On Sunday I went to a DARG meeting at North Devon’s apiary in the middle of nowhere, down a 2 mile lane with vegetation brushing both wing mirrors. My sat nav got me to the post code just as I saw a sign saying ‘Bees’.  There are a couple of farm cottages opposite which a few cars were parked. The apiary is on the site of another cottage, now demolished, where bees were kept over a century ago.

There weren’t too many there, mostly DARG members but some people from the local BKA.  As usual we socialised and nattered and ate our lunch until after 1.  There was some splendid Victoria sponge provided!

The main subject of the day’s discussion was the Asian hornet.  There’s been no news yet of sightings on the mainland this year.  It wasn’t known whether those on the Channel Islands have been successfully eradicated.  We were concerned that all is quiet on the Asian front with not enough people monitoring and it will be brought up at the next meeting of the SW Counties Joint Consultative Committee.  I have suggested to our BKA that we obtain posters etc so that we can display and hand them out at the Dorchester Show in a few weeks’ time.

After a ramble around the apiary and more Victoria sponge, we departed.  I found a message from Sarah, my apprentice at Bee Happy Plants, on my mobile telephone asking how she should feed hungry bees in one of her TBHs.  I messaged her back to say I would divert via her on my way home and told her my sat nav’s ETA (so she could put the kettle on).

My route took me through the Blackdown hills.  I must go back and explore around there before too long as the countryside is lovely.

I got to Sarah’s at tea time and told her the easy way to feed the bees. Fill a plastic container with fir cones to give the bees a foothold and avoid drowning. Add dilute sugar syrup and also a few drops of blue food dye so that she can see where it ends up and doesn’t mistake partially recycled sugar for honey.  She isn’t sure why the bees are so hungry: it might be the drought reducing nectar flow (none of the colonies in this area seem to be getting good crops so far this year) or they may have been robbed as the plug was missing at the rear of the hive.

Sarah is having trouble with her web site and her usual customers have been unable to get in touch so, if you want to buy some manuka bushes or other bee-friendly plants or seeds, it would be best to contact her by email at: Sarah@beehappyplants.co.uk . I shall suggest to her that she adds a list of her plants as a comment to this post.  Just think how much better your honey would be if you had manuka bushes in your garden!  I harvested some honey from Sarah’s last year and, while it was of a similar colour to what you see on the shelves, it didn’t taste of Savlon as the NZ honey does!

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About 18 months ago, in the depths of winter, my son, Charlie who is a director/producer/cameraman came to familiarise himself with a new camera by spending the day going around some of my apiaries with me.  He has now edited/reduced about 8 hours of filming to a little over 5 minutes that you can watch via this link:      https://vimeo.com/224320377

If the link works, you’ll see me wearing rubber gloves while opening the hives.  I don’t normally wear gloves but I was taking the opportunity to give the bees their annual dose of oxalic acid to keep Varroa mite numbers down.


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There seem to be a lot of bees in the title for some reason.  I was about to go out to do some guerilla gardening this afternoon when the phone rang.  The young lady on the other end told me that she had found a swarm in the garden and didn’t know what to do.  She thought it might have come from one of her Uncle’s hives but he wasn’t around. Could I help?  Of course I could!  Where was she?  They don’t have an address as such but their house is the only one near the Church in Batcombe and she gave me the post code, which covers a wide area, for my sat nav.

I headed up Narn, then along Long Ash Lane, then turned right along the Batcombe ridge, the rain water from the south side of which flows into the English Channel and from the north side the Bristol Channel. I found the lane heading north down a steep zig zag and suddenly the Church was before me. I think I have been there before and found a Slade gravestone in the cemetery.

I stopped the car and suddenly a lass appeared a few yards ahead and directed me into the drive.  There was pack of assorted hounds which she ordered into the kitchen and then led me through the house to the garden which has a mass of bee friendly flowers, especially a long bed of lavender in full bloom along the haha. I couldn’t spot the swarm at first as I was looking at the wrong tree but then Eleanor pointed it out: a long slim swarm dangling on a twig about chest high, only a few yards from the apiary. It would have to be the easiest ever to collect.

We went back to the car and I got kitted up and found a tunic for Eleanor.  She was wearing a short dress reaching only to about a span above the knees and so I mentioned that she ought to cover her legs but she ignored my advice.

We went back to the swarm and I showed Eleanor how to put her hand into it, all warm and tickly.  Bravely she did so while took a photo with her phone. She may post it here if she can manage the technology.

