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The Farming Today beehive

Monday 27 April 2009, 17:42

Chris Impey Chris Impey

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Chris Impey and Fran Barnes from Farming Today have been learning the art of beekeeping for a year-long project. They've acquired a hive and a colony of bees, which they're keeping at the British Beekeepers' Association apiary at the National Agricultural Centre in Warwickshire. They're going to see if they can keep the colony alive for long enough to produce a crop of honey. They're going to be visiting the hive regularly during the year and will be blogging about it too. Here, Chris Impey introduces the project.

So after five weeks of evening classes Fran and I have finally taken delivery of the Farming Today bees - the first time we've done any bee handling. Under the watchful eye of our tutor, Clive Joyce, we went from being beekeeping students to actual beekeepers - albeit inexperienced ones.

It was amazing to see how quickly they took to their new home. Within a few minutes one bee had taken up guard at the hive entrance while others were coming back and forth as if they'd been living there for weeks. I can't wait to see how they develop. There are 10,000 of them at the moment but that's likely to go up to 50,000 by the summer.

I was surprised to learn that even though our colony is new (it's been supplied by a local breeder) it's very likely it's already got varroa. One of our biggest challenges over the coming months will be to monitor for the disease which devastated so many colonies last year.

We had evening class again last night - the lecture was about how to handle bees so we felt at an advantage over the rest of the group. Fran was showing off the skill she learned from Clive in properly "turning" a frame laden with bees. People must think we're swots because we always sit at the front.

We can't decide what to call our queen. Fran suggested either Charlotte or Anna after our presenters. Any suggestions welcome.

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    Comment number 1.

    What about calling the queen bee 'Martha Kearney' in homage to her rather wonderful programme on this topic, and because, in broadcasting terms, she is a queen bee...

    I will leave it with you...

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    Comment number 2.

    Regarding Farming Today (and it's sister Farming this week) in general, it's a pity that the programme doesn't get a repeat later in the day (might I suggest either at 13:30 or 18:30 with the previous news programme being padded out to fill any under-run?), I'm sure that if it did many more members of the public would have a better insight into food production etc. than they already do.

    As for comments about the style of reporting for this Beehive project, I'm glad that this programme (in fact most R4 programmes) still treats such reports with the respect that a serious report into a subject requires, those who want tabloid style reporting are well catered for already by BBC R5 Live and if that's still to high-brow there is always TalkSport!... Keep up the good work.

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    Comment number 3.

    I would second the suggestion made by boilerplated that 'Farming Today' is repeated. What about a/ After the Archers, so that Front Row runs from 7.30 to 8.00 pm ? Or what about after the World Tonight ?

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    Comment number 4.

    I got excited recently at the sight of a new beehive in my neighbour's garden... only to discover it is in fact a composter. Still, I can learn from the Farming Today team's experience instead.

    Points noted about poss repeat. But remember every episode is available on the iPlayer and as a podcast.

    Tony Pilgrim, Radio 4 Head of Planning and Scheduling

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    Comment number 5.

    To bee or not to bee, Chris, that is the question;
    Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The stings and buzzes of outrageous apiarists,
    Or to take arms against a hive of farmers,
    And by opposing, end them. To swarm, to sleep;
    No more; and by a sleep to say we end
    The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
    That Farming Today broadcasts — 'tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wish'd.

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    Comment number 6.

    #4

    "But remember every episode is available on the iPlayer and as a podcast."

    Tony, please remember that not everyone has internet access - easy to forget by people like us who do - or if they do they might not have the bandwidth (either speed or allowance) to use on such downloads or streaming, iPalyer is really a catch-up service and not an alternative channel/station.

    A repeat would be nice, can you give it some serious thought please. Thanks again for the feed-back.

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    Comment number 7.

    Bees, honey bees - today 2 May 2009 BBC early a.m., Radio4 Farming Today - possible reasons for decline in honey bee population. It's hard to escape the strong SUSPICION (reinforced by the information in this programme) that we are in a bit of a daze with this - not seeing the wood for the trees...
    Research is bypassing the more obvious culprits - 'the trees' in this case being a killer combo of GM Rapeseed oil crops (referred to on the prog as 'Oilseed Rape') coated in banned pesticides.

    This fluorescent yellow crop was controversial when introduced here (early nineties - around the same time as the varroa mite found its way here). Rapeseed oil was one of the first controversial GM money crops - high profit (as bio-fuel and food ingredient). Bees are apparently attracted to it (high pollen yield)....

    But biochemists especially should do some work here, not least because it is a high pollen yield GM crop. It is always saturated with pesticides. A new family of pesticides has been developed also against the varroa mite (a bee parasite, with a cosy and perhaps symbiotic relationship with the bee for hundreds of years.. until now, cast as 'the villain'... ). These new 'nicotinoids' made by Bayer and banned across Europe, everywhere except UK, are used on rapeseed crops, because the crops are extremely attractive to honeybees and so have become the main pollen fodder for our honey. We are told that as well as dying out, honeybees are suffering deformities - weird 'thalidomide' type malformed bee wings...

