Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Memory, longevity and sunflowers

Synopsis : Moving hives in winter, the reduced (or not) longevity of honey bees and the benefits of sunflowers. Surely there’s something that interests you here?


Don’t sigh disappointedly and look elsewhere for the definitive post on ”Sexy beesuits for a sizzling summer” or “The 10 best hives tools of 2023” 1. Despite record breaking February weather and my report of early frogspawn, the temperatures have subsequently plummeted, it’s snowed again and the beekeeping season feels as far away as ever.

Sun and snow

I’ve therefore got no practical beekeeping to discuss 🙁 .

All I’ve done since last week is blend and jar honey, stare balefully out of the window at the hives (obscured by falling snow) and build frames.

And who wants to read about that?

What’s more, the cold snap isn’t restricted to my isolated corner of Scotland. Whilst I could write about first inspections, or preparing for the OSR, it all feels a bit premature. A decade of observing the page stats here shows that articles are read most when they’re timely. Lots of page views boosts my advertising revenue 2 so I want to write timely articles that are extensively read.

I’m therefore going to write about some science(y) stuff instead. You may have seen the headlines associated with one of these studies, but you’re unlikely to have read the article. I had been intending to start a monthly newsletter to cover some of these beekeeping-related topics that were unsuitable for a full post.

‘Unsuitable’ for a variety of reasons; not very interesting but really important, sounds important but probably isn’t, interesting but inconclusive, interesting but wrong etc.

However, I’m too busy to write more than I already do, so instead I’ll periodically have a ’Science snippets’ post and lump a few topics together, prefixed this week with some musings from observations on moving hives.

Something for everyone? … or Nothing for anyone? … time will tell 😉 .

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Foundationless frames redux

Synopsis : Foundation is getting more expensive. Try foundationless frames; save money and reduce miticide contamination in your hives.


While preparing some minor updates for a talk this week 1 I had cause to look up the price of foundation.

Flippin’ heck!

Foundation is one of the beekeeping basics. It’s effectively a consumable item that you periodically have to replace … or more correctly you replace the frames containing new sheets of foundation. It is recommended that brood frames are replaced every three years; this means you should expect to replace 3-4 frames per season in a National hive.

Like other basics, such as eggs and pasta, the price of foundation is rising inexorably. The last stuff I bought – premium National wired worker deep – was about £13 from Thorne’s. I bought ~15 packets and it hurt.

It’s now £15.60 a packet (for 10 sheets) 2. If it goes up much more I’ll have to trade in a kidney before visiting Brian at Thorne’s of Newburgh.

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Coordinated Varroa control

Synopsis : Our recent study on landscape-scale coordinated Varroa control suggest there are benefits for colony health. I know it makes sense, but how many actually do it?


In the magnum opus last week I discussed how bees discriminate nestmates from non-nestmates at the hive entrance. Inevitably I had to discuss the processes of drifting and robbing as these activities, together with the peripatetic drones, largely account for the ‘foreign’ bees arriving at a hive entrance.

I described drifting as a short-range phenomenon, predominantly of bees with immature cuticular hydrocarbon profiles 1, on their first few orientation flights. In contrast, I described robbing as a potentially long-range event that could occur over at least one kilometre.

I should have re-read the literature and refreshed my memory of what others have already reported for these activities before writing the post 🙁 .

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You are what you eat

Synopsis : The science of identity … how guard bees recognise nestmates, why drifting bees are accepted into other hives and why robbers are only sometimes rejected.  


Honey bees are eusocial insects. The ’eu’ before social is derived from the Greek for ‘good’; these insects – not just honey bees – exhibit the highest level of social organisation, involving the division of labour (nurses, scouts, guards, foragers and in reproductive and non-reproductive sub-groups), cooperative brood rearing and overlapping generations.

Eusociality is a response to evolutionary pressure. Colonies are more successful than individuals.

Sociality involves cooperation. This requires recognition of kin and/or other group members. It also involves defending the shared resources that the group have worked together to collect (stores) or rear (brood).

Without defence, all that hard work would be lost to other competing groups who would try and steal the resources.

Social groups have therefore developed ways to distinguish themselves from other social groups of the same species. Although some social insects use visual clues 1 to distinguish group members (Baracchi et al., 2015), the majority use odours, in particular cuticular hydrocarbons (CHC’s).

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Good times ahead

Synopsis : The season is approaching, but it’s not here yet. Don’t be misled by social media. Do your preparations for the good times ahead and the reinforcements, revisions, reversals and revelations.


Social media can be a bit of a curse for beekeepers – in particular new beekeepers – as we falteringly transition from winter to spring. Twitter is littered with pictures of bees foraging busily, lots of opened boxes and comments on the numbers of frames of brood. Some colonies are being united and supers are going on.


Unless you live in mid-Spain, you’re not missing out. Don’t even think of doing any of that nonsense.

These pictures are often posted by very experienced beekeepers running many, many hundreds of colonies. They know exactly what they’re doing. They have to start early to have colonies ready for top fruit pollination contracts, or boosted and bulging to properly exploit the oil seed rape. They’ve done this for years; they’re fast, efficient and have completed a risk/benefit analysis of financial gain vs. potential colony harm.

A frame from May … not February

This is the way experienced professionals manage livestock. It’s a world away from amateur beekeeping.

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