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Drone Congregation Areas 4/2/21

Drone Congregation Areas

Via Zoom on Thursday 4th February 2021. 39 attendees.

Available to view later through East Devon Beekeepers.


It is well researched (see Mating Biology of the Honey Bee, by Koeniger, Koeniger, Ellis, Connor) that honey bee drones fly to Drone Congregation Areas and will mate with virgin queens attracted to the DCA, usually from further afield. However, there is some conflicting evidence concerning topographical and racial influences. How does that conflicting evidence translate to Devon beekeeping? Our three intrepid “Drone Whisperers”, Richard Simpson, Graham Kingham and Peter Weller, (with help from Alfie), have been investigating.

The Drone Whisperers

It started as a project by the Devon Apicultural Research Group (DARG) and has progressed to the point where several articles have been published in Devon BKA’s magazine, Beekeeping, and also reproduced in An Beachaire (The Irish Beekeeper). A further update will come out shortly.

Why does it matter?

It is interesting! In addition, it may help to improve the matings in your apiary, or help avoid diseases passed on by dubious drones.

Graham started with an explanation of the mating mechanics, detailed in his book Honey Bee Drones – Specialists in the Field.
Honey Bee Drones

He gave some drone statistics:

  • The drone is about 2.5 times larger than the worker, has larger specialised antennae and much bigger eyes.
Drone Worker Queen
Antennal sensors 15-16,000 2,600 1,600
  • Drones have 4 dedicated brain complexes sensitive to queen pheromone.
  • Queens fly to the DCA where their pheromone is readily detected.
  • The drones have much larger eyes and can see the queen from about 50 metres away.
  • Drones also produce a mandibular pheromone which plays an important part in the DCA, probably by attracting other drones, and possibly the queen.
  • Drones generally congregate at specific sites, year after year. This information cannot be passed on to the next generation of drones as drones don’t survive the winter, so how do they maintain the same site?
  • The drones form a comet behind the queen as she enters the DCA, where successive matings take place. As each drone completes mating they fall backwards, leaving the mating sign in the queen’s mating chamber. This will be removed by the next drone to mate, and so on. The drones that have mated will die shortly afterwards.
  • The queen usually mates with an average of 15 drones, but greater numbers have been recorded.
  • She returns to the hive where the last mating sign is removed by the workers.
  • It is possible for a queen to take more than one mating flight. Most of the sperm with which the queen has been impregnated is subsequently expelled (a single drone can fill her storage capacity) but a proportion is mixed and kept alive in her spermatheca for use over her life.

The Starting Point

Relevant questions to ask are:

  • Which season? Time of day? Conditions, e.g. temperature, wind and weather?
  • Where does mating take place? What is a likely spot for a DCA?
  • How can we find the DCA?

Answers to some of the questions are already known, but much isn’t.


Drones fly when the air temperature is higher than 19°C, but some races may make flights in cooler conditions. Wind speed needs to be below 4-6 m/sec (9-13 mph). Flights take place roughly between 13:00 and 17:00. On their return to the nest, they refuel for another flight, and may make 5 flights during one afternoon.


Classically, drones are reported to patrol at between 50 – 200 ft (15 – 65m). Flight speed is 12 – 15 mph with 96% of flights within an average of 0.9km from the nest. Drones have approximately a 25-minute range, although longer flights have been observed, possibly due to drones resting or refuelling in other hives.

How do you find the DCA?

This is the difficult bit as there do not appear to be universal, clearly defined rules. Investigators have studied such factors as direction of flight, open ground, tree cover next to shelter, flat v sloping locations, landmarks and areas of high solar radiation, with mixed results.

Peter Weller took us through some of the computer-aided studies attempting to predict DCA locations. Realistically, there is some way to go before we can confidently use these techniques.

Some research suggests DCAs can be found where there is a “depletion” in the horizon, e.g., a valley bottom framed by hills/mountains, but how would you apply that to flat fenland?

So, the intrepid Drone Whisperers embarked on a more practical approach, walking the search grounds with an elevated lure. This consisted of a synthetic queen pheromone called 9-ODA, eventually obtained from Canada, applied to a 2cm twig. The dry crystals were sub-divided into portions equivalent to 50 virgin queens enabling batches to be made up.

Lure preparation
Lure preparation
Alfie watching drones
Alfie watching drones
Drones attracted to lure
Drones attracted to lure

Eventually, it worked! See Alfie watching drones.

Having found some hotspots, the focus moved to lift the lure higher. Helium balloons were tried, with limited success. The wind tended to force the line and lure nearer the ground instead of lifting to greater height.

Sufficient lift to raise a capture net, from which drones could be retrieved and marked, was eventually obtained with 11 balloons, only to find a strong gust dragging it down on the opposite side of a hedge. When extricated, it floated again but it then became apparent it had become detached from its tether. It was last seen heading in the direction of Axminster at cloud level.

Balloon setup
Balloon setup
Drone catching net
Drone catching net
Net lift off
Net lift off

As a substitute, catching drones with a hand-held net was tried, with reasonable success. 55 drones were marked and released. Late in the day, one was seen in Richard’s apiary nearby.

Netted drones
Netted drones

The classical idea of a DCA is that you are either in it and surrounded by drones, or you are outside the boundary and few drones are to be seen, or heard. Experiments at Musbury Castle did not demonstrate such a distinct demarcation.

Where to next?

Initially, it is intended to carry out further mark, track and trace exercises at existing sites. Other target sites in East Devon have also been identified and will be investigated. Further afield, a protocol has been created for identifying and reporting wider results. This will enable others to undertake local researches and produce common results. There is great scope for some original Citizen Science with this project. Peter Weller hopes to providing a starter pack including pheromone lure for £10, details yet to be decided.

Black Bees 07/01/21

Black Bees – ‘The Past or the Future?’

A talk by Jo Widdicombe on 7th January 2021, via Zoom

Also participating were West Dorset Beekeepers group and Somerset BKA

Participants 241

Alastair Bruce, Chair of East Devon Beekeepers, introduced Jo, who is the President of the Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association (BIBBA). The aims of BIBBA are

‘the conservation, restoration, study, selection and improvement of native (Apis mellifera mellifera) and near-native honey bees of the British Isles’

What are Black Bees?

Jo first of all showed some images of Black Bees, workers and queen, which clearly showed the characteristics that set them apart from the mongrel bees that exist in most of the British Isles. These features can be seen in the screen shots from the talk.

The hairs on the thorax tend to have a yellow/brown tinge

Black bee hairs

The queens are dark

Black bee queen

If mated with drones of the same race then all the bees in a colony look similar

Black bees

The workers have only narrow lighter bands on the abdomen

Black bee abdomen

Black bees are the native sub-species of honey bees, sometimes called the Dark European Honey Bee, and famously declared extinct by Br. Adam. Prior to about 1850 the Dark European Honey Bee predominated in France, UK, large areas of central Europe and extending northwards as far as Sweden. Since then, imported bees with distinctly different characteristics have flooded into the British Isles to produce the mélange of characteristics we have today.

The genetic makeup of our bees

The genetic makeup of our bees was studied by Dr. Elleanor Burgess and Dr. Catherine Thompson who found that about 45% of UK bees had mellifera genes, the rest being a hotch potch of genes from all round the world.

Breeding in this very mixed population often produces problems of ‘defensiveness’ and ‘uselessness’, so where do we go from here? Do we try to put the clocks back to 1850, or find the best way to move forward?

Finding a way forward

Imported bees are the root of the problem and they also pose a high biosecurity risk (Isle of Wight disease, Varroa, SHB, viruses, to name a few). Although crossing sub-species has the advantage of hybrid vigour the resulting subsequent uncontrolled matings will not breed true and are likely to cause ‘defensiveness’ and other unwanted traits. Also, the imported bees are brought in from other climates with no local adaptation and prevent us developing the best bee for local conditions.

The National Bee Improvement Programme (NatBIP), a BIBBA Initiative

NatBIP came about because of concerns about declining bee populations after Varroa was discovered in 1992. DEFRA’s ‘Healthy Bees Plan’ of 2009 aimed to achieve a

‘sustainable and healthy population of honey bees for pollination and honey production in England and Wales…’

The Plan identified imports as a biosecurity risk to our bees. Unfortunately, since 2009, imports have more than trebled!

Queen Rearing Working Groups (QRWG) were set up to identify the reasons for the popularity of imported queens. These reasons turned out to be ready availability, generally cheaper, good quality. Given the perceived advantages of imported queens

‘a good reason is needed for beekeepers to favour home-reared queens’


NatBIP is an attempt to refine our honey bee population with the aim of:

  • Reducing imports
  • Improving the quality of our bees
  • It is a proposal for a sustainable programme of bee improvement
  • BIBBA is not proposing a ban on imports, but is aiming to provide an alternative to imports, and a reason for not using imports.

