Federation of Middlesex Beekeepers Day 2016

A little bumble bee John found in the morning that hitched a ride.

March is going to be a busy month with Mothering Sunday, my fiancé John’s birthday, a Marriage Preparation Course, Easter and, of course, the start of the beekeeping season. The last throes of winter may be felt in February, but I feel spring will jump out suddenly.

The Federation of Middlesex Beekeepers Associations’ Beekeepers Day often feels like the start of the beekeeping season when beekeepers from in and around Middlesex gather to talk about bees and beekeeping. This year’s annual gathering was hosted by Barnet and District Beekeepers Association, on Saturday 20 February at Arkley Village Hall, in Arkley, Greater London.

There were three lectures by expert speakers, a wax exchange, and a general congregation of the Middlesex beekeeping associations for the Annual General Meeting. It was a bit of a trek from where I live in Ickenham to Arkley, I gave up at Edgware and got a cab. “I think we’ve arrived,” said the driver on seeing a beekeeper in full suit standing outside the village hall. It smelt of beeswax inside. I grabbed a seat and got out my notebook and pen ready for the first talk to begin.

This is a long post so I’ve made it easier to navigate with jump links.

Beekeepers Day 2016 lectures

1. ‘Insecticides and bees’ by Professor Linda M Field, Rothamsted Research.

2. ‘How nutrition affects colony health’ by Pam Hunter, Master Beekeeper

3. ‘Making toiletries using honey and beeswax’ by Dr Sara Robb.

1. ‘Insecticides and bees’ by Professor Linda M Field, Rothamsted Research.

The first lecture was given by Professor Linda M Field who works at Rothamsted Research on understanding insecticide mode of action and resistance at the biochemical/molecular level towards developing better pest control strategies. You can read about Professor Field’s research on the Rothamsted website. Her talk was about why we need and use pest-and-disease control, in particular focusing on a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids (neonics), which were subject to a restricted-use ban, preventing seed treatment on crops that flower, by the EU in 2013, and taking an overview of the current position on neonics in the UK given that the ban is due for review.

foraging bee

Professor Field opened her lecture looking at how to feed the world’s growing population, last estimated at around seven billion, with a large percentage of current agricultural crops dependent on pest-and-disease control like pesticides. This wasn’t intended to lead us down the path of different approaches to agriculture, but instead to frame a picture of why we have used pesticides in the past and continue to do so, and to explore whether pesticides and insect pollinators can ever go together.

Pesticides are made to kill insects that cause damage or disease to crops. Some examples of insects that are seen as pests in the UK are certain types of aphids and beetles. “Aphids are sap suckers. And although you need a lot of aphids to kill a plant, they can breed asexually,” said Professor Field. The peach-potato aphid spreads viruses to oilseed rape (OSR) and sugar beet. The grain aphid and the bird cherry oat aphid spreads viruses to cereals. As a reader of Don’t Forget the Roundabouts blog, I rather like aphids but I can understand how they could make themselves unpopular by sucking the sap out of crops.

Other pests to OSR crops include the pollen beetle and cabbage stem flea beetle, both of which have quite nice-sounding names.

Quick guide to the history of pesticide use

Professor Field gave a quick history of pesticides from 1940s DDT to today’s neonics. DDT, which everyone agreed was just bad news all round, was replaced by organophosphates and carbonates in the 1950s-70s but these were also quite toxic to both mammals and insects. In the mid-1970s new synthetic pyrethroids were seen as a breakthrough because they offered pest-and-disease control against insects with relatively low toxicity to mammals. Apparently the reason for the effectiveness of this group of chemicals was clearer for scientists to see in hindsight.

Pyrethroids bind with a particular protein in the nervous system which both insects and mammals have, but which is slightly different in insects and affects them differently. Pyrethroids were widely used till the 1990s when resistance developed and their use declined. This was when a new group of chemicals came on the market called neonicotinoids (neonics), which brings us up-to-date with where we are now.

