Yesterday I visited Morrisons in Yeovile where I bought several large bags of sugar at a price that works out at four shillings a pound as, for the first time in years, I am feeding bees!  This is the colony about which I wrote a few days ago which I rescued from a tree at Chantmarle and hived.  As they had brood but virtually no stores, it seems sensible to boost their chances of  survival by feeding, so this morning I put a feeder on with seventeen shillings and sixpence worth of sugar in a quart of water.

Then it was time to drive all the way to darkest Devonshire for a meeting of DARG, the Devon Apicultural Research Group, at Newton Abbott BKA’s den.  There were half a dozen of us there plus helpers from the branch; a few more than last time.

The planned agenda was to play with microscopes but something more pressing took first place: the Asian Hornet.  A nest was recently found in Gloucestershire and destroyed, probably far too late to have prevented hundreds of new queens being produced, each of which, if they survive the winter, will attempt to build a new nest next year. More recently, a solitary queen has been found in the Mendip hills in Somerset, the county adjoining both Devon and Dorset.

We are urged to place traps  in all our apiaries by the early part of next year to catch and identify any Asian Hornet queens.  We spent  an hour or so playing with plastic lemonade bottles, wire mesh and lengths of wire in order to create the trap designed and promoted by the National Bee Unit.  There is a link to the illustrated instructions on the DARG web site:  .

The trap is designed, not to drown the hornet but to capture it alive so that it can have its identity confirmed by the local Bee Inspector.  Instead of the usual wasp trap of the top half of a lemonade bottle being cut off and placed, inverted, in the lower half with the cap removed and liquid bait in the base in which the beast drowns, there is some wire mesh placed above the bait.  The cap is left on the bottle with a 9mm diameter hole drilled in it. This allows the Asian hornet access but is too small for our larger (but more benign) European hornet.  An arch of plastic cut from the side of a bottle is placed over the top to shed rainwater.  Garden wire holds the parts together and forms a loop to hang the trap in a tree.

When we had finished playing, we got on with our ‘citizen science’ project comparing the spermathecae of drone laying queens with those of fertile ones and counting and comparing numbers of disrupted cells.  We had been handicapped because nobody would give us healthy and productive queens to kill, but recently Ged Marshall, a professional beekeeper, has  let us have about a score.

We took turns at looking at one or two of the 130ish slides through microscopes and could see the darker pink irregularly shaped spots of the cells but the magnification wasn’t ideal.  Richard Ball managed to take some photos and zoomed in but wasn’t able to project them onto the screen.

We would like to analyse, compare and contrast the various relevant features but can’t practically do so just using the slides.  Then there is the ‘people problem’: we all have different eyesight and perception; some may be better than others at keeping count of possibly hundreds of apparently identical features in the field of vision and spotting the ‘oddballs’.  It was suggested that having clickers might help  with keeping count.

It was decided that we would have to go technical by getting photographs of all the slides on the computer and sharing them on-line so we could all take part in the analysis with each slide picture being analysed, using the same procedure and method, by at least three of us.

This may take some time to do but I hope that we can have made a good start and show it off at our AGM next month as it is very relevant to the subject of our guest speaker, Norman Carreck: Citizen Science.

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I’ve been harvesting honey, rather later than usual this year because of my broken leg, but the last couple of days I’ve not used my stick.  With the help of my friend, Ann, we took supers from my apiaries at Seaborough, Frome Vauchurch and the Weymouth Bay Holiday Camp at Preston and have spent a couple of days extracting, keeping the batches separate.

Today we took the empty supers back to the holiday camp where the hives are in the centre of a wild flower meadow.  Because of my leg I hadn’t been able to get to the bees all summer. It’s a jungle and the path I usually use was impassable so I had to find another way, wading through brambles, nettles etc. I managed ok when collecting the supers but this morning I tripped over and landed in a ditch, getting soaked and stung by nettles, which hurt more than bee stings!

