At Thomas Hardye’s School on Monday, the Lecture Theatre was packed for a lecture by Professor Dave Goulson of Sussex University on Bumblebees.  As usual, Dave gave a very good lecture, despite using Powerpoint, active and interesting.

He did mention honeybees briefly at the start, also solitary bees such as masonry bees and leaf cutters but concentrated on bumbles.  He described how his students had used specially trained dogs to find bumble bee nests with not too much success, the student eventually being better than the dogs!  In the question session at the end I mentioned Prof. Jerry Bromenshenk’s method of training honeybees to find mines, or drugs and suggested that Dave trains honeybees to find bumblebee nests.

When bumblebee nests were found, they were monitored by web cameras and we were shown a film of a great tit nabbing the bees.  Different birds have different methods some take the head off the bee and eat the contents of the thorax while others refer to devour the abdomen.

Bumbles are under threat because of industrial agriculture/monoculture and the use of insecticide and we were recommended to do what we could by growing bee-friendly plants in our own gardens and also encouraging larger landowners such as local  councils to do the same.

Dave kept us entertained for over an hour and afterwards sold a lot of his books to us.

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There was a meeting of DARG, the Devon Apicultural Research Group today. We came, not just from Devon, but also Dorset, Somerset and Cambridge so, if you’re interested, don’t be put off coming to join us just because you aren’t in Devon.  We did have a new person, John, today and he, like the rest of us (10), was blue or green eyed as I’ve noted before.

Winter must be on its way as the wood burning stove was lit for us in Newton Abbott BKA’s off-grid establishment in a field near a quarry in Clay Lane.

As usual, there was random bee-chatter before the main subject: observations at the hive entrance.  Richard Ball said that there was a starvation warning from the National Bee Unit. Yields of honey are generally about 25% of what’s considered normal and several people had experienced losses in queen rearing or observation hives.

There was concern about the vast number of packages of bees, 1,500, imported from Italy where Small Hive Beetle is rife, and only about half of them had been properly inspected.  That led on to the lack of action by the BBKA which, opinion has it, is poorly managed and ineffective nowadays.  Their ‘Technical Committee’ has only one member! It is possible (although maybe not very likely) that there may be a  motion or two at the next Annual Delegates’ Meeting seeking to ameliorate the situation.

It was also mentioned that the SWCJCC (South West Counties Joint Consultative Committee) has far less influence than it used to and that their most recent meeting spent far more time discussing tweaks to their constitution than beekeeping.

There are problems with Chronic Paralysis Virus near Buckfast in Devon and also North Somerset and this may perhaps be associated with imports from Greece. Deformed Wing Virus has three non-lethal strains and one lethal one so possibly a form of innoculation could be devised.

Eventually we got onto the subject of the hive entrance.  Apparently Bristol University has been using web-cams in front of hives. Does anybody know whether the film is available on-line?

Chris Utting, who is a BBKA Examiner, commented that most exam candidates don’t look at what’s happening at the entrance before opening the hive.  Someone mentioned that bees at the entrance, before they take to the air, pause to clean their antennae with their fore limbs. Why do they do this?  Is it like polishing your spectacles as you leave the house? Does it clear away the in-hive scents and pheromones, making the bees more sensitive to the problems and opportunities outside?  One more thing we don’t know!

There was talk about using modern technology not only to count the number of bees leaving and entering the hive, but also their gender (drones going out/returning from mating flights), timing, and the proportion of workers with pollen loads.

Somebody mentioned all the debris thrown out of hives, which is very noticeable if you keep your hives on a concrete area. That gave me the idea that I should use my currently unused seed trays by placing them in front of hive entrances to see what they collect. It might be better, visually, to have a sheet of white plastic material lining the trays, but the rainy (rainier) season is upon us and it would block the drain holes.  I shall have to experiment.

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The second lecture on Tuesday morning was Dr Ralph Buchler on Selection for Varroa Resistance. It was good and interesting but I was nodding a bit at times as a consequence of poor sleep.

My notes tell me that Varroa evolved with Apis cerana, a species very similar to our bees, Apis mellifera.  They deal with it by nestmate grooming and by uncapping pupae and removing mites and pupae, seasonal production of drone brood, entombment of parasitised drone cells, swarming and absconding.

10 populations worldwide are resistant to Varroa including Gotland in Sweden and Avignon in France.

Varroa reproduction can be suppressed or reduced by hive population dynamics eg swarming and brood breaks.  Grooming helps too.

Mite reproduction is affected by: the attractiveness of brood via kairomones, uncapping and removal of infested brood, uncapping and then recapping, duration of post-capping period, brood nest humidity and temperature.