SilentSpring

Professor Field gave a nod to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which she said did a good job of raising awareness about the risks posed by certain chemical substances to the environment, and which is as relevant today as it was then. About 50 years later, as Andy Pedley later reminded me, Poison Spring by E.G. Vallianatos picks up where Carson left off.

I read Silent Spring. As a beekeeper and aromatherapist, and having been taught a natural approach to life by my grandmother, Rachel Carson’s words deeply resonate with me. However, my fiancé’s family are famers and my dad is a butcher, and I have a pragmatic view of the food industry.

Most of us worry about insecticides till their dog has fleas, the cat has ticks, or their children have lice, then they rush to buy insecticides from the pharmacy, commented the speaker. I could see that this was partly true, although my mum successfully treated our cats for fleas using garlic capsules in their food and my first resort to hair or skin afflictions might be lavender or tea tree oils.

Is the answer to always replace one pesticide with another? I’m not convinced that it is, nevertheless the search continues to find a pesticide that can target specific chemical pathways in insects seen as pests rather than those insects seen as beneficial, such as bees.

Pros and cons of neonics

We were shown some of the advantages and disadvantages of neonics:

  • Selective. Neonics bind with nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in insects which, since the pesticide’s introduction and subsequent widespread use, selectively binds to that receptor in insects but doesn’t bind as well to the same receptor in mammals.
    Systemic. Neonics are systemic when used as a seed dressing, they travel up through the plant into the leaves and flowers. This was seen as a breakthrough because it meant avoiding spraying crops, which could be more costly and more damaging to local wildlife. However, neonics applied systemically have been found in trace amounts in nectar and pollen which might affect bees, including honeybees, solitaries, bumbles and so on. (I also wonder whether systemically applied pesticides are an advantage over spraying crops at certain times, such as when bees aren’t foraging.)
  • Low resistance. Unlike other pesticides like pyrethroids, pests are so far taking a long time to develop a resistance to neonics.

So what are the problems with neonics?:

  • Sub-lethal effects. Neonics end up in nectar and pollen at a very low dose which might still be harmful to bees. The pesticide may not kill bees directly but it may have a sub-lethal effect through low levels in nectar and pollen, which could have subtle effects on bee behaviour. It is these subtle effects that are not fully understood. I think it is also worrying because pollen is used by nurse bees to make brood food for larvae.

Where are we now with neonics?

On 24 May 2013 the EU implemented Regulation (EU) No 485/2013 to prohibit use of neonics, or more specifically clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid, as seed treatment on crops that flower. Has the regulation made any difference to bees? Unfortunately the EU has not provided research funds to monitor the effects of the ban. Its most recent report Ecosystem services, agriculture and neonicotinoids (April 2015) by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) provides some conclusions, but I find it disappointing that more effort hasn’t been made to monitor the effect of the ban, and in closer collaboration with farmers, bee farmers, local wildlife groups, beekeepers and so on.

The EU report’s conclusions in summary (page 29):

  1. Ecosystem services provide significant economic benefits to agriculture. Maintaining strong functional ecosystem services is a critical part of a sustainable agricultural system.
  2. Biodiversity has significant positive impacts on the provision of ecosystem services but is also an objective in its own right under global and European international agreements.
  3. Insects providing ecosystem services have shown major declines in recent decades (pollinating wild bees, natural pest control providers, etc.).
  4. Protecting honey bees is not sufficient to protect pollination services and other ecosystem services. Honey bees have been the main focus in assessing the risks from neonicotinoid use, and much debate has focused on whether honey bee colonies are being affected. Yet the honey bee colony structure provides an exceptionally resilient buffer against losses of its foragers and workers. In contrast, bumble bees have just a few hundred workers at most, while solitary bees and other insects have no such buffering capacity.
  5. There is an increasing body of evidence that the widespread prophylactic use of neonicotinoids has severe negative effects on non-target organisms that provide ecosystem services including pollination and natural pest control.
  6. There is clear scientific evidence for sublethal effects of very low levels of neonicotinoids over extended periods on non-target beneficial organisms. This should be addressed in EU approval procedures.
  7. Current practice of prophylactic usage of neonicotinoids is inconsistent with the basic principles of integrated pest management as expressed in the EU’s Sustainable Pesticides Directive.
  8. Widespread use of neonicotinoids (as well as other pesticides) constrains the potential for restoring biodiversity in farmland under the EU’s Agrienvironment Regulation.