I was pleased to see that a bait hive that I had left there was occupied, although the bees were a bit stroppy, possibly because of the wasps that were raiding. They didn’t have enough surplus stores to take any but the original hive yielded 4 supers, one of which was full of wild comb at all the wrong angles.  This was used for cut comb and I took it with me this morning to show to the management team at the holiday camp.

Last year they bought all the honey from the site and put their own labels on it. They still have some so I doubt if they will do the same this year.  They were impressed by the cut comb and bought 5 straight away.

I was asked to dress up in a bee suit and be photographed with the team and with the honey.  The plan  is to gain publicity as they get ‘greenie points’ for having wild flowers and for being kind to bees.  It is just possible, if the technology can be mastered, that they might post the pictures here.

Soon after I got home the phone rang and it was a nearby farmer’s wife who runs a B & B in their extensive farmhouse.  She has visitors and would like to have some of my honey to sell them.  I was able to sell her some of the liquid honey from Preston which we hastily jarred and some cut combs from Seaborough.

The day was finished off at dusk when the supers were returned to Seaborough where the hives are in an orchard opposite the owner’s ancient house.  There was no answer at the door so a present/rent of a jar of honey from those bees and a large chunk of comb (in a plastic box!) was left on the doorstep and a text message sent.

I shall take a day off from honey processing tomorrow as there is a DARG meeting at the Newton Abbott apiary where it is planned to spend a few hours gazing through microscopes at the spermathecae of dead queens.

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Yesterday I had a phone call about bees from the gardener at Chantmarle Manor about 5 miles up the road from me.  Last time I had a call from there, it was in 1992 when the Head Gardener at the time told me there was a swarm from the bees in the Manor chimney and that, by banging on a sheet of galvanised iron he had managed to get them to come down to land in an apple tree in the kitchen garden.  I mentioned this to the late John Atkinson at the National Honey Show soon afterwards and he told me that he used to live nearby and that there had always been bees in the chimneys there until he left to do his National Service in 1948.

I first visited the Manor half a century ago when I had a red-headed girl friend living there, Wendy Mills.  I wasn’t into bees at the time and was more interested in the newts in the moat and her Mum’s strawberries!

This time the gardener, Hayley, showed me a colony of bees in a fruit tree. They had been there for some time as they had plenty of comb drawn, complete with stores and brood.  Some windy weather had dislodged them and some of the combs had fallen to the ground where they’d been badgered, but there were still a couple of large combs up in the tree, just within reach, covered with lots of bees.

Having done the recce, we returned to the car and got Hayley clad in a ‘spaceman’ bee suit.  She had fetched a pair of garden loppers to help make the colony more accessible.  I’m still hobbling a bit from my broken leg and was glad that my friend, Ann, had also come along to help.

With team work we transferred the two large combs, complete with bees, to a nucleus box. Hayley fetched a wheelie bin to sit it on so it was just below where the colony had been. She also lopped off the branch where they had been clustered as bees kept returning to it. I showed her bees fanning and displaying their Nasenov glands at the entrance of the nuc, indicating that the queen was within.

We went back to the house and Hayley pointed out bees flying from beneath the roof of a more modern part of the complex of buildings that may be demolished before too long, now that the Manor has reverted to being a private house after spells as a college and as a hotel. She asked if I would be willing to try to remove the bees if necessary and I assented.  I did hint that she might like to take up beekeeping. She didn’t leap at the chance but said she’d be happy for me to keep bees in the grounds, which I’d like to do as it’s a lovely place to visit and the nearby agriculture isn’t too industrial.

I pointed out to Hayley that Chantmarle is on the ley line of feral colonies, mainly in churches, running between Evershot Church, where the colony is in a gargoyle, to Upwey, where they are in the tower.

We left the bees to settle down for some hours, returning at sunset when nearly all the flying had ceased, and I blocked the entrance with a piece of sponge and strapped up the elderly nuc, which has a tendency to fall apart as it is several decades since I made it. We took them to their new home, not too far from mine, strapping them to a milk crate and removing the sponge at the entrance.

