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Dave Black

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Everything posted by Dave Black

  1. My experience suggests no-one looks at the document library any more... Crown copyright permits non-commercial use with attribution as long as it is accurate and not disreputable, and they didn't voice any concern when I told them what I did previously.
  2. I haven't read through this thoroughly yet, but perhaps someone can explain this apparent contradiction to me (from the summary)? "Average honey prices paid to New Zealand beekeepers in 2018/19... fell significantly for most honey types apart from monofloral mānuka honey. The value of New Zealand’s pure honey exports increased by 2 percent in 2018/19... with higher export prices (up 10 percent)..."
  3. Like it says on the tin... 2018-Apiculture-monitoring-report.pdf
  4. I'm a little behind in seeking this out, but it's always a useful reference point, and I see 2018 is not there at all so I've added that in a seperate post. These have been made available on the Forum since at least 2012... 2019-Apiculture-monitoring-report.pdf
  5. Varroa have been a part of my beekeeping life forever. In the Forum archives (back to 2012) I have posts whinging about going to beekeeping conferences here and abroad full of promise and short on delivery when it comes to ways of managing the problem, and I retain what I think is a healthy scepticism about what I will call the ‘selective breeding’ route to a solution. From selecting for hygienic behaviour using pin or freeze killed brood assays in the mid-eighties, to the first Bond test (“Live and Let Die”) in 1993, selection for post-capping duration in the mid ‘90’s, and more recent work with VSH and SMR, 40 years of scientific endeavour have led to... well, nothing really. In an Open Access review published this month Matthieu Guichard, Vincent Dietemann, Markus Neuditschko and Benjamin Dainat set out just exactly why this is so difficult. I think it’s a relevant, well written and comprehensive piece and worth reading for anyone at all interested in this aspect of selective breeding. The language is not particularly difficult so it doesn’t require a ‘translation’. Here is their own synopsis: Over the last three decades, numerous selection programs have been initiated to improve the host–parasite relationship and to support honey bee survival in the presence of the parasite without the need for acaricide treatments. Although resistance traits have been included in the selection strategy of honey bees, it has not been possible to globally solve the V. destructor problem. In this study, we review the literature on the reasons that have potentially limited the success of such selection programs. We compile the available information to assess the relevance of selected traits and the potential environmental effects that distort trait expression and colony survival. Limitations to the implementation of these traits in the field are also discussed. Matthieu Guichard, Vincent Dietemann, Markus Neuditschko and Benjamin Dainat, (2020) Advances and perspectives in selecting resistance traits against the parasitic mite Varroa destructor in honey bees. Guichard et al. Genetics, Selection, Evolution, 52:71 doi.org/10.1186/s12711-020-00591-1 https://gsejournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12711-020-00591-1
