Just for a change, on this occasion I’m not writing about Gormanston but about today’s events.  I’ve been trying to update my apiary details on Bee Base but have been having difficulties in logging on and changing the password.  I emailed them last night and this morning received a helpful reply that enabled me to sort it out and add my apiary at Bovington where I have one hive in a friend’s garden.

This afternoon I went first to Greenwood Grange where two colonies have been wasped out.  I added a mesh floor, modified to act as a wasp trap, to the third hive there.

Then, unplanned, I decided to go on to Bovington, 14 miles to the east.  It is in the Purbecks with plenty of heathland around and, as I drove, kept an eye out for flowers but saw very little bee-forage.  I got to my friend’s house and saw more flowers in the 10 yards between my car and their front door than I’d seen in the last 10 miles driving.  I mentioned this and was shown a card which was their award for having the best garden around!

I went to the hive, a WBC, in the back garden and opened up.  There was some propolis on the screen I’d added, having seen that they were keen on collecting it. The top super was the heaviest I’ve lifted this year but the two lower ones were empty.

The upper brood box had plenty of stores.  I had a second brood box to make a comb change as I’d noticed that the brood box that was the only one when I took over the hive in the spring had dark comb and that the brood was a bit spotty.

I started going through the frames. The outer ones had just honey, much more than in the hive at Greenwood Grange.  The 3rd frame had brood surrounded by stores and the next had more brood.

Then I noticed that there were a few cappings of the sealed brood that looked a little flatter and darker than the majority.  I plucked a small twig from an adjacent rose, about the size of a matchstick.  I thrust the end through one of the odd cappings, twisted and withdrew it.  It drew out what appeared to be a strand of dark toffee. AFB!

I closed the hive and rang Kevin Pope, the Bee Inspector as soon as I could.  He’s coming to inspect on Friday but I have little doubt that he’ll confirm my diagnosis and take appropriate action.

As the majority of people who read this blog aren’t based in the UK, I should explain that AFB, American Foul Brood, is a ‘notifiable disease’ which beekeepers, by law, have to report.  We have Bee Inspectors who know what they’re doing and have the latest diagnostic equipment.  If the diagnosis is confirmed, Kevin will kill the bees, burn and bury all the contents of the hive and scorch with a blow torch the woodwork.

Since the Government has been doing this AFB has become a rarity.  I have just looked on Bee Base and the nearest case of AFB is several counties away.  They used also to burn and bury for EFB but about 20 years ago started using alternative treatments such as anti-biotics and/or shook swarming, since when it seems to me to be on the increase but I have no statistics to back up my opinion.

On my way home I called in at two supermarkets looking for caustic soda without success. I did, however, find a new version of a bleach for toilets that claims to kill all germs dead, including spores, so I have given my hive tools and tool belt a long soak in this. Tomorrow I will do my jacket and veil.

Spookily, only yesterday I ordered a new jacket and veil on ebay.  The first time I saw AFB was at a BKA apiary visit in the mid 1980s.  I was standing behind Mervyn Bown when he took the photo of the matchstick test that was published in Hooper and Morse’s Encyclopaedia of Beekeeping in 1985.

The only other time I’ve seen it was when the then Regional Bee Inspector, Beulah Cullen, was doing an educational tour of apiaries for the BKA.  It was late in the afternoon when most people had drifted away when we were going through the hives that a commercial beekeeper had placed next to fields of rape.  It was on about the 13th of 14 hives that she spotted odd cells and did the matchstick test identifying AFB. Who was the beekeeper? Kevin Pope!



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GORMANSTON 2017 – Part 9

Down to the lecture theatre for the last lecture of the day, Monday: the Deasy Memorial talk, John Breen on the History of Irish Beekeeping.

It was an interesting talk, starting with the question of whether or not there had ever been a land bridge between England/Wales and Ireland across which bees could have passed unaided.  The conclusion was that bees had probably been imported.  There were photos of bee boles, including some indoors and it was suggested that skeps were wintered indoors in the dark.  Strangely, since I’ve been back, there has been news of an archaeological discovery in London of some Tudor cellars with what is assumed to be bee boles for wintering.