Professor Fields felt that while there is an ‘increasing body of evidence’ about the negative effects on non-target organisms (5), she had also read research papers to the contrary. She also felt ‘prophylactic’ in this context was misleading as it implied that neonics were used on crops at times when they were not needed.

IMG_9579

Beyond neonics

Unfortunately some pests come back when neonics are not used, such as the outbreak of cabbage stem flea beetle on OSR in autumn 2014. Pyrethroids were sprayed to protect crops, which are more damaging and largely failed due to pests’ previous resistance to the pesticide. In autumn 2015 the UK government did allow 5% of farmers to use neonics on OSR for those who saw a high level of resistance to pyrethroids in cabbage stem flea beetles. However, without adequate pest control farmers might choose not to grow OSR, which is an important source of forage for bees in certain areas, and turn to other crops like beans and pulses.

foragers

Perhaps we needed to start looking at the wider debate such as ‘land sharing’ and ‘land sparing’. In ‘land sharing’, farmland is shared with wild habitat to protect biodiversity and preserve agriculture. While this tends to protect a larger number of species, it is often the common species and not the rarer ones that are in greater need of protection. In ‘land sparing’, farmland is kept for agricultural use but other land is spared for wild habitats, and while this helps fewer species it tends to be the rarer species that are protected. For me, ‘land sparing’ by preserving more areas of wild habitat seems a better approach, but could we do it with growing, and ever-hungrier it seems, human populations?

We were shown the the COLOSS 2014–15 winter losses data for honeybee colonies in the UK and Europe, and a drop in overall honeybee colony losses, but also illustrated that honeybee losses are multifactorial, due to varroa, queen problems, and other influences.

We were still no closer to finding out whether pesticides and insect pollinators could ever work together. My feeling is that they probably can’t given that pesticides are designed to kill or harm insects. There are so many different types of bees from honeybees, bumble bees, mason bees, leafcutters, miners, and each species has a slightly different biology that reacts slightly differently to pesticides like neonics. It’s a big ask for the next designer chemical to target specific chemical pathways in just target insects without subtly effecting the various chemical pathways of non-target beneficial organisms.

Professor Field looked at approaches to pest management other than pesticides:

  1. Biological control including the ‘lure and kill’ method which uses pheromones to trap pests in a small area and kill them with fungi.
  2. GM crops that could be used to repel pests, although I’m not convinced this would work or be greatly preferable to pesticides. It also opens up an entirely different debate.
  3. Crop rotation as a first resort before using pesticides.

A question from the audience probably drew a line under the discussion, for now. A retired microbiologist recalled the lessons that her generation of scientists had learnt with DDT, and thalidomide, which gave her misgivings about today’s new designer pesticides like neonics. Professor Field acknowledged this but asked: “How do we feed the world?”

The first lecture had given us all food for thought, something that would be the subject of the second lecture on honeybee nutrition.

A huge thanks also to Andy Pedley for his feedback on my lecture notes.

Return to top.

2. ‘How nutrition affects colony health’ by Pam Hunter, Master Beekeeper

From food for humans to food for bees, the second lecture of the day was by Pam Hunter, Master Beekeeper. Her talk focused on the importance of high-quality nutrition for honeybee health and why the honeybee colony needs a varied diet.

Bees are forest insects with an instinctive fear of fire. Smoking the entrance makes the colony think there is an impending risk of fire and triggers the 'fight or flight' response. They eat up honey in preparation to leave the hive but this also makes them less inclined to sting.

Like all animals, bees need nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins and micronutrients) for energy to build and repair tissue, maintain essential organs, produce enzymes, and replace cells. The foods that provide these nutrients for bees are:

  • Nectar: not just sugar and water, nectar provides carbohydrates, trace vitamins, and aromatic compounds.
  • Pollen: is a precious source of protein with fat and minerals, vitamins, lipids, micronutrients, pigments and so on.