Can sustainable improvements be achieved?

The aims can be easily stated:

  • A self-supporting and sustainable system, able to maintain and improve quality over successive generations.
  • Maintain genetic diversity but within a useful framework.
  • Encourages ‘local adaptation’ producing bees suited to, and thriving in, its local environment.
  • Aims to produce a hardy, docile and productive bee.
  • Produces a bee that adapts and evolves over time to changing conditions – a bee for the future, not the past.

How can we implement a system that fulfils all these points?

Beekeepers and bees must both benefit for a sustainable system to emerge. The major prerequisite is participants should avoid the use of imported stock, or offspring of recently imported stock. The Programme is based on the best available local bees, built on ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ selection. Nature selects for survival. Beekeepers select for the qualities they want.

Outline of how the Programme will work

Participants will keep a record of their colonies’ performance (this is not a management record). This will allow the selection of ‘breeder queen’ to produce the next generation.

Image of record card

The key to the system is the ‘breeder queens’ because the daughters reared from good breeder queens produce good drones, so selected breeding or mating zones can be flooded with these superior drones to develop a local strain.

Example of record sheet

Diagram of cycle of drone management


The advantages of breeding from ‘what we’ve got’ are a reduction in biodiversity risk, avoiding the introduction of new and untested genes. There will also be a gradual reduction in hybridisation as the ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ selection shapes the population. As bees start to breed true the result is more rapid progress. Open mating helps maintain genetic diversity so the end result will be locally adapted bees with enough genetic diversity to select any qualities we want.

Summary of NatBIP

All beekeepers can benefit from a sustainable programme of bee improvement thereby reducing biosecurity risk. The programme will be based on current stocks and use a combination of ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ selection to develop better quality bees. The Improvement Programme will not use imported bees or the offspring of recently imported bees.

BIBBA will produce a Guide Book with suggestions and ideas for beekeepers to choose and adapt to suit themselves.

To join BIBBA go to their Website and follow the links.

Useful reference: The Principles of Bee Improvement by Jo Widdicombe

An online poll was carried out during the meeting. See results sheet below.

Poll of bee imports

During the Q&A session Jo gave details of the mating nucs he uses. They are made by Abelo and are big enough to overwinter small colonies. Abelo UK website

Our thanks to Jo for this information-packed talk and for permission to use the images. Our thanks also to Lynne Ingram for organising the Zoom meeting.



Mead talk 03/12/20

“From Start up to Kilnasaggart”

A talk by Thomas O’Hagan of O’Hagan Meadery, and member of East Devon Beekeepers, 3/12/2020

21 participants

Thomas was introduced by Richard Simpson as one of the participants on the Beginners Course several years ago. As a scientist he was interested in fermentation processes and so realised he could turn his skills in fermentation and his hobby of honey production into a commercial enterprise making mead. So how does he do it?

Yeast and Honey

Put simply, mead is fermented honey. The honey provides the sugars and yeast supplies fermentation in a watery mix. The products of fermentation are alcohols and carbon dioxide gas, provided there is insufficient oxygen from the air to spoil fermentation, hence the air lock used in home brewing.

The carbon dioxide is the same gas that causes bread to rise and the fizziness of champagne, so mead can be still (all sugars have been fermented) or fizzy (some gas retained).

The type of yeast used affects the end product markedly. Standardised, dry powder yeasts are often used but, for the more adventurous, a host of botanical materials can be added to the brew to achieve subtle flavours. Wild yeast fermentations, such as these, can go disastrously wrong but honey is considered a very forgiving medium because potential spoilage microorganisms will be discouraged by the natural antimicrobial agents in honey.

Meads and Mythology

The fermented product called ‘t’ej’ in Ethiopia has a long history and is still consumed to this day. T’ej is a honey wine made with gesho, which consists of the leaves and stems of an Ethiopian thorn bush, the bitterness of which counters some of the sweetness of the honey.

In Greek mythology Ganymede was cupbearer to Zeus, having been abducted by an eagle, and representations of the event can be seen is Roman mosaics, as at Bignor Roman villa in Sussex.

