Gosh I feel full! Having got up even before the crack of dawn, I turned up at the lecture day at the Kings of Wessex Academy at Cheddar at 8.50, with 10 minutes to spare, only to be told that, as I hadn’t booked in advance, I couldn’t have lunch as the cooks were catering for a precise number. However, I would be able to partake freely of the refreshments and ‘Refreshments’ was scrawled on my ticket.
Apart from tea and coffee, there was a multitude of cakes, scones, flapjack, Easter cakes, chocolate and even Eccles cakes. I sampled all of them, several times, during the course of the day and so didn’t need lunch. I reckon I have consumed much more of that sort of grub today than the rest of the year combined, so far!
Jerry Burbidge of Northern Bee Books was in the foyer with several tables of books. I counted 4 copies of ‘Getting the Best from Your Bees’, written by me and by Dave MacFawn of S.Carolina, at the beginning of the day, but only 2 at the end. Clare Densley of Buckfast Abbey was there. She told me that she had just bought a copy on the internet.
The first lecturer was my third favourite (after Robert Pickard of Wales and Simon Rees of Wales/Ireland) : Jamie Ellis of America. His subject was Varroa IPM, Theory and Practice (but he, being American, spelt it ‘Practise’). Unfortunately, he was using a powerpoint presentation so the curtains were drawn and the lights turned out and so I found it difficult to write legible notes. The other problem with powerpoint is that, when the lights go down so do the eyelids and I wasn’t the only person to suffer this way, particularly after ‘lunch’.
From what I can make of my notes, Varroa is, nowadays, to be found all over the world except Australia and parts of central Africa. It is possible that they get their nutrition from bees’ torso and fat rather than their haemolymph.
Jamie showed a graph of the bee population of America (presumably just the USA) between 1941 and 2014. The peak of the graph was in the earlier part of the time line and, with the zig zags smoothed, has been fairly level for the last 40 years with the annual loss rate being about half of what it was pre-Varroa. Net annual losses in Florida pre-Varroa were 1.57%. Beekeepers replace the losses without a problem.
They don’t use oxalic acid in the southern states as it is really only beneficial in cooler climates where there is a brood-free period. Mite fall is monitored by sticky boards under screened floors with 180 mites over 3 days triggering treatment. Another way is to shake 300 bees into a honey jar. That number of bees are about an inch and half deep in the jar. 2 tablespoons of icing sugar are added, they’re shaken up and the sugar and mites are poured onto a board through the mesh lid to the jar. 3 mites per 100 bees triggers treatment.
Resistant strains of bees keep mite numbers low but open mating means that the next generation is likely to be less resistant. Floor screens reduce the Varroa population by about 14%.
That’s reduced an hour’s lecture to a few paragraphs. It was followed immediately by Steve Martin on the Asian Hornet (Vespa velutina) He opened with a Latin quotation that I didn’t catch but he translated it as ‘Bees are God’s creatures: wasps are creatures of the Devil!’.
They were found in 2004 in France, possibly having hitched a ride with some imported pottery from China and now are found over much of France, mainly the warmer parts. More recently, they have been found in NW Portugal. In France, 88% of the hornets’ diet is honeybees.
Traps don’t get rid of them but, instead, destroy valuable native species. The best way to destroy their nests,which are usually high in trees, is with fire if it can be done safely. Their stings can kill people and can penetrate through bees suits. They can spray venom through veils. They’re coming here soon!
They are mainly black in colour apart from yellow on the legs and on a band towards the rear end of the abdomen. They’re slightly smaller than our native, yellow, hornet but about twice the size of wasps.
The only occasions that I have found our hornets inside hives have been early in the year when they were dead but propolised queens. On each occasion there was some disruption to the penultimate segment of the abdomen. I don’t know whether that is a weak spot or just a result of dessication of the corpse.
After a coffee (and biscuits etc) break, we had a talk by master beekeeper John Whitaker on Beekeeping with a Bandsaw. He started by showing a list of all the equipment a beekeeper with a score of hives would need and the price from Thorne’s catalogue. It was about £8,000!
