Dear Members, It is with deep regret, that EDBK is suspending all meetings and activities for the foreseeable future. Under the current coronavirus guidelines, it is essential we respect the situation and the health of our members and that of their families. Beginners classes are being looked at and we hope to be able to offer some sort of remote tuition. We will keep you all up to date as and when the situation changes. Alasdair Bruce (Acting Chair).
Sarah is a member of Okehampton branch of Devon Beekeepers and, in 2018, was inspired to visit Jersey, along with other Devon members, to help with the tracking of Asian hornets and nest location. The experience she gained prompted her to research the available literature and write ‘The Asian Hornet Handbook’. This book is the most comprehensive guide we have in the UK on the life cycle, biology and protection strategy for the Asian hornet if/when it arrives in this country.
The life cycle of the Asian hornet is different to that of the European hornet and needs to be understood in some detail in order to control infestation in the UK. Sarah admitted there were some aspects of the life cycle that we have yet to work out, such as how the insect will behave in our cold, wet climate.
Studies so far suggest the mated queen hornet will emerge from hibernation when the average temperature reaches 13°C, which is likely to be sometime in March in the South West. She will feed on sugary materials to boost her reserves, so is likely to be spotted feeding on Camellia nectar or tree sap. During this feeding period ‘foundress’ queens are able to migrate tens of kilometres before searching for a suitable primary nest site and start the building process.
The primary nest
The primary nest is made of plant material pulped with saliva and water, then shaped into the structure by the mouthparts in a similar way to wasps and European hornets. The nest starts with a stalk or petiole attached to a convenient structure, preferably in a dry and sheltered area. Out houses and sheds are ideal. The cells face down with the bottom end open and the entrance is at the bottom of the structure. The foundress queen builds the nest alone until the first cohort of workers emerge and take over. At this stage the development time from egg to adult takes about 50 days.
The larvae are fed balls of mashed up insect meat and sugary material. They will also regurgitate sugary saliva when requested by the workers. This material is the preferred food of the queen and workers.
As the primary nest grows the development time reduces to around 29 days due to better thermoregulation. If the primary nest site is deemed adequate the nest will be expanded continuously throughout the year but in about 70% of cases the colony will relocate to a secondary nest site within a few meters of the primary site.
The secondary nest
The same fibrous papier mâché material is used to construct the new nest. The entrance is at the side and the walls are built with many bubbles or pockets which help improve thermal insulation. The nest continues to increase in size and may reach 50cm or more, although the nests found so far in the UK have been around 20-25cm.
Sarah pointed out that secondary nests can be anywhere from the tops of tall trees, roof spaces or bramble patches near the ground.
Drones and gynes
By September the queen switches to laying drone eggs, then the female eggs are laid that will become the new queens (gynes). Both types of hornet will spend a few weeks in the nest feeding before flying off. In France, this is usually complete by the end of November. Only the fertilised females survive to hibernate over winter.
Sarah showed an interesting series of pie-charts with the proportions of insect prey captured by hornets in different environments, summarised below. This acts as a warning to anyone keeping bees in urban areas!
Asian hornets ‘hawk’ near bee hives and prey may be caught on the wing or grabbed when it lands on a surface. The hornets then fly to a nearby branch and proceed to dismember the insect, taking only the thorax back to the nest, as it contains the major flight muscles used for feeding the larvae.
The disruption to the bee colony is therefore two-fold: direct predation, and predation pressure which makes the forager bees reluctant to leave the nest, leading to reduced winter stores and high stress levels within the colony.
Sarah went on to describe the various methods of tracking Asian hornets back to the nest site. For beekeepers with only basic equipment the Jersey method has proved effective. This consists of marking workers at feeding sites, spotting the direction they take back to the nest, and timing their return to the bait. By moving the bait station closer to the nest and using further bait stations from different angles, the flight paths noted can be plotted to give a reasonable indication of the nest location. Then you have to find the nest!
Asian hornets do not generally fly more than 700m from the secondary nest, but there could be more than one nest in the area.
Various other methods to help with tracking were described at the end of the talk and also during the discussion. In Asia they tie a small feather to the hornet which makes it easier to follow back to the nest. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been combined with infrared detectors with limited success (nests are well hidden in foliage and well insulated). Harmonic radar has been tried and will work in open spaces but radio telemetry using tagged hornets and a directional antenna/receiver has good potential at the moment. However, tags cost over £100 each, but can be re-used if recovered from the nest.
The talk was attended by over 70 members.
* All images Courtesy The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Crown Copyright
There was a good turnout of East Devon and West Dorset beekeepers to welcome Lynne back for another of her thought provoking talks. A quick show of hands revealed that the majority of the audience viewed oil seed rape (OSR) a curse to beekeeping, a view that Lynne was hoping to dispel.
Today, the crop makes a valuable contribution to the British economy, estimated at more than £650 million. It has in fact been in use for 4000 years and there are records of its use in 1649 for soap and oil production. The domestic market started in the 1950s and got a boost in the 1960s due to the newly perceived benefits of polyunsaturated fats found in rape seed oil.
In addition, the oilseed cake residue was a valuable animal feed. However, it became apparent that the erucic acid content of the varieties used at the time was causing heart damage. This brought about the introduction of low erucic acid varieties through plant breeding.
Another group of compounds found in oilseed cake were the glucosinolates, causing damage to thyroid and pituitary glands of animals fed large quantities of the material. This too was reduced by plant breeding, leading to the current ‘double low’ varieties.
More recently the 2013 ban on neonicotinoids has resulted in reduced plantings of OSR and lower yields.
What is OSR?
All varieties are derived from Brassica napus, a member of the cabbage Family. Winter sown crops will usually flower in mid-April for about 3 weeks whereas spring sown varieties drilled in early April will flower in July. Pollen and nectar are produced in huge quantities, with the added bonus that depleted nectaries are rapidly refilled. OSR can be partially wind pollinated but insect pollination increases the seed yield.
The advantages of OSR are the potential for a large crop of naturally setting, finely crystallised honey which can be used as a ‘seed’ for other honeys that are reluctant to set. Disadvantages include setting in the comb, possible poor flavour perception, lower yields with modern hybrid varieties and the need to process immediately the honey is ripe.
The perceived downside to OSR cropping usually relates to the rapid onset of crystallisation of the capped honey due to the high glucose content of the nectar. In order to overcome this problem Lynne outlined her strategy.
Lynne’s management strategy
If you intend to take advantage of OSR for honey production the colonies will need to be large and vigorous, so late winter/early spring feeding with 50:50 sugar syrup to stimulate egg laying will be required. Contact feeders are best. Pollen patties may also be needed to supply the extra protein for the brood production.
Prepare your site and time the move so that there is plenty of nectar available straight away.
During the flow, regular inspections will be needed to prevent possible swarming.
Ensure ample supering as it takes around 3x more space to process nectar as the ultimate volume of ripe honey.
Remove and process capped honey as it ripens. Immediate processing will minimise crystallisation.
Make sure you know when spraying will take place.
After the flow you will have large colonies with most of the stores removed, so ensure there is adequate space in the hives for the large colonies and feed if necessary.
Lynne recommended extracting any liquid honey and then scraping back partially set honey to the midrib to recover as much as possible. Any residue can be sprayed with water and replaced on the hive. Fully set honey has to be cut out of the frames, packed into tubs and warmed at 55°C for 12 hours. The wax rises up as a mush and eventually separates from the melted honey. Allow to cool to 30°C before pouring the honey off.
The procedure for bottling tubs of set OSR honey is to warm the set material until it is ‘porridgey’ at around 32°C, stir until smooth, allow to settle, then bottle and store at 14°C to optimise setting. If full filtering has not been achieved before putting in bulk tubs, the honey will have to be warmed sufficiently to flow through the filter. With partially crystallised honey this can be troublesome.
To prepare soft set / creamed honey with a 10% ‘seed’ of OSR honey, first warm your floral honey until liquid (up to 50°C) and cool to 30°C. Warm the ‘seed’ honey until ‘porridgey’ (c32°C) then combine the two portions with stirring, avoiding the introduction of air. Allow to settle, then bottle and store at 14°C. Recommended long term storage temperature is 10°C.
Question & Answer session
During the Question & Answer session the notable topic was temper of the bees during and after the OSR was in flower. Lynne explained this could be caused by removal of stores causing defensive behaviour. Any situation where there are unemployed and overcrowded foragers will tend to cause problems. There is also a “starvation” scenario which can arise from dietary insufficiency as well as lack of quantity for a very full nest, possibly the effect of erucic acid. Lynne stated she has not had too much bad temper as there are usually other high-yielding sources coming on, notably field beans.
The flowers of OSR have 4 petals, 4 sepals, 6 stamens (4 long and 2 short) and 4 nectaries (2 inner and 2 outer nectaries). The nectar is produced mainly by the inner nectaries and is capable of being replenished in ½hr after a visit by a forager.
The nectar of OSR has a higher concentration of glucose then fructose which leads to rapid crystallisation with a fine crystal structure. The highest sugar concentrations are at the beginning of the crop so timing your arrival at the site is crucial.
Self-sufficiency and Apicentric Beekeeping
Talk by Wally Shaw to a joint meeting of East Devon and West Dorset Beekeepers, 14th January 2020
Where did it all go wrong for honey bees?
Apis mellifera was introduced all over the world in 19th century, including Asia, where it met with Apis cerana and its long-established parasite, Varroa jacobsonii mites. The parasite jumped species and, at some point, became a genetically distinct species, Varroa destructor. This new mite entered the UK in 1992 and the rest is history.
What do we do about it?
Importing bees is not the answer with the attendant risks of importing exotic pests as well (Tropilaelaps, Small Hive beetle etc), plus the very real risk of disease organisms being imported with the bees. The Welsh Beekeepers Association (WBKA) have pledged to minimise imports and make Wales self-sufficient for bees. The WBKA’s pragmatic solution is to enable all beekeepers to make increase/raise queens for themselves. Wally believes this is not as difficult as it is often made to sound.
How queen rearing is taught in Anglesey.
The WBKA publication ‘Simple Methods of Making Increase’, written by Wally and available on the WBKA website, is a good starting point. The simple, small-scale methods are arguably better for the bees and help to retain genetic diversity.
In their first year, ‘Beginners’ are provided with a starter colony, a 5-frame nuc of locally adapted bees. In their second year the ‘Improvers’ are taught to make their second colony for themselves, thereby acquiring a skill for life.
Locally adapted bees have been shown to be better adapted to our highly variable climate, need less management and on average produce higher yields (see COLOSS experiments). Local adaptation will only occur with minimal importation of ‘different’ strains of bee. They will be genetically stable and will be similar in beekeeper’s hives and local feral colonies. Two-way traffic between hives and feral colonies is desirable.
Anglesey bees and Apicentric beekeeping
The characteristics of Wally’s local bees are almost pure Apis mellifera mellifera. They are black without prominent stripes, thrifty with reduced brood rearing in poor conditions, they never exceed their resources and they hoard pollen.
Apicentric means the needs of the bees should be considered first, based on the biology and ecology of honeybees. This is not the same as natural beekeeping.
We need to understand bees
The apparent ‘intelligence’ of bees is a series of hard-wired programmes initiated by various stimulae or prompts, so bees can be conned into doing what we want e.g. with pre-emptive swarm control, but can be confused by, say, an artificial swarm using the Pagden method. Apicentric beekeeping allows the colony to choose the new queen for themselves.
Apicentric guidelines for making nucs
Nucs should be populated with bees from the same colony that raised the queen cells.
Each nuc given 2 or more queen cells on the frames on which they were raised.
Queen cells harvested as soon as possible after sealing (day 8 or 9).
The Nuc entrance should be blocked while being populated.
Completed nucs IMMEDIATELY removed to remote mating apiary.
The reasons why this seems to work are:
It is more NATURAL. The new queens are raised by their own sisters.
Supplying multiple queen cells allows bees to exercise their choice.
Blocking the entrance and moving immediately to another apiary prevents loss of flying bees which ensures good age balance in the nuc.
Using newly sealed cells means there will be a minimum of 9 days to mating. The bees have time to familiarise with their new surroundings.
Selection criteria for breeder colonies
Performance of queen should be known e.g. a queen in her 3rd year.
Only make a small number of new colonies from any one queen. This helps to maintain genetic diversity.
The breeder queen’s colony should be healthy, a good honey cropper, not too prolific, of a reasonable temperament, and not too swarmy.
The second part of Wally’s talk focussed on ways in which bees might acquire Varroa resistance or tolerance.
