Today the Devon Apicultural Research Group met at Newton Abbot BKA’s apiary in their lovely off-grid shed heated by a log fire and electrified by solar panels and battery.  I made a brief diversion en route to call in at Trago Mills to do a bit of shopping and thought I’d arrive late but I was only the fourth there.  Numbers gradually swelled to thirteen.

Business came first in which our Treasurer, Chris Utting assured us that we’re solvent with a moderate pot in the bank.

Then Chairman, Richard Ball, asked me to read a mail from the Bee-List about a newly discovered honeybee sub species: Apis Mellifera sinisxinyuan (try saying that out loud!).  It’s found in the colder regions of China and is closely related to our own Apis Mellifera mellifera but is smaller, darker and has longer hair.  It overwinters in small clusters but builds up rapidly in spring and is very productive of honey.

Richard then asked  if we had any new projects to start.  I mentioned Victoria Buswell’s hive monitoring project for her PhD at Plymouth University, in which I assume we’re all participating.

Richard then plumbed in his computer and projector and dropped the screen to show us a series of graphs of his weather recording since 1999, the daily rainfall and maximum and minimum temperatures compared with mite drops.  I’ve been measuring rainfall daily since 2000 but am not clever enough to put it on my computer so it’s a graph on my kitchen wall.  Maybe I should let Richard have a photocopy so he can compare and contrast.

Next the discussion was about unusual or wacky methods of Varroa control. First was the rhubarb leaf placed over the brood box.  Richard showed a photo of the fresh leaf in position and then the Varroa floor after the bees had shredded it. There was so much debris on the floor that it was impossible accurately to count the mites directly but, as they are less dense than the leaf litter, Richard was able to immerse all the debris in a fluid and the mites floated to the top. There were no more than usual.

Other odd things that were mentioned were kettle de-scaler, patio cleaner, ultra sound (1,500 Hz at 90 decibels), the Bee Gym, icing sugar, talcum powder, lactic acid, thymol, heat and mini-mites that feed on Varroa.

Then came distribution of Suterra, the bait for Asian hornet traps, queens of which are likely to be around now.

Finally, Glyn Davies handed out small tomato plants as he has grown far too many, so now I have a couple in my greenhouse.


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While I was away on holiday I received an email from a friend, Ken, asking for help for a lady in his village who has found 2 hives in the jungle at the end of her garden and she wanted to be rid of them.  One had bees in it.

I already have a bait hive in Ken’s  garden at Hazelbury Bryan as he’s interested in bees.  As the site of these hives is less than a mile from his house I explained that it would be unwise to move the hive with bees there because of the ‘less than 2 feet or more than 2 miles’ rule, so he would have the empty hive that we can possibly stock this year while I would take the other.

As you will have read in my ‘Potato Day’ blog a few weeks ago, my friend, Penny, wants a hive in her garden, so this was the chosen destination.

I visited the garden with the bees earlier this week with Ken acting as navigator. Bees were flying from one hive. They look quite black.  The hives are National 14″ x 12″, a type I haven’t seen in use before.  They looked quite new and in good condition but the size of the cut back bramble stalks suggests that they’d been there a few years.  I lifted the roof and found a very active colony of ants!

During the last week I have been preparing the site at Penny’s and stocking the boot of my car with sponge, J cloth, duct tape and straps.  Although the weather has been dull and breezy, bees locally have been flying so I waited.  Today it was blowing a gale and drizzling and I could see no bees flying so I messaged Ken and headed his way.

We went to the site. No bees were flying so I stuffed a J cloth into the hive entrance and applied duct tape as belt and braces.  The strap I had brought was long enough to bind the hive X ways.  I had removed the roof not only to reduce the weight but also to ease ventilation through the Porter escapes.

There were ants everywhere!  I brushed lots off with moss and Ken blew off a lot more. Nevertheless they got all over us and I have squashed a couple as I’ve been typing this! Three now!  I’ve never had as many ant bites.

We lifted the hive. It was heavy!  It needed the two of us gently to carry it along the very uneven garden path and put it in my car.  After dropping Ken off I headed for Maiden Newton and the hive’s new home. (4 ants now).  Luckily Penny’s son was present, willing and able to assist me getting the hive up the garden (7 ants now) and onto it’s stand.

I took the strap off and some of the duct tape but leaving the entrance plugged so as to give the bees some quiet time to settle down before releasing them, which I went back to do by torchlight.

With this brief experience I wouldn’t recommend 14 x 12 hives simply because of the increased chances of getting beekeeper’s back! (11 ants now and I’m feeling itchy).







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Today I carried out a job as a member of our local Country Cars group by driving to the next village, Toller Porcorum, to pick up a lady to take to the Hospital at Dorchester for an appointment.   She is fragile and has had a recent fall and needs a wheeled frame to walk. Her car sits in her drive as she has decided it would be unwise to use it as she has problems with her balance .  She intends to give it to a grandchild.