  6. Thanks Chris, over at the apiary we hadn't a clue what was going on! Far from the Madd(in)ing Crowd and no romance...
  7. Propolis is a mysterious material, not so much a thing bees produce but literally a collection of ‘things’ they use. Beekeepers view it as a bit of a nuisance and frequently selectively breed honeybees that use as little as possible. In some respects, that’s not a good idea. Apis, euglossine, meliponine, and megachilid bees, and, occasionally, other social insects, all use a kind of propolis to a greater or lesser extent, which in its simplest description consists of plant resins mixed with wax (propolis and cerumen) or mixed with clay or sand soils (geopropolis or batumen). There are plants that use the desirability of these useful resins to attract pollinators but in many, many plants they are just ‘there’ as a part of normal metabolic processes. It is an essential nesting material, but also has some interesting biological activity as well as its physical function. It’s the later that has been the reason for most of the research. It seems Man has always regarded propolis as a therapeutic product, not without reason, and there is plenty of study about its constituents that, so far, seems to have led nowhere. Propolis has been observed to be anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, cytotoxic, anti-inflammatory, anaesthetic, immunomodulatory, and anti-oxidant. Oh, and allergenic, particularly after ingestion. Propolis is quite complex, containing so far at least 300 common phytochemicals, and is never quite the same, varying qualitatively and quantitatively according to exactly where and when it was collected, and by whom, all across the world. Many of these chemicals can be shown to be pharmacologically active, in the right dose even toxic. It’s also true that some are known to have a therapeutic effect for common bee diseases and pests. Unfortunately, it’s also possible to detect less desirable contaminates in propolis, including various classes of residues including pesticides, antibiotics, and heavy metals. At the moment we are never in a position to anticipate its properties or effects and it’s a fair way from being systematically useful because it’s so unpredictable. European honeybees collect the ingredients for propolis from several plant structures where they are actively secreted or exuded from wounds. They can be waxes on leaves or buds, gums and resins from the bark, from fruit, or around trichomes and the ducts of new leaves. In a pinch, even paint, asphalt, and oil. For temperate bees like ours by far the most important sources are the bud exudates from poplars, birch, horse-chestnuts, willow, pine, elm, and alder. I have seen mine working the seed capsules of pittosporums. They collect at any time of year, but mostly while temperatures are warm enough to render the materials malleable. We don’t know how they find sources but the assumption made is that they detect the odour. Resin foraging bees seem to be unoccupied intermediaries between nest construction and foraging, with atrophied wax glands. The geographical dependence of propolis ingredients suggests that New Zealand’s ‘blend’ might be uniquely different and in 1995 Comvita supplied various samples (as tinctures – ethanol extracts) from the North Island (Bay of Plenty, Coromandel, Waikato, Auckland, Taranaki and Northland) to the University of Waikato so they could have a look. They found very little variation between the samples, and actually that they look much like samples from Europe and North America, suggesting that the majority of plant sources were introduced. The only feature of note was that they were all relatively high in some dihydroflaviniods - some of the characteristic phenolic compounds found in nearly all propolis. The problem is that’s a difficult comparison to justify given propolis samples vary so much but it’s interesting if you’re thinking about selling it under a ‘same but better’ banner. It seems to me highly unlikely there is a consistent and reliable difference from anyone else’s honeybee propolis but you never know. There are quite detailed descriptions of collection and use. The majority of bees collecting resin seem to be both collectors and users, swapping roles from time-to-time. A bee will break or scrape a particle or resin off the substrate, pass it along their legs to their corbicula, and then get another. She may hover about the substrate seemingly testing the weight before collecting more. The process may take from seven minutes to an hour before flying back to the hive. There, she will take it to where it is needed and wait to be unloaded by other workers acting as ‘cementing bees’. These bees will take it and apply it, or stash it in a storage area for use later. It can be used to line the nest cavity, reinforce comb, and entomb old pollen or the bodies of invading pests. It doesn’t appear that honeybees modify the material with their own secretions, but other bees do. The cementing bees probably just create an amalgam of the materials available to them. They patrol the nest using their antennae to probe the