Honey Processing, 13/08/22

Honey Extraction in words and pictures

Demonstration by David Shale and Val Bone at the Bee Shed, 13th August 2022

The whole process can be divided up into discrete operations.

Removing the honey frames

There are many gadgets to clear bees from the frames you want to remove, but all of them require more than one visit to the apiary. David favours the ‘one visit’ approach of shake and brush.

Put the bee-free frames in a box or bin with a lid as you work through the super(s). This is easier with two people. If you intend to make cut comb be sure not to damage the cappings e.g. use wide spacers while transporting the frames.

 Tip: use a plastic tray underneath while transporting honey frames! 

Removing the cappings

This may be achieved with the aid of a serrated knife using a sawing action (see photos). Whether you cut up (towards the fingers) or down (safer), tilt the frame slightly so that the cappings fall off.

There are many ways of doing this operation, some simple and inexpensive such as an old bread knife and baking tray, some more expensive using heated knives and trays from bee equipment suppliers. The illustration is of a Pratley heated tray. The hot air gun technique will only work when there is an air gap between honey and wax cappings (and is very messy).

Honey Spinners/Extractors

A simple way to separate liquid honey from the frames by centrifugal force.
Two basic types:
Radial, both sides of the comb spun out in one operation.
Tangential, one side of the comb spun out at a time. Frames need to be turned round to spin the other side.

 Tip: Balance the full combs as well as possible. Start spinning slowly to avoid breaking the comb (especially tangential spinners). Frames in tangential spinners may need to be turned a second time and spun at higher speed to complete the extraction. 

Sieving the honey

The liquid honey and debris from spinning is allowed to flow through multiple meshes and left to ‘settle’ for a few days in a warm area.

 Tip: All equipment should be food grade e.g.stainless steel or plastic suitable for kitchen use. Use a coarse filter to remove wax particle etc, followed by a fine mesh of, say, 200 microns. These can be bought from equipment suppliers. 

Use cling film as illustrated to remove froth from the surface. Just spread film over the honey surface and gently lift off.

The separated, filtered honey can be run into jars or stored in food grade tubs for future bottling.

 Tip: Stored honey will eventually granulate and will need warming before bottling. Smaller tubs, e.g.15-lb, will melt more quickly causing less heat damage to the honey. Ideal storage temperature for honey in tubs or jars – 14°C 

Cut Comb

This product is easy to prepare, does not need an extractor or settling tank, and commands a higher price than the equivalent weight of bottled honey.

Use special thin unwired comb foundation in supers. Needs a strong colony and a good honey flow.

 Tip: Avoid the 1st super above the brood chamber as this will almost certainly contain some unwanted pollen. Method – cut blocks of comb with a comb cutter then place in a cut comb container. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. 

Creamed honey

Basically, control the crystallization process by stirring (see photos), or by adding approx 10% of finely grained OSR honey and mixing well. Bottle before it thickens and allow air bubbles to disperse before storing in a cool place.

Thanks Val and David. We hope these images help you to produce some first class products.

After the Honey Crop 16/07/22

Summer Social

Queen rearing 26/06/22

Queen Rearing Basics

Notes from Improvers meeting held at the Bee Shed on Sunday 26th June 2022. First off, we studied the basics of queen rearing, followed by an explanation of the Cupkit/Jenter method of queen rearing. An apiary demonstration followed, as the breeder queen was restricted in the cup cage. Participants also had the opportunity to practice ‘queen’ marking and clipping using drones from the colony.

Three queen rearing responses by worker bees.

  • Swarm queen cells
  • Supercedure queen cells
  • Emergency queen cells

We use the emergency response to rear our queens because:

  • We can choose which hive the eggs/larvae come from.
  • We can choose which hive the cells are reared in.
  • We can choose when we carry out queen rearing.
  • To some degree we can choose which drones will mate with the new queen.

The Basic Requirements are:

  • Choose the eggs or one day old larvae from your ‘best’ hive(s) (the breeder queen colony).
  • Rear your queen cells in a strong colony, (the cell builder colony), with lots of young bees, lots of honey and lots of pollen.
  • The cell raiser should be queenless OR the queen should be separated from the cell raising part of the hive.

Why one day old larvae?

  • Because the best queens are produced from very young larvae.
  • Larva should be the size of a comma on the printed page.
  • Using a larva over two days old, the queen will be inferior or useless because she does not get enough of the high protein, high carbohydrate royal jelly to switch the hormone system to produce a sexually mature female bee.

How do the worker bees choose which cells to develop?

Queen cells have to hang down:

  • On a vertical comb we can use the edge (Miller method).
  • On a horizontal comb the cells are vertical (Hopkins method).
  • On a vertical comb we can remove the lower cell walls so the workers have space to build a long cell downwards (Ben Harden method).

Simple Experiment: Cut out a small piece of comb with eggs, scrape away excess cells and place horizontally over a super with a gap of approximately 3cm. Why might this produce queen cells?

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The Cupkit or Jenter method of queen rearing

Cupkit (aka Nicot after the name of the French manufacturer) and Jenter are two differnt manufacturers of queen rearing equipment that both work on the same principal. There are other brands too.


  • The queen of your breeder colony is contained inside a box comprised of a matrix of cups sized like natural bee cells. After a few days these cups will contain eggs.
  • The egg-filled cups are then inserted into plastic holders hanging vertically in a separate frame.
  • This frame and eggs can then be introduced into your cell builder colony where the workers will create queen cells as the eggs hatch into larvae.
  • When the queen cells are ripe, they will be ready for distribution.

