload of orphans could be set on fire by Osama Bin Ladin and they would not send a car out. So I was a tad unlucky with them seeing me. Whenever I lie my life turns into an episode of curb your enthusiasm but the problem is "I was drilling a hole in a tree to make booze out of the sap" is the sort of truth that makes you sound like you are 1. mad 2. talking in code 3. lying.

So the Garda car has done a rapid u-turn and is passing me at 5kph. I am no longer wearing murderer gloves and a pikey hat, also I'm trying to look nonchalant as you can holding a black bin bag. Luckily even in a French secret service polo neck I must not to much like an axe wielding maniac so they just sped up and headed off.

The recipe I plan to use is similar to the one in "First steps in winemaking" by cjj berry
3.5 Liters of Birch Sap
.5 liters of water
Juice of 1 Lemon
1 tea spoon of yeast nutrient
Wine Yeast (What would you recommend?)
Honey. Most recipes say a kilo to kilo and a half of sugar. So I plan to use 2 kilos of honey.

Any suggestions on the recipe? Or indeed on how to avoid being arrested while out gathering food?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Birch Sap Mead

I decided to brew up a birch sap wine. I have been waiting for spring like a grumpy bear and now is the ideal time for taping some birches. Not owning any birch trees this involves some guerrilla maneuvers. After some scouting of locations in the glamorous industrial estates of Dublin 15 I found an ideal location.

First we cleaned a demijohn. Most descriptions recommend using cotton wool to prevent yeast and such getting in but we had a proper bung so went with that. The description on how to make this brew I took from the wild food year book.

Is it possible to hold a drill without looking mad?

I found a birch tree about 30 meters off the road. This involved wearing a polo neck a hat and singing "breaking the law" from Beavis and Butthead. I drilled slightly upwards to a depth of about 3 centimeters. Some sap started to form. I am not altogether sure this was enough, I will see when I go back tomorrow. It usually takes about 3 days to get enough sap to fill the demijohn. You have to seal up the hole when finished to prevent the tree bleeding to death.

I then snuck back to my car like a ninja rolling as I went and celebrated at home with a newly bottled mead. The mead used an ale yeast and the end was too yeasty to bottle so here is me drinking it. I manage to look mad even without a drill

There are a load more guerrilla recipes in the book so hopefully I will get to post some more over the next while. I will write up the recipe for the mead to make with the birch sap when I collect some.