surfaces testing for gaps that need to be ‘glued’ but how they decide when there is a ‘shortage’ of material, and translate that into a ‘need’ for foragers, is unknown. Resin collectors can be seen dancing at the unloading site (away from the nest entrance and the nectar-forage dancing). The most complete modern description we have of the organisation of propolis use is from Jun Nakamura with Tom Seeley published in 2006 (unfortunately pay-walled). While all honeybees use propolis some strains and races use more or less than others. Apis mellifera caucasia , the Caucasian honeybees from Georgia and Turkey, are notorious for their extensive use of propolis. I had some ligustica from Hawai’i that blocked up most of their entrance each winter. It’s not unusual to find one colony in an apiary that deposits more propolis than its neighbours. Propolis covers small holes and cracks, seals and reinforces the surfaces to which comb is attached, and in a natural nest covers the internal wall in a ‘varnish’ that controls fungal growth and controls water penetration - a propolis ‘envelope’. The most effective demonstration of this that I have seen was and old straw skep hive so completely sealed that it could be filled with water and used as a bucket. Bees in natural nests control the entrance size by restricting it with propolis walls (the word means ‘before the city’ – ‘pro’ -‘polis’ in Greek). Old brood comb incorporates a fair amount of propolis, and in new comb a red/orange tint around the edge of cells can be quite attractive! It’s what makes wax candles slightly yellow and imparts a distinctive scent. When propolis can’t be found bees attempt to collect similar compounds as substitutes. In the comb propolis has been shown to depress the metabolic rates of wax moth adults and larvae, and cause higher larval mortality, and it seems quite clear that it is a significant part of the colony’s general social immunity. The expression of genes related to an individual bee’s immune response is reduced in a propolis-rich environment, probably because the overall bacterial load is reduced, and leaves the bees better able to respond to any additional challenge. While propolis has been shown to have a direct effect suppressing Paenibacillus larvae in a laboratory, it doesn’t appear it would be applicable in a live colony. However, it’s likely in general that the contents stored in combs like honey, brood food, pollen, and larvae, benefit from the addition of propolis and its antimicrobial properties. Although there are some portrayals of honeybees self-medicating with propolis I think these are apochryphal. Honeybees have not been observed either ingesting propolis, or increasing their rate of collection and use in response to disease, although we can increase it by providing a suitably ‘ragged’ surface. Infuriating as it might be, it’s quite clear that propolis use – ‘bee-glue’, is an essential component of naturally healthy honeybee colonies. Further Reading. MC Marcucci (1995), Propolis: chemical composition, biological properties and therapeutic activity. Apidologie 26, 83-99 Vassya S. Bankova, Solange L. De Castro, Maria C. Marcucci (2000), Propolis: recent advances in chemistry and plant origin. Apidologie 31, 3–15 Markham, K.R., et al (1996), HPLC and GC-MS indentification of the major organic constituents in New Zealand propolis. Phytochemistry, Vol. 42, No. 1, pp. 205-211 Jun Nakamura and Thomas D. Seeley (2006), The functional organization of resin work in honeybee colonies. Behav Ecol Sociobiol. 60: 339–349 DOI 10.1007/s00265-006-0170-8 Michael Simone-Finstrom, Marla Spivak (2010), Propolis and bee health: the natural history and significance of resin use by honey bees. Apidologie 41, 295–311 DOI: 10.1051/apido/2010016 Soumaya Touzani, et al, In Vitro Evaluation of the Potential Use of Propolis as a Multitarget Therapeutic Product: Physicochemical Properties, Chemical Composition, and Immunomodulatory, Antibacterial, and Anticancer Properties. Hindawi BioMed Research International, Volume 2019, Article ID 4836378, https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/4836378
  8. Yes. Left-click for synonyms. I must have more faith in the members than you.
  9. The worrying thing is just that this is an extremely difficult question to answer. While I worry, I know that, especially in New Zealand, we know very little about the possible plant-pollinator networks here, and next to nothing about how pollinators are partitioned within the landscape over time. At the moment my reading of the few studies 'worrying' about the local situation is that they point to a possibility, nothing more, and the ones about the situation elsewhere irrelevant.
  10. It's interesting sometimes to back at people's past posts...
  11. If the referendum says so, the Govt will eventually introduce a Bill, subject to the usual public consultation and Select Committee. Once that has Royal Assent, that will create another committee, a Regulatory Authority who, bit by bit, will work out what can and cannot be done. Edibles are way, way down the track. This all takes years; don't hold your breath.