We chatted on our journey and I asked her how her bees were doing. She’d forgotten about them!  I first saw them a couple of years ago. They have an entrance at about head height via a kink in a lead layer into a chimney.  I think the fire isn’t used nowadays.

On the way back from the Hospital, where they’d decided it wasn’t necessary to amputate her head yet, she told me that she was having her 91st birthday party this week!  I had guesstimated her age to be a decade less then that.  I’m glad I won’t be there to give her the bumps!

On our journey we discussed bees and I described the life cycle of workers and queens and the death of drones. She was very interested.

When we got back I checked the chimney and saw the bees were flying vigorously at 13C according to my car’s thermometer and bringing in pollen.  The lady doesn’t usually shuffle round to that corner of her house but I suggested that she gets a deck chair positioned there so  she can sit and watch them: there’s nothing like watching others work!

As they’re looking vigorous I think it might be a good idea, in the next few weeks, to bait an empty hive I have on a farm less than a mile away.


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I attended Beetradex at Stoneleigh for the first time yesterday.  Conveniently, it was almost exactly half way between where I had been on holiday in soggy Lancashire and home (where there was 75mm of rain in my absence).  The BBKA Spring Convention used to be held at Stoneleigh until, for some strange reason, they moved it to Harper Adams University in distant Shropshire a few years ago. I see a lot more people I know from the south west at Stoneleigh than at HA.

The hall was massive with 58 trade stands, some much bigger than others, and I didn’t manage to visit them all.  Northern Bee Books have sold out of my books: Getting the Best from Your Bees (co-authored with Dave MacFawn of S. Carolina) and Bees vs People.  I spoke with Jerry Burbidge and he suggested that I bring along 10 more copies of Bees vs People to the forthcoming Spring Convention at Harper Adams University.  He’ll have to order more copies of Getting the Best from Your Bees on line where I expect the publisher will give him a decent discount if he orders enough.

All I bought at the trade stands were a couple of unframed wire queen excluders and a couple of small plastic disc entrances.  I had an interesting chat with a chap, John Thorburn, who has cleverly manipulated copper piping and a gas blow torch to make an effective oxalic acid vapouriser.  The principle is the same as the one I have been using for years but probably more efficient.  Unfortunately the price, at about £47, is more than I was willing to afford but it might be a good buy for people less tight fisted. It’s called Gas-Vap and I expect you could google to find a YouTube video about it, or else email John at

I attended the BIBBA AGM with about 30 of us there cramming a room.  Our membership is now over 500, the most ever.  Our accounts are in good order and Tesco have been helping to fund a couple of projects.  Our annual membership fee will stay the same at £20.  Officers were re-appointed although Iain Harley, our Treasurer hopes to step down if a competent volunteer can be found to succeed him.

After the formal business, Karl Colyer gave a talk about our future strategy.

I attended a couple of seminars, far less formal, high-tech and crowded than at the BBKA Convention. First was Bee Watch, promoting an App that notifies you of any swarms that have been found and are available for collection near you.  So far most of the users are in the Oxfordshire area.  As it costs £24 a year I won’t be using it, particularly as plenty of swarms hive themselves for me.  If you’re interested,take a look at  or contact Nicky at

The final talk was by Kirsty Stainton of FERA Science UK on the Asian Hornet.  Although they’re very in-bred, all coming from a single queen that was imported into France some years ago, they don’t seem to be suffering from it and have been increasing their range at a rate of about 78 km a year.  Each colony will produce about 100 new queens at the end of the year and the survivors will do the same next year and so on.  Although they eat other food, about 40% of their food is bees.  If you’re baiting them, sweet food if more effective at this time of year and something protein based in the Summer.



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It was the annual potato day in the Village Hall where people can buy as few or as many seed potatoes as they wish from the umpteen varieties available.  There were also seeds, plants and other garden stuff for sale. I didn’t want any as my garden’s too small and I have loads of seeds left over from last year, but went along anyway as there were lots of other stalls at which local artists and craftspeople displayed their products.  One lady had her encaustic paintings for sale, a medium in which I dabble occasionally.

At the door was a chap from the Dorset Wildlife Trust. We got talking. He knew me and that I am a beekeeper. I knew his face but no more until he reminded me that he had contacted me a couple of years ago because bees had occupied a cavity in his house and I had persuaded him to leave them alone.  He has now signed me up for membership of the Trust.

I browsed my way around the stalls and fell in with Penny, whom I have got to know  recently as she has joined our choir.  She told me she’s like to have bees in her garden. Would I like to put some there in exchange for a jar of honey a year?  Yes, maybe, was my reply as I would need to see if it was suitable.  I pointed out that, the footprint of a hive being about 18″ square and honey selling at £5 a jar that’s  the equivalent of an annual rent of almost £100,000 an acre!