There is a story of St Brigit of Ireland who performed miracles, including the occasion when she blessed the empty drinking vessels of the host ‘and they were at once full with choice mead’.

Kilnasaggart stone

Kilnasaggart stone

Kilnasaggart pillar stone stands in a field not far from Kilnasaggart Bridge near Jonesborough, County Armagh. Thomas’ father also makes mead not far from here, hence the Irish connection.

Make Your Own Mead

Many styles of mead have been tried over the centuries. Braggot is a form of mead made with both honey and barley malt. Heat or freeze distillation will produce a more potent brew from normal meads. Meads made with foraged flavours and fruits can produce very acceptable products and, of course, there are a whole range of mulled and spiced products (metheglin, melomel, cyser) that can be produced with additional ingredients.

The process will be familiar to home brewer:

  • Add the fermentable ingredients (honey, other sources of sugar) to your Primary fermentation vessel
  • Add yeast if required
  • Add water and nutrients (such as Young’s yeast nutrient).

To make, say, a 12%abv mead there are calculators on the internet that will help you get the proportions right.

Making Mead
Making Mead slide 1.  When the primary fermentation is complete the liquid is transferred to a Secondary fermentation vessel where flavouring/spices can be added.
Making Mead
Making Mead slide 2.  The brew can then be put into conditioning containers where further honey can be added for ‘back sweetening’. Some people add sulphides at this stage.

All that remains is to age, bottle and drink!

Thomas gave us a simple, fool proof recipe for beginners.

  • Add ingredients to fermentation vessel (could use a clean honey bucket):
  • Honey – 500-600g
  • Water – (use calculator)
  • Nutrients – (if required)
  • Rack and continue with 2nd fermentation.
  • Settle, bottle/age, drink

Selling your Mead

Thomas briefly took us through the necessary requirements for making and selling Mead.

  • You will need Environmental Health Dept. approval of your HACCP procedures (Hazzard Analysis Critical Control Points).
  • Trading Standards need to be involved.
  • The Tax Regulations will require you to register as a wine producer, and pay duty on the alcohol content.
  • You will need to join the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme.
  • You will require a business bank account and the backing of a retailer. VAT will be required, plus a Premises licence.
  • If that was not enough you will require Insurance and you will have to comply with the current Labelling Regulations.

Good luck with your brewing.

Brewing equipment supplier – Vigo of Dunkeswell

Thanks to Thomas for all the practical hints and tips, and also thanks to Nick Silver for stepping in at the last minute as host.


2020 AGM 05/11

Report of East Devon Beekeepers AGM 2020 & ‘What I did During Lockdown’

Held via Zoom, 5th November 2020. 36 attendees.

Our President Hilary Kirkcaldie, opened the meeting with a warm welcome to everyone. As part of the address, she reminded us of past members who had sadly passed away this year. Hilary spoke of members who we may not have all known, but who were keen and committed beekeepers in their time. Hilary led us in quiet reflection in tribute to Evelyn Pelham, David Lench and Verbena Evans.
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:

President Hilary Kirkcaldie
Chair Alasdair Bruce
Treasurer Keith Bone
Secretary Val Bone
Committee 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 Peter Weller

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 be Keith Bone, Ralph Cox, Angela Findlay, Sue Johnston, Mike Walters and Sarah Collins.

There followed two short talks by Jan Morse and Alasdair Bruce entitled ‘What I did during Lockdown’.

Jan started by telling us that for some years she had been leading two groups of walkers and along the way had been trying to educate them into the diversity of wild flowers in the vicinity of South Chard.

So when the first lockdown started she emailed her friends and said she would send them a photo each day of flowers they could look out for as they went on their walks own walks. From the beginning of lockdown to the end of Augest she sent a total of 188 different plants that she had seen in the hedgerows.

Jan then shared with us about twenty of the more interesting specimens with comments on their botanical properties. See the selection below.



‘Bramble’ in the snowdrops, on a walk up to Wayford Woods from Winsham, well worth doing in January.

Beautiful St John’s wort

Beautiful St John’s Wort, the smallest of the hypericums.


Butterbur, flowers before the leaves, which are large enough to wrap butter, before paper was used.

Butterfly orchid

Butterfly Orchid, at the Chard Junction Quarries nature reserve – always open.

Common mullein

Common Mullein, a very distinguished plant, easily identifiable.

