I’d found a small plastic bucket with honey and wax and, as I know that the bees on my allotment are a bit light, I thought I’d let them have it rather than use it for cooking, so I donned mac and wellies and took it there in the rain. To my surprise, the bees were flying more strongly than I had seen them doing so far, even in the intermittent rain. Some of them showed the ghostly white thorax that reveals that they are working on Himalayan Balsam. There’s a decent patch in the nearby water meadows. I inverted the bucket over the feed hole and put a couple of empty supers round it then went home to prepare for the expedition.
I hadn’t been home long when the phone rang. it was my apprentice, Dave, who lives a couple of miles away. He’d been looking at the bees flying from my hive in his paddock and was worried because lots of them seemed to be carrying a parasite: large and white, on their backs. I told him that it was the balsam pollen and that he should go down to the stream that skirts the field and watch the bees working it.
I then emptied a couple of tea bags and refilled them with a teaspoon each of thymol crystals, placing them in an airgun pellet tin with a screw top. Then I made myself a packed lunch and headed for my apprentice, Sarah’s, place, the Bee Happy Plants Nursery, at Tatworth in Somerset. After greeting her and presenting her with the biggest bouquet she has ever received, I went down to the Top Bar Hive and, with no precautions beyond stealth, opened them with my Swiss Army hive tool, removing a couple of bars about half way back so I could get a hand in and place one of the thymol bags against the rear comb. The fumes will have to travel past all the occupied combs to disperse through the entrance and, hopefully, will give any varroa mites a hard time en route. I left the other bag in the tin and lodged it under the roof for Sarah to use in a fortnight’s time. I took a few moments to stand at the front of the hive and watch. These, too, were flying strongly and coming back dusted with balsam pollen as well as some conventional loads.
Ah yes, you’re wondering about the bouquet I expect. I have a clump of Globe Thistle (Echinops sphaerocephalus) growing next to my polytunnel. They are as tall as me and the flower heads are now turning into seed heads. I had sent Sarah an envelope full of seeds last year but they didn’t take so, this year, I thought that she, an expert, could harvest them herself when she decides they are ripe and ready. Why would she want them? Because she is bee-mad and bees of many species feast on them. That reminds me that yesterday, at the Eden Project, I saw in two places, clumps of flowering purple angelica and the round heads were covered in bees and wasps of many species, most of which I didn’t recognise.
Sarah introduced me to her Mother, who was visiting, and we nattered over a cup of tea while I ate my bread and cheese. We talked for too long and we were late in setting off for Buckfast Abbey where DARG (the Devon Apicultural Research Group) was to meet to be updated by Clare Densley on her experimental application of predatory mites to control Varroa. Murphy’s Law being what it is, as we were late starting, the traffic was thicker and slower moving than expected and we were about 15 minutes late by the time we got to the Abbey. It’s a big place and I had no idea where the meeting was to be, so we went into the shop and enquired. The assistant didn’t know but directed us to the conference rooms. We walked down to them and explored until we found somebody behind a desk, who used a phone to put us in touch with Clare, who told us that tea was still being brewed and cake distributed. We were given directions. The apiary is no longer in the Abbey grounds but about 300 yards away as the bee flies. We drove in a semi-circle and through an industrial estate and then found a cluster of cars next to a porta-cabin wherein was DARG!
Sarah isn’t a member of DARG (yet!) but no comment was made and we were presented with tea and cake (most people chose the apple cake in preference to the sponge). I think most people had met her already as, at a joint DARG/ Devon BKA seminar last year, she did a brilliant electricity-free powerpoint presentation on pollen. That was when I first met her.
There were 15 of us in the portacabin/ bee room; more than usual at a DARG meeting. There was a small library beshelved on one wall. I think I have copies of most of the books there. On another wall, facing me, was inscribed a brilliant poem. Clare said it had been written by her niece. Tea and cake consumed, the meeting started, chaired by Richard Ball. Clare told us of this year’s experiments. The Bee Vet, this time, had arranged a ‘blind’ trial and Clare was presented with bags labelled either A or B, one of which, mixed with inert dust, contained living Stratiolaelaps mites that attack Varroa mites in the same way that they would attack their usual victim, the red spider mite on hens; the other tea bag (aren’t tea bags useful!) contained just the dust and no mites.
Claire randomly applied A or B bags in 2 apiaries of 5 hives: two As and three Bs in one and three As and two Bs in the other. All the hives had been treated with a miticide earlier in order to equalise them as far as possible. It didn’t take Clare long to work out whether it was the ‘A’ bags or the ‘B’s that had mites in as the, regularly checked, mite drop in one letter was always low whereas the drop in the hives treated with bags with the other letter soared. Richard Ball had been doing similar things with his own bees with similar results, but with a much smaller sample.
The conversation opened up between us and I have noted that the effectiveness/problems with Apiguard and thymol are temperatute dependent. It is ok to use Bayvarol/Apiguard about/less than one year in three to avoid resistance problems. I haven’t used Bayvarol this century but, as I have an unopened packet, may do so in a hive where I am due to change the comb anyway as I don’t want residue in the wax.
A product called ‘Hive Clean’ was reported to keep Varroa levels low once they have been reduced to a low level. The problem is that, like the anti-varroa mites, it is expensive and beekeepers are tight fisted! Ron Hoskins and his, relatively successful, attempt to breed resistant bees (or bees/mites with a stable relationship) was discussed with some admiration and approbation.
We are to be notified of somebody (it may be Declan Scroder of Plymouth University) wants sample of fresh mites sent to him for DNA analysis, and there was some discusssion of sampling techniques.
The meeting broke up at about 4.30, which was about half an hour after we had intended to leave as Sarah had to get home to prepare for her son’s birthday party. I had nudged her soon after 4 but she was so interested in the discussion that she gave it priority. She had been impressed with all the talk of mesh floors and looking at the mites and other fallen debris and wanted to know if this could be done with the top bar hive. The short answer is that it can’t, so, on the way home, we mentally redesigned it!
Sarah has already cut her planks and bevelled them so as to fit together is a curve to make a half cylinder. She could add an extra plank each side and wire mesh, curved to shape, beneath. A way to fit and remove a collection tray remains to be devised. It occurs to me as I type that Sarah could alternate the direction of the bevelled planks to make straight sides which would meet a level base at right angles. The base could have a slot to allow a varroa collection tray to slide in/out. We will need to discover a source of 1/8″ mesh of a dimension that will enable it to be bent into a semi-circular curve to fit under the top bars and guide the bees to build comb to fit.