She told me her address and I strolled along later to check it out.  It’s on what was the edge of the village until the post-War housing estates were build.  The house is on the roadside but there’s a spacious back garden sloping upwards.  The garden is mature and relaxed, not regimented (although her hubby was digging a rectangular plot for some spuds).

The top right hand corner would be ideal for a hive and there are high hedges so neighbours won’t be bothered by flight lines.  I shall place a hive there in the next few weeks and bait it before the swarming season is upon us. By coincidence a bottle of lemon grass oil, the swarm lure had arrived in the post today.

Maybe they should change Potato Day to Bee Day!


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I’m just back from a BKA meeting in Dorchester at which we were given an illustrated talk on Asian hornets and how to trap them and each issued with a trap, supplied by Thornes.  We were also given instructions on how to make our own traps from plastic lemonade bottles.

NOW is the time to start trapping the queens as they emerge from hibernation.  Some have been seen on Jersey already this year and they aren’t much warmer than we are in sunny Dorset.

It isn’t really necessary to place the trap in an apiary as most of the insects hunted by the hornets aren’t honeybees. I shall place mine in the back garden close to my rain gauge that I check every morning so I can check it for hornets and release any beneficial insects that may venture in.  There are plenty of empty hives in the garden anyway so there’s probably an appropriate aroma to attract them.

I was also given a notice warning the public to look out for the hornets, which I shall ask the village shop to find space for on their notice board.

When I run out of the bait that came with the trap, I think I shall try cyser as the glass next to me has attracted several fruit flies while I have been typing this!

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We had a DARG (Devon Apicultural Research Group) meeting today at the Village Hall at Uplowman, near Tiverton.  Our usual meeting room was packed with a score of us, the numbers having been swollen by a contingent from South Devon who had been hornet hunting in the Channel Isles in the summer.

As usual, we spent the first hour or so in informal natter as we were eating our picnic lunch.  The lady sat next to me had her’s wrapped in waxed cloth that she had prepared herself.  It’s very fashionable nowadays and I sold 24 ounces of beeswax to  somebody a few days ago for that purpose.  The shop where I get my breakfast cereals, seeds and fruit, Down to Earth, now uses recyclable waxed paper bags which I take back for refills.

Also close by was Tricia Nelson who is taking the lead in getting our revised edition of A Case of Hives ready for publication. She’s going to send me back my chapter on Top Bar Hives so I can get the pictures inserted in my preferred order.

At 1.30 the meeting began with Glyn Davies taking the chair as Richard Ball was unable to attend.  Lynn Ingram gave us a slide show about Asian Hornets, their biology, hunting habits and how to hunt them down. Unfortunately her magic lantern wasn’t functioning as well as it should, leaving the pictures rather dark and murky. Maybe it needs a new wick.  As usual they drew the curtains and turned the lights out so I have to write from memory rather than notes.

Once you have seen an Asian Hornet they are unmistakable: a little larger than wasp sized but black except for one yellow stripe towards the rear of the abdomen and a yellow face.  They’re quite a bit smaller than our European hornet.

Hunting them, you need a bowl of suterra (a pink liquid) bait placed close to where a hornet was seen. A google aerial photo of the area will be handy, also a seat, your lunch, a stop watch and a compass.

Hornets at the bait are marked with a blob of paint, each differently so they can be identified individually. Their flight direction home is noted and the time it takes to return. They are guesstimated to travel at about 100 yards a minute. When you are sure of the direction, move a little closer. Also move off the line so you can apply triangulation to  help pin point the nest.

Problems are that the hornets don’t  always travel in straight lines but follow hedge lines etc; about half the nests are in urban areas and you can’t just walk through people’s gardens and when/if you find the nest it might not be accessible.  The usual method is to approach with a cherry picker and clear away the blocking branches. Wait until it’s dusk and they’ve stopped flying. Block the entrance hole and drop the nest into a suitable sack.

There was concern that the Government is dragging its heels in simplifying the legislation to enable volunteers to hunt the hornets as there’ll never be enough Bee Inspectors with time to  spare to do the job.

The effective bait, suterra (I’m guessing the spelling as I’ve never seen it written) is expensive.  DARG has some, much of which was distributed to members last year.  It is less expensive to order in bulk and the suggestion is that Devon and Somerset BKAs make a joint order. Dorset BKA’s Secretary, Liz Rescorla, was there also so perhaps Dorset BKA could be persuaded to join in.

The queen hornets will be emerging from hibernation in a month or so and it would be wise if we all placed traps in apiaries or back gardens where they can be checked frequently for Asian hornet queens and any beneficial insects inadvertently trapped can be released unharmed.  Our BKA has obtained lots of traps for distribution to members.  Others should do the same.

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