Just for a change, on this occasion I’m not writing about Gormanston but about today’s events. I’ve been trying to update my apiary details on Bee Base but have been having difficulties in logging on and changing the password. I emailed them last night and this morning received a helpful reply that enabled me to sort it out and add my apiary at Bovington where I have one hive in a friend’s garden.
This afternoon I went first to Greenwood Grange where two colonies have been wasped out. I added a mesh floor, modified to act as a wasp trap, to the third hive there.
Then, unplanned, I decided to go on to Bovington, 14 miles to the east. It is in the Purbecks with plenty of heathland around and, as I drove, kept an eye out for flowers but saw very little bee-forage. I got to my friend’s house and saw more flowers in the 10 yards between my car and their front door than I’d seen in the last 10 miles driving. I mentioned this and was shown a card which was their award for having the best garden around!
I went to the hive, a WBC, in the back garden and opened up. There was some propolis on the screen I’d added, having seen that they were keen on collecting it. The top super was the heaviest I’ve lifted this year but the two lower ones were empty.
The upper brood box had plenty of stores. I had a second brood box to make a comb change as I’d noticed that the brood box that was the only one when I took over the hive in the spring had dark comb and that the brood was a bit spotty.
I started going through the frames. The outer ones had just honey, much more than in the hive at Greenwood Grange. The 3rd frame had brood surrounded by stores and the next had more brood.
Then I noticed that there were a few cappings of the sealed brood that looked a little flatter and darker than the majority. I plucked a small twig from an adjacent rose, about the size of a matchstick. I thrust the end through one of the odd cappings, twisted and withdrew it. It drew out what appeared to be a strand of dark toffee. AFB!
I closed the hive and rang Kevin Pope, the Bee Inspector as soon as I could. He’s coming to inspect on Friday but I have little doubt that he’ll confirm my diagnosis and take appropriate action.
As the majority of people who read this blog aren’t based in the UK, I should explain that AFB, American Foul Brood, is a ‘notifiable disease’ which beekeepers, by law, have to report. We have Bee Inspectors who know what they’re doing and have the latest diagnostic equipment. If the diagnosis is confirmed, Kevin will kill the bees, burn and bury all the contents of the hive and scorch with a blow torch the woodwork.
Since the Government has been doing this AFB has become a rarity. I have just looked on Bee Base and the nearest case of AFB is several counties away. They used also to burn and bury for EFB but about 20 years ago started using alternative treatments such as anti-biotics and/or shook swarming, since when it seems to me to be on the increase but I have no statistics to back up my opinion.
On my way home I called in at two supermarkets looking for caustic soda without success. I did, however, find a new version of a bleach for toilets that claims to kill all germs dead, including spores, so I have given my hive tools and tool belt a long soak in this. Tomorrow I will do my jacket and veil.
Spookily, only yesterday I ordered a new jacket and veil on ebay. The first time I saw AFB was at a BKA apiary visit in the mid 1980s. I was standing behind Mervyn Bown when he took the photo of the matchstick test that was published in Hooper and Morse’s Encyclopaedia of Beekeeping in 1985.
The only other time I’ve seen it was when the then Regional Bee Inspector, Beulah Cullen, was doing an educational tour of apiaries for the BKA. It was late in the afternoon when most people had drifted away when we were going through the hives that a commercial beekeeper had placed next to fields of rape. It was on about the 13th of 14 hives that she spotted odd cells and did the matchstick test identifying AFB. Who was the beekeeper? Kevin Pope!