John read us some excerpts from ancient books about bees, which were interesting but I didn’t take notes.

After the lecture I walked to the Huntsman and had a pint of Guinness, unfortunately from the fridge.  I was hoping to catch up with emails but couldn’t get a signal. I went back to the College and had a whisky and water in the Refectory and did my computer stuff there. I was in bed by 11 but didn’t get to sleep until after the others had got to bed, the upper and lower bunks by the window, after 1am.  I didn’t sleep too well then but woke at 6 and got up at 6.30.

By 7.15 I was out walking down the road opposite the main gate and then down to the beach next to the Delvin estuary. The tide was out so there was a good firm surface of damp sand to walk on. It was clear so I could see lots of ships out at sea, mainly in the north east. Mistakenly, I turned off the beach too soon and walked up the road past the station. Then I got to the main road and had to walk about a mile to the Huntsman.  I saw a 101 bus stop at the shelter opposite the pub but there was no timetable.

I got in the queue for breakfast at 8.15.  Having worked up an appetite, I had porage, to which I added a little muesli, All Bran and yoghourt, followed by two slices of toast, one with jam and the other with honey

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GORMANSTON 2017 – Part 8

After John Hendrie’s lecture it was time for dinner. I had beef stroganov and a slice of cake. Then I went for a wander round the grounds but it came on to rain so I hastened back via the yew cloister/tunnel.

I was in the front row as usual for the first evening lecture: Philip McCabe on Beekeeping -The Global Picture.  Much of it was about the aims and objectives of Apimondia, of which he is President.  I hadn’t realised that they did more than just their biennial conference.  Denmark is bidding for the 2021 Apimondia which I shall try to attend as the Danes (unlike their ancestors 1,000 years ago) are so pleasant and friendly. I’d like to go to the Apimondia in Istanbul next month but have been unable to find any beekeeping association organising a trip.

Philip sketched out the main problems : abnormal bee mortality, although colony loss is not as great in the southern hemisphere as in the north.  Honey adulteration, stricter regulations, increase in production costs, fewer young beekeepers, insecticides and pesticides – a new generation of molecules and their metabolites, neonicotinoids, Varroa, decrease of pollen sources through the use of monoculture and weedkillers, colony management/manipulation causing stress, thousands of colonies in one spot, climate change, wax contamination getting into foundation, infant botulism, legal and illegal antibiotics, transgenic pollen.

What a list!

Anticipated future problems include: new generations of pesticides, nanoparticles, radioactive substances, beekeepers’ own misuse of chemicals, honey adulteration through beekeepers feeding syrup. The Chinese ultra-filter honey and then add pollen to disguise the source. Some countries have organic standards, but the UK and EU don’t.

He mentioned the ICYB the International Convention of Young Beekeepers which is intended to encourage youngsters to come and play. He wound up by reminding us that bees (and other pollinators?) are needed for 35% of our food chain and are essential for biodiversity.

At question time at the end I suggested that it should become standard practice for blue food dye to be added to syrup for feeding bees so as to make it obvious when it was contaminating honey.

I went back to my room after the lecture and found that two more people had moved in and left their bags there!

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GORMANSTON 2017 – Part 7

After a break for tea and biscuits I went to the second lecture of Monday afternoon: John Hendrie on Senses of the Honeybee.  This was an interesting subject and well presented and I took copious notes.  Let’s see how well I can read them.

The Senses: Taste, Smell, Touch, Hearing, Sight, Gravity, Time, all go through the nervous system: brain and ganglia through thorax and abdomen.  John displayed a picture of the mouthparts from Dade’s book. Taste is mainly for sugar concentration.

Sight. 2 compound eyes, 3 ocelli. Drones’eyes are much bigger, meeting at the top of the head and pushing the ocelli forward.  Vision. The queen has around 3,500 ommatidia (lenses) in her compound eyes, workers 5,500 and drones 10,000.  Each lens has 8 segments each of which is sensitive to a different wavelength.  Resolution is about 100 times worse than human vision.  Flicker frequency about 200 – 300 ( 6 – 10 times faster than us) and therefore they are good at seeing lights flashing off and on.  Bees see polarised light, giving the sky a pattern of shades of grey, which helps them navigate.