Virus resistance/immunity. Locally adapted brood cycle – weather, climate, crops. Better honey producers are also better mite producers. Grooming. Hygienic behaviour, which can be tested by the ‘pin test’, ie pricking with a pin a patch of 50 sealed brood cells, replacing the frame back in the brood box and taking a look next day to count how many of the pricked cells have been emptied by their hygienic sisters.

Summary: Varroa resistance is a realistic goal. We know some relevant traits. Genetic markers are coming soon. Beekeepers must cooperate.

At question time I asked about colony density in view of Tom Seeley’s observation that well dispersed hives can cope with Varroa but as soon as they are congregated in one apiary they succumb.  I was told that this will be covered in the afternoon lecture.

Time for lunch. I had potato soup followed by an inch thick beefburger with chips, green beans, mashed potato and onions. Then we had to assemble outside on the steps for the group photograph. I had difficulty in seeing the camera and so had to stand on a seat at the back.

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GORMANSTON 2017 – Part 10

The first lecture after breakfast was Ben Harden on AFB- The Background to Hygienic Behaviour.  It was informative and useful and I took notes, some of which I can read to produce this summary.  If you’re reading this, Ben, please correct my mistakes. For the benefit of readers in the UK, Eire doesn’t have the same legislation and Bee Inspectors as we do.

Ben started off with a picture of the ropiness test, which I recently used in one of my hives as you’ll have read.  He showed pictures of brown, sunken, cappings with another of healthy sealed brood for  comparison.  I have the following bullet points about AFB: Respect it; Understand it; it smells of hoof and horn wood glue (who knows what that smells like nowadays?) ; in the late 1920s/30s a wax renderer in the USA produced AFB tolerant bees.

AFB and bees have a long association, so to co-exist there has to be a balance.  AFB probably increased because of modern beekeeping methods.  It reproduces through spores. Each diseased pupa has 2,500,000,000 spores: it took Ben all day to count them! The bee’s proventriculus can filter out AFB spores as it does pollen grains etc.

Sources of infection may include swarms, drifting bees from infected colonies, NOT foundation as the melted wax entraps the spores, robbing of spore carrying honey from other hives or from unwashed honey jars, beekeepers moving frames etc.

Options: Do nothing and let the bees die.  Send a sample for diagnosis. Eliminate and destroy.  Ignore and do a ‘shook swarm’. Treat with antibiotics to mask the symptoms.

Coffee break.


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Kevin Pope, the Seasonal Bee Inspector rang me this morning to confirm that I was correct in suspecting American Foul Brood in the hive at Bovington.  I asked him where he thought it came from as there are no other cases recorded in the area.  He said that the most likely source was an unwashed honey jar!  Apparently  94% of imported honey contains AFB spores!

My friend at Bovington will close them up and destroy the bees with petrol this evening and Kevin will burn the contents and scorch the woodwork next week.  I hope I can be there but the diary is crowded as usual.  Then will be some prolonged diary matching with Kevin as he is now duty bound to inspect the rest of my hives on 14 more sites.  I suspect we won’t complete it this year!

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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!



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GORMANSTON 2017 – Part 9

Down to the lecture theatre for the last lecture of the day, Monday: the Deasy Memorial talk, John Breen on the History of Irish Beekeeping.

It was an interesting talk, starting with the question of whether or not there had ever been a land bridge between England/Wales and Ireland across which bees could have passed unaided.  The conclusion was that bees had probably been imported.  There were photos of bee boles, including some indoors and it was suggested that skeps were wintered indoors in the dark.  Strangely, since I’ve been back, there has been news of an archaeological discovery in London of some Tudor cellars with what is assumed to be bee boles for wintering.

John read us some excerpts from ancient books about bees, which were interesting but I didn’t take notes.

After the lecture I walked to the Huntsman and had a pint of Guinness, unfortunately from the fridge.  I was hoping to catch up with emails but couldn’t get a signal. I went back to the College and had a whisky and water in the Refectory and did my computer stuff there. I was in bed by 11 but didn’t get to sleep until after the others had got to bed, the upper and lower bunks by the window, after 1am.  I didn’t sleep too well then but woke at 6 and got up at 6.30.

By 7.15 I was out walking down the road opposite the main gate and then down to the beach next to the Delvin estuary. The tide was out so there was a good firm surface of damp sand to walk on. It was clear so I could see lots of ships out at sea, mainly in the north east. Mistakenly, I turned off the beach too soon and walked up the road past the station. Then I got to the main road and had to walk about a mile to the Huntsman.  I saw a 101 bus stop at the shelter opposite the pub but there was no timetable.

I got in the queue for breakfast at 8.15.  Having worked up an appetite, I had porage, to which I added a little muesli, All Bran and yoghourt, followed by two slices of toast, one with jam and the other with honey

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