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Download Winter meetings programme (PDF file)

East Devon Beekeepers – Winter Programme 2018 – 2019

Events Colour Code:
Green = external site of beekeeping or general interest
Red = Beginners Event, Things you Must Know in Year 1 and beyond
Black = Things you Should Know and Practice


Thursday 10th January 2019, 1930 hrs Whitchurch Canonicorum Village Hall DT6 6RF. Joint Meeting with West Dorset BK. ‘Medicinal Apitherapy: A journey into the healing hive’ with Dr Gerry Brierley An ‘Accidental Apitherapist’ and beekeeper, Gerry opens up the hive’s natural pharmacy and will uncover the medicinal properties of honey, drone larva, pollen, bee bread, Royal Jelly and propolis.
Thursday 7th February 2019, 1930 hrs Kilmington Village Hall ‘Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus – the Problem, Defences and Treatment’ Talk by Clare Densley CBPV is one of over 20 identified bee viruses. Get up to date with the help of Buckfast Abbey’s bee expert, Clare Densley.
Thursday 7th March 2019, 1930 hrs Kilmington Village Hall ‘Bees: importance of diversity and relationships with flowering plants’ Talk by Brigit Strawbridge Nationally known ecologist, broadcaster and beekeeper, Brigit explains that no single species has it all, either as a pollinator or a food source. Diversity is essential but under-appreciated.
Thursday 4th April 2019, 1930 hrs Kilmington Village Hall ‘Dance Like Nobody’s Watching’ Talk by Lynne Ingram Master Beekeeper and Psychologist, Lynne considers the role of dance communication in colony wellbeing. Come, learn and enjoy this insight into the colony mind from a knowledgeable beekeeper and able communicator.

Report of the December 2018 winter meeting


EDBK Winter Meeting, 6th December 2018
“Here is one I made earlier”

Our last winter meeting of the year usually takes the form of a Social evening. This year we had the added attraction of an exhibition of homemade beekeeping equipment and gadgets. Most of the owners/inventors were available to demonstrate and talk about their exhibits.

Hives and hive parts formed a large part of the display. Of particular interest were the items that could be used to display bees at shows or talks. Tim Purrett’s single frame design could be easily loaded and transported for use in schools where it could be passed round for close inspection without danger. There were two other similar frames on display as well.

An observation hive based on a standard nucleus box was demonstrated by John Badley. Features included double ventilation screening to prevent stings and provision for either one or two frames on display. Observation hives can cost £200 or more but this polycarbonate and plywood construction was a fraction of the price.

Observation hiveObservation hive

Solar wax extractorSolar wax extractor

Colin Osborne brought along his simplified version of the Asian hornet floor. This robust design could be made from scratch very easily or used to modify an existing floor cheaply.

We had handmade standard hive parts by David Chambers, keeping the cost of beekeeping down. David Wiscombe was demonstrating the simplicity of the Smith hive in both manufacture, which he does himself, and use. Ann Pengelly and Peter Singleton were enthusiastically demonstrating their use of the Warré hive. For comparison, the branch apiary supplied the handmade top bar hive used for demonstrations.

Other large items on display were Nick Silver’s thermostatically controlled honey warming or wax melting cabinet, Keith Bone’s solar wax extractor and Alasdair Bruce’s ingenious hive transporter made from angle iron and bungee elastic.

Two bee vacuums were displayed, one based on a 5 frame nuc hive and the other based on a portable battery pack for picking up small swarms.

Bob Mercer had his apparatus for collecting a sample of bees. A simple adaption of a plastic food container, by making a two inch incision in the lid, inserting a short piece of wire into the flap, thus creating a handle, one is able to drag the box across the bees while holding the flap down with one’s thumb, then pulling the flap up into the closed position. An easily made solution to the Basic Assessment demonstration.

Richard Simpson showed us his homemade swarm catcher on a pole, for knocking swarms out of trees up to 16’ high, and a wax melter made from a steam wall paper stripper. An over-sized dummy board made to fit flush inside the brood box, immediately splits it into two nucleus-sized volumes. One nest uses the existing entrance and a wedge cut from the back of the floor makes a rear entrance. With some filling under the lugs, and, if necessary, completing the closure to the crownboard, two nucs can share a single roof and floor for the winter.

Gerry Humphries, who has been keeping bees for over 60 years, demonstrated queen rearing aids such as his patented tilting frame, a horizontal frame eke and a variety of boards that have been invented over the years for making queen rearing more efficient. He also had public demonstration frames all finished with a typically “Gerry” attention to detail.

Finally, Mike Walters, a prize winner at Devon County and Honiton Shows, brought along some of his retail sales packs combining very tasteful (and tasty) pots of honey with lovely beeswax products, clearly demonstrating how a few small changes to presentation can make a big difference to the end products of our craft. Mike and Nick Silver also showed us their much-admired skeps, made at our skep-making classes and frequently used for swarm catching.