Colour vision was investigated by Von Frisch back in 1914.  They see about 70 colours ranging from ultra-violet to orange in the range of 300 – 650 illegibles whereas people see colours in the range 370 – 750 illegibles.  The nectar guides in flowers often show up as ultra-violet lines which bees can see but we can’t.

They can do pattern and landmark recognition and can tell left and right, so it’s ok to put hives in pairs but not triples.  They can learn what flowers look and smell like.

The ocelli each have about 800 receptor cells. They can detect changes in light intensity but can’t focus light.  They help with navigation and flight stability. Peak sensitivity is to green and UV light.  They are covered in hairs for protection.

Antennae have lots of organs described as plates, pits, flakes, domes and hairs of various lengths. Between them they are sensitive to smell, taste, CO2, temperature, movement and alignment. The Johnston’s organ acts as an air-speed indicator in flight. The worker’s antennae have 10 segments but the drones (men being more sensitive than ladies) have 11.

Sound. Bees have no ‘ears’ but their legs respond to the vibration caused by bees dancing on the comb. Both queens and workers respond to queen piping, again probably through comb vibration, not as we hear it.

Gravity is useful in the darkness of the hive for interpreting the meaning and direction of the waggle dance.  Hair plates are the organs they use for this.

Sting sense organs are mechano-receptors that detect the distribution of the lancets when the sting is in use so the barbs alternate.

Time. Bees can be trained to 24 hours cycles only, so they return to the same flower source at the same time each day. They can have several sources which yield nectar at different times of day.

Hormones are important in bee development. The juvenile hormones produced in the larval stages ensure they are fed properly by their big sisters.  Queen larvae give different hormones so they are fed differently with more sugar but less protein than workers: royal jelly vs worker jelly.

There’s more but I can’t read it.  I may have mis-read some of what I have written above, so feel free to correct me in you know better.  I know that one or two people were recording lectures on their portable telephones but I don’t know how to do that.

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GORMANSTON 2017 – Part 6

After the workshop it was time for lunch, which was almost the same as last night’s dinner: soup, chicken and circular chips.  After lunch I sought a quiet spot to write up these notes and it was only when I got the programme out to see what was next that I saw that I had missed the annual group photograph!

I found out later that I hadn’t missed it as it had been postponed by a day because of the rain. Phew!

I went to an Intermediate lecture by Tom Prendergast on Queen Rearing on a Small Scale.  I took notes but they are barely legible so there may be a few errors in what follows. If anybody else who was there and reading this wants to correct me, please do!  As I have mentioned before, I wish people giving powerpoint lectures would hand out notes.

First note is the association website: http://www.southtippbees.com and I have the letters FB next to it,which makes me think that they may be on Facebook.  The first question was ‘What is a small scale?’  to which I have no recorded answer although I recall that my mind at the time  was envisioning a little spring balance!

Benefits of Queen Rearing: It’s for everyone. Continuous improvement. Maximise yield with minimum of effort. Breed suitable bees for your area. Reduce swarming. Achievement – over years.

Criteria for queens: Age (2+). Frames of brood April, May, June. Swarm cells: date,how many?  Egg laying, brood pattern, supers of bees.

PATH TO SUCCESS: Record keeping. Select drone breeders.  Disease check: chalkbrood and nosema.  Eliminate the worst. Select breeding stock.

METHODS OF QUEEN REARING: Harvesting queen cells; grafting; Cupkits. Incubator unnecessary. Use of queen cages in hive: cover top of queen cell with foil.

GRAFTING : donor hive; cell raiser; distribution of queen cells; mating; assessment.

MAKING UP A CELL RAISER: dummy board feeder, frame of open fresh stores, frame of pollen, cell bars, open young brood, frame of stores with pollen and brood.  Graft from new comb.Cut cell walls down to make larvae easy to reach. Use Chinese grafting tool.

RECORD IN YOUR DIARY: Graft Sunday (3.5 days old). Check Monday for acceptance (4.5 days old). Check Thursday for sealed cells (7.5 days old) and break them.  Friday -sealed cells 8.5 days old. Cage on Wednesday, 13th day. Hatch on Saturday, 15th day.