Over the last 25-30 years breeding strategies have been looking at traits such as grooming, hygienic behaviour, Varroa sensitive hygiene (VSH) and shorter capping periods, with very limited success. When introduced into an open-mating situation the ‘improvements’ are often dissipated.
It has been assumed that natural selection would solve the problem given time, but any Varroa treatment will prevent or seriously slow down natural selection.
There are instances of colonies left untreated in honey production apiaries becoming resistant to mites and able to keep the mite population in check and still produce a good homey crop.
A completely new behavioural mechanism has been found – bees uncap and re-cap brood.
First bees investigate sealed brood cells by examining cappings with tongue and antennae.
Cells perceived to have a problem are uncapped with the mandibles, removing cappings and pupal skin.
Most cells later re-capped.
Some cells may be uncapped more than once.
Other cells may be left uncapped or partially re-capped.
A few cells may have brood removed and discarded (VSH).
It seems this behaviour reduces the number of viable daughter mites that finally emerge, but the uncapping and re-capping does not affect the emerging brood. Mostly, only brood cells in which Varroa has bred are uncapped, which implies bees can detect breeding mites. Whatever the mechanism, uncapping affects the mites but not the pupa and appears to be a result of natural selection.
Uncapping behaviour can be observed in ALL colonies so far investigated, so has probably arisen through natural selection acting on an inbuilt trait which is universal in Apis mellifera.
Wally’s parting remarks were: For natural selection to work, we need to move towards non-treatment!
Strangely, uncapping behaviour does NOT appear to apply to drone brood. More work needed to clarify such issues.
EDBK Winter Meeting, 5th December 2019
“Call that tricky? I once had…. Swarms we have known”
(with apologies to Monty Python’s Flying Circus)
Who would have thought after all these years we would be in a village hall, sharing a cup of tea & talking about bees……
Alasdair: I remember when I was called to a huge swarm high up in a tree right next to a school gate. So there I was with my suit on but not protected by gloves or veil when the branch appeared in front of me – hauled down by an over-zealous council official!
Everybody was watching, so I calmly cut the end off the branch with my secateurs and held up the swarm like a trophy, to applause from the crowd.
Lovely big swarm. Pity the queen was a drone layer.
Ann: Well, I was at home, resting in my hammock, when I got a call from Devon Council to a swarm on Seaton seafront at fishermans gap. Huge swarm on the wall between two flower beds! I put the sheet on the ground next to the swarm and two little boys came and asked if they could help. So I asked them to stand at either end of the flower bed and warn passers by that there were live bees around. By this time I had an audience so quickly brushed the bulk of the swarm into the skep and turned it upside down onto the sheet. As if by magic the remaining bees walked DOWN the wall and into the skep. The queen must have been in there! After about 20 mins they were nearly all inside. Just had to brush up a few stragglers to complete the job.
Some grumpy old geezer said ‘Why did you put your bees there?’. Another nice person asked ‘How did you make them walk into the basket like that?’ ‘Easy’ I said. ‘I asked them to’. I don’t think he believed me, then the two little boys came up and said could they do the same next year when they came on holiday? ‘Of course.’ I said, then thanked them for their help and walked off with my swarm.
Peter: Mind you I had it tough. My swarm was in a postbox mounted in a wall, just 2′ from a main road. The most awkward place imaginable!
After a phone call the postman came round pretty quick with the key but didn’t hang around to see it openned up.
The swarm was ENORMOUSE. Took me days to scoop them all out into a poly nuc. In case you don’t know, these old postboxes have a huge cavity at the top. Big enough to get your arm up to the elbow!
When I came back that evening they had filled the poly nuc and were hanging out all over the front and side. So the first job was to get the bees on the outside into another box, then take them all back to the apiary and combine them in one hive.
The remaining bees were scooped up into a poly nuc. Given its size the swarm was probably an evicted colony looking for a new home.
Richard: I used to dream of easy swarms in a postbox. My swarm was a very grizzly experience!
Got a call from a man cutting trees down on the path beside the Grizzly Run near Seaton. Right mess it was too. Bees all over the place. Rotten bits of wood with chunks of comb littering the path. So I did a cut-and-paste job with combs, fastening them into empty frames with rubber bands, put the frames in a nuc and shovelled as many bees in as I could find.