Early purple orchid

Early Purple Orchid, very variable in colour and form.


Fleabane, repels fleas, as the name suggests.

Lady’s bedstraw

Lady’s Bedstraw – name probably derives from the custom of including it in straw mattresses, as when dried it smells of new mown hay. It is the same family as goose grass or sticky burrs. Was used as a vegetable substitute for rennet


Tansy was used to ‘kill phlegm and worms at Eastertide’.


Thorn Apple is very poisonous, if you see it in a farmer’s field, advise him to remove it.

Yellow corydalis

Yellow corydalis, grows on walls, and flowers over a long period.

Meanwhile Alasdair has been busy renovating a collection of hives that had been given to him by a farmer friend. They were obviously of an early design and had been kept in a barn for many years. There were even the remains of foundation in some of the frames!

Intrigued by the design, Alasdair started to search for their possible origins. The hives were well made which indicated commercial manufacture, and after a few enquiries he came across a reference in an old book from 1930 entitled ‘Bee-Keeping new and old described with pen and camera by W. Herrod-Hempsall. F.E.S.’

Burgess telescopic hive



Note the metal ends

So they are provisionally identified from an image in the book as Burgess telescopic hives from around 1930, this age based on when the tin spacers on the comb frames stopped being made as around 1930.

Thanks to all concerned for their contributions to the success of the meeting. Let us hope that next year the situation will have improved.

Bee Farmers Work-Arounds 01/10/20

The Bee Farmers Work-Arounds

A talk by Dan Basterfield NDB

East Devon Beekeepers, 1st Oct 2020

c50 participants

Dan pointed out right from the start that the idea for this talk came from Richard Simpson.

How to keep on top of more colonies whilst making an income from bees.

What works for someone with half a dozen colonies may be unworkable with 50+ colonies. There will be a need to reduce time taken for all tasks, reduce repetitive tasks, minimise the variety of tasks and keep a close watch on costs at all times.

Approach to Beekeeping

The ideas above can be considered in one’s general approach to beekeeping, especially through inspections, management, and swarming. See below.

Standardising and simplifying are key to success. Hives and equipment should have minimal variants, manipulations should be familiar and quick to perform, and you need to think ahead to have the right kit ready and organized at the right time. Consider this question: ‘Which is the best option for feeding fondant? An eke (extra cost) or an empty super (empty frames need storage)?’  The super would be fine for a  couple of hives but for 100 hives the frame storage would cause a huge  problem!

Apiary sites are another area for consideration. Good static sites may take many years for the bee farmer to acquire and test. Good, year-round, easy access is essential. However, forage planting to improve the site is not particularly viable unless done in great quantities.

On the other hand, migratory apiaries allow the bee farmer to follow what is available for extra income. Bear in mind that extra time, work and costs are involved with moving colonies, and the fact that the extra honey extraction comes at a busy time of year.

In terms of approach to beekeeping Dan pointed out that you don’t see many bee farmers using WBC hives, Snelgrove boards, ‘novelty’ gadgets or 2nd quality frames! They all waste time or money.


Dan outlined the bee farmers ‘quick appraisal’ approach to hive inspections. This requires a quick assessment of activity at the entrance, followed by activity/condition of the top super, then the top brood box. This may take some practice for the novice to become proficient but is worth the effort. At this point you may decide that no further inspection is needed, but if it is, then use the ‘Tilt and Smoke’ approach.

  • Remove the supers
  • Tilt the (upper) brood box
  • Smoke the bees upwards.

You will now be in a position to know the weight/distribution of stores, the brood quantity and spread, plus whether queen cells are visible (between boxes is a favoured spot for starting queen cells).

As a reminder, Dan outlined Ted Hooper’s ‘five things you need to know’ from an inspection:

  • Space available?
  • Laying queen/eggs?
  • Build up/signs of swarming?
  • Disease signs?
  • Stores?

Check out Ted Hooper’s book ‘Guide to Bees and Honey’ in the branch library if you are not sure.

Guide to Bees and Honey


There are many systems of bee management. Donald Sims’ book, ‘Sixty Years with Bees’, gives a good overview (again, available in the branch library).

Sixty Years with Bees

Most well-known systems have common elements:

  • Start with strong colonies with ample brood.
  • Split(s) made without finding the queen to deter swarming through depopulation.
  • Emergency queen cells reared to generate colony increase or new queen for recombining with original colony.
  • Minimal intervention.

