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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‘A journey into the healing hive’ was the subject of a talk by Dr Genny Brierly that I attended at Whitchurch Canonicorum in the murky depths of West Dorset last night. It was hosted by West Dorset combined with East Devon BKAs and getting on for 100 people were there, some having travelled much further than I did.

Doctor Brierly is a PhD and pointed out that she is not a clinical doctor so people shouldn’t try to cure themselves or others of illness without first consulting a qualified doctor!

Her interest in bees and the medicinal qualities of their products arose through her having contracted tick-borne Lyme Disease which debilitated her so much that she was moving towards death’s door!  Then she was introduced to bee sting therapy which turned the corner for her and slowly brought her back to good health, although this would have cost the lives of about 4,500 bees!

In the hour of her talk she went into details of venom, honey, wax, propolis, royal jelly and pupae.  I noted that she mentioned that venom smells of ripe bananas.  This must be why it is not considered wise to open a hive soon after you’ve been handling or eating a banana.  The scent of one sting triggers another.

It was an excellent talk and I would recommend other branches to get her to talk to them.  Her web site is:  .

As is usual at these events there was masses of excellent cake etc afterwards as we gathered and chattered, meeting old friends.  It was the ‘old’ bit that worried me as, looking round the room, the vast majority of those present were about my age!  What future is there for beekeeping with so few young people playing our game?

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As it’s been so warm lately I have been reluctant to apply the annual oxalic treatment as the bees aren’t clustered so I have no idea how much to apply.  Usually it’s 5cc per seam.

I made some fresh solution a few days ago using the formula 10 parts by weight of water, 10 parts of sugar and 1 part of oxalic acid dihydrate crystals that Ben Harden kindly gave me at Gormanston a few years ago.  (There’s not much left Ben!).

That works out as a concentration of acid of about 3.5%, which is rather less than in rhubarb leaves at 6%.

Yesterday I applied some to my hive in the next parish which has a mesh floor  and tray, allowing me to monitor the mite drop.  Recently the average has been less than 1 per day.  The bees weren’t clustered and filled about 3/4 of the brood box and 1/4 of the first super so I emptied the syringe on them, about 50cc whereas usually a cluster would be about 5 seams, thus getting 25cc.

This afternoon I took out the tray and spent quite some time with my pocket magnifying glass counting the mites. I find a magnifier necessary as lots of the small brown spots are not mites but propolis. The total mite count so far, in about 27 hours, was 115.  I hope to have another look tomorrow.

This is now yesterday’s tomorrow and I checked the floor tray again after about 24 hours.   I counted an additional 255 mites!  That now totals 370.  I hope to have another look tomorrow.

I’ve now had another look today, New Year’s Day, and the count was a mere 38 mites, about a tenth of yesterday’s and a third of the first day’s, nevertheless a lot more than were dropping daily before I dosed them.

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I went on holiday recently and, anticipating correctly a week of foul weather and short days, took with me my colony record cards.  As the colony is led by the queen there is a fresh card for each queen.  I’ve been using this system since 1985 and am now up to 300.

The blank cards and instructions on how to use them are to be seen on Dave Cushman’s website (the best beekeeping website in the world!): Beekeeping and Bee Breeding.  You’re welcome to crib and copy for your own use if you wish.  I have them printed in colours: White, Yellow, Red, Green, Blue  (When You Requeen Gently Blob) matching the standard queen marking colours.

I checked each card and noted which years were covered for each queen.  Of course, if a queen had arrived or departed with a swarm, then she may have lived a year or two longer than is indicated on the card.

For simplicity I divided the results into batches of 50.  The first batch were in my hives between 1985 and 1995. 7 of them (14%) were there during 4 years, 13 (26%) 3 years, 17 (34%) 2 years and 13 (26%) 1 year.  Average 2.28.

Second batch: 1995 – 2003.  1 (2%) 4 years, 8 (16%) 3 years, 22 (44%) 2 years, 19 (38%) 1 year.  Average 1.82.

Third batch: 2001 – 2007. 1 (2%) 5 years, 3 (6%) 4 years, 8 (16%) 3 years, 27 (54%) 2 years, 11 (22%) 1 year. Average 2.12.

Fourth batch: 2005 – 2009. 7 (14%) 3 years, 29 (58%) 2 years, 14 (28%) 1 year. Average 1.86.

