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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


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.


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


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.


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

GORMANSTON 2016 – part 14

The next lecture on Wednesday morning was Jamie Ellis: Addressing the Sustainability of Beekeeping in the 21st Century.

First he ran over what he does in his laboratory. He pointed out that pollination is more important than honey production in the USA. 10 – 20% of the World’s food supply is dependant on honeybees (but this might not apply in Ireland!). 175 dollars per colony is paid to the beekeeper for almond pollination!

‘Colony Collapse’ happened in 2006 allegedly, but the graph Jamie showed illustrated that annual losses have been going down since 1945, although they are rising now. Since Varroa arrived, net loss rates have halved. Since CCD in 2006 there has been a net gain of 1.75% per annum. Reasons for colony loss are poor queens, starvation, mites, ‘CCD’ and weather.

Varroa are now thought possibly to feed on the fat bodies rather then the haemolymph of bees. Apivar is the most effective treatment, but some mites are resistant to all treatments. Lots of mites carry EFB and also Nosema cerana.

In S.Africa, the local strains of AM Scutellata and AM Capensis interact with the Small Hive Beetle and contain it. There is a video of this that can be seen at

Data sources: those experiencing problems with their bees provide the data! The commercial beekeepers who transport masses of colonies seem to have no impact on the data.

Then it was time for lunch: soup; chicken, chips and sweet corn.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

GORMANSTON 2016 – part 13

The first Senior lecture of the day, Wednesday, was by Keith Pierce on ‘From Egg to Incubator to Laying Queen’.  There were computer/projector problems so the lecture didn’t start until 20 minutes late. There were spelling and apostrophe problems too!

My notes say that you must have mature drones before starting queen rearing so don’t graft until the second week in May. Put drone comb in at dandelion time. Pollen must be coming in for royal jelly production.

An incubator costs 125 euros, or you could use a chicken incubator. Virgin queens need food straight away. There is a queen rearing calendar available on-line at

Before you introduce a queen, destroy all queen cells. The queen starts laying 12-20 days after emerging. Orientation flights occur from days 4-6 up to day 12.

Apideas: don’t put them too close together to avoid drifting. Keep them in a sheltered area with dappled shade.

Workers recognise when queens aren’t well mated and will try to replace them in a few weeks. Mark the queen using a queen marking cage. Use a test frame to check that a colony really is queenless.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

GORMANSTON 2016 – part 12

After dinner, it was time for the Honey Show prize giving and queen-right supersedure as Maraid relinquished her sash which then adorned the new queen, Colette O’Connell. Most of the prizes went to the usual suspects and I didn’t keep notes, but I think Ettamarie may have won a prize for her photo of an open air colony and Lorraine for her encaustic art.

Afterwards, when I was sat alone in the dining room with my tablet computer trying to catch up with Facebook and e-mail with a dodgy signal, the Wise Woman came up to me and offered a lift to the Huntsman!

I accepted eagerly and had a pint of Guinness off the shelf and we had a good natter. She, Catherine Caulwell, teaches at an organic college and was the Honey Queen before Maraid, which must be why I knew her face.  I asked her to send me the recipe for comfrey ointment etc.

The pub got rather noisy as an impromptu band, in which I recognised several of our choristers, was playing and singing songs of the 70s and I joined in.

We left at about 11ish and I went to bed, setting the alarm for 6.15, but I didn’t need it as I was awakened by the light. Together with Molly, I was first at the Chapel and we negotiated the spiral steps to the Quire. The service went well, thanks to Mary and Lorriane leading us. Molly beat me in the race back to the Refectory for breakfast.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment