That was an expensive day! I spent 6 hours behind the steering wheel covering 360 miles which will have cost me about £36 in fuel and spent 4 hours at Beetradex at Stoneleigh.  I had to pay £7 and be branded on my hand to enter the vast trade room with rows and rows of traders’ stalls.

I made my way anti-clockwise around the perimeter and then up and down the centre aisles seeing what bargains there were and trying to remember which items that I might buy were least expensive.  I didn’t do very well.  The first thing I bought was a bee brush, having lost mine, for £4 but just before leaving I saw another, almost identical, on another stall for 50p.

I got a reasonable deal from National Bee Supplies, getting 50 second class brood frames for £30.  I don’t need nearly that many at the moment but will get through them as the years go by.

The most expensive thing I bought was a gas heated oxalic evaporator, the bits of which added up to £53!  It works on the same principle as my home made copper pipe but is much smaller and easier to use so I hope it’s worth the money.

There seemed to be fewer people there than last year, possibly because of corona virus fear. I met a chap I haven’t set eyes on for years and we elbowed each other.  There were quite a few people I know, through Gormanston and elsewhere, but nobody else from distant Dorset.  I ate my bread and cheese lunch in the cafe with friends from Cambridge who were feasting on pie and chips.

As always, I browsed the books on the shelves of Northern Bee Books.  There are several that I don’t have already.  Jerry is down to the last 3 copies of Bees vs People so I must remember to let him have some more when next I see him, probably at the Spring Convention.  He has sold out of Getting the Best from Your Bees, which I co-authored with Dave MacFawn of North Carolina, and wants to get some more but has to get them from the publisher, Outskirts Press in America, which adds to the hassle and cost.

There were some talks but the programme was unclear and they may have been shuffled. After lunch I arrived halfway through a talk by Filipe Salby from Africa about the virtues of having additional upper entrances to hives.  This was followed by Ken Basterfield giving a talk, illustrated by a magic lantern, on the subject of processing beeswax.  He seems to be very fond of the Bercow boiler although he’s now retired.

The programme said the event was going on until 4.30 but when I left at 3.45 stall holders were already packing up and my car was the only one left in the previously full car park.

It’s a long way to travel for just a few hours there.  I do wish the BBKA would bring their Spring Convention back to Stoneleigh as it’s easier to get to for we southerners and you don’t have to drive so far in one day.  The accommodation used to be adequate, although not as good as at Harper Adams, however not much accommodation is now available at Harper Adams so we have to find B & B elsewhere, which is not nearly as convenient.

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I’m just back from this annual event which I manage to attend most years.  Although I arrived a few minutes early the car park was overflowing so I had to find a space down the road.  I didn’t count the people in the hall but there must have been well over a hundred.

The first speaker was Clive de Bruyn who has been a beekeeper for 60 years and he covered a lot of ground too rapidly for my notes to be very legible but here goes: From winter into spring. When does the beekeeping year start? Anywhen!  Sort out weak colonies in the autumn.

There’s no right or wrong way to keep bees as long as family and neighbours are considered.  Never use the words ‘never’ or ‘always’ when discussing bees.

Clive didn’t have a powerpoint but used real pieces of equipment to demonstrate the points he was making.  He puts crates next to his hives to keep woodpeckers off as they’re a problem in his area. He winters his bees in one box per hive. It suits his bees but all are different.  With local strains of bees you lose colonies in March rather than during the winter. He replaces old frames with new combs full of sugar stores.  Frames are  marked with colours the same as standard queen marking so he knows how old they are and when due for replacement. He cuts out the old wax and boils the woodwork in a soda solution in a Bercow boiler.

This is the time for planning. Queen rearing is not a problem. Getting them mated is. Over produce and cull the worse.  Look at local forage and encourage the public what to plant by telling them about pollinators.  Look at the 5 questions in Hooper’s book and bear them in mind (my record cards have a slot for each question).  Look at the record cards at the  start of the year.  He marks each of his many hives with stones placed in various positions on the roof to indicate what’s happening down below.

Try the Taranov shook swarm method.  Start with a nucleus bought locally and add foundation one frame at a time.  Time up.

Next on stage was Professor Lars Chitttka who’s subject was the honey bee brain.  He used a powerpoint so, as always, the lights went down and so did my eyelids at times.  I couldn’t see my book well enough to take full notes.  He showed lots of diagrams of the interior of the bee’s brain and how it works.  Some colonies are more intelligent than others.  He doesn’t know of any practical use for all the information he has gleaned from his studies.

Coffee break, followed by Dr Nika Tsiougkos.  He is an allergy specialist at Southmead Hospital, Bristol. His subject was allergy to honey bee venom.  People who get 15 – 25 stings a year are at greater risk then those who get 200 or more!  He gave us lots of advice on what to do if somebody goes down with anaphylactic shock.  Immunotherapy can last for up to 5 years.  At question time I pointed out the benefit of bee stings for curing tennis elbow, which I have done to myself.

Lunch break and more nattering with friends. There were a couple of stalls, one selling equipment, the other Northern Bee Books.  I was disappointed that the NBB stall had neither Getting the Best from Your Bees nor Bees vs People on display but I was pleased to show my friend Leila Goss, nowadays a Bee Inspector, my name in Variations of a Beehive heading the chapter on Top Bar Hives.

The first lecture after lunch should have been prizewinning Dinah Sweet on making different types of mead and melomels but unfortunately she’s in hospital so her hubby, John, and his brother stood in for her and did a good job. John’s favourite mead is flavoured with elderflower and wild strawberries.  I make gallons of elderflower wine annually so I might try it with honey rather than sugar this year.  Cyser was on his list, which I make every year with apples from my garden and honey from my bees.

Points he made were that boiling is needed to kill off wild yeasts so they can be replaced with ‘proper’ yeasts.  Dinah’s favourite is champagne yeast but others are available.  Tannin is a useful addition, maybe from the dregs of a teapot.  When, after a few months in a warm place, the mead had finished fermenting it should be ‘racked’, ie the clear mead should be syphoned off from the sediment at the bottom of the demijohn.  The racking is done into another demijohn and it is left, preferably for several years, until it is bottled.

There was a list of types of meads: plain made of honey and water; melomel made of fruit juice and honey; pyment made of fruit juice and honey;  hippocras made of grape juice, herbs and honey; cyser made of apple juice and honey; metheglin mead made with herbs and spices; sack mead, strong and sweet and, finally, braggot made of malted grain and honey.  I have a couple more pages of notes which I needn’t have taken as at the end of the talk I was able to buy a copy of Dinah’s pamphlet Practical Mead-Making published by the BBKA News.

We were able to sample several types of honey beverage at the end of the talk.  The one I liked best was braggot, which is a honey beer produced by John’s brother in his nano-brewery in Wales.  Unfortunately the recipe isn’t included in the pamphlet.

After a tea break Clive de Bruyn took to the stage again to do a round up of the day’s talks and to comment and elaborate on them.  Leave dissection to A level students and don’t yourself kill bees unnecessarily. Allergy: he used to insist on his students have a sting each week as it’s insane to take up beekeeping if you haven’t been stung.  Scrape off the stings with a hive tool, don’t squeeze them.  Take a mirror with you so you can find stings on the head etc.

Queen rearing: the method most people have success with. Start with a swarm box with a 2″ gap beneath the frames and ventilation at the sides.  Add some pollen clogged combs and some empty ones and dummy boards.  Go to your chosen colony and find the queen, putting her aside.  Shake 6 frames of young bees from the brood nest into the swarm box. Leave it in a cool, dark place for 6 – 10 hours, then add cells of young brood for rearing queen cells.  Transfer to mini-nucs for mating.

There’s no such thing as a profitable hobby. For the last 30 years he’s earned his living from beekeeping.  Marketing: he sells it only in bulk at farmers’ markets etc. Be interactive offering tastes.  Don’t sell it cheap.

Propolis in vodka makes a tincture that can be useful.  Wax for candles, cosmetics, soap etc. Re-queening – he sells queens, not cheaply as he has more orders than he can cope with.  Ask for feedback from customers.

It was a long day, from 9 ’til 5 with a 25 mile drive through ‘Storm Dennis the Menace’ each way.  It was worth it though and I’m glad I went.  I wonder who they’ll have next year?



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South West Beekeepers’ Forum

We had a meeting last Tuesday, 11th February, at the Taunton BKA’s den tucked away in the depths of Somerset.  There were about a score of us present from branches as distant as West Cornwall, the New Forest, Dorset and Avon.  Avon’s representative, Ann Rowberry, was promoted at the recent BBKA AGM to become their Chairwoman.

Our Chairman, in his opening remarks, pointed out that we need a Regional AHAT (Asian Hornet Action Team) plan and also local clusters of co-operating teams.

The main reason for holding this meeting so soon after the last one was to have an update on the recent BBKA Annual Delegates’ Meeting, which several of our members had attended.  More information is required on the electronic voting system which is replacing the traditional methods.  People seemed to be unsure how trustworthy it is.  There was also the question of delegates’ votes versus branch votes as the smallest branch has 30 members and the largest about 1,800.

The Treasurer reported that we’re solvent.  The change of bank accounts and signatories hasn’t yet been completed but he’s getting there.  Annual subs to cover our expenses should remain the same at £50 per annum a branch rather than basing it on the number of members as each branch has 1 vote.

Lynne Ingram used powerpoint to give us a review of the recent Asian Hornet Training Day about which I blogged at length.  I have notes to look at Somerset BKA’s website and to get from Chris Utting a copy of his powerpoint. The more recent National AH Training Day complemented ours with some overlap.  We are advised, if we spot an Asian Hornet, not to tell the world via social media until it has been confirmed.  We should get friends and connections who spend time outdoors alerted to the likely invasion and tell them what to do if they spot a hornet.  There is a website: AHAT.ORG.UK that’s worth a look (I haven’t done so yet).

After lunch we had a conversation via skype projected onto a wall with Peter Kennedy of Exeter University who is taking a leading role in developing methods to locate AH nests. He is using radio telemetry, partly subsidised by us. The system works best in rural and semi-urban areas.  The tags which are attached to workers to track them to their nests have recently been modified and are now much lighter in weight.  They’re rather expensive and he’s asking for more money from us.  We’re currently consulting our branches to see whether they’re willing to contribute again.  It’s not necessary to use radio telemetry in all circumstances, only when the nest is difficult to find.

As it’s illegal to release a hornet once you’ve trapped it, BKAs can’t go hornet spotting on their own, only when working in association with a Bee Inspector.

Next item on the agenda was a review of the recent Annual Delegates’ Meeting.  It was better than most and not as controversial as in the past.  The new training apiary at Stoneleigh was funded by a donation.

We did some shuffling of terms of office. Peter Darley, our Chairman, is standing down. Kathy Lovegrove was willing to stay on as Secretary and was voted in and Roland (Ben) Benjamin was confirmed as Treasurer, starting immediately.

Under AOB it was suggested that labels need to be placed by bait stations with pictures of the AH. Wicked stations are good but need to be monitored frequently. Traps need a sponge or something inside on which the trapped insects can stand rather than drowning in the bait.  This enables beneficial insects to be released.

We agreed to hold another AH training day in January 2021.


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AHAT Training Day at Bridgwater

Yesterday, Saturday 25th January, I got up at crack of dawn (not that there was any sunshine) in order to head into darkest Somerset where I had booked a place at the Asian Hornet Training Day at Bridgwater.  I was hoping it would be good as I had ended a holiday a day early to fit it in. In case you’re wondering, no we’re not trying to train Asian hornets but to train people how to identify them and locate their nests.

The event was organised by Lynne Ingram on behalf of the South West Beekeepers’ Forum and there were getting on for 150 people present, members of local BKA Asian Hornet Action Teams, from as far apart as Bath and Jersey, West Cornwall and Hampshire.  I guesstimate I was about the average age.

Peter Darley, the SWBKA Chairman introduced us to the subject.  We didn’t need introducing to each other as we all had name badges and, through DARG etc, I knew quite a few anyway.  Peter pointed out that most Asian hornets have been spotted by members of the public rather than by beekeepers so we must raise the profile and engage schools, councils etc. and enthuse them in AH hunting.  As (currently) they aren’t established, people could develop their skills by tracking wasps or European hornets instead.

