Border Bees Diary

Diary of a Beekeeper in the Scottish Borders

Archive for May, 2008


Posted by borderglider on May 24, 2008

Spotted my first swarm by a roadside in the Borders yesterday – a ‘prime swarm’ near another beekeepers apiary – he collected it shortly afterwards. It seems likely that the only swarms we are seeing these days are ‘escapees’ from managed colonies in beekeeper’s apiaries – since wild or feral colonies will have been killed by varroa mites.

Prime Swarm on an Elderberry Tree: May 23 2008

Pillar of Bees: Swarm on a Barbed-Wire fence at my old Apiary – 2001

This was my most challenging swarm to date – at my old Apiary near Dunbar in Scotland. This large swarm chose to cluster on a barbed wire fence – on a post wrapped around with both barbed wire and square sheep fencing. Took me the best part of an hour to coax them upwards into a straw skep – using a combination of ‘drumming’ on the wooden post – and wafting smoke over the lower part of the swarm.

They did eventually climb up into the skep and I later set this on a white bedsheet – leaving them to settle down until evening, when I lifted bedsheet and skep and hived them in a new home.

Straw skep placed on fence to tempt the swarm into taking up residence. I smeared the inside of the skep with honey and also tacked a piece of comb in there to give them something to grip onto.

Swarms are ‘usually’ gentle and non-stinging

If any non-beekeepers come across a swarm – it’s important to understand that swarms are not ‘dangerous’ and in fact they are usually very gentle and non aggressive. They are simply not interested in any passing humans – and they are filled with honey to provision their new home. If you see a swarm, alert a local beekeeper – the local council or police will often have a list of beekeepers, who will be only too happy to come and remove the swarm to a new home.


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Germany bans chemicals linked to honeybee devastation

Posted by borderglider on May 23, 2008

From Today’s Guardian – May 23rd 2008

Germany has banned a family of pesticides that are blamed for the deaths of millions of honeybees. The German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) has suspended the registration for eight pesticide seed treatment products used in rapeseed oil and sweetcorn.

The move follows reports from German beekeepers in the Baden-Württemberg region that two thirds of their bees died earlier this month following the application of a pesticide called clothianidin.

“It’s a real bee emergency,” said Manfred Hederer, president of the German Professional Beekeepers’ Association. “50-60% of the bees have died on average and some beekeepers have lost all their hives.”

Tests on dead bees showed that 99% of those examined had a build-up of clothianidin. The chemical, produced by Bayer CropScience, a subsidiary of the German chemical giant Bayer, is sold in Europe under the trade name Poncho. It was applied to the seeds of sweetcorn planted along the Rhine this spring. The seeds are treated in advance of being planted or are sprayed while in the field.

The company says an application error by the seed company which failed to use the glue-like substance that sticks the pesticide to the seed, led to the chemical getting into the air.

Bayer spokesman Dr Julian Little told the BBC’s Farming Today that misapplication is highly unusual. “It is an extremely rare event and has not been seen anywhere else in Europe,” he said.

Clothianidin, like the other neonicotinoid pesticides that have been temporarily suspended in Germany, is a systemic chemical that works its way through a plant and attacks the nervous system of any insect it comes into contact with. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency it is “highly toxic” to honeybees.

This is not the first time that Bayer, one of the world’s leading pesticide manufacturers with sales of €5.8bn (£4.6bn) in 2007, has been blamed for killing honeybees.

In the United States, a group of beekeepers from North Dakota is taking the company to court after losing thousands of honeybee colonies in 1995, during a period when oilseed rape in the area was treated with imidacloprid. A third of honeybees were killed by what has since been dubbed colony collapse disorder.

Bayer’s best selling pesticide, imidacloprid, sold under the name Gaucho in France, has been banned as a seed dressing for sunflowers in that country since 1999, after a third of French honeybees died following its widespread use. Five years later it was also banned as a sweetcorn treatment in France. A few months ago, the company’s application for clothianidin was rejected by French authorities.

Bayer has always maintained that imidacloprid is safe for bees if correctly applied. “Extensive internal and international scientific studies have confirmed that Gaucho does not present a hazard to bees,” said Utz Klages, a spokesman for Bayer CropScience.

Last year, Germany’s Green MEP, Hiltrud Breyer, tabled an emergency motion calling for this family of pesticides to be banned across Europe while their role in killing honeybees were thoroughly investigated. Her action follows calls for a ban from beekeeping associations and environmental organisations across Europe.

Philipp Mimkes, spokesman for the German-based Coalition Against Bayer Dangers, said: “We have been pointing out the risks of neonicotinoids for almost 10 years now. This proves without a doubt that the chemicals can come into contact with bees and kill them. These pesticides shouldn’t be on the market.”

See also:
Coalition against BAYER Dangers (Germany)
Fax: (+49) 211-333 940 Tel: (+49) 211-333 911
please send an e-mail for receiving the English newsletter Keycode BAYER free of charge.

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Posted by borderglider on May 23, 2008

Bayer -the giant multinational pesticide manufacturer is actively using the name and logo of the British Beekeeping Association to promote and sell an insecticide called ‘DECIS’. Take a look at their ‘advert’ at:


“decis is endorsed by the British Bee Keepers Association when used according to the following guidelines:

  • Spray in the evening or very early morning when fewer bees are foraging.
  • Take care to prevent drift toward hives in the treated field.
  • Avoid triazole fungicide tank mixes.
  • Give local beekeepers as much notice as possible.

Bayer goes on to say that the active insecticide is DELTAMETHRIN and that . . . .