A good supply of nutrition to the honeybee colony is essential for all individuals inside the hive, including a healthy and productive queen. A brood frame that has capped worker brood with well-defined borders and stores of honey is one sign of a well-fed colony.

The metatarsus that rocks the cradle

A recurring theme in Pam’s talk was the influence that nurse bees have upon the colony. “Butterflies are horrendous and drop an egg on a leaf and fly off,” said Pam, “Whereas bees look after their larvae at every stage in their development.” In Pam’s view of the honeybee democracy, it is the nurse bees who control the colony with the queen, although well-fed and pampered, just an egg-laying slave.

Nurse bees’ hypopharyngeal gland develops at around six days after they hatch and this allows them to convert pollen into brood food. Protein-packed pollen is itself an essential nutrient in the development of the nurse bee’s hypopharyngeal gland. Younger larvae are fed brood food, made by the nurses’ hypopharyngeal gland, and older larvae are fed pollen.

purple crocus bee

Thus, pollen is an important nutrient in early spring which helps the hive to build up at the start of the season. A varied mix of pollen grains provide a wide variety of nutrition and this is preferable for the honeybee colony, as can sometimes be seen from the differently coloured pollen grains fallen out of the hive floor onto the varroa monitoring board below.

Pam showed us a figure of a hypopharyngeal gland in a young bee fed a protein-rich diet, which looked like a bunch of plump grapes, and a hypopharyngeal gland in an older forager bee fed largely carbohydrate-providing nectar, which looked like a bunch of dried grapes. It illustrated the difference that nutrition can make.

Carbohydrates

Made up of saccharides, or sugars, carbohydrates can be simple or complex molecules built from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, and used by bees, like in all animals, for energy and storage.

  • Polysaccharides are complex sugars such as glycogen and chitin, the latter of which is the tough outer wall of bees and other insects.
  • Oligosaccharides are made from 2–10 sugars.
  • Disaccharides are made from two sugars.
  • Monosaccharides are made from one sugar.

The hydrolysis of sucrose for energy involves the enzyme sucrase which converts it to glucose and fructose. Most nectars contain glucose and fructose hydrolised from sucrose, but a few nectars have high levels of sucrose such as borage. Borage has so much sucrose, said Pam, that it required a change in honey regulations to accommodate it.

007

Storing nectar as honey is vital for the survival of the honeybee colony in winter, and it is why the honeybee colony can survive winter. In comparison to the Asian honeybee (Apis ceranae), the European honeybee (A. mellifera) appears to be a better honey producer. Pam observed the Asian honeybee doesn’t need to produce as much honey because it lives in smaller colonies and endures shorter winters. However, when humans first exported the European honeybee to Asia, and back again, they subsequently introduced the ‘harder-working’ honeybee to varroa.

The European honeybee needs on average 40kg of honey to overwinter, and around 200kg per year for the colony. There were lots of experienced beekeepers in the room who had heard this before, but I think it can never be said enough. With changing weather causing mild winters, later springs and wetter summers in some years, it’s seems more important than ever to assess whether the hives are building up enough honey stores for the season before taking the harvest.

Pros and cons of nectar

Nectar may be a superfood for bees but it’s not a perfect food.

Nectar starts as a weak watery solution with a mix of fructose and glucose, and some sucrose. Foraging bees collect nectar to return to the hive where it’s transferred from cell to cell between bees, mixed with their hypopharyngeal glands, and fanned with their wings until its water content evaporates to 20% and the honey is ready to cap. Pam took a moment to marvel at this: “Science needs machines to measure water content in nectar yet somehow the bees just know.”

Nectar may be valuable forage but the problem is its availability. It’s secreted by plants into nectaries and there are many factors that can affect its production, such as temperature, humidity, moisture, wind factor, sunshine (for example, dandelions only produce nectar following two hours in direct sunshine), time of day, and the age and vigour of the plant.

