ASIAN HORNET ACTION!

Everybody should have a hornet trap in their garden to monitor.  I have one that I made.  It isn’t too difficult but it’s a bit fiddly and I was lucky to have a little spare metal mesh.  Although the plans are available on-line I very much doubt whether more than a few dozen are in use throughout the country and most of them will be associated with DARG members and their friends.  There is one that can be purchased from the bee appliance suppliers but, at about a fiver, it’s a lot of money for something that probably cost a few pence in materials and assembly abroad.

Here’s my idea:  the Government in the shape of NNSS (Non Native Species Secretariat) and the NBU put in a bulk order direct to the manufacturers for about 25,000.  They should get a really good price for an order like that!

Then get the BBKA, via their branches, to deliver them to all their members free of charge, together with instructions as to use and bait.

The cost will be a mere hiccup in the NBU budget and, by getting all the traps distributed around the country, will greatly improve the chances of finding and eliminating the Asian hornets in their early stages, before they get established.  This investment, if made NOW could save a great deal of money and trouble later.

If you like this idea, please pass it around.

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ASIAN HORNETS ARE HERE!

Well, they’ve not been found so far this year as the queens are still dormant, tucked away in a plant pot in the nearby garden centre, or in a caravan that was brought back from France last Autumn.  In about a month they’ll come out of hibernation and start to build their nests, which nobody will notice until too late unless WE get organised.

A couple of days ago, foolishly as I was short of sleep because of the lurgy, I drove 80 miles to Harberton in darkest Devon to a gathering of 200 beekeepers who were there to hear of the experience of Martyn Hocking who, last Autumn, had spotted an Asian hornet.

We learnt that the National Non-Native Species Secretariat (NNSS), the responsible body, refused to take any action until Martyn had provided positive evidence of the accuracy of his observation. Martyn, who was then recovering from an operation, got no help from his local BKA; the weather wasn’t helpful and every time he tried to take a photo the hornet moved out of focus.  Consequently it was quite a while before he was able to provide the required evidence.

When convinced, the NNSS passed the buck rapidly to the National Bee Unit (NBU) who quickly gathered the local Bee Inspectors to track down the colony and kill it, fortunately before they had sent out a new crop of queens.  It is understandable that the NBU doesn’t react instantly to every report as there were 2600 in 2016 and 4500 in 2017!

Reacting to this, the local BKA has set up a system (yet to be tested) for dealing efficiently and effectively with hornets that appear in their patch this year; but what about the rest of the country?

Despite knowledge of the Devon hornet incursion, there was no mention of the invasive Asian hornet at the recent BBKA Annual Delegates’ Meeting.  There has been some recent internal strife and they appear to be concentrating their attention on their own naval rather on the needs of their members and their bees!

There are about 24,000 members of the BBKA, all of whom are potential spotters, plotters and swatters of the Asian hornet but, to be effective, we need training, teaming and coordinating and we need it QUICKLY!

Probably the local branches will need to be involved, but they’re all different, some being better organised and with more members than others and Murphy’s Law will ensure that a hornet queen will be lurking then working in the area of the least organised local BKA!

Therefore the BBKA, who have the resources and information, should rapidly take the lead in ensuring that the whole country has teams of trained hornet hunters ready to be vigilant and act in their own areas and to help their neighbours. Scotland and Wales should, of course, share the work and information.

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A DARG DAY AT BUCKFAST

Today’s meeting of DARG, the Devon Apicultural Research Group, was at the Buckfast Abbey bee shed. There were 15 of us, more than usual so things are looking up, but I reckon that I’m in the youngest third so we could do with some fresh haemolymph.  The first thing we did was to grant honorary membership to Bob Ogden who, in his 80s, has given up the Treasurership and emigrated to Lancashire.  8 of us were follically challenged, 6 bearded and 3 (not bearded!) were ladies.

We were asked to complete forms required by the Data Protection Act, which I don’t really understand.  We have 18 paid-up members + 4 here today, hopefully with money in their pockets.  We have a reasonable pot of money in the bank that might help finance more research.

We were told that a chemical has been invented/developed that mimics the Asian Hornet queen pheromone, which is very effective at attracting hornet drones into traps which might reduce the chance of hornet queens getting mated effectively.  There’s a link about it on the DARGbee website.