He then showed us (in the dark!) some of the pieces equipment he had made and talked about them, illustrated with pictures. First was a lidded box that hooks onto the outside of a brood box in which the frame with the queen on it is placed when she is found when going through a hive. This is so she can easily be found if necessary, for example if queen cells are found further along.
Next were wooden manipulation covers, performing the same feat as cover cloths with (he told us, but didn’t explain why) less chance of transferring foulbrood between colonies. They came 3 to a hive with handles.
Then was a complicated warming cabinet with old fashioned light bulbs and a fan. I prefer my own design heated by a soil-warming cable.
Then an Ashforth feeder with mesh at the entrance to contain the bees and give them a grip to avoid drowning. It was deeper than the standard model to enable more syrup to be fed at once.
Next was a 6 frame nucleus box with an integrated feeder (like mine!), a mesh floor and a small entrance He emphasised the need to seal the edges of the plywood to prevent it de-laminating through moisture penetrating. I do that with beeswax and a hot iron. All his hives have ventilation at the bottom and insulation at the top.
Wide dummies of the Ben Harden type: I’ve got some of those.
A swarm vacuum powered by a garden blower; observation hive, solar wax extractor, tilting frame for bottling honey, swarm box for queen rearing, Snelgrove board and roof complete the list.
Then it was time for lunch for those who had tickets, while I snacked on yet more cakey stuff in my car.
After lunch it was Jamie Ellis again on Small Hive Beetle. His first digression was about, when he was a young teenager, on the advice of his mentor shooting a swarm with a 12 bore in order to kill the queen so that the bees would return to the hive. Despite several attempts it didn’t work so he had to put them in a box instead! He did point out that beekeeping is 3% fact and 97% fiction!
Beekeepers in Florida don’t bother much about SHB any more.
The beetles have club ended antennae, short wing covers and are solidly coloured dark brown/black. The larvae do the damage, eating pollen, bee brood and honey. Their faeces causes honey to ferment. The larvae eventually leave the hive to pupate in the soil outside, preferring moist sandy soil, which they will travel some way to find, so a small concrete base under your apiary won’t help a lot. He didn’t mention chickens.
Although SHB are expected to be brought in on fruit (or potted plants or on imported bees) there’s no evidence in Florida of the beetles on fruit. They fly well and even accompany swarms. Inside the hive SHB are sometimes imprisoned by the bees. Through the use of yeast they mimic the honeybee alarm pheromone, which attracts even more SHB.
The final lecturer was Steve Martin again. His subject was the exotic travels of a Varroa/Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) researcher. He showed us pictures of the places he’s been around the world.
Varroa mites, of course, spread DWV, but are not the cause of it as DWV was known in the UK, Egypt and Venezuela before Varroa appeared.
The COLOSS network, which has study locations scattered around the world, has been plotting colony losses caused by Vd/DWV. They are high in the Northern hemisphere but much lower in the Southern. Varroa are now world-wide, except for Australia. Bees without deformed wings might also have DWV.
Steve showed us pictures of the Kruger National Park in South Africa where rhino skulls are being used as hive stands! They use elephant dung in their smokers.
With regard to cell size, which was thought to reduce mite reproduction numbers: the biggest cells are of the Apis cerana drones, which were the mites’ preferred breeding ground before transferring to Apis mellifera; however smaller cells result in smaller bees so therefore there’s no great affect.
In Hawaii they rear about half a million queens a year for export, therefore causing a genetic bottleneck. All the colonies have Nosema cerana which causes no problems.
There have, so far, been 3 strains of DWV identified, A, B and C. A kills bees via Varroa; C possibly is connected with winter losses but B (the Bond experiment ‘live and let die’ and Ron’s bees were written on the ppt slide but not mentioned) is not lethal. It appears that the non-lethal strain keeps out the lethal ones.
We finished and packed up soon after 5pm. It was a full, informative and enjoyable day for (I guesstimate) about 200 of us.