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Asian hornet

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).

Click HERE for Richard’s Notes for Beginners

Click HERE for Colin Osborne’s Notes for Beginners


Honey and Varroa Essentials

1. Honey Crop Essentials

A talk by Nick Silver

Slides and Notes reproduced by kind permission of Nick.

Honey Crop Essentials

Slide 1
What is it? A legal definition.

Quality considerations

Slide 2
Purity: no added High Fructose Corn Syrup, no topping up with water or sugar syrup. Levels of main sugars within permitted limits: sucrose (max 5%), fructose and glucose, (min 60%) for blossom honey. Some mono-florals allow different limits due to naturally occurring levels.
Contaminants: no hairs (inc pets), no dirt, no wax moth frass, no bee bits, no dust, dandruff or fabric lint, no lids dropping rust particles. Pollen in suspension is allowed, but avoid lumps. No taints or smells foreign to the honey.
Water content: honey is a water-loving compound, and sugar-loving airborne yeasts will, in time, cause fermentation if moisture content is above 18% at room temp. Illegal to sell above 20% except as Baker’s Honey (23%). Illegal to sell if already begun to ferment.
As the bees made it: not heated significantly, not fine-filtered to remove all pollen (unless labelled as such).
Excessive heating is determined by reference to statutory maximum or minimum of:
+ HMF (hydroxymethylfurfural – 40 mg/kg), a breakdown product of heating sugar in the presence of an acid. Natural level varies according to the nectar base but naturally occurring at undetectable to single-figure levels.
+ Enzyme content (diastase) not less than 8.
+ Electrical conductivity – must be not more than 0.8 millisieverts/cm
Coefficient of viscosity (poise) 189.6 @ 20.6°C, 68.4 @ 29°C, 21.4 @ 39.4°C – i.e. between 20-40°C viscosity goes down by a factor of 9x Makes honey processing much easier.

What to take

Slide 3
What to take: all or some? Beekeeper’s choice. Remember starvation risk, and bees still need space after super(s) removed. How much work do you want?
Parting bees from their honey.
Clearing: Shake and brush or Porter Bee Escapes (or other fancy devices). Go through all frames. 100% capped frames OK to use. Partially capped frames use horizontal shake test, OK to use if no drips.
Beware robbing. Reduce entrances.

Honey separation

Slide 4
Uncapping methods:

  • Knives, hot or cold. I find cutting upwards easier.
  • Can use uncapping fork if only a few frames.
  • Hot air blower to melt cappings.
  • Squeeze whole comb.
3-frame tangential extractor

Slide 5
Two types of extractor:

  • Tangential, cheaper, smaller, more work (frames have to be turned).
  • Radial, more investment, saves time.

Check carefully the frames that will fit, eg brood frames?
Now is not really a good time to buy!

Suggest a stand with wheels (see slide 5 above):

  • Dampens vibration.
  • Move extractor around.
  • Height clearance over 60lb tank.

Filtering “for sale” quality – down to +/- 180 microns to avoid removal of pollen. Commercial strainers from the usual suppliers.

Only sell the good stuff. Honey with bits in or >19% water then keep for personal use.

What could go wrong?


  • Plan and prepare: tools, tables, washing facilities, clean floor before and after. Enough buckets and sieves? Return to domestic tranquillity ASAP.
  • Hygiene: Keep it covered, keeps out flies and floating contaminants. If left overnight to allow air bubbles or wax flakes to rise beware of stratification, denser settles and higher water rises, resulting in possibility of breaching water content maximum when reach the dregs (the top scummy layer).
  • Refractometer is a worthwhile investment (essential if you are selling honey really). Anything doubtful still makes good baking honey or mead.
  • Storage: Do not end up with solid honey in a bucket you can’t melt again. Best temp to make crystals is 14C. To avoid crystals go hot or cold, or take your chance…
  • Packaging: Bottle immediately, can reuse jars but not lids, or store in bulk and reprocess later.
  • Too hot for too long – produces high HMF etc.
  • Too cold: no such thing. Cut comb will store well in the freezer.
  • If badly (half) crystallised reheat to go back to liquid, using a warming cabinet.

Honey labelling

Slide 7
The Honey (England) Regulations 2015.

Many thanks to Nick for his insight.


2. Varroa Essentials

A talk by Richard Simpson

Slides and Notes reproduced by kind permission of Richard.


Slide 1. Topics to be covered.
All bee, varroa and comb images courtesy The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Crown Copyright.

What do they look like?

Slide 2.
About 1mm. Life expectancy varies from 27 days to 5 months according to season, completing 3-4 breeding cycles over summer.

On bees

Slide 3.
Adult phoretic mites suck nutrients from the fat bodies under the cuticle of the bee.

Adult varroa mite

Slide 4.
Adult mite.

Deformed wing virus

Slide 5.
Varroa damage brood, transmit viruses, reduce sperm count of drones, reduce foraging ability and reduce lifespan. The slide shows a bee with Deformed Wing Virus damage.

Parasitized brood

Slide 6.
Varroa transmit Acute Bee Paralysis Virus, Kashmir Bee Virus, Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, Deformed Wing Virus, Varroa Destructor Virus-1, Slow Bee Paralysis Virus. Implicated but not proven in 6 more.

Population dynamics

Slide 7.
Study the figures!

Average daily mite drop

Slide 8.
Populations can increase over a season between 12-800x.
Critical threshold is around 1,000 mites per colony.

Uncapping drone brood

Slide 9.
Drone brood uncapping. Twist the fork to release the drone brood and count the proportion of pupae with attached mites.

What are my options?

Slide 10.
Always monitor! What you decide to do then is up to you.

Currently authorised medicines

Slide 11.
If applying a veterinary medicine, keep a record for 5 years! See VMD website.

Watch the video on YouTube.

Our thanks to Richard for a comprehensive introduction to Varroa.

Thanks also to Mary as ‘Zoom Master’ who did a great job sorting out the hiccups at the beginning of the meeting.


After the Honey Crop

What do we do now?

A talk by Simon Foster, 18/07/20

Slides reproduced by kind permission of Simon. The notes should help to clarify the slides.

After the Honey Crop

Slide 1
It has been a good crop this year. The flow will probably end earlier then normal.
Except balsam or heather. Avoid Ivy (solidifies in comb) by feeding well.
Assume you have put back supers to dry out and then removed.
Remember to store separately labelled from which hive – in bin liners


Slide 2
Big Colonies survive better, including the cold, wasps and diseases.
The weather starts to get cold patches & nights in October, making it difficult for bees to process nectar & syrup.
Ensure clean comb. Old comb harbours diseases (EFB, AFB, chalk brood, nosema).
If you have not done shook swarms or used bio-mechanical varroa control, then will need to reduce with proprietary products.

Colony - Time to re-Queen?

Slide 3
As the colony is smaller, easier to find Queen (and mark if necessary).
Queens do not seem to last as they used to…another discussion.
Either chalk brood or nosema will prompt bees to supersedure – perhaps too late to mate successfully.
May lead to premature loss of brood & bees.

Is the Colony Big enough?

Slide 4
I used to keep old but good queens in Nucs over winter.
But have found that my location is prone to wasp attacks in Autumn.
If you only have 3 frames of brood at this time of year, investigate why.
Lower probability of surviving winter particularly if an old queen.
If this year’s queen try feeding to build up before Autumn – after varroa treatment.
Check brood box – may have no room for queen to lay – full of stores already.
Consider extracting.

Varroa Management

Slide 5
Need to ensure winter bees are strong and long lived – varroa weakens them.
Put back varroa floor and check count. Check count against the BeeBase varroa calculator. Treat in August if it cannot wait until Oxalic acid treatment at Christmas.
Resistance develops with synthetic pyrethroids eg flumethrin Bayvarol & Apivar (amitraz)
Essential oils & formic acid temperature dependent.
Of course you may be experimenting with a hygienic strain.
I have one I picked up from Chardstock but it is in a separate apiary.

Change to Clean Comb


Slide 7
18kg , unlikely to need more in the south west. I used to use double brood boxes then brood and a super, now down to one brood box.
But with careful checking in Feb/Mar and some candy.
If you use a brood and a half put super (eg honey crop) on the bottom, they will eat out first and not fill with brood come spring.

Final Winter Prep

Slide 8
It is damp that kills bees not the cold alone.
Need ventilation – 20% water in honey stores that needs to go somewhere when stores consumed.
Consensus in SW that open floors with insulation in roof is as good as solid floors with a draught up through the roof
I do wrap my hives in smooth plastic to deter woodpeckers..

There followed a Q&A session. Keith made a point that within the East Devon area the type of forage varied tremendously. For example, in Payhemmbury, the main crop was from oil seed rape with very little in July, with the result that the bees needed feeding heavily during the later part of the year.

Many thanks to Simon for his wealth of hints and tips and local knowledge. Thanks also to Mary who stepped in as ‘Zoom Master’ and did a great job. See you all again on 8th August for another virtual meeting.

Watch the video on YouTube


2nd Zoom meeting, 27th June 2020

‘There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Tempered Bee’

As with the 1st virtual meeting, Richard Simpson organised and Nick Silver hosted the event. The following Report includes the PowerPoint slides that John Badley used to give the presentation plus the notes used with each slide. In addition, we have included further notes that newer beekeepers may find helpful. Lastly, Keith Bone and Richard Simpson have kindly included their observations on bad tempered bees that were discussed during Question Time.

Slide 1
Slide 1 – This is to remind people that the bees are only doing what comes naturally!


Slide 2
Slide 2


Slide 3
Slide 3

3. Temper – There is no such thing as bad-tempered bees! Just defensive behaviour.
‘Bad temper’ is not a very helpful description so the following scheme has been devised:
Ease of handling – Three columns on the record card: Running, Following, Stinging


Slide 4
Slide 4

4. Running – makes handling the colony difficult. Not ideal behaviour. Change the queen to improve your stock.
Following – a good colony will not follow more than a few metres. A poor colony may follow for 100m or more. These colonies should be improved by re-queening and should not be kept in areas with surrounding houses.
Followers will also ‘Meet and Greet’ the beekeeper, the beekeepers’ spouse (bad news!), neighbours, passers-by, horses, etc. Need to be improved.
Stinging – not acceptable in urban areas. Many reasons for stinging behaviour. Mention genetic trait, rough handling by beekeeper, beekeeper’s clothing with sting pheromone, leather gloves and leather smoker bellows with sting pheromone, weather, etc.
Make sure it is the temper of the bees. Keep records and compare with other colonies to eliminate temporary factors such as weather.


Slide 5
Slide 5

5. Clean kit – sting pheromone and sweaty beekeeper smells guaranteed to rile bees!
Gentle handling – watch how bee inspector handles the colony
Minimal smoke – some fuels disliked by bees so check e.g. cardboard with synthetic glue.
Minimal disturbance – do you need to do a full inspection or would a quick check do?
Use of cover cloth – an easy way to keep control of a colony. Roll it back as your inspection progresses, then swap it round so that the greater part of the frames is covered, or use two with just the active slot exposed. IF USED, KEEP IT CLEAN.
Use of wedges – to make separation of hive parts with less disturbance if you need to reposition your hive tool.


Slide 6
Slide 6


6. Additional reasons for change of circumstances:

  • Vibration/noise on shared stand
  • Rocking of hive – needs to be steady
  • Queenless colony, as in swarm control split or post swarming
  • Protective of honey stores against wasps


Slide 7
Slide 7

7. As the genetic stock was satisfactory it is usually quite acceptable to raise a new queen from them.


Slide 8
Slide 8

8. If they have always been bad then this is most likely a genetic trait and they are unlikely to improve on its own.

The only way to deal with this is to replace the queen with a new queen with better genetic qualities.

It may take 6 – 9 weeks or more for all the old genetically bad-tempered bees to die off, but a better queen may moderate behaviour sooner.

Isolate to avoid problems with neighbours.

Cull drone brood. Don’t want the aggressive attribute passed on to surrounding colonies through mating with virgin queens from currently good-tempered stock.


Slide 9
Slide 9

9. Bee vision – includes infrared – heat. The hottest place they can see will be their primary target.
Smell receptors – on the antennae – often for specific odour chemicals. Very sensitive to sting pheromones.
Protective gear – what’s needed – what’s available – discuss
Always wear two layers of clothing when dealing with defensive bees
Ensure no gaps in protection. Use tape on ankles and wrists if necessary
Leather gloves not recommended – difficult to clean. There are lots of different types of rubber or vinyl glove which give more than adequate protection when dealing with difficult bee, and they are cleanable.
ALL kit should be clean.


Other things that upset bees:

  • Some products used by dental practices will cause bees to buzz round the veil.
  • Lawn mowers/strimmers. Probably a combination of vibration and cut grass smell.
  • Digging in the garden. Again, probably vibration and earthy smell.
  • Throwing bone meal fertiliser onto the ground near bees has been known to provoke a sting response.
  • Too many beekeepers crowding round a hive demo may cause trouble. Try to stay out of their flight path.
  • Incorrect bee space caused by hive parts that are not to specification. Causing difficulty with hive manipulation and disruption of bees.


Notes from Keith Bone on his observations of bad-tempered bees:

I have noticed over the past two years that there has been a strong correlation between unusual warm weather and bad temper within colonies. Last year we had a warm spell in February and again in March which resulted in the colonies building up very quickly and early in the season. Come April this resulted in there being a lot of bees in each hive at a time when forage was still fairly scarce.

Consequently, I feel there were a lot of bees who were idle and, either as part of the hierarchy or they took it upon themselves, they became guard bees. Not only guarding the hive but all the territory around it too. We had to wear bee suits in the garden up until about mid-June when the following bees seemed to die off. After that all colonies acted calmly and normal so it wasn’t in their genes.

All this is very reminiscent of keeping bees on oil seed rape. There is so much forage available early in the season that queens lay brood like mad to keep up with the flow that by the time this brood is hatching the flow is over and there is nothing for the bees to do. Inevitably the bees are grumpy and turn to guard duty to protect their recently acquired honey stores and the whole apiary. All this for about 4 – 6 weeks after the flow stops when these intimidating bees die off.


Observation from Richard Simpson:

Bees can suffer from several stressors, not least being overcrowded or struggling with nest temperature. Direct sun with a thin-walled wooden bee hive and metal roof can be one such stressor.

The way they handle excess heat is to cool the colony by bringing in and evaporating water, but also circulating air and hanging outside the box rather than inside.

One colony supplied earlier in the year was docile when in afternoon shade. If it is the same colony that has now gone “bad-tempered”, consider whether a position in full sun is causing stress now that temperature and population have risen, or whether the queen has been changed.

If considering raising a replacement queen yourself (another talk for another day), bear in mind that a queen raised today will be mating (all being well) in mid-July, just as the drones are being expelled. Successful mating will be difficult if the drone population is falling or non-existent. Time is now of the essence.

Thanks to all who participated.

EDBK’s first Zoom meeting!

At last, East Devon are up and running with virtual meetings

‘Catching Your Honey Crop’

For our first venture we decided to float a topic that will be coming up soon, ‘Catching Your Honey Crop’.

Nick Silver volunteered to be the Host, arranging the meeting time and sending out the invitations. We eventually had 40 participants, largely made up of 2019 and 2020 Beginners group members, plus a few ‘old hands’ willing to share their knowledge.

First off, Richard introduced the session as an overview of how to get honey and honey products in various forms (liquid, cut comb, sections, chunk), and emphasised the need to be ready in plenty of time for the Main Flow, which would hopefully be upon us shortly.

John followed with details of the Main Flow and the options for supering.

In East Devon the natural nectar flow occurs around the last three weeks of JULY, but can be very variable or non-existent. This period coincides with the maximum number of bees in the colony. Working back from the date of the flow means the colony needs to be packed full of developing brood in early JUNE, 6 weeks previously (3 weeks as brood + 3 weeks to reach foraging age).
If you have been creating splits for swarm control these small colonies need to be re-united before the Main Flow.


Simply put, the colony needs to be organised so the foragers can respond the moment the flow starts. This means ensuring supers are in place well in advance of potential flow.

Questions often asked:
How many? Always aim for too many rather than too few! Don’t forget that extra space is required for the bees to process the nectar.

Above or below existing super(s)? If there is a flow on the bees will fill supers wherever they are. It is really a matter of personal preference.

Nick followed on with an illustrated talk on Sections and Cut Comb Honey.

A comparison of the two types of presentation are shown in the table.

✓ Less plastic. Nicer packing ✓ Easier? but need to watch frame spacing
✓ Bees do all the work… ✓ Flexible
✗ …but will they draw them out? ✗ A bit messy
General comments:
✓ No uncapping ✓ Thin foundation or no foundation
✓ No extracting ✓ No wire
✓ No tanks and buckets ✗ Avoid high glucose honey e.g.OSR
✓ No jars ✗ You lose the comb


Some hints and tips for Sections.

Honeycomb Sections

  • Decide between Section Racks or Hanging Section Frames (see suppliers’ catalogues).
  • Get the foundation the right way up!
  • A strong colony is needed during a flow. Look where the bees are working and move the Sections there.
  • Store Sections in the freezer indefinitely.
  • Many customers value them highly. They sell for approx. double the price of jarred honey (lb for lb) and involve less work!
  • Best to put Hanging Section Frames in the 2nd super to avoid pollen.
  • Nick suggests supers with plain runners and use Hoffman frames to fill between the Hanging Section Frames. See illustration below. With mixed frames and Sections, the flexible plastic spacer covering the Sections is a bit tricky and needs to be wedged in place to maintain correct spacing.

Cut Comb

Cut comb

  • Generally, these are more flexible than Sections as they can be harvested from any part of any super frame.
  • Can be cut with a sharp knife or a special cutter.
  • Draining the Cut Comb pieces makes a neater product. This is not essential unless entering exhibits in a competition.
  • As with Sections, Cut Comb can be stored in the freezer indefinitely.
  • Cut Comb is a valuable product, slightly less so than Sections.

Richard finished off the talks with a general discussion about getting comb filled and capped. Get your mentor to show you how to test a frame with some remaining unsealed cells.

We then had time for a general Q&A session which covered a wide range of topics that we would normally cover at our apiary meetings. The only thing we missed was the tea and cakes!

Thanks to all the participants for making this first virtual meeting a great success.


News & Events

Making a beeline: wildflower paths across UK could save species

Conservation charity aims to help restore 150,000 hectares of bee-friendly corridors to save the insects from extinction.

Read the article HERE.

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.