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The Native Bee: Part Three

Dorian Pritchard, Dip Gen, PhD I

f they manage them properly, those who keep dark bees can expect a honey crop in every season, even those when it is so cold that foreign bees have to be fed to keep them alive. Analysis of West Yorkshire crop reports for dark bees over a period of 20 years revealed honey surpluses in every year, irrespective of the weather (Dews, 2008–9). This is not surprising when you remember their ancestors survived the Little Ice Age, which lasted 500 exceptionally inclement years up to 1850, during which even the mighty Thames frequently froze over. It should be remembered that those honey bee ancestors could not be given supplementary feeding, unless with surplus honey, as neither cane nor beet sugar was then available. Their normal survival strategy involves exceptional frugality and adjustment of summer brood-rearing sensitively in harmony with seasonal fluctuations. They even throw their drones out in mid-season if incoming supplies are poor. Prolific foreign strains and Buckfast bees carry on brood rearing apace, even when nectar income

ceases, and then consume the surpluses they have so diligently gathered in feeding their ever-growing multitudes.

Extracting Honey

The beekeeping handbooks emphasise that you should not extract honey until the combs are almost completely capped. I accept the principal that honey should be fully ripened before extraction, but there are more effective ways to do it. I use a method derived from one I was taught by a Swedish friend, Christer Seltorp.

Christer explained that when a strong colony is working a nectar flow, its house bees are active at night, processing and drying the honey. By next morning, all the honey in its supers will be ripened, so if you go into the hive before the first foragers return, you can safely take out even partly filled combs, spin out their contents and return the frames to the same hive. If you do it Christer’s way, you have to fight the bees; my development is to place a clearer board under the partly filled super in the early morning and extract its contents the following day, before returning the empties for a refill. The first time I used this method it increased my average yield by 50%.


Is the native bee the best for Britain?

I mentioned previously (July, page 11) that I never fed my bees. That was in the early stages when I aimed to keep hybrids on the very brink of existence, so that only those with appropriate survival strengths would make it.

August 2013 Vol 95 No 8

I have also always doubted the wisdom of feeding bees solely on white sugar (sucrose) as this is traditionally the purest chemical food available to man and can make little dietary contribution other than as an energy source. Moreover, it was recently shown by Swedish microbiologists that the survival of ‘healthy’ lactic acid bacteria in the bodies of bees requires a mixed bag of nutrients (Vasquez, et al, 2012). There are many, many millions of ‘healthy’ bacteria in a healthy bee which, by destroying pathogenic microorganisms, help keep their hosts healthy. A diet of pure sucrose does not support these protective bacteria, so indirectly facilitatating disease. Partially digested sucrose (‘invert sugar’), rich in glucose and fructose, is available in syrups and fondants and probably has a less deleterious effect.

Collecting pollen from blackthorn

Claire Waring

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