Over night they decided my home was better than theirs and moved in!
Report of East Devon Beekeepers AGM 2019 & Quiz
Held at Kilmington Village Hall, 7th November 2019
Our AGM is a chance for members to hear what has been going on in the group over the last year and for them to vote-in Officers and Committee members. The meeting was conducted efficiently as much of the information had been issued beforehand. The new Committee are:
John Badley, Mary Boulton, Sarah Collins, Ralph Cox, Nicky Langley, Rosemary Maggs, Colin Osborne, Ann Pengelly, Richard Simpson, Peter Weller
Branch delegate to DBKA Executive Committee
Val Bone will also be Membership Secretary, Richard Simpson will be Education Officer and Keith Bone will be Apiary Liaison Officer.
Honiton Show Committee members will remain as last year (John Badley, Keith Bone, Ralph Cox, Angela Findlay, Sue Johnston and Mike Walters). We will be actively seeking new members to replace those who will be standing down in the near future.
Hilary Kirkcaldie congratulated the eight candidates who passed their Basic exam this summer (Sara Bredemear-Gill, Oliver Gill, Richard Croft, Jon Gosse, Mark Williams, Robert Sorrell, Angela Brooke-Smith and James Holbrook). The Craythorne cup for gaining the highest points in East Devon was won by Sara. Hilary also presented certificates to those who were present at the meeting.
During the break, tea, coffee and refreshments were provided. Thanks to Helen Bithrey with Kath West and Mary Boulton for their delicious cakes.
There followed a quiz described as ‘something to do with bees, but just a bit of fun’. The format was 5 teams, each with up to 6 people. Each team were provided with a buzzer that would indicate the first to answer. The quiz was organised and overseen by Val Bone. To start with it was all a bit chaotic as we quickly found out that the buzzers couldn’t cope with enthusiastic team members ‘just testing my buzzer’! So we carried on with a good, old fashioned show of hands.
The first question was an easy one, the Latin name for a honeybee. Then followed more questions requiring a good beekeeping knowledge e.g. ‘What is a DCA?’, ‘What does Mellitology mean?’, ‘What colour will we be marking queens in 2020?’.
Then things got more difficult. Identification of bee diseases from pictures. We should all know these but it’s not easy on the spur of the moment. Try these two images (Courtesy The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Crown Copyright):
For those of you who like puzzles we had a section on beekeeping anagrams. Try these examples: RALOWESTXTOAARXCR (3 words), EFMRTERCROATE (1 word) and KEGQNNPREMIUNAE (3 words).
And bee related abbreviations: ABPV, CCD, WBC.
And if numbers are your thing: ‘Add a honey bees eyes to its legs. How many?’
For those not too familiar with bees there were the Music and Literature sections, all with a beesy theme. Again, try these:
Flight of the Bumble Bee was composed by Rimsky Korsokov. What nationality was he?
Who sang ‘Kiss me Honey Honey Kiss Me’ reaching no3 in the charts in 1958?
In Greek mythology who is credited as being the first beekeeper?
Meanwhile, Jes Pelham was doing sterling work keeping the score board updated. The final score was very close, only one point separating 1st and 2nd.
Val did a great job as quiz master, managing to keep the (slightly) rowdy element under control. She can definitely put ‘Quiz Master’ on her CV!
Feedback was very positive so if you find the questions above intriguing then come along to the next quiz we have, as I am sure there will be demand for another one. It really was fun, and we learned something about bees! Well done Val.
“How killer bees evolved into chiller bees in just one decade”
This headline was seen in the the New Scientist.
As many of you will know, the story of killer bees started in Brazil in 1956 when Warwick Kerr, a local geneticist, imported Tanzanian Apis mellifera scutellata bees to start a breeding programme aimed at making the local Apis mellifera strain more productive and resistant to tropical conditions.
Some of the aggressive hybrids escaped into the forest and interbred with local bees, soon becoming dominant. They spread rapidly through Brazil and on to central America, reaching southern US states in the 1990s. Killer bees had now taken root in 20 countries on two continents! By 1994 aggressive bees were recorded on the eastern side of Puerto Rico, having stowed away aboard a ship in Texas bound for the island.
“By the 1990s, killer bees had taken root in 20 countries on two continents”
These bees were just as aggressive and many colonies were killed by the authorities. Then, in September 1998, Hurricane Georges hit the island, sending bee numbers plummeting. During the post-Georges recovery, bee numbers eventually rebounded but researchers at the University of Puerto Rico discovered that bee attacks had dropped dramatically. Baffled by this change, they tested the bees genetically and found them to still be hybrids, not pockets of the old European docile bees as they had expected.
So what was the mysterious force driving this transformation?
One theory is that island living imposes conditions where there are fewer predators but limited resources. Bees would evolve less defensive behaviour and become better honey gatherers . Another possible explanation is that the human population density on the island is very high, leading to the aggressive colonies being eliminated by human intervention.
The likelihood is that all these factors have played a part. Despite the very rapid evolution, the bees have retained a high degree of genetic variation and the resulting colonies are not just docile but resistant to disease and are good honey producers.
Then in September 2017 Hurricane Maria tore Puerto Rico to shreds a second time. The new docile bees were almost annihilated and a major rescue operation by local beekeepers managed to locate around 65 colonies, saving them from extinction.
At this point, US beekeepers became interested in these docile, disease resistant, productive ‘chiller’ bees. Having suffered for years from colony collapse disorder (CCD), they were on the lookout for anything that might mitigate the problem. It appears that the hybrids spend far longer grooming themselves than European honeybees and so they are far more likely to dislodge varroa mites which are seen as a major part of the problem of bee decline worldwide.
Some see the importing of Puerto Rico’s bees to the USA as promising. Others have pointed out that CCD emerged from multiple causes including poor nutrition, pesticides, pests and pathogens. It is unlikely the new bees would be able to deal with all of these circumstances.
Even so, it is hoped that these extraordinary bees will be part of the future battle to strengthen global bee populations. Next steps, already under way, will be to isolate the genetic differences responsible for aggression and mite resistance. With such a rapid evolutionary change from killer to potential saviour, who knows what will happen?
Bees force plants to flower early by cutting holes in their leaves
Hungry bumblebees can coax plants into flowering and making pollen up to a month earlier than usual by punching holes in their leaves.
Bees normally come out of hibernation in early spring to feast on the pollen of newly blooming flowers. However, they sometimes emerge too early and find that plants are still flowerless and devoid of pollen, which means the bees starve.
Read the article HERE.
Turkish beekeepers risk life and limb to harvest ‘mad’ honey
Mad honey, known to the Greeks and Romans, is still produced in small quantities by beekeepers in parts of Turkey where indigenous rhododendron species make a potent neurotoxin which ends up in local honey.Read the article.
Pesticide made from spider venom kills pests without harming bees
Funnel-web spiders have neurotoxins in their bite that can kill an adult human yet they might turn out to be our allies if the small hive beetle ever reaches the UK.
Scientists at the University of Durham and Fera Science think the spiders may provide the weapon we need to stop the beetles.
The spider venom contains a cocktail of ingredients and one of them – Hv1a – is toxic to most insects, including the small hive beetle, but does not seem to affect bees or humans.
Hv1a needs to be injected to be effective. Just swallowing the toxin is ineffective as it is degraded in their gut. To get round this the team have bound Hv1a to a molecule from the common snowdrop which effectively carries it through the gut barrier.
In the laboratory the team fed the “fusion protein” in a sugar solution to beetles and their larvae. Within a week, all the beetles and larvae were dead.
Next step was to put beetle eggs on bee comb with brood, and spray with the compound. The honeycomb and bees survived virtually untouched, but most of the new beetle larvae died.
The selfish case for saving bees: it’s how to save ourselves
These crucial pollinators keep our world alive. Yes, they are under threat – but all is not lost. Click here to read the article.
World’s largest bumblebee under threat.
The Patagonian bumblebee, the worlds largest bumblebee, is under threat from the import of species native to Europe.The growth of the bumblebee trade for agricultural pollination since the 1980s has been identified as one of the top emerging environmental issues likely to affect global diversity.Follow this link to read the article.
Best plants for bees: 5 yr study results by RosyBee
Follow the link to see the results of 5 years of monitoring which bees visit a variety of ‘bee-friendly’ plants. http://www.rosybee.com/research
World’s largest bee, missing for 38 years, found in Indonesia