Pros and cons of pollen

Pollen is a less fragile source of forage and it provides all-important amino acids in protein that are necessary for animal growth. As most of us are familiar from school biology classes, proteins are large complex molecules which must be broken down into simpler components (amino acids) to be absorbed into tissue and then rebuilt into complex molecules again for the body’s needs. It is the same in bees, proteins are absorbed by the epithelial lining of a bee’s gut, which helps younger bees develop strong, healthily functioning bodies. Essential amino acids, such as those you might see on a cereal packet (eg arginine, lysine, and leucine) cannot be manufactured within the body (by humans or bees) and need to be provided by nutrition; arginine is not needed by humans but it is needed by bees.

IMG_4697

Not all pollens are made equal. Around 20–30% of protein content in crude pollen is a good source for bees, but this can vary from plant to plant. For example, the protein content of Cupressus arizonica pollen is 2–3%, but this is to be expected from a wind-pollinated plant.

Unlike nectar which can be stored for long periods of time, pollen’s nutritional value decreases rapidly. “Get rid of pollen-clogged frames,” said Pam. After a year, the protein value of pollen decreases by 75%. Thus a fresh supply of pollen is needed all year round. Plants like late Michaelmass daisies and sedum in autumn provide protein for hives going into winter, and hazel catkins early in the year provide protein for colonies building up in spring. “Hazel is wind-pollinated but bees can be opportunistic and will take the pollen nonetheless.”

A wide range of vitamins are found in pollen, especially water-soluble ones, such as B complex vitamins like biotin, riboflavin, thiamine, folic acid, niacin, pantothenic acid and so on.

Vitamin C is present in large quantities in most pollen and also fat soluble vitamins like A and K. Then there are around 3-8% of trace minerals and pigments, plus carotenoids and polyphenols. And, of course, throw in flavonoids which are always good (pollen is like chocolate and wine for bees!).

“While you can get all these goodies from pollen, it’s not a panacea for humans.” A lot of pollen is needed to have any sort of healthful effect on humans, and it must be fresh, by which time the honeybee colony has been depleted of an essential nutrient. I particularly agree with this. Whereas honey can be produced in surplus, other products of the hive such as pollen, propolis and royal jelly generally are not, and I prefer not to harvest these because the bees need them more.

Fat bees

Fat is needed for muscle contraction, conducting nerve impulses, and for cell membranes. It’s also needed for larval growth and development as larvae fed an inadequate supply of fat can have an increase in deficiencies, explained Pam. Although, she added, some lipids could inhibit brood production but this was not much understood.

Fat is important for those house bees going into winter and living off fat reserves for up to six months. There is a significant difference in the fatty bodies stored by winter bees compared to summer workers and, like pollen, fat is an important nutrient to the colony during the spring build-up and autumn preparations for winter.

Grumpy bees – last week the drones in the top box of our combined hive were not too happy!

Goldilocks and the bees

Larvae in eusocial insects are more dependent on stable nutrition and regular temperature. Their fragility is similar to the adult bees who, despite being opportunists, depend on their environment and nutrition being ‘just right’.

Nurse bees decide what’s taken from foragers – nectar, pollen, water and so on – and in doing so, they tell foragers what they want and need for the good of the colony. Pam feels they judge it well to decide what nutrition is needed by the hive to:

  • produce a strong queen who has been fed well at larval stage.
  • build up the hive’s reserves for times of dearth or winter.
  • continually feed adults who have fewer fat reserves and lower glycogen than larvae.

Pam explained fewer pollen supplies can reduce the amount of larvae produced or even lead to larvae being canabalised. Poor quality pollen could reduce immunity, thus a mixture of pollen is best. A study by Degrandi and Hoffman et al (2010) suggested that levels of viruses can be reduced within the colony if it is fed sufficient levels of pollen.

A deficiency of pollen can cause the hypopharyngeal gland in nurse bees to be less well developed, which would impact the brood food they produce, and could cause colonies to become aggressive; although I’ve noticed a lack of forage in general (nectar and pollen) and a lack of brood can cause colonies to become more irritable. Little wonder if the colony is hungry or does not have enough to do (is bored) with fewer brood to rear. Uncapped brood also produces a pheromone to stimulate pollen collection and the hypopharyngeal gland to develop. It is a reminder how wonderfully interconnected the world of the honeybee is.