Remember that if you want to re-combine split colonies for the July flow you will need to start 7-9 weeks earlier. This equates to manipulations in early May, so there is time to produce new queens and have 3-week-old bees in sufficient quantity for foraging. Of course, all this depends upon the British Weather so plans have to be flexible.


Dan pointed out that it is uneconomic for the bee farmer to try to prevent ALL swarms, so the approach tends to be either prevent/defer swarming, or pre-empt swarming.

  • To prevent or defer swarming the bees should have plenty of space to rear brood early in the season and preferably be headed by a young queen.
  • To pre-empt swarming one can split likely colonies BEFORE they raise swarm cells, ideally towards the end of the spring crop. This is a proactive approach, rather than reactive.

At this point Dan introduced the concept of the ‘walk away split’, i.e. minimal intervention.

Basic ‘walk away’ split by frames:

Key points Comments
Take 3-5 frames of brood covered by nurse bees Marked queens make manipulation easier
Ensure the queen is not on the frames New queens will be mated and laying in 3-4 weeks
Place in a nuc box or empty hive Monitor stores and feed if required
Take to another apiary over 3 miles away This is a small depopulation, so may only delay swarming

Basic ‘walk away’ split by box:

Key points Comments
Colony has expanded onto 2 x brood boxes on spring crop Don’t need to know where queen is
Ensure brood and bees in both brood boxes New queens will be mated and laying before main flow
Take 1 brood box away and sandwich with floor and roof Implicitly making increase from strongest and healthiest colonies
Take to another apiary over 3 miles away Large depopulation likely to avert swarming

Dan outlined four feeding regimes.

Spring feeding

In the UK the bottleneck to spring development is pollen availability, so stimulative feeding is of limited use without additional pollen supplies. You could argue that masses of pollen being taken into a hive indicates a lack of pollen reserves. Poor weather can lead to NO pollen income.

Autumn feeding

Sugar syrup needs mixing from dry GRANULATED sugar. Dan uses an electric honey extractor to do the mixing! Neat trick. Currently ingredient costs: 65p / Kg sugar. Don’t forget that sugar syrup will ferment eventually. A pinch of thymol will prevent this, but will taint stores, feeders, even boxes.

Fondant feeding

Fondant does not ferment as it is basically 90% sugars / 10% water. Can be bought in 12½Kg blocks. Make a hole in the plastic wrap and place this hole directly over the colony as an autumn feed. An eke will be needed but ‘job done’ in one visit and no other equipment required.

Invert syrup feeding

This material is approximately 72% sugars, is stable for 12 months, requires no mixing and can be drawn off from bulk containers when needed. The cost is approx. 95p / Kg sugar. It can also be purchased in smaller quantities by hobbyist beekeepers.

The remainder of the talk covered a wide range of subjects and can be summarised with brief notes:

Varroa treatment – Apivar, MAQS, Apiguard during season are quick and effective.

Oxalic trickle in January – Use backpack and 5ml dosing gun.

Clearing supers – various clearer boards (not Porter escapes!) – needs return visit.

Chemical methods – e.g. BeeQuick – needs fume board – 1 visit.

Manual methods – e.g. ‘shake and brush’ – 1 visit.

‘Shake test’ on part-sealed combs – no drips = honey ripe.

Extracting combs – uncapping is the slowest part of extracting process – use additional kit to speed up e.g. hot air gun.

Processing honey – heated strainers speed up throughput – 30°C ideal temperature.

Many cheap electronic gadgets available to aid processing e.g. thermostats and timers.

Equipment maintenance – use winter months when time available.

Box maintenance – scrape and torch timber parts, soak and scrub poly parts (using warm bleach).

Frame cleaning – melt out old comb – boil in 5% washing soda (old Burco boiler ideal), rinse and dry.
Cheaper to clean old frames than to buy new!

Our thanks to Dan for a very comprehensive talk. Also thanks to Mary for hosting the meeting and Richard for the organisation.

View the talk on YouTube.

Preparing for Winter 5/9/20

Preparing for Winter

5th Zoom meeting, 05/09/2020

A talk by David Chambers

29 participants

David started by reminding us why we prepare the hives for winter. Everything revolves around keeping the bees alive and healthy through the cold period and ready for the start of the new season.

