My old Top Bar Hive that is now in its 20th year was in a sorry state when I brought it back from Sarah’s with a gap near the front where the bottom plank had rotted away leaving a gap big enough to allow a mouse in!  I built it from scavenged pallets and first had bees in it in 1998, so it has done very well.

I found some bits of ply and covered over the hole from within then, having found an ancient pot of filler in the shed, filled up the hole and smoothed it.  I also put a sheet of ply over the front as the planks were getting gappy.  I suppose I ought to apply some paint or preservative before I put it to work again, but I don’t want to use anything smelly.  I shall have a look round the shed again.

As we transferred the top bars and bees to the replacement hive at Sarah’s, I needed to make some more.  Again I used a scrap pallet that I prised apart to recover the planks. I had to use my circular saw again for the first time in ages.  11 years ago, again when making bee kit, the saw devoured the top half inch or so of my left thumb, so, as I was working, I kept reciting to myself parts of the poem I wrote about it while in hospital. It worked and I did the work unscathed.

The bars are 17″ long, so as to be combatable with National equipment in case I want to take a nucleus for instance.  I made the bars a little wider than intended this time, almost an inch and a half, so I moved the guide bar by a smidgeon and put the top bars through again so they are now one and three eighths of an inch and are smooth each side.

There is some dispute among bees and their keepers as to the exact width and, in truth, there isn’t one!  Bees tend to prefer their combs closer together in the brood area and further apart in the larder, but they use the larder for brood rearing at the height of the season so compromise and flexibility are necessary.

With narrower bars, I can take one out from the rear and ease the others apart by a smidgeon.  Depending on season etc, on my next visit I can take a hive tool and take a crop of propolis that the bees have applied to fill the gaps.  I don’t use a lot of propolis myself, sometimes sprinkling some on my breakfast muesli if I’m going among strangers or places where I might pick up an infection, but I have a friend who is a medical herbalist who welcomes any propolis I can spare her.  She gave me (in exchange for Marts, our local currency) a propolis throat spray last year when I was rough. I think it helped, and, anyway, it tastes good!

I have just been applying wax in a line down the rougher face of each new top bar, using a soldering iron in one hand and a lump of beeswax in the other.  This is to guide the bees in drawing new comb and I applied it to the rougher side of the bars so the bees would have a better hand/foothold.

I hope, probably this weekend to set up the TBH as a bait hive in the large cider orchard of a friend’s organic farm over the boundary in darkest Somerset, putting it on fence posts near the badger sett, so they won’t be able to reach.  Later I’ll set up a National or two on the other side or the orchard where I hope the badgers don’t stray. I think they tend to keep to their own paths as much as possible.


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I think there were about 8 of us at the DARG meeting at Newton Abbot BKA’s apiary today, plus the team from the BKA who fed us on coffee and biscuits all day.  There should have been more, but Liz Rescorla has a sick dog to look after and apprentice Sarah has to tend to her elderly Mum on Sundays.  I don’t know where Jan got to.

The BKA has a lovely shed/meeting room that has all mod cons supplied off-grid (although I think the water may be piped in) so there was a cheerful fire going to warm us up as the day was cool at first. I’m glad I’ve been there before as my gps has packed up so I had to find my way by memory: I drove past it and had to turn back!

After the usual civilities and consuming our picnic lunch, the first event was Glyn Davies giving a magic lantern show of lots of the microscope slides of the spermathecae of queens, often revealing disrupted membranes and scattered sperm.  Glyn couldn’t understand why there was a bit of flickering of the pictures.  Probably the projector needs a new wick.

He pointed out that the views weren’t as good as you’d see through a microscope as they were plane whereas with a microscope, if you use your hands to adjust the focus as much as your eyes, you get a much greater depth of view.

The slides from which the pictures were taken are part of DARG’s project concerning drone laying queens and deformed wing virus.  Volunteer microscopists are given slides to examine and report upon which have slices of the spermathecae of drone laying queens or of normal queens which have been laying well but have been replaced by the beekeeper as they’ve passed their second birthday.  To avoid bias, the slides are numbered, but the microscopist can’t tell from the number whether the queen was a layer or not.  The slides are passed around so that each one is examined at least twice, independently.

The theory (yet to be proved) is that Deformed Wing Virus, passed around by Varroa, is to blame for the recent upsurge in drone laying queens.  It is known that DWV is a sexually transmitted disease so queens, who must have had good wings to fly for miles to get mated, get infected when they mate with drones carrying the virus.  Does the virus affect the drones in the same way that it does workers?  Has anybody seen a drone with deformed wings?