Variety is the spice of life

Pam concluded that bees need a variety of good-quality food to stay healthy. She quoted a study that the longevity of bees can be affected by the quality of the pollen that they eat. (Schmidt et al Journal Econ Entomol 88 1591 (1995)). For example, bees feeding on rapeseed pollen lived 51 days longer, whereas bees feeding on sunflower pollen lived for 31 days. There were vast areas of sunflowers near French farms at the time of banning neonics, said Pam, could the less nutritious sunflower pollen have been another factor affecting bee longevity? “But bees love sunflower pollen even if it is not as good for them as rapeseed.”

I enjoyed Pam’s although I was familiar with most of it. It makes good sense that high-quality nutrition and a varied diet is as important to the health of the honeybee colony as it is to all animals. Along with pesticides, forage is another important factor affecting all bees and insect pollinators and with spring fast approaching, beekeepers will be mindful of what’s flowering in their local area.

Pam also recommended the resource: Somerville, Doug (2005) Fat Bees Skinny Bees, A manual on honey bee nutrition for beekeepers. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Australia.

Return to top.

3. ‘Making toiletries using honey and beeswax’ by Dr Sara Robb.

The third talk of the day was as topical as spring forage. For beekeepers who have lots of beeswax – and that’s a lot of us – Dr Sara Robb’s lecture was brimming with ideas of how to clear up last year’s honey-and-wax buckets before the start of the season.

IMG_8383

Dr Robb studied neuroscience in Pennsylvania, US, before finding her way to Scotland then England, where she started to make soap. The scientist was a meticulous soap-maker, but she grew impatient till one day she threw away the thermometer, “Soap had been made for centuries without thermometers”, and came up with same-day soap. When a Polish neighbour brought back a gift of honey from Poland, Dr Robb decided to make honey soap for her baby Jasmine. One bar and she was sold. The soap was beautifully fragranced and moisturising and worked wonders as a baby bath.

Dr Robb’s talk covered a beekeepers’ favourite – what to make with honey and beeswax: “I’m not a beekeeper but I am a beekeeper groupie.”

The products of the hive, such as honey and beeswax, can be added to many cosmetics, which in the EU is anything that is applied to the body from toothpaste to shampoo. Bee products can be used to make lip balm, body butters, cerate, cream, soap, and more.

Dr Robb gave a summary of why we use honey, beeswax and propolis for their cosmetic properties:

  • Beeswax (Cera alba) – emollient, emulsifying, film foraging, perfuming.
  • Honey (Mel) – emollient, humectant, moisturising; add small amounts to soap transforms it and different types of honey lends different fragrances and characteristics to cosmetics; Dr Robb feels honey is more moisturising than beeswax.
  • Propolis (Propolis cera) – antiseborrhoeic, moisturising, smoothing; good for acne, problem skin, improves roughness and irregularities.

Cosmetics can be made easily using equipment that most people have in their kitchen including scales, a microwave or stove, handmixer, bowls, spoons and containers. There are three main methods of making cosmetics:

  • Mixtures: lip balms, body butter, waxeline, cerate.
  • Emulsions: moisture cream, body lotion.
  • Chemical synthesis: soap (ingredients + chemical reaction = product).

Dr Robb explained the chemical synthesis of soap is by saponification: hydroxide + triglycerides = soap + glycerine.

Soap can be made using various ingredients from oils (olive, sunflower, rape, almond, coconut), butters (cocoa, shea), fats (lard, tallow, vegetable), waxes (beeswax, plant). While people tend not to use fat for making soap at home anymore, commercial soaps may contain tallow. Dr Robb noted that beeswax doesn’t saponify well and has a higher melt temperature, which can make it difficult to use for homemade soap.

oilbeeswaxmix

Soap-maker’s top tips

As soap-making is Dr Robb’s specialty, she gave us some top tips on what we need to know before getting started.

