Bees and beekeeping in Borneo

Discussing beekeeping in the UK and Borneo over a coffee in Oxford

Recently I met with Made Setiawan, a medical anthropologist and ethnographer who lives in Oxford. He works for the Indonesian Katingan Project on a reforestation operation in Borneo, working in an area where the native forest has been largely razed by logging. One aspect of this work is using bees to help reboot the ecology.

We discussed the differences in bees and beekeeping here in the UK and in Borneo.

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Lore of the Honey Bee

I’ve been looking at an old bee book, The Lore of the Honey Bee by Tickner Edwardes. There’s almost nothing in it of relevance to us because he was what we’d call a conventional beekeeper, and the book was written in 1908 before… well, everything: mechanised agriculture, varroa, even tracheal mites. But he mentions a few things in passing I thought noteworthy… Continue reading

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ONBG meeting, 15th July 2017 – a rooftop apiary

Eight of us met atop a building in central Oxford where Will keeps six hives, a mix of Nationals and their big brother Commercials, twenty metres above street level. He blends natural and conventional beekeeping, being treatment free, using foundationless frames, and preferring examination of floor debris to opening hives. It was the first time some of us natural beekeepers had seen inside a framed hive and seen equipment like queen excluders.

From up here you look down on mature trees. Click to expand

These hives are managed for a honey crop and I have to say the samples we tasted were much fuller tasting and more interesting than the honey from my own rural hives, which tends to be dominated by Oilseed Rape. These bees are near the Botanic Gardens and University Parks, and a riverside, which have a huge variety of exotic plants. Continue reading

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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 ). 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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