The second half of the session was led by Richard Ball on the theme of Storch’s book: At The Hive Entrance.  I started reading my copy of the book a few days ago (it’s one of many bee books that I possess but haven’t got around to reading yet), then I put it down somewhere and haven’t been able to find it since!  The cover of the book has a picture of a beekeeper in old fashioned garb sat watching bees flying from skeps.  I wish I had the time to sit and watch bees for longer than I do as it’s very therapeutic and it’s always good watching other people work!

Richard used the magic lantern to show pictures of various activities at the hive entrance, notably a National hive covered with bees.  They were a swarm that had returned home after discovering that their Mum hadn’t gone with them, due to Richard having clipped her wings.

Richard showed a series of slides with questions and answers from Storch’s book.  We didn’t always agree with Storch’s interpretation but that might be because Storch was working in a continental climate with Carniolan bees. All beekeeping is local!



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I’m just back from a visit to my apprentice, Sarah, at her Bee Happy Plants nursery.  Actually is isn’t just a plant nursery now: her 2 year old grandson caught sight of me and thought I was Father Christmas!

There were two jobs planned: to transfer the contents of my first top bar hive to a new one that I have just completed and to transfer the contents of Sarah’s poly-hive to a TBH.

Sarah was given a poly-hive a while ago and, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, installed bars from a TBH , with one in the bottom box removed so as to enable access to the upper box.  We were going to move it to some land she has some miles away and then bring it back to move the bees and bars into a TBH elsewhere in her nursery.  She hasn’t been able to open the hive but tells me that they seem busy and healthy and are bringing in lots of pollen.  I picked up from in front of the hive and showed her a bee with deformed wings.

There was a change of plan as her fields are full of sheep, horses and cattle with nowhere to place bees safely.  She did need to move the hive as it was abutting a polytunnel that needs a new skin so we did the easy thing and simply moved it sideways by a little under 3 feet. Somewhen we will have to separate the two boxes, possibly with the assistance of a cheesewire, get the bars out, re-shape them and transfer to a TBH.

Then we went to my ancient TBH, which I built from pallet wood 20 years ago.  It’s well past its best and is warped and gappy.  The new one is from timber kindly purchased by Sarah and constructed by me.  It took a long time as I have been hors de combat and other things took priority.  I completed waxing it a couple of days ago, using beeswax flaked with a cheese grater and melted in with a hot iron.

The day being cool, grey and damp there were few bees flying.  First we moved the hive sideways onto a nearby stand, empty because Sarah is modifying the TBH with a mesh floor and varroa tray.  She refers to it as the ‘observation hive’ which constantly confuses me!

Then we adjusted the legs of the stand which have strayed off course, re-tying the wire keeping the crossing point of the X shape in the right place.  The bees had been left alone for a few minutes without disturbance so there was little activity.  I did drift in a little liquid smoke.  Sarah had a traditional smoker with her and attempted, without success to light it.

I started to remove bars from the rear and immediately noticed a mouse nest!  That was a brave and agile creature to find its way in and out repeatedly, gathering nesting material!  The mouse wasn’t present so I gave the nest to Sarah for smoker fuel.

The bars at the rear were ones I had harvested last year so I put them in the front end of the new hive to enable the colony, as they more forward to the entrance, to draw new comb. There were a few empty combs, showing mouse damage and they were placed at the rear, then a couple of combs full of honey, then the brood combs with most of the bees on.  I should have kept count but didn’t.  I think that there were about 5  combs with brood, some a bit spotty, and I saw one bee with DWV.  It could have been worse as they hadn’t been treated.

Sarah was stung once and I got 4 or 5, none serious and the pain soon went with no after effects.  Over a cup of tea afterwards we doodled with an idea of a bee-shed.  I don’t suppose anything will come of it, but watch this space in case it does.

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Dorset BKA held its AGM at Stratton Village Hall today, preceded by:

a) coffee and biscuits

b) a talk and screen show by Simon Croson who, on two occasions, has won prizes at Apimondia for his bee photographs

c) lunch: coq au vin with baked potato, grated cheese and butter.

d) a second helping

e) a second talk and pictures by Simon, this time about his visits to Nepal and the various species of honeybee to be found there

f) tea and biscuits

g) the AGM!

Simon’s pictures were superb and he is a good speaker, however, I (and others) suffer from the syndrome of nodding off when the lights go down so I was struggling at times.  I’m still feeling full of food, several hours later and, the weather being wet and windy, I haven’t been for my usual brisk walk to shed some of it.