  • The precise amount of sodium hydroxide needed for soap to saponify must be calculated against the given oils used in the recipe. It’s really important to get this right because a soap with a high pH can be dangerous to use as it could burn skin.
  • Olive, coconut and sunflower oils are good for lathering, although olive oil lathers the least. Dr Robb avoids using almond oil in case people have nut allergies.
  • Lovely colours and subtle fragrances can be added to soap from adding just a small amount of honey.

IMG_8485-0

Beeswax beauty

Waxeline: While candle-making is the most likely way to use up all the leftover beeswax at the end of summer, Dr Robb likes using wax for simple recipes such as alternatives to shop-bought cosmetics. One of her favourites is waxeline (her twist on Vaseline) made from 40g beeswax and 160g rapeseed oil.

Cerate: She makes cerate mixture, originally made with animal fat, using: 40g beeswax, 80g olive oil, and 80g honey. It is all thrown together and mixed, melted and stirred till emulsified. A cerate mixture is like a healing salve that coats a small area of skin. The recipe is similar to balms that I make to deeply moisturise dry, cracked heels or soften rough skin on elbows.

Emulsions: Emulsions are also easy to make from beeswax, cocoa butter, rapeseed oil and water. Again, Dr Robb likes the easy method of throwing all the ingredients together, heating, mixing, and melting to make a beautiful emulsion. Once the base is made then honey, fragrances and preservatives can be added to make various emulsion products.

bodybuttermix

During the Q&A we got more top tips about the ingredients that make emulsions and creams easy to use and longer lasting:

  • Distilled water can be substituted for a good-quality mineral water, but adding water still shortens the shelf life and any product that contains water needs a preservative.
  • Vitamin E can be used as antioxidant but not as a preservative because it won’t inhibit fungal or bacterial growth.
  • Honey should be added in tiny amounts to emulsions and creams, particularly those worn during the day otherwise you may feel quite sticky!

Selling cosmetics in the EU
After formulating the perfect recipe, Dr Robb explained a little of what is involved in selling a cosmetic in the EU.

  • You need to prepare a Product Information Pack (PIP) and send the recipe, with a sample if it contains water, for a safety assessment, and a challenge test for aqueous products, to go through the Cosmetics Products Notification Portal (CPNP). You can find out more about the regulations for selling cosmetics here. The challenge test for recipes with water is squirting a cocktail of bacteria and fungus into a sample and monitoring their growth.
  • For beekeepers using their own beeswax in recipes, the beeswax needs to be analysed before use.
  • Products need to labelled correctly, including address, batch no/use-by date, weight, and ingredients listed in the correct nomenclature.

IMG_9042

As Dr Robb closed her talk, I felt motivated to get to work on the last buckets of honey-and-wax gubbins from last year’s harvest. But it was pouring with rain outside Arkley Village Hall and there was still a wax exchange, an AGM, and a two-hour journey home to go. My enthusiasm would have to wait.

You can read more about Dr Sara Robb’s wonderful products and recipes on her website.

The Federation of Middlesex Beekeepers Day 2016 had been a great success, three brilliant lectures, and an opportunity for the associations to get together to talk about their beekeeping experiences. Thanks very much to Barnet and District Beekeepers Association for organising a great day.

A huge thanks also to Andy Pedley for his feedback on my lecture notes.

Return to top.

Links

It has been a while since I’ve been to a Beekeepers Day due to work the past two years and then moving house. Here is my write up to a lecture in 2012.

Federation of Middlesex Beekeepers Day 2012: Disappearing bees or countdown to catastrophe

Advertisements

23 thoughts on “Federation of Middlesex Beekeepers Day 2016

  1. Read section on neonics and found it interesting and informative. Saving rest in bits at a time. Am not a fan of chemicals, too many vested interests and investments blinding people to what is really there.

  2. I agree. Although I do like chemicals – in aromatherapy I find the chemistry of essential oils that give them their fragrance and therapeutic properties exciting, and in beekeeping I find the chemistry inside the hive that gives them a world coloured by pheromones and scent endlessly fascinating. But I am deeply concerned by certain manufactured chemicals that interact with our environment in ways that we do not yet fully understand.