DISTRIBUTION OF QUEEN CELLS:  Apidea, nucleus,  mini-nuc, full hive. Feed small nucs.

All beekeepers should give it a go!


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GORMANSTON 2017 – Part 5

After coffee, I headed across the way to a workshop (we didn’t do any work!) on  Queen Rearing Using a Cloake Board by Mark Newenham.

A Cloake Board is a rim the size of a crown board into which you can slide in or out a sheet of metal or plastic. It has an upper entrance and sits on a queen excluder.  To use it you’ll need a strong, congested colony (may need feeding), a queenless colony then also queenright supersedure queen cell protectors.

A queen’s incubation period is 16 days of which 8 are open and 8 sealed.  Graft on day 4, take out cells on day 14.  The queen will mate around day 22 and will be laying about day 27.

Why use a Cloake Board?  It takes advantage of both queenright and queenless systems. Method: place the queen in a brood box with the sealed brood.  This goes on the floor which has been rotated 180 degrees so that the entrance is now at the rear.  Add the queen excluder, the Cloake board with the sheeting removed and the entrance facing the front of the hive, then the top brood box containing open brood and pollen and stores.  The flying bees will soon find and get used to using the Cloake Board entrance.

Wait 7 days  to ensure that all the brood in the top box has been sealed so there is no opportunity to make queen cells. Insert the slider to make the top half queenless. Insert a bar with plastic queen cups for a day to acquire the scent of the hive.

On day 8 graft into the cell cups from your chosen hive.  Check for any queen cells (unlikely) in the hive and add the frame with the bar of grafts.  On day 9 remove the slider from the Cloake Board, making the top box once again queen right so that the workers will continue to treat the grafted cells as supersedure cells.

Wait 10 days. On day 18 remove the frame with the cells, the baby queens within which are now 14 days old.  Transfer them to apideas, mating nuclei or an incubator.

To introduce a queen to a nucleus, spray the bees with dilute syrup, spray the queen with the same syrup and drop her in.

From which hives should you graft?  Select for docility, honey production, brood pattern, overwintering, pest and disease resistance/tolerance.  Check for Varroa resistance/hygiene by the pin prick test.  Breed from locally adapted strains.  Work with local beekeepers in your BKA or form a breeding group.

Expect a success rate of around 50% so rear twice as many as you’ll need.  Weather is a great factor in success or failure.

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GORMANSTON 2017 – Part 4

The first lecture I attended, starting at 9.30 on Monday morning, was Dennis Ryan on Harvesting the Crop.  I took a page of barely legible notes.  It’s very difficult to keep up when you’re noting what the last powerpoint slide said as the next one is on screen and being discussed.  That’s why, back in my working days, whenever I had to give a Ppt presentation I would provide a printed handout of the script with space alongside to make notes.

Here goes: Shake a frame to see if honey comes out. Use a refractometer.  Allow the crop to ripen in the hive for at least two weeks after the end of the honey flow.

Dennis has about 100 hives with 10 or a dozen in each apiary. Bees are collecting water in August to dilute honey for use.

He showed us his clearer board with 2 holes in opposite corners with rims with a slot around.  Open mesh floors are below the hive with insulation above.

He uses Apiguard for Varroa control and oxalic acid.  He mentioned Bee Go but didn’t say where he got it. I haven’t been able to obtain any in the UK for years as they aren’t allowed to send it from the USA by air and they’ve forgotten how to ship things by ship!  If anyone can figure out how to replenish my supply, please let me know.  It stinks so I wouldn’t use it anywhere near honey, but it’s great for shifting a swarm out of a cavity or steering to so that it comes within reach.

Dennis recommends young queens and has over 90 this year.  He covers the floor of the extracting room with a plastic sheet and strains honey at no more than 42 degrees centigrade.  Any warmer than that and it destroys the enzymes that distinguish honey from golden syrup!

Record keeping is important.

Dennis went slightly over time so there couldn’t be too many questions.  The fact that I found most useful was that an entrance 1/4″ deep is mouse-proof whereas one 3/8″ isn’t!


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