OxNatBees exhibit at RSA Motivate

Written by Alison

OxNatBees was represented at RSA:Motivate, a gathering of community, citizenship and environmental activists, on Saturday 10 June at the Oxford Town Hall.

Alison, Ann P and Paul set up the stall in the exuberantly baroque surroundings of the main hall, among some 30 other groups which were represented (details at http://rsaoxfordshire.org.uk ). Helle arrived and also helped out answering queries and explaining to enquirers the low-intervention methods of ‘natural’ beekeeping, while Robin, Sarah and Linda dropped in later to help out. Continue reading

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‘Inspecting’ your bees – the low-intervention way

All beekeepers naturally want their bees to be healthy and thriving, and periodically ‘inspect’ them to determine how they are doing. Responsible apicentric low-intervention beekeepers want to do this with a minimum disturbance to the integrity of the bee colony.

A lot of clues about a colony’s state can be gathered from external observations, without opening a hive –  here I discuss how to do this, what to look for, focussing on features of low intervention hives and natural comb. I also review the very few occasions when it may be really necessary to open a hive.

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Neonicotinoids implicated again

A major new study of the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides has been published in Science.

The Guardian has a good summary of the results here. Because this is the largest field trial so far, it is difficult for the pesticide manufacturers to deny the findings, but they try.

The National Farmers’ Union is still keen on neonics, arguing that they improve crop yields, particularly OSR. As with so many pro-neonic arguments, this isn’t evidence based: Oil Seed Rape yields have been unaffected by the last 2 years’ moratorium on neonics – partly I suspect because the poisons are extremely long lived in soil, so were re-expressed in later crops; and perhaps because the pests’ predators have made a comeback now they too are no longer being hammered by blanket use of poisons which were originally only approved for use as spot treatments when pest outbreaks were spotted (“integrated crop management”).

Interestingly, the results in Germany didn’t match those in Britain and Hungary. Drilling down into the data, it is noted that German bees forage far less on OSR, have more varied forage, and the starting colonies were stronger and healthier.

Edit: Following the release of this data, Friends of the Earth have organised a petition asking the UK government to ban neonics entirely. Sign it here.

Edit: Neonic manufacturers Syngenta and Bayer have been trying to discredit the study, confuse the issue, and undermine the credibility of the respected scientist authors – more on this here.

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Summer starvation warning

The National Bee Unit has just issued a starvation alert for parts of the UK. Here in Oxfordshire, we’ve had a great start to the year, the bees have boomed, hives were heavy with stores early in the year and swarms began about a month early. There are many flowers visible to the eye. So why do we need to worry?

The short answer is lack of rainfall. For some weeks we’ve had relentless sun and heat, which is lovely up to a point, but plants need water to make nectar. Without rain, that blossom is empty. Conversely, in some years we have excessive rain extending throughout peak forage periods, which can hinder nectar production in key plants.

And even if a hive has honey stored, bees can’t eat pure honey. They need to dilute it to make it digestible, so they need a water source not just for cooling but to use their stores. Do your bees have a handy water source? Is it topped up? Continue reading

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ONBG meeting, 13th May 2017 – swarms and exotic hives

3 to 4kg swarm on swarm attractor

Eighteen folk met at Gareth’s apiary in West Oxfordshire, where he experiments with hive variations and populates them with free mated bees descended from the extensive population of local ferals. Gareth is a trustee of the Natural Beekeeping Trust, has over 40 years’ experience in keeping bees, and offers training in natural beekeeping.

Three attendees had come over from the Wye Valley Natural Beekeeping group, in Wales – they were here to network and swap ideas. They felt we Oxfordshire beeks are very lucky to have Gareth nearby to mentor us. Continue reading

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Bees in trees

We were inspired by our visit to Pertwood farm and their support of a traditional honey bee lifestyle. (see here). After reading Jonathan Powell’s guide to tree bee keeping (get here) we thought that Oxfordshire could also host some of this practice. But it is difficult to get people to agree to this type of project; perhaps it takes more time?

20170430_095706Anyway the beech tree in our garden is not large enough; another 50 years and it will do fine… Fresh inspiration came from Matt Somerville (freedom).
Surely making something like that would fit up our tree? And so, after a lot of staring upwards at our tree and making hand gestures, a prototype was started.
This was made from some pallet wood initially – it’s a prototype. Some quotes for western red cedar turned the prototype into mark 1. £250 seemed a lot for something that might not work.

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The ‘other’ bees: Steven Falk workshop

wp_20170521_018.jpgA few months ago, the news was filled with stories about intelligent bumblebees. New research showed that they could learn to pull strings and play football. As a ‘bee’ person I was interested, but I had a strange feeling that I was not allowed to be interested – as if I had somehow declared myself on the ‘honeybee’ side of an imaginary divide, and that these ‘other’ bees were outside of my area.

On ‘my’ side of the fence is the Western honeybee – the familiar, hive-dwelling Apis mellifera. On the other is a vaguely-stripey buzzing mass of bumble-bees, mining-bees and other bees, which then merge gradually into wasps, hornets and hoverflies. For many beekeepers, the world seems starkly split into ‘honeybees’ and ‘not honeybees’. I had found myself firmly on one side of this arbitrary divide, and wanted to get a glimpse into the other world. Continue reading

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