The exhibitors of the 28 items are to be congratulated on their ingenuity and DIY skills, as well as their willingness to share their creations and ideas with the rest of our group.

Our thanks to Richard Simpson for organising the displays and to all the East Devon members who brought their equipment along. Several members commented that it was one of the most interesting and well attended meetings they had been to.


Report of AGM November 2018

Report of East Devon Beekeepers AGM & Talk

Held at Kilmington Village Hall, 1st November 2018

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
Chairman John Badley
Treasurer Keith Bone
Secretary Val Bone
Committee Mary Boulton, Alasdair Bruce, Ralph Cox, Rosemary Maggs, Colin Osborne, Richard Simpson, Peter Weller
Branch delegate to DBKA Executive Committee John Badley

Val Bone will also be Membership Secretary, Alasdair Bruce will act as Vice Chair, Richard Simpson will be Education Officer and Keith Bone will be Apiary Liaison Officer.

Honiton Show Committee members will remain as last year (John Badley, Keith Bone, Ralph Cox, Angela Findlay, Sue Johnston and Mike Walters).

After the elections Hilary Kirkcaldie congratulated Duncan Mackinder and Peter Moran on passing their Basic exam. She also presented Duncan with the Craythorne cup for gaining the highest points of Basic candidates in East Devon.

During the break, tea, coffee and cakes were provided, thanks to Helen Bithrey and her team.

There followed a short talk by Jes and Evelyn Pelham who used to live in Surrey and who moved to East Devon about two years ago. Their mentor in Surrey was John Hamer who is a prominent member of Surrey Beekeepers and owner of Blackhorse Apiaries near Woking (

The talk emphasised some of John’s teachings that they had benefitted from and which might be helpful to East Devon members. These are some of the FAQs.

Q. Can’t find the queen? A. If there are eggs and uncapped larvae then you have a queen.
Q. My bees are demanding. I can’t cope. A. Reduce the number of hives until you are happy.
Q. How long before I open the bees? A. Try not to open too frequently. Spend more time watching the entrance to find out what they are doing.
Q. How can I raise queens? A. Numerous ways to raise queens. More difficult to get them mated properly. Get a mentor.

Other hints and tips:

Always be gentle with bees
As well as watching bees at the entrance you can listen to the hive to find out what is happening
Try to use as little smoke as possible
Use Marigolds, not leather gloves, when inspecting
Practice marking and clipping with drones
Don’t try to make them do what they don’t want to
Give them room to do what they need to do

Jes and Evelyn gave a good account of ‘book matching’ frames when a queen needs to be found.

  • Essentially, frames from the brood chamber are distributed between two or more spare brood boxes in pairs.
  • Each pair is kept at normal spacing and is separated from adjacent pairs by a gap of a few centimetres.
  • Cover all boxes and have a tea break.
  • Flying bees will return to the original box.
  • Remove the covers and gently separate each pair in turn and the queen will be found in the middle of one of the pairs.

Swarms were a problem in Surrey due to the prevalence of EFB in their area. For this reason swarms were not normally given to beginners. Also, it was considered likely that swarms would often produce unpleasant bees. However, provided a knowledgeable beekeeper was mentoring, as in Jes and Evelyn’s case, swarms were a good way to get started.

The Pelhams also described their activities helping out at Shows and Evelyn’s samples of Surrey honey proved to be a popular attraction after the talk.

Our thanks to Jes and Evelyn for an entertaining and instructive talk.

2018 Summer Meeting Notes

Apiary Meeting July 14th 2018

Notes for Living With Varroa – download the PDF file

Swarming Control and Prevention

Notes on the Apiary Meeting of April 28th 2018

Swarming control is all about keeping your bees when you find queen cells being made. Swarm prevention is an attempt to stop or delay the swarming impulse.

As a beginner it can seem daunting, unfathomable or even intimidating, but the colony manipulations are all based on a simle set of rules.

  • Remember the basic life cycle of the queen and workers.
  • When moved, older flying bees will always fly back to the hive they know as home.
  • The colony may be thought of as consisting of three parts:
    The queen, the flying bees and the brood (including nurse bees). Separating one part from the other two will usually bring about a reduction of the swarming impulse.

As promised, Richard has put together some notes in the form of a PDF document which can be downloaded HERE.

Method 1 is for colonies where no queen cells have been found (swarm prevention) and Method 2 is for colonies where queen cells have been started (swarm control).

The diagram shows the layout of the Snelgrove board. The mesh is usually on both sides of the board to prevent physical contact of bees. The ‘doors’ need to be stiff to prevent accidental opening or closing. In Snelgrove’s design entrances were effected by cutting out a wedge. Pivoting doors have the advantage that they do not fall out, get detached or lost.

Snelgrove board

May is the time to carry out these types of hive manipulation as there is plenty of time for the resulting colonies to build up for the winter. You may even get a surplus.

Happy Beekeeping

Report of March 2018 winter meeting

Report of the March meeting.

What’s on the Mind of Pollen Gatherers? A talk by Dr. Natalie Hempel de Ibarra from the University of Exeter.