    All in all it is difficult NOT to see toxic chemical reactions as a source of damage here... WHAT ARE WE THINKING? - I mean, what do bio-chemists out there think? Effects of pesticides on crops, on the nucleic acid (DNA, RNA toxin) of bees... especially GM rapeseed crops... is this being researched?

    Certainly it has a more realistic causative ring for our dying honeybees than the villified mite. BBC - more research please.

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    Comment number 8.

    Why not call the queen after another bee keeper, Jill Archer?

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    Comment number 9.

    The idea that chemicals are involved in colony collapse doesn't hold much water, the bees are subjected to the chemicals in spring & early summer, where-as the bees are dying over winter. I unexpectedly lost a colony last December, they were on pasture a long way from any arable crops.
    The deformed wings are not caused by chemicals but by a virus transmitted by a virus.
    Having said that, I'm very unhappy about the aggressive use of chemicals these days.

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    Comment number 10.

    I don't know what to call your Queen Bee, but I have written a song with exactly that title. it's actually about a bumble bee (not a honey bee) that's been hibernating for the winter and is waking up and looking forward to founding a new hive. You can hear a large group of children singing it here...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMvg3imT-tE

    and for a couple of quid you can download all the materials you need to teach it to kids and perform it from www.Singtastic.com.

    Hope you like it!

    David

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    Comment number 11.

    Why not call the Queen 'Joanna Lumbee'?

    The Abbots Langley Gardening Society, (Hertfordshire), is considering starting a beehive or two. Lots of enthusiasm but little expertise. We are looking at options for classes - any suggestions welcome.

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    Comment number 12.

    I was surprised to hear this morning that the Co-Op intend to re-introduce the the old native strain of Black Bee. At Buckfast Abbey, where Bees have been kept and bred (not least by the Late Bro Adam-Master BeeKeeper) dating back before the disolution in 1539 and certainly continuously since 1882,virtually all the native bees were wiped out by The Isle of Wight disease, or Acarine, in the Autumn of 1915. All but the Italian strin succcumed according to Bro Adams Book Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey. Is it not therefore likely that history could repeat itself and that with drifting and swarming this could affect other colonies?

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    Comment number 13.

    The chemical cause theory was surely supported in Martha Kearney's excellent and interesting tv programme by the fact that the organic bee keeper, keeping in small urban sites, had no problems. It is this dreadful cocktail of chemicals that needs researching.

    I am not a bee keeper but I am thrilled every year as my huge laburnum tree comes into flower and I stand underneath on a sunny day and literally can hardly hear myself think for the noise of the thousands and thousands of bees. I cannot bear to imagine a Spring where this did not happen.

    P.S. I think Martha is a must for the Queen.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 14.

    How about naming your queen bee Melissa. This word is derived,directly, from the Ancient Greek word which means honey bee or queen bee. Interestingly, this also relates to the word "honey" in several languages: miel (French and Spanish); miele (Italian); mel,mellis (Latin); and mel (Portugese). Mel,of course,can be used as the abbreviated form of the name Melissa. In addition,"Mellitus" as in "Diabetes Mellitus" means honeyed or sweet tasting.

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    Comment number 15.

    It's probably been suggested already but I'll post it anyway:

    Queen Bee-atrix

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    Comment number 16.

    Hello everyone. Fran and I are getting to grips with this technology (with a little help from our friends) so expect many more regular posts from now on. Thanks for all your comments. David - love the song. Kate - re bee courses I would simply contact your local branch of the BBKA as we did. We love all the bee names. We've picked one from all those sent in to the programme and will probably reveal it next week.

    Do let us know about your hive experiences - especially those of you who like us are new to all this.

    Chris (Farming Today).

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    Comment number 17.

    I've just been out and stood under the laburnum in the sunshine - there are, relative to previous years, far fewer bees and I could only see Bumbles of various sorts.
    I wish Chris and Fran every success and will follow progress reports with interest.

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    Comment number 18.

    Melliotsmith should be aware that the colonies that survived the 1915 Acarine epidemic were not Italian bees but Italian X black bee hybrids, a case of hybrid vigour perhaps in times of strange weather patterns and an epidemic? During the years that I've been beekeeping in Scotland, I have periodically found a proportion of yellow bees in my hives, crosses with imported bees in the area. After a few years they disappear as the black bee genes reassert their dominance. We should not be surprised that thousands of years of evolution makes the local black strain more suited that the foreign breeds to our local climate. Rumours of the black bee's demise are strangely exagerated.

 

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