Can eating local honey cure allergies?

While talking about the LSE hives at a PhD event last night, someone mentioned that they’d heard that eating local honey could cure allergies.  This immediately got me thinking about how we could market future LSE honey stocks to students living close to campus!

On the surface, it seems like it might make sense, as eating local honey would build up your body’s immunity to local allergens.  But is it fact or fiction?

Unfortunately, it seems like it might be fiction…

This article from the New York Times explains that some research carried out at the University of Connecticut showed no effect between eating local honey and reduction in allergy symptoms.  Why?  Because, as Dr. Stanley Fineman, president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology explains, “seasonal allergies are usually triggered by windborne pollens, not by pollens spread by insects”.

So, while local honey might not help out with your allergy symptoms, it still tastes good and helps out bee populations.  Here’s hoping next year will bring some more LSE honey to try!

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A hard summer for bees

It’s been a hard summer for bees in the UK, with yields down by 72% compared to 2011 (see here).  While our hive on Connaught House is looking good as it prepares for winter (pictures coming soon!), other hives haven’t been so lucky.

So why has it been so hard?  As most of you know, it’s been a cold and wet summer here in the UK and that’s not been ideal for  flower growth.  As with many other hives, we’ve had to feed our bees during the summer months – something we shouldn’t need to do when pollen is more abundant.

Hives in London have had a particularly poor season, with hives producing only an average of 2.5kg each.  We didn’t harvest any honey from our hives this year as we figured they’d need it to survive the winter.  Here’s hoping they do!

The British Beekeepers Association argues that we need more trained beekeepers to help support bee populations.  We’re hoping to get another hive for Connaught House for next season so we can do our bit to help UK bee populations survive.

A grey Autumn day in London – less rain and more sunshine please!

Join LSE Bees!

As the new academic year is starting, we’re looking for new apiarists-in-training to join the LSE Beekeeping Society to learn how to maintain and develop a hive – and also share in the delicious LSE honey!

Membership is only £1.50 and you’ll get the chance to learn all about beekeeping through weekly, hands-on visits to the LSE hives.

Visit our page on the LSE Students Union website to join up!

The second line of defense

So last month we talked about the bee smoker, the beekeeper’s third line of defense.  Today we’re counting down with number two in the beekeeper’s arsenal – protective clothing.

The traditional beekeeping outfit consists of a hooded suit, or a hat and veil, and gloves.  Experienced beekeepers may sometimes not use gloves if they have particularly delicate manoeuvres to perform, but Luke always sets us a good example and wears gloves every time! 

The face and neck are particularly important to protect, because bees who are looking to defend the hive can be attracted to the breath, as well as the fact that a sting on the face is much more unpleasant!   Our beekeeping suits come in a range of colours, but the traditional suit is white and made from cotton .  Wikipedia tells me that this is to provide “the maximum differentiation from the colony’s natural predators (bears, skunks, etc.), which tend to be dark-colored and furry”.  I don’t know what dark and furry things the LSE bees are going to come across on a city rooftop, but better safe than sorry!

Beekeeping suits can be bought anywhere on the internet, with a full suit coming in between £70-100.

Stay tuned for the #1 line of defense!

“Smoke is the beekeeper’s third line of defense”

The topic of the post this week is the bee smoker.  It’s one of the most useful tools in the bee-keeper’s arsenal, but what exactly is it for?

In order to get into the hive to check on the bees or top up their sugar water (yet again this week the bees showed how hungry they are at the moment, managing to consume two full bottles of sugar water over the course of the week), we need to make sure the bees aren’t too cranky.  Blowing smoke into a hive has been a method used to pacify bees for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that we knew a bit more about why it works.

Here’s the most simple explanation the interweb could offer:

“Under normal circumstances if a beehive is threatened, guard bees will release a volatile pheromone substance, iso-pentyl acetate, better known as an alarm odor. This alerts the middle-aged bees in the hive — the ones with the most venom — to defend the hive by attacking the intruder. When smoke is blown into the hive first, however, the guard bees’ receptors are dulled and they fail to sound the pheromonious alarm.”  You can read more about the science behind bee smokers on WiseGeek or on Wikipedia.

We’re using a classic version of the bee smoker, and lighting it with cardboard along with a piece of twine.  The twine is included to ensure the fire stays smouldering for longer, guaranteeing smoke for the duration that the hive is open.  We generally give the bees a few puffs of smoke every time we want to manipulate a bit of the hive, such as putting back the queen excluder after we’ve checked on the frames.

Find out in the upcoming weeks what the other lines of defense are!