  3. Thanks for your beautifully written and highly informative post. I learned a lot from you today. Appreciate the work that you put into this. As I am in Canada, I find the EU perspective regarding neonics interesting. Thanks again! – Ron

  4. So very informative! I would like to try using beeswax so I found this very interesting. The photos are great, I love your Andrena fulva. I have not seen ours yet but they always come on our raspberry flowers. I just want to point out a typo on the amino acids, its arginine. I appreciate it so much when you share your lectures. Ameia

    • Done and thank you. A new pair of glasses is on order – they actually are! 😉 It’s a joke that beekeepers always have so much beeswax leftover and I love making balms, they’re so easy. With soap it sounds like you need to get the beeswax to such high temperatures, I might not try that at home. The Andrena fulva is from John’s mum’s garden – the bees love it in late summer, but perhaps your raspberry flowers are slightly easier for the bees to work or produce more nectar and pollen rewards. The photos are linked from past posts as the conference didn’t provide an opportunity for taking photos. They were great lectures – topics with which most us were familiar but found the in-depth refresher fascinating.

      • I did soap last January and I was very pleased with it. I used my sugar thermometer and if you are used to handling things carefully and follow instructions, caustic soda is manageable. I haven’t done balms or lotions, yet.

      • When you’ve made soap you’ll find balms and lotions (particularly balms) very easy. And so nice once you master a base that suits you, you can start experimenting with adding other ingredients like essential oils and herbal tinctures (which I sometimes substitute for distilled water). The sugar thermometer is a good tip – like you I like to measure precisely for some recipes!

  5. Glad you were there as you have filled in some holes in my notes! And it was lovely to have your company of course. Looking forward to an easier journey to next year’s Federation day in Ealing!

    • It was so much fun to go this year when for the past few years I’ve just been to busy to spare a Saturday. Nice to be getting some balance back in life again. It was a great day, I’m glad you were there also 🙂

  6. Pingback: Middlesex Federation Day Part 1: Professor Field, Why do we use insecticides? | Adventuresinbeeland's Blog

  7. Very interesting summary of the first talk. I liked the comment about rushing off to buy insecticides to treat pets. We used to have a dog that got fleas. I named him the Diazinon Dog after the chemical we used to treat him! Interestingly this insecticide got banned for farm use in the EU many years ago, but you could still smother your dog in the stuff and he would roll around the carpets! 😊 So chemicals have uses but need to be used judiciously.

    • Thanks, I’m glad you found it interesting. Yes, I’m with you on the knowing how and when to use certain chemicals being as important as the chemicals that are used. This struck me in the first talk – weighing up the pros and cons alongside the proper use of the chemicals at the appropriate time. Although I’m still uneasy about pesticide use around pollinators.

      Poor Diazinon Dog, I hope the treatment at least eased his torment!

  8. Thanks for this. I find it very difficult when Prof Field says something like “How do we feed the world” when her implied subtext is “we need neonics or other chemicals to do this”. Surely we should be asking how we can feed the world without having significant effects on bees and other creatures? I am a great believer in farmers giving up some land to plant flowers for the pollinators.

    • I’m not sure the lecture made that direct link, if my post bridged that gap then it’s likely my interpretation of it. It is a difficult question to answer and like you, I feel it would be better to look at sparing more land for wildlife habitats as Prof Field also mentioned. One thing that wasn’t covered was consumer market – in wealthier countries people eat a lot and many want all foods to be available all year round. I don’t know nearly enough about this, but I wonder: would more land sparing mean consumer expectations are met? I don’t know but I think as Prof Field said we need to start looking at the wider debates.

  9. Pingback: Middlesex Federation Day Part 2: Pam Hunter, How nutrition affects colony health | Adventuresinbeeland's Blog

  10. Your post reminds me how I missed my high school science class. Thank you for reminding me again. This is worth sharing!

Say hi! Your comment is appreciated.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s