Numbers dwindled after the talks and so there was only about a score for the AGM itself.  I know some of the visitors this morning weren’t members, eg the Blakes from Somerset.  I think I was probably under the average age of those present and I don’t think anybody was under 50. Unusually, only a minority of the men had face fungus.

The business didn’t take long.  It was decided not to put the subs up; to support the Young Beekeepers’ event and to support a project by Exeter University to devise and test tracking equipment for Asian hornets so that their nests might be located more easily than the one at Tetbury which took about 50 people a fortnight.  I suggested using a version of Tom Seeley’s bee-lining trap, possibly baited with fish paste.

I was pleased to be restored to being one of Dorset’s 3 representatives on the SW Counties Joint Consultative Committee.

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I spent today with about 30 other ‘green’ people, a score of us in a bus and the remainder in shared cars, visiting renewable energy projects.

First was a large solitary wind turbine on hill. We had to walk getting on for a mile to get to it as the bus driver refused to drive along the farm track. People complain about the noise wind turbines generate but this one was inaudible beyond a furlong; closer, it was no worse than next door’s washing machine.  The dual carriageway, getting on for a mile away was much louder!

The chap who had organised the construction of the turbine several years ago told us the tale.  It’s second hand and originally was in Gotland.  He explained to me how a small wind vane atop the pole detects changes in wind direction and instructs a motor to turn the cogs so that the vanes are facing in the most efficient direction. Inside the tower/pole we could see the electronic dials recording the amount of electricity generated.  It’s surprising how many people can get into a pole!

As we made our way back to the bus I was chatting with the lass who was organising the event. She told me her Father (or was it Father in Law?) had retired and taken up beekeeping and has 7 hives in NE Devon.

Our next visit was to the Union Arms in Dorchester. They used to  serve a good pint there when it was a pub but, unfortunately, it closed about half a century ago and is now a Quaker Meeting House with lots of photo-voltaic panels on the roof.  Lunch had been laid on for us, an excellent buffet, and there was also a powerpoint showing, month by month, how much electricity had been generated since installation.  There was much mingling and chatting.  There was quite an age range: the youngest a child still being breast-fed and the oldest maybe a decade older than me.

After lunch, we headed for Maiden Newton and visited my kids’ old school!  That now has about 40 solar panels on a south facing roof.  We didn’t stay long as it came on to rain.  On the bus the other organiser told me his partner is Polish and her Father keeps bees there.  When they go and visit, they come back with several litre containers of honey.

Our last visit was to the Franciscan Friary at Hilfield where they have a biomass boiler.  The timber is sourced locally and first goes through a chipper and left in a massive heap in a barn to dry. It is moved to the boiler by an Archimedes screw.  Brother Jonathan showed us another heap of chippings with which they are having problems as it refuses to dry.  It’s Western Red Cedar.  They’ll probably leave it for a few more months and then mix it with more combustible chippings.  They pipe the hot water in well insulated pipes underground to serve their varied large buildings.  If they were ordinary small houses the system could heat and provide hot water for 20 of them.

They have been given 10 acres of land nearby and want to plant trees on it for sustainability.  They are undecided as to species. Oak is too slow growing; ash would be good but the ash die-back disease has recently been found nearby. Poplar, like the cedar, doesn’t dry well.  Willow grows rapidly but have little substance. Sycamore has been recommended.  They will probably plant a wide range of species so as to support as many varieties of other creatures as possible.

While we were discussing all this in the barn with the boiler I suddenly noticed that I was standing next to a stack of new-looking supers as tall as me!  Later I spotted an open parcel with new crown boards etc.  Bro. Jonathan told me that the beekeeper has about three hives nearby.

Then it was time to go. Driving back along the ridge there was another shower and there was a marvellous double rainbow!  The rain that falls on one side of that road ends up in the Bristol Channel and on the other side in the English Channel.

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For the first time in weeks we had a sunny day, although accompanied by a keen, chilly, wind.  This was fortunate as I had volunteered for another scrub clearing session on Bronkham Hill, close to Hardy’s Monument.  It was in a different part of the area today and we were trying to reduce gorse and brambles in order to stop them swamping heather and dwarf gorse.

There were more volunteers than usual, over a score, as the Dorset Wildlife Trust had combined for the occasion with the South Dorset Ridgeway group.  I found myself working next to a young lady, Emma, who had the creative idea of, instead of putting the dead wood on the bonfires, making heaps for wildlife, animal and vegetable, to use.  We had 4 decent sized heaps by the end of the day.  We looked at the different species of lichen on the twigs.