There are three causes of colony loss:

  • Queenlessness
  • Varroa damage
  • Starvation


This can happen to anyone, and for a variety of reasons, e.g. poorly mated queen during bad weather. Now is the time to ensure your colonies are headed by a strong queen. Any colonies that are underperforming should be united with queenright colonies. Using the newspaper method is the simplest. Ideally, remove the queen you don’t want before uniting. Always ensure the colony above the paper has sufficient ventilation by poking holes through the paper with your hive tool.


First and foremost, beekeepers should monitor their hives for natural mite drop at this time of year. Once you know what state your colonies are in, then you can plan appropriate action dependent on the level of threat.

Normally, there are two times of year when Varroa treatments are considered. First, in August after the honey crop has been removed, to ensure the winter bees being produced now are healthy and will last through the winter. Second, around Christmas when there is minimal or no brood so that treatments such as oxalic acid solution can be used. Oxalic acid does not kill mites inside brood so is more effective in midwinter.

During the autumn, David uses MAQS (formic acid), but only on large colonies. Smaller colonies are treated with Apiguard (thymol based) as there is less likelihood of killing the queen. Remember that there are a limited number of varroacides available legally (see BeeBase website) and any treatments given to your bees should be recorded and the record kept for 5 years.


Once you have taken the honey crop off it is time to think about feeding the colony. David recommends rapid feeders in autumn, up to ½ gal at a time, and monitor to see how it is being taken down. If leaving a super on the hive then it is advisable to remove the queen excluder so the whole colony can move upwards during the winter to access stores. Best to feed in the evening to avoid robbing. Don’t forget that there will inevitably be wasps around so all entrances should be reduced to a minimum. Be tidy. Sugar syrup spillages will attract both wasps and robber bees!

Feeding should be completed by October as the temperature will be lower and the bees will have difficulty converting the syrup to stores. Looking ahead, if your bees run short of stores in Jan, Feb and March then use fondant as this will not ferment. If feeding is required in late March, early April, then David uses a contact feeder that can be placed directly over the hole in the crown board. Use a super as an eke.

General considerations

David then went on to discuss ventilation of hives over winter and other aspects of good husbandry. Essentially, hives should be off the ground and protected from cold winds. It is generally agreed that open mesh floors are preferable but whether you use a tray insert during the winter or not is your choice. Now that we have open mesh floors it should not be necessary to insert matchsticks under the crown board, as advised by some older books.

Make sure you have some form of protection against mice entering the hives as they can cause a lot of damage and may even lead to the colony dying out.

There were many questions asked during David’s talk, clarifying issues as they arose. At the end of the talk there was a lengthy discussion and exchange of views on using brood and a half over winter. David explained that he uses 14×12 brood chambers which provide ample space for over wintering, without the need for any other boxes. However, a National brood box can be a bit too small for a strong colony to store enough for overwintering. A lot of beekeepers play safe and leave a super with stores above the National brood box, having first removed the queen excluder as explained.

Problems may arise in the spring when the colony has moved up and is laying brood in the super. In this case, David suggested that you may as well leave the super in place and run the colony on brood and half, as they obviously need the space. Giving plenty of brood space this way will probably reduce the urge to swarm early next year.

Another issue that was discussed was partially filled frames. One solution is to leave these frames in a super above the hole in the crown board. Hopefully, the bees will take these residues down and store them in the brood box below. The empty frames can then be removed before winter.

Our thanks to David for a constructive talk, and also thanks to Mary for her slick organisation of the meeting.

View the talk on YouTube.

Honey and Varroa Essentials 08/08/20

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 18/07/20

After the Honey Crop

What do we do now?

A talk by Simon Foster

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 session on YouTube

Bad Tempered Bees 27/06/20

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.

The Honey Crop 06/06/20

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

Fungus creates fake fragrant flowers to fool bees

Fungi have been discovered making fake flowers that look and even smell like the real thing, fooling bees and other pollinating insects into visiting them.

Read the article HERE.

The February Enews from Bees for Development can be found below.

Share this link with your group.

Emergency Authorisation for limited use of neonicotinoid seed treatment.

Read the letters from BBKA concerning:

Petitions against Emergency Authorisation

Emergency Authorisation for the use of thiomethoxam.

Spiders Can Fly Hundreds of Miles Using Electricity

Scientists are finally starting to understand the centuries-old mystery of “ballooning.”

Read the secrets HERE

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.
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.