The willows are in full bloom and so are the dandelions.  Over the last 20 years they have been getting earlier and earlier but have now returned almost to the start time.  I reckon that when they are in flower the bees can fend for themselves and don’t need to rely on their stores, allowing me to harvest from my top bar hives honey that is truly surplus to their requirements.  It’s real honey, not partially recycled sugar, as I don’t normally feed my bees.

I visited the first of them today, at the Bee Happy Plants nursery at Tatworth.  Working gently from the rear, without smoke, spray or gloves, I moved forward until I found the brood area near the front of the hive.  The brood, on about 5 combs, appeared healthy and I saw the large, dark, marked queen.  Although she and many of her daughters are very dark she must have mated with a stripey drone or two as a proportion of the workers are striped.

I had brought with me some plastic bags and as I closed up the hive I took the bars with lots of honey, lowered the comb into a bag and sliced it off with a hive tool, leaving a good footprint to guide the bees in drawing new comb.  I alternated the chopped off combs with empty ones that I hadn’t harvested to help guide comb renewal.  At my next visit, if the colony is looking stronger, I shall move some of the empty bars towards the front so they can rear their babies on fresh comb and I shall cut out any comb that is looking too dark and elderly.

When I got home I weighed the comb and it’s about 10lb.  Some might be pretty enough for cut comb but I expect that I shall have to squeeze and strain most of it before bottling.

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I’m back home after a long weekend at the BBKA Spring Convention held at Harper Adams University (agricultural college) at Edgmond in Shropshire.  I wish they’d return the event to the BBKA HQ at Stoneleigh, which is far more accessible.  When it was there I would see dozens of people I knew from Dorset but I saw only one at Harper Adams.  If I’d known she was going I’d have suggested sharing transport to be a little greener as it’s about 200 miles away.

There was a relatively full programme and I managed to get to quite a few lectures but found myself nodding off in some of them.  Those I particularly enjoyed were Chris Park’s talk on skep beekeeping, Dan Basterfield on managing common diseases and disorders and the microscopy workshop.  I’d have liked to attend the Jeff Pettis lecture on failing queens but it was on Friday morning and because of the long journey and traffic queue around Birmingham I arrived too late.

I drove home via Wales to avoid the motorway hold ups and to enjoy the countryside which helped keep me awake while driving.  There’s no toll on the Severn bridge leaving Wales for England.

One good thing about the event is that I found the notebook I was using contains the notes from Gormanston last year, so I hope to resume blogging about it as I lost my notes halfway through.

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A couple of days ago I passed through the village of Evershot so I parked and walked round the Church.  Bees were flying as usual from the gargoyle at the SE corner.

Yesterday I spent about 2 minutes gazing at a crack in the tower of Maiden Newton Church, nearly a furlong from this keyboard but no bees were to be seen, although there were a few flying a couple of months ago.

I walked up to Cattistock, a little over a mile away, and found bees flying well from under a gutter on the north side.  They’ve been there continuously for some years, occasionally using the wrong exit and getting stuck inside the Church trying to get through a sunny window.

I returned via Chilfrome where there have been bees in the Church roof for over a decade but none were flying yesterday although I saw some there only a few weeks ago.

In the afternoon I drove via Hooke, about 5 miles west of here, and visited the Church. A warden appeared and showed me the bees flying from the NE corner where, again, they’ve been for years.  Occasionally a few get inside and worry the wimps but nobody has been stung.

I wonder why bees seem generally to prefer the northern side of Churches?

Anyway, Church bee losses in this area of West Dorset have been 40%.  What’s it like where YOU are?

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Yesterday I drove nearly 50 miles through light snow flurries to Uplowman Village Hall, near Tiverton for a meeting of the Devon Apicultural Research Group (DARG).  There were 17 of us there: a record I think!  The room was a bit small for that many but at least being huddled up kept us warm as we drank coffee and ate our picnic lunch and nattered.