Fifth batch: 2008 – 2012. 7 (14%) 3 years, 21 (42%) 2 years, 22 (44%) 1 year. Average 1.7.

Sixth batch: 2011 – 2017. 4 (8%) 4 years, 8 (16%) 3 years, 21 (42%) 2 years, 17 (34%) 1 year. Average 1.98.

I’m not a statistician and so have no idea whether there’s anything statistically significant in these figures.  I would welcome comments from anybody who’s better than I am at stats.

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Once again we had a meeting of DARG (Devon Apicultural Research Group) at the village hall at Uplowman, near Tiverton.  There were 14 of us plus our guest speaker, Victoria Buswell  (not buzz well!) of Plymouth University.  As usual, we sat round the table interacting with the speaker, a far better way of learning than just watching a screen and listening.

Victoria is doing her PhD on local adaptation in the UK of populations of honeybees with native genes: the black bee, Apis mellifera mellifera. She is working with the B4 (Bring Back Black Bees) project.  She’s not a beekeeper herself (yet!) although her sister is.  I did suggest that she takes up but warned her that it is highly addictive.  She has funding from NERC for 4 years in total, ending in October 2020, so there’s still time for YOU to join in and play with her!

I was the only one present who has been undertaking the survey and had already sent her my results so far.  With experience and improved technology she is altering the methods.  New participants will not need, as I did,  to mark 100 workers and count how many marked bees remain at subsequent inspections.

Although local weather will need to be noted, the Met Office can provide much of the required information.

I had to tie string round an empty frame to make squares of 10 x 10 centimetres, place it against a comb from which the bees had been shaken and guesstimate to amount of various types of brood in each square.  That is no longer necessary.  Instead, Victoria will give participants a stand on which a beeless comb can be placed and a coloured screen to be placed behind it while a photograph is taken of the comb.  When she receives the photos her computer can distinguish and count the occupied cells.

She wants a sample of 30 bees from each colony, which gives an accuracy of about 90%, and will analyse their DNA and let people know the result. This will help make evidence based decisions on the proportion of AMM genes in the pool and also local sub-sub species.  All beekeeping is local and I told her that Prof. Len Heath, who was at Plymouth University several decades ago, kept bees both locally and also up on Bodmin Moor.  If he moved a colony from one place to the other, it took them about 2 years to catch up with the locals.

Victoria needs a lot more people to take part in the survey. Besides individuals,  it would be an ideal project for local BKAs, especially with club apiaries.  Although the title of the project is local adaptation in UK colonies, there’s no hard border for bees in Ireland, where beekeepers are keen on AMM.  Victoria would be very happy for  beekeepers in Eire to join in.

If you would like to play with us, contact Victoria at:

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A few days ago, at a folk session at the Convivial Rabbit micropub (which is in the Good Beer Guide) local journalist and musician Jerry Bird gave me a copy of the latest edition of Merry Meet, his journal of folklore and pagan heritage.  Towards the back I found his review of my book of poems!

He wrote: “Bees feature prominently in the public mind at the moment, largely due to their steep and worrying decline brought about by mankind’s self-destructive path which currently involves the industrialisation of our countryside and the widespread use of toxic pesticides.

Thus this ‘collection of poems about bees and the people who keep them’, by a Dorset beekeeper, is unusually relevant to our times.  It is an immensely entertaining and informative book.  Chris Slade has a passion for bees and Beekeeping and his knowledge and enthusiasm shines through all of these verses, many of them in sonnet form, which Chris seems to favour.

I learned an awful lot about bees from the poems, which are interspersed with snippets of autobiography and apian behavioural science, which explains their context.  I also laughed a lot, as they are infused with the poet’s laconic sense of humour – including the final one, ‘stumped’, a grim tale involving an encounter between an electric circular saw and the writer’s thumb, during an episode of beehive maintenance. Oh, and I learned something about oak trees too!

Recommended.  Available from     

I hadn’t come across the Merry Meet magazine before. This issue, no 63, published at Samhain, contains articles about Stonehenge’s Welsh connection, Dorchester’s ghosts, Wayland’s Smithy, a Neolithic chambered long barrow, Woodbury Hill fair and the Revd R.S.Hawker: the Mystic of Morwenstow.  If you would like to learn more about this fascinating magazine, visit the website:

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