BeeHolder Library

The BeeHolder is the quarterly magazine of the MBKA, and there is much beauty in the eye of it. It is produced quarterly(ish) by our very own BeeHolder editor, Chris Leech. If you would like to submit material for inclusion in the next BeeHolder, he can be contacted here. The next edition is Spring 2016 and the deadline for inclusion is 1st May 2016.

If you would like to reproduce anything from here, and you are not a member of eBees, please contact the editor.

The versions here are an attempt to save paper in its production, but have the disadvantage that they cannot be left on the coffee table. Actually, now that tablet PCs are becoming the norm, perhaps you can?

You are welcome to browse this web version, or you could download a copy of a BeeHolder as a PDF (Portable Document Format) and read it at your leisure. In the unlikely event that you do not have Acrobat reader for PDF files installed, it is available to download free at the Adobe web site. Other (also free) pdf readers are available - why not try Nitro, Sumatra, Foxit or PDF exchange?

Autumn 2015

Nice shed

“Here's another nice shed you've gotten me into”

Oliver Hardy, 1929

Navigate through The BeeHolder using the links at the side or at the bottom of each page. You can download a version in portable document format (PDF) using the link below.

BH Autumn 2015e 150.pdf1.41 MB

Spring 2015

Winter at the Wintles

Winter shutdown at The Wintles' apiary

 (note the restraint system required for the hive - front left - of
“lighter than air” bees - apis heliumbi heliumbi)

Navigate through The BeeHolder using the links at the side or at the bottom of each page. You can download a version in portable document format (PDF) using the link below.

BH Spring 2015 150.pdf653.04 KB

Winter 2014

The BeeHolder, Winter 2014

Llangurig Show

Llangurig Show August 2014

The second time in two weeks that we had to

tie our Marquee down (sport) against the winds

Navigate through The BeeHolder using the links at the side or at the bottom of each page. You can download a version in portable document format (PDF) using the link below.

BH Winter 2014 150.pdf918.37 KB

Autumn 2014

Due to various problems, there was no issue of BeeHolder for Autumn 2014.

Summer 2014

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

Bee Cage at Coed y Dinas Spring Fair

MBKA makes a splash at the Coed y Dinas Spring Fair

(despite the rain)

Navigate through The BeeHolder using the links at the side or at the bottom of each page. You can download a version in portable document format (PDF) using the link below.

BH Summer 14 150.pdf626.2 KB


The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

The production of the BeeHolder isn't quite keeping up with the precession of the equinoxes, and so it appears to be coming out An early swarmlater each quarter. Publication of this issue should have been around 21 June (actually the slippage is a result of other demands on my time, I can't really blame the defugalties of the solar system).

Swarms, swarms, swarms! Like buses, you don't see any for ages (several years, actually) and then suddenly four come along at once. It would appear that the picture (thumbnail right, full size on the web page) contributed by Joe Bidwell in last issue was strangely prophetic. Swarms have been a hot topic (as has the weather) this season and so they are mentioned quite a lot in this issue (perhaps a swarm of mentions).

In my last editorial I finished with “It was a gorgeous day today – let us hope it is an early sign of a beautiful and bountiful summer to come”. So far so good!

Chris Leech

We welcome as new members ...

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

My apologies if you have joined recently and are not mentioned – let me know for the next edition.

Richard Carruthers (Llanfechain), Gillian Evans (Llanidloes), Clive Faulkner (Llanfair Caereinion), Ronnie Finch (Churchstoke), John and Susan Gill, Barbara Jones (Welshpool), Rachel Meade (Meifod), Steve Moss (Llanidloes), Nicholas Salt (Llawr-yr-Glyn), Stephen Rowson (Carno) and Annwyn Stockton (Montgomery).


The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

facebookFor those who aren't aware, Montybees has a facebook page.

The Web Manager is going to put a linking facebook logo on the website to save having to come to this page to click on the link!

If anyone is interested in getting involved in the facebook page (contributing to or administering it) do get in touch with the web administrator.

Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon
A swarm in July isn’t worth a fly.

This old ditty is a fascinating social commentary of rural life 50, 100 and more years ago. A load of hay could keep a few cows going all winter. A load of hay (obviously depending on the size of the cart) was a matter of life or death for some families. A swarm in May would have been an enormous boon to a family lucky enough to catch one. But May swarms this year overwhelmed us. Roy Mander, our Swarm co-ordinator, gets most calls but Keith’s name and my own pop up on peoples search for contacts and there was one “Mad Monday” in Mid May when we all were overwhelmed. We all got tetchy, please bee-aware that your Swarm coordinator, Secretary and Chairman are only human. We do have fuses that blow. (we need to buy them some circuit breakers. Ed) That day Powys County Council passed onto me 6 members of the public who had “demanded” of PCC that they remove bees from their premises. In only one case was it a swarm of Honey bees. One case of Bumble bees, one of Solitary bees and 3 cases of well established honey bee colonies. Suddenly, in May, building works are planned and these colonies are deemed to be a danger to the tradesmen.

People seem genuinely amazed when told that it is not the Council’s nor local beekeepers responsibility to remove resident Honey Bee colonies. Most trades people will have come across bees and will know how to work round them or know a beekeeper who will help remove them. This is part of the job and the builder should be charging a “contingency” if he had not spotted the colony during his Quotation. To expect the local Beekeeping Association to save a householder money on their home improvements is totally unreasonable. A few years ago the Montgomeryshire County Times published a letter headlined “Be Fair to BeeKeepers” It was a request to the public not to call beekeepers out in September to deal with “swarms of bees” that were, of course Wasps. Rather than pay the £40+ call out fee from Powys County Council to deal with wasps the householder will try it on.

As a comment on the economics of Rural life in the 21st century 4 another pithy ditty ought to be written.

“want to save money, give a Beekeeper a call
But in September it won’t be bees at all.
So practice your bluster and bawl,
“of course it’s not wasps, you’ll see when you call”

Oh dear oh dear, my effort is truly pathetic. Here is a challenge to beekeepers: come up with a pithy 3 or 4 line ditty that is a social comment on the dependency culture of modern GB.

The heavy swarming season did have one benefit and that was that the number of bee colonies purchased was down on previous years, hence fewer colonies were imported. Those who have been attending Bee Teas and following articles in the Beeholder will know that one of our aims as an Association is to discourage importing bees from beyond Montgomeryshire and certainly from beyond the UK. So a reduced demand for Bees is deemed good. However I note that not all members fully appreciate the problems caused by “prolific” pure bred Central European or Mediterranean bees to the beekeeper (see article by newcomer R Carruthers, p 13). These are popular with the big commercial beekeepers who can legally turn a blind eye to the problems caused by their genes leaking into the environment. But often the Hobbyist with similar bees will find a prolific honey flow in summer is followed by colony loss in winter. It seems that we need to explain the problem better. Do come to the Llangurig show where we will be explaining to the general public why it is so important to Bring Back the Black Bee to the upper reaches of the Severn and Wye.

One Committee member snapped at me recently “you don’t have a dog and do the barking yourself Tony” I took the point. But disagreements are a healthy sign of the dynamics of an Association. Chris has TOTAL EDITORIAL CONTROL but he publishes things I profoundly disagree about. The Cloake Board Article on page 13 is a case in point. Chris (not many will know he worked for NASA) is a fanatic for gimmicks. I hate them, I believe that too few beekeepers fully understand the biology of the Bee colony. Until they do, then understanding the Cloake Board and the Snelgrove board cannot happen. Maybe people find these devices do work but that is only because they have followed the instructions to the letter. Rather like cooking by the instruction sheet in a colour supplement without understanding the principles of heat, yeast and resting actually does to the ingredients. I follow the advice of Wally and Jenny Shaw who advised us at the March meeting to keep Colony increase simple.

Tony Shaw, Chairman

Swarm Co-ordinator’s Report

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

We don't usually have a swarm co-ordinator's report, but the swarm situation this year has been unusual. This is from the minutes of the last committee meeting, rather than a report written just for BeeHolder.  Ed

Many calls about swarms this year have not been about honey bees and many of the honey bee swarms have been inaccessible. Out of 185 calls and 11 e-mails, only 12 swarms were suitable for collection and only 5 were actually collected. One problem is that most people are out working during the day and by the time they are able to attempt collection the swarm has moved on. Another problem is that new beekeepers want swarms but often do not have the equipment ready to go out and collect them.

A new problem this year is bees attempting to access caravans through the ventilators (and then presumably head off for a short camping holiday in Cornwall. Ed).

Roy Mander, Swarm Coordinator

Collecting Swarms

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

After the committee meeting on 23rd June, I thought about Roy's exasperation at trying to co-ordinate the collection of swarms. This has been a year of many swarms, not just in Montgoeryshire, but across Britain. Roy has been our swarm co-ordinator for a number of years now, gathering the names of members interested in collecting swarms and then taking the phone calls of the public, the police and the county council reporting swarms. Usually he can weed out the false alarms – bumblebees, wasps, solitary bees, established colonies etc – and then pass on the details to our nearest beekeeper(s) in order that they can get round to the scene and collect the bees before they move on to pastures new.

scratch headBut the system isn't perfect – too many false alarms, not enough swarms being reported through the right channels so that Roy is out of the loop and eg Tony Shaw or Keith Rimmer are the first contact, too many beekeepers who sign up for a swarm and then either are not equipped, not willing or have “already got one”. Don't forget we have to tell Roy when we want to be taken off the list, as well as when we want adding to it.

And it occurred to me that maybe there is a better way to co-ordinate this effort – which seems like a lot of work for the beekeepers and especially Roy for such a low return. Perhaps other BKAs have a better system? I couldn't find anything on WBKA or BBKA websites about how to organise swarm collection in a BKA (doesn't mean to say it isn't there - I just couldn't find it).

So I contacted all the contributing editors to the eBees (the exchange scheme for the bee kelight bulb momenteping press, sponsored by Northern Bee Books), reasoning that this would reach an informed representative of almost every BKA in the UK. I summarised our predicament and asked “Does any BKA out there have a strategy which yields greater success than this? Is it worth pooling our "best practice" to improve success across the BKAs?” I couldn't find any help on this on the WBKA and BBKA sites (doesn't mean to say it isn't there - I just couldn't find it).

I had seven responses, five of which basically said they had the same approach, the same problems and the same low percentage of success. The other two outlined a marvellous new strategy which describes not only how to tell with a single question whether it is a swarm of honeybees or some red herring, how to get exactly the right beekeeper to a swarm in a timely fashion, how to extract bees from established nests without having to destroy the parts of the building in which they are living, and also how to make money doing this...



... No, only kidding, there doesn't seem to be a silver bullet for this problem – at least not yet. But some good has come of it. There is a useful piece on the BBKA website to help the layman determine whether a group of insects is a swarm or something else The MBKA committee is going to put together a written policy on swarms in time for next year so that everyone involved in swarm collection knows what to do. Hopefully by having everyone better informed the system will work better. Thanks must go to David Teasdale and Doug Brown of BBKA for useful input and a couple of BBKA documents on swarm protocol and bees in buildings.

do you have a swarm

So we can't pretend to be perfect, but hopefully we're getting better. The orange banner above appears prominently on our web site now (not on BeeHolder pages!), so people looking for what to do with a swarm are pointed to Roy Mander and asked to check the BBKA page to see if they really have a swarm first!

Chris Leech

BIBBA Birthday Bash

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

BIBBA (Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association) are pleased to announce their 50th Anniversary Conference, in bibba logocollaboration with SICAMM (Societas Internationalis pro Conservatione Apis Melliferae Melliferae), their European Partners (EP). It will be held at The Pavillion, Llangollen, N Wales and hosted by South Clwyd BKA.

The focus is on bee improvement, bee breeding, queen rearing and the management of native and near native honey bees.

Attendees will learn about improving their own stocks of honey bees, whilst enjoying an excellent and varied social programme.

It is a packed schedule of three simultaneous streams of lectures, seminars etc by a wide range of well known and respected speakers.

There is much more information on their web site.

Reports on meetings

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

These are the meetings since the last BeeHolder ...

Apr 19th & 20th - Bees and Beetles

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

MarqueeOur new three bay marquee was put up within an hour and a half by a team of six volunteers on the Friday afternoon. With a bit of gaffer tape the structure was sound, more boxes were brought out and the WBKA expanding double height stand stood proudly in the tent adorned with posters, photographs and information leaflets. The picture was completed by two hives standing at the entrance, observation hive inside and the new MBKA banners inviting the public into the tent.

Catching solitary beesThe weather on Saturday was good - the sun was out and the grounds were busy, loads of children with clipboards and enthusiastic parents following around the bunny trail. One of the bunny locations was close to the gated entrance at the top of the Apiary and some inquisitive families stood and watched as the yellow clad apiary teams split a double brood into 4. A couple of families moved into the Oak observation hide and asked lots of questions.

During the afternoon the wonders of the solitary bee were explained, with lots of exhibits in small perspex boxes, we then went of in pursuit of lone bees with Nigel Jones and his net on a pole swishing about and catching them.

Sunday was a dismal old day, but it didn't stop a few visitors to the stand and a hardy group strolled down to the large pond to have a look for beetles with Dr Schaefer. But the rain came down The Beetles fan club?heavier and entomology had to be abandoned. The stands were dismantled that afternoon and well done the team that took down the marquee the following day.

Keith Rimmer


May 11th Apiary Training Day

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

Swarm control and making increase. This meeting had to be postponed till 25th because of poor forecasts and then cancelled … because of rain. Really? We had that much rain, that recently? Seems unlikely in our new arid climate!

May 18th Open Hives Bishops Castle

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

What a fantastic afternoon we had... fair dos, the weather was great and the company was even better, some good oldMeeting at the Wintles bee-keepers doing their thing at an open hive day at The Wintles in Bishops Castle.

Well done Pat, it was a lovely afternoon. It must have been a lot of work and you did us all proud.

For those of you who missed it, we'll see you at the next one. There was loads of grub and a good old chin wag with Roy Mander, Joe Bidden, Tony Shaw, Fran Blockley, and the Prust family. Meanwhile all the children donned suits and were in the apiary.

May 24th & 25th Coed y Dinas Spring Fair

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

This was the second outing for the new marquee and banners as we set out our stand at the Coed y Dinas Spring Fair. The weather was disappointingly wet, but the public still come along. It was a very family oriented event and the children really enjoyed having a look at the observation hive to spot the queen scampering around the comb.

Punters at the fairIn spite of the rain showers - some light, some heavy - both days were relatively well attended and thanks to all those who came along to help out and man the stand – committee and members alike. The petition to put bees back into the schools was well subscribed with over 300 signatures added over the two days.

The was a gap in the rain on Sunday which meant we could perform the bee cage demonstration. The crowd all stood at a safe distance, but still close enough to witness the young bee keepers (the Malton/Cass family from Machynlleth), go into the cage, open the hive and examine the bees.

In the cageRunning commentary was provided by our chairman, Tony Shaw, who told the crowd exactly what was going on. It was a great pity that only one session in the cage was possible.

The staff at Coed Y Dinas, led by Kate Hamer, were a pleasure to work with, and it was a great environment to get the message about bees over to a public which seemed interested and enthusiastic. Let us just hope for better weather next year.

Manning the stand was a lot of fun, and I can heartily recommend getting involved at the next event where MBKA is having a stand (Llangurig Show, August 9). Note that Debbie Francis will be “flying the flag” for us at Trefeglwys Show on August 2nd, so if you think you can give her a hand – or just some moral support – you can get in touch via any of the committee.

LC Cheshire

June 21st A Midsummer Night's Bees

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

Last year we had our first midsummer night's hives, inspired by the Shakespeare play, “The Tempest”. It was well received, the idea was repeated and again success! We had a great evening at the Kuipers Family home, the hives being a few minutes walk away under some trees in a quiet lane. They are a mixture of traditional wood and polystyrene hives, and Henk talked about his experiences trying the new polystyrene approach.

We had a couple of potential new bee keepers (with their families) and they quickly got involved holding frames and asking questions. Henk went through a series of frame manipulations and showed the plastic foundation frames from his polystyrene hives which he had waxed up ready for the bees.

Henk's daughter Gwen (8 years old) also opened up a hive in front of a group of beekeepers, a brave thing to do with all the onlookers! She did very well and it shows that confidence with bees can start at a young age given the right encouragement.

July 13th Open Hives Caersws

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

What an afternoon!!!! I hope those that came enjoyed their visit, we are already looking forward to next year... really.... it was that good for us as hosts!

Opening hivesWhat a great bunch of people that came along, we had absolutely stacks of grub and plenty of tables set out.

We also had a children's area that really worked well. They played, then donned the bee suits, visited the bees, handled the bees and one young lady (Zoe Rowson from Carno) even released a queen from a queen cell placed it in a queen retaining cage and sealed it temporally with a small slice of comb to keep her under control. The children then came back to the play area and carried on having loads of fun. They all played for hours.

We did 5 separate queen release activities on the bounce, even the older members of the association commented that they had never seen ONE done before.... never mind FIVE new queens! Zoe took hers with her and it should now be safely in a hive in Carno!!

a full houseSpecial thanks to the busy Sian who did some amazing stuff in the background, and also to Trish, Helen, and Tony who spread the numbers of suited and booted beekeepers out amongst the hives enabling us all to do different activities on the day.

Keith Rimmer

A beginner's perspective

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

I am new to beekeeping. Before the Open Hive Days with Henk and Keith I had never been anywhere close to a hive. So it's been a process of discovery.

For experienced apiarists what I have learned might not be what you would immediately think of. And for everything I've discovered more questions have been raised. I now know that when beekeepers have a pool tea they eat well - homemade bread and butter, elderflower champagne, roast chicken, cakes. Trisha Marlow who was a big part of the Open Hive Day at Keith's was introduced as "almost a commercial beekeeper, but an ethical beekeeper."

So who are unethical beekeepers? Where are they? Some bees are favoured. Some are less favoured. Italian bees are productive but flighty and slightly frowned on. Native black bees are mild mannered and stoic. But I still don't know how to get black bees. And I don't know what happened to the queen bees that Keith and Trisha were liberating from their cells at an apparent record rate. As far as I know they just disappeared into pockets.

Where are they now? I've learned that keeping bees is a real reminder of what is immediately around you - or your bees, that beekeeping is not a solitary activity but one that depends on mentoring and contact, and that like marriage "is by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly". Thank you Henk and Hannah, Keith and Sian for two wonderful experiences.

Richard Carruthers

Queen Rearing using the Cloake Board

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

I have heard quite a a lot of talk about queen rearing this season. This device for queen rearing was invented by a New Zealand beekeeper named Harry Cloake (probably a good thing he wasn't called Harry Ironing Ed).

Step 1: A double brood colony is selected and the bottom box with the queen is put back onto the floor reversed, so that the entrance is at the opposite side of the hive. This entrance is then closed. The Cloake board is placed on top of the lower brood box without the slide in place. It acts as a queen excluder, confining the queen to the bottom box. The bees from both boxes now use the upper entrance.

Step 2: The floor slide is slid into the board separating the two brood boxes. The lower rear entrance is opened. This causes all the flying bees to return to and populate the upper box. The upper box is left for 24 hours so they can determine that they are queenless and prepare to raise new queen. A gap is left in the centre between the frames ready to accept the grafted larvae. The queen in the lower chamber can be used with a Jenter or Cupkit frame to supply eggs of known age for the next step.

Step 3: Grafted larvae (20 or more depending on the strength of the colony) are installed in the upper box in the gap between the frames, which will now be filled with young bees. DO NOT USE SMOKE. Any emergency queen cells are removed. Within 24 hours the grafted larvae are “started” as queen cells and are then built up.

A Cloake BoardStep 4: The colony is then reunited into a “finisher” colony by removing the floor slider from the Cloake board. The queen excluder will prevent the queen from interfering with the new queen cells. Once the bees have started the queen cells they will continue to maturity even in a queen-right colony. The queen cells can be removed to an incubator when they are sealed. If they are left in the “finisher” colony they must be removed into nuc boxes two days before they are due to emerge. If they emerge in the colony the first out will probably destroy the others or the virgin queens will fight. Hair roller type cages can be put over the cells to contain the new queens.

Important points:

• The larvae used should be as young as possible i.e. 24 hours old. Using the Jenter or Cupkit system means that the age of the larvae is known. If grafting by other methods then use the smallest larvae possible.

• Timing is very important. A timetable needs to be drawn up to allow the beekeeper to plan when the cells need to be transferred to the mating nucs. There is a timetable that can be downloaded from the BIBBA website,“ Tom’s Table”.

• The “starter” situation is a box crammed full of bees and no queen.

• The “finisher” colony is a queen-right colony that has an abundance of bees and food.

• Use a nice tempered, well fed colony both for the grafts and for the Cloake board colony.

See also this site.

Reproduced courtesy of Nottinghamshire BKA and eBees

Apiary Report

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

Roy Norris is currently writing an apiary report which will include requirements for equipment into next year. The apiary is currently being looked after by 2 teams of 2 beekeepers which is working pretty well.

Four nucs have been made and one* has been sold. There should be enough colonies to produce the required number of nucs next year.

Roger Stone presents the nuc to the Davies'Apiary training days have been well attended and feedback has been good. It is planned to have some basic bee handling sessions next year for new members.

* as of 23 June, one nuc had been sold.

Apiary team

The apiary team are doing a great job and have exciting plans for the apiary next year. Ed.

Obituary - John Derek Humphreys - Nov 1931 – Jun 2014

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

Long time MBKA member John Derek Humphreys died very suddenly in June. He was active with his friends and garden till the previous day.

There is no doubt Derek was a family man of vision, affable and enthusiastic about all matters to do with natural life.

Driven by his deep love and fascination of farming he was not afraid of having a go at developing new enterprises in addition to his successful flock of sheep and the beef herd. His barn based museum of farming tools and implements is famous. It was a surprise for such a busy farmer to keep a garden so rich in vegetables and flowers.

He deeply cared for his large bee enterprise with minimum fuss and intervention allowing them to “get on with it”. He was overjoyed in a good year and philosophical when the bees suffered from the weather or disease. Unassuming and modest – his knowledge of beekeeping was profound. Derek was always happy to share this knowledge with other beekeepers and recognised as a good role model.

Training Update

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

Congratulations to the five candidates that took their Basic Beekeeping Assessment on 14 June in the apiary at Gregynog. All five have passed: Dave Yaffey, Nicole Aarons, Eifion Thomas, Keith Rimmer and Tony Shaw. Huge thanks to the assessor, Lynfa Davies, for managing to complete 5 assessments in one day, and also to Roy Norris who managed the day at the apiary.

The feedback from the day has been really good, with candidates feeling that it was an excellent practical experience and worth all the swotting. Lots was learnt on the day, and it has also made the Committee think about how we might be able to incorporate more hands on training for new beekeepers into future apiary meetings.

More congratulations to Ruth Stafford who has passed her Module 2 Exam with credit (Honey Bee Products and Forage).

We are going to have an “Introduction to Beekeeping” day at Gregynog on Saturday Aug 30th. This is a one day course run by MBKA from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. It is aimed at the new/novice beekeeeper (and those that don’t yet have bees). Roy Norris, our Apiary Manager, will take a session in the classroom in the morning, covering the basics of what you need to know when starting beekeeping, and then in the afternoon there will be a practical session in the apiary. With the help of the apiary team it is intended to ensure that all attendees get a chance to handle some bees and hopefully see in practice what they have read about in the books. The plan is to end the day back in the classroom to answer any questions from the practical session.

This is the first time that MBKA have run this course and we are hoping that we can pitch it right for you – but do let us know if there are subjects that you particularly want us to cover. We hope that this course is a great way to get a flying start to your beekeeping career.

The course fees include coffee and tea & biscuits, but please bring along lunch (or use the Gregynog cafe).

The course represents great value at £35. Note that the courses are subsidised by MBKA and hence are available to members only. Please fill in an application form (download it from the web-site or contact me) and send it, together with a cheque made out to MBKA, to the address given on the form. For more information, phone me or send an e-mail.

Julie Pearce

Wired for action

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

Instead of buying pre-wired foundation, you can ‘pre-wire’ the frame. Three widths of fishing line, 0.45mm or 9Kg breaking strain, is a reasonable size, but it can be smaller or larger.

A strung frame

This technique makes the comb more secure in the frame and it can be held horizontally, (still over the brood box) with more confidence. When you clean the frame, cut out the line and put in more, clean line. Cheap and very effective. Check Dave Cushman’s web site for more details.

Courtesy Bournemouth and Dorset South BKA & eBees. Photo Joy Wilkins.

Spring 2014

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

Feasting and talking bees

Annual Dinner 2014

(Back on Chairs) Rod Blaine, Helen Woodruff, Mark Thomas, Emma Maxwell, David Ashley, Elaine Williams, Adrian Thoms, June Lawson, Wyn Richards, Derek Humphreys.

(Standing) Les Venis, Mark Gurden, David Bannister, Roger Stone, Graham Winchester, Bill Gough, Beverly Evans-Britt, Linda Davis, Richard Davis, Marion Humphreys, Joy Richards, Ian Hubbuck, Joy Shearer, Eileen Williams, Bridget Newbury, John Shearer , John Newbury, Jonathon Williams, Nick Platt, Daphne Goodwin, Peter Woolstenholmes, Christine Evans, Mervyn Evans, Julie Davies, Simon Church, Tommy Weedol.

(Seated) Debbie Gurden, Julie Pearce, Carol Gough, Lorraine Sharp, Brian Goodwin, Heather Venis, Kathleen Morris, Glyn Morris, Cerian Church, Nester Weedol.

(Crouching) Fiona Murton, Netty Batty, Jean Winchester, Keith Rimmer, Sian Jones, James Cass, Tony Shaw, Jean Blaine, Phil Sharp, Becky Nesbitt, David Bennett.

Navigate through The BeeHolder using the links at the side or at the bottom of each page. You can download a version in portable document format (PDF) using the link below.

BH Spring 14 b.pdf457.79 KB

We welcome as new members ...

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

My apologies if you have joined recently and are not mentioned – let me know for the next edition.

Alison Trott (Minsterley), Wyn Richards (Caersws), Beverly Evans-Britt (Llanidloes), Christine Gittins (Caersws), Mark Prust (Llanfyllin), Robert Oakey (Montgomery), Andrew & Chris Smart (Llanidloes) and Simon Cain (Montgomery).

Note that, to protect the innocent, the place names given are the post town rather than anything more precise.


The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

Better late than never! A conspiracy of events means that Spring BeeHolder is horrifically late. In light of that I hope very much that you enjoy this quarter's offering.

I have confined forthcoming events to a single page, which takes us out to August. The summer BeeHolder will take us through Autumn, if not to the end of the year. But if you are eager to know what is coming, why not look on the web site? In any event it is a good idea to keep a weather eye on the web site for last minute changes, as the seasons sometimes conspire against the best laid mice of plans and men. I put it all down to climate change and typos, myself. If those of you without internet access, whether through choice or circumstance, feel that you are not being kept informed, do appeal to a member of the committee as we are trying our best in the face of rising stamp prices, privatisation of the Post Office etc.

It was a gorgeous day today – let us hope it is an early sign of a beautiful and bountiful summer to come.

Chris Leech

The Treasurer Says ...

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

First of all, thank you to all of you who renewed your memberships. It is good when I don't have to send out too many reminders.

Secondly, the BDI receipts have now gone “on line”. When you renewed, you should have received a PDF file from me containing your BDI insurance receipt (which you will need should you have to make a claim). If not, or if you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me.

Heather Venis


Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

This edition of the BeeHolder is has come out later than planned; we’ve been struggling with factors outside our control. But perhaps the lateness is just as well because the programme of events has had to be drastically changed in the last few weeks to take account of unexpected difficulties that some of our generous apiary hosts have endured. This year we have a full programme of events that takes into account the early rape season, School holidays and a more even spread of locations around our county. I am especially pleased that in November Brian Goodwin will give the Welsh launch of his forthcoming book “Bee Collectibles”. Most of our meetings this year will have activities geared towards the family. We are making a special effort to have kids entertained, the idea being that some of the magic of beekeeping will rub off on them between the playing on swings and dressing up in bee suits*. Please do bring kids and grandkids along to meetings - we have a good selection of childrens’ bee suits*.

Despite the wettest winter for many years most of us have seen our colonies survive to spring. However there are still many tales of beekeepers throughout Wales losing all their stock.

But your committee has recognised that the MBKA needs to give every assistance to local bee breeding and that one of the remits of the Gregynog Apiary should be the preparation of nucs that can be supplied (at a price) to members. This will take time to implement. Please don’t expect us to have any quantity of Nucs available this year.

There has change in management of the apiary. We have two teams of beekeepers managing a set of hives each and with total control over how they are managed. However, for at least this year there will be coordination about how disease control is managed throughout the apiary. At the oxalic acid day it was stated that any training apiary should abide by the current advice about Varroa control as issued by the National Bee Unit and their inspectorate. We as individual beekeepers might treat our own bees differently but beginners should start with the approved orthodox treatments before adopting other methods of varroa control. MBKA committee are agreed that doing nothing is not an option. If you disagree please put your views forward and open the debate. It is your apiary not the committee’s.

So folks, as usual in the spring BeeHolder I am saying don’t beat yourself up if you have suffered losses through the winter but do do consider that you might not have acquired the optimum bees for your area and do be aware that a colony that supersedes by mating with exotic your drones your neighbours exotic drones may well be at risk in the following winters.

Tony Shaw, April 2014

* I think he means suits to wear whilst looking at bees, not stripy shirts and plastic wings. Ed

Training Update

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

We have run two Beekeeping courses at Gregynog so far this year, with the help of Brian Goodwin. Both were well received and are reviewed separately in the Beeholder. Many thanks to Brian for all his hard work. We are hoping to arrange a Basic Beekeeping Assessment at the Apiary sometime over the summer. It would help if members could let me know if they are interested in doing the assessment so that I have an idea of numbers when setting it up ( Do consider it if you have been beekeeping for a couple of years and have done Brian’s intermediate beekeeping course. It is well worth the revision, and is a good opportunity to dust off all those beekeeping books you have on your bookshelf, as well as to get to grips with things like disease recognition. Details of the syllabus are on the Welsh Beekeepers website. Honestly, it is almost fun.

Julie Pearce

A big thank you to Julie for all the running around and organisation to arrange this training and exams. Ed

Reports on Meetings

What's been going on since you last looked ...

February 20 – Annual General Meeting

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

With the exception of the Annual Dinner, the Annual General Meeting is probably the best catered event in the MBKA year. It is not a lot of politics to put up with in order to enjoy a lovely spread. And to cap it off, we had an update from Jenny Hawkins about her research on using the apothecary bee as a tool for drug discovery.

Jenny talked at our last AGM and told us of her research. Many of our members gave her samples of their bees honey, and as a result the map of Wales showing where her samples came from now had a much healthier mid-section. She expressed her thanks for our help.

Jenny talkingHer talk was quite technical, but very interesting, and her results so far are very convincing that natural, local honey has a much more antimicrobial effect than mass produced (often pasteurised) shop bought honey (even some of those which make health claims).

With only ten months left to go, the next step is to use chemical analysis to identify the active compounds in the honey samples using solvent extraction techniques and mass spectroscopy. There is also a lot of pollen analysis to do comparing DNA extracted from the honey with the national DNA database (Barcode Cymru, Bangor University and the National Botanical Gardens). Good luck, Jenny.


February 8 - Beginners Course

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

Thanks to everyone that committed to the day at Greygynog a full compliment of new bee keepers turned up on the day 12 attendees... and all were spot on time and off we went.

After Brian Goodwin`s initial introductions we got under way and all were captivated by his knowledge and the ease that he dealt with a plethora of questions and comments throughout the morning. Refreshments were taken at 11.30 after the first question and answer session, then it was back to the big screen with graphs and handouts explaining the virtues of early days bee keeping. The information continued to flow and was clear and precise with the overall message being around the skill of the bee keeper to prevent swarming by providing the right environment in the hive when needed and also the surrounding landscape that provides the forage for the bees. It quickly became clear that the observational skills of the individuals plays a major part in successful bee keeping for new bee keepers and getting a feel for the area that your bees are based.

During the afternoon section of the course, more handouts and information were forthcoming. The last sector being based around what to do and what not to do when extracting the honey, the end result we all strive to achieve at the end of our summer.

Brian illustrated the talk with some interesting examples of his bee keeping life (which goes back to the days of his father's hives many years ago).

Keith Rimmer

Thanks to Andrew Smart who also wrote a brief report on the course. I'm sorry I could only publish one.  Ed

January 12 - Oxalic Acid Day at Gregynog

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

On a bitterly cold January morning, cold for for both humans and bees, 18 MBKA members came to Gregynog for information and demonstration on the use of oxalic acid as a treatment for varroa in bees.

Oxalic acid is a varroacide – a substance that kills varroa mites. As it is particularly toxic to open brood, it can only be used when there are no brood cells and the varroa mites are living on the adult bees. The recommended time for treatment is therefore in early January, when the bees are still huddled in a ball for the winter, but probably the least likely time when they would want to be disturbed.

The oxalic acid solution is applied with a syringe directly onto the bees. At the time of treatment in January, the bees will be clustered into a ball covering typically 4 or 5 frames. Removing the crown board and looking down between the frames, the size of the colony is determined by the number of ‘seams’ (spaces between frames) that the clustered bees are occupying. 5 ml of oxalic acid solution per seam is then quickly, evenly and accurately syringed down into the bees in each active seam and the hive closed back again.

The oxalic acid solution has an efficacy of about 90% (it kills around 90% of the varroa mites that it makes contact with) and it kills the mites by direct contact. It is important for the health of the bees that no more than 5 ml per seam (or a maximum 50ml for the whole colony) is given and, for this reason, it is important to accurately mix the oxalic acid solution and to measure the dose accurately using a graduated syringe.

The importance of moving quickly, accurate measurement and minimising disruption to the bees was emphasised and warming the oxalic solution before use was also recommended. While the roof was off the hive, it was also the opportunity to give the bees some fondant.

The meeting then divided into two groups to give members a chance to examine some Gregynog hives, measure the size of the bee clusters and apply the oxalic acid.

Following the demonstration, members were able to purchase syringes ready filled with oxalic acid and sugar syrup - particularly useful for small numbers of hives where only small quantities were required.

Chris Robinson

For a different opinion on using oxalic acid for varroa control, have a chat with Bill Gough. Ed

January 24 – Annual Dinner, Maesmawr Hall

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

By all accounts, a splendid time was had at the annual dinner. See also the cover photo which depicts the happy revellers. I'm sure Tony will let you have a copy in higher definition if you ask him nicely and promise not to use it for blackmail purposes.

March 15 – Intermediate Training Day

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

Brian, with his abundance of experience, knowledge and good lecturing-style, made this a hugely valuable day. Brian willingly gave his opinion on various techniques and bee-keeping approaches bringing in his own experiences around the world and his own literary research on the subject to explain his personal style of bee-keeping. He was not afraid to voice his opinion against some common practices citing why some just do not make sense. This was fantastic for a relatively novice BEEK such as myself who sometimes feels daunted by the lack of absolute answers.

Brian is a second generation BEEK with fifty plus years of experience all around the world experiencing different bee-keeping idiosyncrasies and bees’ environments. He has also collected over 500 beekeeping books which enables him to explain the historical backgrounds to many accepted bee “facts” in the UK. Refreshingly he was accepting of everyone’s methods and motives in bee-keeping. He was able to talk with ease about the pitfalls and benefits of each system with the easy confidence of someone who has seen both in action. It made bee-keeping clearer to me in a day than all the books, videos and internet research that I have done thus far put together!

For example, when discussing hive types he politely refrained from admonishing anyone's personal choice, whether the design was driven by bee studies, commercial gain, material availability or an excess of free time created by only working on Sundays. His enthusiasm for identifying the background of beekeeping techniques and asking potentially controversial questions makes me think there might be a pathway to not only learning by amassing our future successes and failures but by looking backwards and questioning why a technique has become mainstream, how it was motivated and therefore judging its application to current practice and our own desired outcomes. This can only improve knowledge and speed up our learning experience.

Similarly explaining the issues of swarm risk in terms of hive type on the basis of there being 61,000 potentially available cells in a Langstroth versus 84,000 in one and a half National Brood was both an interesting and refreshingly stark means of provoking thought.

I'm sure most beekeepers have worked this stuff out for themselves but as a new beek it is great to have the information put across so succintly that after one day we feel that we can make better choices about our approach for our bees.

Rus Coleman

Don't miss …

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

Bee and Beetle weekend at Gregynog is on Easter Weekend, April 19th and 20th. The forecasts are good. We have Nigel Jones of the Shropshire Entomological Services shThe MBKA tent at an eventowing us the Bees of Gregynog and Dr Wolfgang Schaefer showing us the various beetles on the estate. You’ll have noticed queen bumble bees are already scanning the ground to spot nesting sites. We have prepared the back of the apiary to encourage bees to adopt that as their nesting territory and Dr Schaefer tells me that Gregynog has a fabulous array of beetles throughout the Estate. We will have children’s beesuits to lend. IF the children are bored with insects then there are the Easter egg treasure hunt and bunny spotting throughout the estate. And for grown-ups there is a tour of Gregynog Hall, its collection of art and history at 2.30pm. Bad News : over the Easter weekend there is no free parking for beekeepers. Good News : the forecasts are for good weather.

This year we will be having a stall at the Coed y Dinas Spring Fair (Sat & Sun, May 24th and 25th) and again at Llangurig Show (Sat August 9th). This picture (right) was taken at our tent at the Glansevern Food Fair a couple of years ago. There will be other things going on at both these events, so why not come along and support MBKA whilst enjoying the other entertainment. Maybe even join in and help out on the stall? Its a good way to join in with the Association and help spread the word about bees.

See Forthcoming Events (right side bar of the web site) for all of the apiary meetings and training days planned this bee year.


The Welsh and BBKA Spring Conventions.

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

Both conventions are in our neighbouring counties – Radnorshire and Shropshire – not a long way to go to hear the latest thoughts on Beekeeping.

Both conventions offered lectures on the subject of Bee Nutrition and these lectures emphasised that we tend to neglect the importance of pollen in favour of nectar and honey. This seems something peculiar to the UK for on Mainland Europe it is common to make Pollen and Fondant Patties to give to bees in Autumn and Spring. One explanation of the losses in the UK over the last two years is inadequate pollen collection in the wet autumn. This has lead to lower numbers of bees going through the winter and a slow start in the spring due to low pollen stores. We learnt that fresh pollen is best and that the nutritional content drops to 25% after a year and is negligible after 2 years. For some years I have been making spring patties for my bees out of fondant, honey, Soya flour and my magic ingredient... fish oil. There was no mention of this recipe in the lectures. I asked an Italian company, which was selling Patties with irradiated pollen, about the use of Soya flour and they were most dismissive; not quite believing that GM free Soya flour could be as good as natural pollen. Pollen retains its nutritional value if frozen but will also retain pathogens for disease, hence the need for irradiation according to the Italians.

Nectar is for fuel, pollen provides the protein to feed the brood. The bee is quite capable of appreciating the quality of the nectar. Plants that give have high concentrations of sugars in the nectar are favoured by the initial foragers. The bee will return to the hive and give information about the quality of the nectar it has collected. The hive will then choose to send bees to those flowers giving the most nectar. When the foragers come back to the hive the nectar is transferred to other bees and stored in cells which could have nectar from a variety of plants species. Pollen collection is entirely different. The bee is not able to assess the quality of the pollen when collecting it. Each type of pollen is stored in different cells. It is easy for the beekeeper to spot this, for cells will be filled with different coloured pollen. A healthy colony will have pollen from many different sources. This is because not all pollens are of equal nutritional value.

In order to build protein insects need 20 common and 2 rare amino acids. These acids are only made by plants; the insect cannot synthesise them. So the limiting factor in colony survival is actually the least available amino acid that can be gathered from the field. Buckwheat, Maize, sunflower and dandelion are all deficient in some amino acids. Surprisingly the much maligned oil seed rape has a very well balanced mix of all the amino acids essential for insect growth. Pollen also has some vitamins. As with humans the B complex vitamins are essential for bees. But unlike humans the bee can synthesise Vitamin C. Lipids are also in pollen and again humans and bees are different, the cholesterol that is bad for humans is good for bees. The yellow dyes we see in beeswax are from lipids and here the dandelion an especially good source.

These lectures were wake-up calls for many beekeepers. From what I gathered at coffee tables and the bar, many left the conventions with a determination to take more notice of the protein intake of their bees. Collecting pollen from one’s own hives and feeding it back to the bees in autumn and spring was thought to be worth trying. Who knows, some beekeepers may even try some fish oil.

I also learned that feral colonies are not “more Native” than the background managed colonies, they are genetically similar. The Varroa content of feral Honey Bees is about the same as would be seen in managed colonies, the incidence of nosema is lower but not significantly so. However the incidence of Deformed Wing Virus is 2.4 times that seen in managed colonies. Incidentally DWV is seen at a much greater rate in “natural Beekeeping Colonies” than those managed the more orthodox manner. The apparent survival of feral colonies is used as an argument to reduce varroa treatment in managed colonies. But it appears that the incidence of feral bee colonies is related to the increase in new beekeepers. Feral colonies have a higher mortality rate than managed colonies but do not pose a risk to varroa treated managed colonies.

The Welsh Venue, at the Royal Showground, Builth Wells is 32 miles from Newtown and the BBKA Convention at Harpers Adam University is 51 miles away. Most attendees have made much longer journeys to experience the excellent workshops and lectures and sample the trade shows. Why are there so few from the MBKA at these conventions, maybe 10 at the Welsh Convention and I didn’t notice any other than myself at the BBKA convention. Bridgend, Swansea, Anglesey and Conwy BKAs all had good representation at the Conventions. And at the BBKA there were delegates from all over England and Wales as well as Scotland and Ireland. I met one American who said he thought he should come to discover why his beekeeping wife travels every year to the Convention from Florida. He was totally bowled over by the standard of lectures and trade stands. Are Beekeepers in Montgomeryshire so expert that they don’t need to learn new tricks?

Tony Shaw

The Honey Bee – a Farmer’s Friend

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

David Foulkes, as a bright small school boy, benefitted by tuition in the art of beekeeping by his Headmaster, David Hamer, at Aberhafesp School.

Further inspired and excited at the prospect of keeping bees he persuaded his mother to let him buy a beehive at a local farm sale. Throughout the rest of his life beekeeping was dovetailed into his love for sheep, cattle, poultry, pigs and the farm in general. David farmed The Lluest, Tregynon until his death in 2001.

His hives were carefully laid out in the shelter of a dense hedge with a southerly aspect and easy access to the Lluest house so that he “could keep his eye on them”. He was always anxious as to their wellbeing - only entering the hives when necessary. He seemed to know when to look out for swarms and place empty boxes in strategic places to attract such passing swarms.

Even after keeping bees for all his life he remained fascinated by the mysteries of bees. He shared the many unanswered questions as to the lifestyle of the bee in an effort to become a more proficient beekeeper with a greater understanding – always willing to learn with humility and joy.

David Foulkes enjoyed sharing his love of bees with those willing to listen - much in the same way as he learnt from his schoolmaster. Many new people became beekeepers under his guidance and he was so pleased when they were successful. Many “open days” were held at the Lluest where he would demonstrate the finer points over a cup of tea. His enthusiasm was infectious.

He looked forward to the warmer weather after a long winter for his bees to forage pollen on the snowdrops he had planted at the Lluest. As the season went forward a wide variety of tree and shrub pollen became naturally available on the farm – he particularly welcomed wild white clover. The farm, garden and orchard benefitted by the pollination carried out by his bees. Successful farmers have a holistic approach to life and that includes keeping bees in our rich Montgomeryshire countryside.

Many farmers keep bees as a hobby – which raises the question as to why bees are not kept commercially on farms in the same way as sheep and cattle are managed.

Eileen Williams

Northern Europe hit by bee deaths

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

There is much concern about the widespread collapse of bee colonies; a new study covering 17 EU countries says that far more honeybees are dying in the UK and other parts of northern Europe than in Mediterranean countries. The European Commission says it is Europe's most comprehensive study so far of bee colony deaths.

Winter mortality was especially high for bees in Belgium (33.6%) and the UK (29%) in 2012-13. But in spring-summer 2013 France was highest with 13.6%.

Bumblebees and other wild bees were not studied, nor were pesticide impacts. The study, called Epilobee, described 10% as an acceptable threshold for bee colony mortality - and Greece, Italy and Spain were among the countries with rates below that threshold. The mortality percentages are national estimates based on representative samples. All 17 countries applied the same data collection standards, the report says.

BeeThe survey covered almost 32,000 honey bee colonies. But there is also much concern about death rates among other bee species, which are vital pollinators too.

Last year the EU introduced a ban on four chemicals called neonicotinoids which are used in pesticides. They are believed to be linked to the collapse of bee colonies across Europe, though there is a heated scientific debate over the chemicals' impact and many experts say further studies are needed. The Commission wanted pesticide impacts to be included in the Epilobee study, but it was overruled by member states' governments.

I would suggest that steady influx to Northern Europe of the genes of Southern European bees is largely responsible for the different mortality rates.

Arthur Finlay (adapted from a BBC news Article 7th April 2014)

Collecting a swarm

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

Collecting a swarm in 13th Century Britain (from a collection in the Bodleian Library, Oxford) – thanks to Joe Bidwell

Collecting a swarm


I Dream of Sheep

The BeeHolder, Spring2014

One only has to take a short drive through Wales to notice, in the fields and hills, a profusion of different breeds of sheep. The reason is obvious, each breed is adapted to the local environment. 70 years ago there was an even greater diversity, almost every valley would have a distinct type of sheep; mixtures, mongrels if you like, that were especially suited to the environment of one specific area. Severn Trent Water used to breed salmon, trout and crayfish and dump the same batch in each of the feeder streams. Now it breeds Trannon trout, Mule trout and Vyrnwy trout and releases each only into the parent stream. It has determined that each is distinct genetic type and we recognise, almost instinctively, that putting fish back into their original rivers “must be right”. Yet how come so many beekeepers fail to recognise that bees are similarly adapted to very specific environmental parameters? We know of an old beekeeper with many years of successful beekeeping and obtain a colony from him or her and then often we wonder why the bees behave differently in our own apiary. We even import bees from dealers who offer “Local” bees which are merely last year’s locally hatched workers with a mated queen imported from Greece, Spain or Slovenia. These bees work well around the Mediterranean or Central Europe but which are ill-adapted to life in Wales.

I hope you all have noticed that a recurring theme in the BeeHolder and at meetings is the need to take great care in the sourcing of bees. Most Beekeeping Associations in Wales are now also campaigning for locally bred bees. We all realise many disappointments with bees are due to having inappropriate stock. I would love to see regulations that would stop exotic queens being imported into the UK. It is not going to happen; the commercial beekeepers would lobby against such an idea. What legislators fail to appreciate is that the genes of the exotic imports, Apis mellifera ligustica and Apis melifera carnica, are constantly polluting the bee-stock of hobbyist beekeepers. There are many stories told of experienced and diligent beekeepers finding their stock suddenly becoming irritable, and dying out in an average wet Welsh winter. The beekeeper cannot stop his queens mating with exotic drones. The sheep farmer can be sued if his ram pollutes a neighbouring flock with his genes. It is easy to pen a ram; impossible to restrict the flight of a drone.

So, you’ll be saying, where can I get suitable stock? We would like to be able to supply everyone from the breeding program at the apiary, but until we can we will continue to source quality nucs from reliable breeders on behalf of our members.

LC Cheshire

Winter 2013

The BeeHolder, Winter 2013

How to use an Observation Hut – get in there and have a good look

How to use an Observation Hut – get in there and have a good look

(John Bennett in suit, Rosy in hut, far left – see this article)

Navigate through The BeeHolder using the links at the side or at the bottom of each page. You can download a version in portable document format (PDF) using the link below.


BH Winter 13 150.pdf572.27 KB


The BeeHolder, Winter 2014

This may well be the last BeeHolder to roll off the presses at Llanidloes Resource Centre. A stalwart of Llani life, the LRC is having to close its doors at the end of November after providing computer, photocopying, printing, laminating and other services for the best part of two decades. There is a group of concerned residents trying to put together a rescue plan, but I decided for the BeeHolder that the safe thing to do would be to print off the Winter 2013 edition a few weeks early.

There have been some interesting developments with the Black Bee Breeding group (see this report). The Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Country Landscape Partnership Scheme is a vast scheme with several millions of pounds of grant money at its disposal. A small part of this scheme is to re-introduce the black bee into the area (cunningly called Back to Black, nothing to do with Australian band AC/DC). MBKA has put in a bid for a small part in the scheme which could see funding for some breeding projects, mentoring of bee keepers in the area concerned (east Montgomeryshire on the Shropshire border) and perhaps some bee related training. It is too early to say for sure, but there could be some useful benefits for all of us in the association. Thanks must go to Heather Venis as principal mover in this, supported by several other committee members.

Chris Leech

We welcome as new members ...

The BeeHolder, Winter 2014

This has been missing for a few BeeHolders now, so here is a list to catch things up. My apologies if you have joined recently and are not mentioned.

Peter Woolstenholmes (Llanymynech), Glyn & Kathleen Morris (Welshpool), Stephen Bowen (Welshpool), David Yaffey & Nicole Aarons (Llanidloes), David Davies (Llandinam), Warren Towns (Middlesex), Gareth Powell Owen (Llanidloes), Rebecca Nesbitt (Llangurig), Howard Morgan (Montgomery), Rob & Annie Drury (Newtown), Russel Colman (Carno) and Rod Blaine (Minsterley).

Note that, to protect the innocent, the place names given are the post town rather than anything more precise.

Christmas Trivia

The BeeHolder, Winter 2013

Rather than our annual spelling bee, we thought that this year we would try a short trivia quiz with a theme of bees.

1. How fast does a honey bee fly?

2. The honey bee is not native to the USA but was imported by settlers. What do the Native American indians call honey bees?

3. How much does a queen bee eat per day (as a multiple of her body weight)?

4. What did people do in July 2013 in Oregon, USA, when 50,000 bumble bees were found dead in a carpark?

5. How far would a bee have to fly to collect enough nectar to make 1kg of honey?

6. Which brewery produces a beer called Waggle Dance?

7. How many bee stings does it take to kill an average person (who's non-allergic)?

8. Which 1970s and 1980s singer song writer had solo albums with "Secrets of the Beehive" and "Dead Bees on a Cake"

9. What do bees do at night?

10. How much energy (in units of ounces of honey) does it take for a bee to fly around the world?

11. (Bonus question) Which State in the USA uses the honey bee as it's state insect?

The answers are here, and If I can work out how to do it, they will appear printed upside down.

MG Boudin

Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, Winter 2013

It seems the general opinion throughout Wales that the bees are going into winter in better condition than for the last few years. Stores have been built up during September and the bees were taking down lots of feed during late September and October. Furthermore the varroa count seems very low this year. Optimism should always be tempered with vigilance. And what is true in one part of Wales may not be true in another. The (wild) west of Montgomeryshire is very different from the east and we all know that one hive will be taking down stores from the feeder whilst its neighbour a metre away will not be touching the sugar. In my last Chairman’s Chat I mentioned the official Winter 2012/13 losses as given by the National Bee Unit were low as they didn’t take into account those losses after the beginning of April:- that second cold snap - a second winter in fact, for which the bees were especially unprepared. To get a better picture, the MBKA are doing an on-line survey about winter losses. This will a comprehensive survey and will, we hope, identify what type of hive does best in different circumstances, and what feeding and medication strategy seems best. Furthermore we hope that our survey will identify what bees do best where we are. Please, please take part. We do need to tease out things that maybe just myths (albeit feasible ones) from hard core reality. For the sake of the bees just give a few minutes of your time. If you haven’t got internet, please phone Maggie or myself for a hard copy of the survey. We’ll even send you a stamped addressed envelope for its return. Anonymity is guaranteed.

Often the media exclaim that winter losses of bees are unsustainable. It is a bit of an unnecessary panic because many beekeepers are developing strategies to make up the losses. Learn about such strategies by listening to the talk by Jenny and Wally Shaw Making up Winter Losses, on the 20th March; an essential meeting for any beekeeper who wants to take the craft seriously. However, no matter how skilled we get at producing new stock our efforts will be wasted if the type of bee we are increasing is not adapted to the unique environment of our own apiary. Just as up to 40 or 50 years ago each Welsh valley had its own unique breed of sheep, so each valley would have had a stock of bees better adapted to that valley than the next. Ideally we should try to get back to that situation but the constant introduction of Mediterranean and Central European queens and drones into Britain means that our mongrel bees are drifting further and further away from the indigenous Apis mellifera mellifera. Are we sacrificing colony survival for a larger honey crop? To what extent are our own practices as beekeepers having negative effects on the survival of colonies belonging to our neighbours? These are questions that all beekeepers should be asking themselves.

On a lighter note, do come to the Annual’s a good laugh!

Tony Shaw, Nov 13

Annual Dinner

The BeeHolder, Winter 2013

The annual dinner is almost upon us. More info here.

Reports on meetings

The BeeHolder, Winter 2013

Here is the low down on what went on over the last three months. Many thanks to those who contributed these reports. Next time you are at a meeting, don't be shy, volunteer to write a report (or be volunteered, if somebody asks!).

September 14 - Dual Members' Apiary Meeting

The BeeHolder, Winter 2013

This was a meeting spread over 2 members' apiaries, Bill & Carol Gough's and Roger Stone's apiaries in Aberhafesp – a first for MBKA. I wasn't able to make it myself, but by all accounts it was a good day out. The weather was fine, and the bio-security measures developed by Ian Hubbuck for the Gregynog apiary were deployed “in the field” and very ably policed by Noel Eaton. It is a credit to Ian's design skills that they were so easily adapted to an alien location. Perhaps there is a business opportunity here – Apiary Bio-Security Limited?

But a picture paints a thousand words, so here is a further 3,000 words :

Apiary meeting 14 September

Apiary meeting 14 September

... and the caption competition :

Caption Competition

Choose from :

a) Yes, beekeeping isn't all hard work.
b) Sometimes you get a chance to relax and have a chat.
c) Wow, is that the Acme supersmoker RB211d?
d) What! You keep wasps????

or think of your own.

September 22 – Apiary training at Gregynog

The BeeHolder, Winter 2014

It was a pleasant Sunday in September when I suggested to my weekend house guest, Rosy, that she might like to come on a drive up into the hills above Newtown (to go to Gregynog) so I could go to the Apiary Training morning. Luckily she agreed and said she’d be quite interested to listen in, even though she’s not a bee keeper!

We were slightly early and were welcomed into the group of mentors who were deciding how to run the session and discussing Tony’s ideas for inserting insulation on top of the crown board, but still allowing a rapid feeder to be in place (Autumn use). Our mentors were: Apiary Manager Dave Bennett, Roy Norris, Noel Eaton and Bill Gough. Also there was David Morris who, at a previous meeting, had inadvertently revealed himself as a beekeeper of 45 years experience and was inveigled out of retirement to be a mentor, and then there was first time mentor, Netty Batty, who was a new beekeeper in 2012 but having taken a temporary summer job with a commercial ‘bee farm’ she had had a steep learning curve in handling bees. When all the ‘trainees’ had arrived and disinfected their boots and put on over-gloves, we were split up into small groups and allocated a mentor. My group went with David Morris who was at pains to show that if you treat your bees gently and quietly they will remain calm (generally speaking) and be far less disturbed by anything that the bee keeper is doing. Of the two hives we were inspecting we decided that one was queen-less and that we hadn’t managed to catch sight of the queen in the other hive but that there was evidence of her presence. Later in the session when there was a group chat it transpired that none of the queens had been spotted so we didn’t feel quite so inept! Montybees are experimenting this season with ‘Varroa sticks’ as a way of treating the bees. Previously Apiguard had been used but for that you need to apply while the temperature is above 15 degrees so that the Thymol can sublimate and the whole treatment can take up to six weeks and also the bees may be put off feeding. The ‘sticks’ are organic and are called BeeVital Hive Treatment Stick or BeeVital Hive Clean and come in handy 15ml sealed tubes, each of which is sufficient for one hive. The contents are dribbled along the seams of bees between the frames, much the same as when doing oxalic acid treatment. The advantage of the sticks over Apiguard is that you can treat the hive at any time as it doesn’t taint the honey or wax. Varroa floors were slid into place under the mesh bases to aid in the counting of the mite drop. Hive ventilation and Nosema were other subjects covered. Before closing up the hives each one was fed an autumn strength syrup using a variety of feeder types ranging from Miller ‘trough’ feeders to bucket ‘contact’ feeders.

Rosy and I then went to have a cup of tea and were later joined by Netty, Tony, Helen Woodruff and latterly by Dave Bennett. This gave us another opportunity to have an informal chat and to exchange bee experiences! We then set off for a walk around the lovely gardens – something I’ve never had time to do on previous visits and it was well worth it.

And here is Rosy’s ‘take’ on the session:

Visiting the Gregynog apiary as a non bee-keeper was a fascinating experience. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to see the bees at work without having to wear protective gear. I knew a few things about bees, but the excellent observatory, set within the apiary was a mine of information about the bees themselves, the make up of a hive and what was on view. I found myself spending the whole time of the training session watching whilst the mentors went through the hives and showing me the frames of bees and explaining how the hives were being prepared for the winter. It was reassuring to be watching from behind the safety of the mesh walls! I wasn’t the only visitor to the observatory that morning as another family with their children came along to watch as well. (see picture on front cover).

Carol Whatley, Wintles Apiary, Bishop’s Castle

October 9 - MBKA Meeting Double Bill

The BeeHolder, Winter 2014

This was a meeting with talks on two topics at Plas Dolerw, Newtown. Fristly Noel Eaton gave an overview of the in house project “Bringing Back the Black Bee” followed by a talk by Emma Guy, Powys Biodiversity Officer, entitled “On the verge – 40 years and counting”.

As most of you probably know, Noel, Dave Bennett and Roy Norris were impressed by a talk from Steve Rose about trying to re-establish the black bee that they took him up on an offer to go and see how to set about doing it. After a lesson on grafting queen cells, they got 6 out of seven to take giving them two each. Only one survived – a nice healthy black queen – but unfortunately she must have mated badly by the look of her progeny. Dave and Roy both had two perfectly formed dead queens – this mishap was put down to the cells having been inadequately incubated during the transportation from N Wales. That was a lesson learned, but there is clearly going to be a difficulty getting queens mated with black drones.

There are a few candidate areas in west Powys in which it may be possible to saturate the mating range of one apiary with black drones. If all the surrounding beekeepers cull their mongrel drones and substitute with pure black ones supplied from outside, then the black queen(s) from the target apiary MUST mate with black drones. This needs lots of beekeepers involved as a bee will fly up to seven miles to satisfy its urges. It also needs an apiary where we can rear the black queens (Gregynog?).

The Stiperstones project in West Shropshire may be a useful ally in seeing this project through. We will try and keep members informed on developments through the BeeHolder and the web site.

Every spring people complain to Powys CC that their verge outside their house HAS or HAS NOT been cut. There are reports about verge management from 40 years ago and it is still contentious now. Powys has 5,492km of roads 2,536 of which are in Montgomeryshire (268 km of trunk and A roads, 1,018 km of unclassified). The verges of these make up a lot of semi-natural habitat with diverse topology, underlying geology and so on. For wildlife they offer a species rich habitat, good structural diversity and a long season pollinator foraging habitat. Opinion varies as to how valuable they are as wildlife corridors, but common sense dictates that they must be of some advantage.

However the verges must be managed to serve other functions such as fit in the landscape, as a refuge for pedestrians and horses in the absence of footpaths, aid surface drainage, somewhere to dump cleared snow, emergency stopping places and amenity value. Verges must be cut in order to maximise these benefits as well as to ensure adequate visibility, control harmful weeds, reduce fire risk and aid maintenance work on the highway/drains.

In the old days farmers and landowners maintained the road verges by making hay on them. When agriculture was intensified after the war, there was a loss of meadowland and verges were left as remnants. 90% of meadows have gone since WWII and are still going due to neglect and poor management.

Verge management now has to be targeted as the work to do far exceeds the man-power available. The verges are managed to conserve the best examples at the expense of inferior ones. The Living Highway project went from 2000 to 2008 and Powys is still doing similar things (see here). There are 103 Road Verge Nature Reserves (RVNRs) across Powys with over 30 further candidates. Most are designated for floral diversity. They are still supported by wildlife trusts and volunteers, or they would not be possible. The management is usually different for each site, experts are needed to identify the site and resources are limited. It needs more support from the public to encourage PCC to allocate a bigger budget for the task – not easy in these austere days.

So if you are concerned about a verge near you, take a look at the website above, try and gain some support from neighbours or the parish council or the WI (or anyone) and try and present a case to propose a RVNR of your own.

I did not have high expectations for this talk – I mean, how much can you say about verges and be interesting? – but Dr Emma Guy far exceeded expectations. Reading these reports in BeeHolder is a very poor second to being there and hearing the speakers talk on their subject.

LC Cheshire

Training and exams

The BeeHolder, Winter 2013

I am happy to report that everyone who took the basic beekeeping assessment this summer has passed. Well done to all, and your certificates will be presented at either the AGM or the Annual Dinner (not yet decided). We are planning to arrange another assessment next year, and hopefully an intermediate assessment as well.

We are currently working on the training programme for next year, so if anyone has any suggestions or requirements then do get in touch (click here to send e-mail).

Provisionally we are aiming for a Basic Beekeeping course in February for absolute beginners and a two day Intermediate Beekeeping course in February/March for beekeepers who have kept bees for a minimum of one season (no maximum requirement) and are keen to hone their skills. In previous years Brian Goodwin has given these courses and we will approach him again. The early production of this issue of BeeHolder means that we haven't yet finalised the arrangements.

Additionally there is the possibility of a course by instructors from BIBBA on bee breeding some time in early summer which compliments our efforts to establish a program to bring back the black bee to mid Wales.

Julie Pearce

Toby's Top Tip

The BeeHolder, Winter 2014

Fondant fancies for bees

If you take the crown board off to apply oxalic acid and find the cluster of bees right at the top, it usually means they are low on stores and could be given candy (you can heft the hive to double check).

Toby Beavan

Apologies for repeating last winter's top tip, but it is vital that our bees don't die out in winter for lack of attention. Ed.

Honey Extractor

The BeeHolder, Winter 2013

Would you buy a honey extractor from this man?I've mentioned this before, but we have a splendid brand new shiny honey extractor available for use by the members. Several of you have already taken advantage of it this year. A non-refundable deposit (aka fee) of £5 is payable, which is very modest compared to the cost of buying an extractor (operator fee by negotiation). So cross that little item off your Christmas wish list and ask for a remote hive monitoring kit instead! (see here for details of one such system).

Contact our equipment officer to arrange for use of MBKA equipment.

Please note that neither the equipment officer nor the honey extractor look anything like this illustration.


Gregynog Apiary Report

The BeeHolder, Winter 2013

We have reached the end of another beekeeping season, which after a very slow start turned out to be very satisfactory for the majority of us. After the higher than average losses last winter, the number one priority in Gregynog has been to increase our colony numbers. At time of writing this we have ten colonies all fed and put to bed for the winter.

As a small bonus there we were able to harvest about 80lbs of honey which will hopefully find it's way into the Gregynog shop (delicate negotiations over size of jars and price per pound are still in progress). This will raise the profile of the apiary with visitors to Gregynog and also help to offset our feed bill.

Some of you will already know that I won't be apiary manager next year. Decisions will be made shortly as to how the apiary will be managed in the future and by whom. If you would like to be involved in running the apiary, or have a say in how it is run, let a member of the committee know and watch out for notice of meetings.

 Dave Bennett Bee

Dave Bennett
Apiary Manager

Controversial views on the apiary

The BeeHolder, Winter 2013

Here are a couple of views on the apiary I would like to share with you

Gregynog apiary with colours

Gregynog apiary with colours

Gregynog apiary with colours


An original Carol

The BeeHolder, Winter 2013

I had read that long ago beekeepers decked their hives with holly on Christmas Eve. Then late at night, they’d slink into the apiary and wait. They did that, they said, because the bees serenaded them each year by quietly humming Christmas carols at the stroke of midnight.

To be honest, there was never a moment I believed the bees would hum carols, but I liked the idea of the ceremony, the tradition of honouring insect friends by being with them at a special time on a significant night. I admit also that I was curious about how a story like that got started. Is it possible that random beehive sounds “upon a midnight clear” could really sound like a glorious song of old? As when our brain tries to hear words and patterns from radio static or crowd noises? Perhaps, random buzzing, filtered through a mix of holiday spirituality and strong spirits, could sound something like “Adeste Fideles”. I wanted to find that out too.

I suspected that maybe the story was just a beekeepers hoax, a way to reserve a quiet place away from others to think, drink, or meditate upon the season, but whatever the case, I intended to find out myself.

I stop a couple of yards away from the hives and notice how quiet everything is. On summer night, you can hear the buzz of a hive at any hour, like a miniature factory running 24/7, as the bees ceaselessly clean, form wax combs, tend the larvae, cool the hive, and dry the nectar into thick honey. On December 24th, though, because the bees have no reason to cool the hive and no nectar to dry, the hives sound more like the ghost factories of south Wales, not just silent but freakishly so.

I step forward and squat down next to the hive. Still no sound. It’s almost midnight on Christmas Eve, and I don’t want to have to wait another year to try again. So I gently brush my finger tips across the top of the hive, clearing off some dew and dirt, and gingerly lower my head, ear first, to the cold roof of the hive. And I do, I do hear something through the roof!

It’s a different sound from the daytime hive, lower and more uniform, a steady, pulsing drone, like the sound of a … what? It’s familiar and soothing, but I cannot figure out what it sounds like.

Do the bees make any sound that could be interpreted as a Christmas Carol? I listen, the drone sounds on like a pulsing monotone, never changing rhythm or pitch, the bees flexing their wing muscles to generate heat. This doesn’t sound anything like carols. I reluctantly have to admit that Catholic Monks singing a Gregorian Chant – even Buddhist monks droning “Om” - are more musical than a beehive on a Christmas midnight. Even if nursing half a gallon of mead, there’s no way an honest beekeeper could claim to hear a Christmas carol from that.

I sigh, frankly surprised that I am disappointed. It’s cold. I’m tired. My quest for knowing is over. I should go back inside. Yet I stay and listen to the sound. Then it strikes me. A beehive on a cold winter night, settled in for warmth, sounds like a purring cat. I suddenly realise that this purring existed long before house cats, or even humanity was there to hear it. Sabre toothed tigers and mastodons may have heard this sound. And the dinosaurs, they heard this sound.

The thought comes to me: it came upon a midnight clear, and it is a glorious song of old. In fact, this may be the oldest living sound I’ll ever hear. So who needs Carols?

Adapted by Tony Shaw from a story by Jack Mingo

This reminds me of the motto on our web site : “Montybees, we do it for the buzz”. Ed

What to do with dead bees?

The BeeHolder, Winter 2013

A Canadian visual artist called Sarah Hatton has taken thousands of dead honeybees and arranged them onto canvasses inBees in a sunflower shape mathematical patterns such as the Fibonacci spiral found in sunflowers. Hatton – who is also a beekeeper – decided to use bees in her work to spread awareness of bee colony collapse disorder to a broad audience in a conceptual way.

"Life often finds its way into one's art, and I had long been thinking of an artistic way to talk about the global decline of bees. I decided to use dead bees as the most direct visual way to represent this message, with the most emotional impact," she told

One of the pieces, Florid, followed the Fibonacci spiral seen in the seed pattern of a sunflower. Two other pieces – Circle 1 and Circle 2 – use ancient patterns that have recently surfaced in crop circles. "Both of these patterns have symbolic ties to agriculture, particularly the monoculture crop system that is having such a detrimental effect on bees," she explained. "In particular, neonicotinoid pesticides, which are used in many countries on these type of crops, destroy bees' navigational systems."

Hatton says that when viewed in person, the works "produce a vertigo effect" which she likens to the bees' loss of ability to navigate when exposed to the pesticides.

The dead bees came from her own hives – she lost an entire colony due to natural causes in the spring. She glued them to wooden panels, coating them with epoxy resin to preserve them.

You can follow Hatton's work on her web page.

The original article is here.

Michelle Boudin, from an article on

Please make sure that your dead bees do not constitute a risk to other bees by transmitting disease after you have turned them into a sculpture or other work of art. Ed.

Autumn 2013

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

Smiling through the stings: A contestant grins and bears it

Smiling through the stings: A bee beard contestant grins and bears it
(Picture: Canadian Press/AP)

Navigate through The BeeHolder using the links at the side or at the bottom of each page. You can download a version in portable document format (PDF) using the link below.

BH Autumn 13 150.pdf753.3 KB


The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

You will notice just how much the outbreak of American Foul Brood in Newtown has influenced our contributors. This edition could really have been entirely about the implications of AFB in Newtown, but that would not have been fair on the majority of Beekeepers who are not affected (and also perceived as alarmist : see Paul Aslin's comment). However all should take note of the article by Warren and Margaret Town. The Article about bringing back the indigenous Bee to Wiltshire is particularly relevant to those of us (including me) who have had appalling losses over the last two winters. More strength to the elbows of those MBKA members who are working towards a similar goal right here in Wales!

Quite a bit of the emphasis in this issue is on the meetings and other events planned for the rest of the season and over winter (see the calendar). The Committee puts considerable effort into organising meetings and speakers, but as ever we are anxious that our members let us know what they would like to see in future.

Chris Leech

Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

Along with Noel Eaton I represent MBKA on the Council of the Welsh BeeKeepers Association. We meet four times a year and it is good to touch base with Beekeepers of other Welsh Associations. At the last Council Meeting the talk in the bar, lunch table, corridors and even men’s toilet was all about the effects of the wet 2012 and the late spring of 2013. It seems that the second very cold spell after a warm period in early March really upset colonies through Wales. The stories were too numerous to detail here but the one thing that stood out for me was that after each anecdote or observation was mentioned the speaker would always end by saying “... and I’ve never seen that before”.

At the meeting the results of the National Bee Unit survey of winter losses was given; 38% for England, 43% for Wales. But these figures were taken before the second cold snap in April which certainly, in Montgomeryshire, did kill off significant numbers of colonies. Delegates guessed the losses in their area: none gave an estimate less than the 43% and many gave a figure of over 60%. Many association apiaries had losses of over 60% as had ours in Gregynog. I think that probably 60% losses for the whole of Montgomeryshire would be nearer the mark.

I hope that there is a big attendance at the Meeting with the Biodiversity officer of Powys Dr Emma Guy. She needs feedback and ideas from the public so that the verge cutting policy of Powys Council can be improved. Remember that it wasn’t so long ago that Councils sprayed herbicide over the first 4’ of verges. Public pressure stopped that. 30 years ago my children drew a sketch of a Council verge mower that collected the cuttings in a trailer that digested the organic matter and produced methane to power the whole machine. Is that such a child’s fantasy? My own view is that the cuttings should be blown over the adjacent hedges or dumped at intervals down the road so that the verges can have areas of high and low fertility. Down the lane leading to my house there is one section of 200m that is a slight embankment. It doesn’t get fertilised by spilled manure being washed onto it. And for 40 years it has been mown and all cuttings removed. Each year the plants and grasses got more interesting. The scalped poor soil produced a wealth of lichen and mosses and a profusion of small moths and ants... I was delighted. Then came the tourists and dog walkers enjoying the profusion of wildlife. The dogs did what doggies doo and all was ruined. Great verdant patches a month after a dog visit. I have lost the lichens and many moths. “Get a life” I hear some say, but is the life of some rare lichen not as important as my own? (or even more so? Ed).

Tony Shaw (Chair MBKA) September 2013

Black Bees return to Wiltshire

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

MOD beesAn abandoned village that was commandeered by the army during the war has its first new residents in 70 years - colonies of rare native honey bees. The deserted village of Imber on Salisbury Plain has been picked as the ideal location for a project aimed at boosting the population of the endangered British black bee. About 95 per cent of bees in the UK are non-native and were introduced into the UK in the 1920s after Isle of Wight disease virtually wiped out the indigenous honey bee, Apis melifera melifera.

With help from the MoD, the decline in population of native bees may be reversed. Beekeeper Chris Wilkes, a 61 year old retired army major from Salisbury, has been given special permission by the MoD to set up 14 colonies of black bees on their land (photo page 20). Mr Wilkes said: “Imber is a very isolated area with not a lot of feral bee colonies about, in fact there isn’t one in a four or five mile radius. It is very difficult to breed pure lines of bees because it only takes a few feral ones to give you a mongrel breed. But Imber gives us a great chance to breed a pure strain of British black bees.”

Black bees can easily survive British winters – unlike the non-native varieties that are vulnerable to prolonged harsh and cold weather as we had last winter.

The isolated hamlet of Imber is surrounded by a wealth of untapped, nectar-rich wildflowers on the vast Salisbury Plain. The area is very rich in wild flowers. Eighteen of the 22 top nectar producing plants in the UK are there, including clover, sainfoin, viper’s bugloss, knapweed and melilot. There is also no interference from the public which will give the black bees a chance to breed a pure strain. If successful, this could be repeated all round the country.

Unexploded beesBritish black bees are much darker than their golden-coloured cousins that originate from southern Europe and have thicker and longer hair. Mr Wilkes said: 'Black bees make up about four per cent of the bee population of Britain. It is a shame because they are ideal for the British climate because they survive our winters very well.”

“It is the native bee and the one that has been selected by nature to be the best type for this country. Southern European bees need a lot of feeding up in August and September to get them through the winter but they really struggle when you have harsher, prolonged winters. A lot of bees did die out last winter which means there is a reduction this year in honey production and produce that depends on being pollinated by bees.”

Arthur Finlay, adapted from Suzannah Hills (Mail-on-Line, 19 August 2013)

The Antiques Road Show

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

The Antiques Road Show came to Gregynog on Thursday 4th July this year. It was a lovely day, and the thousands of people attending seemed to enjoy themselves. Of the thousands of people who attended the show, quite a number found their way to the apiary area in spite of the fact that the signs tended to take them directly from the parking areas to the house. Fortunately Eric Franklin was happy to stand near the gates and point people our way!

Chris Leech

The Care Of Bees

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

In 29 BC, Virgil (70 - 19 BC) published “Georgics” - a poem in hexameters about Agriculture. It was a poem in 4 books, with book 4 being about bees. Poet laureate John Dryden (1631-1700) translated the work into English in 1697. His was probably the best attempt at getting the hexameter rhythm of classical Latin poetry. Here are some lines about a topical subject, taking off the honey. Read it out loud to get a sense of the style of the poetry of the Romans.

Now, when thou hast decreed to seize their stores,
And by prerogative to break their doors,And then pursue the citizens with smoke.
Two honey-harvests fall in every year.
First, when the pleasing Pleiades appear,
And, springing upward, spurn the briny seas:
Again, when their affrighted choir surveys
The watery Scorpion mend his pace behind,
With a black tram of storms, and winter wind,
They plunge into the deep, and safe protection find.
Prone to revenge, the bees, a wrathful race,
When once provoked, assault the aggressor's face,
And through the purple veins a passage find:
There fix their stings, and leave their souls behind.

Virgil (translated J Dryden)

American Foul Brood, what we can learn

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013


American Foul Brood (AFB) is a Notifiable disease throughout the European Community and therefore has legal implications. You are required to contact your Bee Inspector directly if you are suspicious of any foulbrood disease in a colony. The colony will be inspected by a Seasonal Bee Inspector who will test on the spot or send a sample to the NBU laboratory for confirmation. Colonies infected with AFB have to be destroyed and equipment sterilised. A Standstill Order will be placed on the apiary, bees and equipment.

It is a sad fact that nothing in this life is simple. If we are not dealing with summers that fail to materialise, a spring that is so short that blink and you miss it, then just when you think that you have full control of your colony ‘the mite that shall not be named’ reappears to test your patience and your nerve. Now we are faced with another threat that has the potential to decimate* our hobby for years to come.

The presence of American Foul Brood [AFB] in a colony in Newtown is not trivial and the threat to all of our colonies in the area must not be taken lightly. This is a disease that has no realistic cure other than vigilance and diligence. We must be vigilant in identifying the presence of the bacillus in the young cells of our colony so that it can be dealt with at source and diligent by constantly observing good aseptic practice when we inspect our own hives or when visiting other apiaries

This is a disease of the young as it is transmitted by the nurse bees when they feed the larvae. However larvae cannot be infected later than 53 hours after the egg has hatched. The disease is caused by a species of bacteria (Paenibacillus larvae) which actively divides in the larvae and which also produces spores. It is the spores which are most likely to be transmitted between colonies. How and when the disease appears in the first place can be difficult to determine and can often be present without the Apiarist knowledge. Brood that are affected will die when the larvae are stretched out on their backs and after the cells have been capped. The capping will sink inwards and became moist and discoloured: usually chocolate or purple in appearance. Some of the capping will be uncovered by the nurse bees in an attempt to remove the dead brood. Any uncapped dead brood is infected and as it is now open to the hive so that spores can be spread to others in the hive or distributed around the hive by the natural movement of the bees. Spores germinate in the gut of the larva and the vegetative form of the bacteria begins to grow, taking its nourishment from the larva.  The vegetative form of the bacterium will die but not before it produces many millions of spores. Each dead infected larva may contain more than 100 million spores. There are no precise measurements but in a single infected hive an approximate average of just 35 spores per larvae will result in the death of 50% of the brood. We have to remember that whilst the active bacillus can be readily dealt with the spores are highly-resistant to desiccation, heat, and chemical disinfectants. If left untouched at least 95% of hives will weaken quickly and eventually die.

We also need to appreciate that the spores can remain virulent for more than forty years in combs and honey.

AFB can be transferred from one hive to another by spores attaching to the bodies of mature bees (which are not be affected by AFB) when they clean the cells. In turn, the bees spread the disease directly by drifting to new hives, or indirectly through contaminating common foraging sites. The overall effect of the disease is to deplete the young in the colony which weakens the brood and exposes the hive to robbing by other bees in the area who are thriving. The problem is then compounded because spores from the bacillus will be present in the honey they rob and once this is transferred to a neighbouring hive, the whole cycle starts again. The general view is that all hives within three [3] kilometres of the infected hive are at most risk. The only real cure that exists is to burn infected comb and scorch the hive (not an option if you have poly units) or preferably burn the hive and contents in a pit and start againImportantly, it is considered that the most common source of cross contamination is the beekeeper. We inadvertently spread the disease by not following a set pattern of infection control or failing to be observant and identify the presence of contamination and swapping infected combs in the apiary.

The last thing you want to do is to become another link in the chain and this is where your actions need to be considered.

It is imperative that after you have visited your hives, or someone else’s in the club, that you sterilise anything that you used during the inspection. This will include the hive tool, your gloves, and boots to exclude any possibility of cross contamination. A weak solution of household bleach should suffice for tools-but remember to rinse with clean water before using again in another hive, and for those of us who use leather gloves, try wearing ‘marigolds’ over the top so that you can clean them between sessions. The bee suit can be more of a problem as many do not have the facility to remove the veil. If you can then it should be cleaned between visits. If not then you may wish to seriously consider isolating your hive equipment and protective clothing and keep it close to the boundary of the apiary so that when you leave you do not spread contamination. Importantly, try defining a small area of your shed/garage/house where your kit ‘lives’ and does not come in contact with any other clothing. If you can manage it, this should include a pair of wellies/shoes that are only used for visiting your apiary.

You should also consider your route to the hive(s) and if possible create a set path to and from the area. By having a set route you can put down an absorbent mat that you can load with disinfectant so that when you go to and from the hive you will automatically step on the mat and sterilise the bottom of your boots.

 More detailed information about cleaning and sterilisation is available from defra.

Warren and Margaret Towns

* I think the last sentence of first para, “decimate our hobby for years to come” is a bit too strong and alarmist. The incidence of Foulbrood around England and Wales in recent years can be seen on Beebase. Although it’s been rare in Mid and North Wales it is quite frequently found in some other areas and I don’t think most beekeepers in those areas consider themselves “decimated”. The point is that with more awareness and better hygiene we should be able to limit or prevent reinfection and spread.                                 Paul Aslin, SBI

Bee Keeping with a change of Altitude

Bee Keeping with a change of Attitude Altitude

Loads of beesOur stock of bees has built up over the 6 years that we have lived here, from an original acquired swarm of uncertain provenance.

This particular hive was amalgamated from 2 colonies last Autumn, so a lot of bees went into the Winter. The hive is a WBC with a solid floor, so this probably kept them warmer than a National with a mesh floor.

They were treated just with Apiguard in Autumn, with NO oxalic acid treatment. So from that you can probably draw your own conclusions!! They started off on a single brood in Spring, and as you can see, they had built up to a double brood by June 1st.

Another factor could be that they were moved from a height of 850 feet above sea level down to below 400 feet in Spring.

Having said all this, our other colony in a National hive with a mesh floor, having had the same treatment, started off in Spring on a single brood and again by June 1st was a very strong brood and a half. Currently (July 24th) it has 4 supers on, 2 off which are full. Of the WBC hive that was split into 4, the nuclei are all now back up to full broods with supers on.

Summary – a good colony of bees going into Winter with ample food supply, minimal treatment and disturbance during cold weather, and each time they are inspected they are dusted with icing sugar and have no varoa problem. The bees have done far better at this lower altitude than ever they did before. I have never introduced any different strain of queen or bees into the apiary, always retaining swarms or producing nucs.

more bees

Bill Gough

Basic Beekeeping Assessment

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

On 12 August at the Gregynog Apiary, a small band of brave Montgomeryshire Beekeepers took their Basic Beekeeping Assessment. The results aren’t in yet, but even without knowing the outcome I already know that I learned a lot by preparing for the assessment. Even learning how to clean all my beekeeping equipment properly was a bonus, especially now we are even more aware of the importance of apiary hygiene. (I found washing soda got the bee suit really clean, and also the hive tool and smoker). And it was a good excuse to read all those books that have been languishing on the bookshelf.

Our instructions for the day were simple enough – turn up with a clean bee suit, disposable gloves, hive tool, smoker, and parts of a frame to make up. The assessment is then in two parts – a practical and a question and answer session – and takes about an hour altogether. Both were relatively relaxed sessions, thanks to Dinah Sweet and her husband.

I found the practical session more stressful as I am used to handling the hive with someone else – it is much easier to keep the smoker going and move the supers with another pair of hands, plus it takes at least both of our heads to work out what the bees are up to and what we should try to do about it. So anyway, my smoker did go out during the assessment, and I noticed that Dinah smoked the bees a lot more than we normally do. I had to name the parts of the hive, talk about why I was using the smoker, and identify the bees, brood, pollen and honey, as well as shake a frame clear of bees and talk about what would be the signs of various diseases. It was interesting handling a strange hive – the frames were lined up the “warm” way, which threw me a bit, but the bees were very good.

The Q&A session was more enjoyable. Some things you can learn – like the lifecycles of the Queen, workers and drones, and some things you had a choice about answering (for example how to avoid either Woodpecker or Moth attacks!). I did wish I had read up more on diseases – though the new disease recognition cards from WBKA were really helpful. Assembling the frame proved there are many different ways of doing things – but it was interesting to see how everyone did it and the reasons why.

So all in all – well worth doing, not too stressful, and lots to learn from doing it. I hope more beekeepers take the exam next year. Contact me if you are interested in doing it so I can get in touch as soon as we have dates - probably early next year. And finally thanks to everyone that helped get the apiary ready for us.

Julie Pearce

AFB : A Cautionary Note

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

The outbreak of American Foul Brood in Newtown has been a wake up-call to many, a reminder that we must take biosecurity very seriously. There has also been a case of AFB in Tywyn in Meirionnydd. Although the origin of the two outbreaks has not yet been determined, it has been remarked that in both cases the infected colonies were very close to buildings in which imported honey was being processed. The lure of unwashed jars, bins and barrels of honey is just too tempting for the bees. Please wash all honey containers as soon as you have finished with them.

Gregynog Apiary Report

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

We have made reasonable progress in Gregynog so far this summer,

Biosecurity step oneWe have increased the number of colonies to eleven, some by artificial swarm and some by colonies bought in. Some of the colonies purchased were not exactly top quality, and several of these colonies which had been divided into smaller nucs in July had to be reunited at the August training meeting. Not the ideal result.

Appalling weather caused our first three training sessions to be cancelled. It is just not fair on the bees to open hives in bad weather, so the only training meeting so far this year was on August 18th – a good turnout of approximately 30 members always makes a busy morning! The meeting was billed as "Preparing to take off the honey" which, after last years meeting, was modified slightly by demonstrating clearing empty supers rather than supers with the bees in them. As this demo was quite short, it left us with more time to inspect some of the colonies in the apiary.

biosecurity step twoOn a more serious note all of the members who attended the meeting will have not escaped the biosecurity which has been kindly installed by Ian Hubbuck. The device, illustrated in the pictures accompanying this article, has a lid to keep the weather out and a pad to hold disinfectant in. As bee keepers enter and leave the apiary they disinfect their footwear by stepping through the device. In view of the recent case of AFB in Newtown we must be seen to be proactive with our hygiene in Gregynog and indeed in our own apiaries.

On a final note we hope to see you all at the next apiary training meeting (depending on the weather!) Sunday 22nd September at 2pm "Preparing for Winter".

Dave Bennett
Apiary Manager

Annual Beeard Competition

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

Having a bit of facial fuzz can make a fashion statement, but these beards are enough to make even the most ardent hipster’s skin crawl – or at least come out in hives (see photo on cover, Canadian Press/AP). Contestants at an annual ‘bee beard’ competition in Canada allowed their heads and upper torsos to be covered by up to 16,000 insects.

Beeard of beesEach facial bee colony weighs about 1.8kg (4lb) and has to be sculpted into shape before competitors take to the catwalk. ‘It’s itchier than you think it would be,’ beekeeper Chris Hiemstra said.

Competitors at the annual event at Clovermead Adventure Farm in Ontario lure swarms by placing a caged queen bee around their neck. More experienced contestants are known to use petrolatum, a substance bees avoid, to sculpt their beards. Beekeepers minimise the risk of contestants getting stung by keeping the colonies fed with sugar water. They also ply the bees with smoke before they are allowed to join the beard.

Marenda Schipper, 20, was crowned this year’s bee beard champion with Justin Hiemstra named as crowd favourite on Saturday August 10th

The beards are judged by their weight, which is determined by placing the contestants on the scales before and after the bees settle on their faces. Brazilian-born Miss Schipper, 20, had a beard weighing 2.2kg (5lb) and contained about 20,000 bees. She is not a beekeeper but a student specialising in agriculture business. It was her first time with a bee beard and she has only been stung once, which was a few years ago.

Judges also evaluate the beard’s style and each competitor’s performance in front of the audience. Past contestants have even managed to hula hoop for the crowds while covered in bees.

Matthew Champion and Nicole Le Marie, writing in Metro

New Equipment

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

MBKA has recently acquired a shiny new four frame honey extractor for use by members. Just the jolly job for relieving your bees of their hard earned honey. To borrow this piece of equipment, contact the equipment officer.


Summer 2013

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

Gregynog Apiary in the sun

Navigate through The BeeHolder using the links at the side or at the bottom of each page. You can download a version in portable document format (PDF) using the link below.

e-versi0n 150.pdf735.64 KB


The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

I have to apologise to Julie Pearce for not getting her article about the new post of co-ordinator for training and exams into the last issue of BeeHolder after she had taken the time to write it and send it to me. Here it is at last (this link) and I hope that members will take advantage of the opportunity to request training in specific areas, take beekeeping exams etc. Good luck in the new rôle, Julie.

Also congratulations are due to Wally Shaw – he spoke at our AGM a couple of years ago and is trying to breed varroa resistant bees on Anglesey – on receiving an OBeeE in the Queen's birthday honours.

Chris Leech

Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

Every day last week I received between two and four phone calls from members telling me about their lost colonies and asking about replacement stock. It was emotionally exhausting. I could tell some were on the point of tears. I myself was devastated when I found the colonies in my top apiary were dead. In 11 years I had only lost one colony when the mouse guard fell off and mice entered to escape the bitter cold in what is Wales highest apiary at 1350 ft (410m). The road was blocked by snow for several days, but when I got to the hives on a sunny day I was delighted to see the bees flying over the snow beside the hives to a clump of crocuses. I hefted the hives and noted a healthy weight I inspected again 12 days later at a time when the bees at my home apiary were all busy bringing in pollen. There were dead bees scattered all over the frames, but still plenty of stores. In between inspections it had been warm then a sudden very wet, cold spell. The bees had not clustered for warmth. I was devastated, but my bees did not die in vain because I was able to better empathise with those who phoned with similar stories.

Unless we notice some glaring mistake we have made, we should not blame ourselves if we have lost colonies. 2012 was a dreadful summer many queens were poorly mated and many of these have already turned to being drone layers. The winter was long, cold and and we had a strange false spring and then a very late spring. Bee losses in England are reported to be about 38% on average. The average for Wales is about 45% according to Beebase. However most of those who have phoned about losses have not reported them. I suspect the losses in Montgomeryshire were very much higher, maybe 60%. I hope those who have lost all their colonies will restock. Some of those on the phone had already ordered the Montgomeryshire bred Nucs that the Association is offering. I am able to report that these Nucs are doing OK, but will be later than promised, about mid July. I urged everybody to hold their nerve and not buy imported stock or queens.

The problem of poorly mated queens is something that has been plaguing West Montgomeryshire for many years. I suffer from this myself (and we can't afford a poorly mated chairman - Ed) and am convinced that the only reason I still have bees is that I put queen cells into mini-nucs to be mated in the Newtown Area. There is only one other local beekeeper who has any bees left. My neighbouring beekeepers used to say that losing colonies did not worry them as the hives were always recolonised by a swarm. This is no longer happening and the area of beeless-ness is spreading.

Can we afford a beeless Montgomeryshire? Some of our members think not and have formed a group to actively breed bees better adapted to our wet wet area. I urge you to read the article “Bringing back the Indigenous bee”, which I will include in the next issue. Please contact Dave Bennett or Noel Eaton if you think that you want to help this important work.

The Antiques Road Show is coming to Gregynog on Thursday 4th July from 10am till 5pm. About 3000 people are expected and undoubtedly a large number will stroll down to the apiary to inspect it. We need volunteers to explain things to the public, and we will have an observation hive set up in the Apiary viewing hut. Contact me if you are interested in volunteering.

Tony Shaw, Chairman MBKA, June 2013

BBKA Spring Convention

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

BBKA front entrance





Unfortunately Ruth's report on the BBKA Spring convention did not make the publishing deadline. I hope to include it in the next edition, as we always prefer home grown material to articles taken from the general bee press.



Herbal Beekeepers Know Their Onions

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013



Fresh onion applied to a bee sting is soothing and healing. Apply onion juice or rub the freshly cut surface of an onion onto the stung area (after scratching off the sting). Try it – it is very effective.

Michelle Boudin

Reports on Meetings

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

Meetings from the previous three months - we're always keen for people to write up a meeting for the BeeHolder, so if you particularly enjoy a meeting and want to share, don't be afraid to put pen to paper and send the editor a summary!

March 17, April 14, May 12 – Apiary Training

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

All these meetings had to be cancelled/postponed due to the appalling weather. In fact the forecast was dire on each occasion, and rather than have people turn up and the meetings be cancelled on the day, the sensible option was to cancel in advance to avoiding wasted time and travel. Let us hope that the rest of the season offers us some better weather and that the next training – preparing to take off honey – proves necessary!

Chris Leech

May 18th - Disease recognition workshop

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

Disease classWhat with the weather and everyday challenges for beekeepers, we could really do without any brood disease thank you. The recent workshop at Gregynog gave a good insight into the brood diseases we fear most like AFB (American foul brood) and EFB (European foul brood), as well as chalkbrood, Chinese slipper, parasitic mite syndrome – varroa damage and drone laying queen.

On the up side the chances of AFB and EFB is not significant and the targeted inspections by the National Bee Unit are there to swiftly identify and eradicate any cases found. The advice to us is to inspect colonies at least twice a year and be able to spot the signs of these diseases and others. Choose a day when there is good light and shake the bees off to see comb clearly. One pointer was if your colony is not thriving it’s a Disease classgood idea to inspect too, as this may be a signal of problems. A really good aspect of the workshop was to actually see the diseased comb and identify for yourself the tell-tale signs of the various diseases.

The inspection of diseased comb was done in an isolated room in small groups and we wore plastic aprons and gloves which was quite unsettling and made you appreciate how these diseases need to be isolated and treated very carefully. Given cocktail sticks to delve into cells, some of the diseased comb was pretty disgusting, like the gloopy mush in cells that AFB creates, and the mummified larvae from chalk brood.

What we want to see of course is healthy pearly white larvae in cells, Disease classclear segments with even colour and slightly domed, even cappings. To help achieve this there was some good ‘barrier management’ advice on offer too: like taking care with any second hand kit by thoroughly sterilising it using a gas torch, boiling in washing soda (1kg to 5 litres of water) or making use of steam from a wallpaper stripper to help cleanse kit. Replacing old brood comb annually was recommended and never to use second hand comb (that's how I lost my hair - Ed).

Other advice included if you capture a swarm from outside your area to check it over carefully. Not feeding honey to your bees from a source outside your area or from an unknown source was also advised. Also if you take wax scrapings have a bucket handy and put them in that rather than just discard. Keeping hive tools and your bee suit clean were also Disease classadvocated.

The workshop also considered adult bee diseases. Deformed wing virus is associated with varroa, acarine or parasitic mites. Nosema (symptoms are fouling of the comb or the hive) was also looked at in the microscopy session. It was a good combination to see the colour slides and see things under the microscope, but most powerful was the inspection of diseased comb. If the workshop runs again I’d encourage you to go, whether as novices to learn or as seasoned beekeepers who want a recap. The various activities, like using the microscopes and gowning up to inspect the diseased comb, made the session more real and was a great insight.

The workshop was run by the National Bee Unit and led by Frank Gellatly.

Heather Venis

Mint sauce with a twist

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

Take half a jar of warm honey, then fill to the top with chopped fresh young mint and stir well. Serve direct from the jar or add a little balsamic vinegar, and thatʼs it.

Thanks to Stratford on Avon and ebees

Gregynog Apiary Report

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

In March and April it was still too cold to open up and inspect the bees, so the first “spring inspections” weren't performed until May. As mentioned elsewhere in BeeHolder, the weather was such that none of the apiary training days have been able to go ahead. Winter losses were our worst yet, going from 13 colonies down to two (as I did at home, 13 colonies down to two and I have never lost a colony over winter before!). However Eifion Thomas has kindly leant us two colonies (one of which has swarmed, which was caught) so that we have bees in the apiary for the remaining apiary training days this year.

Numbers are slowly increasing, and the five colonies we now have are looking quite strong, and so hopefully we can start making increase from them shortly. So all you new (and old!) bee keepers out there, don't lose heart. The losses this year have been heavy across the country, so rather than throw in the towel we need more than ever to roll up our sleeves and try and get our apiaries back up to strength so that they can get through the next winterThankyou bee. We will try and plan some additional training days, possibly at short notice, so keep an eye on your e-mails and the web site for updates.

Dave Bennett
Apiary Manager

Better Late than Never

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

Readers may be interested to note that some of the behaviours seen in colonies during 2012 were not as unprecedented as we had thought. We saw queens being very slow to come into lay last year; the following is an extract from ‘The Essex Beekeeper’ of September 2000, regarding Shetland queens: “In 1999, as soon as drone cells were produced in early May, queen rearing commenced. ...the first queen began to lay 5-6 weeks after hatching and that seemed to set the pattern for the year. None laid before 5 weeks. The last one took the biscuit though – she started laying eight weeks after hatching and her pattern is excellent. There must be more to this than meets the eye!”

Thanks to Cheshire BKA and ebees

Neonicotinoids - an update

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

What is happening about neonics and the current state of play? Well, quite a lot.

The EU has put in place a two year ban on three types of neonic - not long for not much; will the scientific research during this short period be strong enough to sway the EU into a longer, or even permanent ban?

There seems little prospect of the UK coming to its senses - Sir Mark Walport, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government, has been accused by other academics of not understanding the essential precautionary principle that underlies environmental science.

The BBKA continues to sit on the fence.

What can be done about it? Well, quite a lot.

Those advocating a permanent ban must not sit on their hands; if petitions arrive from reputable sources, sign them. The elections to the EU are coming up, write to the party of your choice and ask what is their strategy concerning these pesticides.

DemonstrationWrite to the BBKA, refer to the line at the end of paragraph four of their latest statement where they state ʻpesticides which must be proven safe for honey beesʼ and ask them to confirm that they will take this same stance over neonicotinoids.

It cannot be said that this first battle against neonics has been won, let alone the war. The weapons that the good guys hold are scientific evidence and public opinion. With the first, they may influence the second; if the second is mobilised anyway, the bad guys will retreat because the politicians, who are more scared of adverse public opinion than anything else, will abandon them.

So, keep writing, Emailing, signing petitions and asking questions. If the agri-chemical lobby wins and this stuff is allowed back, it will be goodbye to the majority of the pollinating insects and soil fauna that have survived so far.......and we all will live in a poorer, sorrier and more unbalanced land.

Thanks to Bournemouth and Dorset South BKA and ebees

Training and Exams

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

Montgomeryshire Beekeeper’s Association has created a new rôle on the committee dedicated to helping co-ordinate training and exams for members. Julie Pearce was elected to take on this rôle, and Maggie Summerfield has kindly agreed to work on it as well. The Association has arranged some really excellent introductory and intermediate training sessions with Brian Goodwin as well as providing monthly hands-on training sessions in the Gregynog Apiary. These are run in “real time” and then we get to go back to our own hives and implement what we have learned, which is invaluable. It is really encouraging that increasing numbers of members are helping others gain practical experience with bees at the training Apiary. We are all learning together. We want to build on this and encourage members to come forward to ask for training in specific aspects of beekeeping, as well as to encourage more experienced bee-keepers to share their knowledge. Julie is the person to contact about this. We will always try to find an experienced member of the MBKA to run the course but, where we do not have the skills within the Association, we will seek a tutor from outside.

Other BKAs have had success with running one-day Taster Courses on beekeeping, where the aim is to show the basic principles to those who have not yet got their bees. We will try this ourselves if there is sufficient demand. The emphasis will be less on theory and more on practical experience of handling bees in the Apiary led by our own team of experienced beekeepers.

We also want to encourage members to take some of the bee keeping qualifications available. We will be arranging the Basic Assessment in Beekeeping for members that are interested. Please contact Julie if you are interested in doing the exam or have any ideas for courses/training that would be useful for you.

The better the training the better the chances of keeping on beekeeping!

Julie Pearce

The Asian Hornet

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

We are moving to the time of year when this insect is on the move and can, with a favourable wind, fly across from the French coast. Whilst the south coast is where it is most likely to land, please be vigilant. A hornet with a black abdomen with just one yellow segment and with yellow legs means that it is an Asian hornet - see the photograph.

Asian Hornet "hawking" for honey bee preyAlready invasive species like muntjac deer, grey squirrels and Japanese knotweed are causing problems in Britain (not to mention zebra mussels and tiger mosquitoes, which must be really frightening). The European Environment Agency are also worried that the bee-killing yellow-legged hornet may well arrive on Britain's shores by being accidentally smuggled in trade goods and tourist luggage.

The Asian hornet, which grows to between 2.5cm and 3cm (1-1.2 inches), preys on native honeybees, wasps and other pollinators, potentially devastating hives and threatening honey and crop production. Look on the BeeBase web site for more info on what to look for, what to do if you think that you have seen one, and how to make a home made trap.

Thanks to Bournemouth and Dorset South BKA and ebees
plus additional material researched from Daily Telegraph and Wikipedia

Toby's Top Tip

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

Mice like this should be discouragedInstead of grass cutting in front of hives, put a sheet of plywood or something similar there : it keeps the vegetation down, if anything is being thrown out of the hive or dying in front of it then its really visible and mice seem to prefer to be under that than invading a hive on a stand during the winter. A hat trick of benefits!

Toby Beavan

Calibrating Your Refractometer

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

What a refractometer looks like when dormant

Have you wondered how accurate your refractometer is?

Here’s a simple way to check. Due to the remarkably consistent properties of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, one drop of it on the slide will always read between 71 and 72 on the ‘Brix’ scale – the middle one in most refractometers. If you set the lock-nut to show any such oil at 71.5, you will have correctly calibrated the neighbouring scale at the same time.

Thanks to Notts Beekeepers and ebees

So there you go. If you have no idea what a refractometer is used for, whether in connection with bees, antifreeze or chain saw maintenance, you have the following options. Ignore refractometers and get on with your life, put combinations of words including refractometer into a post-Prism search engine such as duckduckgo (other search engines are available) or ask an experienced bee keeper.           Ed

Are you up to date on BeeBase?

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

Have you signed up to BeeBase? Has the number of hives you have changed since you signed up to BeeBase? Check now, as the statistics that BeeBase generate are of little use if they are inaccurate. Go to their web site or phone 01904 462510.

Why is the Varroa destructor so successful?

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

The Varroa mite has developed a wide array of Some insects such as ants will never allow a features to make it successful as a parasite of stray ant from another colony to enter their the honey bee, including ‘chemical camouflage’. nest when they identify their different chemical profile. While bees are much less fussy, there are marked differences in the chemical profiles of different colonies.

Crab like varroa miteIn the same way, both to bees, and to mites, the chemical signatures of adult bees and larvae are clearly and obviously different. Research work by Rickarda Kather explains how a Varroa mite, when it first arrives ‘camouflaged’ to be ‘invisible’ on an adult bee, can then alter and adapt her chemical profile so the bees in the new colony don’t ‘see’ her.

This microscope photograph highlights some of these features, which include:-

  • A flattened crab like shape – which enables the mite to fit between the bees segments.
  • Stiff ventral hairs – which helps prevent its removal from the bee.
  • The shape of the peritreme surrounding the spiracles in their surface – which aids respiration whilst submerged in brood fluid.
  • A thick cuticle skin – which prevents water and moisture loss.
  • Retractable lobed suckers – which aid attachment to the bee.
  • Specialised piercing mouthparts – which allow the mite to the mite to penetrate the bee’s cuticle (the surface covering of the bee.)
  • The chemical pattern of the mite’s own cuticle – which is similar to that of the honey bee and provides a ‘chemical camouflage’.

This chemical camouflage is further enhanced by the ability of the mite to adapt its chemical profile to becPupa chemical profileome Adult Bee Chemical Profilesimilar to that of the bee colony and make her invisible. The rapidity of this adaption can be demonstrated by comparing the profile of an adult bee to a pupa bee, the main difference is in the ‘red compounds’ (methylalkanes). When a mite is taken from an adult bee, the mite’s red compounds are low (as in the adult bee) but when transferred to a pupa, the first change in compounds can already be recorded after twenty minutes and will be almost complete after three hours. The mite just absorbs them and becomes essentially invisible.

thanks to Ipswich & East Suffolk Beekeepers and Ricky Kather

Annoying Bees

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

Do you have the odd bee that buzzes you every time you go to the clothes line or weed the garden? The ones that makes mowing the lawn difficult? Well some of this behaviour is genetic and replacing the queen may help. If not, Ormond and Harry Aebi's book on "Mastering the Art of Beekeeping” tells you how to get over this problem.

Their solution is to make a wave cloth. In other words, have a cloth (old dirty shirt) permanently mounted on a line or stand fairly close to the hive, which moves around in the breeze. The bees see the movement and investigate, but can't do anything about it and soon get used to the movement around them. Very soon you can happily move around your apiary without bees investigating you.

Try it - it works.

Frank Lindsay, Wellington (NZ) BKA
Thanks to Taunton BKA and ebees

Bee Health – a herbal approach

The BeeHolder, Summer 2013

A Bee-keeper carried out a trial over 2009/10 and his hives not only survived one of the worst winters that we have ever had, but the brood increased by 30%. HOW?

There were very few varroa mites at the time of the brood. WHY?

These results have continued.

  1. All hives were kept clean and free from chemical insecticides. It is thought that over time, the insecticides impregnate the fabric of the hive and are the serious cause of colony collapse (Ohio, USA Bee-keepers). So new frames, or frames free from contamination are needed.
  2. A winter feed of 5 grams of garlic to 1 kilo of sugar in solution was given until the new brood started. Garlic was then discontinued during honey production. However replacing garlic with an infusion of nettles to the last feed increased the brood by 40%. As many humans use garlic to boost their immunity to disease. Does it also do this in bees? Nettles contain trace elements, maybe these increase fertility? Garlic is also known to kill and/or cause the varroa mite to leave the bees.
  3. The colonies were large, at least 1 1/2 times the brood. This ensured enough warmth & ample workers in winter for food gathering.
  4. The garlic controlled the varroa mite in the winter and icing sugar dusting controlled the mite in spring and summer.
  5. You will also need nectar and pollen rich flowers. Please plant them. This system is cheap, organic and it works!

So could garlic, or any alium spp, alter the odour balance inside the hive to the detriment of the varroa mite? If so, would it not upset the bees’ pheromone communication?

At worst it seems harmless, and proprietary feeds contain supplements, possibly even nettle extraction. Only proper trials would give a clear result, but it is an interesting thought.

From an article published by Bournemouth and Dorset South Beekeepers
Association & in Ebees via a letter from Margaret Alton BSc of Doncaster

This appears to have done the rounds of various bee keeping magazines, and in the course has perhaps become slightly Chinese whispered, hence the strange sentence construction and poor English. Perhaps somebody out there would like to investigate this further, as the results claimed do look very impressive. Ed

Spring 2013

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

MBKA Intermediate Training (Class of 2013)Navigate through The BeeHolder using the links at the side or at the bottom of each page. You can download a version in portable document format (PDF) using the link below.

BH Spring 13 150.pdf902.03 KB


The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

This issue was planned for the end of March, so hopefully it will be out by the equinox. Even with plenty of time to go it has been a bit of a mad dash, but with some thanks to Llanidloes Resource Centre being generous with their opening hours, and a helpful volunteer lending a hand with the printer and staple gun, it might just happen.

On a more personal note, I am optimistic about my bees rather than confident. The one sneaky glance I have risked so far revealed that there were some live bees in there and some food still available. Fingers crossed for the warmer weather and a proper inspection to get the season started. Surely one summer in seven is not too much to ask? I think I can remember what honey tasted like ...

Chris Leech

Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

More important than reading the BeeHolder is to go and check the stores that are in your hives. This is the time when colony losses occure, just when we relax and think winter is finished. Stores are at their lowest and the few hours of warm weather in a day can mean lots of active bees burning up much more energy than they are able to take in from any nectar that they find. It is best to play safe and place a scoop of fondant over the feeding hole of the crown board. The fondant can be in a small plastic tub or merely covered by some cling film. Liquid feed during this very cold weather can cause diarrhoea*. Do remember to put a quilt or similar insulation over the fondant before replacing the roof. Cold in itself does not kill bees but condensation can collect on a cold spot on a crown board and drip onto a cluster. A quilt (I use carpet underlay) can mould itself over the fondant keeping condensation away from the top of the hive. *(it is better to risk a bit of diarrhoea than starvation!)

What a great AGM, about 75 people attended and most stayed for our excellent speaker, Jenny Hawkins who agreed to return for our 2014 AGM with updates from her research into bactericidal honeys. The AGM business was dealt with with respectful brevity, but we have jazzed up the committee with four new faces all of whom have already taken leading roles in the running of the Association. At our first committee meeting we recognised that during the last year many of our MBKA plans fell by the wayside because key players had experienced changes in personal circumstances which took priority over Association business. To ensure that this doesn’t happen again we have re-organised so that all jobs overlap and are effectively covered by two committee members. Julie Pearce writes in this issue of BeeHolder about taking charge of training and exams. Secretary Maggie Armstrong and Noel Eaton will dedicate themselves to finding mentors for those who need them. And Gareth Lloyd- Edwards will make sure we have a high profile in schools as well as looking after the needs of new members. For 11 years the committee has benefitted from the wisdom of Ex-Treasurer Roy Norris. We have not lost him entirely because he has agreed to be part of the Apiary Management team. Last week Roy was elected the Chairman of the Welsh BeeKeepers Association. I expect that Association to benefit, as we have, from Roy’s insistence on discipline.

Let us not dwell on the awful 2012. The tragedy is not the number of colonies that have, and will die in the next few months, but the number of beekeepers who will give up the craft. Bees need beekeepers to survive and beekeepers need a sympathetic public. If you have lost all your bees, and if you feel too disheartened to restock, I suggest that you still keep an interest in bees. Stay a member of the Association. Talk bees to others. Talk about the heartbreak of losing your stock: in doing so you will bring a strong emotional message to the public that bees and beekeepers do need help. Our hope is that through the comradeship of the Association and attending meetings and Apiary visits you will gain the confidence to start again as a beekeeper or help bees in other ways. I’ll point out here that not all our committee members are beekeepers themselves. (See here for details of how to restock)

The Apiary Management has now been increased to recognise the big work-load and the improvements we have planned for 2013. We should be especially pleased that the National Botanical Garden of Wales has expressed interest in our project to transmit live data links from the Gregynog Apiary. Our intention is to monitor the hives from a distance and to enable all members to receive data from the hives on their phones or through the internet. Whether you just want to watch the bees flying from a particular hive or follow the temperature, humidity, sound and weight of a hive, you will be able to tune in and follow the progress of the apiary. The more people watch the more collectively we will learn and the more likely we are to spot problems before they become serious.

Watch out for an article about the Apiary project in the Next BeeHolder.

Good luck with your 2013 beekeeping

Tony Shaw, Chairman MBKA, March 2013

BBKA Spring Convention

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

With so many talks, workshops and courses going on, you need to plan your visit to the BBKA Spring convention carefully. It is at Harper Adams University in Newport, Shrops, from 12th to 14th April. I recommend visiting their web site for more information. If you would rather contact them by steam or using smoke signals, then their phone number is 0871 811 2282 and their address British Beekeepers Association, National Beekeeping Centre, Stoneleigh Park, Kenilworth, Warks, CV8 2LG. I am sure that they will be happy to send out the programme and booking forms.

For many delegates it's not just the lectures but the Trade Show open on Saturday 13 April only, which is a big attraction. The main UK suppliers and leading overseas companies are represented in the 2500m2 Exhibition Halls. There is a list of exhibiors on their web site.


Reports on Meetings

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

These are the reports on the meetings so far this year.

February 22nd – Jenny Hawkins

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

This was the night of Montybees AGM, which was kept as short as reasonably possible. The business which was done was successful (see Tony's comments in this edition's Chairman's Chat).

After the AGM, Jenny Hawkins gave us a talk about her PhD work studying the antibacterial effects of honey. Tony had seen her present the subject at the National Honey Show last autumn, and there have been developments since. She started by showing a clip from the BBC News which reported on her discovery of the very potent antibacterial properties of the honey being produced by some bees in Tywyn. These properties were tested by taking honey samples from all over Wales (and elsewhere in the UK) and treating agar plates growing MRSA, C Dificile etc with it. The plates which showed reduced or negligible growth of the harmful bacteria were easily spotted amongst those honeys which had little effect.

Because there are many attributes of the honey which produce antibacterial effects, these must be negated in order to test the contribution of the varieties of nectar/pollen from which the honey is made. So the method is to test the various honeys to see if they have anti-bacterial properties. If they do, then remove all the known antibacterial factors. If they still demonstrate antibacterial properties, then determine what native plants are present in the honey by comparing the DNA analysis of the honey with the DNA barcode database prepared by the National Botanical Gardens of Wales.

The results so far show that shop bought honeys (extensively pasteurised and/or filtered) exhibit no activity. Manuka honey shows good activity, but this reduces to zero when the Methylglyoxal is removed. 93% of unprocessed honeys showed good antibacterial properties. Out of 250 samples processed so far, only two have retained activity after all known antibacterials have been removed. They have very light pollen content, one sample was the Tywyn sample, and the other comes from Bournemouth.

Jenny's talk was much more interesting than my summary here, and illustrated with slides showing experimental method and results (see pie chart above - some resolution lost in the translation). Also she has kindly agreed to return next year to give us an update on progress in this interesting area of research.

Chris Leech

February 23 & March 2 – Intermediate Training.

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

Two days spent in Brian Goodwin’s company is an easy thing to do. Whilst he is clearly a master of beekeeping he also has a knack of making you feel at ease and able to discuss and question things - a bit like having a chat whilst sitting in your favourite chair - but you are actually you in a Gregynog training room.

Learning about swarm control, the Demaree and Snelgrove methods, making of new colonies and how to treat old and new queens was a technical jaunt but also a real leg up in making more of what you already have. Brian also provided practical and realistic ways of doing things; also learning from others experiences was powerful. We heard about some unique events too, one of our group had heard consistent calling of what was probably a virgin queen inside a colony that was also occupied by an old queen.

From the two days spent I can only recommend it, you learn more than you may imagine. We also looked at the beekeeping exams on offer from WBKA. It seems we shouldn’t be worried about them and give them a go. The basic is really just about being able to talk about what you see and know already as a first time beekeeper. I am sure it’s the word exam that is putting us all off!

Heather Venis

See also the graduation photo (the cover of this issue). Ed

Nucs for sale with Red Queens

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

Following the large demand for locally bred Nucs during 2012 the Association has secured a supply again this year.

We have already heard members finding dead colonies and for many the season for losses is yet to come. The appalling weather of 2012 meant that many queens did not get mated properly and failing colonies are to be expected from now until July, which means that there will probably be an even greater scramble for new colonies this year than last. The temptation will be to go for colonies headed by an imported queen because these will be available quite soon. You can almost guarantee that if you are offered a colony before May, then it will either be from an imported queen or it has a queen hatched last year or earlier.

It is likely that the amount of fraudulently labelled colonies will be greater this year. It is also likely that the theft of colonies will be greater this year and that these colonies will be split into several nucs and either given an imported queen or sold queenless. These nucs are then sold on to those desperate to start beekeeping or replace failed stocks. Check with a committee member before you buy, and remember that a deal which looks too good to be true, probably is a dodgy deal!

Experience shows that even colonies brought in from further than 75 miles away do not fare as well as those bred locally. In order to discourage bringing “foreign” colonies into Montgomeryshire the MBKA is offering locally bred colonies cheaper than can generally be obtained elsewhere.

The nucs we are offering are from beekeepers working closely with the University of Bangor on a queen breeding programme. All Queens will be produced in Montgomeryshire close to the Shropshire border. The offer is for 6 framed nucs including a Nucleus box which can be expanded to 11 frames. Yes you did read that right ... 6 frames of bees with space to expand to 11 frames! Last year many of the nucs had 7 frames of bees, some members got 8 frames in the box and one lucky person got a full 9 frames in a 11 frame box

With the cold March it is doubtful the Nucs will be ready before June. And, as last year, delivery will depend on the weather so June at the earliest. Whatever the weather you will not be able to buy local nucs from locally bred queens earlier than that. All queens will have been produced in west or east Montgomeryshire or within 10 miles of our county borders. The price is £155 and that includes delivery to our Gregynog Apiary for collection by you.

The nucs will be delivered to us only when their 2013 queens have proved their worth. Those getting bees for the first time are recommended to buy two colonies. Two colonies are actually easier to manage than one colony. It is easier to understand bee behaviour by comparing colonies and it is far easier to describe any problems to your mentor if you have two colonies.

The supplier states that “the nucleus colonies are made in accordance with FERA Best Practice guidelines. This provides you with assurances of quality for the following:

  • That there is a good standard of bees, brood, food and equipment provided.
  • Instructions for the installation and care of your nuc are supplied on collection, you may contact us for further advice.
  • Our bees and your nuc are regularly checked for disease e.g. varroa and treated where necessary. This is recorded.
  • By operating a record system for sales, the National Bee Unit (NBU) is able to follow up any statutory disease situation.

Please note that the Fera guidelines are a little more exacting than the BBKA guidelines.

To order e-mail and then send a deposit of £75 for each Nuc. Make cheques out to Montgomeryshire Beekeepers Association and send to NUCS, School House, Y Fan, Llanidloes, Powys, SY18 6NP. This offer is only open to members of the MBKA.

Supply is limited and all orders will be dealt with on a first come first served basis. Cheques will be returned as soon as we know that the stocks are finished. We are closing the order book at 10 May.

Gregynog Apiary Report

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

We are down to just five colonies at the apiary. One was lost prior to the oxalic acid treatment, but six colonies since. I am concerned that there may be some cause and effect there, as it was not a warm day when the hives were opened for treatment. Tony Shaw has volunteered to take a hive up to bolster numbers for our next apiary training day. If anybody else can loan us some bees, don't be afraid to volunteer!

Oxalic acid treatment at the apiaryAn apiary committee has been formed to make decisions on apiary management without having to involve the whole MBKA committee. Roy Norris, Noel Eaton, Ian Hubbuck, Tony Bosworth, Neil Griffiths, Tony Shaw and myself as manager.

Neil has started looking into the having an electronic connection from the hives to Gregynog Hall and the National Botanical Gardens (NatBotGuard) which would allow people to see and hear what is going on in the hives, potentially even over the internet at home!

The viewing hut with Ian imprisonedThe viewing hut roof is now finished, and it looks very impressive as those of you who saw the pictures on Tony's slide show at the AGM will know. There are some here too.

Dave Bennett
Apiary Manager

Show a leg

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

We've all seen the classic photos of bees approaching the hive with their legs dangling and wondered why they adopt such an uncomfortable looking posture. Well there may be an answer! Unlike airplanes, leaving their landing gear down makes bees fly faster. When orchid bees extend their hind-legs they pitch forward to achieve maximal speed and the legs produce lift forces to either side that help prevent the bee from rolling.

A bee trailing its legs"The hind-legs resemble airplane wings, which probably explains why they also generate lift", says Dr Stacey Combes from the University of California, Berkeley who presented her research April 4 at the Society for Experimental Biology's Annual Main Meeting in Canterbury, Kent. This research is interesting as it could be applied to design miniature flying machines to be used for search and rescue missions. "It may be helpful to be able to reduce the number of control components needed by using one structure (like the orchid bee legs) to control both pitch and roll", speculates Dr.Combes. The researchers perform their experiments by encouraging the bees to fly in an outdoor wind tunnel using an incentive of aromatic oils. The bees can reach a maximum speed of 7.25 m/s, but at these speeds they lose rotational stability: "They roll all the way to the side or often upside down, and crash to the ground", observes Combes. This means that what limits the bee's speed is not muscle power or wing beat, but the pitch of the body balanced with the resulting rotational instability. "Having the legs extended generates stabilizing lift forces and helps reduce the moment of inertia and the slow rolling, similar to when a spinning figure-skater extends their arms", explains Combes.

Source: Society for Experimental Biology.

Toby's Top Tip

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

A clean and shiny, sparkling smoker

Does your smoker become caked with black gunk around the lid, making it difficult to close properly? Have you the urge to clean it up and make it nice and shiny, as new?

Solution: use a hot air gun, as used for removing paint from timber. Heat the gunk, avoiding the leather parts, It will become fluid and can be easily wiped off with a rag folded several times so the heat won't get through to fingers.


Another Hot Topic

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

We were always taught that workers went through a number of roles between emerging and death, nurse, cleaner, guard, forager. We do know that if the nurse bees are lost then the foragers can change their behaviour and feed the brood, but another factor has been revealed in the assignment of roles within the hive. A short piece from Richard Hammond's Invisible Worlds (BBC, March 2010) shows that different temperatures within the hive control which roles the workers take up. It is a shame that such excellent scientific reporting using state-of-the-art technology normally out of the reach of research academics is ruined by emotive reporting. The following is the script of the programme unedited except for the underlining of some cringe-worthy adjectives that I think degrade what is otherwise an excellent report. (am I being fair? Can you spot more irritations? To what extent does popularist reporting degrade the science?).

“... inside a bee hive is one of the most sophisticated living things in the history of evolution. One bee on its own doesn't amount to much, but taken together a very different picture emerges. Seen normally, all these bees may look the same, but go beyond the ordinarily visible into the infra-red and some bees are warmer than others. Some glow bright orange like hot coals, radiating heat to their surroundings. Others are dark and cool. It's the precise control of heat that allows a bee colony to be such a unique and successful form of organisation.

Bee doing a firefly impressionBut what is all this heat for? Heat is concentrated in one central area of the hive, the brood nest, where young bee pupae are growing. A bee that may appear relatively still, when looked at in infra-red is glowing bright orange, revealing its role as a specialist heater bee. The bee warms itself up by vibrating its flight muscles - vibrations that allow it to warm up to 44 degrees centigrade, previously thought to be high enough to kill it. Others that seem to be grabbing a quiet snooze are actually tight little balls of fire that are acting in a motherly role to keep the brood warm. Without warmth the babies will not grow and develop. It is also now clear why bees spend so long foraging for nectar that will be turned into honey, as over two thirds of the hive's honey goes on the central heating of the colony.

A rarely seen moment is caught on camera when an exhausted heater bee is topped up by a refuelling bee just returned from foraging.

These images have revealed something extraordinary. By precisely controlling the temperature, these heater bees control the destiny of the young. Incubated at 34 degrees, the newly born bees are likely to become humble housekeepers, but kept just one and a half degrees warmer, they may instead turn into intelligent and high-ranking foragers, living up to 10 times longer. None of these new discoveries would have been possible without our ability to see into the infra-red spectrum.”

Watch the small clip, maybee it promotes empathy for the bee more than any written text.

Tony Shaw (with gratitude to the BBC)

Poetry Corner

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013


If you can smile while all your friends around you
Are being stung and blaming it on you.
If you can handle frames with gentle firmness
When both your hands are being well stung too.
If you can see the eggs and young grubs growing,
And know which bees are young and which are old;
If you can watch the pollen being gathered,
And recognise the wicked robber bold.
If you can tell just when your bees need feeding
With syrup thick or thin, and candy too;
If you can give the little dears clean water
And watch them take it every day from you.
If you can quote, not misquote, words of wise men
And have acted on them when the need arose,
If you can love your bees in health and sickness,
And call the expert in to diagnose.
If you can do all this and never falter,
If you can learn and practice more each day,
You'll be an expert long before you know it
And most welcome in the B.K.A.!

E Jollyman (With apologies to Rudyard Kipling)
Originally from the Essex BKA Year Book, 1946, via BEES

We want your weeds

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013.

On 6th March the Gregynog Estate was declared Britain’s latest NNR (National Nature Reserve). The Estate has been a favourite for Botanical workshops for some years, the Fungus Forays in autumn being a special favourite with the public. Of more esoteric interest are the lichens which grow in perfusion throughout the Estate. Some are only found here and an obscure site in Southern Sweden. You may already know that Lichens are the latest area for the search for medicinally useful chemicals.

The clearances of Rhododendrons should be completed by the end of the summer. 90% will be removed leaving only the ornamentals to delight those who like a blast of colour in June. 45 acres of larch will be felled this year and we expect the area to be quickly colonised by wild flowers for the ultimate benefit of our bees. As part of the scheme to improve the attractiveness of the area around the apiary we are joining with the management of Gregynog to replant the area with a mixture of indigenous wild flowers and cultivated ornamentals. This is part of a Match Funding Scheme to bring improvements to the area such as Interpretation Boards, Direction Signs and a collection of climbers which will soften the rather austere security fencing round the apiary.

Any plants that we collect and plant in and around the Apiary can be counted towards the Match Funding Scheme. We have already collected 8 boxes of wild flowers and planted these. The time taken in the collection and replanting has been logged in and, of course, the nominal value of the plants is also counted. We are especially looking for such tall plants as cow parsley - wonderful for a large range of pollinators - plus Mulleins, Thistles and Teasels. Emerson (1803 -1882) wrote “What is a weed?.., a plants whose virtues have not yet been discovered”.

Of course it is illegal to dig up some plants such as Primrose from the countryside but it is OK to remove them when they self-seed in a choice flowerbed in your own garden. I count cowslips and ragged robin as a weed and will be relocating them to Gregynog rather than dumping them on the compost heap.

Please check with me about plants you could contribute. I can also email you a list of plants which the local Conservation officer for the Countryside Council of Wales have approved.

Turn your weeds into money for the apiary!

Tony Shaw

Winter 2012

The BeeHolder, Winter 2012

Remember Summer?

Remember Summer?
Hide and seek among the crocuses.

Navigate through The BeeHolder using the links at the side or at the bottom of each page. You can download a version in portable document format (PDF) using the link below.

BH Winter 12 150.pdf867.48 KB


The BeeHolder, Winter 2012

There are two themes running through the articles this time around. Breeding the right bee fDandy lion beeor the region and “keepability”, and the health benefits of honey. This is complemented by a variety of seasonal fillings – meeting reports and information on our nascent program of events for next year. Some of the reports are a bit technical (what can you expect from publications like Microbiology Today?). I hope I have got the balance between education and entertainment about right. Let me know what you think.

Thanks must go to those who contributed articles, which unfortunately had to be trimmed of some of their original goodness in order to squeeze them into this small format publication.

If you want a surprise and to learn something groundbreaking, read the article “The Honey Crop”. It isn't about what you think it is.

Chris Leech

Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, Winter 2012

At this year’s (2012) National Honey Show two American Professors of entomology were arguing, in a polite stylised way, about bee genetics and the possibility of inheriting hygienic behaviour. Their lectures alternated over three days and produced some heated discussions at coffee between lectures. Most go to the NHS for the lectures and coffee discussions. If you care about bees it is good to learn more and if you’ve ever been to university it is good to get involved again in an academic hot house.

One of the great innovations at this year’s National Honey Show was a day of research lectures where there was an opportunity to listen to reports of research in progress and perhaps to spot the academic stars of the future. I particularly enjoyed Jenny Hawkins’ “Apothecary Bees, using the honey bee as a tool for drug discovery”. BBC Wales News has already featured the research and is going to film regular 6 monthly follow-ups. Jenny Hawkins will be the main speaker at our AGM on 19th February.

All very exciting stuff in sharp contrast to reports of what is happening to British bees and beekeeping this year. Everywhere was doom and gloom. The worst year in living memory seemed the general consensus and the only comfort I found was that our own problems in Mid-Wales are not unique. Bees not taking down the feed, and if they do the stores remaining uncapped, bad mating and unpredictable swarming ...all the signs of trouble! The boss-man of Thornes remarked that sales were very slow with people holding back because they did not know whether they would have any colonies next year. “What other branch of agriculture goes into winter not knowing if they will have any stock in spring?” I must have quoted his remark a hundred times since October. OK we should expect big loses over this winter but we must not give up being beekeepers. We must restock and the MBKA has decided to offer subsidised Nucs again to members. We will cut the price further if we can because we want to discourage importing queens and nucs from outside our area. I have been phoning round to check on the nucs that we sold this year and one thing stood out: Those who had been to either of Brian Goodwin’s training courses were coping much better than those who had not. Many had already put on fondant rather than wait till January and many, on Brian’s advice, had bought the fondant well ahead of the winter. We are repeating Brian’s Courses during February and March 2012. Book soon to avoid disappointment (see Forthcoming Events elsewhere on the web site for sign up details).

And finally a very happy Festive Season to you all and I hope that I’ll see you at the annual dinner on Friday 25th January (see Forthcoming Events elsewhere on the web site for sign up details).

Tony Shaw, Chairman MBKA, December 2012

Reports on Meetings

The BeeHolder, Winter 2012

These were the two meetings we have had this quarter.

November 14 - What being a blind beekeeper teaches us.

The BeeHolder, Winter 2012

Wales only blind beekeeper, Rebecca Blaevoet, gave us an interesting talk on her experiences so far as a blind person keeping bees.

We shouldn't have been surprised to hear that the reasons why Rebecca became interested first in bees and then in taking up beekeeping were the same reasons as for many of us. The well publicised plight of the honeybee, followed by the keen interest which only grows as we find out more about these fascinating insects. It was clear that Rebecca is quite a strong willed person, and was not put off when there was resistance to her taking a beginners' class. Her husband, Emmanuel, was roped in as a sighted assistant to help during the course as a condition of her being allowed to do it. This is not the first time, it seems, that Emmanuel has been roped in to one of Rebecca's projects!

They now both keep bees : Rebecca looks after her hives and Emmanuel his. Rebecca is the tortoise – slow and methodical – compared to Emmanuel as the hare – faster, being sighted, but is he missing something in the haste? There is little overlap except when problems arise, such as when their bees raided a neighbours barbecue. They are also the editors of the Welsh Beekeeper magazine which you all get quarterly.

Rebecca related some amusing anecdotes in the process of explaining how her gloveless approach is necessary to feel her way around the hive (very gently), and how she can glean much of what is going on in there simply by listening to the buzz. It was an amusing and interesting talk and shows that bee keeping can, and should, be an inclusive hobby.

Chris Leech

October 17 - God Might Save Our Queen:

The BeeHolder, Winter 2012

God Might Save Our Queen : (But we would probably be better following Dinah Sweet’s advice)

There must be something about beekeepers that makes them very observant. It probably has something to do with having to stay gimlet-eyed enough to play “hunt the lady” at each hive inspection - and sadly, frequently failing to find her these days it would seem. But more on that subject momentarily.

I am not a beekeeper myself as yet. My own experience of the craft thus far has been limited to reading two books, one visit to look at a friend’s hives, joining MBKA, attending the September apiary inspection and coming to one monthly meeting. That, dear readers, is it I am afraid, my entire beekeeping CV would fit into a nutshell. However, it seems that I was “spotted taking notes” at the last meeting (how I curse my appalling memory) and have been commandeered to write an article. I can only blame myself; I knew using the Winnie the Pooh notebook was potentially something of a social faux pas, especially in the presence of such exulted beekeepers as yourselves. Consequently, I would advise that this be a salutary lesson to all newcomers to the MBKA; do not under any circumstances draw attention to yourself. If you do, you too might find that you are similarly collared for journalistic input to “The BeeHolder”. I can only assume that being asked to contribute so early on my learning curve unassailably proves that Chris Leech is very short of copy for this edition. Never mind, I will just ask you to bear with this initiates overview of last month’s splendid presentation by Dinah Sweet at Plas Dolerw in Newtown.

Not having attended a meeting previously, I was surprised by how many friendly eager faces there were clustered into the small back room, it was packed, and it was evident that even the obviously experienced members were keen to learn something new. Little did I know that Dinah was such a well-respected and eminent member of the beekeeping fraternity, and I realised afterwards that I was fortunate to have been in attendance that evening. We were undoubtedly treated to a very professional presentation on the fascinating subject of why there has been increasingly poor queen survival in recent years.

Dinah suggested the following reasons for failure in the queen population, and went on to discuss each aspect in further detail:

  • Increasing numbers of new beekeepers
  • New hive types and “natural” beekeeping
  • Climate change (Adaptation and queen rearing)
  • Different strains of bee
  • Disease
  • Chemical treatments
  • Pesticides and herbicides
  • Drone behaviour and queens not being mated properly.

One sign that may suggest that the queen is failing is evidence of eggs turning to drones; this may suggest that the queen has not been fertilized properly. Poor weather patterns have affected mating flights of virgin queens and have also affected their ability to find drone congregation areas. As a queen never mates with drones from her own colony the fact that she has to fly some distance to mate at 50-100ft can be hazardous in itself, putting her at risk of being killed by some means during her inaugural flight. Sometimes she has to fly several times to fill her spermatheca and the more times she has to leave the hive will increase the risk to her survival. Dinah suggests that if the flights take place early in March or April that the drones may not be sufficiently mature at this time of the year.

Patterns of egg laying will distinguish between an unfertilised queen laying and a worker who has taken to laying drones. A queen will lay single eggs in a structured fashion whereas a laying worker bee will lay many eggs in one cell and they will be positioned at the edges rather than at the base of the cell due to their short abdominal length.

The age of the queen needs to be considered as increasing age reduces her reproductive capacity. Her age may also reduce the amount of queen substance being produced and there may be evidence of new queen cells being formed as the quantity reduces. It is also important to consider whether she has been injured. Sometimes queens can be damaged when they are marked and Dinah suggested that there should be evidence of brood formation before they are marked or clipped in order to avoid injury.

Dinah suggested that new beekeepers such as myself would benefit from mentorship by the experienced and she stresses the importance of taking a beginner’s course. Novices need to develop a working knowledge of the behaviour of bees and their mating habits in order to improve both hive and queen survival. She advocates that newcomers understand the need for apiary hygiene in the advent of modern disease trends - the turnover of frames not exceeding 3 years, and we need to learn how to work safely with bees and understand the importance of assessing risk both to themselves and others. In her opinion, access to ongoing formal education for all keepers new and old, is key to improving hive success. I have signed up for the MBKA course on February 16th, and I am looking forward to it immensely and hope that it will help me feel confident enough to keep a hive or two in the future. Note to self: ask Santa for a bee suit. For the September inspection I had to borrow a suit from a friend who is XL and I am an S - imagine someone letting the air out of a large Teletubbie and you have the general, not very elegant, picture.

The newer hive types were discussed and whether our choice reflects in hive survival. I got the impression that she was not entirely enamoured with the modern trend towards “natural” beekeeping methods She feels that the Warre makes it difficult to see what is going on within the hive, and that the top bar style makes for little honey- however she conceded that this style may be more successful in warmer climates. The newer plastic “Beehaus” (by makers of Eggloo) was deemed to be deficient in ventilation and could therefore potentially lead to an internal climate that might predispose to development of chalk brood, and presumably cause difficulty in evaporation of moisture levels from the nectar too. On reflection, I think the more traditional type, such as the Smith hives that Dave Bennett has on offer at the moment, might be better for a beginner like myself to start off with.

Even we greenhorns are aware of the unpredictability of the national climate and the havoc it causes foraging bees. Brood starvation due to sudden dearth of pollen and nectar will result in little or no brood and very little honey or pollen present on examination and can result in fatalities in the adult bee population too. This will undoubtedly put the queens at risk. Most members of the group agreed that they had to feed their hives regularly even through the summer. Dinah indicated that the poor weather patterns have lead to both a lack of availability and variety of good quality pollen. This is particularly important early in the season when bees need top up stores after the winter, their early flights often using more energy than they can yield by feeding. Bees need access to good quality food early in the season in order for them to be in good condition and have the strength to tackle the later large crops such as oilseed rape. Despite the general air of gloom that seems to prevail regarding the future for our bee population, as someone coming into the craft it was heartening to hear that she considers that bees will eventually adapt to our changing climate and that new robust strains will develop. Dinah did however caution the group regarding the temptations and dangers of importing queens and with them the risk of disease, pests and question marks over temperament.

Dinah discussed a number of diseases affecting queens including the black queen cell virus. Unsurprisingly this manifests as darkened queen cells, but the removal of affected cells to reduce the viral load doesn’t guarantee eradication, and also she indicated that interfering with queen cells might promote swarming.

Inevitably the familiar blood sucking varroa mite was mentioned, the mite prefers to colonise drone cells but Dinah reminded the group that although destroying the high domed drone comb might reduce varroa levels, one might then cause an unacceptable reduction in drone population and thus contribute to further problems associated with mating of queens and the gene pool available. She also mentioned the prevalence of a varroa related virus which causes paralysis and wing deformity. Members discussed the benefits of using varroa mesh screens, which prevent fallen mites from returning to the hive, again reducing the levels of colonisation and also allowing the apiarist to ascertain levels of hive infestation.

We were told that some queens or strains of bee have an increased natural susceptibility to diseases such as Acarine and chalk brood, and once more the importance of regularly changing the comb was highlighted.

Chemicals that are now habitually used to manage disease may be affecting queen survival. This poses the question; does the wax absorb these chemicals? She reminded us that the queen doesn’t leave the hive unlike the other bees and therefore is in more permanent contact with the wax; also again unlike the rest of the bees who live for a number of weeks only, she has an average life expectancy of two years so therefore is in the hive environment for longer.

Dinah reminded us that the overuse of Apistan has led to new strains of varroa- rather like the overuse of certain antibiotics causing mutation and resistance of bacteria in human medicine. Similarly treatments for nosema have had the same effect. She mused on the development of treatments in the future and reminded us that the instructions for current products should be followed and the correct dosage administered. She lightly touched upon the widespread use of pesticides such as the Neonicatinoids and herbicides and the importance of ongoing research to determine the negative effects they might have on the bee population.

Despite Himalayan Balsam being on the noxious plant hit list, Dinah extolled its virtues. As well as it being a great source of nourishment late in the season, the coating it gives the bees results in increased grooming in the hive, much the same effect as the popular natural method of varroa control, dousing them with icing sugar, thereby assisting parasite control. Win, win I would say!

Did I really say that I wanted to take up beekeeping? I must be mad. Maybe in a year or two I will be conversant with all the terminology, hazards and general wizardry of the craft and take it all in my stride, but it seems like a mighty hill to climb at the moment. I think first I need to work on becoming as observant as the old hands present at this meeting and see if I can’t spot an unsuspecting mentor for myself next time around…. Am I mistaken or is that the sound of footsteps running away in the distance? 

I am looking forward to meeting you all in the future, but I will give you a tip: If you are trying to find me in a cluster of apiarists I am not the one with a large abdomen and orange/red legs, but the one clutching a notebook and trying to explain to Tony why I have yet again not brought money for the raffle.

Annette Batty (Netty the Penniless)


Note that this is the full version as submitted by Annette, rather than the much edited version which appeared in the paper copy of the BeeHolder. Win, win I would say.


Festering Wounds

The BeeHolder, Winter 2012

Last year, scientists confirmed that New Zealand Manuka honey could be used to combat some of the most hard-to-treat infections that are resistant to powerful antibiotics. Hospital acquired infections of MRSA and Clostridium Difficile (C Diff) are costing the NHS millions of pounds each year. There are just too few antibiotics that are effective against these bacteria. These antibiotics are used as a very last resort because when the bacteria have acquired a resistance to them there is nothing left except a world-wide catastrophe. With the aim of searching for honeys that have a high bactericidal capability a team at Cardiff’s School of Pharmacy has been collecting honey samples from throughout Wales and will then screen them for activity against various bacteria including MRSA and C Diff. The search is for the speciHoney samples from the areas indicated on the map have been analysed so far.fic plants whose nectar or pollen enhance a bactericidal effect in the honey. Wales is the ideal place for such research because it is the only country in the world where its entire flora has had its DNA analysed and bar-coded*. Well done the National Botanic Garden of Wales (NBGW) for completing this project.

The NBGW will identify the plants which contributed to the most powerful honeys. The team will then investigate the plants found in honey for the potential to develop new drugs. The Botanic Garden has 14 beehives and an in-house bee keeper, Lynda Christie, is providing key expertise in support of this project.

The joint University and Garden team are also looking for honeys which help bees resist pests and bugs. In particular, they are testing for resistance to the Varroa mite and the bacterium Paenibacillus larvae, responsible for American Foulbrood, one of the most destructive of all bee diseases.

Honey samples from the areas indicated on the map have been analysed so far.

Professor Les Baillie of the Welsh School of Pharmacy said: "A lot of drug development involves expensive laboratory screening of a huge variety of plant products, often without success. We’re hoping to cut out the middle man and let the bees do a lot of the hard work, guiding to us those plants which work. We’re hoping the public can provide us with as much home-made honey as possible – they could supply the vital breakthrough in fighting these bacteria."

At the National Honey Show (October 2012) Jenny Hawkins from the Welsh School of Pharmacy said the honey from one particular apiary near Tywyn had showed particular promise. 38 different plants had been identified within the honey, but none were unique to this particular batch of honey and the proportions of each type of plant within the honey were again not particularly unique. When the team visited the Tywyn area they failed to identify any unique characteristics of the area, but Hawkins pointed out that they were particularly short of samples of honey from Mid and North Wales. It maybe that in these areas there are subspecies of the Welsh Flora that are contributing an important bacteriocide. The team does need more samples of honey. Contact for details of how to send in your sample.

Curtis Underwood
(adapted from a Cardiff University in-house magazine)

* This project followed a less successful attempt to baa code the DNA of sheep, Ed.

Gregynog Apiary Report

The BeeHolder, Winter 2012

You have to start somewhere with a skepWe are down to 9 colonies at the apiary, which should be OK provided they make it through the winter. This is about the number we took into last winter, so no net increase on the year.

Apiguard has been applied and the bees put to bed for the winter. The oxalic acid application is due in January (see Toby's Top Tip, next article).

We need to have an official policy on how we sell nucs, queens etc from the apiary. We are unlikely to have many, if any, surplus nucs next year, so any new way of working would not come into effect until 2014 or 2015.

Dave Bennett
Apiary Manager

Don't miss the bee courses

The BeeHolder, Winter 2012

You will see in the forthcoming events section that there are some bee courses coming up in the new year. Our old friend Brian Goodwin will be providing three days of courses at Gregynog. These will be a combination of classroom and hands-on in the apiary.

The first course is a one day session from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm on Saturday, Feb 19th 2013 aimed at the new/novice beekeeper. A lot of information packed in, and great value at £30. A two-day Beekeeping course for those who have had a minimum of a 12 months of keeping bees will be held on the consecutive Saturdays, 23rd Feb and 2nd March 2013, again 9:30 am to 4:30 pm at Gregynog. Price of this course is £40, so excellent value for an intensive two day study.

Brian's courses have been very well received in the past and he is good at pitching the content of the course to the right level given the experience of the students. They are a great way to either get a flying start to your beekeeping future or rekindle the spirit of those of us who have lost a colony or two and want to get back on the horse.

He has a fair bit of equipment to get out and put back into his car, so if you can get there a bit earlier to lend a hand, that would be much appreciated. The course fees include coffee and tea, but please bring along lunch (or use the Gregynog cafe).

Note that the courses are subsidised by MBKA and hence are available to members only.



Toby's Top Tip

The BeeHolder, Winter 2012

Fondant for bees, I don't think


If you take the crown board off to apply oxalic acid and find the cluster of bees right at the top, it usually means they are low on stores and could be given candy (you can heft the hive to double check).

Toby Beavan

The Honey Crop

The BeeHolder, Winter 2012

The honey crop – the Holy Grail when antibiotics fail?

Honeybees make honey by collecting nectars that are rich in sugars and high in water content. They suck the nectar up from the bottom of the flower using their proboscis and store it in the honey crop during flight. When the crop is full, the bee returns to the hive and the nectar is placed in a cell. Thousands of bees fill thousands of cells and it takes days for the bees to produce honey from this nectar by reducing the water content.

Nectar attraction - Nectar is a rich source of sugars and therefore attracts many other inBee gathering pumpkin pollensects besides bees, and other animals like humming birds and bats. Their beaks, feet, mouths, probosces and other body parts come into contact with the flower, leaving many kinds of micro-organisms (bacteria, yeasts and moulds), and even faecal residue, behind in the flower after their visit. These micro-organisms feed on the sugars in the nectar and start to multiply fast. Millions of them travel inside the honey crop of a bee back to the hive where the temperature is around 33–35 °C. This is an ideal temperature at which they could proliferate and it would be just a matter of hours before the nectar would be spoiled. Since it takes days for bees to make honey, some kind of protection needs to be in place.

The Holy Grail - Recently, we discovered that a previously unknown group of 13 different beneficial bacteria reside inside the honey crop of honeybees. They are probably the reason why the nectar is not spoiled in the hive. This group seems to be a Holy Grail of evolution, since our research indicates that these bacteria act as a barrier against unwanted micro-organisms.

Beneficial bacteria - Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria are included in a bacterial group called the lactic acid bacteria (LAB) as they produce lactic acid as their main end product. LAB are widespread in nature. In mammals, they are found along the gastrointestinal tract and in the vagina. They are considered beneficial because they protect their host against unwanted microbes and produce important compounds, e.g. vitamins and antimicrobial substances.

LAB are commercially important for their use in the food and biotech industries as they are involved in processing foods like chocolate, sausages, olives, vanilla, vinegar, yoghurt and probiotics. In addition, LAB have been used by humans for thousands of years in the preservation of food. The main reason for these applications is the production of compounds that inhibit or kill other micro-organisms competing for food and space. One interesting aspect is that some of these bacterial compounds (e.g. organic acids) are Pollen grains in a honey cropalready used in beekeeping today to help bees fight diseases. The beneficial honey crop bacteria we discovered constitute one of the largest bacterial groups ever found collaborating within one single organism.

Bees are bakers - Bees do not only collect nectar from flowers; they collect pollen as well, which is mixed with honey from the honey crop. The resulting sticky ball called ‘bee pollen’ attaches to specialized structures on their legs for transportation back to the hive. In the hive, the bee fills cells with pollen and then covers the pollen-filled cells with a drop of honey. It is known that a fermentation process starts in this mixture in the hive due to the presence of micro-organisms, but the exact identity of the microbes involved has been a subject for research. During this fermentation process, which takes 2 weeks, the bee pollen changes to ‘bee bread’ that is loaded with nutrients from the pollen and serves as an essential food, not only for the bees and their larvae, but also for the honey crop bacteria.

The fermentation process makes the nutrients contained in the pollen available and preserves it from spoilage. Our research has identified the bacteria involved and revealed that bees, in producing bee bread, add all the beneficial LAB to the pollen when they collect it at the site of the flower.

Bee health - Honeybees are our most important pollinator and their health has come into focus during the last few years because of as yet unexplained conditions and diseases threatening this essential insect. Honey crop bacteria could potentially be of crucial importance for the well-being of honeybees, their pollination potential, and for their production of honey and bee bread. These bacteria have already been shown to inhibit the bee disease American foulbrood. With further studies, we hope to understand more about the importance of these bacteria and their impact on the honeybees’ immune system and larval defences, and on bee foods. We are currently investigating how some of the drugs fed to bees affect the bacteria and how this may impact both the honeybees’ defence against diseases and their food production.

An interesting parallel - Sir Alexander Fleming received the Nobel Prize after his discovery of penicillin, a potent antibacterial substance produced by the mould Penicillium. Penicillin and the huge range of antibiotics subsequently developed have saved many lives, but our overuse of antibiotics is linked to increasing bacterial resistance. We are in desperate need of alternative tools to solve this worldwide problem. The group of 13 LAB species discovered in the honeybee have evolved together in the honey crop andRecognise this? each species of bacterium can produce several different antimicrobial substances, resulting in a myriad of compounds. Working with a large arsenal of antimicrobial substances seems like a good approach to withstand development of resistance by other micro-organisms, a strategy already implemented by bees.

Final comments - Mature honey (with a water content of less than 20%) sold in shops does not contain any viable, beneficial honey crop bacteria. The LAB are only present and active in fresh or wild honey and only for a couple of weeks. This may be one reason why honeys differ in their antimicrobial properties. The results of our research may explain why humans have used honey as a cure, e.g. for sore throats and wound healing. Millions of bacteria of each of the 13 species of LAB found in the honey crop, in combination with their secondary metabolites, end up in fresh honey during its production.

The LAB that have evolved with the honeybee have been a potent weapon used by bees to defend themselves against microbes. In our ongoing research, no microbe yet examined has been able to withstand the myriad of compounds produced by honeybee LAB. The use of honey as a folk medicine has probably been revealed and may be the source of a natural antibiotic alternative for humans.

Alejandra Vásquez & Tobias Olofsson, Lund University, Sweden
(adapted from article in Microbiology Today, with thanks,

Early Swarm

The BeeHolder, Winter 2012

Now is the time to renew your MBKA membership. The “early swarm” renewal scheme is designed to save you money and ensure that you are covered from 1st January each year for the notifiable diseases covered by the BDI scheme. If renewal is delayed until after March 31st the insurance cover does not begin until 40 days have passed from the date of renewal. Please don’t delay and lose cover.

Association membership under the early swarm scheme for 2013 is £25.00, which includes the BDI cover for 3 colonies. If you have more than 3 colonies, or if you haven't received the Early Swarm newsletter, then check with the Treasurer.

Roy Norris


Autumn 2012

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2012

Honey production line

The honey production line

Gregynog Apiary Training Day, September 2012

Navigate through the BeHolder using the links at the side or at the bottom of each page. You can download a version in portable document format (PDF) using the link below.

BH Autumn 12 150.pdf642.61 KB


The BeeHolder, Autumn 2012

Tony, our chairman, is often heard asking for contributions to The BeeHolder : either a meeting report (so that those who did not attend can get a feel for what went on) or a more general appeal for articles. Generally we get some take up on this and it helps to spread the “ownership” of the magazine more generally across the membership. There are some excellent articles in this issue contributed by members, “Bees in the News” by Michelle Boudin and “A Memorable Year” by Ann Hooper and “Phytophthora infestation at Gregynog” by Arthur Finlay. So if you have ever felt an urge to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, nowadays), why not start off with something about bees to share with us all. I don't mind typing up hand written work, if it is the “nowadays” that is putting you off!

Chris Leech

We Welcome as New Members...

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2012

Annette Batty [Llanfair Caereinion], Paul Fleming [Welshpool], Tara Squibb [Welshpool] and Jonathan McIntyre [Caersws].
Note that, to protect the innocent, the place names given are the post town rather than anything more precise.

Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2012

I’m glad Dave Bennett asked me to help out at the Apiary Training Session on September 30th. Some of his regular helpers could not turn up and he was short of group leaders to open the hives. Graham Winchester was another stand-in mentor that day. We both thoroughly enjoyed the experience. However we do need more experienced beekeepers to sign up with David to be on-call to help out with the novices.

Inspection at GregynogMentoring helps one to get ones own beekeeping in perspective and encourages (I should say “forces”) one to reappraise how one handles one own bees. Both Graham and myself were fascinated that so many were experiencing the same difficulties as we were in our own apiaries; queens going off lay, super frames full but uncapped for prolonged periods and unexpected swarming. In the September inspection many of the hives at Gregynog  seemed queenless, no brood, no eggs, couldn’t see the queen but they were nice and calm and from the behaviour I would have guessed queenright. Just from the numbers of bees I would have said they were healthy colonies. In some of the hives the queen was seen sometimes with health brood sometimes with no brood nor eggs. In a normal late September I would have united a suspected queenless hive with an obvious queen-right one. But this year, the most peculiar in my 12 years of beekeeping and, I’m told, the worst in the last 30 years, well I’m risking doing nothing; not uniting unless the colony is obviously weak. Beekeeping is about weighing up risks. That is usually easy but this season there is no clear-cut solution to a hive without brood and eggs. I have had 4 hives this year that have gone up to 8 weeks without any signs of brood or eggs.  Putting in a test frame with eggs has merely resulted in healthy capped brood without any production of queen cells. I can repeat the test with the same results. So I have held my nerve and not succumbed to the temptation to add a spare queen or united with a queen-right colony.  And sure enough  suddenly the queen is in lay and I see her marked and frisky. To those who phone worried (or even complaining) about  queenlessness I have been saying that they should hold their nerve for a few weeks. In most cases this has been sound advice and the queens have come back in lay.

Do come to the talk by Dinah Sweet about queens. As an expert from South Wales she will be able to give some dispassionate comments on a very worrying situation.

All is not worry and doom. Our scheme for introducing locally produced quite bees seems to have been a great success. In all 35 Nucs were sold. I’m pleased to say that most purchasers had been to Brian Goodwin’s introduction course. And whether novice or experienced beekeepers, most expressed extreme satisfaction with the nucs. 6 frames in the nuc were guaranteed, some had 7 some 8 and one lucky person got 9 frames in his nuc. We had recommended that each person should buy two nucs. Most did not take that advice but wished they had. Certainly for those of us who give advice over the 'phone it is easier if a novice has two hives. One can then ask the difference between hive A and B and come to some deduction about what is happening. A test frame of eggs cannot be introduced if there is not a second hive close by!

Just one thing before I sign off....will you please NOT phone me during EastEnders, have some respect for this cultural icon.

Tony Shaw, Chairman MBKA, July 2012

Blue and green honey makes French beekeepers see red

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2012

(Reuters) - Bees at a cluster of apiaries in northeastern France have been producing honey in mysterious shades of blue and green, alarming their keepers who now believe residue from containers of M&M's candy processed at a nearby biogas plant is the cause.

Since August, beekeepers around the town of Ribeauville in the region of Alsace have seen bees returning to their hives carrying unidentified colourful substances that have turned their honey unnatural shades. Note that there are 2,400 beekeepers in the town, keepers who tend to more than 35,000 bee colonies.

Mystified, the beekeepers embarked on an investigation and discovered that a biogas plant 4 km (2.5 miles) away has been processing waste from a Mars plant producing M&M's, bite-sized candies in bright red, blue, green, yellow and brown shells.

Asked about the issue, Mars had no immediate comment.

The unsellable honey is a new headache for around a dozen affected beekeepers already dealing with high bee mortality rates and dwindling honey supplies following a harsh winter, said Alain Frieh, president of the apiculturists' union.Agrivalor, the company operating the biogas plant, said it had tried to address the problem after being notified of it by the beekeepers. "We discovered the problem at the same time they did. We quickly put in place a procedure to stop it," Philippe Meinrad, co-manager of Agrivalor, told Reuters. He said the company had cleaned its containers and incoming waste would now be stored in a covered hall. Mars operates a chocolate factory near Strasbourg, around 100 km (62 miles) away from the affected apiaries.

As for the M&M's-infused honey, union head Frieh said it might taste like honey, but there the comparison stopped. "For me, it's not honey. It's not sellable."

Chris Leech
(adapted from a Reuters article)

Coloured Honey II

The Beeholder, Autumn 2012

When I first started I asked myself the question “Where does the sugar syrup end up, as we all like to think of our honey as being pure?”.

I did an experiment with one of my hives, a single National brood box, by adding a blue food colouring to the winter feed. Come spring I supered in the normal way. I had only one drawn super for this hive, so when that super was filling up I placed a new super of foundation under the first super above the brood box, the next super, still foundation was again supered below the other two supers, above the brood box, and the final two supers went on top. I eventually ended up running this hive on brood and a half as it was a large colony.

Tanned beesSeveral interesting things showed up which changed the way I keep bees,

  1. I don't think the colouring affected the colony, they drew out four supers of foundation and filled five supers in total in the season.
  2. Most interesting, the blue coloured syrup made it into the first three supers. The first super I put on (ending up as the third super by the end of the season) having the strongest colouration, mainly in the middle of the super fading to the edges.
  3. The comb itself in the center of the three supers was blue in colour, what I don't know is weather or not the bees were producing blue comb or the wax absorbed the colouring.
  4. Controversial, maybe, but I have now come to the conclusion that at least some of the honey we produce will have a certain amount of sugar syrup in! Makes you think though.

Since then, I have bought from Thornes a pH tester which tells me roughly how pure my honey is as sugar and honey have a very different and measurable pH.

Also I now leave a full super on each hive for winter (removing the queen excluder), and feed syrup as little as possible. I just keep an extra hive to offset the honey left on for the bees.

BBKA FORUM    ENZO 2010  27th march

Phytophthora infestation at Gregynog

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2012

Phytophthora ramorum is a serious fungus-like pathogen especially devastating to Oak trees in Europe and the USA. It was spotted on three trees on the Gregynog Estate. Remarkably, as few as ten outbreaks have been reported in the whole of Wales. This is probably because this serious disease has either not been noticed or not been fully reported. It is to the credit of the management on the Gregynog Estate that their infestation was spotted, reported and the trees disposed of according to Forestry Commission and other expert advice.

A Phytophthora infestation in the USAPhytophthora also infects a number of other woody species especially Rhododendrons. Rhododendrons are considered a carrier for the disease and Gregynog are following expert advice in undertaking a programme of removing all the “non-ornamental” Rhododendrons from the Estate. Hundreds of acres of woodland will be freed of this non-native species. A decade or so ago, when teams removed rhododendrons from the hillsides of North Wales they were attacked by angry locals and tourists who were reluctant to see these colourful plants removed from the landscape. With the promise that the ornamental Rhododendrons on the front lawn will be preserved the cull at Gregynog should go peacefully. Today people are much more aware that the Rhododendron is a pest.

The woodland clearance could be a great opportunity for many flowering plants and animals to recolonise the Estate. Gregynog are seeking both grants and advice about the clearance programme and will welcome suggestions from the public. Surely Montgomeryshire Beekeepers should be in the forefront in recommending strategies to increase the biodiversity of the Estate. The greater diversity of plant life will be better for all bees. Remember also, honey from native woodland plants tastes far better than that from Rhododendrons!

Arthur Finlay

Gregynog Apiary Report

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2012

The last three months in the apiary have been a mixed bag, as indeed the previous three months were as well. We started July with high hopes for a good nectar flow which didn't happen, we then had to resort to feeding on top of supers in order to be able to do the "taking off the honey" demo.

Our main problem this season has been keeping the bees fed - one week we would put supers on and then two weeks later we would be taking them off and feeding again. Honey production generally is about 80-90% down on last year. On a more positive note our colony numbers have increased nicely this year, with thirteen being our maximum count. Some of these will have to be united in the next couple of weeks, so we will probably be back down to nine or ten colonies for the winter.

The observation hut gets a slatingThe training meetings we have organised in this part of the season have again been well received, however "taking off the honey" will be different next year as there were far too many agitated bees flying around! It seems that this is a learning process for all concerned, not just the beginners.

In all it has not been a productive three months in terms of honey, but very useful for our members to get right in there, where it matters, with the bees.

Dave Bennett
Apiary Manager

Toby's Top Tip

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2012




If you drill 9 equally spaced holes that are 3/8 inch diameter through your entrance block, top to bottom, when winter comes you can turn the block through 90 degrees and it is a mouseguard.

Toby Beavan

A Memorable Year

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2012

This has been my first year as a beekeeper, I am a complete novice who knows a little bit more now than a year ago!

The bees arrived in a plastic brood box last September 2011. A new colony from David Wainwright, the first of his Queen Breeding Project to try and create bees that are compatible with our lovely welsh climate and that are also calm. My queen was the daughter of a queen called Ana, and she had a good number of bees with her. I welcomed them with open arms and great excitement. My friend and fellow beekeeper, Rainbow, also had a colony from David and we set them both up on my land near Commins Coch.

We had helped David to clear an area of ground and plant an orchard of apple trees and he gave us the bees in exchange. I really like this way of doing things and enjoyed helping to set up the orchard.

Autumn was soon upon us and we checked the hives in early October and settled them down for the winter, with fingers crossed.

In mid October I had a brain haemorrage, completely out of the blue. I was rushed to hospital and subsequently had brain surgery in Cardiff at The Heath Hospital. The bees were always with me during this very very difficult time. I could hear their gentle hum when the Intensive Care Unit was quiet at night. I could feel them protecting me and holding me safe as if I was in the centre of the hive. When I came round from the operation I came back in a swirling vortex of bees! They made a circular gateway for me to re-enter my body. I found out later that I had died on the operating table and come back to life two hours later. Bees are amazing creatures. They were looking after me!

My recovery was very slow to start with and I longed to be able to go to my bees and thank them for their help. This I managed to finally do in early December. People say you can talk to your bees, I do do this but feel it is also very important to listen, because they have alot to tell us and teach us.

In the late winter we gave the bees their oxalic treatment and shut the hive again, but at least I had seen them, and they looked well and were very calm.

In the spring Rainbow and I attended one of the open days at Gregynog to learn about what to check for in the spring. There was quite a few of us there and not enough smokers so the group I was with had to share a smoker with the group next door. After the top was taken off the hive we all stood around for quite a while and I felt the bees were getting restless as there was a lot of talking over them but not much action going on. Suddenly a bee stung me on the leg which made me shout out loud. I stayed for a bit longer but felt unhappy, the approach to the bees seemed a bit 'gung ho' to me, but what do I know, I am just a novice. So I excused myself and left. I have since discussed this situation with a more experienced beekeeper who told me he felt the same way.

PropolisSince then Rainbow and I have worked with our bees. Rainbow has been to other open days but I have decided to learn from his experience. However we both attended Tom Browns open day at his apiary and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, especially the tea and cake and chat afterwards. I learned lots from talking to other beekeepers and listening to conversations going on around me.

It has been a fast learning curve this year, in more ways than one. We have had a queenless colony, a swarm, bad weather and had to feed sugar water quite alot, but the bees have come through and we have all survived our first year together, for which I am very grateful.

There isn't any honey for me and Rainbow this year but the bees have got some to take them through the winter.

I wonder what next year will bring?

Anne Hooper

Reports on meetings

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2012

The last two apiary training meetings were well attended and very worthwhile. Although we had had to feed colonies in order to have “honey” to harvest on September 12th (see photos on front cover and centrefold), the many beginners who attended were able to get a hands on feel for the harvesting process. A first treatment of Apiguard was administered to many of the hives, after taking off the honey, as treatment for Varroa.

Room with a viewThe weather decided not to play fairly for the “Preparation for Winter” meeting on September 30th. It was almost too miserable to be disturbing the bees, but we were able to add second Apiguard treatments, unite a couple of colonies and feed the lighter ones (yes, hands on hefting was to be had) with ambrosia. Thanks to Dave, Tony and Graham for putting the three groups through their paces.

Chris Leech


Bees in the News

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2012

Defra has pledged that it will look into the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on bee health. The department announced this week it would conduct field trials into the use of these pesticides, but did not feel there was any urgent need for a change in legislation governing their use.

A Defra spokesman said “We take the issue of neonicotinoids seriously and have a rigorous system for testing and assessing pesticides before they are approved. We want to make sure we always have the latest knowledge and are carrying out additional research into them.”

Arguably, though, the “standard test “ is not picking up the problems with neonicotinoid pesticides. Essentially the accepted test is to put a whole lot of insects in a container with the recommended dose of the insecticide, shake it up and leave it a few days. Then to up the dose to eg. double the dose, and if the insects are still alive the pesticide is deemed OK for that particular insect. When the test is done this way all is OK, However in the field it is possible to do the test another way. Catch the bees on the flowers they are visiting, give them a dose of the insecticide and count how many make it back to the hive. With neonicotinoid pesticides less than 50% make it back to the hives. This attrition rate is unsustainable to a colony.

Friends of the Earth slammed Defra's stance. The charity's nature campaigner Paul de Zylva said “The Government's failure to act on neonicotinoid pesticides is astonishing. There is still a massive question mark over the impact of these chemicals in declining bee populations. It's clear the Government has little idea of the damaging impact these pesticides have on bees and other pollinators – pesticide company profits must not be put ahead of their well-being.”

SkepMichelle Boudin
(adapted from Farmers Guardian, Sep 21st 2012)

General Wintering Advice

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2012

As the colder weather arrives brood rearing slows down and then ceases, maybe around September or October. The bees that are born towards the end of the season don’t need to feed young emerging bees and it’s these bees that are the long life winter survivors. As the brood rearing actually stops the temperature requirement in the hive drops from 36C to about 12C and as the outside temperature drops the bees begin to cluster together.

This cluster gets tighter and looser as the outside temperature goes up and down (tighter with the cold) and it is this movement that allows the bees to move onto the stores and use them up.

Winter progresses in this way and I was last year interested to look at a hive that a beekeeper had placed onto two sets of bathroom scales which were an Aldi bargain. Weight records were taken throughout the winter and showed a steady drop in weight (about 250 – 350 grams per week) until spring time, then it stopped still for a while and started to go up again. We all knew that was what would happen, really, but it was still interesting to actually see it!

Before your bees start to cluster there are some basics to be aware of;

Feeding – A hive going into the winter should weigh about 25kg and any shortfall in this weight can be made up by feeding sugar syrup. More detailed information on feeding is available in the WAG booklet “Feeding Bees” which is available on the WBKA website. A honey flow from Ivy can leave stores that granulate hard and be useless to the How to heft a hivebees. This can be a deceptive situation because when you periodically lift (commonly called “hefting”) the hive to check that it still has enough stores for your bees it feels heavy but there isn’t food that can be used. If you do get an ivy flow then feeding at the same time can help with this.

Varroa – An on-time and effective Varroa treatment is an important part of good wintering. It’s the bees that are born late in the season and haven’t had to feed young bees that make up the winter surviving population. If these bees have not been damaged by the feeding action of these horrible little mites then they are more likely to be healthy. If you need more information about Varroa you can download the bee unit's guide to managing Varroa at index.cfm?pageid=93 or contact your bee inspector.

Nosema - There are two known Nosema species that can infect honey bees: Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae. N ceranae was first reported in Apis ceranae in China in 1994 and has been present in Europe since at least 1998. N ceranae was first detected in the UK in 2007. Nosema are microsporidia (primitive fungi) transmitted via spore ingestion. Although Nosema can be spread by dysentery it is not the cause of dysentery. It is, however, a major cause of poor over wintering.

The Hive – Bees can stand really cold temperatures but not damp, therefore making sure the hive is in good condition, well ventilated and not being dripped on by overhanging objects is important. Also, check the stands are secure and the hives cant be knocked over by animals and install suitable mouse guards, particularly if the hives are close to the ground or next to hedges.

This list is not exhaustive of course but does cover the “before clustering” basics and then once the bees have clustered you need to occasionally lift (heft) the hive to see that stores aren’t diminishing too quickly, have mouseguards on, occasionally check for animal, weather or vandalism damage and, of course, carry out the oxalic treatment in late December/early January.

John Beavan

Vote of Thanks

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2012

A big vote of thanks to Ian Hubbock for his efforts to improve the observation hut at the apiary. He has fitted storage cupboards, bee resistant curtains and special exits so that any bees which do stray in there can get safely out. I've put a couple of pictures below, but they do not do them justice. Why not go up to the apiary soon and see them for yourself?

Well done Ian.

The new cupboards in the observation hut.

The new curtains on the observation hut

Second hand equipment for sale

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2012

Our president Jim Crundwell has moved to Evesham and has kindly donated to us the remnants of his extensive collection of beekeeping equipment. Some of the more unusual pieces will be put into our Apiary at Gregynog as discussion pieces, the rest we will sell to members. Jim was quite willing for the equipment to be given to encourage new beekeepers, but we pointed out to him that making a charge would encourage a more thoughtful attitude to beekeeping. People take more responsibility for things they have had to pay for. Jim agreed.

The equipment is stored at my place in Newtown. I have not done an exact count but there are over 20 sets of Smith Hives with base, brood, excluder, supers, crown board and roof. The equipment is old but has been well cared for. I’m selling a complete hive set for about £25. If you try to bully me I’ll charge more but it maybe cheaper if you are a particularly deserving case. Remember that all the proceeds are going to the Gregynog Apiary. Contact by email or phone 01686 626872 or 07769 552676.

A Smith hive takes a normal National Frame provided that 8mm is snipped of each lug.

Dave Bennett

Summer 2012

The BeeHolder, Summer 2012

Take me to your leader

Take me to your leader

Gregynog Apiary Family Day June 17 2012

Here is the BeeHolder in glorious colour (except the black and white bits). Navigate through using the links at the side or at the bottom of each page. You can download a version in portable document format (PDF) using the link below.

BH Summer 2012 eversion.pdf501.4 KB

We Welcome as New Members...

The BeeHolder, Summer 2012

Martyn Hubbard [Welshpool], Jasper Meade [Meifod], Richard and Fiona Powell [Caersws], Rick Smith [Montgomery] and Jennifer Walsh [Meifod].

Note that, to protect the innocent, the place names given are the post town rather than anything more precise.


The BeeHolder, Summer 2012

I've had some feedback from readers that the line spacing, font size and failing eyesight are conspiring to make BeeHolder harder to read than ever. This is not an objective I was trying to achieve, and so for this issue I have slightly increased the line spacing. This has the effect that the lines don't blur together quite as much (even after several glasses of wine), but it does mean that we can not fit in as much BeeHoldery goodness as in previous issues. So if you feel strongly that you'd rather have a magnifying glass and more content, or that the new format is well worth the starvation of information, then drop me an e-mail.

Note that this comment on the line spacing applies to the printed version and e-version PDF rather than the book pages here on the web site, so people who only read The BeeHolder here on the web are in for less BeeHoldery goodness with no visible benefit.

The family day at Gregynog was a great success in spite of a terrible weather forecast. A very big thanks to Vicky Farrington for putting in so much time and effort in order to give all the kids such a great experience.

Chris Leech

Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, Summer 2012

In her BBC 2 series “Bees, Butterflies and Blooms”, Sarah Raven talked of the devastation that had happened to the countryside and the dire consequences for the National economy. She did lay blame pretty lavishly, just falling short of using the word “criminal”. As a “carrot” rather than a “stick” person she tried to persuade farmers, Community and County councils, Town planners and corporations, that it was in their own interest to all do their bit to help save our precious pollinators, and bring their needs to the fore. 

Some of the results of her philosophy of naturalness could be seen at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

There were definitely bees at Chelsea this year. Naturalness and pollinator friendliness were so much the theme that the prizes could easily have been given merely by counting the number of bees seen on each exhibit. Many of the show gardens recreated “natural” landscapes. It was very clever. A small 6m x 10m plot was evocative of a wild Yorkshire moor landscape, another was Cornwall. Some formal gardens had wild areas complete with artificial foot trodden paths where the dandelions and clover were stunted and compressed and the moss slimy. I even saw the special attachment for making the footprints of fox and moorhen. The public are voting with their cheque books for a return to wildness from the over-bred, pollen and nectar-free, multi-petalled showpiece specimens of previous years. The natural consciousness towards the wispy fluffiness of wild flowers was shown at Chelsea, and the increase in beekeeping is another aspect of this movement.

The national stock of managed Honey bee colonies has at last stabilised after many decades of decline. This has got to be a good thing especially since feral bee colonies hardly exist any more. However there are problems with the distribution of colonies. Too many in some towns, not enough in some country areas. It is pertinent to note that it was a paper’s Crime Editor who flagged up that there are too many bee colonies in London (see article on page 13). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a similar hint that criminality was responsible for the shortage of bees in rural areas? If the media can suggest that some practices within the banking community should be regarded as criminal, so too should they be saying that much of what goes on in the countryside is also criminal.

I doubt that there has ever been a time when Beekeeping Associations (BKAs) were so involved with national and local politics. Many lobby for there to be a total ban on certain insecticides and the importation of bees into the UK. Some BKAs believe that all beekeepers should be registered and licence. But progress is probably easier with lots of education and a big carrot. A big carrot, with just possibly a little stick. Our Fun Family day (see page 7) has probably contributed to a greater knowledge of bees and the environment than any compulsory biology class. And the incentive we gave toward buying local bees by undercutting brought in bees from beyond our borders has probably reduced the risk of disease and inappropriate genes into our area. We could never have legislated against buying queens for abroad. Nor could we really justify dampening the enthusiasm of those who want to take up beekeeping.

Tony Shaw, Chairman MBKA, July 2012

Reports on Meetings

The BeeHolder, Summer 2012

Use the links below to look at the reports on the meetings of the last quarter.

May 13th - Swarm Control and Making Increase

The BeeHolder, Summer 2012

This was an interesting meeting from the point of view that things which we plan does not always come to pass in the way that we expect! This report from John Beavan – with all his experience – just goes to show that the best laid plans of bees and men …

One of the colonies in the Gregynog apiary had old comb, and it did not have any type of spacing method which meant the combs were difficult to check and would only fit together in a certain order. We felt this was a good colony to use as a demo for the “Bailey Comb Change” method. This manipulation is used to change the bees from one brood box of frames into another box of clean frames fitted with foundation, it is used as a simple way to replace old or diseased comb.

When we were demonstrating this method in the apiary we could not find the queen so went to plan b which was to shake all the bees into the top box and then assemble the set up with, from the bottom, old floor with entrance closed up, old brood box, queen excluder, new entrance adapter, new brood box with new foundation, feeder and roof.

After a few weeks you simply remove the bottom box and re-open the entrance in the floor. When we checked on progress we found two things; 1 – a hole in the queen excluder meaning the colony had moved back downstairs and 2 – the colony had swarmed!

So we were left with plan c – wait and hope the colony requeens itself, then have another go, with a new queen excluder.*

You can find a full description of the Bailey Comb Change on beebase (including the factsheet on replacing brood comb).

John Beavan

* A new queen, drawn from emergency cells, started laying on the 17th June.

June 17th – Family Day at Gregynog Apiary

The BeeHolder, Summer 2012

We’ve just got back from a brilliant afternoon at Gregynog hall apiary. It was family day and we went along with our five children ages ranging from1 - 11. Our eldest Zoe (a MBKA member and regular to the training days) has written a bit about the day. So here it is.

A tentative startIt was a very enjoyable day. There was a special hive with pictures and photos that Vicky showed us. This was very useful as we were going to see some real bees later on that day. So that all of the children knew what to look out for e.g. honey, brood, pollen, eggs, queen, drones and larvae. Then there was a quiz with questions on bees that was really fun. They also had a competition which was ‘How many times does a bee have to fly to make one whole jar of honey?’. I put 70,000 times, which was the nearest answer. The actual answer was 1 million times! But I still won a prize of some felt tip pens. When we were getting ready to go to the real bees, some of the children didn’t have a suit so they were provided with one. When we got to the apiary we were split into two groups. Many in the group had never handled bees before so it was a great experience for them. The bee hive we were looking at had just been set up and the queen was already laying eggs (a good sign!). She was marked in pink so it made it easier to spot her. The second hive we looked at was a top bar hive. They have one long box with the top of the frames in. It was right in front of the viewing hut that they have there. In a top bar hive the bees build a comb from the top of the frame so it is very delicate because it has no wire in it. The natural frame that they build is sort of triangular (the shape of the hive). Afterwards we all had cakes drinks biscuits and crisps. We had a really great time.

Zoe (aged 11)

Vicky gets them all involvedIt was a really good turn out with about 15 children of varying ages and their families. And it’s converted our four year old son who wouldn’t go anywhere near our own hives. He kept on telling us he was having a fantastic time. He put on a bee suit for the first time and couldn’t wait to join the other children eagerly lining up to see the bees. Nature’s Looking at beesclassroom at it’s best. It was a real delight to see.

Hannah and Zoe Kuipers

Trefeglwys Flower Festival

The BeeHolder, Summer 2012

Over the Diamond Jubilee weekend St.Michael's Church, trefeglwys, held a flower festival entitled "Circle of Life". Jane and Carol were asked to take part and chose to depict hobbies, and naturally enough - beekeeping.

We were given a large corner of the church and decided to create a garden scene, complete with tree and flower borders surrounding a bee skep. We added glass bees, wax candles, wax comb, a basket of fruit, jars of honey and a copper smoker puffing out "smoke". The flowers used were bee friendly and many of them were honey-coloured with complimentary blues and purples.

Flower display

The design was much appreciated by the visitors and created a lot of interest in the subject (see page 11 for a photo).

The festival raised £720 for the local Dial-a-Ride and a further £500 for the church. We should like to thank the Montgomeryshire Beekeepers' Association for their kind sponsorship of our venture and we were very happy to fly the flag for our very special hobby.

Jane Wood and Carol Gough

Gregynog Apiary Report

The BeeHolder, Summer 2012

As of 14th June, the apiary was up to 11 colonies, including the Warre hive. We have had to do a lot of feeding, and there is no honey to report, nor is there likely to be any if the weather carries on like this! Not only has the very poor weather not helped, the bees do get a hammering at the apiary, being open for too long and being handled by lots of people. Such is the trade off between training and bee husbandry. This is also a good reason for increasing the number of hives.

If we are going to do a successful honey extraction at the apiary meeting in September, a couple of hives will be set aside not to be opened so that the bees can “get on with it”. If needs be the supers will just be full of sugar from feeding, but it would not wasted as we can feed it back (but only to the same hive to avoid communication of diseases).

So far we have got 500 slates donated of the 1,500 that we need. There is a builder lined up to do the actual work, so if anybody out there has slates to donate, then please do get in touch (we can collect!).

Dave Bennett
Apiary Manager

Toby's Top Tip

The BeeHolder, Summer 2012





Toby's Top Tip


Always be careful when capturing a swarm in your garden or near your apiary because they may not be from your hives and may be viscous or even carry disease.

Toby Beavan













Celebrity beekeepers told to buzz off

The BeeHolder, Summer 2012

For many years I have been jealous of my beekeeper friends in London and Birmingham. Their bees get to work earlier in the year, stay productive longer and give a greater amount of honey. Urban Beekeeping always seemed easier than country beekeeping in Rural Wales. First the biodiversity is greater in an urban environment and the amount of insecticide used per hectare is probably less. Now we learn from the London Evening Standard’s Crime Editor, Justin Davenport, that London’s bees are under threat of starvation and disease because of a boom in the number of urban beekeepers. Experts say there is not enough food or forage in the city’s parks and gardens to sustain the huge and growing number of hives. They blame celebrity beekeepers and big city firms for setting a trend which has driven a surge in the number of people keeping bees.

Angela Woods, secretary of the London Beekeeping Association, said: “There is simply not enough forage to go around. A square kilometre of forage is enough to sustain five colonies. If you take a square kilometre around the Royal Festival Hall, there are now 156 registered colonies while there are likely to be many more which are unregistered.”

She added: “It has almost got out of control in London. It has become fashionable to have bees, partly I think because of the recession. People are going back to nature and there is a celebrity aspect to it as well.”

There are thought to be 3,200 apiaries within the Greater London area, though only about 75 per cent of beekeepers register their hives. Campaigns to halt the decline in bees and celebrity enthusiasts such as TV presenters Kate Humble and Bill Turnbull have recently boosted interest.

Ms Woods says there is also concern about a growing trend for businesses to site hives on high rooftops. She said ideally A bee hive with Grand Designs?hives should not be higher than a two-storey house, otherwise bees spend too much energy flying up and down to the hives. Ms Woods did not name any companies but a number of well-known London businesses and corporations have installed rooftop hives, including Fortnum & Mason, the London Stock Exchange and the Royal Lancaster Hotel next to Hyde Park.

She added that the association did not want to discourage people from keeping bees, but urged Londoners and the city’s parks to grow more bee-friendly food. The lack of forage — nectar and pollen from flowering plants — has resulted in low honey yields. Experts say the annual yield for a hive should be a minimum of 35lb of honey, which allows keepers to take some and leave the rest for the bees. Now a typical yield for London hives is only 31lb.

Ms Woods said: “Beekeeping is a fantastically rewarding hobby but we are getting really worried about the future. People do not realise that the more bees they introduce to London the more they are contributing to their own demise. There are a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon without realising the risks.”

Adapted by Tony Shaw from an Article in the Evening Standard by Justin Davenport the Crime Editor

Obituary – John’s Wellies

The BeeHolder, Summer 2012

When I started keeping bees I bought myself a white bee suit and some nice, matching, white wellingtons. I didn’t Janet Peacock's dog, Guiltyrealise it at the time but it’s really just dairy farmers who wear white wellies and beekeepers just wear anything. Despite the jokes I kept on with my wellies until I joined the NBU in 2009 where the beesuits are green and the wellies needed to colour co-ordinate.

After a quick check of the records I can see that my faithful green wellies have accompanied me on 493 apiary visits and I have spent countless hours lovingly disinfecting thNever give a dog the command "Heel"em. The green wellies met a tragic end recently when I left them unattended for 2 minutes and Janet Peacocks dog nibbled a quick hole in them.

My initial horror at the loss of such an old friend subsided when I saw that the dog has got a very special talent. When he is told off for eating something, and he eats all sorts of things, he smiles sweetly. Who could stay angry at such a talented dog?

He isn’t doing his toothy smile in the picture (page 11) because Janet has to tell him off before he will do it.

John Beavan

Getting back to tradition

The BeeHolder, Summer 2012

Remember the old days when an apiary visit meant going round to somebody's apiary on a balmy summer afternoon, having a bit of a chinwag before donning the garb and going and poking into their hives? Then a sumptuous pool tea during which there is an autopsy on the hive inspection plus a chance to bring up personal (yet bee related) problems and stories? Well, the next meeting will be just like that (weather not guaranteed) at the home of John and Joy Shearer, near Tregynon.

Members who have joined in the last twelve months or so will not have experienced these delights, and you are strongly urged to come along and enjoy it for yourselves. As usual, spouses and family also welcome. Who knows, you might be inspired to share your own apiary with the members next year?Beekeepers meet at Roy Norris' apiary

These events usually had a theme, but bear with me, this one may have two. One aspect of the visit will be a comparison of what is a very successful and productive apiary of some twenty or so hives within flying distance of the MBKA apiary at Gregynog which, so far at least, has not produced honey in more than teaspoon quantities. Perhaps this is due to the amount of interference the Gregynog bees get when the whole of MBKA descend upon them for what are usually lengthy and intrusive inspections, not always in the ideal weather conditions. Discuss. Plus we have been promised a mystery event by our two Bs*, John and David. Apparently wet suits are not required, but I can say no more.

* Beavan and Bennett respectively.

Finally a note on the pool tea. For many this is the highlight of an apiary visit with the chance to tell your best bee stories and tuck into the selection of (mostly homemade) sandwiches, pies, cakes, buns, biscuits and general picnickery. The MBKA tea urn and coffee jugs will also be dusted off and brought out of retirement. If you are intending to attend, please do phone the host in advance to notify numbers and also check whether to brng sweet or savoury (note that early callers will have a more open choice!).

So, look forward to seeing you there and fingers crossed that the summer weather does finally arrive.

Mead Judges and what they really mean ...

The BeeHolder, Summer 2012

Good presentation OK, you can polish a bottle – now work on your mead
Thin Use more honey next time, you tight-fisted ...
Good Condition Shame about the taste
Aggressive on the palate I choked on this one
Peppery Needed a pint of water afterwards
Slightly over-acid Burnt a hole in the show bench
Good farewell Sorry to say goodbye to this one
Good body Still had parts of bees in it
Full-bodied Still had whole bees in it
Cloying Stuck my lips together
Harsh palate Stripped the roof off my mouth
Acetic Best with chips
Well-balanced I could still stand afterwards
Harmonious assemblage I want to marry this one
Gorgeous I get a bit affectionate after tasting all the entries
High alcohol Try using it as paint stripper
Chemical flavours Recommend you use it for clearing the drains
Out of class What part of “dry” don’t you understand?
Medicinal flavours Reminded me of the cough mixture I had as a child.
Second opinion required        Sent to lab for analysis. Report warned "Your horse has diabetes!"

From the Eke (produced by Stuart Ching), courtesy eBEES


Recipe Corner - Vicky’s Honey Bee Buns

The BeeHolder, Summer 2012

Those of you who want to do something a bit special for pool tea for the next meeting might like to take some inspiration from this recipe for some wonderful bee buns made by Vicky Farrington for a pool tea (back in 2009). Or come up with a bee related recipe of your own?

Makes 18Vicky's honey bee buns

250g/9oz plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
125g/ 4 ½ oz butter, softened
125g/ 4 ½ oz soft brown sugar
1 large egg, separated
125g/ 4 ½ oz runny honey
4 tbsp milk


100g/4oz plain chocolate
1 small block golden marzipan
Flaked almonds

  1. Preheat oven to 200˚C/ 400˚F. Line bun tin with paper cases.
  2. Sift flour into large mixing bowl with cinnamon and bicarbonate of soda.
  3. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolk then gradually add honey.
  4. Fold in flour mixture and enough milk to give a dropping consistency.
  5. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff then fold into cake mixture.
  6. Divide mixture among paper cases and bake for 15-20 minutes or until firm and golden brown.
  7. Break the chocolate into pieces, place in a heatproof bowl and melt over a pan of hot water.
  8. To make the bees: roll small pieces of marzipan into bee body shapes. Make a piping bag from greaseproof paper and spoon in a small amount of melted chocolate. Pipe stripes and eyes onto the marzipan bees. Push a flaked almond in on either side to make wings.
  9. Spread the rest of the melted chocolate onto the buns using a wide-bladed or palette knife. Sit a bee on top and leave to set.

Apologies for reproducing the identical recipe as for October 2009 BeeHolder, but they are good!

Chemical News

The BeeHolder, Summer 2012

Monsantoʼs Mon810 corn, genetically engineered to produce a mutant version of the insecticide Bt, has been banned in Poland following protests by beekeepers who showed the corn was killing honeybees.

Poland is the first country to formally acknowledge the link between Monsantoʼs genetically engineered corn and the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) thatʼs been devastating bees around the world. Many analysts believe that Monsanto has known the danger their GMOs posed to bees all along. The biotech giant recently purchased a CCD research firm, Beeologics, that government agencies, including the US Department of Agriculture, have been relying on for help to unravel the mystery behind the disappearance of the bees.

Now that it is owned by Monsanto, it is very unlikely that Beeologics will investigate the links, but genetically engineered crops have been implicated in CCD for years now.

More information here.

Reproduced from Bournemouth and Dorset South newsletter, courtesy eBEES
See also their web site.

Spring 2012

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

Spring Inspection at the Apiary (March 2012)

Spring Inspection at the Apiary (March 2012)

Here is the BeeHolder in glorious colour (except the black and white bits). Navigate through using the links at the side or at the bottom of each page. You can download a version in portable document format (PDF) using the link below.

BH Spring 12 web.pdf541.1 KB

We welcome as New Members...

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

Thomas Weedall [Llanidloes], Keith Rimmer [Caersws], Phil Sharp [Newtown], Joy Jones [Welshpool], Gwyneth Beattie [Welshpool], Diane Hallet [Shrewsbury], Gareth Lloyd-Edwards [Newtown], Gareth Roberts [Newtown], Robin Brierley [Montgomery] and Neil & Barbara Hird [Bishops Castle].

Note that, to protect the innocent, the place names given are the post town rather than anything more precise.


The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

Doesn't time fly when you are trying to get things done! I won't write a list of excuses here, but I do apologise sincerely for the late appearance of the Spring 2012 issue of BeeHolder. I hope it is worth the wait.

Changing the BeeHolder issue dates to Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter is to make it clear that we are producing a quarterly magazine, not to cover for the fact that I consistently miss the deadlines for the beginning of each month.

We would also like to take this opportunity to invite critics of our apiary at Gregynog to give it a good slating. Particularly the roof of the observation hut which is not yet complete after over a year!

Don't forget that this magazine (and a few years' back issues) are also available as pages on the web site,, with more colour and also as downloadable pdf files.

Chris Leech

Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

There is a great and long tradition of drawing analogies between the working of the Bee Hive and the working of human society.

To do is to be: Socrates
To be is to do: Jean-Paul Sartre, Plato
To be or not to bee: William Shakespeare
Do-be-do-bee-do: Frank Sinatra
Do be a Do Bee, don't be a Don't Bee. Miss Connie from Romper Room

Life should be one of constant self-examination. When one stops analysing one should admit to being nothing but a coffin-dodger. It is the same with organisations. Management or committee should constantly worry about progress. But if the workers or members do not give feedback as to how the organisation is working then the whole dies. If the workers do not give out the right pheromones in the right quantities then the queen does not function.

And many BeeKeeping Associations die because the members to not give sufficient feedback, or their queen has had its antennae cut so it is no longer able to pick up the pheromones being scent.

Much of 19thcentury Beekeeping was dominated by priests and preachers. What they saw in the hive reflected their vision of a perfect world. God in his heaven and the angels and people below in ordered subservience. Or a king with the nobility and peasants below. Or a Queen and the captains of industry and workers below. In each case there was a pyramid of power and control. And such beekeepers would tell their flock that they were the equivalent of the worker bees : happiness and fulfilment of the individual is gained by a total acceptance of the need to work hard for the regimented hierarchical structure. Doff your cap to the Queen and the Empire in all its glory will prosper.

We now know that all this is nonsense. But it is surprising how many organisations still run as though it were all still true. I have written a separate article in this BeeHolder (see page 14) about the organisation of the various BeeKeeping Associations in Wales and the dangers of having too little or too much feedback.

Those 19th century Priest/beekeepers did as much harm to the understanding of the beehive as they did to many in their congregations. Our present understanding of the hive relies, not on preconceived notions of the intrinsic value of order, but on discovering ways of measuring the sights, sounds, vibrations and smells within the hive, and our willingness to analyse these without prejudice. Nowadays we understand that the analysis of chaos is more important than the belief in order.

Great scientists are now becoming interesting philosophers; mathematician Steven Hawkins, geneticist Richard Dawkins and Beekeeper and Neurobiologist Robert Pickard. We are in discussion with Professor Robert Pickard to talk to us next year. Feedback please about how we should entertain him, where we should meet, how we can ensure that we get an audience sufficient for the status of this guy.

I was most upset to get a letter from an old MBKA member from the Machynlleth area saying he was not rejoining in 2012 because he felt we were ignoring old beekeepers and those who lived far from Newtown. The whole committee agonised about what to do. For at least 5 years there have been repeated pleas in the BeeHolder for old beekeepers to come forward and volunteer as mentors to the novices. How can we function without their experience and anecdotal knowledge? We cannot. We need some fresh ideas about how we can bring these experienced beekeepers back into active participation with the beekeeping community. It always amazes me that throughout the UK more than a third of all beekeepers do not belong to any BeeKeeping Association. How do they cope with insurance? Or don’t they bother? How do they cope with information about problems of local bees, diseases and swarms and all those other things about being a responsible beekeeper? They must realise that bees are in trouble and that bees cannot survive without the help of an experienced beekeeping community. How do they reconcile their love of their own bees with a blatant indifference to those of others?

Comments and ideas please.

Tony Shaw
Chairman MBKA

New Secretary

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

After a year without a secretary in place, it is a great relief that Maggie Armstrong has stepped forward to assume the role. Tony has tried for the last twelve months to perform the duties of secretary and has made a decent job of it, but I am sure he is more than happy to devote his full attention to being chairman.

I'd like to ask everyone to give their full support to Maggie in what at times can seem an overwhelming job. And thanks also to Maggie and Noel for most of the photos which brighten this edition of The BeeHolder.


Gregynog Apiary Report

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

The Gregynog Apiary is coming into its own as a training venue, with monthly apiary training sessions planned for the year ahead. Oxalic acid treatment in January (see the report on page 8) and the two spring inspections in March and April were all well attended (April’s meeting went on till 4pm!). The meetings are planned to run from 10am to 1pm, except June and September which will start at 2pm. See the forthcoming events page of BeeHolder or check the web site for the latest information on what is coming up at the apiary.

We lost two colonies over the winter, probably due to starvation, and we are currently monitoring closely for varroa as the oxalic acid treatment performed in January was during such a warm spell that the queens were most likely laying so some varroa could have been capped in cells and survived the treatment.