The main subject of the day was microscopy and I brought a couple of my microscopes along, but, as others had already set theirs up and had lots of slides to show, I left them tucked away.  I’d like to do more microscopy and develop skills but life’s too busy!

Glyn Davies gave us a resume of the Drone Laying Queen project which has no clear and positive result linking disrupted spermathecae with deformed wing virus.  We shall have to think on.

We heard that Jeremy Burbidge of Northern Bee Books had contacted us suggesting that some of the DARG pamphlets, which he sells, could be updated so that’s another thing to do.

A book on the various types of hive is being produced and I was asked to write a chapter on Top Bar Hives, which I’ll get on with as soon as I’ve posted this blog unless the snow stops and I can get outdoors!  I went to the pub last night for a Guinness (it being St Patrick’s Day) and took a notebook with me to mind-map the relevant What, Why, Who, When, Where and How points.

The pollen project is continuing and Richard Ball gave us an update.  There were posters and slides.  In brief, we’re encouraged to collect pollen loads from a hive for 24 hours in the middle of each month, select 20 grammes, sort them into colours, check the colours with an ID card, using a microscope to verify if desired, and report the findings.

We then got off our backsides and mingled, taking turns to peer through the microscopes at slides of spermathecae and of pollen.  It was a good day of time well spent.  Things are looking up for DARG numerically as, being mostly oldies, we tend to lose as many members as we gain.  More people seem to be coming from adjoining counties so maybe we should change our name to SWARG!

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Last weekend I curtailed a holiday in Norfolk a day early in order to attend a Cambridge BKA one day seminar on the subject heading this post.  The room at Chesterton Community College, Cambridge, was well packed with about 100 people. The speakers were Ged Marshall, Professor Stephen Martin, Dr David Aston and Jane Ridler.

Ged is a professional Bee Farmer as well as an entertaining speaker. His talk was on Swarm Control Without 9 Day Checks. Stephen Martin is in the School of Environment and Life Sciences at the University of Salford and spoke on “Will letting colonies swarm help to solve the Varroa problem and increase genetic diversity?” David Aston is a biologist who has been keeping bees since 1982. His subject was “Swarming – time for a re-think?” Jane Ridler (with her husband, Richard) is involved with Bees Abroad, helping beekeepers in Africa and she spoke to us about “Beekeeping practices in Africa.”

Ged has 200 hives and 660 mini nuclei dedicated to queen rearing plus about 1700 honey production colonies which produce about 10 tons of honey a year. Despite rearing all those queens he still imports some! He moves his bees around, especially to borage.  Lots of his honey is sold to beekeepers! He goes for swarm prevention rather than reaction. Swarmers produce swarms so he rears queens from non-swarmers and re-queens swarms in August/September. He always re-queens collected swarms.

Stephen Martin pointed out that all species of honeybee except our Apis mellifera have been inflicted with a mite eg tropilaelaps, and has learned to live with them.  Ours will have to evolve to do so too, although the Bond (live and let die) method isn’t suitable for most beekeepers.  He referred to Tom Seeley’s varroa tolerant bees in the Ithaca Forest which have evolved to keep the mite population down through reduced reproduction and predicts that in 5 – 10 years time we won’t be treating for varroa any more.

David Aston referred to swarming as a phenomenon rather than a problem or an issue. He, too, had been reading Tom Seeley’s books, especially Following the Wild Bees (of which I was sent a free copy by the publisher for review) and I recognised some of the diagrams on the powerpoint screen.

Jane Ridler’s talk was not related to swarming but she gave an interesting talk about the work of Bees Abroad in Africa.  I noted that nowadays, like Bees for Development, they advocate the use of top bar hives.  This is because the stacking box type of hive that they used to prefer is too difficult and expensive to build locally and such hives of that type that have been given to the locals are deemed far too good and precious to be used for bees as they are the best and poshest piece of furniture the family possess.

After the lectures the speakers clustered on stage for a general discussion/question time which continued until the close at 4pm.

The seminar lasted a long day from 9.15 (I was there at 8 to help set up) coffee through a massive lunch and browse of the trade stands, more food and drink and eventual doggy bags. I still haven’t finished mine, a week later!