  12. There have been, and are, members from the group that show an interest in providing hives for pollination. It’s not easy, and not a game. This can involve a contractual obligation to provide hives to a written standard on a defined time, and affects someone else’s income too. While most of us can muddle along and manage whatever the bees decide to do, for pollination the beekeeper is definitely in charge, even when the bees disagree. One of the essential skills, useful for beekeeping in general, is the ability to assess a colony’s size or strength, the number of foragers and the amount of brood, and takes you beyond just coping with your bees. Build it into your swarm prevention (so you don’t end up doing swarm control!). On this occasion we had a number of colonies each in three ¾ boxes to open and assess, already disease checked and ‘evened up’. Having an apiary with all the hives at roughly the same stage of development greatly simplifies life. The standard hives are supposed to meet have generally followed the kiwifruit industry and the Kiwifruit Pollination Association (KPA) who were the first in New Zealand to establish some sort of ‘best practice’ approach. Nowadays others like New Zealand Pipfruit and the Avocado Industry Council have done the same. These have all been published on the internet, but for some reason all hide behind a corporate wall and are only available to the privileged few. The basic requirement defines a number of brood frames, and a number of ‘bee covered’ frames to match or exceed, and will then include other aspects like being disease free, or having empty comb-space, management disciplines you should have anyway. For kiwifruit, using full-depth Langstroth frames, the standard requires at least twelve frames completely covered with bees, and four frames that are 100% brood (or seven that are 60% brood). Because someone long ago did the work we know these size frames will be covered by around 2,500 bees, and a properly drawn frame will have about 7000 cells to use for brood or food (when full of food, honey, I count each one as a kilo) and half decent queen can lay around 1000 eggs a day, oh and, there are approximately 10 bees to the gramme. If you remember these numbers, and/or adjust them for your comb size (many of you will use ¾ frames) there are also sorts of things you can hazard a guess at – how heavy your honey boxes are, when your queen will run out of laying room (while you are on holiday), and how many bees you have in your swarm. Put very simply, the idea behind the pollination standard was to use a hive that had enough workers to be foraging for pollen sufficiently well to fund its growth into a honey gathering hive, a hive with about 30,000 bees that will grow by at least another 20,000. Twelve frames of bees (x 2,500 = 30,000) and four full brood frames (x 7000 = 28,000). So how do we look at a hive and guess the numbers? Without all the nuance it’s simple. Smoke the hive gently, look under the cover and count the gaps between the frames that are full of bees (the ‘seams’). Pull the top box forward slightly so you can tip on its end without it sliding off, and looking at the bottom of the top box, count the full seams. Add both numbers together and divide by two. Take the box off, look at the next box, count the seams, tip it, count the seams again and divide by two. Add the seam count for both boxes together and multiply by 2,500. That’s how many adult bees you have. I know, it’s an estimate. If you wanted to know the nuance, to count your brood frames, or know what to do with weak or strong hives, you had to be there.
  13. Do you beekeepers not want a 'Bee Aware' week then? ?
  14. Yes, I read that, and I couldn't think of anything to say about it either. I just can't...
  15. Agreed, an age-old problem and I'm not sure what the answer is, but doesn't mean we try a few things. I sure wouldn't be the best demonstrator in the house!
  16. So two posts for this meeting. We want more stories every time, don't be shy! The most important inspection you will do this year will probably be your first spring inspection. I’m not thinking of those alive/dead visits, or the quick peek and heft to check the food stores, but the first proper visit to go through the brood nest, what I’m going to call the ‘disease inspection’. It’s not a good description. In this case the concern is about one disease, AFB, and these days with so many hives around you will always have an eye open for AFB, and everything else. But the moniker ‘disease inspection’ has stuck, and so that’s what it will be. So the first of our ‘garden’ meetings of the year was a disease inspection, with the lucky host getting their COI. The hives were kept on a property largely turned over to greenhouses growing export orchids, but with avocados and the ever-present surrounding kiwifruit orchards in the mix. The arrangement allowed us to have some AFB infected frames on display under the supervision of our local Appointed Person, kept safely away from the bees in the flower packing shed. There were two small groups of hives to check on opposite sides of the property, so we were able to divide the pretty good number of attendees into two so everyone had a fair chance of seeing the action. Our AP2 took one group; in the second group with me it was great to have experienced people like @Dennis Crowley and @NickWallingford for company. Fortune provided some bright warm weather for the afternoon. Around here a good phenological marker for timing these inspections is the flowering of the Taiwanese cherry (Prunus campanulata) which most people seem to recognise with the publicity given to invasive pests by the Council! The weather is not always on your side, so something as invasive as poring over a disassembled brood nest ought to be done purposely but quickly. My advice is focus. Do not get distracted looking for the queen or whatever, get straight to the sealed brood, shake the bees off every brood frame, look carefully, and get out. If there are other things you want to do, do them on another occasion. In my mind an inspection now has some significant advantages. In the first place, the colonies are small with compact brood nests. Doing this with 50,000 bees and multi-box brood chambers is not nearly as easy. In addition, the more marginal state of the colonies reveal problems that could get masked later on. Now, colonies short on labour and food, but pushing the envelope when it comes to laying, are taking a chance on the health of brood. Some disorders you will spot, like chilled brood, chalkbrood, and some viral infections, will probably sort themselves out as the colonies grow bigger and healthier, but you might have an early pointer to who will need requeening, and, for colonies that have struggled through the winter, now you have a clean bill-of-health, which to unite and move on. You can read more about AFB here: https://www.nzbees.net/blogs/entry/10-another-look-at-american-foul-brood/
  17. Going back to the hypothetical 'normal' hive the assumption underlying that would be 30,000 bees in the box, and that you treat without the supers, that is, it's nearly all brood nest. The absolute number I suggest is less important than the density of bees on the frames, and that might have some relationship to their activity. Bees manage the number they have covering brood as part of stablising their temperature and gas exchange. Mites remain in the brood nest mostly, with nurse bees or in cell, so that's what we are interested in treating. I do think think this is part of what can go wrong in cold weather, but generally I'd expect that the 'treatment area' is kept pretty constant by nest homeostasis and so you wouldn't get the extremes you're thinking about.
  18. Fair but facetious I suppose, sorry, but taken in a very literal sense that is what we do. In our case we poison a hive with enough of a chemical that will kill the very small things but leave bigger things pretty well unharmed, it is a calculated risk. So we calculate. None of this is rocket-science. The maker works out how much is lethal to what, hopefully using good science, and builds in a safety margin accordingly. They design a release rate from the strip, and do some arithmetic to figure out, in most circumstances, how many strips to use. They guess that it is smart, given the life-cycle of the pest, to apply the necessary dose for a period of time that will last two life-cycles (24days+24days=48 days=6.9weeks) plus a little overlap. Then they write it all down on the outside of the packet for people to copy. Now life is full of uncertainties. Your particular colony may not be ‘average’ (or ‘normal’), your temperature might not be ‘average’, and so on, and so the distribution of the active ingredient may not match what the maker thinks it will be. A little sensible adjustment of the calculation might be required, but the fundamental properties of the treatment will remain true. A discussion of the type of adjustment might be worthwhile sometimes. What is meant by average/normal? They don’t say, but we (ie. conventional Langstroth beekeepers) normally consider a nest of six to seven frames of 60% brood the standard. If your circumstances or boxes or whatever are wildly different from what the manufacturer thinks they will be you will have to work out what the difference is, and how you will manage and monitor the treatment. Under-treatment and over-treatment are also risks to manage. You should not expect that the quantum of the adjustment you make will apply to anyone else. Yes, I am suggesting that varroa treatments (all of them) compromise bee health, probably more than a suggestion actually. What I can’t do is say in a hypothetical instance whether or not it is worthwhile compromise. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Are we talking about doubling the treatment? We were. One treatment plus another treatment equals two treatments. Would I do it? I have done, Bayvarol and Apivar in some nucs., because I wasn’t confident of my resistance test result, and it wasn’t too expensive as nucs take less strips. Nowadays I have no reason to bother: then, I made a calculated compromise.
  19. While you guys get busy deciding how best to poison your hives just consider that honeybees have relatively few detoxifying enzymes for dealing with pests and pesticides. Besides the expense, just doubling everything up gives them more to do with less, and may leave an overwhelmed immune system open to other toxic nasties and diseases they may encounter. As ever, balance your priorities. Just saying.
  20. With respect, this is very confused post (all of it). Using low dose treatments can be a problem, but not because it ‘promotes’ resistance. Resistance is like Lotto; sooner or later the right ‘get-out-jail’ number will turn up. Resistance might arise even when you are not treating at all. What a low dose will do is allow a resistance to multiply. Rotation of treatments means that, even if one number comes up, nek-minute, you’ll need another because I’ve added another lock. Combining treatments with different modes of action doesn’t increase the possibility of resistance, it decreases it. The probability of two different sets of changes arising simultaneously is much lower. However, when this is done (and it’s done often) the drugs need to be at full dose. ( @Dennis Crowley) The reason it’s only done when it’s important is that you’ve just doubled the cost of your treatment; it’s not a way of saving money. I have written about resistance many times here; some relevant stuff still sits in the beyond Bee Books blog. In 20 years a lot of us have learnt things and perhaps changed our approach to some things - lets hope so anyway.
  21. If you’re a gardener (aren’t all beekeepers?) you’ll know a little about what biologists call the ‘stress induced flowering response’. As a lad some forty-something years ago I think I knew that, even if scientists have just got around to studying it in the last decade. You know, stop watering whatever it is, or provide a bit of a temperature shock, and it’ll burst into flower. We already knew that right? We suppose plants can survive as a species if they flower and produce seeds, producing the next generation although they themselves cannot adapt to unfavourable environmental conditions. The seeds can wait for better conditions, or be dispersed to somewhere more suited to their needs. Normally flowering is regulated automatically by the plant or by environmental factors like the length of day and night periods, or low temperatures near freezing. These have been well studied, and we understand pretty much how it works in some plants. Flowering happens as the plant slows vegetative growth and switches to reproductive growth. Actual evidence that stress of many kinds also induces flowers is accumulating, and stress-induced flowering has recently received increased attention. It doesn’t happen in all plant species, and not all forms of stress will induce flowering, some may retard it. Science is beginning to describe how the genes work to regulate the process and the effect of substances produced under stress, which include reactive oxygen species, salicylic acid, nitric oxide, jasmonic acid, and ethylene, that alter gene expression to adapt to the stressful conditions in susceptible species. The ability to manage flowering time is very valuable, and there is a resurgence in the field studying this as we become more preoccupied with the implications of climate change on our food crops, one of these being winter chilling, or the lack of it. Without getting too side-tracked, one solution has been the use of ‘dormancy-breaking’ chemicals and famously, in New Zealand, Hydrogen cyanamide. What this appears to do is inhibit an enzyme, catalase, and releases hydrogen cyanide, causing a sub-lethal stress response changing the expression of a number of floral genes in the buds. If you get the timing and dose right this produces a predictable and synchronised flowering response, just as if the plants were all simultaneously exposed to a stressful low temperature. Unfortunately, like a low temperature, so far none of the chemicals that do this are particularly pleasant. This year several scientists in France and Switzerland collaborated on a multi-year project that suggests bumblebees could be doing a similar thing – influencing the local availability of flowers by stressing the plant. They chew holes in its leaves. The team choose to investigate an observation that bumblebees (B. terrestris) we seen cutting triangle-shapes holes in the leaves of Brassica and Solanum plant species, but did not obviously consume or transport the leaf material. They guessed that this might influence the plant’s flowering. To start with they checked to see if there was actually an effect by comparing damaged and undamaged plants, setting up (in the lab) mechanically damaged plants, bee damaged plants, and undamaged plants, and observing both pollen-hungry and satiated bee colonies. They then wanted to know if the results might have been due to the artificial conditions in the lab, so they created two subsequent semi-natural trial environments, including other bumblebee species, with greater scale and different control conditions. The results indicate that indeed the bumblebee damaged plants do flower more rapidly, and that a lack of pollen drives the behaviour. Where floral resources appear to be adequate the behaviour is not observed. Even when the bees could forage over greater distances they chose to damage the local plants anyway. The damage was not due the captive bees alone; wild bees and bumblebees of other species also behaved in the same way. The study does not conclusively attribute the bumblebee damage to stress-induced flowering, and it’s interesting that the (human) mechanical damage doesn’t have the same effect.; it does not show that holes in the leaves are stressful if I can put it like that. This study is not sufficient to show that the bees are damaging the plants in order to cause early flowering; merely that the bees do damage and the flowers respond to that. But it makes you think… F. G. Pashalidou et al, Bumble bees damage plant leaves and accelerate flower production when pollen is scarce. Science 368, 881–884 (2020). https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.9ghx3ffdv. Kiyotoshi Takeno, (2016), Stress-induced flowering: the third category of flowering response. Journal of Experimental Botany, Vol. 67, No. 17 pp. 4925–4934, 2016 doi:10.1093/jxb/erw272
  22. I'm quite sure the Management Agency would fail an audit from the Privacy Commisioner. Principle 10 of the Act applies here regardless of what beekeepers may think. I can find no statements about the information collection, retention, etc. that relates to the registration form provided. However, let's wait to hear where the mailing information comes from.
  23. As mentioned last time, for some reason mead generates quite a bit of interest. It baffles me somewhat because, judging by what people will pay money for, mead hasn’t been popular for several hundred years, and can no longer be used for paying taxes. Anyway, for this month’s meeting we had decided to gather and discuss it, and make some. If you are the buying and selling type you can't do this with mead ('cos it's alcohol), but you can turn your mead into Vinegar! I make it occasionally, mostly because I’m lazy about dealing with cappings and wet extractors, but I’m a bit ‘old school’ and only ever make a basic dry ‘hydromel’. It’s a nice thing to get right. Mead isn’t to everyone’s taste and I can quite see why there is interest in other styles – sack meads (sweeter), metheglin (with added spices) and melomel (fruit meads). Something for everyone. The simplest mead is indeed very…simple. When you’ve finished extracting wash your cappings with warmish water, (don’t melt the wax!), strain and collect the sweet wash water in a bucket. If there is enough honey dissolved in the water a fresh egg will just float, otherwise just add honey or water to adjust the density (up or down) until it does. Add some yeast. Wait. Wait longer (years). Done. Of course there all little nuances that produce a more predictable and consistent result. First, cleanliness is your friend. Sterilise the equipment and utensils you use. Sodium metabisulphite is good (or Campden tablets – potassium metabisulphite). Many mead makers bring the honey/water mix to a boil to kill off any wild yeasts or bacteria present so only the chosen yeast added once the liquid has cooled will ferment the brew. Others hope the added yeast out-competes anything else. Take your pick. Second, understand the honey/water concentration using a hydrometer. For a reliable basic drink you want to be in a range roughly between 1.060 and 1.100, the lower part of the range for dry, the upper end for sweet, low alcohol to high (8 – 13.5%). The floating egg (as above) is around 1.080 – 1.090. The third variable is the yeast. Yeasts are extraordinarily diverse and work best with the food source they were selected for. Mead is not a particularly good food source for them, and some advice adds a mineral/protein supplement you can buy in a small packet. Lemon juice and cold tea are a workaround for the truly impoverished. High alcohol contents kill yeast strains at some point. My initial advice is to use a champagne style yeast from the wine shop – reasonably alcohol tolerant (up to about 15%) and less dependent on nutrients than a red wine yeast would be for example. Plenty of people will tell you they just use a brewer’s or baker’s yeast and I’m sure they do, but I’m telling you not to. If you wish to make one of the fruity, spicy concoctions ask the wine shop, they will have a library to choose from, and know more about it than I do. I needn’t point out that yeasts are living organisms, and the various strains have different preferences for the environment conditions they will multiply in. It shouldn’t be too acidic (pH <4), too cold (>15C), or too hot <32C, and they are less tolerant of alcohol as the temperature increases, so your fermentation should start (say) at 30C and tend to fall (to 17-18C). Yeasts are remarkably tolerant, and generally before you manage to kill them they just stop working, or work very, very slowly. I start fermentation in a covered bucket. Once it’s going I’ll fit a lid sealed with an air lock, and as it finishes I decant/syphon in to a carbouy (demijohn) fitted with an air lock. While in the bucket I can float a hydrometer to monitor what goes on, and I can scoop away any unhealthy-looking yeast foam, flies, or dog hairs that might taint the liquor from the surface. Fitting water-filled air locks later on vents the CO2 produced but protects it from invading yeasts and bacteria while it breathes, settles and matures. The active fermentation takes about two weeks, the settling takes a few months, and you might start drinking after a year. If you can temper your enthusiasm it’ll be much improved after three.
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