This afternoon we gingerly removed the combs from the nucleus and tied them into National brood frames placed in the centre of the nuc with a frame with starter strip on each side. They were remarkably docile.  They were uniformly dark bees which suggests that it might be worth taking a closer look at wing veins etc to see whether they are likely to  be natives.

I don’t normally feed my bees but, as these have lost lots of their stores and comb, I shall make an exception and give them syrup for a while, although there should be plenty of ivy etc to forage on.  I saw elsewhere today a bank of dandelions such as you’d normally see in spring.Times and weather are strange.




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This evening I attended the Southern Dorset Local Action Group Autumn Forum at Wareham. The function of the LAG is to allocate getting on for £500,000 worth of EU funding for local rural development projects that tick the right boxes. I was pleased to be re-elected to the Executive, which makes the decisions (usually following the recommendations of the admin team from Dorset County Council, the Accountable Body).

We received brief presentations from Outline Applicants with whom we could then have an informal chat around the table.

The first was from a chap who wants to diversify his business by setting up a wood fuel supply project, starting with his family farm’s woodland but spreading over a wider area over time. I told him of DEFRA’s current investigation into the future of forestry and woodland (closing date for comments 18th October) of which I am aware through membership of the Local Access Forum (it can be confusing being a member of both the LAG and the LAF!).

The next presentation was by Fiona Hunt who wants to set up a soap making business using natural products and is seeking funding to construct a workshop  and purchase equipment.  I piped up and declared my interest as a beekeeper and potential supplier of wax for soap making.  I also mentioned Sara Robb’s workshop on soap making at the National Honey Show.  As we were about to leave at the end of the meeting, Fiona asked for my contact details so we could go into this in more depth, so I gave her my card.

The third presentation was by James Gregory who helps run a charity called Young Dorset and wants to develop opportunities for young people at a new care farm.  Having heard that I’m  beekeeper, he told me that there are a couple of hives on the site already and he’d like to expand the numbers and get the youngsters involved. I suggested that he get in touch with local BKA and we exchanged cards so I hope that there may be some mutual benefit for the youngsters and for the BKA.

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A week or so ago I went with my apprentice, Rosie, to the apiary we share near her studio, principally to set up a wasp trap as she was concerned that the hives were under attack.  I showed her how to make a trap from a plastic lemonade bottle by cutting off the top just where it joins the main cylinder and then, with the screw top removed, inverting the cut off section and inserting it in the main part of the bottle, which is baited with lemonade/cider/jam (not honey!).

I was hobbling with my stick but managed ok.  We looked at Rosie’s hive first and, as I recall, it looked healthy enough but not very strong.  Then we looked at mine and I found that lifting the empty super, then twisting to lower it onto the upturned roof made me yelp as the leg didn’t like that manoeuvre.

They had masses of stores in the brood box but only a couple of frames of brood, much of which appeared to be drone brood. I saw the queen and a small patch of eggs and young larvae in worker cells so I assumed all was well and, being careful with the leg, closed up the hive.

It then occurred to me that I ought to wait until the brood I had seen was capped and check whether the cappings were normal for workers or humpy as drones.  I went back yesterday to check and my fears were confirmed – the queen’s a drone layer.

I’m now wondering what to do with all the stores.  Lots of people are asking me for honey but I’m not up to carrying that weight down an awkward slope.  Some could go to top up Rosie’s hive’s stores.  When I get fitter I suppose I could take a few frames at a time to add, where needed, to my own hives elsewhere.

The wasp traps are working well. Additionally I had eased slightly open the tray under the Varroa trap I had made for Rosie’s hive and found, as intended, a couple of wasps wasting their time under the mesh floor.

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Apart from our host, Allen, who manages the Newton Abbott apiary where we met in their off-grid club house, there were only 4 of us (from 3 counties) in attendance today, which is the least that anyone could remember.  We didn’t discover why we were so thin on the ground; we usually have a multiple of that amount.