Dr Sarah Bunker took to the stage and explained the life cycle of AH through the year: nests, mating behaviour, what to look for and when. The queen emerges from hibernation in March, and, in April, builds a primary nest about 2 inches in diameter in which she lays eggs and raises a few workers.  Numbers gradually increase and in June/July the workers build a large secondary nest that might be getting on for 2 feet in diameter.  Three quarters of the nests discovered in Jersey have been in man-made structures but they’re also in hedges or high in trees.  A couple have been found on cliff faces. Sarah has written The Asian Hornet Handbook about which you can discover more on her website:

Dr Peter Kennedy of Exeter University was next. He updated us on current research.  Whereas the European hornet is spread all across Asia, the Asian hornet was, until recently only in part of China.  It invaded South Korea in 2003 and arrived with some china pottery in SW France in 2005.  It does very well in western Europe so we must try to slow down the spread and minimise the impact.

Juliette Poidatz from France then told us of research on a fungus to target the AH specifically but it will take some time to develop.  The hornets strip moss off trees both to make paper for the nests and also to feed on the sap.  Bees tell other bees about dangers in their environment, using the ‘stop!’ signal as described by Tom Seeley.

After a coffee break, Simon o’Sullivan of Devon AHAT described The Role of the First Responder. Educate yourself: can you identify the AH, its life cycle and nests throughout the year? Spread the word and educate the public. Carry AH identification cards and visit the AHAT web site.  Give talks or suggest others do so.  Get in touch with organisations whose members might come in contact with AH, eg farmers, hedge trimmers, ramblers, caravan clubs, garden centres.  Confirm reports of  sightings, make contacts and get people on side. Keep a record: name and address, location, date, grid reference or What3words. ask the experience of the caller, arrange a meeting, take photographs, set up a bait station with Suterra (renamed Trappit now) .  Positive engagement: get a photo or a sample, send a report to NNSS (Non-native species secretariat I think). Email photo, location and details to: Report back to your county coordinator.  What next? Keep within the law: no catch and release, no trespassing, confidentiality.

Next came the first workshop.  We had a choice of 5: a) Understanding the characteristics of the Asian Hornet in the field. b) Practical tracking including compass skills. c) Use of maps for tracking including digital maps. d) Monitoring traps – What? When? Where? (traps/bait stations/wicked traps). e) Radio telemetry.  I chose a.

This was led by Gerry Stuart of the Torbay AHAT. Nests are never far from a source of water. The queen is not aggressive when building the primary nest.  When re-located to a secondary nest she lays about 100 eggs a day. Workers lick the queen to clean her. Workers fly about 100 metres a minute.  If you find a nest that is potentially dangerous to the public, notify the Police and the Council. A shallow bowl with a couple of tablespoons of Sunterra/Trappit on a tissue is fine.  Put a stone or two in it both the weigh the tissue down and to provide something for the hornet to stand on.  They’re easy to catch when feeding.  They don’t fly in bee-lines but tend to follow roads and hedges then go through gaps.

Lunch break and nattering.  Then Alastair Christie, the AH Coordinator from Jersey told us of the experience of AH on their island, which is only about 15 miles from France.  In 2017 they found 5 primary and 3 secondary nests, 2018, 13 of each, 2019, 69 primary and 27 secondary. Health and Safety: never look for nests alone!  They’re looking for more volunteers to help them in the battle.  You will have to find your own way there but accommodation can be provided by Jersey beekeepers.  If you’re intereted, contact  .

Then we did our second chosen workshop.  I went to D: monitoring traps.  We were shown a digital camera mounted on a post above a baited bowl and film from it showing wasps on the bait. The camera only films when it detects movement.  I think that’s a bit too technical and expensive for most of us. We were shown various types of traps and bait stations.  Most popular, apart from the bowl already described, was to have a small amount of bait in a jar with a wick of J cloth coming up through a hole in the lid. Trappit is not cheap and this doesn’t waste or spill it.  The French make their own bait of 50:50 white wine and beer with a dash of vinegar to deter bees.

After a tea break we split into groups depending on the colour of our badges and were to debate plans for the future and come up with ideas and then we rejoined in the main hall to report back.

The first group discussed monitoring traps and lures. It should go national, not just the SW.  Bulk purchase Trappit for all the SW counties. Start monitoring and trapping in April. A sponge in the trap will prevent drowning natives, which can be released. Tell people where to put them. They don’t have to be near beehives as at that time of year the hornets aren’t after the bee protein as much as sweets from nectar. Use video camera.

The second group discussed getting the message out to the public via The Archers, Bill Turnbull on the BBC, members’ updates, cards and posters, conservation trusts, councils, wildlife trusts, Ramblers, walkers, gamekeepers, The Duchy.  Make contact at your level. Make sure the message is correct for the time of year. Schools, fetes, garden centres and nurseries.

Third group: What message at national level? Feedback from today at the BBKA event on the 8th February, Funding after Brexit? More training for tracking. National plan needed. Celebrities needed to raise the profile with the public, not just beekeepers.

Fourth group: What additional resources or training are needed? Off the shelf presentation for non-beekeepers. Standard check list for responders. Equipment list for responders. What3words or OS etc. Field day event, localised. Frustration over poor interaction with the NBU. Live training environment in Jersey.  Same again next year, especially if the situation changes.

Finally, as 5 o’clock was fast approaching, there was a Question Time session with the main speakers of the day on stage. My stream of notes reads: National plan a good idea but start locally.  Jersey funding model invisible. Species funding of £25,000 soon gone. £69,000 spent on removal. NBU would like trapped hornets for analysis as well as photos.  What effect will Brexit have on funding? Uncertain.  Has there been an economic impact in France through lack of pollinators? Jersey has lots of beekeepers visiting – we’re welcome to do so too.  EU report on pollination – numbers and calculations on the back of an envelope: no real meaning and no real calculations yet.  Only one nest with gynes found in Jersey.

Not very easy to distinguish castes. Workers vary in size throughout the season. Males have longer, swept back, amtennae.  Male backside blunter with two yellow balls.

Jersey nest removal process.  Getting up a hoist if access available. Daytime gently remove branches. Go back at night and bag up the nest and remove it to a freezer to kill them.  Sometimes pesticides are used.

New Forest: what’s the NBU doing? Lack of information from the NBU about single fliers found elsewhere.  Answer – it’s dealt with by FERA and the information doesn’t get down to the NBU. The New Forest hornets were related to the French population and not linked to each other.  All from separate populations and not established colonies.

It was a LONG day, well spent, and hence this LONG blog post!  It was also a long drive home through fog on the hills.

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DARG DAY NO.1 2020

I spent 6 hours DARGing today, 3 of which were behind the wheel as the Village Hall at Uplowman, near Tiverton, where we hold most of our meetings is almost 50 miles from home.  Nevertheless the other 3 hours were well spent catching up with 16 other beekeepers from Somerset, Devon, Avon and possibly one from across the Tamar in Kernow.

We spent a lot of time nattering over tea, biscuits and our picnic lunches until Chairman Richard Ball called us to order at 1.35. He handed round the last remaining copies of our earlier leaflets dating from the 90s and therefore in need of up-dating. I have Living with Varroa Jacobsoni, which was first written in 1988, 4 years before Varroa arrived, which turned out to be Destructor, not Jacobsoni. The Selection of Apiary Sites from 1994 doesn’t appear to need much alteration, neither does Queen Rearing first published in 1998. Seasonal Management needs updating as it still refers to Bayvarol strips which I haven’t used this century  as the mites became immune.

The main business of the afternoon was a powerpoint presentation by Lynne Ingram on Honey Fraud as was publicised by the empty shelves at the Apimondia honey show at which a very high proportion of the honey, especially from Asia, failed laboratory tests.  Apparently honey is the  third highest fraudulent food in the world, being beaten by milk and olive oil.

New Zealand produces about 1,700 tons of Manuka honey annually and yet 10,000 tons are sold!