As it always does, conversation turned to bees!  Emma would like to become a beekeeper but it would be inconvenient at the moment as she is about to move house and is looking optimistically at an ancient dwelling with a good sized garden at Misterton, which is about 2 miles (and thus within bee flight) north east of my apiary at Seaborough.  This might be convenient if she wants to become an apprentice in due course.

She has a friend who is already a beekeeper and is doing a course with Devon BKA. She lives at Wayford, about 2 miles west of my apiary.  I gave Emma my card so she or her friend can get in contact if they feel it would be helpful.

Having started at 10, we paused for lunch at 1, to eat our picnics.  However I didn’t eat all mine as cake was handed round!  I gorged on 5 pieces of our leaderine, Jill Hearing’s, blueberry and apple cake, 2 pieces of fruit cake and one slice of flapjack.  I was rather full and reclined for a powernap on some comfy heather.  I could hear somebody speculating whether I’d collapsed but then said he could see my chest moving so I was still alive!

In the afternoon we took things more gently, feeding the bonfires, pottering and nattering.  While gathering small stuff for a wildlife heap I found a large roe deer antler!  I brought it home and must devise a use for it. We packed up at 3pm and walked the half mile back to the car park.  With impeccable timing, the sky stopped being cloudless and we could see a change was on the way.

Instead of driving home, I went over the hill to Little Bredy where I successfully foraged for a geocache.  I was the very first to find it!  I’ve never scored a ‘FTF’ before!

This evening I went to The Junction pub in Dorchester for a ‘green drinks’ session for like minded people to socialise.  Mostly we have links with the Transition Town and the Community Farm. I think there were 8 of us around the table. Marion, my friend who drove me home from the hospital when I broke my leg, wasn’t there as she was busy doing yoga (if that isn’t an oxymoron!), but she turned up later and relaxed with us.

Once again the conversation turned to bees. They’ve just been given an additional 7 hives by somebody who is giving up due to age and infirmity. They will be able to keep them where they are now, which is convenient as the apiary is only a couple of miles from the apiary on the farm.

I explained the benefits of the top bar hive and we discussed the affect of lighting a smoker of the beekeeper rather than the bees.

Sat next to me was Dr Kathy Hodder who is a (young!) Senior Ecology Lecturer at Bournemouth University.  I don’t think she has bees of her own, but I think she plays with the ones on the farm and I once showed her my TBH at Ourganics. Kathy told me that Prof. Jurgen Tautzz (possibly mis-spelt) has retired and is now working on a project setting up rooftop hives at a number of universities, including Bournemouth.  The colonies will generally be left alone to fend for themselves but they will be intensively monitored electronically for temperature, weight, activity etc.

Kathy has just bought lots of bee-friendly seeds from apprentice Sarah of Bee Happy Plants to add to the forage around the community farm apiary.  I think she ordered them on-line.

It’s been a long day! Can I go to bed now?









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That’s what the Postman had written on the note I found on my doormat this evening when I got back from touring 5 of my apiaries to see whether the colonies had survived the winter.

They have all survived so far, although, it being a cold and showery afternoon, very few were flying.  I used a new toy, a heat sensor, to attempt to locate the clusters but only about one degree F at most was detected, showing what good insulation clustered bees are.  On a couple of hives I had to press an ear to the hive wall and give a tap to get them to confirm their existence by buzzing.  I had forgotten to take my stethoscope and so now have muddy knees.  I did try hefting some of the hives. Either somebody has nailed them to the ground or they have masses of stores!  I didn’t  feed them.

Back to the parcel.  I assumed that it would be a book that I had ordered on line a couple of weeks ago but hasn’t arrived yet, but when I opened the hive I found that the parcel was a cube of about 6″, so it wasn’t  the book.  It was a china mug!

This is my prize from a shed making firm, Waltons, for being among the top 10 bee bloggers in the country!  I tested it immediately with herbal tea, my first drink since breakfast.  According to their website, the Walton who started their company, well over a century ago, was a beekeeper.  This doesn’t explain why they are now suddenly taking an interest in beekeepers.  Maybe they’re thinking of diversifying into beehive manufacture: they have the skills, machinery, timber and labour!

How about bee-sheds such as they use in Slovenia?  I’d love to have one of those if only I had somewhere to put it. Look in Getting the Best from Your Bees for pictures, including one taken inside. The hives open like cupboards, so there’s no heavy lifting as you remove one frame at a time to examine or harvest.

Now, I wonder how  much mead that mug will hold?

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