I went to the apiary and found an empty hive with frames that appeared to have been prepared just for the event.  I used secateurs to cut the twig while supporting the section below, then gently walked with it the few yards to the hive.  I removed a few frames in the centre to make space, lowered the swarm in, then gave the twig a violent jerk to shake the bees off and replaced the frames.

We stood and watched for a while and I showed Eleanor the Nasenov glands of the bees fanning at the entrance indicating that Mum was at home and all was well.  I’m fairly certain the Eleanor will soon be buying a bee suit and taking over or extending the apiary!

Over the years I have known several lasses, of whom Eleanor is the youngest, brave/stupid enough to put a hand into a swarm.  All have been blonde!

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Yesterday I needed to fit spacers onto the end of top bars which had already been in use and had a good coating of propolis.  I found the tin opener blade of my Swiss army knife most useful in dislodging it so I could slide the ends on and add the frames to a hive into which a swarm has moved.  I also had a nibble of the propolis, a taste I like better than honey!

Today I went over the border to see my apprentice Sarah at her Bee Happy Plants nursery.  She has bought some National brood frames, foundation and smoker fuel from Thornes.  She was disappointed to see that the smoker fuel was simply rolled up corrugated cardboard as we could see an ample supply of such cardboard scattered around the office/dining/living room/kitchen of her caravan.  She had ordered it because she has trouble in keeping her smoker alight and thought ‘proper’ fuel might overcome the problem.

I showed her, using the large blade of my Swiss army knife as she had no pizza cutter, how slice the sheets of foundation into starter strips to guide the bees to build their comb within the frames but mostly with their own wax and with cell sizes of their own choosing rather than ‘one size fits all.’

Working together as a team, I taught her how to assemble the frames and insert the foundation. She didn’t have any gimp pins but had some small copper nails that worked almost as well.  The screw driver blade of the Swiss army knife was used to split off the strip of wood that was then nailed in to secure the foundation.

When we had a set of frames ready, we went outside to her polyNational hive by the path.  She had been given it last year and put bees in it having placed top bars from a top bar hive in it!  She wants to do a Bailey comb change and had placed another brood box on top with bars but the bees were ignoring it.  She had removed the front bar to give access but, of course, the queen wouldn’t have gone up as the gap wasn’t close to the brood nest.

We had a brief examination of the brood combs and created a gap nearer the middle, then put the brood box with the new frames on top.  We noticed that the top box didn’t sit well on the lower one, possibly because the top bars in the bottom box are a bit thick.  Bees were able to get through the gap so we gathered some nearby stalks from cleaver plants and, with the aid of the Swiss army screwdriver blade, shoved them into the gap.

We went down to the apiary, near the entrance, where we have a cluster of top bar hives. First we looked at the tbh I built with a tray beneath so that Sarah could do a daily check on mite drop and also take samples of pollen.  Clearly she hasn’t been doing so recently as we had to wade through jungle to get to the hives!  She did mention having seen some green pollen loads so I suggested that she look up meadowsweet on the charts.

The hive had been empty until she recently placed a swarm in it, complete with the twigs and the comb they had built on them.  They had started to build several combs on the top bars but at the wrong angle. One of them became dislodged so I fetched some string from my car and Sarah, whose fingers are nimbler than mine, tied the comb to the bar. Guess what we used to cut the string!  Having spotted the queen, we then removed and tied into the correct alignment the other combs.

Eventually we had checked all the hives and, as it was starting to rain, we decided to call it a day.  It was about 3pm then and I was feeling peckish so thought I’d open a packet of biscuits to nibble as I drove.  I couldn’t open the plastic so I reached in my pocket for my Swiss army knife. It wasn’t there!  I checked my other pockets to no avail, so decided I would have to re-trace my steps to where I last used it.  After only a few yards I spotted it hiding in the grass.



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20170611_153418We had another DARG session at East Devon BKA’s apiary close to Axminster.  This time the theme was drone congregation areas and how to find them.  There were 14 of us there at the peak with some coming and going. Apprentice Sarah had brought her Mother along as she’s past her prime and Sarah usually looks after her on Sundays, which means she often misses DARG sessions so I suggested that she bring her along as she might be entertained by oldies playing with balloons.

As usual, the session started off socially as we drank coffee and nattered over our picnic lunches. Then there was a powerpoint and discussion on what’s known and not known about drone congregation areas which is generally on a south facing slope.  This may vary considerably in mountainous areas or flat fenland and there’s a lot we don’t know except that bees do nothing invariably.