The tests to detect the fraud are expensive and the criminals are now getting more clever at adding particular chemicals to the honey to make it look real.

The price of imitation honey on supermarket shelves is so little that it is out-competing legitimate honey producers who are going out of business.

Next month’s subject for discussion is Climate Change and Bees and Richard Ball has asked those of us who keep records to let him know when occupied queen cells were first spotted.  I’m going on holiday next week so maybe I should take my 40 years of record cards with me to make use of rainy days and long nights.

If you’d like to come and join us, you’d be more than welcome!  The next meeting’s on the 9th of February at Uplowman again.

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On Sunday I drove back from a holiday in north Devon via Uplowman Village Hall, near Tiverton for the bi-monthly meeting of DARG, the Devon Apicultural Research Group.  There was a good turn out with 16 of us present and, before the formal business, we had a good natter over our picnic lunch augmented with scrummy biscuits and mint spies.

There was a stack of back issues of Bee Culture for us to take away as Glyn Davies had been instructed by his wife to make some space at home.  I now have to read one from June 2014 with an article on Top Bar Hives and one  from January 2019 with Tom Seeley’s views on Darwinian Beekeeping.

Formal business began at 1.20 with the AGM that had been postponed  from last month as the lecture had gone on for too long.  Our Chairman, Richard Ball, tried to get through it in record time with most items being agreed on the nod.  Our new book, Variations on a Beehive is selling well and is now in a second  edition.  It is possible that students will be recommended by the BBKA to read it.

Our website manager is retiring and our Secretary, Vic Wilmington, volunteered to take it over, possibly creating a new version on WordPress.

Next year’s programme will include re-writing the DARG booklets which are about 20 years old now; a visit to the Mount Edgcombe Cornish black bees; Quince Honey Farm; thermoregulation;  honey adulteration; effect of climate change on brood patterns;  Varroa tolerant bees;  beekeeping in Oman and in Morocco and, of course, the weather.

Then Ken Tredgett gave us a talk and slide show about his visit to Apimondia in Montreal.  Most of the stalls were Chinese.  There were lots of rough sleepers on the streets.  I assume he attended some of the lectures but he didn’t go into details. I wonder whether they will be reachable on-line as the NHS talks are. Does anyone know?



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Today (yesterday by the time I finish typing this) I used my sat nav to guide me to a post code over the boundary in darkest Winterset where the Taunton BKA have a spacious clubhouse adjacent their apiary.  The purpose was, as one of Dorset’s three representatives, to attend the South West Beekeepers’ Forum.  There were 19 of us present ranging from Avon to West Cornwall plus Simon Jones from the National Bee Unit.

The meeting lasted for 6 hours from 10am until 4pm including a lunch break during which I found a geocache close by.  We covered a lot of ground but it wasn’t as interesting a the previous meeting that I reported here so I’ll just mention a few items.

Simon told us that the NBU inspects 50% of bee imports from Italy and 100% of those from Sicily.  The rest of the EU bee imports are only 25% inspected.  I wonder what there is to prevent Italians driving a load of bees to Germany or Denmark and thus get by with a less rigorous inspection.

Probably the most important item was the impending Asian Hornet Action Teams (AHAT) Convention, to be held at Bridgwater on Saturday 25th January from 10am to 5pm.  It will be a mix of presentations, displays, breakaway groups and workshops.  The aim is to provide attendees with the practical skills and knowledge to be able to fulfil the different roles of an AHAT effectively.  We shall be exploring ways of working together as effectively as we can across the region.

Cost will be a problem as the expenses will be in the region of £800 and there was some debate as to how this will be shared between the counties.

The most time consuming part of the agenda was the BBKA’s Annual Delegates’ Meeting.  It wasn’t very exciting and we’re not involved. Doubts were raised as to the trustworthiness of the electronic voting system.

Honey adulteration is in the news. The results of the tests made at Apimondia are to be circulated. Apparently Chinese ‘honey’ has a different sort of sugar to South American. The NBA bee inspectorate examine 120 samples a year, some  of which are targeted.

The next meeting will be held on 11th February 2020 when we will mainly discuss what happened at the ADM.

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