I was the youngest member present and we really need some younger blood with an eye on the future, so if you’re under 80 and enjoy bee-talk and play/learning, please come along. According to my diary, our next meeting is also at the Newton Abbott apiary on 9th October, but check our web site by googling Devon Apicultural Research Group.

Richard Ball had brought along a ‘bee gym’ a device that sits on the floor of a hive and enables bees, by squeezing between a couple of taut fishing lines, to scrape Varroa mites off their bodies.  Richard had compared hives with and without the gym and was able to show by a graph of the mite drop that it enables the colony to reduce their mite load.  The position of the mites on the tray below the mesh floor showed a concentration beneath the gym.

The main thing we played at today was extracting pollen from honey for microscopic analysis, with Glyn Davies taking the lead. His method was to take a teaspoon of honey (I don’t know what that is in metric), place it in a tube with 150cc of water and hand it to Allen to give a good shake to dissolve it.

In the meantime, Glyn set up his apparatus of a cylindrical container with a narrow tube and tap at the bottom. Then came a tiny funnel directing the dissolved honey into a 150cc whisky bottle. In the funnel was placed a filter paper to retain the pollen.  The fluid was poured into the top and allowed gently to drop through the filter and funnel.

Ken Edwards from Somerset had brought along a centrifuge he had bought on Ebay so we tried that as well.  Glyn’s method was more successful. The filter paper was removed from the funnel, gently folded and the piece assumed to have most pollen was dabbed onto a spot of pink jelly that had been melted by placing the glass slide, on which it sat, on a cup warmer (also from Ebay I think). A warmed cover slip was placed on top of the gel, pressed down and allowed to cool.

It was then placed under the microscope and Glyn found the pollen grains and focussed so we could all have a look. Richard took some photographs which may appear on our web site before too long.

After a stroll around the apiary we packed up so I shall have to leave until next time the stuff I had brought along relating to feral colonies, an item on the agenda to which we didn’t get around.

As an update on our on-going project of examining the spermathecae of queens (photos on the web site) we will soon be getting some healthy queens so we shall be able to compare their spermathecae with those of the failing queens and drone layers that we have already.


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Today I opened hives by myself for the first time in three months!  I have been incapacitated with a broken leg.  The plaster is off now and I am able to  drive, but it is still painful and keeps swelling.  I walk with a stick to keep weight off it as much as possible.

I daren’t risk opening National hives, lifting heavy supers and twisting around to lower them to beside the hive.  Fortunately I have a couple of top bar hives which I can open easily as the top bars are at about waist height.

The first one is at Ourganics, a permacultural holding at Litton Cheney.  It is of my preferred  design: a half cylinder with the top bars forming the diameter of 17″ to allow bars to be transferred to National equipment, for example  to make a nucleus.  The entrance is at the southern end and is the shape of  a smiling mouth.

Bees were flying well and bringing  in lots of orange pollen. I gave the entrance a spray of liquid smoke then struggled to zip up the veil of my tunic.  I didn’t manage it and so was at risk, but carried on anyway.

It appears as if the brood nest had once extended to approaching 20 bars as the comb had stores at the top but with a vacant oval section beneath, but the brood nest must now be reducing as the first brood I found was 10 bars back.  It looked  healthy enough so I didn’t examine more than a few.

I got my first bee sting for months!  I had been a little worried as I was stung by wasps a few days ago and am still swollen.  This is one of the unwanted side effects of having to put your contact details on honey jars!  Fortunately the bee’s sting caused no reaction and within minutes I had forgotten on which finger I’d  been stung.

The other tbh is in a cider  orchard at Berwick Manor, a couple of miles up the road.  I was given this one and it is the trapezoidal shape which makes the combs larger, heavier and more awkward. Not as many bars were drawn and occupied as in the first hive but the brood looked healthy and I saw the queen, whom I had marked last time.

This hive too had lots of orange pollen going in.  I don’t know what it is and I didn’t notice  any obvious sources nearby.


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