For the past few years we have been concentrating on drone laying queens and the hypothesis that their disrupted spermathecae were the problem and caused by a virus.  No correlation was found after testing/scanning the samples we had.  Ged Marshall, a bee farmer, had donated some ageing healthy bees and they also had disrupted spermathecae so it seems as if that symptom is age related and not connected with a virus.  So, after all our efforts, the answer is: don’t know.  We have yet to consider whether we’ll pursue the question further in a different direction.

The main subject of the day was our hostess, Clare Densley’s research into chronic bee paralysis virus (CBPV). With the advice and assistance from Declan Schroeder, Clare had monitored 6 hives from 2 apiaries. The hives were kept isolated and, so as not to transfer virus between them, different suits were worn etc. when working them.

Besides CBPV, about 5 different strains of virus were found.  All Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) was Type B,  except one having types A and B.  At the end of the season no virus was to be found.   No deformed wings were seen although some colonies had lots of Varroa.

CBPV is becoming much more common, particularly among bee farmers (not them but their bees!) and is very contagious between colonies.  The main transmission route is via damaged exo-skeletons/ hairs caused by overcrowding within the hive.  The answer is to give them plenty of room and to remove the dead bees.

Clare has produced a 7 page handout going into much more detail than I have summarised and it will soon be available on the DARGbee website.

Clare is the successor to Brother Adam who developed the famous/notorious (depending whether or not you are a fan or vendor) hybrid bee named after the Abbey, but she doesn’t use them, preferring local mongrels.  We had a peep at an observation hive tucked away under a blanket and, while the great majority of the bees were black, I could see a few yellow striped ones.

Besides being a skilled beekeeper, Clare is also good in the kitchen!  She had plates of cake for us to chomp while were chatting and her banana bread was far too close to me!  As a result I haven’t bothered to eat a dinner this evening.

 

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Patterson pattering on.

West Dorset BKA, in combination with East Devon, arranged for Roger Patterson and Nell to come across and give a lecture on wintering bees.  He’s usually quite entertaining so I gave the Dorchester & Weymouth BKA’s social evening a miss and drove across to Whitchurch Canonicorum in the fog, relying on my gps to get me close to the Village Hall.  It took longer than anticipated, partly caused by following a gritter for several miles, so I was about 7 minutes late and parked in the only space available, blocking the entrance to the car park.

The talk had already started so I snuck in round the back of the audience and found a vacant seat in the front row.  Roger spotted me and jokingly offered to start again.  Nell (his collie) was recumbent. He was using Powerpoint so the lights were out and I was unable to take notes.

Roger strode up to me at one point and accused me of being asleep! I wasn’t!  Really!  I may just have been nodding in agreement with what he was saying.  Roger probably knows very well my frequently expressed views about Powerpoint, especially that when the lights go down, so do the eyelids.  It’s a very good tool for getting your ideas in order and succinctly expressed but very poor in transmitting them to the audience.

As a result, I can’t give you a decent report of the content of the talk, save that it went down well and Nell romped at the end.  Back in my working days when I was expected to give Powerpoint presentations I would give out paper handouts of the script, with blank space for people to make their own notes, and keep the lights on except for brief periods when it was necessary to show a photograph. It worked!

At the end of the talk there was coffee and cake and sandwiches and crisps and more cake.  I didn’t stay long though so as not to hold up the traffic wanting to leave.

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BEE CHAT AT THE DOCTOR’S

This morning I had to spend some time de-icing the car before driving cautiously along a potentially slippery road over the steep hill to a nearby village, Toller Porcorum.  There I found the right address and helped a little old lady, Pat, into my car, putting her walking trolley in the back, then drove her to the Surgery at Maiden Newton, around the corner from my home.  This job is as a volunteer for the local Country Cars scheme which takes people without transport to the doctor, dentist, hospital, optician etc. I used it myself last year when I had a broken leg.

I helped Pat into the Surgery and then selected a seat for myself on the sunny side of the waiting room.  I picked up the new year’s edition of the Dorset magazine and, skimming through it, was amazed at how many people mentioned in it I know!

Then a lady I know, Miranda, came in and sat close by.  I asked why she bothered to come here when she has a doctor (her husband) at home.  She asked how my bees were doing and told me that her husband, Max’s, hive was doing well.

I asked her about the bees in the attic of their mansion (formerly the Manor House until the Lord of the Manor moved to another one a mile away).  They’re still going strong and have been in continuous occupation ever since they first moved there 30 years ago.  I seem vaguely to recall shinning up a ladder to look at them in the previous owner’s time, persuading him that they were best left alone.

I told Miranda about the bees that lived above the kitchen ceiling of my late friend, Jean’s, bungalow up on Rampisham Down for over 25 years until recently removed at the request of the new owner.  It’s good to know that, despite Varroa etc, bees left alone can survive without treatment for so long.

While we were talking Pat came back from her visit to the doctor but had to sit around for a while until a blood test could be taken.  Eventually, after about an hour we got away and I drove her home (pausing to visit the shop for her).

She had been eavesdropping on my conversation with Miranda and told me that she, too, has bees in her house!  She doesn’t know what kind they are but there are lots of them every summer.  Their entrance is just round the corner from her front door but, as she can’t walk safely on grass, she doesn’t know exactly where.  When we got there I took a peep but could see no evidence. There is a bulge with a sheet of lead over it that may be something to do with a chimney.  I asked Pat to give me a call when the bees appear again so I can satisfy my curiosity.

 

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IT’S OXALIC TIME

A few weeks ago I bought a couple of aquarium thermometers. On the 9th December I put the sensor of one of them in a hive close to home, thrusting it an inch or so down between the top bars of the brood box where the cluster seemed densest.  The temperature display is on a small screen which I tucked away in a mini-nuc box on top of the hive to protect it from the weather.

I checked the temperature at 5pm on a cold, almost freezing, evening and it was 79.7 degrees Fahrenheit so there was probably some brood below.  That suggested that I shouldn’t apply oxalic then as many of the mites would be protected within cells.

After a cold spell, the temperature reduced and was down to 56.7 on the 20th December in the morning but later in the day was up to the 70s again suggesting that, although there may have been a brief break, they were brood rearing again and it was therefore time to apply oxalic.  I have a screen and tray under another hive nearby and it was averaging a drop of 2 mites a day.

I made up some oxalic solution using the recipe on Dave Cushman’s website: 1 part by weight of oxalic acid crystals; 10 parts by weight of water and 10 parts by weight of sugar, making 420 grammes in total.

Since then I have been gradually doing a round of my scattered hives, dosing them with about 5cc per seam.  The weather has been warmer than ideal so the bees weren’t clustered and I had to guess how many seams to inject.  I got a couple of stings from one of the hives, my first for months, but there was no reaction.  I always try to get a sting or two during the winter to keep my immunity up.

I checked the tray of the nearby hive on the 23rd December just before applying the oxalic and there had been no mites since I last looked 2 days earlier. Yesterday, Christmas Eve, roughly 24 hours after the application, there were 9 mites.  Today there were 46!  I swept them into my handkerchief to bring home and examine under a microscope.

I still have a few hives to treat so I must get on with it as soon as this wet and windy weather permits.

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THIRTY YEARS ON!

At a BKA social gathering a few days ago I was given a copy of Bee Craft from November 1987 with an article from me flagged!  Here’s what I wrote then:

Removal of a Colony from a house. Mr Odell from Nepal asks in the September issue where he went wrong when he failed to extract a colony from the wall of a house. Mr Dick Legg of Weymouth has become quite famous locally for his skill in achieving this difficult feat. He uses several items of equipment he has invented himself based mainly upon plastic guttering and drainpipes to make a bee-tight seal between the entrance to the colony and an adjacent empty hive.

The new brood box and entrance. The bees are given a week or two to get used to using the brood box as an entrance to their colony and in the meantime, another colony is moved conveniently near. On a day when the bees are flying freely a couple of Porter escapes are placed between the colony and the empty brood box so that bees can leave the colony in the wall but not return to it. At the same time a frame or two of brood without eggs or young larvae from the nearby hive are placed in the brood box. More are added from time to time over the next few weeks until the queen has left the wall and started laying in the brood box.

Cut off from the outside world. The theory is that when the colony in the wall is cut off from the outside world by the Porter escapes, the queen stops laying very soon because of the lack of income, especially of water. The bees will not, however, leave the brood until it has all emerged.  At that stage the queen will leave her, now empty, brood nest and enter the brood box outside, attracted by the brood pheromone and soon starts to lay again.

The bee escapes are then replaced by a piece of queen excluder so that bees can return to the wall to retrieve the remaining stores.  The colony can then be removed to an apiary when convenient and the hole in the wall sealed up. Mr Legg has occasionally had to return to take a second colony from the same cavity because a swarm entered there before the hole was sealed.

The answer to Mr Odell’s problem is, in a word, brood.

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