Make these simple robbing screens now and get ahead for summer

I am hopeless at getting equipment cleaned and prepared over winter BUT this year I promised myself it would be different!  No more panics or searching for substitutes!  Now that the bees are flying more often and bringing in pollen, it’s time to get my act together . . .

Robbing screens are a very good thing to have ready at the end of summer so why not get ahead and make them now?  I talked about them in our first podcast.  I used them last year when a very aggressive episode of robbing started at my apiary.  It was very stressful and alarming, and that was just for the beekeeper, never mind the poor bees!  Full supers of honey disappeared, some colonies were badly weakened and members of the public upset.  Not an experience I want to repeat.

Robbing screens helped to restore some order in this chaos.  There are various designs out there but some of the more sophisticated seem to involve carpentry skills that I unfortunately don’t have.  A simple but effective design is an easier and cheaper option for me.

Design for a basic robbing screen

This is the design that I use:

How does it work?

Its very simple:  the screen is pinned over the hive entrance, long ways.  The bees that live in the colony will enter through the V-shaped gaps at the sides.  The robbers, who are chancers that zig-zag in front of the hive entrance, will be confused and won’t work out how to get in.

With the screen in place, you don’t have to reduce the hive entrance which is much better for ventilation and reducing heat in the colony.

You can use gaffer tape to close off one end of the entrance, leaving the bees with one side entrance that is easier for the colony to defend.

Remember though that this is just one tactic in the war against robbing and it won’t work in isolation:  you still have to follow the usual rules to ensure that your apiary is a harmonious place!  You still need to ensure that you don’t feed during the day, that you feed all colonies at the same time, that you don’t leave syrup or comb lying around and that you don’t open colonies at the end of summer without very good reason . . . ok, lecture over!

How to make a simple robbing screen

I bought the mesh from an independent local hardware store and assume it’s widely available:

It  came in one large sheet, approx 70cm x 70 cm.  It is important that it is thin enough to cut with scissors and fold into shape by hand.  The gauge is small enough to stop bees passing through but large enough for ventilation.

Using kitchen scissors, I cut a piece long enough to cover the hive entrance and wide enough to fold three times.  I tend to eyeball measurements but if I had to guess I would say the dimensions are roughly 25 cm x 15 cm (please measure against your own hives first!!).

Make the folds by turning and pressing the mesh under and over until it forms an approximate ‘W’ shape when you open it up:

Because the mesh is sharp, I line the entrance points (the V points at the sides) with some gaffer tape to protect the bees.  The pen is pointing to the entrance that the bees use:

Here is another version that you can make which is a bit more fiddly but effective nonetheless.  The flat sides are pinned to the hive.  The bees enter through the top:

I hope that’s shown you how easy it is to make a robbing screen.  And to show you a robbing screen in action, click on the link below to take a look at a video of the robbing frenzy in my apiary last September.  The screen immediately stopped the robbers getting in and things settled down despite the severity.  This year I’ll be fitting them earlier to prevent robbing in the first place!!

The trouble with manuka

A manuka flower

 

Manuka honey is unique. It is the only honey I’ve seen with a security tag attached. It’s expensive stuff. Last week in my local supermarket there was a jar for £35, I’ve seen it double that in other places. A hefty price tag for honey that doesn’t even taste that nice. Manuka honey is lucrative and devious people have been flooding the market with fake manuka honey;

This week I was listening to the recent episode of the Kiwi Mana Buzz, if you don’t listen to them you really should. Margret & Gary covered a dispute between a manuka trade association in New Zealand and the Cornwall based Tregothnan estate who sell manuka produced by the bees on their estates from manuka trees planted over one hundred years ago.

However; compared to the problems of fake manuka the debate if Tregothnan should label its honey manuka is a minor dispute.

In 2013 Food Standards Agency reported that shops in the UK sold over 1800 tons of manuka honey. Surprising given that only 1700 tons of it was exported from New Zealand and Australia. The FSA estimated over 10,000 tons were sold Worldwide.

Manuka honey, what?

Manuka honey is produced from the the manuka tree, a native of New Zealand and parts of Australia. Before the 1980s it wasn’t as popular as more delicately flavored honeys. In 1982 Dr. Paul Molan identified the antibacterial properties of manuka honey. Science confirmed the long traditional of honey being used to treat wounds and infections was based on fact.

Science behind them, manuka honey producers successfully marketed their product to the health food industry; attracting a high premium. Manuka isn’t unique in having these properties. Honey from ScotlandWales and other parts of the World all have research replicating the manuka effect. Good honey is simply good for you.

Yes, people even fake honey.

Manuka isn’t the only type of honey to fall victim to honey fraudsters. Honey is one of the World’s most counterfeited food products. In 2011 the Food Safety News published a study showing that three quarters of honey sold in the USA had all it’s pollen filtered out. This is done so the pollen cannot be used to identify where the honey comes from. You could well be eating honey from countries treating their hives with antibiotics or toxic chemicals banned in Europe and the USA. Honey fraudsters also routinely mix honey with corn syrup to increase its volume.

Buy local.

So how do you avoid buying fake honey? Buying from established specialist retailers is a great way reduce the risk. But, I would strongly suggest buying local honey from your local beekeepers. Local honey is surprisingly easy to find. You often find beekeepers selling their honey at food fairs and markets. It is slightly more expensive than the honey you see on supermarket shelves but still a lot cheaper than manuka  – why not buy 100% local honey?