There were balloons and helium gas available, also fishing rods, bamboo canes and extending poles to which we could attach fake queens anointed with the replica of the queen pheromone: 9ODA.  Unfortunately the weather was cool and windy so we didn’t try the balloons but dabbled small, queen sized, sticks in 9ODA and tied them with fishing line to long poles and went out close to the BKA’s apiary as shown above.

Unfortunately, the bait attracted no drones at all.  Glyn Davies and I walked up to the apiary and looked at the hives, a score or so.  Although there were plenty of workers flying, the only drone to be seen was pottering around on foot close to an entrance.

Clearly we had chosen a bad day for attracting drones so we gave up.  Some of us (me included) took home an imitation queen dowsed in 9ODA to try in our own areas when conditions are more favourable.  It’s thought that the pheromone is persistent but I put mine in an air tight container in the fridge to prolong it.




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My alarms got me up at 5.30 in the morning on Election Day and at 6.15 I was at the Saville Hall at Cattistock , a couple of miles up the road to get the place transformed into a Polling Station for the General Election that you may have heard about.  The first voter appeared just after 10 to 7 but he had to wait until, on the stroke of 7 from the nearby Church clock, I bellowed from the doorway: ‘Now hear this, citizens of Cattistock, the poll is now open! Cast your votes here!’. Actually, two other parishes, Chilfrome and Frome St Quintin, were using my polling station but they were out of earshot so I didn’t mention them.

A voter from Chalmington, a hamlet up the road, told me that the unattended WBC hive in his extensive garden was once again occupied by bees.  He likes to see them there but doesn’t want to be a beekeeper so they come and go over the years.

I asked him whether the beech tree in the garden of the manor over the road from him was currently occupied. He wasn’t aware of that bee(ch) tree but would have a look as soon as he was able.  He told me that the gates are locked at the moment and he thinks the manor house is up for sale.. It’s quite a decent sized house and garden with its own hanger and airstrip.

A sprig of the family of the late John Atkinson, author of Background to Bee Breeding, came to vote, accompanied by his wife, Bea.  He told me that they have just taken up beekeeping but, rather than getting a local swarm, they had bought some from Paynes whom I think are in Sussex.  I don’t know whether they breed local bees or import from abroad. LASI at Sussex University supply native AMM bees so I hope that they are cooperating.  Martin told me that there’s a bee-tree on the farm and offered to show it to me.  He showed me the approximate location with the map on his smart phone and it seems to be close to the ley line of feral bees.  I gave them my card so they can contact me if they need any help or advice with their bees.

Hayley, the gardener at Chantmarle Manor came in.  She told me that the bees occupying my bait hive there are very busy.  I was hoping that they had come from the feral colony in the manor but they look rather stripey so I doubt it.  John Atkinson told me that there were always bees in the manor until he left the area to do his National Service in 1948.  In 1992 (or 93) I had a phone call from the head gardener of that era to say that a swarm had come from the chimney and, by banging on a sheet of galvanised iron, he had got them to come down in the small kitchen garden.  I collected the swarm with an audience of police officers as it was a police training college at the time.

A nearby beekeeper, Bill Brushett, came to vote but I had to carry the ballot paper and ballot box across the road for him to do so as he had a stroke a while ago and was unable to get out of the car (his wife was driving).  I handed him the ballot paper and turned my back so that he could mark it secretly and place it in the box.  We weren’t able to chat for long as there were voters queueing but he told me that he is no longer able to keep bees and had disposed of them and his equipment.  His bees used to be not far from Chantmarle Manor.

The last voter came in at 2 minutes to 10 and after she had done her duty I announced by bellowing across the Square that the Poll was now closed and anybody who hadn’t voted was too late.  The paperwork and clearing up took almost half an hour and then I had to take it all to the count in Dorchester so it was about 11.30 when I got home. It was a long day!

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Looking at a varroa floor a few weeks ago I found this:

Mite on pupa

It’s the head of a bee at the pupal stage with a Varroa mite on it!  The bees may be showing signs of hygienic behaviour by detecting mites within sealed cells and hoiking them out, together with the baby bee.  I checked that board again this afternoon for the first time in about a week and saw one mite, so they can’t be doing too badly.

On the other hand, that hive has had a Bee Gym in place for a while so that may be helping to keep numbers down.

Thanks to Emily, a fellow bee-blogger, for explaining to me how to add photos to my blog! I had to email it from my portable telephone/camera to my computer, then save it, then open the blog, then find the ‘media’ icon, click on it, which opened the document file on the computer. I went from there to ‘recent documents’ and scrolled down until I found the one I’d just uploaded, clicked on it and there it is!  I’m writing all this so I can find the instructions and follow them again when I forget how to do it!

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