Varroa update 1/4/21

“Varroa: still a danger; still a chemical solution?”

A talk by Richard Ball, 1st April 2021 via Zoom

42 participants.

Richard is a retired National Bee Inspector and a national authority on the Varroa mite. Through daily monitoring of natural mite drop in his colonies near Colaton Raleigh he has gained an in-depth knowledge of varroa population dynamics, translating this knowledge into interesting solutions for chemical and non-chemical control.

What was it like 40 years ago? (before Varroa)

There was more ‘let alone’ beekeeping, but honey crops were still good, with clover playing an important role. 10% winter losses would be seen as high and there were virtually no medicament issues.

The first MAFF leaflet warning of possible Varroa infestation was issued in 1985, and the first confirmed sighting was in Torbay in 1992, but very few beekeepers were prepared for the arrival of the mite and knew what action to take.

When the mite arrived

Parasitic mite syndrome
Parasitic mite syndrome *

With nothing to slow the mite population explosion, Parasitic mite syndrome became an all-too-common sight to Bee Inspectors. Symptoms include abandoned brood, dead emerging adult bees, damaged adult bees and visible mites on the bees and comb.

What is Varroa?

Varroa mite
Varroa mite *

A mite, Varroa Jacobsoni, naturally infests the Eastern honeybee, Apis cerana. Man moved the Western honeybee, Apis mellifera, into Asia where Varroa started to infest mellifera colonies. It has since spread through Russia and Europe and most other parts of the world where A. mellifera is kept. Varroa found in A. mellifera in the west is thought to be a strain of V. Jacobsoni and is now called V. destructor.

The mite can only be described as ‘devastating’. It breeds in sealed brood, doubles population every three weeks in the active season and damages the immune system of the bees.

Varroa mites on brood
Varroa mites on brood *

 

Life cycle

  • A mature female enters a bee brood cell just before capping.
  • She goes into the brood food.
  • She emerges as the larva lays down to pupate and scratches a patch on the prepupa where her young will feed, then lays eggs in a specific order, male first.
  • The eggs hatch out and feed on the pupa.
  • Mature female mites emerge with the bee.
  • They enter a ‘phoretic’ stage of about 4-11 days to mature and then enter a bee brood cell to carry on the reproductive cycle.
  • Each female mite can reproduce 3-4 times on average and can stay in the phoretic stage for up to 6 months.
    It is now known that the mites feed on the bees’ fat bodies, not the haemolymph as originally thought.

Mite reproduction

The first mite to hatch is a male. Subsequent mites are females which will mate with this male, or other males if two mites enter the same cell. Varroa mites prefer drone brood because the life cycle of the drone is 24 days, compared to 21 days for worker brood. Thus, a higher reproduction rate can be achieved in drone brood leading to more rapid attainment of critical infestation levels.

How are mites spread?

The answer is ‘Very easily!’ Human beings were largely responsible for the rapid dissemination of Varroa all over the British Isles. In addition, mites can spread by drifting bees, swarms, and collapsing colonies.

The problem with Varroa

The problem with Varroa
By September, bee numbers are reduced, brood is reduced but Varroa numbers have increased, resulting in a high infestation rate of the new brood which will become winter bees. Infested bees are less likely to survive the winter. This is why a Varroa treatment in August, after the honey crop has been removed, is recommended.

Where do we go from here?

V. destructor is a parasite on A. mellifera at the moment but the relationship is subject to evolutionary pressures and could, in the future, evolve to a symbiotic relationship where the mite does not destroy the host. In addition, there are breeding programmes to develop ‘hygienic’ bees and/or Varroa tolerant bees. None of them have been wildly successful.

If we were to abandon all varroa controls, the survivors would develop as our feral bees have, using a number of techniques to enhance their survival. These may include more frequent swarming and uncapping of infected brood to kill mites. It is likely this would have commercial implications for crop pollination and food production.

Bee diseases act in concert

It is said that Varroa does not kill bees, though obviously it weakens them. Likewise, Nosema or Acarine do not kill colonies. Even viruses at low levels are unlikely to kill colonies. However, viruses transmitted by Varroa will exacerbate the damage caused by the mites and eventually weaken the colony so much that it dies. So, it is the combination of diseases that kills.

Bee viruses

Many viruses have been identified in connection with honeybee colony losses. The list includes:

  • Black queen cell virus (BQCV)
  • Filamentous virus (FV)
  • Bee virus Y (BVY)
  • Bee virus X (BVX)
  • Cloudy wing virus (CWV)
  • Slow paralysis virus (SPV), Acute paralysis virus (APV)
  • Deformed wing virus (DWV)

DWV has been identified as a significant killer to the extent that colonies with many deformed bees are considered to be in serious danger of collapse unless treated. However, although bees usually suppress the effect of viruses, the presence of Varroa appears to stop this in some way, so the virus multiplies rapidly resulting in sudden colony collapse. So, once viruses are well established in a colony, controlling the mites is less likely to stop colony collapse.

