1st Winter talk 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.

5th Zoom meeting 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.

4th Zoom meeting 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.


3rd Zoom Meeting 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

2nd Zoom meeting 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.

1st Zoom meeting 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.


Report of March Meeting 2020


Asian Hornet. Jersey Experience – Devon Actions?

A talk by Dr Sarah Bunker, 5th March 2020

Sarah is a member of Okehampton branch of Devon Beekeepers and, in 2018, was inspired to visit Jersey, along with other Devon members, to help with the tracking of Asian hornets and nest location. The experience she gained prompted her to research the available literature and write ‘The Asian Hornet Handbook’. This book is the most comprehensive guide we have in the UK on the life cycle, biology and protection strategy for the Asian hornet if/when it arrives in this country.
The life cycle of the Asian hornet is different to that of the European hornet and needs to be understood in some detail in order to control infestation in the UK. Sarah admitted there were some aspects of the life cycle that we have yet to work out, such as how the insect will behave in our cold, wet climate.

Queen emerges

Studies so far suggest the mated queen hornet will emerge from hibernation when the average temperature reaches 13°C, which is likely to be sometime in March in the South West. She will feed on sugary materials to boost her reserves, so is likely to be spotted feeding on Camellia nectar or tree sap. During this feeding period ‘foundress’ queens are able to migrate tens of kilometres before searching for a suitable primary nest site and start the building process.

The primary nest

Primary nest beginning
Primary nest started *
Primary nest entrance
Primary nest entrance *
The primary nest is made of plant material pulped with saliva and water, then shaped into the structure by the mouthparts in a similar way to wasps and European hornets. The nest starts with a stalk or petiole attached to a convenient structure, preferably in a dry and sheltered area. Out houses and sheds are ideal. The cells face down with the bottom end open and the entrance is at the bottom of the structure. The foundress queen builds the nest alone until the first cohort of workers emerge and take over. At this stage the development time from egg to adult takes about 50 days.
The larvae are fed balls of mashed up insect meat and sugary material. They will also regurgitate sugary saliva when requested by the workers. This material is the preferred food of the queen and workers.
As the primary nest grows the development time reduces to around 29 days due to better thermoregulation. If the primary nest site is deemed adequate the nest will be expanded continuously throughout the year but in about 70% of cases the colony will relocate to a secondary nest site within a few meters of the primary site.

The secondary nest

Secondary nest
Secondary nest *
Comb structure
Comb structure*

The same fibrous papier mâché material is used to construct the new nest. The entrance is at the side and the walls are built with many bubbles or pockets which help improve thermal insulation. The nest continues to increase in size and may reach 50cm or more, although the nests found so far in the UK have been around 20-25cm.

Sarah pointed out that secondary nests can be anywhere from the tops of tall trees, roof spaces or bramble patches near the ground.
Larvae and cocoons
Larvae and cocoons *
Asian hornet 'hawking'
Asian hornet ‘hawking’ *

Drones and gynes

By September the queen switches to laying drone eggs, then the female eggs are laid that will become the new queens (gynes). Both types of hornet will spend a few weeks in the nest feeding before flying off. In France, this is usually complete by the end of November. Only the fertilised females survive to hibernate over winter.


Sarah showed an interesting series of pie-charts with the proportions of insect prey captured by hornets in different environments, summarised below. This acts as a warning to anyone keeping bees in urban areas!
Species Urban Agricultural Forest
Apidae (bees) 65.7% 35.0% 33.4%
Diptera (flies) 17.9% 33.6% 31.5%
Asian hornets ‘hawk’ near bee hives and prey may be caught on the wing or grabbed when it lands on a surface. The hornets then fly to a nearby branch and proceed to dismember the insect, taking only the thorax back to the nest, as it contains the major flight muscles used for feeding the larvae.
The disruption to the bee colony is therefore two-fold: direct predation, and predation pressure which makes the forager bees reluctant to leave the nest, leading to reduced winter stores and high stress levels within the colony.


Sarah went on to describe the various methods of tracking Asian hornets back to the nest site. For beekeepers with only basic equipment the Jersey method has proved effective. This consists of marking workers at feeding sites, spotting the direction they take back to the nest, and timing their return to the bait. By moving the bait station closer to the nest and using further bait stations from different angles, the flight paths noted can be plotted to give a reasonable indication of the nest location. Then you have to find the nest!
Asian hornets do not generally fly more than 700m from the secondary nest, but there could be more than one nest in the area.
Various other methods to help with tracking were described at the end of the talk and also during the discussion. In Asia they tie a small feather to the hornet which makes it easier to follow back to the nest. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been combined with infrared detectors with limited success (nests are well hidden in foliage and well insulated). Harmonic radar has been tried and will work in open spaces but radio telemetry using tagged hornets and a directional antenna/receiver has good potential at the moment. However, tags cost over £100 each, but can be re-used if recovered from the nest.

The talk was attended by over 70 members.

*  All images Courtesy The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Crown Copyright


The Asian Hornet Handbook by Sarah Bunker
Buy your copy from the author’s website

Report of February Meeting 2020

The Management of Honeybees for Oil Seed Rape

A talk by Lynne Ingram, February 2020

There was a good turnout of East Devon and West Dorset beekeepers to welcome Lynne back for another of her thought provoking talks. A quick show of hands revealed that the majority of the audience viewed oil seed rape (OSR) a curse to beekeeping, a view that Lynne was hoping to dispel.

Today, the crop makes a valuable contribution to the British economy, estimated at more than £650 million. It has in fact been in use for 4000 years and there are records of its use in 1649 for soap and oil production. The domestic market started in the 1950s and got a boost in the 1960s due to the newly perceived benefits of polyunsaturated fats found in rape seed oil.

In addition, the oilseed cake residue was a valuable animal feed. However, it became apparent that the erucic acid content of the varieties used at the time was causing heart damage. This brought about the introduction of low erucic acid varieties through plant breeding.

Another group of compounds found in oilseed cake were the glucosinolates, causing damage to thyroid and pituitary glands of animals fed large quantities of the material. This too was reduced by plant breeding, leading to the current ‘double low’ varieties.
More recently the 2013 ban on neonicotinoids has resulted in reduced plantings of OSR and lower yields.

What is OSR?

All varieties are derived from Brassica napus, a member of the cabbage Family. Winter sown crops will usually flower in mid-April for about 3 weeks whereas spring sown varieties drilled in early April will flower in July. Pollen and nectar are produced in huge quantities, with the added bonus that depleted nectaries are rapidly refilled. OSR can be partially wind pollinated but insect pollination increases the seed yield.

The advantages of OSR are the potential for a large crop of naturally setting, finely crystallised honey which can be used as a ‘seed’ for other honeys that are reluctant to set. Disadvantages include setting in the comb, possible poor flavour perception, lower yields with modern hybrid varieties and the need to process immediately the honey is ripe.

The perceived downside to OSR cropping usually relates to the rapid onset of crystallisation of the capped honey due to the high glucose content of the nectar. In order to overcome this problem Lynne outlined her strategy.

Lynne’s management strategy

If you intend to take advantage of OSR for honey production the colonies will need to be large and vigorous, so late winter/early spring feeding with 50:50 sugar syrup to stimulate egg laying will be required. Contact feeders are best. Pollen patties may also be needed to supply the extra protein for the brood production.

  • Prepare your site and time the move so that there is plenty of nectar available straight away.
  • During the flow, regular inspections will be needed to prevent possible swarming.
  • Ensure ample supering as it takes around 3x more space to process nectar as the ultimate volume of ripe honey.
  • Remove and process capped honey as it ripens. Immediate processing will minimise crystallisation.
  • Make sure you know when spraying will take place.
  • After the flow you will have large colonies with most of the stores removed, so ensure there is adequate space in the hives for the large colonies and feed if necessary.


Lynne recommended extracting any liquid honey and then scraping back partially set honey to the midrib to recover as much as possible. Any residue can be sprayed with water and replaced on the hive. Fully set honey has to be cut out of the frames, packed into tubs and warmed at 55°C for 12 hours. The wax rises up as a mush and eventually separates from the melted honey. Allow to cool to 30°C before pouring the honey off.

Honey processing

The procedure for bottling tubs of set OSR honey is to warm the set material until it is ‘porridgey’ at around 32°C, stir until smooth, allow to settle, then bottle and store at 14°C to optimise setting.  If full filtering has not been achieved before putting in bulk tubs, the honey will have to be warmed sufficiently to flow through the filter.  With partially crystallised honey this can be troublesome.

To prepare soft set / creamed honey with a 10% ‘seed’ of OSR honey, first warm your floral honey until liquid (up to 50°C) and cool to 30°C. Warm the ‘seed’ honey until ‘porridgey’ (c32°C) then combine the two portions with stirring, avoiding the introduction of air.  Allow to settle, then bottle and store at 14°C. Recommended long term storage temperature is 10°C.

Question & Answer session

During the Question & Answer session the notable topic was temper of the bees during and after the OSR was in flower.  Lynne explained this could be caused by removal of stores causing defensive behaviour. Any situation where there are unemployed and overcrowded foragers will tend to cause problems. There is also a “starvation” scenario which can arise from dietary insufficiency as well as lack of quantity for a very full nest, possibly the effect of erucic acid.  Lynne stated she has not had too much bad temper as there are usually other high-yielding sources coming on, notably field beans.

The flowers of OSR have 4 petals, 4 sepals, 6 stamens (4 long and 2 short) and 4 nectaries (2 inner and 2 outer nectaries). The nectar is produced mainly by the inner nectaries and is capable of being replenished in ½hr after a visit by a forager.
The nectar of OSR has a higher concentration of glucose then fructose which leads to rapid crystallisation with a fine crystal structure. The highest sugar concentrations are at the beginning of the crop so timing your arrival at the site is crucial.

Report of the January 2020 joint winter meeting with West Dorset

Self-sufficiency and Apicentric Beekeeping

Talk by Wally Shaw to a joint meeting of East Devon and West Dorset Beekeepers, 14th January 2020

Where did it all go wrong for honey bees?

Apis mellifera was introduced all over the world in 19th century, including Asia, where it met with Apis cerana and its long-established parasite, Varroa jacobsonii mites. The parasite jumped species and, at some point, became a genetically distinct species, Varroa destructor. This new mite entered the UK in 1992 and the rest is history.

What do we do about it?

Importing bees is not the answer with the attendant risks of importing exotic pests as well (Tropilaelaps, Small Hive beetle etc), plus the very real risk of disease organisms being imported with the bees. The Welsh Beekeepers Association (WBKA) have pledged to minimise imports and make Wales self-sufficient for bees. The WBKA’s pragmatic solution is to enable all beekeepers to make increase/raise queens for themselves. Wally believes this is not as difficult as it is often made to sound.

How queen rearing is taught in Anglesey.

Making increase
Click the pic

The WBKA publication ‘Simple Methods of Making Increase’, written by Wally and available on the WBKA website, is a good starting point. The simple, small-scale methods are arguably better for the bees and help to retain genetic diversity.
In their first year, ‘Beginners’ are provided with a starter colony, a 5-frame nuc of locally adapted bees. In their second year the ‘Improvers’ are taught to make their second colony for themselves, thereby acquiring a skill for life.

Swarm control
Click the pic

Locally adapted bees have been shown to be better adapted to our highly variable climate, need less management and on average produce higher yields (see COLOSS experiments). Local adaptation will only occur with minimal importation of ‘different’ strains of bee. They will be genetically stable and will be similar in beekeeper’s hives and local feral colonies. Two-way traffic between hives and feral colonies is desirable.

Anglesey bees and Apicentric beekeeping

The characteristics of Wally’s local bees are almost pure Apis mellifera mellifera. They are black without prominent stripes, thrifty with reduced brood rearing in poor conditions, they never exceed their resources and they hoard pollen.
Apicentric means the needs of the bees should be considered first, based on the biology and ecology of honeybees. This is not the same as natural beekeeping.

Anglesey bees
Anglesey bees

We need to understand bees

The apparent ‘intelligence’ of bees is a series of hard-wired programmes initiated by various stimulae or prompts, so bees can be conned into doing what we want e.g. with pre-emptive swarm control, but can be confused by, say, an artificial swarm using the Pagden method. Apicentric beekeeping allows the colony to choose the new queen for themselves.

Apicentric guidelines for making nucs

  1. Nucs should be populated with bees from the same colony that raised the queen cells.
  2. Each nuc given 2 or more queen cells on the frames on which they were raised.
  3. Queen cells harvested as soon as possible after sealing (day 8 or 9).
  4. The Nuc entrance should be blocked while being populated.
  5. Completed nucs IMMEDIATELY removed to remote mating apiary.

The reasons why this seems to work are:

  • It is more NATURAL. The new queens are raised by their own sisters.
  • Supplying multiple queen cells allows bees to exercise their choice.
  • Blocking the entrance and moving immediately to another apiary prevents loss of flying bees which ensures good age balance in the nuc.
  • Using newly sealed cells means there will be a minimum of 9 days to mating. The bees have time to familiarise with their new surroundings.

Selection criteria for breeder colonies

  • Performance of queen should be known e.g. a queen in her 3rd year.
  • Only make a small number of new colonies from any one queen. This helps to maintain genetic diversity.
  • The breeder queen’s colony should be healthy, a good honey cropper, not too prolific, of a reasonable temperament, and not too swarmy.

Varroa resistance

The second part of Wally’s talk focussed on ways in which bees might acquire Varroa resistance or tolerance.

Over the last 25-30 years breeding strategies have been looking at traits such as grooming, hygienic behaviour, Varroa sensitive hygiene (VSH) and shorter capping periods, with very limited success. When introduced into an open-mating situation the ‘improvements’ are often dissipated.

It has been assumed that natural selection would solve the problem given time, but any Varroa treatment will prevent or seriously slow down natural selection.

There are instances of colonies left untreated in honey production apiaries becoming resistant to mites and able to keep the mite population in check and still produce a good homey crop.

A completely new behavioural mechanism has been found – bees uncap and re-cap brood.

How is this done?

Recent studies have revealed the main mechanism.
A completely new behavioural mechanism has been found to be responsible. Bees uncap and re-cap brood.

The behavioural sequence is:

  • First bees investigate sealed brood cells by examining cappings with tongue and antennae.
  • Cells perceived to have a problem are uncapped with the mandibles, removing cappings and pupal skin.
  • Most cells later re-capped.
  • Some cells may be uncapped more than once.
  • Other cells may be left uncapped or partially re-capped.
  • A few cells may have brood removed and discarded (VSH).

It seems this behaviour reduces the number of viable daughter mites that finally emerge, but the uncapping and re-capping does not affect the emerging brood. Mostly, only brood cells in which Varroa has bred are uncapped, which implies bees can detect breeding mites. Whatever the mechanism, uncapping affects the mites but not the pupa and appears to be a result of natural selection.

Uncapping behaviour can be observed in ALL colonies so far investigated, so has probably arisen through natural selection acting on an inbuilt trait which is universal in Apis mellifera.

Wally’s parting remarks were:
For natural selection to work, we need to move towards non-treatment!

Strangely, uncapping behaviour does NOT appear to apply to drone brood. More work needed to clarify such issues.

Non-treatment apiary
Non-treatment apiary on Anglesey

News & Events

Making a beeline: wildflower paths across UK could save species

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

Read the article HERE.

Bees force plants to flower early by cutting holes in their leaves
Hungry bumblebees can coax plants into flowering and making pollen up to a month earlier than usual by punching holes in their leaves.
Bees normally come out of hibernation in early spring to feast on the pollen of newly blooming flowers. However, they sometimes emerge too early and find that plants are still flowerless and devoid of pollen, which means the bees starve.
Read the article HERE.
Turkish beekeepers risk life and limb to harvest ‘mad’ honey
Mad honey, known to the Greeks and Romans, is still produced in small quantities by beekeepers in parts of Turkey where indigenous rhododendron species make a potent neurotoxin which ends up in local honey.Read the article.
Pesticide made from spider venom kills pests without harming bees
Funnel-web spiders have neurotoxins in their bite that can kill an adult human yet they might turn out to be our allies if the small hive beetle ever reaches the UK.
Scientists at the University of Durham and Fera Science think the spiders may provide the weapon we need to stop the beetles.
The spider venom contains a cocktail of ingredients and one of them – Hv1a – is toxic to most insects, including the small hive beetle, but does not seem to affect bees or humans.
Hv1a needs to be injected to be effective. Just swallowing the toxin is ineffective as it is degraded in their gut. To get round this the team have bound Hv1a to a molecule from the common snowdrop which effectively carries it through the gut barrier.
In the laboratory the team fed the “fusion protein” in a sugar solution to beetles and their larvae. Within a week, all the beetles and larvae were dead.
Next step was to put beetle eggs on bee comb with brood, and spray with the compound. The honeycomb and bees survived virtually untouched, but most of the new beetle larvae died.
The selfish case for saving bees: it’s how to save ourselves
These crucial pollinators keep our world alive. Yes, they are under threat – but all is not lost.  Click here to read the article.
World’s largest bumblebee under threat.
The Patagonian bumblebee, the worlds largest bumblebee, is under threat from the import of species native to Europe.The growth of the bumblebee trade for agricultural pollination since the 1980s has been identified as one of the top emerging environmental issues likely to affect global diversity.Follow this link to read the article.
Best plants for bees: 5 yr study results by RosyBee
Follow the link to see the results of 5 years of monitoring which bees visit a variety of ‘bee-friendly’ plants.