We, the Devon Apicultural Research Group, met at a different venue this time: Willand Village Hall near Cullompton in East Devon. We started arriving at noon and nattered and ate our sandwiches (+ honey cake!) until 1pm when Glyn Davies opened the proceedings.

Our revised edition of A Case of Hives is in its final stages and should be on Northern Bee Books’ stall at the National Honey Show.

The first presentation of the afternoon was by Tricia  Nelson on thermoregulation by honey bees.  Her talk was based on a chapter of Tom Seeley’s new book, which she recommends, The Lives of Bees, the untold story of the honeybees of the world.  The honeybee is the only tropical insect to extend its range into cold/temperate regions (what about the Asian hornet?).

There were diagrams on the screen of the temperatures inside beehives with and without top ventilation.  The advice is not to have top ventilation. There may be more condensation but the bees can make use of the water which, otherwise, they’d have to go and fetch.

The next talk was by Kathy about a project she’s involved with near Plymouth with a few hives in an apiary being fitted with solar powered heaters which raise the temperature within the hive to about 45 degrees C for a few hours to kill off the Varroa mites.  Somehow I don’t think the idea will catch on.

Our next meeting is on 14th July at East Devon BKA’s apiary near Axminster where we will be playing with their drone congregation area.  If you’re within range, come and play with us!

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Yesterday, being fine, I chose to visit my hive at Chantmarle Manor to undertake the monthly detailed survey for Victoria Buswell’s PhD project at Plymouth University. This would be the second detailed inspection this year although I did some last year on the same colony.

I drove past the manor house to a small secluded, hedged, garden where my hive was tucked away out of sight behind a shrub. It was gone!  All there was was a cluster of bees that would fit into cupped hands on the grass next to the pale square where the hive had been.  One or two of them had full pollen baskets.

I tried to phone Matt, the gardener, with no success so I wandered round until I found another worker on the estate who told me that Matt was no longer working there.  I explained the problem and he told me that the hive had been there a few days ago when he had cut the grass.  There had been a spate of thefts lately, mainly of large flower pots and other portable objects which was the reason he had been putting up barriers and notices proclaiming that there were CCTV cameras everywhere, although there were a lot more notices than cameras.

When I got home I phoned the Police, spending about half an hour pressing No. 2 on my phone every 30 seconds before I could speak to a real person. I hope 101 is a free number to call!  The lady I spoke to gave me an 11 digit crime number and suggested that I enquire whether the CCTV footage provided any useful evidence.

So I went back today and the cluster was still there.  I found another estate worker whom I asked about the CCTV and he escorted me down to the manor house and introduced me to the owner who was sat outside.  She wasn’t aware that I had bees there!  I explained that I had been invited by Haley, the gardener before last, to put a bait hive there to collect swarms from the colony long established in the house.

The lady told me that they also had a crime number in respect of the other thefts. They had given the Police a CD of the CCTV footage but it was too scruffy and distorted to be of any use.

So it looks as if I’ve lost the hive for good.  I’m wondering whether the cluster of bees is of foragers who were out and about when the hive was stolen or whether it has been moved to a site within 2 miles and they have flown from their new site to the old.

Victoria: if you’re reading this, would you like me to collect a few of the remaining bees for you to analyse genetically as you already have last year’s records and I can let you have April’s records from this year?

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A dozen of us gathered yesterday at Quantock BKA’s apiary and barn near Bridgewater, within sight of Wales.  Although DARG is the Devon Apicultural Research Group, I think most of us there were from Somerset and Dorset.

While we were sat around in the barn nattering and lunching, somebody spotted a swarm on a shrub outside but, by the time we got out there, it was gone.  Later David Charles’ phone rang:  it was a caller from Texas about a swarm in Salisbury.  Since then I have had 3 calls about swarms that I have been unable to help with as I’m away from home.

The topic of the day was pollen sampling and identification.  Ken Edwards had set pollen traps at several hives on Saturday and it was amazing how much they had gathered in such a short time.

Richard Ball had brought along a number of 20ml plastic tubes so we could work on several samples of the same size, first pouring them into a heap and then gradually sorting them into groups of the same colour.  The most successful people were a couple of lasses sat next to me who arranged them into 12 groups of different sizes.

About 40 years ago, my mentor, Roy Page, a retired scientist and University lecturer, told me that, whereas men can distinguish about 60 colours, females can see 240!  This was demonstrated with the pollen as several of the pollen groups looked the same colour as the one next to them to me and I would have sorted them into 3 groups.

Richard got his microscope out and also watch glasses, tweezers, and bottles of chemicals to produce slides, which were warming on a modified coffee cup heater.  The only one he made that we could positively identify was dandelion.

I had to dash off as they were packing up as I had a long drive ahead of me to get to Woodford Bridge Country Club (once used by Oliver Cromwell) in north west Devon where I am staying for a week, hoping to do some walking along the coast path.  As I walked into Reception the girl on the desk Rhiannon, greeted me by name.  We got chatting and it turns out that she was a beekeeper!

Rhiannon doesn’t yet have bees in this country as she’s from the land of Oz, but we’re discussing how she can establish hives at the resort and supply honey to the kitchen and visitors.  We’re bouncing ideas around.  I’ll look around the grounds to see whether there are honey bees locally foraging. If so, I’m sure we can find a container that I can bait as I have some lemon grass oil in the car.

It all makes life interesting!

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Today the Devon Apicultural Research Group met at Newton Abbot BKA’s apiary in their lovely off-grid shed heated by a log fire and electrified by solar panels and battery.  I made a brief diversion en route to call in at Trago Mills to do a bit of shopping and thought I’d arrive late but I was only the fourth there.  Numbers gradually swelled to thirteen.

Business came first in which our Treasurer, Chris Utting assured us that we’re solvent with a moderate pot in the bank.

Then Chairman, Richard Ball, asked me to read a mail from the Bee-List about a newly discovered honeybee sub species: Apis Mellifera sinisxinyuan (try saying that out loud!).  It’s found in the colder regions of China and is closely related to our own Apis Mellifera mellifera but is smaller, darker and has longer hair.  It overwinters in small clusters but builds up rapidly in spring and is very productive of honey.

Richard then asked  if we had any new projects to start.  I mentioned Victoria Buswell’s hive monitoring project for her PhD at Plymouth University, in which I assume we’re all participating.

Richard then plumbed in his computer and projector and dropped the screen to show us a series of graphs of his weather recording since 1999, the daily rainfall and maximum and minimum temperatures compared with mite drops.  I’ve been measuring rainfall daily since 2000 but am not clever enough to put it on my computer so it’s a graph on my kitchen wall.  Maybe I should let Richard have a photocopy so he can compare and contrast.

Next the discussion was about unusual or wacky methods of Varroa control. First was the rhubarb leaf placed over the brood box.  Richard showed a photo of the fresh leaf in position and then the Varroa floor after the bees had shredded it. There was so much debris on the floor that it was impossible accurately to count the mites directly but, as they are less dense than the leaf litter, Richard was able to immerse all the debris in a fluid and the mites floated to the top. There were no more than usual.

Other odd things that were mentioned were kettle de-scaler, patio cleaner, ultra sound (1,500 Hz at 90 decibels), the Bee Gym, icing sugar, talcum powder, lactic acid, thymol, heat and mini-mites that feed on Varroa.

Then came distribution of Suterra, the bait for Asian hornet traps, queens of which are likely to be around now.

Finally, Glyn Davies handed out small tomato plants as he has grown far too many, so now I have a couple in my greenhouse.


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While I was away on holiday I received an email from a friend, Ken, asking for help for a lady in his village who has found 2 hives in the jungle at the end of her garden and she wanted to be rid of them.  One had bees in it.

I already have a bait hive in Ken’s  garden at Hazelbury Bryan as he’s interested in bees.  As the site of these hives is less than a mile from his house I explained that it would be unwise to move the hive with bees there because of the ‘less than 2 feet or more than 2 miles’ rule, so he would have the empty hive that we can possibly stock this year while I would take the other.

As you will have read in my ‘Potato Day’ blog a few weeks ago, my friend, Penny, wants a hive in her garden, so this was the chosen destination.

I visited the garden with the bees earlier this week with Ken acting as navigator. Bees were flying from one hive. They look quite black.  The hives are National 14″ x 12″, a type I haven’t seen in use before.  They looked quite new and in good condition but the size of the cut back bramble stalks suggests that they’d been there a few years.  I lifted the roof and found a very active colony of ants!

During the last week I have been preparing the site at Penny’s and stocking the boot of my car with sponge, J cloth, duct tape and straps.  Although the weather has been dull and breezy, bees locally have been flying so I waited.  Today it was blowing a gale and drizzling and I could see no bees flying so I messaged Ken and headed his way.

We went to the site. No bees were flying so I stuffed a J cloth into the hive entrance and applied duct tape as belt and braces.  The strap I had brought was long enough to bind the hive X ways.  I had removed the roof not only to reduce the weight but also to ease ventilation through the Porter escapes.

There were ants everywhere!  I brushed lots off with moss and Ken blew off a lot more. Nevertheless they got all over us and I have squashed a couple as I’ve been typing this! Three now!  I’ve never had as many ant bites.

We lifted the hive. It was heavy!  It needed the two of us gently to carry it along the very uneven garden path and put it in my car.  After dropping Ken off I headed for Maiden Newton and the hive’s new home. (4 ants now).  Luckily Penny’s son was present, willing and able to assist me getting the hive up the garden (7 ants now) and onto it’s stand.

I took the strap off and some of the duct tape but leaving the entrance plugged so as to give the bees some quiet time to settle down before releasing them, which I went back to do by torchlight.

With this brief experience I wouldn’t recommend 14 x 12 hives simply because of the increased chances of getting beekeeper’s back! (11 ants now and I’m feeling itchy).







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Today I carried out a job as a member of our local Country Cars group by driving to the next village, Toller Porcorum, to pick up a lady to take to the Hospital at Dorchester for an appointment.   She is fragile and has had a recent fall and needs a wheeled frame to walk. Her car sits in her drive as she has decided it would be unwise to use it as she has problems with her balance .  She intends to give it to a grandchild.

We chatted on our journey and I asked her how her bees were doing. She’d forgotten about them!  I first saw them a couple of years ago. They have an entrance at about head height via a kink in a lead layer into a chimney.  I think the fire isn’t used nowadays.

On the way back from the Hospital, where they’d decided it wasn’t necessary to amputate her head yet, she told me that she was having her 91st birthday party this week!  I had guesstimated her age to be a decade less then that.  I’m glad I won’t be there to give her the bumps!

On our journey we discussed bees and I described the life cycle of workers and queens and the death of drones. She was very interested.

When we got back I checked the chimney and saw the bees were flying vigorously at 13C according to my car’s thermometer and bringing in pollen.  The lady doesn’t usually shuffle round to that corner of her house but I suggested that she gets a deck chair positioned there so  she can sit and watch them: there’s nothing like watching others work!

As they’re looking vigorous I think it might be a good idea, in the next few weeks, to bait an empty hive I have on a farm less than a mile away.


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I attended Beetradex at Stoneleigh for the first time yesterday.  Conveniently, it was almost exactly half way between where I had been on holiday in soggy Lancashire and home (where there was 75mm of rain in my absence).  The BBKA Spring Convention used to be held at Stoneleigh until, for some strange reason, they moved it to Harper Adams University in distant Shropshire a few years ago. I see a lot more people I know from the south west at Stoneleigh than at HA.

The hall was massive with 58 trade stands, some much bigger than others, and I didn’t manage to visit them all.  Northern Bee Books have sold out of my books: Getting the Best from Your Bees (co-authored with Dave MacFawn of S. Carolina) and Bees vs People.  I spoke with Jerry Burbidge and he suggested that I bring along 10 more copies of Bees vs People to the forthcoming Spring Convention at Harper Adams University.  He’ll have to order more copies of Getting the Best from Your Bees on line where I expect the publisher will give him a decent discount if he orders enough.

All I bought at the trade stands were a couple of unframed wire queen excluders and a couple of small plastic disc entrances.  I had an interesting chat with a chap, John Thorburn, who has cleverly manipulated copper piping and a gas blow torch to make an effective oxalic acid vapouriser.  The principle is the same as the one I have been using for years but probably more efficient.  Unfortunately the price, at about £47, is more than I was willing to afford but it might be a good buy for people less tight fisted. It’s called Gas-Vap and I expect you could google to find a YouTube video about it, or else email John at

I attended the BIBBA AGM with about 30 of us there cramming a room.  Our membership is now over 500, the most ever.  Our accounts are in good order and Tesco have been helping to fund a couple of projects.  Our annual membership fee will stay the same at £20.  Officers were re-appointed although Iain Harley, our Treasurer hopes to step down if a competent volunteer can be found to succeed him.

After the formal business, Karl Colyer gave a talk about our future strategy.

I attended a couple of seminars, far less formal, high-tech and crowded than at the BBKA Convention. First was Bee Watch, promoting an App that notifies you of any swarms that have been found and are available for collection near you.  So far most of the users are in the Oxfordshire area.  As it costs £24 a year I won’t be using it, particularly as plenty of swarms hive themselves for me.  If you’re interested,take a look at  or contact Nicky at

The final talk was by Kirsty Stainton of FERA Science UK on the Asian Hornet.  Although they’re very in-bred, all coming from a single queen that was imported into France some years ago, they don’t seem to be suffering from it and have been increasing their range at a rate of about 78 km a year.  Each colony will produce about 100 new queens at the end of the year and the survivors will do the same next year and so on.  Although they eat other food, about 40% of their food is bees.  If you’re baiting them, sweet food if more effective at this time of year and something protein based in the Summer.



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