It was a good day out: much better than paddling at Cromer!


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That seemed to become the theme of the South West Beekeepers’ Forum when we met near Taunton on Tuesday.  Members came from a wide area stretching from West Cornwall to Hampshire and Avon to Jersey.  There were 23 of us in total of whom nearly half had attended the BBKA Annual Delegates’ Meeting that had been so controversial.

Nobody had a good word to say about the way the meeting was run and they were straying from the constitution.  The view was that the BBKA is currently not fit for purpose!

What’s to be done about it?  The view was that the members and delegates should be running the BBKA rather than the charity trustees and, in order to encourage and enable this, we will produce a guidance pack (1 side of A4) for delegates outlining their duties and powers. This will enable them to understand this before they attend.  Our Secretary will be gathering ideas and suggestions and mould them into a document that we can agree upon.

The main subject of the meeting was the Asian Hornet.  We had several experienced people present: Bob Hogge from Jersey, Martyn Hocking from Woollacombe and Simon Jones the Regional Bee Inspector (who had cycled to the meeting).

You’ve all read about the hornets and possibly seen on U Tube Martyn talking to 200 beekeepers in Devon a few weeks ago.  What it comes down to is that every local BKA needs to set up an Asian Hornet Action Team of a few trained members who can support people who think they’ve seen an Asian Hornet and help to find evidence of whether they were correct.  The NBU just doesn’t have enough staff to investigate sightings unless they’ve been confirmed. They had 4,500 reports last year, nearly all of which were incorrect.

So it’s up to YOU and your fellow local beekeepers to get organised!  Advice on ways and means will be forthcoming.

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Last Sunday I went to  a DARG meeting at Uplowman near Tiverton.  The subject was the Asian Hornet and it seems to be popular as there were 14 adults there, plus 3 kids and a dog.

Glyn Davies was taking the lead.  While he thinks it very important that monitoring should be done all over the country, starting NOW, he is concerned that beneficial native insects might be killed unnecessarily if we all use traps.  Instead, he recommends that people put a small dish of bait on a window cill, bird table, plant stand etc where it can easily be observed quite often.  There’s no need for it to be close to an apiary as it isn’t until later in the season that they prey on bees.

The bait at this time of year should be something sweet as they will be looking for carbohydrates.  I don’t know how to avoid bees being attracted to the bait as well as hornets but possibly using alcohol might skew the temptation hornet way.

Later in the season, and we don’t yet know when, the bait should be switched to protein, eg fish fingers or meat paste.

If/when a hornet appears it must first be positively identified by swatting, netting and/or photography and the identity confirmed by the local Bee Inspector or the National Bee Unit.  They will then take over, tracking the hornets to locate and destroy the nest, hopefully before they have reared new queens.

Today, as I am on holiday in Devon, I visited the Eden Project.  I was disappointed (shocked!) at the increase in entry fees, it now being £27 for adults with no longer a discount for oldies.  At least the ticket lasts for a year so I shall have to go there several times to get value for money.

I passed their three poly hives on the way in. Despite the temperature being about 50 degrees Fahrenheit I saw no bees at all flying from two of the hives and only a couple from the third.  I did later, however, see a couple of bees working a camellia, a flower said to be favoured by the hornets.  The bees were superficially of native appearance, which is good as Eden is taking part in the B4 project to encourage native bees in the area.  They had a meeting of BIBBA there yesterday which I was unable to attend as it conflicted with the holiday arrangements. No doubt there will be a report in due course.

During my visit I conducted a scientific comparison of the Devonian and the Cornish ways of consuming scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream and concluded that I prefer the Devon method, ie with the jam on top of the cream.

On the way out via the shop, my attention was drawn to the jars of honey they have for sale.  Besides the usual clear or soft set (sold in kilner jars) they had jars of nuts (almonds or walnuts) and of mixed seeds filled up with honey.  I don’t often eat honey but might be tempted by doing this next time I rob my bees!

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