Bee with Deformed Wing Virus
Bee with Deformed Wing Virus *

What does it take to kill a colony?

Three levels recognised:

  • A few mites have little or no effect.
  • Over 1000 mites can damage the colony.
  • Over 3000 mites constitute a severe risk of colony damage.

This is the basic concept behind monitoring mite levels, so that as levels approach 1000 something can be done to reduce risk of damage.

Control methods

Three principals have been put forward:

  • The methods used should aim to control Varroa and disease levels, not eradicate them.
  • Varroa and disease below the treatment threshold level should not be controlled.
  • Chemical control methods should be the ‘last resort’, not the first.

These principals translate into Integrated Pest Management, as used by most beekeepers today. Using bio-techniques wherever possible and using chemical intervention only if necessary, allows colonies to develop in a more natural way. It should be noted that mite population counts can sometimes be misleading, so should be considered in conjunction with local conditions such as time of year and colony size.

Richard detailed many of the techniques that are available for controlling mite numbers. For more information go to BeeBase. His advice for improved chemical control was to pick those treatments that leave the least long-term residues. These include oxalic acid (found in rhubarb), lactic acid (found in cheese) and formic acid (used by ants). He also advised not to use the same product repeatedly.

Download the NBU Advisory leaflet: Managing Varroa (pdf 10.7 MB). This is a ‘Must Read’ for all new beekeepers.

Conclusions

To answer the original questions, ‘Yes’, Varroa is still a problem and ‘No’, the answer is not a chemical one. Richard suggests:

  • Keep a local strain of bee.
  • Select from the best surviving colonies.
  • Monitor carefully.
  • Only control varroosis when necessary.
  • Use bio-techniques first.
  • Use chemical control methods as a ‘last resort’.
  • Use the ‘softer’ chemicals if you have to as the ‘harder’ chemicals leave more harmful residues.
Our thanks to Richard for very comprehensive coverage of the varroa problem and for bringing us up-to-date with the latest views.

This is the last of the Winter talks for this year, so our thanks also to Richard Simpson for all the arrangements and thanks to the small army of contributors, Zoomers and supporters. We hope you have enjoyed the talks and look forward to meeting you in person. Feedback welcome.

The talk may be viewed on YouTube HERE

You may also wish to download the BEEHAVE free software mentioned by Richard. BEEHAVE is a computer model to simulate the development of a honeybee colony and its nectar and pollen foraging behaviour in different landscapes.

* Image courtesy The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Crown Copyright

Pollinator Landscaping, 04/03/21

“Pollinator Landscaping, a Roadside Story?”

A talk by Leonardo Guber and Dan Field

Thursday 4th March 2021 via Zoom, with 31 participants.

Leo is Senior Ecologist with Highways England, based in Exeter. Dan recently retired from the same organisation specialising in land acquisition, highway law, and management training. Dan is a member of East Devon Beekeepers and it turns out that Leo has also kept bees in his youth and intends to take up the hobby again when he retires.

Roads and the Natural Environment

Typical highway aerial view
Typical highway aerial view

Leo stated that roads cut through virtually every terrestrial ecosystem in the world and have become a permanent part of the landscape. Understandably, roads have great ecological impact on the environment, often responsible for increased biodiversity loss around the world. Thus, road verges have attracted much attention as important areas of conservation and pollution mitigation.

The importance of road verges

Where main roads pass through farmed landscapes, the road verges may be the best quality habitat in the area, often with links to past landscapes, e.g. where old hedgerows border main roads. Verges tend to be relatively undisturbed and as will be shown later, verges can be of high aesthetic value.

As an example of his work, Leo described a fact-finding trip he made with colleagues along the A30 from Exeter to Bodmin, and back to Exeter via the A38. This 284km road length consisted of 450ha of grassland and heathland habitat. Even though this represents only 0.002% of the area of Great Britain they found over 330 grassland and heathland plant species. This is nearly a quarter of the official number of native species in the British Isles!

The soft side of Highways England’s estate

The term ‘soft estate’ is used by road authorities to describe natural habitats adjacent to motorways and trunk roads. This amounts to 178,000ha in the UK, of which 30,000ha are in England, this region being managed by Highways England. The importance of road verges has gradually been going up on the agendas of both management and ecology since the 1960s, so what is the present-day situation?

Working with soft estate: what is out there?

To find out what is out there Leo uses a variety of techniques.

  • Targeted surveys to inform environmental assessments and/or minimise the impact of planned operations.
  • Desktop surveys to identify habitat boundaries of important sites and species recorded nearby.
  • Drive-by surveys to identify areas that merit further investigation.
  • Habitat and botanical surveys in areas of interest or that show potential.
  • Soft estate conditions surveys.
  • Ad hoc reports and inspections.
The information gathered by these techniques is essential for producing the ‘Tools for Roadside Management’. In the Southwest Region, Highways England have been implementing a Grassland Management Programme (GMP) across the road network in Devon and Cornwall since 2002. This is currently being updated to cover the whole of the Southwest Region. The programme identifies aesthetic and species-rich grasslands within the soft estate that will require special management, and translates this into management instructions.
Roadside management plan
Roadside management plan
So, for example, a detailed map of the area to be maintained will be annotated with comments such as “Control Traveller’s joy, buddleia, sea buckthorn and winter heliotrope in advance of cutting and raking plot. Remove all self-setters and treat stumps”, or “Cut and rake. Remove gorse and self-setters to top of bank”.

 

All this detailed grassland management has to be tied in with the appropriate time of year taking into account access, gradients, possible traffic restrictions and treatment of sensitive sites.

Constantly under attack!

The soft estate is constantly under attack. The list includes vehicle fires, litter, spillages, invasive species (ragwort, winter heliotrope, Japanese knot weed), plus a constant barrage of pollutants (zinc from tyres, cadmium from oil, salt from de-icing and nitrates from exhausts).

The Importance of road verges

The importance of road verges can be seen in a 2014 study by Plymouth University. Their surveys showed that bumblebee abundance in verges was more than twice that of field margins. Also, that species richness and abundance of flowers used by bumblebees was higher on roadside verges.

Recently, a Highways England Pollinator Study has been carried out in the southwest with the assistance of Buglife. This ties in with the National Pollinator Strategy as well as their own Biodiversity Plan.

The Study statistics:

  • Carried out in 42 different locations in Devon and Cornwall.
  • In total, 866 taxa were recorded.
  • These included: 32 different species of bees, 16 nationally scarce species, 4 species of principal importance and 1 endangered species.
4 principal species

Biodiversity Conservation Initiatives

The department have a simple method of species rich grassland creation. It uses the ‘whole crop’ or ‘green hay’ method whereby seed material from existing species-rich roadside verges are harvested and introduced at cleared, prepared sites where scrub and self-seeded trees had taken over the verges. The ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures show the effectiveness of this method and comments in the press!

Before planting
After planting
Press comments

A30 and Goss Moor Marsh Fritillary Project

This is a Highways England led project, in partnership with Natural England and Eden Project, aimed at creating biodiverse habitat along the A30 in Cornwall.

The Moor is one of the main breeding sites in England for the rare Marsh Fritillary butterfly. The long-term survival of the Marsh Fritillary is dependent on maintaining a suitable habitat. The best sites are open, unimproved, lightly-grazed grasslands with abundant patches of Devil’s-bit Scabious, the caterpillar’s only foodplant. Eden Project raised 10,000 plugs of Devil’s-bit Scabious which were successfully planted on Goss Moor.

Marsh fritillary
Marsh fritillary
Other projects have been initiated with the aim of boosting habitat connectivity. Around 10,000 native trees and scrubs have recently been planted as hedgerows along trunk roads to enhance connectivity and provide habitat for birds, mammals and insects in Devon and Cornwall.

 

Leo gave a link to the Plantlife website where you can download the booklet ‘Managing grassland road verges’, a best practice guide. He also referred us to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species which has top tips and much other information on hedgerow management.

Plantlife booklet

Thanks to both Leo and Dan for showing us ‘behind the scenes’ in their work place, and thanks once again to Mary for orchestrating the meeting.

HERE is the link to view the talk on YouTube.

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.

Drone

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.

When?

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.

Where?

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

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

Advantages

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.

 

Snowdrop

‘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

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

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

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

Thornapple

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

Illustration

Interior

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.

Inspections

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

Management

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.

Swarming

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

Queenlessness

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.

Varroa

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.

Starvation

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
WARMTH WHILE PROCESSING IS GOOD
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.
Extractors
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.

Sieving:
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?

Slide-6.

  • 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.

Introduction

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

Objectives

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

Stores

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

News & Events

Marks and Spencer project threat to honeybee diversity?

Good thing or bad thing? You decide. Read the article HERE.

Liquid gold: beekeepers defying Yemen war to produce the best honey

Read the article HERE.

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.

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.