” you can be sure that all the active ingredient you spray will be insecticidal. This is coupled with a long duration of activity, rapid knockdown and short pre-harvest intervals.”


Here we have our national beekeeping organisation accepting large sums of cash from Bayer – for endorsing an insecticide as being “bee friendly”; when Bayer’s own marketing blurb stresses that this is a ‘long duration insecticide’ with rapid ‘knock down’. It is appalling that – contrary to the stated objections of many of BBKA’s membership, the excutive has allegedly been in receipt of cash payments in the order of £20,000 per annum since 2003 – for endorsing pesticides which kill bees! You couldn’t make it up! This is the equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous taking cash from a whisky manufacturing company for endorsing their booze as being “friendly to alcoholics if consumed in the recommended dosage”.

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Dandelion Days – May 2008

Posted by borderglider on May 22, 2008

Dandelions peak in early May

Common Dandelion – Good source of Pollen

May has been dominated by dandelions on the roadsides – which provide lots of pollen and nectar for bees – though the vast yellow fields of oilseed rape (OSR) provide pollen and nectar on a totally different scale. Sadly the Oilseed Rape flowered too early for our colonies to take advantage of – my hives are stuffed with hatching bees and sealed brood – but there just aren’t enough foraging bees to ‘cash-in’ on the golden harvest of OSR. The newly emerged bees will spend at least two weeks inside the hive feeding larvae, cleaning cells and acting as ‘house bees’ – receiving nectar from foragers – before they start to go out and collect nectar themselves. However, this vast bloom of flowers is the perfect source of food for accelerating the build-up of the bee population in the hives.

Oilseed Rape (OSR) in full bloom – fifty acres of it!


Honey provides the bees with their daily food needs – but they can only create new bees if they can provide larvae with protein in the form of pollen. Thus -in Spring the hive usually has stores of honey – and some stores of ‘sealed-pollen’ (last season’s pollen mixed with honey as a paste – sometimes called ‘bee bread’.

However, the limiting factor on breeding more bees is the availability of pollen. So May is the crucial month here in the UK when vast swathes of wildflowers and huge crops of oilseed rape provide an ocean of pollen. The problem is that the hive needs foragers – older bees – to collect the pollen, and if the hive population is still low, there just aren’t enough pollen-foragers to do the job.

Worker With Full pollen Baskets Returning to the Hive

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Birth of The Drones and Worker Bees

Posted by borderglider on May 13, 2008

May is the month when male drones start to emerge from the cells in which they have metamorphosed from fat white larvae into flying male bees. Note the size of the drone’s eyes in the photo below – each eye forms almost a hemisphere around the head – similar to a dragonfly. It is thought that the drone needs such amazing eyesight in order to find and mate with the Queen on her mating flight – which may happen several hundred feet in the air and up to three miles from the hive.

Male bees - drones emerging from their cells
Drones Emerging from their Cells

“Hello World! Why Am I Here? What Is My Purpose?”

Worker bee merging from its cell

A Worker Bee Cuts Her Way out of Her Cell

A young worker cuts her way from her cell to join her sisters in the duties of the hive. All of the capped cells around her contain young workers about to emerge after matamorphosis; these will probably emerge within the next 24 hours since this patch of eggs will all have been laid by the Queen at the same time – up to 2,000 a day at this time of year.

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Beekeeping in the Scottish Borders

Posted by borderglider on May 11, 2008

May 11th 2008

I have kept bees for eight years now – so I am no longer ‘a beginner’ – but many local beekeepers have forty years or more experience, so I am still a long way from being an ‘expert’.  I keep the local ‘native’ bee – i,e, British Black bees – Apis Mellifera Mellifera – rather than using imported Italian, Carniolan (Slovenian) bees.

The Merry Month of May in the beehive

Nurse Bees & Sealed Worker Cells during Oilseed Rape Season

My bees went into the winter of 2007 with five hives – all in good heart and all with first-year-queens (British blacks – or ‘local stock’. The bees were treated for varroa with Apistan strips in September and after Christmas I dosed them with Oxalic Acid – to guard against varroa gaining chemical resistance. I also tacked heavy duty plastic ‘skirts’ around the hives to shed the rain and wind – using builders damp-proof-membrane – so I thought everything had been taken care of.

When I last peeked into the hives – after Christmas – there were healthy populations of bees in all five hives and plenty of winter stores to see them through the cold months. When I revisited the hives in April I was shocked to discover that one of the hives was dead and another two were queenless – with only a small population of bees surviving.


The main possible causes noted by the experts seem to be:

1. Varroa parasites and viruses

2. Nosema – dysentery

3. Prolonged cold

4. Accumulation of pesticides in stored food supplies

The general picture that is emerging throughout the UK is that there have been very heavy losses in some areas – lighter losses in others. East Lothian BKA conducted a survey which revealed 10% losses on average. Morayshire BKA reported losses in the 40-50% zone and in one case 12 out of 12 hives were lost.

My own hives are all Open Mesh Floors; all were treated for Varroa (Apistan) in September and seemed in vigorous good health. They were treated with oxalic acid using 3% solution and no more than 5 mls of solution per seam of bees – in early January. The three dead or severely depleted hives were discovered in mid April and I have been nursing my two remaining queenright colonies in the hope of breeding new queens at the end of May.

British Black Queen/em>

I took this photo of my best remaining queen on May 10th. Did not see the varroa mites through the veil while inspecting the hive, but did notice them on the enlarged photo today. Very depressing.

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