The breeder colony

  • Get the eggs from your best colony.
  • Allow the plastic kit to acquire the hive odour for up to several weeks before placing the queen into the cage, potentially allowing the colony to draw wax and the queen to lay into adjoining cells.
  • When the cups have eggs, 1-4 days, release the queen back into her native colony and transfer the egg-filled cups to the frame you prepared earlier with cup holders.

The cell builder colony

  • The cup holder frame is then placed in the cell builder colony which should ideally be queenless, with no eggs or larvae from which new queens could be produced.
  • The bees in the builder colony will then adopt the eggs in your plastic cells to make queens.
  • When the queen cells are about 14 days old, they can be distributed to mini-nucs, standard nucs or colonies requiring re-queening. If that is inconvenient, queens can be allowed to emerge into a cell protector, a push-fit on the cell holder, where they can be fed by the workers.

Hints and Tips

Once eggs have been adopted as future queens they can be put into any strong colony for the raising period, even the (possibly bad-tempered) one you intend to re-queen. The genes will come from the breeder queen but the work of raising new queens can be provided by any colony.

As the breeder queen deposits the eggs in the plastic cell cups naturally, no grafting is required.

When transferring the egg-filled cups to the cell bar work quickly out of the sun to avoid desiccation.

If moving between apiaries the whole apparatus can be put into a nucleus box with frames of other bees from any colony to look after the eggs while in transit.

Tweezers are useful to lift out each cup and mount it on the cell bar frame.

You need good light to ensure each cell you transfer is equipped with an egg or very young larva.

As the Nicot/Cupkit or Jenter cages will accommodate many dozen cups you may wish to part-load the cage to avoid over-production of wasted eggs and cell cups.

As with all queen-rearing you need a strict timetable for each stage and the final placement of the outputs, with kit and colonies ready to take their part. Gestation and development periods are inflexible once begun.

Once you have got your kit, stick to it. While the principles governing their operation are the same, each manufacturer’s components are incompatible with others.

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Miller method of Queen Rearing

You will require:

  • A breeder colony.
  • A cell builder colony.
  • A mating nucleus or recipient colony for each queen cell.


  1. Prepare a special frame with ‘starter’ triangles of foundation.
  2. Place this frame in your breeder colony.
  3. When this starter foundation is filled with young brood with an outer margin of eggs, trim away the eggs and place the frame in the middle of a strong colony from which the queen has been removed. In about 10 days sealed queen cells are ready to distribute.

The ‘starter’ frame and breeder colony:

  • Two or three triangles of foundation are attached to the top bar with the point hanging down. Leave sufficient space all round for queen cells to be built along the free edges.
  • Place the ‘starter’ frame in your breeder colony. In order to avoid the frame being filled with drone brood it may be necessary to temporarily remove all but two of the frames of brood and place the ‘starter’ frame between them.
Miller frame

The cell builder colony:

  • The cell builder colony should be queenless and ideally with no eggs or larvae that are young enough to be converted into queen cells.
  • With a sharp knife trim the ‘starter’ strips back to one day old larvae.
  • Place the frame in the middle of the cell builder colony. After 10 days the queen cells will be sealed and ready for distribution to re-queen other colonies or make up mating nuclei.

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Hopkins method of Queen Rearing

You will require:

  • A breeder colony.
  • A cell builder colony.
  • A mating nucleus or recipient colony for each queen cell.


  1. Take a frame of eggs or newly hatched larvae from your selected breeder colony.
  2. Give this frame to a queenless cell builder colony, placed horizontally above the brood nest.
  3. The nurse bees will realise they are queenless and will be stimulated to feed these larvae with copious quantities of royal jelly and convert them from worker larvae to queen larvae.

Getting the eggs/young larvae:

  • Remove a frame from the centre of the breeder colony brood nest and replace it with a clean drawn comb that the breeder queen can lay into.
  • Leave for 3-4 days or until you have sufficient small larvae, preferably one day old larvae.
  • Brush off the bees and prepare the surface of the best side. For each row of eggs/larvae that you wish to retain, the three rows either side should be destroyed to the midrib. Then on each retained row remove two cells and leave the third intact. Spacing the eggs/larvae out in this way avoids closely bunched queen cells that are difficult to separate without damage.

Preparing the cell builder colony:

  • The cell builder colony should be queenless and ideally with no eggs or larvae that are young enough to be converted into queen cells.
  • Place the prepared frame over the brood nest horizontally, prepared face down, resting on a frame or blocks to leave 3-4cm between comb surface and top bars of frames below.
  • Place an eke over the frame, replace crown board (some people put a cloth under the board to stop draughts) and replace the roof.
  • The queen cells should be cut out two days before hatching (day 14 from newly laid egg, or approximately 10 days after setting up the frame in the cell builder). The cells can be placed in colonies needing re-queening or into mating nuclei.

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Ben Harden method of Queen Rearing

You will require:

  • A breeder colony, preferably with one or two supers.
  • A second brood box.
  • A mating nucleus or recipient colony for each queen cell.


  • Two frames with eggs/one day old larvae are removed from the brood box of the breeder colony and are placed above the supers in the spare brood box together with four other frames of pollen and honey.
  • The space in the top brood box is filled with suitable material to stop wild comb building.
  • Because of the separation from the queen the nurse bees will behave as if they are queenless and will be stimulated to feed these larvae with copious quantities of royal jelly and convert them from worker larvae to queen larvae.
  • After 7 days the queen cells can be removed. The two frames with brood can be swapped for two fresh ones from below to repeat the cycle throughout the season.

Setting up the combined breeder/cell builder colony:

  • Remove the two frames with eggs/larvae from the breeder colony brood nest MAKING SURE THE QUEEN IS NOT ON EITHER OF THEM.
  • Close the gaps and add fresh comb to the outside. Rebuild the hive with queen excluder and supers.
  • Make up the top box with six frames. The two brood frames in the centre, pollen frames either side and honey frames on the outside. Fill the empty space. Replace crown board and roof.

Manipulating the queen rearing colony:

  • Every seven days throughout the season transfer two frames with suitable eggs/young larvae from the bottom to the top, and two empty frames to the bottom, having checked for and removed the queen cells.
  • Always find the queen first before removing frames.
  • Always ensure there are adequate amounts of pollen and honey in the top box.

Variation on this theme:

In order to improve the likelihood of queen cells being produced, select a one day old larva and carefully remove the cell walls below it. Also clear other cells below the selected cell for 3-4cm. Repeat this operation spacing the selected cells across the comb.

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Queen Rearing Basics Part 2

Having produced your queen cells you will need a colony to place them in, where the emerging queens are free to mate.

Mating nucleus colonies:

  • Normally 3-6 frames.
  • Require frame(s) of brood, frame(s) of pollen, frame(s) of stores, space to expand.
  • The nucleus will have one ‘ripe’ queen cell introduced from your cell builder colony.
  • The nucleus should preferably be in a good mating area.

Methods of cutting out and installing ‘ripe’ queen cells:

  • Drawing pin, paper clip, foundation wire, etc.
  • Aluminium foil.


Ron Brown, a Devon Beekeeper, used them a lot.

Procedure for Filling Mini-nucs:

  • Prepare the mini-nuc frames with foundation and install. Close the sliding entrance. Supply the mini-nuc with fondant feed.
  • Place the mini-nucs upside down in an upturned hive roof. Slide the base out far enough to pour bees in.
  • Shake the bees from a super frame into a washing up bowl and spray them lightly with water. Repeat with a further two frames.
  • Shake the wet bees to a compact mass and carefully scoop a cup full. Immediately tip this into the upturned mini-nuc and close the base.
  • Turn the mini-nuc the right way up and install the ‘ripe’ queen cell.
  • Leave the mini-nuc closed in a cool, dark place for a few days. May need water spray occasionally.
  • Put the nuc in the open and open the entrance slide.

You will now hopefully have about 300 bees drawing out wax comb and a ‘ripe’ queen cell that will hatch in a few days time. It is important to monitor these small hives and to maintain the supply of moisture while they are shut in. When released, never let the supply of fondant run out. There should always be sufficient to see the colony through a cold spell.

Hints and tips:

  • Put a brick on the hive to stop it blowing away.
  • Prop the sliding entrance open with a piece of wood otherwise the slides sometimes close by themselves with disastrous consequences.
  • When the queen is mated and laying well she is ready to transfer to a bigger nuc or hive.
  • If/when Asian hornets arrive in our area this type of colony will be extremely vulnerable to predation.

I Spy… Getting your eye in. 28/05/22


I Spy….. Getting your eye in. 28th May

Thanks to all those who came to this meeting and made it a success. We hope you enjoyed the afternoon’s beekeeping session and will put some of the hints and tips to good use in your own hives. As requested, I have duplicated the Task Sheet and put together some notes on possible answers / scenarios to act as prompts when you are working your own bees. There is also a down loadable PDF you can use.

⪻ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ⪼

We will start with 20min – 1/2 hr chat to explain what this exercise is all about.
You will be divided into groups and allocated a hive to study. Appoint a scribe.
Follow the Task Sheet questions and make notes as you go. We will be around to help answer questions and point things out if you get stuck.
After the Practical session you will write up the sheet with all the details you think are relevant. We will all discuss what you found.
Back to Bee Shed for tea, cakes and discussion!

Task Sheet (left hand column) and some possible observations or deductions (right hand column)

Before opening the hive


Consult the hive record sheet, and consider recent weather conditions.
What can you predict from this information?
Two possible scenarios:
Record says low on stores, weather poor – MAY NEED TO FEED
Record says good stores, weather fine – MAY NEED TO ADD SUPER(S)
What is flowering now, and what will be flowering in next 7 days?
Two possible scenarios:
Oil seed rape out now, will cease soon – BAD TEMPER!
Not much out at the moment, but nectar flow may start soon – watch SPACE in supers and ADD boxes in plenty of time.
Hive entrance activity? Air temperature?
Pollen loads?
Nectar loads?
Orientation flights?
Robber bees?
10℃ minimum for bees to emerge.
Pollen loads easy to spot.
Nectar loads, honey stomach full, legs hanging down.
Drones, indicator of swarm possibility. Check in brood box.
Orientation flights, young bees first emergence. Characteristic flight pattern. Don’t confuse with swarm emergence.
Robber bees enter hive empty (legs up), and leave full (legs down).
Examine varroa mesh floor.
Distribution of debris?
Significance of dark cappings and/or white cappings in debris?
Count different coloured pollen loads.
Distribution/pattern shows where cluster is and what it is doing. Important to know when winter feeding.
Count mites and give average daily mite drop.
Dark cappings are from brood comb. Bees emerging.
White cappings are from honey stores. Actively using stores.
How many different pollen colours? 6 or more should give adequate nutritional diversity.
Other activities:
Antenna cleaning action at entrance.
Fanning for ventilation (Nazanov gland closed).
Fanning after disturbance of hive (Nazanov gland open).
See if you can spot these.
After opening hive
Observations / Deductions?
First impression.
Crowded or uncrowded?
Space for queen to lay?
Does activity equate with what you saw at the entrance?

Space for queen to lay: pollen blocking or solid stores?
Do bees have enough space to process and store nectar / honey?
Are extra supers needed?
Space for workers to process nectar is 2-3 times space required to store honey.

Add new super under existing super or above? Discuss.
In brood chamber examine frames and note:
Brood in all stages (MUST see eggs)
Queen present?
How many drones? (a few, fair number, lots)
Queen cells or cups?
What is your assessment?
Everyone should see eggs!
Recognise emerging bees.

Drone numbers may indicate likelihood of swarming.
Dry cups or cells are nothing to worry about at present. Only need to take action if cells are charged with royal jelly/larvae.
Shake bees off a frame and examine for disease.
Look for perforated cappings, sunken cappings, larvae that ‘don’t look right’, chalk brood, deformed wings, bald brood, sac brood.
If you need a demo, ask the experienced beekeepers.
Check for queen before shaking.

I would like all participants to make sure they can do this
Is the brood chamber filled with brace and burr comb or even drone brood stuck everywhere?
If so, what is going on?
Bees desperate for space will build drone comb anywhere.
Ideally, provide somewhere for them to lay drones from April onwards.
Discuss alternatives, half frame, drone foundation.

Maybe the bee space is wrong.
Inspect the brood laying pattern and interpret what is happening.
Irregular pattern:
New queen still learning.
Old queen fading.
Disease or old comb.
(Diploid drones)
Ratio of eggs : open brood : sealed brood.
Comment on findings.
Ideally, should be in ratio 1 : 2 : 4, but will vary with season, weather, forage, etc.

If no eggs, could be swarm preparations, dearth of forage, poor weather (or need new glasses!).
Possible ideas for discussion:
Difference in bee space between brood boxes and supers.

Spacing for new foundation.
Brood frames usually have two bee spaces for bees to work back-to-back.

Bees usually leave one bee space in super frames (more honey!)

Do not space new foundation too wide, otherwise bees will put their comb wherever they want it.

Picking out a few examples from the answers you gave on the sheets:

  • All the hives had different characteristics! Some were calm, some buzzy. Some were busy, some were laid back and not very active. Perfectly normal!
  • Some had lots of pollen going in, others had very little.
  • Mite numbers were very low, ranging from 1 to 5-10 for a 7 day period.
  • Pollen colours were 3 to 4. Disappointing, but should improve later in the year.
  • Good selection of flowers spotted, including blackberry (quite early!), elder flower, dandelion, hawthorn. Lots of buttercups, but not used by honeybees.
  • ALL participants saw eggs. Well done!
  • Ratio of eggs : open brood : sealed brood. Some comments that egg numbers were small in comparison to sealed brood quantity.
  • Very little disease spotted. Chalk brood seems to be the main offender in some hives.
  • One group spotted a queen, eggs and three queen cells. What do you think is happening here?

Thanks to the apiary team for preparing the hives and varroa trays. Most people enjoyed the session and were pleased to have hands-on experience in small groups with a knowledgeable beekeeper there to help and advise.

‘Solitary Bees’ 31/3/22

‘Solitary Bees’

A presentation by Brigit Strawbridge, 31st March, 2022. 35 attendees.

All images marked * © Brigit Strawbridge

Brigit’s opening slide (above*) showed a solitary bee heavily loaded with orange pollen, but look carefully and you will notice there are no pollen baskets! More about form and function later. It is not just bees that act as pollinators. There are in excess of 200,000 species including bats, beetles, wasps, moths and butterflies, hover flies, birds and so on. They have all evolved alongside flowering plants, mostly with mutual benefits to plant and pollinator.

Some pollinators.



Bumble bees



Putting things into perspective, 75% of our global crops need pollinators to increase yield and quality, and the current estimate is that 87% of all flowering plants require pollinators. It is not surprising that insects are a major group of pollinators as they evolved first and have been associated with flowering plants for longer. The number and diversity of insects greatly affects the food chain and can be regarded as an indicator of ecosystem health.

The social bees

Starting with the type of bees we are familiar with, the honeybee has overlapping generations, a high degree of cooperation within the colony and effective communication. There is a caste system and the single queen can live for more than one season. Our 24 species of bumble bee in the UK have solitary fertile females overwintering who go on to head a social colony for one season.

Where do the solitary bees fit in?

The life cycle of solitary bees has no overlapping generations and no caste system. The overwintered fertile females can be regarded as ‘single mothers’ and there are no social traits within these species.
In the UK there are approximately 250 types of solitary bee and, world-wide, an estimated 20,000 bee species, with a gradation in sociality from totally solitary to highly social.

UK examples of solitary bees are red mason bee, ivy bee, leaf cutter bees and blood bees, the latter so called as they have blood red hairs on the thorax and abdomen. In terms of size, bees range from Wallace’s giant bee, Megachile pluto, at 63.5mm long to the world’s smallest bee, Perdita minima, at around 2mm long.

How do solitary bees feed?

Like honeybees, the solitary bees feed on sugar-rich nectar and protein-rich pollen. Sometimes solitary bees also feed on floral oils, and the methods of pollen collection differ from honeybees. The branched hairs of bees are an adaptation enabling pollen collection by electrostatic attraction, the charge building up as the bee flies through the air to forage. Honeybees pass the pollen to the pollen baskets on the back legs, moistened with small quantities of nectar to make the pollen load sticky. Solitary bees collect dry pollen loads.

Solitary bees push the pollen onto a pollen brush or scopa, usually located on the hind legs or beneath the abdomen. Some species additionally use the sides of the body to collect pollen and can accumulate impressive quantities in one foraging session. Other species lack the pollen brush and collect pollen in their crop.

An additional pollen gathering techniques used by solitary bees and bumble bees is ‘buzz’ pollination. The bee vibrates its body to dislodge pollen that then adheres to the branched hairs. This messy way of foraging is beneficial to both bee and plant. There is even a bee called the head banger bee that does exactly what its name describes to dislodge pollen!

Where do solitary bees nest?

Opportunistic bees will nest is cavities almost anywhere. Holes in the lime mortar between stones in old walls, hollow stems, holes in the ground, holes in rotten wood. These are just some of the cavities favoured by the opportunists. Other solitary bees, like the ashy mining bee, will make holes in soil, sometimes to great depths, to secure a safe haven for their eggs. Where suitable conditions exist, aggregates of bees will be found, but each tunnel will only house the eggs from one female. They will also live in Bee Hotels!

Aggregates of solitary bee nests in cobb wall

Bee Hotels

Ashy mining bee *

One type of solitary bee you will often see in gardens is the leaf cutter bee. They will cut neat ‘bites’ from rose leaves, fly with the pieces to the nest, line the nest cavity with the leaves then block up the entrance once the eggs are laid and provisioned.

The target leaves*

Transporting leaves*

Lining the cavity*

Sealing the cavity*

Provisioning the nest*

Life styles

The basic life cycle is the same for all bees (egg, larva, pupa, adult). Whereas honeybees and bumble bees provision the nest with some form of honey comb, the solitary bees often provision each individual egg with pollen and some nectar, sealing the cavity before laying another egg. When the larva hatches out it feeds on the nectar and pollen in its own store, then pupates. The female eggs are laid first at the back of the cavity and the male eggs are laid last at the outer end of a cavity so that the males emerge first.

Mason bees use mud to line and seal their egg cavities. Leaf cutter bees use sections of leaves and some bees use flower petals for the same purpose. The female wool carder bees prefer to line the nest with soft fibres from hairy plants such as Lamb’s-ear, Great Mullein and Yarrow. These cavity nesting solitary bees form an important pollinating work force as they can pollinate more flowers during any one visit than honeybees or bumble bees.

Brood parasites

There are over 70 Cuckoo bee species that exploit the nests of solitary bees. They are often brightly coloured and adopt a variety of strategies to ensure the success of their progeny over their victims.

Some will detect a nest that is currently being provisioned and will lay their own egg embedded in the cell wall while the victim is away foraging. This egg goes on to hatch and devour the victim’s egg and develops using the victim’s provisions, eventually emerging fully developed. Other cuckoo bees lay eggs in already sealed cells, with the same end result, by injecting eggs into the cell or cutting a hole and sealing it up afterwards. Yet other cuckoo bees favour a more confrontational approach, entering the nest when the owner is at home, replacing eggs and resealing the cells.

Climate change

Many of you will have noticed that flowers are coming out earlier. This will cause problems for any bee species that have specific plants that they rely on for forage as the flowering time and bee emergence time get out of sync.

Brigit’s Hints and Tips

  • Dandelions are brilliant flowers, used by many solitary bee species in early spring when there are few other flowers around.
  • Vipers bugloss produces nectar freely and is visited by many kinds of bee. Can be cultivated on light sandy soils and is used in many wild flower seed mixtures.
  • Marjoram, wild or cultivated, can produce abundant nectar with a high sugar content.
  • Borage can replenish its nectar every 2 minutes! Easily propagated in most soils. Visited by all kinds of solitary bees as well as honeybees.
  • A pond could be your next project. Ponds attract all kinds of wildlife, including solitary bees.

What you can do to address the problem of bee decline

  • Stop using pesticides.
  • Grow nectar rich plants all year round.
  • Do you have a lawn? Try leaving patches to create wild flower meadows.
  • Join community wildlife initiatives.
  • Join Buglife or the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
  • Plant flowers in blocks.
  • Fill the early and late gaps.
  • Avoid double headed flowers and non-native invasive plants.

Some suitable reading material

The Bees in Your Backyard. Joseph Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carril.

The Solitary Bees, Biology, Evolution, Conservation. Bryan Danforth, Robert Minckley, John Neff.

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland. Steven Falk.

Plants for Bees. Kirk and Howes.

Dancing with Bees, A Journey Back to Nature. Brigit Strawbridge Howard.

Video of Red mason bees hatching from cocoons. Courtesy of Brigit.

How to manage and maintain Bee Hotels. Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Our thanks to Brigit for making time to come to East Devon from Cornwall to deliver this talk and show us some of her wonderful images of solitary bees.

Checkerboarding 03/03/22

Checkerboarding – a talk by John White of Pangbourne beekeepers, on 3rd March 2022.

John started the talk with a question for everyone!

‘Which has the greatest priority for bees? The parent colony or the issuing swarm?’

At this stage the majority of the audience felt the swarm would take priority. You may think differently by the end of the talk.

What is Checkerbcoarding?

  • It is a ONCE ONLY intervention.
  • It breaks up the solid band of honey above the brood nest, stimulating the bees’ impulse to recreate the band.
  • There are three key elements: Timing, Stores, Space.

As the diagrams show, the solid band of honey in the super(s) above the brood nest is broken up by interlacing filled frames of honey with drawn frames of empty comb. The comb should be alternated both vertically and hoizontally.

Before and after checkerboarding
© John White

The originator of the technique was Walter Wright, a NASA engineer, who took up beekeeping in his late 50’s. He closely observed his bees and developed the intervention based on these observations (in America).

This has the effect of dramatically increasing the brood nest area and the total nectar storage. While these changes are being made the colony’s objectives have changed. They are intent on nectar collection and storage rather than swarm preparations, although they can sometimes revert to swarm mode.

Won’t they swarm anyway?

This question is often asked. If the regime is followed carefully 100% swarm-free is achievable.

  • Intervention MUST precede the natural swarm preparation period of the colony (The Timing factor)
  • There MUST be empty drawn comb and stores above the brood (The Stores factor)
  • It is imperative to maintain 2 boxes of empty supers above the partially filled supers (The Space factor)

The Timing factor

The diagram shows the significant events leading to swarming in USA.

Experimentation has shown that to checkerboard in March is too late in the UK. Carrying out the manipulation in December is ideal for our climate.

Each hive will require some preparation based on the beekeepers’ judgement of the colony strength. The minimum requirement is a box with frames of honey and a box with drawn empty frames.
In December, fragment the stores above the brood. This needs to be done early, bearing in mind that you are not going into the brood.

The Stores factor

Some beekeepers may feel it is safer to feed some fondant when making the checkerboard manipulation in December. This can be incorporated into the hive by using an eke between brood and supers. There should be room for the bees to reach the supers.

Spring build-up

The spring build-up starts with no QX on the checkerboarded hive, allowing the bees to rapidly expand the brood nest, nectar processing and honey storage areas. Ideally have some drone brood frames near the brood nest. Wait until there is a definite demarcation of brood and nectar before inserting the QX. This may be during May in the UK.

The Space Factor. Summer Nectar Management

Always keep 2 boxes ahead of the nectar flow. If the stacks get too high then reduce these towers by extracting and storing the honey early.

The benefits

Put simply:

  • Fewer inspections
  • New queens via supercedure seems to happen as a matter of course
  • No swarming
  • More honey

The drawbacks

  • Will need stronger and more stable hive stands
  • May need a helper to manage the stacks
  • May need more equipment
  • What will you do with the extra honey?

Backfilling – indicator of swarm preparation

One of the tips from Walter Wright was to watch out for Backfilling of the brood frames. This is a sure sign of the bees beginning their swarm preparations. As the queen slows down egg laying, so some brood cells will not be laid up with the next cycle of eggs but will instead be filled with nectar. Look for nectar in the middle of brood frames. Queen cells will follow in a couple of weeks!

Our thanks to John for presenting this technique with clear, easy-to-understand diagrams.

Further information

Swarm Management by Checkerboarding

Swarm Management with Checkerboarding by John White, Anita Hunt, Gill Bannister

This book aims to simplify Walter Wright’s original texts and offer it to UK beekeepers in an easy-to-follow format showing how Checkerboarding can work for you. Of course we have included our own findings along the way.
John White email: smallcell@hotmail.com

Vita talk 03/02/22

Honeybee Nutrition

A talk by Seb Owen, Marketing Manager of Vita Europe

3rd February 2022, by Zoom. 22 attendees

Vita Bee Health is the world’s largest dedicated honeybee health company. They research, develop, manufacture and market a range of honeybee health treatments and products worldwide, with distribution to over 60 countries.

They are based in Basingstoke and have an apiary just under a mile away, where they carry out research and development for their product range. They also have projects around the world, furthering knowledge on bee health and new products.

Factors for CCD?

We do not have CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) in the UK but as a world-wide distributor, Vita is very much aware of the impact of this scenario in other countries. Currently, the causes of CCD are thought to be multifactorial. In no particular order, the following factors are probably the main contributors:

Factors for CCD


Seb showed the results of an analysis of pollen in France. The list of pesticide residues is staggering!

  • Coumaphos (organo-chlorine pesticide)
  • Cyprodinil (fungicide)
  • Fenpropathrine (synthetic pyrethroid)
  • Tau Fluvalinate (synthetic pyrethroid, used to control Varroa)
  • Iprodione (fungicide)
  • Piperonyl butoxide (synergist component of pesticide formulations)
  • Propiconazole (fungicide)
  • Pyrimethanil (fungicide)
  • Amitraz (Varroa treatment) ……… The list goes on. No wonder insects are in trouble.

Honey Production – Size Matters

It has been established over many years that the size of a honeybee colony really does have a marked effect on the potential for honey production. The bigger the colony, the higher the proportion of foraging bees compared to brood and nurse bees.

Bees’ Nutritional Requirements

Bees take only four substances into the hive: nectar, pollen, water and propolis. The first three have to supply All the nutritional requirements of the colony.

Honeybee nutrition
Honeybee nutrients

The Honeybee Gut

The honeybee gut, like many other insects, has a lining in the mid-gut called the peritrophic membrane. This is a gelatinous envelope of cells that produce and release the digestive enzymes which break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates to simpler constituents. These can then be absorbed through the wall of the gut and carried in solution to the haemolymph. The peritrophic membrane ensures the abrasive pollen grains are not in direct contact with the delicate gut wall.

Young bees up to two weeks old are very active in feeding on pollen to produce protein for conversion into royal jelly and brood food. They also need to build up their own fat bodies because, as Seb pointed out, bees lose the peritrophic membrane at around 2 weeks old. This means they are no longer able to convert pollen to protein. However, soluble protein material such as amino acids can still be absorbed by the bees. This is the basis for many enhanced nutritional products.


About 60% of sugars come from nectar, the remaining 40% coming from the pollen which is moistened with honey to make it sticky.


Nutritional goals

The processing of sugars is straight forward, and as bees are not able to store much sugar in their bodies the mechanism of honey comb storage has evolved. They also produce wax and body fat (vitellogenin) from sugars. The fat is stored in the fat bodies, especially in the autumn.

The metabolism of pollen, on the other hand, is more complex. The protein material of pollen is initially broken down into amino acids, which can be described as the building blocks of all proteins. There are 22 amino acids which can be joined together in an almost unlimited number of ways to synthesize the proteins that make the tissues and enzymes of the body.

However, in order to make complex proteins efficiently there needs to be an excess of all the amino acids necessary for any particular protein. Any shortage will lead to reduced efficiency, impacting on the wellbeing of the bees. Most amino acids can be created from basic raw materials but, in the case of honeybees, there are ten amino acids that cannot be synthesized and MUST be supplied in the food. These are called essential amino acids.

Essential Amino Acids

Essential amino acids

The percentages indicate how much of each essential amino acid is required in the diet. If insufficient, then protein and enzyme production will be sub-optimal, impinging on bee health.

The Bees’ Workaround

To get round this problem the bees visit a wide range of plants to improve the variety of pollens brought into the hive. As a rough guide, 6-8 different pollens at any one time will give a reasonable amino acid balance. Deficiencies may lead to ‘pollen blocking’. Intensive agriculture and monoculture will lead to poor bee health through lack of variety.

A colony feeding on high quality protein may use 40kg of pollen to supply their needs, but a colony with only low-quality pollen available may need as much as 65kg. More work for less benefit.

Vita Bee Health Annual Nutritional Protocol

The three products in the Vita range are designed to provide an all-year-round nutrition protocol.

  • Vitafeed power accelerates colony build-up in spring
  • Vitafeed nutri boosts colony strength and productivity during the honey flow
  • Vitafeed patty strengthens bees in preparation for winter

Vita’s Product Range

  • For Varroa control there is Apiguard, Apistan, Bee Gym and Bee Gym Slim
  • For foul brood there are Foulbrood Diagnostics
  • For swarm there are Swarm Attractant Wipes
  • For protection against robbing there is HiveGate
  • For mite monitoring there is VarroaCheck

Descriptions of all these products are available at Vita-europe.com/beehealth/ and can be obtained at most major beekeeping suppliers.

Our thanks to Seb for explaining bee nutrition in such detail. Protein is the key to improved bee health! Anyone wanting to know more about bee anatomy and physiology should read the text books covering Module 5 of the BBKA modular exams.

Rivers of Honey 06/01/22

Rivers of Honey: Keeping Bees in Doubled Hives and Two-Queen Colonies

A talk and presentation by Alan Wade and Dannielle Harden of Canberra Region Beekeepers

This talk was by Zoom, courtesy of Somerset Beekeepers, and included an invitation to West Dorset Beekeepers, our usual partners for the January meeting. Approximately 190 participants attended the meeting.

Dannielle and Alan must have been up bright and early to join the Zoom meeting at 7pm in the UK. They live in Ngunnawal County, a region traditionally occupied by aborigines for thousands of years. They gratefully acknowledge the privilege of sharing their bountiful eucalypt landscape.
Alan started by pointing out that there is nothing new about two queen systems. Some names from the past in the UK include George Wells (1892), Cruadh, Medicus, and J.M. Ellis (1921). In the USA, E.W. Alexander, Robert Banker, Floyd Moeller, and John Hogg. Other well-known names are Clayton Farrah and Tom Seeley. (Search the web for more information)

The generally accepted benefits of running hives with two queens are:

  • More bees = more honey
  • More queen pheromone = less swarming
  • Colonies are never likely to become hopelessly queenless

The downside of hives with two queens:

  • Dearth and swarming leads to 2Q going to 1Q. For example, if one queen swarms then the bees will tear down the queen cell as there is already a queen present.
  • Colonies can be tough to manage. Two queen hives can get very large and cumbersome to manipulate.
  • The timing of the build-up and extraction is challenging. Large numbers of bees left in the hives when the flow stops will result in them eating the crop!
At this point Alan went back to beekeeping basics to emphasise bee preferences in the wild. Through the work of Seeley and Morse and more recently Seeley (2010), we know that bees prefer a 40lit cavity in a hollow tree with a 15cm² entrance, usually near the base of the cavity. This leads to the brood at the bottom of the cavity with the stores above. Thus, the colony can migrate upwards during the winter to stay in contact with their food store.
For successful two queen colonies the cavity size should be at least double the single queen cavity size. The colony characteristics should mirror a well-managed single queen colony with the emphasis on young queens, bees locally adapted to flora and climate, minimal pests and disease, plus a well-insulated environment.

How it all started

Dannielle described how she moved into the two-queen scenario. At the time, she was only allowed one hive in the tiny back yard of her rented home, so she put two hives, one on top of the other, and combined them with appropriate queen excluders. Alan had read ‘The Hive and the Honey Bee’ and started running eight 2Q hives in the late 80’s resulting in a tonne of honey harvest.

The types of hive

Dannielle and Alan made a distinction between ‘doubled’ hives and ‘two queen’ hives. With the aid of diagrams Dannielle championed the modern ‘doubled’ hive setup and operation with Alan following on with the ‘two queen’ scenario.

Dannielle’s doubled hives

This requires a two-stage setup and operation:

  • Overwinter pairs of hives
  • In spring, place queen excluders above the brood boxes and add shared supers. Use nuc box lids to cover the sides of the brood boxes. The bees will soon propolise these and make everything water tight.

There are many variations on this theme. You can read all about the history and development of doubled hives in Alan’s book (Wade 2021). The following diagrams show historic doubled hive overwintering setups.

Alan’s two-queen hives

These are established annually with:

  • Initial setup phase
  • Build-up and harvest phase
  • Late season decommissioning phase

This setup is referred to as a consolidated brood nest.
Again, there are numerous hive configurations and techniques for introducing the second queen. There is even a method for creating a side-by-side two-queen colony in a long hive with flow frames in the centre and the queens at either end. Some alternative two-queen hive configurations are shown below.

CBN = Consolidated Brood Nest.
Our thanks to Dannielle and Alan for a comprehensive talk on multiple-queen colony management.


Wade (2021) – A History of Keeping and Managing Doubled and Two-Queen Hives – ISBN: 9781914934162.
Seeley (2010) – Honeybee Democracy – ISBN: 9780691147215

Honey Sales 02/12/21

What sells and how to go about it.

A panel of members talk about marketing and selling their local honey, wax and derivative products.

Plus ‘Design a Label’ competition

Thursday 2nd December, 2021. 30 attendees.

By limiting numbers and spacing everybody out round Kilmington Village Hall the organisers felt that the time had come for another face-to-face meeting. A panel of four members gave their views, experiences, hints and tips on preparing and selling honey and hive products.


Nick Silver, Mike Walters, Sara Bredemear-Gill and Alasdair Bruce were our panellists.


Nick currently sells around 300 lbs of honey in traditional jars through selected local outlets, local gatherings such as Church Coffee Mornings, and at the garden gate. His advice is to ‘know your customer’. Pitch your price to be lower than the local competition (if possible), use your own distinctive label and educate your customers by talking to them about bees. Word will get around.



Mike has specialised in ‘Local Honey and Beeswax’ gift bags pre-Christmas in the local Community Shop (see image). The bags provide a simple means of selling all his bees’ produce (not just honey) via one route. This year the bag included honey, beeswax and mead. The money generated helps to support the shop and funds next years beekeeping costs for frames and foundation. Having won prizes at Honiton Show for his competition entries he can legitimately promote his products as ‘award winning’.



Sara takes the view that honey and hive products are rare and precious commodities. So this year she is marketing it as a gift purchase. Out with the pound jar and in with the half pound as part of a gift package. To make the honey go further she started buying in balms to sell as part of the package but now produces her own simple range of handbalm, lipbalm and soap (see images below). To stay legal she has submitted a basic recipe for CPSR accreditation. Obviously these formalities are necessary to protect the consumer but it does slow the business down. One need to stay focussed and determined. Sara uses social media to sell hampers to local people via Facebook and has recently set up a website (www.sarasbees.co.uk) to experiment with sending hampers by post. Will it make any money? Too early to say. Come back next year!



Alasdair, meanwhile, does his own thing! He puts all his honey for sale on the bar at his local community pub and that sells very well. All that is necessary is to replenish the stock every few months or so and the operation takes care of itself.

The Honey Label Competition

Members were asked to ‘Design a Label’ for their honey jars, with whatever does it for them. Simple vs fancy, colour vs monochrome, images vs plain text. Your efforts would be judged by everyone and prizes awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Actually, this was a crafty bit of education on the part of the organisers as the labels should be legal, which means you would have to check the Regulations if you weren’t sure!

1st – Nick Silver
2nd – Bruno Hannoman
3rd – David Raine

Label - Sara


Label - Nick


Label - Val


Label - Rhiannon


Label -

Label -


Label - A and B

A and B

Label - Richard


Label - Jan


Label - David


Label - Colourful pack

Colourful pack

Our thanks to Richard and all the organisers for putting on such an enjoyable and educational event. Have an enjoyable Christmas, everyone.

News & Events

Varroa found in Australia
Read the latest news.
Only ONE bee dance!
Ever since I started beekeeping we were told there were two bee ‘dances’ used to recruit workers to good forage sources. Now, new research shows there is only ONE dance, the waggle dance, for communication of distance and direction to forage. This was revealed by slow motion video of the so called round dance.
Read the article in BBKA News, June 2022, p193.
‘Bee bricks become planning requirement for new buildings in Brighton’
A planning law introduced in the city of Brighton and Hove, England, calls for new buildings to include special bricks that provide nests for solitary bees.Read the article HERE.The bricks are not without controversy. Read their story HERE.
‘Bees may take generations to recover from one exposure to insecticides’
Study shows reduced reproduction and other negative impacts on performance of speciesIt may take bees multiple generations to recover from being exposed to insecticides even just once, research shows.Although studies have long shown the damaging effects of pesticides for the biodiverse environment, little is known about how much they affect insects in the long term.Read the article HERE
‘No one knew they existed’: wild heirs of lost British honeybee found at Blenheim.

The ‘ecotype’, thought to have been wiped out by disease and invasive species, is thriving in the estate’s ancient woodlands.Read the article HERE

US beekeepers sue over imports of fake
asian honey.

Read the article HERE.

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.