Natalie and colleagues have been researching the abilities and behaviours of bees when pollen gathering. Relevant questions they are trying to answer are:

  • Do bees foraging for pollen have preferences for certain types of pollen?
  • Do they know what they need to collect?
  • Can they discriminate between pollen from different plants in favour of their nutritional requirements?

The plant’s point of view:

For the vast majority of flowering plants the goal is cross pollination, which will maintain or improve the gene pool and improve the species’ chances of survival. Many animals will pollinate by transfering pollen from flower to flower but pollen removal for feeding comes at a cost, both in terms of energy and lost reproductive potential.

In evolutionary terms pollen has been an insect food source for 100-120 million years. Nectaries appeared about 70 million years ago to attract pollinating insects and cut down on the energy-expensive production of pollen. This strategy was hugely successful as part of the expansion in new species around that time.

The bee’s point of view:

Crocus pollen

Bees are 100% dependent on flowers for their nutritional requirements, nectar and pollen.

When feeding, insects should:

  • Make the lowest effort for the highest benefit and
  • Reduce their exposure to toxins

Enormous variation in pollen nutritional quality exists within species and between populations, so how selective should bees be? The benefits of generalised foraging behaviour are:

  • Wider diversity of nutrients
  • More flexibility to collect sufficient pollen
  • Adaptability to change
  • Dilution of toxin intake

So, can bees distinguish pollen varieties by taste? The answer is ‘Probably yes’, although they have only 10 taste receptors (we have 5, bumble bees have 23). The bee brain is equipped for learning smell and taste so knowledge and experience of pollen taste could well be a driving force for efficient pollen collection, although the primary driver appears to be quantity of pollen collected. This may partially answer the first question of preferences for certain types of pollen.

To answer the second question, experiments in the past have focussed on whether foraging bees can determine the quality of pollen from different plant species, but without a great deal of success. More recent experiments have adopted a novel experimental approach testing the learning ability of bees with pollen rewards.

Bees possess receptors on their antennae, so individual bees in cages can be trained to extend their proboscis for a reward at the same time as the antennae are exposed to an odour (see image below). This conditioning failed to elicit a response with a variety of dry pollen samples. However experiments conducted with bumblebees and wet samples of varying concentration showed the bees’ ability to distinguish between pollen and pollen-surrogate differing in protein content. Bees preferred a particular pollen type, but this was not always the most concentrated sample. Only when presented with the biggest difference in concentration did the bees prefer the higher concentration.

Methods for experimental testing of pollen collection and pollen-rewarded learning in bees.

Probosis extension
Probosis extension

(a) When stimulated with pollen bees spontaneously respond with a proboscis extension (PER). The typical sucrose reward was substituted with pollen in an attempt to train honeybees to associate an unfamiliar odour with pollen reward.

Pollen in Petri dish
Pollen in Petri dish

(b) Bees accept pollen presented in Petri dishes, which can be presented on various coloured rings to test learned responses.

In conclusion it seems bees will use all the cues available to form their experience of pollen collection. These cues include taste, colour, ease of collection, abundance and possibly freedom from toxins.

  • Do they have a preference for certain types of pollen? Yes
  • Do they know what they need? No good evidence that they do, or indeed that they would have to.
  • Can they discriminate nutritionally? To some extent, perhaps, but it is more important to collect large quantities and avoid toxins.

Images of experiments courtesy Natalie Hempel de Ibarra

Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour,
University of Exeter,
Exeter EX4 4QG

More details at

Latest updates:
2019 Beginners Course
2019 Membership details

Recent update = Asian hornet page


News & Events

What’s that Buzz? Plants hear when bees are coming
New research has shown that plants can ‘hear’ sounds around them and flowers respond to the buzz of approaching bees by producing sweeter nectar. The research biologists from Tel Aviv University played recordings of flying bee sounds to evening primrose flowers and found that after a few minutes the sugar concentration in the flower’s nectar had increased by 20% on average when compared with flowers left in silence or submitted to higher pitched sounds.
The authors of the report say that, for the first time, they have shown plants can rapidly respond to pollinator sounds in an ecologically relevant way.
Producing sweeter nectar in response to the sounds of bees can help entice the insects to visit the flowers and increase the chances of its pollen being distributed.
Thanks to Ann P. for spotting this article in the Times.
Scientists sew trackers to Asian Hornets to find and destroy nests before they kill honeybees
Britain’s beekeepers are turning to technology to prevent aggressive Asian hornets destroying their colonies. In a first successful trial, experts at the University of Exeter attached tracking devices to the backs of the voracious hornets and then followed them back to their nests.
Asian hornet information
The June edition of the BBKA News has extensive information about the Asian hornet threat. In particular, pages 209 and 210 have full colour reproductions of the Asian hornet alert document issued by the Non Native Species Secretariat (NNSS) for you to cut out and use as your personal guide to identification of this invasive species.
EU agrees total ban on bee-harming pesticides
More information can be found at: