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Honey and Varroa Essentials 08/08/20

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.