I was contacted by Kevin Pope, our local Bee Inspector, because my name keeps appearing on the FERA computer as having an apiary within three miles and a furlong of where European Foul Brood has been found. He wanted to arrange a tour of my apiaries to see whether my bees had it too. We spent several weeks at this busy time of year exchanging emails in an attempt to get some of my apprentices along as part of their education. It didn’t work out and, apart from Kevin, it was just me and a beekeeping friend who is more experienced than I am.
We agreed first to meet at Frampton where I share an apiary with a friend. Our cars met nose to nose (not quite!) at the road junction leading to this site. Currently I don’t have bees of my own there but my friend Glenn, who does, is on the sick list at the moment and he was happy that we look at his hives. The first one, to which I gave an extra brood box a couple of months ago as it was over crowded, is in a bad way. Probably it won’t survive as they seem to have lost their queen (they swarmed ages ago) and the new one isn’t well-mated. There was some brood that looked suspicious to Kevin and he took a sample and applied it to the Vita test kit, which works in a similar fashion to pregancy test kit, so I’m told (never having been pregnant myself despite my paunch!). The result was negative. Kevin was able to show me a tiny, white, immature varroa mite that he detached from one of the pupae that he removed from an open cell.
Glenn’s other hive there (which may be a swarm that has moved in as I don’t recall that hive being occupied earlier) is doing very well in a single brood box. It may be a good idea (subject to discussion with Glenn of course!) to unite them.
We left that site and drove in convoy about 25 miles westwards to Tatworth in Somerset where my apprentice, Sarah Holdsworth, has her Bee Happy Plants nursery. Technically this isn’t in Kevin’s area, but he is aware of EFB close by so it was sensible to check. I have 2 hives there and so does Sarah, although we tend to work them together as one unit. First we looked at her polystyrene National (if that isn’t an oxymoron!) which she is treating as if a Top Bar Hive, having stocked it with bars from one of ours there. She has had the novel idea of nailing what look like Ikea chopsticks under each bar as a focus for the bees to draw comb in an alignment convenient for removal. Kevin, correctly, suggested that it might be a good idea to apply some wax to the bars to increase the likelihood of the bees acting as desired.
Next we looked at Sarah’s TBH which is a copy of mine: a half cylinder with 17″ top bars for compatability with National kit. It’s fine and healthy and doing well and should provide a crop of propolis. Then we looked at my new THB which has a mesh floor and a tray underneath, which Sarah removes daily in order to check mitefall and other debris as Ron Hoskins does at Swindon. The hive seems to average a drop of about a mite per week!
Lastly we looked at my original TBH, build in 1998 from pallet wood and now sadly twisted so we have had to block gaps with sponges. This has been doing so well that it has stocked 2 other hives and still managed to build cross comb at the rear (which we can sort out at harvest time). I have had to super it, removing a bar in each half and covering the gap with queen excluder. There isn’t a lot of honey in the supers and the bees have built new comb suspended from the QE. We found the back of the brood area and moved forward examining a comb at a time until Kevin was satisfied that they are healthy.
Having done our duty at Sarah’s, we took a lunch break and Kevin rang Rosetta, an apiarist at the next site, to give my car sat nav’s estimation of our time of arrival, 3pm, allowing a quarter of an hour for us to chomp our picnic lunch. We set off, again in convoy, and my sat nav led us from Somerset via Devon back into Dorset where we hit the queue on the trunk road and proceeded in fits and starts incredibly slowly along the road where there was no obvious reason for the congestion. I turned my engine off several times. Maybe the cause is more people holidaying at home.
Eventually we arrived at Ourganics 20 minutes later than estimated where we found Rosetta and a friend (who’s name will re-enter my brain as soon as I’ve posted this) lighting a smoker. Pat, the owner of Ourganics, a 5 acre permacultural holding where she lives totally off-grid (except for a telephone line), wasn’t able to be there herself but was happy for us to examine her hive. We went through Rosetta’s first, then Pat’s, both Nationals, Pat’s having been stocked by the first swarm to issue from my TBH there. Then we went through one of those strange TBHs with an unnatural trapeziodal shape and an entrance halfway down the side, almost guaranteeing isolation starvation in the winter! The owner, Jim (nobody knew his surname) wasn’t there but had given permission for us to open and examine his hive.
All was well at Ourganics and Kevin didn’t feel the need to take another sample. We had a good natter about bees and beekeeping and our reasons for playing with them. I was pleased that Kevin was aware of my (co-authored with Dave MacFawn of S.Carolina) book: ‘Getting the Best from Your Bees’ and wants to buy a copy. It is available from Amazon or the publisher, Outskirts Press. For technophiles, the cheapest way of getting a copy (about £2 or $3 as I recall, but I could be wrong) is to download it.
We left Ourganics and headed for the next destination, Tincleton, on the far side of Dorchester. The traffic was almost static on the dual carriageway. Eventually Kevin got out of his car during a jam and suggested that we call it a day for now and resume on another occasion, when we can look at my other sites, and maybe those of apprentices.