At the moment the bees are going backwards – the early clement weather led us to put supers on with the promise of a good season, but the recent downturn in the weather means that the supers are coming back off and the feeders going back on! With the oil seed rape nectar flow supposed to be starting soon as well. Let us hope that the weather picks up and the bees can get back to their foraging and build up good numbers for the summer ahead.

The apiary meeting in May promises to be interesting. The plan is to split three colonies, provided that they are still strong enough. So if you haven't been brave enough to attempt this yourselves, here is a chance to see how it is done and ask questions of Dave, John and the other experienced beekeepers who will be there. It is your apiary – take advantage of the training opportunities it presents!

Dave Bennett
Apiary Manager


The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

Most of us would like to get our hands on some freebies (or in this case, free bees). However we need to have a system in place if we are going to successfully collect swarms when told about them by the general public. Roy Mander, our swarm co-ordinator, has prepared the following.


As Swarm Control Manager, I shall be collecting names of members willing to collect swarms for the 2012 season.

I shall be requiring names and location, do not require addresses just the town or village name, main and mobile telephone numbers, and how far you are willing to travel to collect a swarm.

If you are a new beekeeper without experience of swarm collecting, do you require assistance of a mentor? (how I hate that word)

It will be expected that you will have a hive ready to install the bees and have the equipment and facility to collect the swarm, more or less at a moments notice.

If you have had the opportunity to collect a swarm or swarms outside the scheme and no longer want to remain on the list please let me know.

Swarms will be allocated fairly and according to location of the swarm and the location of the members, and the distance willing to travel.

I shall not leave messages on answer phone, I require a firm acceptance in order that the informant can be kept in the picture. You will be provided with the informant’s telephone number in order that you can liaise with them directly.

It is essential to keep the informants informed of what is happening.

If you are not at the next meeting you can contact me on e-mail or by phone (see contacts page), you can leave the details required on the answer phone if I am not available.

Roy Mander
Swarm Co-ordinator

MBKA Christmas Meal

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

The MBKA Christmas meal was held on January 14th at Gregynog Hall. Those arriving early enough also enjoyed the oxalic acid demonstration (see page 8). A good number of members attended – too many to catch easily in a group photograph, as it turns out – and a good time was had by all.

In the absence of Graham Winchester, one of his specialty quizes was presented admirably by Jessica and Tony. Quite rightly it ended in a tie between four competitors who agreed that the cash prize be donated to the apiary fund. Now we will not forget that it was Spike Milligan rather than Billy Connelly who said that nothing was worn under a Scotsman's kilt (it's all in perfect working order).

Reports on Meetings

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

Unfortunately I did not get reports on all the nmeetings this quarter. Here are a couple for those of you who didn't make it in person!

January 14th - Oxalic Acid Day

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

On 14 January 2012 we attended the Oxalic acid treatment session arranged by MBKA at the apiary at Gregynog. Although we have had bees for a couple of years we hadn’t ever treated our hives with Oxalic acid. John Beavan explained that as the last couple of winters had been very harsh, this might have lulled new beekeepers into a false sense of security regarding the need to treat for varroa in this way, as Apiguard treatment in the Autumn is not 100% effective. With a mild winter in 2011/12 he felt it was more important than ever that we all do the treatment. He brought some sticky sheets from his hive floors to demonstrate the number of dead varroa mites he had found after his Oxalic acid treatment, and some of them had a very high rate indeed.

Dave Bennett had the Oxalic acid solution all made up, and a syringe for each hive. The tricky bit was calculating how many seams of bees there were, particularly in hives with brood and a half, as often the brood had mostly descended into the main brood box and we weren’t keen to break up the brood by removing the super. Having finally got brave enough to do that, the acid was applied at the rate of 5ml per full seam of bees. We all had a go at trying this, and it wasn’t as easy as Dave made it look to apply quickly, evenly, and at the right angle, but we got there in the end.

Suffice it to say that we went straight home and treated our 3 hives with the ready made mix in syringes that we were able to buy from Dave. It couldn’t have been easier. Many thanks to Dave and John for running the session.

Julie Pearce

For anybody who missed this meeting, this is a “You Tube” video showing a demonstration of dosing bees with oxalic acid by John Beavan.


February 11th - Beginners course

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

Brian Goodwin presented his beginners course to a packed house. This annual event is always well attended and well received. Thanks again, Brian.

Class of 2012 - Tutor Brian Goodwing is on the right.

February 22nd – Annual General Meeting

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

The 2012 AGM for MBKA took place at Plas Dolerw on Wednesday 22nd February. A new record attendance of sixty plus shows that the Association is thriving.

Partly thanks to the circulation of reports prior to the meeting, the business part of the meeting was concluded with commendable brevity. This included the election of new officers in the roles of Secretary (Maggie Armstrong) and New Members Representative (Vicky Farrington). Many thanks to these two who will be bringing fresh ideas to committee as well as fulfilling their roles.

We wish Andy Brown - temporarily relinquishing the New Members Rep position due to illness - a speedy and full recovery.

Wally Shaw gave a very good talk entitled "The bees know what they are doing, but does the beekeeper?". This was less a scathing attack on bee keepers, more an amazing insight into the hows and whys of bee behaviour. Wally fitted an enormous amount of information into a forty minute presentation which, as Jim Crundwell said in thanking him, was understandable and informative on a level appropriate to everybody in the room.

The raffle for the starter hive was won by Dave Bennett, and a second raffle was held to raise money to send young Welsh BeeKeepers abroad (and bring them back again).

A feedback questionnaire and a skills audit form were handed out in an effort to better suit our events planning to the membership and to make sure that we are not overlooking any of our human resources. Many thanks to all those who took a few minutes to fill these in. Hopefully we'll put a similar feedback form on the web-site so that members who have signed up to the web site can fill it in.

Members stayed to help finish off the snacks and drink before the meeting closed shortly after 9:30. Hopefully the word will spread, and people will no longer fear the three letters AGM on the forthcoming events page.

Many will have been impressed by Wally Shaw’s account of how they have managed to reduce imported queens and bees into Anglesey. Local beekeepers there are already experiencing the benefits of this policy. There is persuasive but not 100% evidence that importing bees can lead to trouble and should be discouraged. But we cannot police our members nor can we sanction against importing from abroad or other parts of the UK. However by offering a good deal we can make people think positively about buying local bees. Why pay more when one can get local cheaper? Of course the problem is many want immediate gratification and thus risk buying Nucs of dubious source or last year’s queens. See here for details of buying locally produced 2012 colonies.

March 31st - Microscopy Course

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

Master BeeKeeper (and our president) Jim Crundwell gave a one day course in microscopy at Gregynog Hall (home to our apiary, so plenty of candidates for disection etc). If anybody who attended would like to write a short report, I will publish it here. For now, here is a picture of everyone having fun at close quarters.

Roy has a Eureka! moment.

While canoeing up the Margret River

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

Look out for crocsWhile canoeing up the Margret River in Western Australia, an area 120mls south of Perth, in the wine growing area (a very nice wine). Jane and I rounded a bend under a cliff very close to the bank of the river. As we came round the The bees in questionbend there was a distinct smell of honey and the unmistakCan you tell what it is yet?eable noise of bees. We pulled the canoe on to the bank and went to investigate. The bees were building their comb on the underside of an overhang on the cliff face.

The main body of the comb was in shadow, covered by the overhang, but as the nest increased and became lower it come out of the shadow and into the sun. The heat melted the bottom end of the comb and it was dripping to the floor at the foot of the cliff, there it was again collected by the bees and taken up and rebuilt into the comb only to begin the process again. The bees were very docile and I managed to get very close to take these pictures, which I thought might be of some interest to the members of MBKA.

Stunning scenery, but is this slide upside down?

Doug and Jane Wood

DRAC cartoon

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

Bees on speedwell

Toby's Top Tip

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

wbcMWBCy bees needed feeding because they were big last month and haven't been able to fly much this month, its worth lifting your hives to see if they need feeding too.

Toby Beavan

Bees anyone?

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

This appeal has already been e-mailed around the association, so please bear with us if you have seen it before (see here if you haven't). At this time of year many members search frantically for bees and in their enthusiasm sometimes buy from suspect sources. Those who follow various bee magazines know the current debate about whether we should allow bees to be imported from abroad. Indeed many would advocate not buying from more than 75 miles away in the UK.

Many Nucs for sale have been made up from queens imported from abroad. If you are offered a Nuc with a 2012 laying queen before May it is almost guaranteed that the queen will have been imported into the UK and plonked into a split UK colony, possibly a stolen colony. If you really want to be totally ethical buy from a local trusted source.

Your MBKA committee have negotiated a good deal with such a trusted source: a local commercial beekeeper who is working with the University of Bangor on a Welsh Queen breeding programme. These are 6 framed nucs, including a Nucleus box which can be expanded to 11 frames. Yes, you did read that correctly, 6 frames of brood in a box than can be expanded to take 11 frames!

We have secured delivery end of May to beginning of June depending on the weather. Whatever the weather you will not be able to buy local nucs from locally bred queens earlier than that. All queens will have been produced in west or east Montgomeryshire or within 10 miles of our county borders. The price of £155 includes delivery to our Gregynog Apiary for collection.

The nucs will be delivered to us only when their 2012 queens have proved their worth. The supplier states that “the nucleus colonies are made in accordance with FERA Best Practice guidelines. This provides you with assurances of quality for the following:

  • That there is a good standard of bees, brood, food and equipment provided.
  • Instructions for the installation and care of your nuc are supplied on collection, you may contact us for further advice.
  • Our bees and your nuc are regularly checked for disease e.g. varroa and treated where necessary. This is recorded.
  • By operating a record system for sales, the National Bee Unit (NBU) is able to follow up any statutory disease situation.”

Please note that the Fera guidelines are even exacting than the BBKA guidelines.

Those who have ordered so far are guaranteed their orders, but there is an opportunity for us to order more.

To place an order, email or phone Tony Shaw, and then send a deposit of £80 to School House, Y Fan, Llanidloes, Powys, SY18 6NP. Cheques should be made out to Montgomeryshire Beekeepers Association.

Supply is limited and all orders from now on will be dealt with on a first come first served basis. Cheques will be returned as soon as we know that the stocks are finished. Act quickly as we are closing the order book on 10 May.

An out of the way corner

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

One of the problems of living in an area of such low population density is that we have to travel relatively long distances to meet up. This is particularly true of residents living in the extremities of the county. Here is an appeal from a member at the Eastern edge of Montgomeryshire looking to hook up with other bee keepers nearby on a regular basis.


Dear Beekeeper,

Living as we do between three BKAs, Paul and I (with bees by Corndon hill) got to thinking that it was perhaps as good a time as any to test the water for a social and support group loosely based around the Church Stretton, Craven Arms, Bishops Castle, Clun & Montgomery areas and once we've identified two or three suitable hostelries, to rotate between them to start with. Other events are quite possible: suggestions very welcome.

After much debate, and so the group feels inclusive for all beekeepers within the area, we chose the name 9 Rivers Bees. The debate will no doubt continue but the idea was that nine rivers (or our local versions of rivers) have their source in, or run through, this area and without water there would be no forage. In time we might even have a logo to play with - how good is that!

9 Rivers Bees is not just for members of Ludlow & District, Shropshire and Monty BKA beekeepers but for any beekeeper in the area, partners and spouses. Just give me a note of their email so they can be added to the mailing list and kept informed of venues and activities.

Drop me an email if you're interested with your preferred email address and any suggestions for good venues.

All the best for the new season,

Trisha Marlow & Paul King

Varroa Alert

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

As mentioned in the apiary report (see page 6), we had unseasonably warm weather around the time we did the oxalic acid varroa treatment. If you performed your own varroa treatments at the same sort of time, it is quite possible that the queen was laying and that a lot of varroa avoided the oxalic acid by being inside sealed brood cells. So be extra vigilant for these little beasties, especially while the bees are under a bit of food stress due to the poor weather we are currently “enjoying”.

To check for varroa, use one or more of the methods proposed in this downloadable document (the link is to the Scottish BeeKeepers web site).

If in doubt about your varroa situation, contact a bee inspector (see contacts page).


Democracy and efficiency in an organisation

What torture the committee spares you.

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

Have you noticed that many articles in the BeeHolder come from the magazines of other Associations? Editors of many local Bee magazines share their works and get an opportunity to see how other BeeKeeping Associations (BKAs) are managed. When I was editor of the Beeholder I thoroughly enjoyed contrasting how various BKAs were organised. Indeed examining how other organisations were run was more fascinating than most bee articles. Similarly, as one of Montgomeryshire’s representatives on the Council of the Welsh Beekeepers Association, I find the opportunity to compare and contrast our own MBKA with the other 18 BKAs in Wales far more interesting than the running of the WBKA itself.

Some Welsh BKAs insist that all their members are involved with every discussion and resolution of the Council of the Welsh Beekeepers Association. On the one hand this is an admirable piece of democracy. On the other hand it slows decision making because too many delegates are saying “I will have to go back to consult my members”. I would not inflict compulsory attendance at a WBKA meeting on my worst enemy. It is torture. The only thing that keeps some awake is amusement at the incipient bitchiness of the formal part of the meeting. Chats over coffee are more interesting, friendly and productive.

I ask, not entirely rhetorically, whether we want our Montgomeryshire meetings to examine all discussions and resolutions of the Welsh Beekeepers Association. Personally I think it would drive many asleep or to drink or to ignore our meetings altogether. Those who want to follow discussions can always ask Maggie for a copy of the minutes etc of the WBKA to be forwarded to them. Similarly should anybody want to see minutes of our own MBKA committee meetings, Maggie will again forward them on. Our tradition in Montgomeryshire has been for members to trust committee members and for the committee to give plenipotentiary rights to representatives on the WBKA. I should put on record here that I received far more praise than criticism for having our AGM over in 10 minutes. Everybody had had the reports and documents weeks in advance and many took up the invitation to raise queries with the officers by email and phone rather than clutter up a meeting with points of clarification.

The survival of any bee colony depends on having the right ratio of foragers to nurse bees. If through bad weather, disease, bad husbandry or genetics the ratio is put out of balance then the hive fails. And so it is with BeeKeeping Associations. Too much communication about organisation rather than about bees and the Association will collapse. Too many decisions taken without monitoring and feedback from the members and the Association will similarly collapse.

Do moan and whinge and complain, don’t hold back - but do suggest - and advise as well; and just occasionally say something nice to oil the wheels.

Tony Shaw

This year’s programme

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

In response to members’ requests we have put on far more training sessions this year. The Courses have all been sold out and there has been a good attendance of novices at all of the Gregynog apiary sessions. Note that the June and September apiary Meetings will start at 2pm rather than 10am, and at these meetings there will be shared teas as we have had in previous years. June’s meeting, on the 17th, will be devoted to the whole family. We have been given a grant of £500 to buy protective bee clothing for children. Do bring your children and grandchildren along. There will be an opportunity for children to go into the apiary and handle bees if they want, or they can watch the proceedings from the apiary hut or the boundary net fence. No bouncy Castle this year, but we are going to encourage local schools to organise visits to the apiary that day. We want local kids to be asking their parents “Why cannot we go into the apiary like those other children?” Come along that day and help us push the idea of beekeeping in Schools.

There will be apiary visits to John and Joy Shearer on Saturday 21st July and Tom Brown’s apiary near Machynlleth on Sunday 26th August. This has always been a popular venue with members in awe at the strong rapport that Tom has with his bees.

The Novice, Intermediate and Microscopy courses will be repeated next year. We are hoping that Brian Goodwin will continue the tradition of giving his inspired courses on beekeeping for novices and experienced beekeepers. The Microscopy course was a first for us and will be upgraded next year. Lecturer Jim Crundwell and his two assistants were excited about the potential of the video cameras used in conjunction with microscopes, screens and projectors. It was remarked that the three “tutors” learnt more and had more fun than the students.

A number of other courses were proposed in the questionnaire circulated by Michelle. Please note that indoor courses do need a minimum of 8 people attending. We have yet to reach that number demanding a Queen rearing course.

International reputation

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

We have been approached by a school in New York, USA to put a link on our web page to a commercial perfumery site with quite a large guide to bees aimed at children and adults. Link duly added and reply sent thanking for their co-operation.

Apparently this is all down to a teacher called Nancy inspiring a pupil called Amy to add value to our site as part of an after-school project. I will be passing the contact on to Vicky (new members' representative and also a teacher) and, who knows, could this be the start of a trans-Atlantic bee connection for schools?

You can find the link on our links page in the “Bee Interesting” section.


The Electronic Age Is Upon Us

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

Like many organisations we are reducing the number of letters sent out. Apart from the price of stamps going up making them a better investment than gold, nearly 90% of our membership have given us their email address to use in communications. We are relying upon emails and the quarterly BeeHolder magazine to keep our members informed. There are those of you who have not yet shared your email address with us. We urge you to do so.

Your e-mail address will not be given out to third parties or even shared with the membership. Instead it will be added to the members' distribution list. People on the list can send e-mails to the list, nobody else can. You won't get spam or anything else unsavoury by having your name on the list. People found abusing the list will be removed from it to protect all our interests. Primarily it is used by committee members to broadcast to the (majority) of the membership and is especially useful for late changes in event planning or information posts received by the secretary which she feels are worth spreading through the membership. It can be used by anybody on the list to send messages to the membership, but you are then exposing your e-mail address to everyone else. This is not a major risk as the mailing list is actively managed and restricted to only those members who have provided us with their e-mail addresses.

We would also like to encourage those who do not have an email address to sign up for one. You don’t have to have a computer to have an email address. Your local Library or Resource Centre will help you with setting up an email address and it is free of charge. Also, please phone any committee member for advice on email communication and to learn how useful it is for keeping up-to date with bee information and how much money it can save!

Finally, if you are definitely going to avoid electronic communication completely, get in touch with another member who is a near neighbour and can keep you up to date with late breaking news. Contact a member of the committee for help in finding one, if you are not sure.

Chris Leech

Recipe Corner - Honey Ice Cream

The BeeHolder, Spring 2012

Here is something to get you thinking of the coming summer, though unless you have access to an ice cream machine, this does look like it might be tricky to do.


8 egg yolks
100g sugar
200g honey (or 6 1/2 tbs)
800ml cream
1 split vanilla pod


  1. Place the egg yolks and sugar into a mixing bowl and whisk until smooth. Place the honey, cream and vanilla into a saucepan and heat until it almost boils. Remove from the heat.
  2. Strain the cream and add it to the egg and sugar mix. Mix well then return the custard to the heat. Stir the custard constantly over a low heat until the mixture coats the back of your spoon.
  3. Remove from heat and churn in an ice cream machine. If you do not have an ice cream machine, you can hand churn by filling a large bowl with ice and rock salt. Place a smaller bowl with the cooked custard on top of the ice. Whisk by hand until thick. This can take up to an hour so have helpers at hand.

Reproduced from Beekeepers Association of the ACT
via eBees

January 2012

The BeeHolder, January 2012

A classic DRAC cartoon

Here is the BeeHolder in glorious colour (except the black and white bits). Navigate through using the links at the side or at the bottom of each page. You can download a version in portable document format (PDF) using the link below.

BH Jan 12 small.pdf833.89 KB


The BeeHolder, January 2012

Here we are, all getting ready for Christmas as best we can in this climate of austerity. So far the actual climate has been relatively kind, if a little damp, compared to last year. Hopefully the bees are tucked up cosily in their hives, enjoying midnight feasts of sugary “junk food”, oblivious to the trials and tribulations we make for ourselves in our often overly complicated world. Perhaps we could learn form their simple ways (but not if it came at the cost of having dinner plate sized mites sucking out our juices).

If all goes to plan (and it did, more or less) I should have the magazine out around about Christmas, so maybe I have finally tamed this beast we call the BeeHolder. Mind you, I wouldn't bank on it until we see when the April issue turns up.

As always, I would like to ask any members out there with ideas for articles to get in touch, or even better, write an article or take a (preferably bee related) picture and send it in to the magazine. The preferred method is by e-mail.

Chris Leech

Gregynog Apiary Report

The BeeHolder, January 2012

Hello everybody, I hope your beekeeping year has been an enjoyable experience. We have had a very busy season in Gregynog, starting the year with four colonies having lost two in late February. Spring inspections started at the end of March just as the weather improved, and lots of feeding was required. We also had problems with Queens failing.

In early May we purchased five nucs which progressed well until late June when we had problems with swarming. This was the most frustrating part of the whole year as it's just not possible to be in the apiary at exactly the right time to prevent (or catch) swarms. Despite all of this, we increased our stock to a total of ten colonies by the middle of August.

There was no honey to harvest this year, which was a bit odd as there were some strong colonies which hadn't swarmed and so you would expect to have produced much honey. I know this is not an isolated case, so we will have to wait until next year and try again.

Winter feeding was completed by the first week in October and mouseguards have been fitted. I will be going over during the last week in December to put fondant on the hives.

On reflection I think the apiary has been well received by our members with good attendance at meetings, and most members giving positive feedback. See you all at Gregynog next year.

Dave Bennett
Apiary Manager

I hope to make the Gregynog Apiary Report a staple of The BeeHolder so that we are all kept abreast of what is going on. It will also help keep the pages from falling out.


We Welcome as New Members ...

The BeeHolder, January 2012

Roger Stone [Newtown] and Ruth Stafford [Welshpool].

Welcome to the association and we look forward to seeing you at future events.

The National Honey Show

The BeeHolder, January 2012

Cheap cheap cheap when you know how!

It is on for 3 days and entry fee is £15 per person per day. Now that may seem like £45 for each person to attend all three days. BUT (and here is part of the sweet madness of the beekeeping world) at one entrance to the show one pays lots of £15s whilst at another end one can buy membership of the National Honey Show for £12. This entitles one to go to all events with a guest. So two people for 3 days for £12 at one door and at £90 at the other door! Beats the “Two for the Price of One” at Tescos. Better yet, get a none beekeeper to take you as a treat and sit amused at the dinner table whist one's host explains that beekeepers are fascinating and endearingly mad.

Find out more at their website (including photographs taken during the show so that you can play “Spot Tony at the Honey Show” Ed).

Tony Shaw

Bee Course It Is There

The BeeHolder, January 2012

This is the answer to the question How do we learn about bees? You will see in the Forthcoming Events section  that there are some bee courses coming up in the new year. Now that we have the training apiary at Gregynog, we will be utilising it as much as possible for that purpose. Not only does it provide our members with the opportunity to learn more of the craft, it helps spread the workload of looking after the bees.

And of course our old friend Brian Goodwin will be providing three days of courses at Gregynog. These will be a combination of classroom and hands-on in the apiary, subject to weather. The first course will be a one day session from 10am to 4:30 pm on Saturday Feb 11th aimed at the new/novice beekeeper.

A two-day Beekeeping course for those who have had a minimum of a 12 months of keeping bees will be held on the consecutive Saturdays 25th Feb and 3rd March, again 10 am to 4:30 pm at Gregynog.

Brian's courses have been very well received in the past and he is good at pitching the content of the course to the right level given the experience of the students.

There will be a fee for these courses : MBKA members will pay 20 for the beginners' course,and £30 for the two-day intermediate course. Contact the chairman to enquire about prices for non-mambers. The  price will include coffee and tea, but please bring lunch to share.


Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, January 2012

At our last meeting (Bees in the time of the Pharaohs) Treasurer Roy Norris remarked how few of our members attended the various bee conventions held in Wales and England. The excuse for not attending the big annual BBKA jamboree could have been that Stoneleigh (Warwickshire) was too far away. But in 2012 the BBKA Spring Convention will be held at Harper Adams University College Campus, Newport, Shropshire – Yes SHROPSHIRE – on Friday 20, Saturday 21, Sunday 22 April 2012

And surely the Royal Showground at Builth Wells, where the Welsh Bee Convention is held, is in everyone’s reach? Saturday March 12th 2012

What excuse could there be not to attend at least one of these conventions? Well it may be that few know of the benefits. Amazing bargains in Bee equipment from the trade stalls. Some liken the rush as a veritable feeding frenzy akin to reef sharks attacking a bucket of bait thrown into the water. Then the lectures, so good that each year the seating has to be increased to cope with the crowds. Then the conversations over lunches or teas; so much knowledge may be imparted. Then the workshops for the specialists. Those who ask for our association, our small Montgomeryshire BKA, to get more “advanced” should just take a small day trip to our neighbouring counties to get the very knowledge and training they desire.

My particular favourite is the National Honey Show in Weybridge at the end of October. I’ve been taken for the last three years as a birthday treat. “How naff is that?...a Honey Show for xxxx sake!” I can hear some say. Well those 3 good people who have taken me have been non-beekeepers and each have come away mesmerized by the experience. Every year, a few days after the show, I have sat amused listening to my benefactors explain to other non-beekeepers the joys of the visit to The Honey Show. The conversation is always the same “....I must say I got lost half way through some lectures and Tony had to explain to me afterwards ....but even he didn’t know what some of the equipment on sale actually did ...but what was amusing was to listen to beekeepers explaining to each other how bits of equipment worked. .... I can see how one can get hooked on beekeeping...”

To make a beekeeper friend at a convention or show all one needs to do is stand by a Trade Stall gazing intently at a small piece of equipment held at arms length. Within minutes one will be in a conversation. More minutes with the arm up and a group discussion is taking place. Why do Roy and I see so few of our members at these conventions?

Statistics show that the more training and knowledge one has about bees, the fewer are the losses. We can give some training in the Montgomeryshire BKA. This coming year we have an oxalic acid Training demonstration in January and other themed demonstrations throughout the year at Gregynog; we have our usual beginners course in February run by Brian Goodwin and we also have a two-day advanced course in February/March again run by Brian. But our catchment area is too small for us to provide some of the more specialist or esoteric stuff. The more advanced stuff must be left to bigger organisations than ours.

Please don’t criticise us for not providing a course on artificial Queen insemination or Royal Jelly collecting: just get in your car and go the 30 to 50 miles to a workshop at one of the National Bee conventions.

See you at one or more next year I hope.

Tony Shaw
Chairman MBKA

Making Beeswax Products

The BeeHolder, January 2012

At the evening meeting on October 20th at Plas Dolerw Jane Frank and Michelle Boudin gave an interesting workshop in using honey and beeswax in simple home made skin care products.

Michelle started off the evening demonstrating a simple ointment. An ointment (also known as salve or balm) is a Horsetail growing in the wildwater free mixture of beeswax and oil which can be scented with essential oils. Prior to the meeting Michelle had soaked dried horsetail leaves in olive oil which was gently heated to infuse the ingredients. The oil is then strained and leaves discarded Horsetail is very high in silica and potassium and strengthens the skin, hair and connective tissue. At the meeting the olive oil infused with horsetail was placed in a double boiler with beeswax and shea butter. This was gently heated to melt the ingredients together, then allowed to cool slightly before benzoin and some lavender essential oils were added. These also have skin healing properties. The ointment is the allowed to cool slightly then poured into jars and left to cool further. If the mixture is too soft once completely cooled, it can be re-melted and more beeswax added to create a firmer consistency. To make Comfrey ointment replace the horsetail with Comfrey leaves, Marigold petals can be used to make a calendula ointment. Lip balms are made in the same way. Ointments do not need preservatives because they contains no water.

Jane then demonstrated how to make a beeswax and honey soap. Soap is made by combining lye (caustic soda) with oil. Jane used Pomace olive oil mixed with coconut oil, sweet almond oil and castor oil which was melted together in a double boiler. In a separate bowl spring water is mixed with honey and the lye added, this heats up in a dramatic bubbling fashion and changes colour. When the water and oil are at the same temperature (about 70°C), the water mixture is added to the oil and mixed together with a hand blender until 'trace' is achieved. Trace is technical term in soap making and may take 20 minutes or so. If trace is not achieved the soap has to be discarded. Any colours or essential oils are added at the trace stage. The soap is then poured into a mould, wrapped up in towels and left for 24 hours when it goes through an interesting jelly like translucent phase before setting hard. After 24 hours it can then be turned out but must be stored for at least 4 weeks to cure (for the caustic soda to neutralise). The soap is then ready to use.

Jane also demonstrated making a simple moisturising cream using honey. This is a two stage process where sweet almond oil and beeswax is melted together in a double boiler, and water and honey is heated in another. When An picture of Jane's soapthey are at 75 to 80°C the water is added to the fat mixture whilst whisking continuously for at least 5 minutes. As it cools the mixture thickens to a cream like consistency. When the cream falls below 35°C other ingredients can be added such as preservatives, active ingredients such as vitamin E and essential oils.

Full recipes can be found here on the Monty Bees website. Ingredients and other supplies can be found here.

The skin is the largest organ in the body and provides a protective barrier against the outside world. However it is highly absorbent (which is why nicotine patches work) so we must be careful what we apply to our skin. All three recipes are simple and demonstrate how easy it to make your own products without the need for harsh chemicals (such as sodium lauryl sulphate and parabens) commonly found in skincare products.

Jane's soaps and creams can be bought from her website.

Michelle Boudin

Bee Keeping in the Time of the Pharoahs

The BeeHolder, January 2012

As most beekeepers are aware, honey found in the tombs of Egypt is apparent;y still fit for consumption. This is more a tribute to the bees' ability to preserve, rather than that of the ancient Egyptians. So the Egyptians clearly harvested honey in ancient times, but did they keep bees, and if so how? Pauline Norris, egyptologist, kindly agreed to shed some light on the subject at our meeting on November 24th.

Heiroglyphs with bee symbol (7th along).There are only four pictures of bees surviving from ancient Egypt, and none at all from the period 600BC to 1000 AD. Before 600 BC accurate dating is not possible, which makes the study of Egyptian beekeeping quite difficult.

Beekeepers smoking bees (tomb decoration).A sub-species of Apis Melifera has existed in the Nile valley and as far south as Sudan since ancient times. They are characterised as good housekeepers but poor producers. This is the strain of bee most likely kept by the Egyptian, who believed that bees and honey were created from the tears of the sun god, Ra. There name for bees translates as “the flies that build” and they also believed that bees come into being through bugonia (this was the belief that bees were spontaneously generated from a cow's carcass and that by putting a cows head under a tree, when the flesh had rotted off bees would emerge from the eye sockets. Actually these would probably have been a species of hover fly which the Egyptians mistook for bees. The belief was popular in the Mediterranean regions until eventually disproved in 1668.) This coming of life from the dead made bees a symbol of life.

Image of a bee. Note the elongated antennae.The climate and annual flooding of the Nile made the plains of Egypt very fertile and productive all year round. This allowed honey gathering right through the year. It is the decorations in the tombs of the well to do which provide the only records of bee keeping. The bees were kept in cylindrical pots, stacked to form a hive. Smoke was used as an aid to handling the bees. The entrance hole is at the front, and the back of the cylinder is removable allowing the bees to be smoked and the comb removed from the back, which meant that the brood was largely unaffected at the front of each cylinder. This would have made it a less destructive method of keeping bees than other techniques. The circular combs would be put in a cow's hide and trampled to separate the honey from the wax.

The honey produced from the kept bees was clear, but wild honey gathered in the desert was red in colour and preferred as a delicacy. Rameses II used to send parties out into the desert to look for honey protected by guards. The best honey was eaten or offered to the gods, whilst the rest was used in wine, cake making, bread, mead and even fed to crocodiles. They were aware of its antibacterial effect and use on wounds. Honey was used during mummification, as a glue and was famously found in the tomb of Tutankhamun.

The Egyptians made extensive use of beeswax, which they probably extracted using hot water techniques. It was bleached in the sun and used to bind paints, make masks, writing tablets, to wax hair, boat building, mummification, sacrificed to the gods and even used to make wax effigies in which to stick pins. From the quantities of wax sacrificed to the gods, they must have had a lot of hives.

Chris Leech

IMYB Report

The BeeHolder, January 2012

Back in July we helped sponsor a team of young beekeepers from Wales to participate in the International Meeting of Young Beekeepers at Warth in Austria. Here's what happened.

The Team consisted of Toby Beavan (12) from Ruthin, Ianto Hammonds (13) from Ceredigion and John Elsby (13) from Anglesey. This gave us a good representation from different parts of Wales and the youngest team to be competing.

Day 1 - We travelled out to Warth from Manchester airport on the 11th of July, changing flights in Munich. Matt Notley from the English team also travelled with us. When we landed in Vienna we were met by a representative from the Austrian beekeeping school who then took us to the venue which was around an hour from the airport. More information on the venue can be found here.

It was late afternoon by the time we arrived. After unpacking we all took part in games to socialise with everyone. This was followed by an adult planning meeting - after the youngsters had finished testing the boundaries on the lights out rule!?

Day 2 - This was the first full day of the competition and with temperatures soaring all the young people got mixed into teams with 1 leader each; this had been carefully worked out to make sure no team had 2 people from the same nation in it. My team to take around the competition consisted of 1 Russian, 1 Latvian and 1 Slovenian. This section of the competition covered manual work with bees (real colonies of bees) microscopy, recognition of beekeeper’s tools and beekeeping-connected plants as well as a section on products. To give an example of what they had to do, within the products section there were 5 jars of honey, two jars were fine but one of the two was a bitter honey. The other jars all had something wrong with them and all 5 had to be correctly identified.

Day 2 was finished with a social evening to include the presentation of the nations. Our young team gave a presentation about the nation of Wales and beekeeping practices here. It was fascinating to listen to the other talks and I regretted that we hadn’t taken hand outs as most of the other groups had (though this was mostly cheese and flower bulbs from the Dutch team).

Day 3 - The young people all sat the academic section of the tests in the morning (2 x 1.5 hour exams) while the adults got a tour of the facilities. The beekeeping section of the college teaches young people to be commercial beekeepers and also produces tons of honey and 700+ queens annually. It was really interesting to see how they work with bees in Austria, one major difference is that no protective clothing is worn. The afternoon of Day 3 consisted of result announcements and presentation of prizes and certificates. All the young people had organised games and sports for the rest of the evening, while the adults took part in a meeting to gather feedback and improvement suggestions.

Day 4 - This last day of the trip saw a change of plan for us as we left the college early and planned to visit Schonbrunn Palace. But when we arrived in Vienna the German, Latvian, English and Welsh teams all wanted to stay together for the last day, so we looked around Vienna City as a group. We landed back in Manchester at 11pm.

The fact that we were placed 15 out of 16 is partly attributable to the team being so young, the amount of beekeeping education we do compared to other countries and how seriously we take competitions compared to other countries. The actual competition was far less important to us than the wealth of knowledge we all brought back from the trip.

John Beavan

Swarm Control Manager's Report 2011

The BeeHolder, January 2012

The year started off fairly quietly and swarms were reported early May onwards.

Quite a few were in inaccessible places and appeared to be feral colonies of some standing which had over wintered and grown to such a point where they were becoming noticed by the public. However none of these were harvested despite numerous efforts by different beekeepers as they were in hollow trees, beneath floorboards, in soffits and behind stud walling.

During the early summer reports of swarms dropped off considerably, but then as the year went on the reports increased and quite a number of members were able to get hold of good swarms. Even so some lost their swarm overnight. Locking them in and feeding them is my solution, once you can get them building wax they seem to settle down and will be happy to occupy the hive.

Problems were again found due to members who asked for swarms, and at the time could not be contacted and when eventually contact was made were unable to collect them because they had either no means of collection or nowhere to hive them.

Another problem for me was the fact that when ringing some members I found that they had been finding and collecting their own swarms to such an extent that some had filled up to 5 hives and had no where to hive another swarm.

Both of these problems took a lot of unnecessary time and money ringing round, whereas if they had contacted me earlier to say that they were no longer interested in or able to collect swarms the waste could have been avoided.

Generally I think that most members, who required swarms, did get one or more, depending on the respective locations of the beekeeper and the swarm.

The last swarm reported was in the first week in October. This turned out to be in a roof 3 stories high with no access, and again appeared to be an older feral colony.

Roy Mander

DRAC Cartoon

The BeeHolder, January 2012

Another classic from Dennis Cordwell



The BeeHolder, January 2012

Whilst having a coffee with a fellow member of the MBKA I found myself explaining the “awakening” of bees during the sudden warm spell we often get in February. The bees fly out like a swarm and defecate just a few tens of metres from the hive. The sudden bright day also brings out the washing after months of indoor drying. The bees stain the sheets with myriad spots of golden yellow, my wife is furious . I am also furious because on such a day the car will also be spotted by the bees. The windows are thoroughly smeared and the normal windscreen wash has no effect. I would gladly do all the washing of sheets just to avoid the cleaning of the car. My friend had not understood the joke in the cartoon (here) of the last issue of the BeeHolder; a couple of bees contemplating soiling some clean white sheets on a washing line.

This little anecdote about bee behaviour is the sort of thing that comes from discussion rather than from books. I have always found more learning over our MBKA teas than the preceding lectures.

Another subject we got onto was the direction bees fly. His bees always go straight toward the local village ignoring the apple trees close by. I have the same experience, my bees start foraging a hundred metres from their hives. Books that advocate planting bee friendly flowers close to an apiary have it wrong. I tolerate Himalayan balsam in my garden because the bees love it so much. But I find no evidence that my bees are working these plants. However Debbie Francis who has hives two kilometres away reports that her bees come back in white with the characteristic balsam pollen. So Debbie’s bees are coming to my garden for the balsam whilst mine ignore it. The same happens in my out apiary. The garden I use is more than four miles from the nearest beekeeper. It is groaning with himalayan balsam, yet I have never seen a honey bee on the balsam. However the balsam is worked by numerous bumble bees; thousands of them. Clearly the balsam is working its magic but not for my bees. There must be some evolutionary advantage in ignoring fodder that is close by a hive.

Do any other beekeepers have similar experience? What can be the explanation?

Arthur Findlay

Perhaps they don't want to feed close to the hive because that is where they defecate and discard dead (possibly from disease) bees?

I'm sure that a lot of our beekeepers have experiences and knowledge well worth passing on. Why not write an article for the next BeeHolder? If you are interested, get in touch before 16th March!


Toby's Top Tip

The BeeHolder, January 2012

booksbooks 2 




Winter is a good time to read bee books and they are a good Christmas present for beekeepers.

Toby Beavan

The Lighter Side of Beekeeping

The BeeHolder, January 2012

Talking of bee books as presents, I very nearly got one myself. Rather than a bee book, it is a beekeeper book, “The Bad BeeKeepers Club” by Bill Turnbull. It is an autobiographical piece telling of how he got drawn into beekeeping almost by accident, and of the bee related adventures he has had since. The style of the book is very proboscis in cheek, perhaps how Bill Bryson would write if he had been English?

The trick of calling it the Bad Beekeepers Club relieves the author of having to educate the reader and takes the pressure off the reader feeling he/she has to learn something from it. Although I haven't finished it yet, I have to confess not only to being entertained, but also informed, by what I have read so far. So while you may not read it and become an expert in queen rearing, you will be able to take some comfort in knowing that you aren't the only person to have made the odd mistake whilst keeping bees.

Bill Turnbull is the radio and TV presenter of such shows as “Today” and “Breakfast Time” and so claims to be a BBC man twice over.

Chris Leech

Santa in for the sting

reproduced from Somerton BKA, courtesy of eBEES


  1. DECLINE all officer and committee appointments – you’re too busy. Then offer vociferous advice on how THEY should do things.
  2. DON’T WORK – it’s courtesy appointment. Then complain that the club has stagnated.
  3. DON’T INITIATE new ideas – that requires thinking. Then play Devil’s Advocate to those ideas submitted by others.
  4. DON’T PARTICIPATE beyond paying your dues (they’re too high anyway). Then complain about poor financial management.
  5. DON’T ENCOURAGE others to become members – that’s selling. Then complain that membership isn’t growing.
  6. DON’T READ newsletters or notices – they’re not important. Then complain that you’re never kept informed. (Give yourself a pat on the back if you read this).
  7. NEVER VOLUNTEER your talents – that’s ego fulfilment. Then complain that you’re never asked and never appreciated.

And when the clubs grows in spite of your “contribution”…..

Manawatu BK Club, NZ (courtesy of eBees)

Varroa cartoon

Winter cleansing flight

Surprisingly this photo of bees on a winter cleansing flight makes a beautiful image. And not a washing line in sight.

Photo courtesy of Konrad, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (via eBEES)

Bee Power

The BeeHolder, January 2012

In late October, 2012, interstate 15 in Utah, USA, was closed down for several hours because a lorry carrying more than twenty million bees overturned (see picture on back page). The lorry was on its way to California, taking bees to pollinate an almond crop next spring. The bees escaped from their hives and local beekeepers had to work overnight trying to catch the bees.

Bees create havoc on Interstate 15 in UtahPhoto courtesy of eBEES.

It was one of around 160 lorries of bees being sent from the Adee Honey Farms which are based in South Dakota. The southbound lanes were closed near to the border between Utah and Arizona for several hours. The road reopened the next morning, but drivers were warned to keep their windows wound up.

"The driver lost control, hit the concrete barrier and rolled over. Of course, we then had bees everywhere." said the spokesperson for the Utah Highway Patrol.

Chris Leech


Here are the BeeHolders for 2011. This saves menu space and makes it easier to find what you're looking for.

October 2011

The BeeHolder, October 2011

front cover cartoon

Does anybody remember the original caption for this Cordwell classic?


This edition of the BeeHolder is dedicated to the memory of Dennis Cordwell.
MBKA member, bee keeper, cartoonist and a former editor of the BeeHolder.


Here is the BeeHolder in glorious colour (except the black and white bits). Navigate through using the links at the side or at the bottom of each page. You can download a version in portable document format (PDF) using the link below.


BeeHolder Oct 11 e-version.pdf905.8 KB


The BeeHolder, October 2011

As we start to prepare our bees for the winter, and another beekeeping year slips into the past, we can reflect on very mixed results across our region. Whilst some have had a bountiful honey harvest and increased the size of their apiaries, those less fortunate have had barely enough to cover a slice of toast and/or will be putting the odd empty hive into storage for the winter.

I don't know if it has been the way the weather has fallen across the area, the variations between the diferent strains of bee, some mixture of the two or something completely different! Perhaps it is as simple as the fact that no two beekeepers keep their bees exactly the same way? If anybody has an answer to the mystery, perhaps it would make an interesting article for a future BeeHolder? In any event, it is something to think about when planning for the next bee year.

Chris Leech

We Welcome as New Members

The BeeHolder, October 2011

Jim and Anne Wren [Newtown], Maggie Summerfield [Welshpool], Richard Hayes [Welshpool], Gail Gwesyn-Pryce [Caersws], Russell Davies [Llanymynech], Carolle Doyle [Meifod], Annabel West [Newtown], Leslie Venis [Montgomery], Neil Griffiths [Oswestry], Anne Hooper [Machynlleth] Rodger Stewart [Oswestry] and Elaine Willetts [Newtown].

We look forward to seeing you at the various events coming up during the next few months. Also, if you have not already done so, why not sign up to the Montybees web site to keep track of the latest developments and join in on the forum pages?

Note that the place names given are nearest town rather than individual villages.

Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, October 2011

What is a beekeeper?

Several events have occurred recently causing me to ask that question. At a committee meeting the question was asked whether we should discourage people to keep bees until after they had had some training. This is because there is a great attrition rate in new beekeepers. Many take up the hobby before realising the implications. They give up at the first obstacle and often a neglected or abandoned hive becomes a source of disease in a district to the detriment of other beekeepers. But to actively deter people from keeping bees is that right? We have many members who have no bees in their direct care. Some have lost colonies and intend to restock. Some have had a policy of keeping empty hives in the hope of catching a swarm. These will call themselves ”beekeeper”.

Other members have no intention of keeping bees but don’t want to give up the title “beekeeper”. So obviously a person can be a beekeeper before ever having bees in their care. But we do need to give the training and even mentoring before the bees arrive. A trainee beekeeper without bees is probably more entitled to the term “beekeeper” than someone who dashes in with a hive and bees bought at a whim from the internet. My own view is that we must welcome the later as much as any retired beekeeper. We must never dampen enthusiasm. Our task as an association is to supply support for bees through helping beekeepers and by educating the public about the importance of both bees and beekeepers.

Dennis Cordwell proudly described himself as a beekeeper right up to his death on 6th September. But he had not kept bees for many years. Dennis’ style of beekeeping can best be summed up by the joke “How does a queen get round her hive?" Answer “she’s throne”. He could be a bit rough with his bees but what a great contribution he made in encouraging beginners, mentoring and serving in all the great Offices of State (as they say in politics). We have reprinted on the following page of this edition one of Dennis’ cartoons for the BeeHolder and what he called his “filler pieces” - the amusingly punned “Beeattitudes” and “Beesop’s Foibles” (see page 16). Dennis got a great kick out of how many times his cartoons were repeated in beekeeping magazines throughout the UK and acknowledgement was always given to the Montgomeryshire BKA. He put our county as well as beekeeping firmly on the map. So here was a person who did Montgomeryshire beekeeping proud.

Bees helping with the washngAndy Brown, (New members’ Representative) was a neighbour of Dennis in Oswestry and brought him to the MBKA Xmas Dinner last January. I thanked Andy on behalf of all those at the funeral who said how much Dennis had appreciated being bought to the dinner. “Not A bit” said Andy “It was a pleasure. I learnt more about beekeeping during the drive than from all the meetings and all the books I had ever read”. It made me think; What is a beekeeper? A beekeeper is someone who has within them a knowledge and experience about bees that can be shared. Everyone who has ever kept bees should share. Maybe we should have an “OLD Members’ Representative” whose task it is to root out experienced and exbeekeepers and encourage them to share and mentor with the novices. Volunteers please!

When asked what I did, I sometimes said “Construction Manager” or “ I’m in Construction” or “I just fester” or “I’m a beekeeper”. “I’m a Beekeeper” produces much the best response and by far the most interesting conversations. We need to make it more worth while for Old Beekeepers to come to meetings.

Tony Shaw
Chairman MBKA

Bees in Berriew

The BeeHolder, October 2011

Late last summer we took our first look at Upper Rectory. Upon our arrival, a chap up a ladder informed us that there was a wasp's nest in the wall of the house, but we weren't to worry because he has squirted silicone into the entrance so they would no longer bother us. Now, we are no experts, but even to the untrained eye, one could see that these creatures were bees. Luckily, the bees had several entrances, no harm was done, and so our love affair accidentally began.

A while after we moved into the rectory, the daughter of the previous occupants came to visit. They had moved there in 1935 and the feral bees were already in residence and had been for some considerable time. Her mother had tried without success to have them removed but they kept returning. The family finally gave up and allowed the bees to remain, where they stay to this day. At first we were wary of them, we have a little boy and I am allergic to them. They nest in the wall, at the front of the house, quite near to a bedroom window - this has proved a pleasure and all our misgivings unfounded. When they are really active you can listen to them and feel the heat they produce through the wall in the bedroom. We have since opened a restaurant and shepherd hut bed and breakfast and have regular visits to "the bee room", as its known, by our customers, curious to find out more and get close to them. These little fuzzy creatures are so content and docile they will sit happily on your hand. We leave the window open, and the drones spend their last hours sat on the flowery curtains. I put the radiator on high, last winter, just as a precautionary measure, which I am now assured was totally unnecessary. We have a very small knowledge of bees and would appreciate any advice. We shall be on tenterhooks this winter, until spring comes, when we hope to see activity again.

Next year, we would like to catch a swarm they throw, and hive it. A friend of ours recently told us that, in folklore, having bees in the wall of your home brings great happiness and luck to the occupants. We feel lucky to have them... they have survived for all these years, against all odds, and we can closely interact with them as they go about their daily life.

If you are interested in visiting our bees We can be contacted via our website, here.

Kerry and Steve Houlker

Reports on meetings

The BeeHolder, October 2011

Here are the reports on the various meetings we have had since the last edition. Feedback is, as usual, most welcome.

Apiary visit July 31st – The Hobbyist Apiary

The BeeHolder, October 2011

We arrived to the threat of rain (in 1 ½ hours) so it was decided that we should get on with it.

There were about 30 people so we split into two groups. My Dutch Wwoofer friend, Bergit, and I followed the smaller group led by Roy Norris to the far side of the veg plot, where we found two hives, one of which was Graham’s strongest colony: a brood and a half with three supers from which he’d extracted 150lbs honey this year.

Graham told us he’d dusted with icing sugar a few days previously, so (after being reminded to zip up his hood) Roy started by inspecting the varroa board which had been there for four days. 5 or 6 mites were spotted and we also saw some varroa damaged bees in the hive, but not many.

Despite the weather being rather heavy and threatening, the bees were very patient and well beehaved as Roy meticulously inspected the hive. We felt the weight of frames heavy with delicious smelling honey, saw some eggs and new bees emerging. There was also a little chalk brood.

The supers had been stacked hot/cold. Graham told us that if the frames were pointing the same way the upper ones would stick to the lower and pull them up rolling the bees and upsetting them. His bees are very good at making glue!

Roy discovered a mysterious waxy tube – it turned out to be an empty bee bait phial. Eventually to Roy’s relief the queen was spotted so the hive could be reassembled. “Did we want to look at the other hive?” no thanks, we were more than ready for tea and cakes!

There was plenty of nice food and an interesting selection of honeys to taste including lime, bell heather, and Graham’s own. The eucalyptus wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but I thought they were all yummy!

I asked Graham how it went with his group. They had opened up two hives and examined them in ‘hefty detail’, frames were handed round to see drone cells and queen cells. They talked about getting ready for feeding. There were interesting discussions regarding the stacking of frames and Himalayan balsam as we observed bees white with pollen coming in. The main point which Graham wanted to make was that he doesn’t use smoke anymore.

Bergit really enjoyed her first apiary visit, and was thrilled to have seen bees emerging from the cells. She loved the outfit and the cakes, although struggled a bit with the new language – that of beekeepers.

A big thanks to Graham and Jean for a lovely afternoon.

Anna Lockwood

Glansevern Food Festival – 3rd & 4th September

The BeeHolder, October 2011

The Glansevern Food Festival were happy to have us back once more to help spread the word about bees to the masses. Once again the festival was well attended and it seemed as though everybody was keen to find out more about bees.

The weekend weather was mostly exccellent which allowed all of the outdoor activities to take place without any disruption.

Our marquee was well stocked with honey for sale, wax candle making, information about bees, the ever popular observation hive and a children's activity area supervised by Lis and Vicky Farrington. Outside on the grass were the mandatory hive raffle prize, the virtual hive for the nervous and also the demonstration hive on a trailer with a bee-proof cage around it so that people could see bees, beekeepers and what they do to each other.

The children learn about bees in the MBKA marquee at Glansevern ...

The children learn about bees in the MBKA marquee at Glansevern ...

... before going into action in the bee cage.

... before going into action in the bee cage.

The added twist this year was that groups of 5 children, having been trained by Vicky in the marquee, could get their first taste of real bee keeping in the cage supervised by North Montgomeryshire's SBI John Beavan. The children were clearly enjoying themselves, even when they had their hands filled with live bees (one of the best ways to overcome potential fear of bees is to literally “handle” some live bees).

To round off their special day, all the children received a certificate (see photo, including Chairman Tony Shaw (third from left) and teacher Vicky Farrington (fourth from left)). It was great to see so much enthusiasm for the hobby from ones so young. Money raised by the introductory courses will be used to buy more bee suits in children's sizes for the association.

Proud graduates of their first bee classes

Proud graduates of their first bee classes

It was an extremely successful day for the association. Three organisations asked us to repeat the demonstration and teaching format at their events next year. And the raffle raised some very useful funds. However it was a lot of hard work and it will be difficult to keep doing things like this without some more members helping out. It is definitely a case of many hands make light work, and the more people to help out on the stall, the more time each will have to look at the rest of the festival too. All the improvements came from fresh helpers but we do need more of them.

Volunteers finish packing up at Glansevern

Volunteers finish packing up at Glansevern, including Mr Baxter standing in for Dave Bennett.

The children learn about bees in the MBKA marquee at Glansevern ...

Aberystwyth “Coach Trip” – 28th September

The BeeHolder, October 2011

A Sweet Success of a Trip

Sunday afternoon is a sensible time for a trip out. Chores done and feeling relaxed we arrived at Tropical Forest Honey Products in deepest Ceredigion. A dozen or so Montgomeryshire Bee Keepers were keen to see the Forest Honey Factory and talk to David Wainwright who owns and runs the business.

David has about 750 hives in the UK, mainly in Wales, Shropshire, Lincolnshire and on Salisbury Plain. He produces set and runny honey (though he says he prefers to sell set honey as this produces less problems with consumers and retailers).

Smurfs inspecting the honey production line at Tropical Froest

Smurfs inspecting the honey production line at Tropical Froest

Alongside his UK production, David has been working with African honey producers and over the last 20 years he has travelled to many African countries to source honey and to help local people to set up and run their own honey production companies. David’s fair-trade business approach is admirable and he has built up a successful business as a partnership with the African producers. He has invested in these businesses and helped to provide a living for many families in a number of countries.

The African producers use traditional bark hives which allow them to crop some of the honey and leave about half for the bees. The tube shaped “hives” are placed high up in the trees and the producers (usually families), climb up to the hives to harvest the honey. The family members, some quite young children, don’t use any safety equipment or protective clothing which David believes results in a more natural production and calmer, less aggressive bees! If you have access to the internet, there are lots of photos of the production in Africa on David’s website which can be found at

Over the years, David has worked to produce bees that are adapted to the Welsh climate and has been part of a research project with Bangor University called the West Wales Bee Breeding ProgrammeNow that's what I call a bee suit. David and university researcher Ian Williams are trying to re-invigorate bees in Wales and during our visit we were able to listen to a presentation by Ian and discuss the programme. Ian told us that genetics are playing a key role in breeding strong bees which are adapted to life in our climate, are resistant to Varroa and to other bee diseases.

Members asked copious questions about bees, honey, wax, equipment, product demand, cost, production and a number of other topics. David showed us around each of the production and packing areas starting with the drums of honey that are imported from Africa and some which are sourced in the UK. Inside the factory which we toured, adorned with attractive blue hair nets (see photo), the filtering area where the honey is warmed and filtered to remove impurities. David does not use very fine filters as this can remove all of the pollen and also some of the taste. We were then shown the filling and packing areas and David showed us some of the different packaging used for specific customers. He supplies a wide variety of retailers including Fortnum and Mason.

After our tour, David kindly made us tea (thankfully there were less than 18 of us as this is the number of cups they have at the factory!) which was very welcome after standing for a couple of hours. Tony proposed a vote of thanks to David and to Ian for giving up their time to talk to us and a number of members purchased a jar of the forest honey (I can confirm that it is delicious).

The day was rounded off with a very good carvery meal at LLety Ceiro Guest House, to be recommended, an excellent end to an interesting and enjoyable half day out.

Liz Barnes

Apiary Report

The BeeHolder, October 2011

Whilst the apiary is looking very good with the new observation hut, and we have held several successful apiary visits and training sessions there since opening, we have to say that this year has not been an unqualified success.

Losses have been considerable and in spite of having bought in five new colonies, we will be going into the winter with the same number of hives as we went into last winter. Further there is very little honey to harvest from the hives that have survived. Perhaps it is not in a good place, but Eric Franklin is only a couple of miles away and has 17 hives with tons of honey. Several local beekeepers said it was a good place for bees, and the estate manager told us that lots of swarms used to come in to the estate.

The plan was to concentrate on making increase in the early part of the season (whilst the rhododendrons were in bloom), and then add supers for a honey harvest towards the end of the season. Perhaps this was too optimistic, or other factors were in play which meant that both objectives were not met.

There was some damage to the bee mesh of one of the observation hut windows. People have complained about the number. of bees that get caught inside the hut, trying to get back to the hives, so perhaps this was deliberate damage? When the hut is finished off (just a few bits of tidying up and cladding to do) a bee space sized gap will be left so that returning bees can negotiate the hut safely.

On a positive note, we do have a good range of different types of hive (including Warre and top bar hives) and colonies at different stages of development, both of which are good for educational purposes.

Chris Leech

Home-made honey could fight superbugs

The BeeHolder, October 2011

University researchers and the National Botanic Garden of Wales are appealing for help in building up a DNA profile of the nation’s honey. They hope to use the information to identify plants which could fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as the ‘superbug’ MRSA. The honey project could also help fight the diseases currently attacking Britain’s bees.

Honeys have long been known to have antibacterial properties and are used in wound dressings today. Different honeys act against different microbes depending on the chemicals in the plants visited by bees.

Now the Welsh School of Pharmacy and the National Botanic Garden of Wales with support from the Society for Applied Microbiology is asking honey-makers across the country to send them samples, along with a list of plants near their beehives. A screening test developed at Cardiff will test for activity against two of the most common hospital acquired infections antibiotic-resistant bacteria MRSA and Clostridium difficile.

The National Botanic Garden of Wales will identify the plants which contributed to the most powerful honeys, using a DNA profiling process being developed as an application of their Barcode Wales project, that has DNA barcoded the flowering plants of Wales. The team will then investigate the plants found in honey for the potential to develop new drugs. The Botanic Garden has 14 beehives and an inhouse bee keeper, Lynda Christie, who will provide key expertise in support of this project.

The joint University and Garden team will also be looking for honeys which help bees resist pests and bugs. In particular, they will test for resistance to the Varroa mite, which has caused a rapid decline in the UK bee population, and the bacterium Paenibacillus larvae, responsible for American Foulbrood, which is one of the most destructive of all bee diseases. Bee pollination is worth an estimated £100m to British agriculture every year, and it is vital to halt the fall in bee numbers.

Professor Les Baillie of the Welsh School of Pharmacy said: "A lot of drug development involves expensive laboratory screening of a huge variety of plant products, often without success. We’re hoping to cut out the middle man and let the bees do a lot of the hard work, guiding to us those plants which work. We’re hoping the public can provide us with as much home-made honey as possible – they could supply the vital breakthrough in fighting these bacteria."

Dr Natasha de Vere, National Botanic Garden of Wales, said: "We have nearly completed our Barcode Wales project to DNA barcode each of the 1143 flowering plants in Wales and are excited to be developing our first applications that use this fantastic resource. We can see which honeys have the best results against infectious diseases that affect humans and bees and use DNA barcoding to identify the plants making the honey.

Anyone who wants to contribute their honey to the research project should send a 200 gram pot with their address, postcode, and details of the plants their bees feed on to:

Jenny Hawkins,
Welsh School of Pharmacy,
Cardiff University,
Redwood Building
King Edward VII Avenue
CF10 3NB

Reproduced from Gwent BKA newsletter courtesy of eBees


The BeeHolder, October 2011

I was thinking about my pastimes and hobbies and realised that many, if not all, tended to look back to supposedly better times. Then I thought about beekeeping.

If ever there is a craft that demands a forward-looking optimism it is beekeeping. I've been keeping bees (or trying to) for just over 10 years. Nowadays many more people are giving it a go. And why not? It is absorbing, challenging to the physical condition and to the little grey cells, relatively inexpensive and if you work hard enough at it, it can pay for itself. Not yet for me -- you understand!

There are loads of books about beekeeping and getting a selection is a sure way to madness. Buy one book and if you like it -- follow it. If you don't -- recycle it and get another. Don't keep both -- if four beekeepers are asked one question about beekeeping you will be given at least five very different answers. And (unfortunately perhaps) they will all be correct. So you have to find an approach or method that you like and one that works for you and that's about it!

But the bees don't read the books and will usually do what they decide they will do unless you are a very cunning and clever beekeeper. To be a cunning and clever beekeeper you have to keep bees for at least five years longer than you have already kept bees. Yes; you can never outsmart all the bees all the time. So you have to keep alert. Where did I put mine, I know I saw it recently. That would be just before the swarm which I was sure I had anticipated and prevented.

Most of my bees are housed in a custom built bee shelter. Here is a picture to save 1,000 words.

Roy Norris' bee shelter - ideal for the Welsh winterIt is really a shed with a concrete floor, slatted sides, open front and a solid back (to thwart frosts rolling down the hill to the pond), built by one of our members – not me. This is the first year of use but so far the signs are encouraging. Bees inside the house are much better tempered when compared to those left outside. On the other hand, it may be that I am getting tired when I reach the outside bees. The bees really appreciate a clumsy beekeeper and show this by rising -- as if one body -- from the hive and indicating to the hapless beekeeper in a gentle spirit of warning, that one should be more careful - if there is to be a next time.

Do you recognise any of my comments as reflecting your experience? If so, perhaps you would share your experiences of beekeeping. There is no need to bother too much about the downsides to beekeeping. Just tell of the joys, great honey, making wax candles, balms and polishes, of "making increase”, of Queen rearing and swarm management.

Roy Norris

I'm sure that a lot of our beekeepers have experiences and knowledge well worth passing on. Why not write an article for the next BeeHolder? If you are interested, get in touch before 16th December!


Toby's Top Tip

Candy canesCandy canesThe BeeHolder, October 2011


If you don't feed enough in the autumn you can feed candy in the winter, last year I gave my bees lots.

Toby Beavan

Dennis The Mentor

The BeeHolder, October 2011

It was a Saturday morning some years ago now that I was standing on my plant stall selling (amongst other things) some small cotoneaster shrubs that were in flower. A man with silver grey hair walked past and pointed to a bee on the shrub and made the comment that the shrub was very good for bees. After asking him if he kept bees and a bit about keeping them we talked about moving bees some distance and my garden became a staging post for two hives.

Over that season I had one or two hives in my garden most of the time and whenever Dennis came to work them I joined in and became hooked by his humour, enthusiasm and expertise and bought an old hive and a colony from him.

What is the point of this little story?

It is that I had a whole season with expert advice and practice of helping with hives and learning a fair bit from my MENTOR without any outlay. It benefited us both - me learning and he moving hives.

My point is that with all the publicity about bees dieing out and the disaster it could be. Many people think they can just buy a hive or two, a couple of colonies and at the end of the season they can harvest many jars of free honey whilst saving the planet. In other words they have the right intention but not a clue, and if they don't have some help with handling and all the work that goes into it they loose interest and sell their kit at a huge loss.

After my mentoring period was over, for several years Dennis would pop in and we would chat about things, and he would suggest better ways of managing my (by now) eight colonies and lending books on Mini Neucs and Swarm control etc.

So why do we not have a Mentor scheme in the association? So that if someone wants to start an beekeeping, an experienced member local to the new person acts as a Mentor. Ideally the experienced member would put a hive of bees in the new member's apiary and the new member would assist in the day to day upkeep of the hive learning “hands on” how to keep bees. The experienced member gets help with his beekeeping, a (temporary) out apiary and that smug feeling that comes with helping someone. The new member gets a trial period (with help) of keeping bees and that their neighbours and family don't mind, before making any outlay.

Graham Winchester

Dennis Cordwell passed away in September and was a keen beekeeper. Graham's tribute above is a reminder of what a good beekeeper and friend he was to many in the association.


The lighter side of beekeeping

The BeeHolder, October 2011

A bee inspector had been seconded to an area where he was not familiar with the location of out-apiaries. He was searching for this particular apiary on foot having left his car in a nearby lane. He suddenly came to a river which appeared to have no means of crossing. Seeing an old beekeeper on the other bank, he called out, 'Hey, how do I get to the other side?' The old fellow looked carefully along the bank to the left, then carefully along the bank to the right, thought a bit, then called back, 'You are on the other side.'

One morning a bee inspector stops at this farm. He rings the doorbell and Mavis, the farmer’s wife, opens the front door. 'Is your husband home, Ma'am?’ he asks politely. 'Aargh, that he is,' answers Mavis, 'He's over int’ apiary near the horses and pigs.' 'Well, I have some important items to show him, Ma'am. Will I have any difficulty finding him?”
'Oooo now, I wouldn't think so. Harry will be the one in a beesuit'

Having arrived at his out-apiary, a beekeeper saw a little mouse passing by who had caught a waxmoth. The beekeeper snatched up the mouse and the moth dropped into the long grass. Feeling sorry for the little mouse with no lunch, he poured a little beer down his throat. He put down the mouse went about his beekeeping. A bit later the beekeeper felt a tug on a leg of his beesuit. Looking down, he saw the same mouse with three more moths in his mouth...

A certain beekeeper, notorious for his sponging proclivities, met an equally mean friend at his apiary one morning, and opened the conversation by saying: "Can ye len' us a match, John?" John having supplied him with the match, the first man began to look in his toolbox ostentatiously, and then remarked dolefully, "Man, I seem to have left my smoker fuel at hame." John, however, was equal to the occasion, and holding out his hand, remarked: "Aweel, ye'll no be needin' that match then."

The dentist’s receptionist kept his diary of appointments. The dentist did not work at the weekends as that was the time he tended his bees. Looking at his August appointments he noticed that one weekend had the word “TOOTHACHE” written across both days. He queried this with his receptionist. She replied, “It’s quite simple really. Toothache – time for extraction!”

Two bees met in a field. One said to the other, "How are things going?" "Really bad," said the second bee. "The weather has been cold, wet and damp, and there aren't any flowers, so I can't make honey." "No problem," said the first bee. "Just fly down five blocks and turn left. Keep going until you see all the cars. There's a Bar Mitzvah going on and there are all kinds of fresh flowers and fresh fruit." "Thanks for the tip," said the second bee, and flew away.
A few hours later the two bees ran into each other again. The first bee asked, "How'd it go?" "Great!" said the second bee. "It was everything you said it would be. There was plenty of fruit and, oh, such huge floral arrangements on every table." "Uh, what's that thing on your head?" asked the first bee.
"That's my yarmulke," said the second bee. "I didn't want them to think I was a wasp."

The beekeeping supply shop sold Varroa sticky sheet by the yard in either of two widths: 36 inches or 48 inches.
Customer: "Can you please cut some sticky sheet for me?"
Assistant: "Certainly, what width?"
Customer: (confused and slightly annoyed) "Thissors?"

What do you do with a swarm if bees in your bed? Sleep somewhere else!

Reproduced from “The Eke” courtesy of eBees

Beesop's Foibles

The BeeHolder, October 2011

The members of the Little Mudpuddle and District BKA were all feeling somewhat frustrated - well, nearly all; Old Fred, who had kept bees in the area since there were bees, was being his usual taciturn self and grinning smugly at the unsuccessful efforts of his colleagues to get their smokers going in the stiff breeze. He couldn't help feeling sorry for Young Harry, though, who was trying pathetically hard to impress the pretty, young new member and failing miserably. After a while he gently led Yourig Harry aside and said quietly "Wot you needs young feller is a few drops of Bee Elixir. Works wonders, it does — specially if yer knows the Magic Words as goes wiv It. Gimme yer smoker and I'll show yer!" Obligingly, Young Harry handed over the reluctant smoker and watched as the old man took a small plastic bottle from his capacious pocket and, unscrewing the cap, sprinkled about five drops of a pale red liquid on the end of the smoke cartridge and chanted "S'ereh lesied won ekoms timmad!" Then, taking an old lighter from another pocket he flicked the wheel and grinned to see Young Harry's look of stupefaction as the cartridge burst into flame. A moment later it was eased into the smoker and going like Kenneth Clark. "That's amazing" said Young Harry "What do those magic words mean, Fred?"

"Nuffink really" grinned the old man "it was just 'Here's Diesel now smoke dammit!' only I said it backwards to impress yer and I fink it did. After a meaningful silence he added "P'raps you could try it on the young leddy young feller” Young Harry did - and it did! He also discovered that BBQ Lighting Fluid is equally good but Diesel is easier to obtain – and cheaper too. Old Fred was wise in more ways than one.

MORAL There's no fuel like an oiled fuel.

Dennis Cordwell

Please note that MBKA does not endorse the use of accelerants for lighting stubborn smokers.

The True Significance of Winter Brood Rearing

The BeeHolder, October 2011

The recent scientific confirmation of winter brood rearing in the honeybee colony has real significance for the survival of over-wintering colonies in the present circumstances. Despite the fact that there are many beekeepers who either never questioned the accepted wisdom of a hiatus in rearing brood in the bee colony in the dormant period or who have rejected the concept out of hand; winter brood rearing in the presence of the Varroa mite takes on a whole new dimension.

The jury is still out on the causes of the massive bee colony losses world wide but there is increasing focus on the neuro-toxic pesticides such as Imidacloprid, Clothiniadin, Fipronil etc, in the areas where crops like maize and OSR are grown and where the seed and development of these crops is treated with these suspect substances. There is little doubt that the nicotinoid pesticides are deeply implicated in colony losses, however the mystery of the losses deepens when despite the argument that pesticides are the culprit, heavy colony losses are also being incurred in areas well away from intensive agriculture. The issue of winter brood rearing becomes a critical factor when these late winter/early spring losses are addressed.

Recent information coming from Germany advocates that the infestation level in any colony infested with Varroa should not exceed 50 mites at the end of December. A drop of 1 mite/2 days on the floor insert at this time seems to be a good indicator that a mite population of between 35-50 has been reached. If a fall greater than this is registered the colony MUST be treated immediately. Even in Germany many beekeepers, up until the present time at least, still hold the popular belief that there is a hiatus to brood rearing in winter (personal correspondence), however notwithstanding it has been noted that colonies entering winter with low mite infestations have a greater survival rate than otherwise.

A simple calculation might drive home the critical importance of low mite numbers in colonies in early winter:

  • Every larva produced as a result of winter breeding will be a target for a female mite, which will live for around two months.
  • The mite average reproduction rate is reckoned to be some 1:1 new mites per generation
  • Consider a colony entering winter with a mite burden of 50; every 18 days the mite population will double; using mid December as a start date – best case scenario is that by mid January there will be 105 mites, by early February there will be 220, by the end of February 460, by late March 968 and by mid April 1800.
  • The adult bee population is of course meantime being parasitised and debilitated as well. Believe it or not that is the good news.
  • Now consider a colony with a mite population level of just 200, which is quite low by the current accepted standards of the ’winter breeding hiatus’ beekeeper advocate:
  • Initially each developing winter larva will be ‘multiple parasitised’, every 18 days the mite population will increase dramatically and to boot each emerging bee will be a total loss to the colony:
  • Using mid December as a start date – best case scenario is that by mid January there could be 500 mites, by early February there could be 1250, by the end of February 3125, by late 189 March 7860 and by mid April – best case scenario 19,440. The figures postulated could be questioned but the order of increasing magnitude is indisputable. By late April this hypothetical colony could be in real crisis or may have already succumbed.

It is unsurprising that many colonies entering the winter with mite burdens of over 200, especially in the possession of beekeepers who do not carry out their anti-mite treatments diligently or correctly, fail to survive past late winter or early spring. The phenomenon of winter brood rearing in the honeybee colony will be ignored at beekeeper peril. If age-old dogma can be cast aside, who knows, we in Scotland at least could really begin to take control of our colony health and winter survival. By ensuring that the mite has as few potential hosts on which to do her wicked work and really getting to grips with the necessary work of winter mite control – which entails any treatment method, applied at the correct time, that kills mites in the brood cells. Formic acid is, to date, the only substance which does just that. Applied correctly around early April this treatment method could just be the tipping point to get your colonies through to summer to become an effective honey gathering force.

The effectiveness of any late winter treatment will have to be closely monitored to ensure that the mite burden is as low or ideally lower than recommended. Thymol or oxalic acid treatment used correctly will achieve this aim.

Eric McArthur, Scottish BKA
Reproduced courtesy of eBees

I resisted the temptation to re-title this article “How the mitey have fallen”


The BeeHolder, October 2011

Here is one of Dennis's and a few further Beeattitudes - small filler pieces to help the spacing of a magazine.


Blessed are they who bid at MBKA auctions for they shall gain bargains
Yea verily – not half

Dennis Cordwell

There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance.

Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)
philosopher, author, naturalist


Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn`t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn`t know it so it goes on flying anyway.

Mary Kay Ash

Hope is the only bee that makes honey without flowers.

Anders Aslund

July 2011

The BeeHolder, July 2011

Queen stabbing as a sport

Whoops! Well, it was the queen

Boffins explaining the brood frame at the apiary family day.

(No queens were harmed in the making of this BeeHolder)

Photo courtesy of Gekkko

Here is the BeeHolder in glorious colour (except the black and white bits). Navigate through using the links at the side or at the bottom of each page. You can download a version in portable document format (PDF) using the link below.

BeeHolder Jul 11.pdf600.53 KB


The BeeHolder, July 2011

Well, this is my second stab at the BeeHolder editing job, and so far it has not gone as smoothly as hoped. July 5th already and the thing is only half done. Still, it has to get easier as I go along, doesn't it?

I hinted in my last editorial that the winter had not been a bad one for bees and beekeepers, but now the dust has completely settled it is clear that I have lost both my hives. Not strictly true – I still have them, but they are empty. Perhaps I should concentrate more on the keeping aspect of beekeeping.

My hopes of catching a swarm to keep things going have pretty much evaporated for this season, but with a lot of other things going on perhaps it is better to put off keeping bees till next year. I expect there will be a lot of angry, unpollinated plants about who won't thank me for that.

(Also I must apologise for cutting down to 16 pages from 20, but due to a car crash everything got even more hectic than usual right at the end. Perhaps this quarter I should work to a deadline of September 1st for issue! This paragraph added after the BeeHolder went to press).

Chris Leech



This space for rent !


If you would like to advertise in the BeeHolder and reach over 100 beekeepers directly plus many more on the internet, please contact a member of the committee






We Welcome as New Members ...

The BeeHolder, July 2011

Debbie Gurden [Shrewsbury], Simon Church [Newtown], John Sanford [Felindre] and Veronica White [Llanymynech].

We look forward to seeing you at the various events coming up during the next few months. Also, if you have not already done so, why not sign up to the Montybees web site to keep track of the latest developments and join in on the forum pages?

Busy bee BrianBRIAN NORRIS







Little Garth,
Garth Lane,
SY16 3LN

01686 625250

Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, July 2011

At the last committee meeting there was criticism that the MBKA had perhaps spent too much time trying to make the meetings attractive and sociable and not provided enough training courses. It is a balance that it is hard to get right.

The big increase in membership and the average attendance at meetings suggests that we are doing something right. Then, during casual conversations, one notices the fathomless depth of ignorance of a fellow beekeeper to the seemingly obvious and is driven to despair. But one cannot show the despair because that would cut off the learning process. One has always to show concern and encouragement. Could there be a way of having a course for say.”assembling a brood frame from a kit of bits of wood”? Of course too few would come, but how many times have you noticed a frame nailed wrongly and causing trouble in the hive? Or, another example, could we have a course on the genetics of insects? I suspect it would either be deemed to be to esoteric or too simplistic. Yet I know of many members who are full of enthusiasm for helping the environment through keeping bees or desperate for the honey for their family and yet are totally ignorant about simple insect biology.“..what is a drone?” . These questions do not come out in formal training courses, but in the casual walk towards a hive and whilst stacking the tea cups.

During the life of this edition of BeeHolder we are going from the second blast of nectar flow to taking off the honey and shutting down the hives for winter. July to October is a busy time for beekeepers and yet it one where many, especially novice beekeeper, maybe approaching without knowledge or guidance. The courses that we have run at the beginning of the year seem a far distant ...memory... no not even memory... because most of what was said would have been forgotten. Beekeeping is a craft that can really only be learnt by closely following the hand movements of a more experienced beekeeper. A book may describe how to light a smoker and administer smoke to a hive. Only the sight of an experienced beekeeper smoking can show the lazy waft of the smoke over the frames drifted into crevices by the wind.

The Training Apiary at Gregynog is manned regularly by Apiary Manager Dave Bennett and Seasonal Bee Inspector John Beavan. For hands-on experience of bees there can be no better opportunity than to be at Gregynog whilst these guys are working the hives. They have both done courses on how to teach beekeeping. And both have a natural way with bees. Phone up to check on a date. Often Dave and John can arrange for their next vist to the apiary to coincide when you are free to be in the area.

In the next MBKA meeting, in Newtown on July 31st, host Graham Winchester has promised us a couple of deliberate mistakes. Bring along your children and grandchildren in the hope that Graham will again throw himself into his pond to bring out newts and dragonfly larvae for the amusement of children and adults alike. Learning is easier when there is delight and he who plays the fool has often the highest of motives at heart.

Tony Shaw

If you have any views on this, or if you have some ideas for courses you would like to see, don't hesitate to get in touch with somebody on the committee or start a thread on the forum area of the website.


Bee Safari

The BeeHolder, July 2011

When Regional Bee Inspector John Beavan first mentioned the idea of a “bee safari” to me I was a little confused. Immediately my thoughts turned to pith helmets, khaki shorts, native-bearers and blunderbusses. I began to wonder if Apis Mellifera would look a bit out of place mounted on the wall next to the moose’s head.

The correct dress for a bee safariHowever, with a bit of explanation I began to understand that FERA’s bee safari idea was one that could be really useful to new and experienced beekeepers alike. The simple premise was that John would organise a group of us, all living relatively near to each other, to meet up and take a look at each others’ bees. We’d move from apiary to apiary, inspect the bees, and then finish the day with a bring-and-share lunch.

After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing by e-mail a date was agreed and I began to start worrying about whether my rather feisty bees would behave themselves on the day! When the day arrived I awoke ot the sound of rain on the roof – not a good start. However, John picked me up at around 10am and we headed off to meet the others at the first apiary. Our fellow beekeepers on the safari were Ros, Richard and Ivor – all members of the Oswestry Beekeepers Association.

We arrived at Richard’s apiary where he keeps his two hives in the beautiful countryside up near Rhiwlas and the sun began to emerge from the clouds. John treated us to a few jokes from the FERA Bee Inspectors’ Joke Book – including the hilarious “your bees are all dead”. How we laughed!

Richard’s bees were a fairly dark strain and were almost as ferocious as mine have been over the last few weeks – John sustained a few stings and Ivor ended up with a few hundreds of bees on his back and a couple inside his veil. But, the bees seemed to be doing well and his recently artificially-swarmed colony was building up nicely.

One of the “rules” of the bee safari is that you are not allowed to inspect your own bees. It was exciting to handle someone else’s bees but made us all a bit nervous of committing some kind of terrible mistake. For the first time in years my hands were trembling as I pulled out each frame!

Don't expect to see this...After a brief break for tea, cake and chat we moved on to Ros’s apiary. Ros’s two colonies and two nucs had been giving her cause for concern lately as they had been hell-bent on swarming. We carefully opened up Ros’s hives and found a mixed bag – the two nucs were doing really well but one of colonies seemed to be almost “swarmed out” and the other was in desperate need of feeding. The poor weather over the last month had left the bees with little or no stores. Ros headed off to find a feeder asap!

Next came my apiary. I had been looking forward all week to proudly showing off my bees but, surprise surprise, as we reached my house the heavens opened and a torrential downpour began. So, as we were already running a bit late, we reluctantly decided to skip my bees and move straight onto lunch. Over our feast of sandwiches, salads and cakes we discussed everything from varroa to hive thefts, and John gave us all some very insightful tips on disease control.

.. but expect to see theseI was disappointed that we didn’t get to look at my bees but, I have to say, I benefited immensely from the bee safari. The chance to see how other people manage their bees, the equipment they use and the problems they encounter, was an enriching and educational experience as well as being a fun, social day. I would highly recommend it to new and experienced beekeepers alike.

As we parted we exchanged phone nos and e-mails and all agreed that we would carry on meeting as a small group every now and then and would assist each other with swarms etc. I’m already looking forward to our next meeting when, hopefully, my bees will be the main attraction!

If you would like to go on safari with beekeepers in your local area please get in touch with  John Beavan.

Bee picture courtesy of Gekkko.

Andy Brown

Reports on meetings

The BeeHolder, July 2011

I've split the reports down to one a page, so navigate using the links below for reports on alll the meetings since the last BeeHolder.

Varroa management for beginners - 17th April

The BeeHolder, July 2011

We had booked SBI John Beavan for two varroa courses at Gregynog. John had advised that there should be a course for novice beekeepers and another for experienced beekeepers. Novices on the 17th and the more experienced on the 30th April. That way John would be able to pitch the courses at the level of experience of the audience.

The novice course, on 17th April, was well attended - perhaps even a little oversubscribed. John gave the lecture in the morning, and the attending beginners left with a more confident attitude towards the varroa problem. John then drove to Churchstoke to inspect a Member’s hives (before they were sold on to a new member) and then drove back to Gregynog for our first Open Apiary meeting with an emphasis on family friendliness in the afternoon.

This was a pleasant afternoon spent in the apiary whilst some wives and children played outside. Some beekeepers remarked that they would not have been able to attend had they not been able to bring their children. Afterwards there was an opening of the hives in the Gregynog apiary which all could attend, and finally the traditional (and to some, all important) apiary visit tea and chat.

Varroa management for more experienced keepers - 30th April

The BeeHolder, July 2011

Unfortunately this event was cancelled due to undersubscription, and then tragically several beekeepers turned up on the day, not realizing that they had needed to reserve a place in advance. Unlike normal apiary meetings, for a course the lecture room at Gregynog has to be paid for, John Beavan cannot afford the time to come all the way from Oswestry for a non-event, and so we need to know in advance if there is sufficient interest in a course to justify holding it. Perhaps it is appropriate to mention that the rate of colony loss is greater in apiaries of “the more experienced” beekeepers than in those of novice beekeepers.

This was an unfortunate mix up, but hopefully the course will be re-scheduled to run at another time as varroa management is clearly a key skill for beekeepers of all experience levels.

Open Hives at Gregynog – 15th May

The BeeHolder, July 2011

The theme of the open hives meeting at our Gregynog training apiary was “American and European Foul Brood”. Again this was a meeting designed to be family friendly, and as the pictures (also front cover) show, the meeting was well attended by beekeepers both young and old. Many thanks to Trisha Marlow (© Gekkko) for taking the photographs and allowing their use here. Note that I have reduced the quality somewhat for a smaller file size and hence a shorter time to download.

A first encounter with bees, and only slight trepidation!

SBI John Beavan had used the apiary equipment shed to arrange posters, booklets and even some infected brood frames to demonstrate how to spot AFB and EFB. This was organised so that the members could file through, whilst John was available for questions and more detailed explanation. A simple concept but one which was very effective.

You have to learn your WBCs

Whilst this was going on, in the apiary proper president Jim Crundwell and apiary manager David Bennett went through hives with the other members. For many it was the first time at the apiary, and there is a lot to take in with the number and variety of hives. The younger attendees were clearly delighted to handle frames of bees and look at them – you can't start 'em too young getting an interest in beekeeping!

Eyes downAfter the serious business with the bees, an apiary tea took place with plenty of sandwiches, cales, teas, coffee and chat. After some re-organisation, the picnic tables and benches between the car park and the apiary made a very serviceable picnic site. And I dare say that the children enjoyed the cakes too.

Apiary Grand Opening, Gregynog – 5th June

The BeeHolder, July 2011

The official opening of the Gregynog Apiary was on Sunday 5th June 2011 coinciding with the Gregynog Hall Garden Festival.

Help us help beesThere were many stallholders as well as demonstrations of birds of prey flying and sheep dogs herding ducks. In spite of the weather forecast, which had talked of downpours and storms, it was a pleasant day if a little cooler than of late and overcast at times.

The MBKA marquee was the biggest and most obvious one there and contained bee and honey related stalls. Bees abroad organised candle making for children and Pam Gregory gave an interesting talk about their work in Africa. See here for more information about what they do.

The Great Oak Bookshop of Llanidloes had a table in the tent with an extensive range of books about bees and beekeeping. Their shop is well worth a visit - it is like a little piece of Hay-on-Wye in the middle of Wales.

The chairman on his chair. (Photo courtesy of You've Been Framed)Our association president, Jim Crundwell, brought along some of the extensive collection of equipment which he has amassed over his beekeeping career. Quite a few people had to ask what some of the stranger looking items were used for.

As a special treat, Brian Goodwin (known to many of us for his beekeeping instruction classes) brought along his male voice choir who entertained the crowd with a selection of anecdotes and songs. The MBKA members who had volunteered to help out on the day also assisted the choir in demolishing a delicious tea laid on for the occasion.

Although no actual ribbon was cut, chairman Tony Shaw made a brief speech to welcome everyone to the opening of the apiary. The viewing hut was not then completely finished, but the crowd filled it up and the overflow arranged themslves along the bee-proof fencing to either side.

There were then two demonstrations of beekeeping at the apiary, ably presented by Dave Bennett and SBI John Beavan. They gave informative and yet entertaining performances which were well received, and yet still found time to go though all nine hives thoroughly.

Thanks again to all the members who helped make it a successful day.

Tŷ Capel Deildre - 26th June

The BeeHolder, July 2011

Dr Beverly Evans-Britt had an open garden day at Tŷ Capel Deildre near Llanidloes in aid of Bees Abroad and MBKA apiary at Gregynog. Although the weather was glorious, the event was not as well attended as it has been in the past. Was this due to insufficient advertising, the recession or the radio advising people to stay indorrs and keep cool to avoid spontaneous combustion?

The garden is at 1,350 ft (411 m) and was created 42 years ago from a very windswept waste site. It is amazing to see what treees and plants she has managed to cultivate here at the top of mid-Wales.

Cage fighting with bees?For the kids there was a bouncy castle whilst the grown-ups restocked their own gardens at the well stocked plant sale. Bee interests were met by the firtual hive, an observation hive as well as the demonstration opening of one of the apiary hives by John Beavan and his son Toby inside the bee proof cage originally builst for Glansevern last year. Croquet and badminton were set up for those who wanted some competitive excitement. Bees abroad had their stall set up to demonstrate their work in Africa.

After the general public were turfed out and the barbecue was fired up. In the absence of regular barbecue gourmet Graham Winchester, it was all a bit haphazard and disorganised, but there wasn't a lot left at the end, so we must have done something right.

After the meal, those who had them donned bee suits and went to look at some of the highest bees in Wales, if not Britain. Tony has three hives here which seem to do surprisinglywell on their diet of mountain flora and clouds.

The Role of the Swarm Co-ordinator

The BeeHolder, July 2011

Ideally, the swarm coordinator would be available at home 24 hours a day during the swarming season, with access to telephone and the internet. It is a distinct advantage if his/her telephone contract is one with free outgoing calls at any time!

Before the swarming season, the coordinator makes contact with the Local Authority, the Police, Fire and Ambulance Services, both at local stations and their respective headquarters, to inform them of the services we provide for the removal of swarms, giving contact details. At the same time the swarm removal service is publicesed in prominent places, such as doctors' and dentists' surgeries, free public advertising sites in supermarkets and the like.

The press are also be asked to publish information about the Association giving details about bees, swarming, and who to contact. As the public generally are unable to differentiate between bees and wasps we indicate that we are willing to give advice. This information appears twice, once at the start of the swarm season and again a couple of weeks later if possible (a jar of local honey works wonders). Another useful contact is using the local freegle groups internet site to advertise our work.

So far as the members are concerned, a list is made of those requiring swarms. This includes names and locations, telephone numbers, distance willing to travel to collect a swarm and whether or not assistance is required for their first swarm. Members putting their names on the list should ensure that they have the facility and equipment required to collect a swarm. A cardboard box perhaps? And a hive to put the bees in at the apiary or home?

On report of a swarm the first person on the list in that area is telephoned and given the available details of the swarm together with names and telephone number of the person reporting. They can then get any further information from the source such as the requirement for special equipment - a ladder may be required or deatiled directions by mobile phone.

It would be nice, but not essential, to receive a return call on the completion of the collection : it is essential to get a return call if the person going has a change of mind and decides not to go for any reason. This enables the call to be passed down to the next person on the list. A phone call is essential, not an email as the computer is not manned 24/7 If you find that you no longer need a swarm please let the coordinator know as soon as possible to save unnecessary phone calls.

It is an required skill to be able to fend off calls diplomatically without bringing the Association into disrepute. Numerous calls are received from householders who say they have a swarm, but in reality have a wasps nest. Some are genuinely worried not knowing the difference between bees and wasps, and just want advice and reassurance, but others are just trying to get the wasps removed for free, as the local authority and pest controllers charge heavily for this service.

You have to be prepared to receive calls into the night, like one I received from a vicar at 11-30 p.m. who wanted, nay, demanded, that we do something immediately with the masonry bees that were allegedly eating his church. Fortunately his church was in Shropshire so he was provided with the telephone number of the Shropshire bee keepers

Another late one was from a lady who also demanded that we removed four bees that were threatening to sting her children. When asked where the four bees were she replied that they were in the window. She was advised to open the window.

You meet a lot of nice people doing the job, mainly on the phone and it is nice to be able to help them to help us.

Roy Mander

Bee Inspector's newsletter

The BeeHolder, July 2011

I have been holding back from writing a Wales inspectorate’s newsletter until we have our new recruits in place and I can introduce them. The process has been slow because of the public sector recruitment freeze and it is still not finalised. However, I am confident that we will fill the vacancies and that they will be in post very soon. I will send out details of our new inspectors and the new inspection areas as soon as I can confirm them. Until then, I am pleased to say that our newsletter has been missed and, because events are threatening to overtake us, I will wait no longer.

As usual, the highs and lows of our beekeeping fortunes are dictated by the weather. After a warm April, when colonies built up very well, May turned cool and wet in West Wales, and drier and cool in East Wales. Those close to oil seed rape found that the flow ended abruptly while it was still in flower due to the drought conditions and that only pollen continued to come in. At the same time, the tree blossom fell prematurely and the nectar flow from the ground plants dried up. For most of May, we have had cool windy damp weather, cold nights and not much rain in many areas so that there is a serious soil water deficiency.

These conditions do not stop the swarming impulse. In fact, colonies that had built up strongly on the rape and then were idle in the hive with no foraging to do, have now turned their energies to swarming - if they had not done so previously. I fear that many of these have gone feral and perished due to starvation. You should inspect your bees regularly, weekly at this time of year. Only then can you be up to speed with what’s going on in the hives and manage any potential swarming.

Queen mating and requeening after swarming, splits and so on, has been very slow. This makes for irritable bees when they have no open brood to look after. On our travels, we have seen splits, nucs and even some slow developing colonies that missed the April nectar flow, on the point of starvation. If you find that your colony is light and lethargic, give it a feed of 1kg/1 litre of sugar syrup, spraying some on the bees or dribbling on the top bars in extreme circumstances. If you are doubtful that there is a queen in the colony, then give it a frame of eggs and young brood from a queen right colony. Provided the bees have not been left too long and become weak and demoralized, they should make emergency queen cells and right the hive. To subdue a restless, hungry hive, you can carry a hand sprayer containing weak sugar solution to wet them and keep them under control while inspecting.

The warm, calmer weather now should allow all those unmated virgins to get out and mate at last. Remember that they need five days to mature after emergence and then have a three week window of time in which to mate before they become stale. This fine spell has come just in time. Meanwhile, the blackberry, clover and rosebay willow herb promise to be in flower early and we await a flow from them.

The inspectorate team has been busy working on the National Bee Unit’s two year Random Apiary Survey sampling programme. This came to a close on 31st May. I am assured that the results of the pathogen screening of the samples collected from around Wales will be posted on Beebase by November this year. We will be visiting new beekeepers in the coming weeks so, when you get your bees, please visit Beebase and self register your details, and we will be in touch.

I will sign off with thanks to David Coles, Seasonal Bee Inspector for South Powys, for allowing me to use some of his seasonal notes and wish you a very productive summer.

Frank Gellatly
Regional Bee Inspector

Toby's Top Tip

The BeeHolder, July 2011

Do you want this to happen to you?... or this?



Make sure the hood on your bee suit is zipped up properly before you open the hive.


Toby Beavan


Bees without frontiers

The BeeHolder, July 2011

The Czech Republic started the international competition and meeting of young beekeepers in 2010. This was a very well-organized event in which both the beekeeping as well as entertainment and sociability were not neglected. The understanding of young people across the borders should be, in this era of globalization, developed and not taken for granted.

Austria is going to hold this event in 2011 which was welcomed and accepted by last year’s participants in a very positive way. There are representatives from up to 20 nations expected this year. Monty Bees are one of the supporters who are sending a Welsh team of 3 young people from Ceredigion, Anglesey and Ruthin to Warth in Austria to represent the nation of Wales and learn from the other nations taking part.

Find out more on the internet here.

John Beavan
Seasonal Bee Inspector

Spot the Queen

The BeeHolder, July 2011

I went beekeeping this morning – began to take off the supers – and then found to my dismay that there was brood in the super frames. For the beginners this can mean that when you took off your queen excluder you either did not:

a) Check to see if the queen was on your excluder – put it the same side down onto the super you had previously taken off instead of reversing it – brood side upwards.
b) Zinc excluder had a tear in the slots
c) Zinc excluder had a bump of wax under and had widened the slot.

I realised that I had to find the queen and put her downstairs. Took off another super and got down to the zinc queen excluder and there she was – good as gold - walking across the queen excluder  just waiting for me to pick her up and return her to the brood box.

It is not always like that. Most times you have to check and flick each super frame in turn into the brood box which is quite labour intensive, especially at the moment, with the number of supers being put on the hives.

I then went through the brood box to see if the bees had brought up any queen cells. They had and each frame had to be checked carefully so that the next time I go to the hive I do not find that the colony has swarmed. As far as the bees were concerned the queen was not around.

This was the case of having a spare queen excluder to replace the one taken off. That one’s slot had stretched. But wasn’t I lucky that the queen was so helpful?.

This is something that most beekeepers have experienced at one time or another.

Jenny Gammon

Thank you for this Jenny. Every beekeeper, beginners as well as the ‘old hands’ experience this at some time. It also happens with my wired, (Waldron) excluders when one of the wires becomes bent or lifts. What is surprising, is that it has been known for the queens to return to the brood chamber thus remembering the route she took in the first place!

Ed (of Bee Lines)
courtesy of Bee Lines, Newsletter of Taunton and District BeeKeepers

April 2011

The BeeHolder, April 2011

First know your bee

First, know your bee!

You can navigate through this copy of the BeeHolder using the links at the bottom of this page and the arrows at the bottom of each subsequent page, or the links in the sidebar of the page. If you prefer, you can access the magazine as a PDF (Portable Document Format) by selecting the attachment below. This requires Acrobat Reader, which is provided as a free download by Adobe.

BH Apr 11.pdf1.02 MB


The BeeHolder, April 2011

Well, this is my first stab at the BeeHolder editing job, and so far it has not gone as smoothly as hoped. April 3rd already and the thing is only half done. Still, it has to get easier as I go along, doesn't it?

Is the winter completely over? It certainly came in like a snow leopard but seems to have gone out like a lamb. Talking to other bee keepers it would appear that colony survival was good this winter, and the couple of slightly warmer days which broke up the cold spell in December were enough for the bees to recluster on fresh stores and get through. Having said that, I know of at least two keepers who have lost all their bees, and my own colonies are very weak and still at risk, I would say.

So another bee keeping year awaits, and MBKA have lined up some interesting speakers for meetings, apiary visits and events. Take a bit of time to read through the information on forthcoming events and, if you have some suggestions for other activities or thoughts on how we can improve the ones proposed, don't be too shy to tell us!

Chris Leech


We Welcome as ...

The BeeHolder, April 2011

... New Members

Janet Peacock [nr Montgomery], Cathie Ackroyd and Melfyn Davies [nr Llanidloes], Medina Brock and Richard Roberts [Felindre], Catherine Corbet [nr Montgomery], Catharyn Edwards [Abermule], Dave Evans [Berriew], Christine Gittins [Aberdovey], Andy and Sue Hughes [Meifod], Andrew Jenkins [nr Newtown] and Jane Milner [nr Newtown].

... New Bee Inspectors

Some of you will have noticed that list of bee inspectors has changed slightly. Peter Guthrie has retired as a seasonal bee inspector so that he can spend more time with his bees. This year's regime of seasonal bee inspectors includes John Beavan (East Montgomeryshire), David Coles (South West Montgomeryshire) and Peter Haywood (North West Montgomeryshire). That seems like a lot of bee inspectors for our county, but in fact it works out at well over 7.4 million bees each.

Actually it is because bee inspectors are not attached to bee keeping associations, but operate independently as officers of FERA (Food and Environment Research Agency). Hence the geographical areas covered by bee inspectors do not coincide with the geographical areas of bee associations.

If you are interested in what is involved in becoming a seasonal bee inspector, follow this link.

Go on a safari with John!

The BeeHolder, April 2011

At the last committee meeting, John Beavan suggested the idea of Bee Safaris. A bee safari is a day of bee-related activity, usually moving from hive to hive and site to site. To make these more informative, John suggested that instead of him just going and inspecting three or four hives in a day's work, all of the bee keepers whose hives he is scheduled to inspect will go along too and join in on the inspections.

That way people can pick up on different things, see how others keep their bees and generally have a bee good day out. It is important that we do not spread disease so hive tools & other equipment will be sterilised as we go along.

If you are interested in this idea, please get in touch wiyh a member of the committee.

Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, April 2011

It hasn’t been officially confirmed yet but according to rumour, colony losses during this last winter have been much less than in several previous years and less than expected. The Seasonal Bee Inspectors have taken some credit for this saying that the emphasis on disease disease disease has paid off. Bee keepers really are looking after their bees better. Another rumour is that throughout the UK membership of Bee Keeping Associations is down about 25%. That does not mean that there are fewer bee keepers: just that bee keepers are feeling the economic pinch and not rejoining an association. They will be missing out on insurance and the latest knowledge and the consequence of this is that an increase in colony mortality throughout the UK is expected next winter.

We have all to keep costs down and one way is to rely on the internet to send out information. Frankly we just cannot afford to buy so many stamps. From now on information will be sent along with the hard copy of the BeeHolder and updates will be posted regularly on our website. We will also use the phone more. Some of us even have packages that allow us to make free phone calls.

The term “going viral” may strike fear in the hearts of bee keepers when Varroa is mention but when it is about helpful information or an amusing video “Going Viral” is definitely good. Please tell all your contacts about our Grand Opening of the Apiary on 5th June and also about our open Garden day on 26th June. And tell your friends to tell their friends. Distribute via your email contacts list, twitter, Utube Twitter, blogs and Facebook .. whatever..whatever..just gossip... get people to those events; it is all in a good cause ...Bees Abroad and the MBKA.

Andy Brown, our New Members Secretary reports how difficult it is for members with young families to attend meetings. So from now on we will make every effort to have child friendly apiary meetings. As one member reported “I’d love my children to be able to watch me handle bees”. They can do so in safety at our Gregynog apiary and, if they get bored, we will ensure that there is plenty for them to do outside the apiary. So parents please bring your children along. Grandchildren can be brought along too. Make an afternoon out of an apiary visit. We need to whet the appetite of the next generation(s) of bee keepers.

Tony Shaw

MBKA Dinner 17th January 2011

The BeeHolder, April 2011

After lovingly tending their bees and feeding them in the late summer and autumn the members of Montgomeryshire Beekeepers Association took it upon themselves to swarm to Gregynog and feed themselves at their annual dinner and social evening.

No syrup for them; nothing less than a sumptuous and lavish four course meal would suffice for the 60 odd members and guests who were present under the watchful eye of a very capable and humorous MC, Tony Shaw.

Celebrities and others were strategically spread amongst the tables and were introduced by the MC.

Celebrities present were:-

John Bevan, Seasonal Bee Inspector; Charles Miller, Seasonal Bee Inspector; Peter Guthrie, Seasonal Bee Inspector; Karen Armstrong, Warden at Gregynog, (her idea to start an apiary at Gregynog); Steve Griffiths, Gregynog Estate Manager; Mr. & Mrs. Brian Goodwin President of Shrewsbury Flower Show; Paul Edwards, Welsh Oak Frames and supplier of the observation hut for the Gregynog apiary; Graham Winchester host of ‘Who Wants to Nearly Be a Millionaire’ which was conducted during coffee; Jim Crundwell, current president of MBKA; Dennis Cordwell a previous secretary and very capable and innovative beekeeper. (He produced a lot of gadgets, also his cartoons DRAC will go on for ever); Mike Compton, ex member, beekeeper and producer of the BeeHolder.

To the dismay of everyone present, due to plane travel problems, Lembit Opik was unable to join us in person. I say in person because our MC did the next best thing and during coffee we enjoyed Lembit’s presence courtesy of ‘Skype’. He was an even bigger personality on the big screen and members were able to ask him questions which resulted in some witty answers. The banter between Lembit and Tony was much appreciated.

Also during coffee Graham Winchester came into his own and got ‘Who Wants to Nearly Be a Millionaire’ off the ground: this was interspersed with wit and humour. As the game progressed participants fell by the wayside until just one participant (the winner) was left standing, Mrs. Goodwin. As is her nature she made a most generous gesture by donating her winnings to the Gregynog Apiary.

At this point the bar came into its own and everyone was able to mingle and catch up with old friends.

It should not be left unsaid just how nice the room and the setting was with the tables decorated with silver crackers (not the diners!) and the party poppers produced colourful streams of ribbon draped over fellow guests. As one would expect at Gregynog, the table service was super efficient and friendly. In view of the walk from the car park Gregynog Hall even arranged for the rain to keep away. Long live MBKA dinners.

Mike Compton

Thanks for the report, Mike. Please note that plans are afoot for the next Christmas dinner, lightly pencilled in for January 14th 2012 (as Christmas dinners for bee keepers are traditionally held on St Mythelmroyd's Day, or as in this case the nearest Saturday to it). The venue will once again be Gregynog, though we can't guarantee a satellite link with Lembit.


EU beekeepers stage win against GM crop producers

The BeeHolder, April 2011

Bee flyingThe EU's highest court may classify honey containing traces of genetically modified material as "food produced" from modified plants. Such a ruling may enable beekeepers with hives close to GM crops to seek damages.

Beekeepers with hives close to fields of Monsanto genetically modified maize can't sell their honey in the European Union without regulatory approval, an adviser to the European Court of Justice has said. The presence in honey "even of a minute quantity of pollen" from the maize is reason enough to restrict its sale, Advocate General Yves Bot told the court last week.

This would be a huge success for "anyone wanting to prevent food and animal feed from being more and more contaminated with genetically modified material," said Achim Willand, a lawyer representing food producers. "Beekeepers are especially susceptible because bees collect the pollen of GM plants within a radius of three to five kilometers," he told Deutsche Welle.

Busy beesMonsanto's genetically modified corn type MON 810 has not been authorized for sale on the European food market. If new regulations are established, making it impossible for beekeepers to sell their product because it has been contaminated by pollen from MON 810 crops, the beekeepers may be able to claim damages from Monsanto.

Beekeeper Karl-Heinz Bablok, from Kaisheim near Augsburg in Southern Germany, originally brought the case to court. His hives were two kilometers away from fields where research was being conducted with Monsanto's MON 810 maize. He went to court trying to get the research stopped or get protection for his produce. Researchers argued that the bees weren’t interested in pollen from maize.

In an attempt to prove the researchers wrong, Bablok put his hives 500 meters away from the maize fields. He had to throw away the honey his bees produced, because he found it was contaminated with traces of GM pollen.

The new rule wouldn't just affect beekeepers, it would have implications on granting GM plant growth permissions in general. Thomas Radetzki of the beekeepers' action group said beekeepers who have hives close to GM crop fields have not had enough protection, despite the existence of protective laws.

MonsantoCurrently, Monsanto is banned from testing its maize in Germany. Meanwhile, the beekeepers case is being watched closely by the agricultural sector. "If we're successful, others may follow, and then the matter may be brought to other national courts too," said Radetzki.

Achim Willand, the lawyer representing food producers, said the Advocate General's suggested ruling could have implications for anyone seeking permission to grow genetically modified plants in the EU. But Thomas Radetzki said, while opponents of GM crops may be pleased at the moment, the case hadn’t been won yet. Advocate General Yves Bot based his suggested ruling on laws which are in place right now. Radetzki warned that, even if the EU tribunal were to follow Bot's advice, "the EU Commission can always change its laws. Then we'd have to start from scratch."

Author: Nina Haase (Bloomberg, taz)
Editor: Saroja Coelho

Reports on Meetings

The BeeHolder, April 2011

Annual General Meeting - February 24th

As in the past three years the AGM was well attended. The bribe of a free raffle ticket for a National Hive was undoubtedly successful. This year the hive was won by Dr Jim Pratt who has now given up bee keeping and announced that he would donate the hive to our training Apiary at Gregynog. Another reason for high attendance might have been the custom of getting the formal business over in about 10 minutes. Doug Wood stood down as chairman, and the Bennetts stood down as joint secretary. Many thanks for all of their hard work over the past years. The new chairman (Tony Shaw) announced some administrative changes (splitting the rôle of secretary) and got unanimous agreement from those present that personal information such as address and telephone number could be shared with other members of the Association. Several members volunteered as committee members, but the assignment of rôles was deferred to the first meeting of the new committee.

With the formal part of the meeting quickly over, John Beavan gave an interesting and amusing report on the IBRA Varroa conference which he attended earlier in the month. The remaining part of the evening was in the style of Gardeners' Question Time, but about bee keeping with John Beavan and Jim Crundwell answering a multitude of seasonal questions.

Note: At the first committee meeting it was decided to go cautiously with the amount of information shared. There was concern that the location of apiaries might be of interest to persons of larcenous intent, and so this information should not necessarily be circulated to all members. Yet it would be very useful for people to know who their immediate bee keeping neighbours are for bee safaris (see page 5), car pooling or even just for help with bee problems, swarms etc. It was decided that a straw poll of the membership by means of a questionnaire would be the best approach.

Please complete the questionnaire enclosed in your copy of the BeeHolder and return it either at the next bee meeting you attend (save a stamp) or by post as directed on the questionnaire. (I'll try and get a questionnaire on the web site too).

At the first committee meeting, the old position of secretary was resolved into three separate rôles. Joe Bidwell will act as Secretary, the point of first contact for people outside the association on top of his rôle as Education Officer. Jane Frank as Minutes Secretary will record the meetings and Michelle Boudin as Membership Secretary will handle the initial contact and signing up of new members.

Climate Change and Bees - March 24th

Dr Rob McCall of the Welsh Climate unit was expected to talk on Climate Change and Bees, but cancelled due to “..the impact of travel on the environment ..I’m sure you’ll understand.” Since he commutes between Bangor and Newport we had hoped he would just find a way to pop in on his route.. But it was not to be. He had sent a copy of his PowerPoint Presentation which Tony attempted, without much conviction, to deliver. Graham Winchester, who is fast getting a reputation as Montgomeryshire’s professional sceptic on all climate change issues, did his best to upset the speaker with giggles, blusters and poignant heckles. I didn’t know our chairman could stutter and blush so much. However there was a lively discussion between many of the audience and some very interesting anecdotes from Jim Crundwell. The consensus seemed to be that Dr McCall was obviously not a bee keeper. If he had attended we would probably have been too polite to heckle him and the participation in discussion would have been far less.

At the end of the meeting Jim Crundwell announced that he was downsizing his apiary and donating many of his interesting collection of hives to our Training Apiary. This is really fantastic news.

To bee or not to bee

The BeeHolder, April 2011

To bee, or not to bee: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the hive to hurl
the stings and buzzes of enrag'ed workers,
or to take smoke against a sea of troubles,
and by sedation end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to hope we end
the thousand pests and pesticides
that bees are prone to, 'tis a consummation
devoutly to be wish'd. To hibernate;
to sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
for in that sleep of death what dreams may come
of halcyon hives beyond a flowering sea,
must give us pause: there's the respect
of bees for keepers calm and kind;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of wild,
the raiding bears, the scratching mites,
the colony collapse disorder, spring's delay,

the insolence of kids with stones
and dogs that stink a stinkhorn out,
When happy bees their treaty make
With but a gift of honey homely made.
To wax and weary dance a busy life,
bearing the dread of winters famine,
the undiscover'd country from whose chill
no colony returns, puzzles the will
and makes us rather bear those ills we have
than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus fearfulness makes cowards us all;
And thus the natural drive to forage
is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And, enterprise of great collusion,
with this regard our swarming turned awry,
and lost the name of action. - Soft you now!
The fair Melliferal Nymph, in thy prayers
be all our stings forgiven.

by William Shakespeare

This little known piece was written by Shakespeare in the late 1570s when he was in his teens and shows an amazing maturity of style. It has been largely forgotten since his adaptation of it to Hamlet about 20 years later. Shakespeare was much taken with the drama of the hive, queen flight and the personality of drones. He, with his contemporaries, believed that all female bee-keepers were known by their bees as ‘Ophelia’ but recent bee neuro-science shows that there is regional variation, with ‘Loveday’ occurring in the south-west and Nuala among Irish bees, so we have adopted a more generic name here.

Nick Tregenza
An Hes, The Newsletter of the West Cornwall BKA

Future meetings

The BeeHolder, April 2011

Courses on Varroa Management

Please note that the we have two varroa management courses from 10am till 1pm on the 17th and from 1pm to 4pm on the 30th April. The first is for novices and the second for more experienced bee keepers. Both sessions will be lead by SBI John Beavan and there is a charge of £5 for the day. There will be an open apiary session from 2pm on 17th April when everyone will be welcome whether they attended the course or not.

There are still places left for each course. Please contact the secretary if you are interested.

Open Apiary Days

Formal Open Apiary Days at the Gregynog Apiary are on April 17th and May 15Th and August 28th. We hope to make each of these Family Friendly events where children and friends will be welcome to play and picnic outside the apiary whilst the bee keeper is working the hives inside the Apiary. Please bring a contribution to the picnic. If it is raining we will be holding a meeting inside Gregynog Hall.

Catch the SBI at the Apiary

SBI John Beavan will be at the Gregynog Apiary every two weeks on Saturdays. He will be talking and demonstrating bee keeping techniques to any member who turns up. However it will be best to check with John first because he can only help a few bee keepers at a time - e-mail or see the contact page for other contact details.

Gregynog Apiary Grand Opening

This will be on Sunday June 5th and will co-incide with the first Gregynog Garden Festival. Entry will be free for MBKA Members (don't forget to bring your membership card). There will be lots of celebrities there. We will have our marquee filled with bee themed stalls, workshops, a male voice choir conducted by master beekeeper Brian Goodwin and the Welshpool High School jazz band. We will be making a collection for Bees Abroad and ourselves. Pam Gregory of Bees Abroad will be bringing a stall talking about the work of Bees Abroad. The garden festival itself will have its own range of stalls and attractions. For this, the first year of the Gregynog Garden Festival, we are giving out free stalls to worthy bee themed enterprises. These stalls will be in the MBKA Marquee and in the Music Room of Gregynog Hall. However places are limited, please contact the secretary with an explanation about what you want to do on your stall. The MBKA committee will decide on the worthiness of your application. This will be a big day for the MBKA and we will be asking for volunteers to help. Keep a watch on our website for updates about this event.

Midsummer Open Garden Day

Midsummer Open Garden Day in aid of Bees Abroad and our MBKA June 26th by kind permission of Dr Dr Beverly Evans-Britt being interviewed by Derek Brockways for his TV series Gardening in the ExtremesBeverly Evans-Britt (pictured right being interviewed by Derek Brockways for his TV series Gardening in the Extremes). There will be a bouncy castle and other things to amuse the family while the serious gardeners look round this fabulous garden.

Two years ago we did some stewarding in this garden in return for all the money from Plant Sales, which was very rewarding for the Association. This year all of the proceeds will be for MBKA to share with Bees Abroad. Do volunteer for stewarding duties, help in making the teas etc. Volunteers don't have to pay admission, and we need all the volunteers we can get! For a report of our last adventure in this garden see BeeHolder July 2009.

At 5 o'clock we will shoo away the public and have our private MBKA open hive meeting followed by a BBQ and social at 6pm. At 1,350 feet, Capel Deildre is reputed to be the highest apiary in Wales.

Please start collecting plants that can be sold at this event. We all have something that grows too well in our own garden yet is thought of as a gem in another’s.

July Apiary Visit

Saturday 23rd July is the day we visit Graham Winchester’s Apiary in Newtown because Graham said that members should see a warts-and-all apiary because there is limited learning in the sort of professional Apiary where nobody makes any of the kind of mistakes that you or I do.

Glanseven Garden Festival

This year the Glanseven Garden Festival is on September 2 and 3rd is another occasion where we need volunteers to man our bee tent and displays. We make money and have fun, with the added bonus that volunteers helping will have free admission and a chance to see and sample the interesting and varied stands. Watch the website for further information.

Coach Trip to Tropical Forest Products

A coach trip to Tropical Forest Products, Nr Aberystwyth is on Sunday 25th September. This is a large commercial honey farm as well as a company importing and packing honeys from Africa. We will be seeing the production facilities and also getting a talk from Director David Wainright about his work with the Honey producers of Africa. The plan is to have the coach start from Newtown with several stops en route, and then to have a meal afterwards. We have not worked out the price of the coach yet; keep a watch on the website.

Apiary Report

The BeeHolder, April 2011

Those visiting recently (see pictures on the back cover) will have noticed the gorgeous daffodils in the apiary and the bright paint on the hives. We found that despite putting new hives into the apiary they were looking a bit tatty after the winter. It was getting difficult to tell the new from the old. This will make it easier for us to stock the apiary for now we can receive old hives, sterilise them and then paint them in jolly colours. So any spare hives or other equipment you may have would be gratefully received to help stock up this new and valuable asset for the MBKA!

Colourful hivesApart from the painting, nothing else has been changed over the winter period. The new viewing hut has been delivered in kit form and we are just waiting for some bureaucratic form filling to be completed (planning permissions). Then we will need a rush team of helpers to wheelbarrow concrete into the trenches, some strong arms to hold the first few uprights and then some nimble fingers to help tack the safety wire into place. Please volunteer your services to Dave Bennett.

The MBKA is responsible for slating the roof. Weathered slates are preferred and unfortunately we have had no success in getting any. Has anybody an idea to help here? Any source of free or cheap slates?

Gregynog in bloom

Please remember that car parking at Gregynog is free for MBKA members. If you haven’t got your Car Park Pass yet just announce yourself to Reception who will give you one valid for a month.

Tony Shaw



The Gregynog Apiary - a bee's eye view

The Gregynog Apiary from above

Using the link below you can download the jpeg image in order to print it off using photograph or other image editing software. Contact the web manager if you have trouble doing this.

map all.jpg336.4 KB

Genetic weapon against bee killer

The BeeHolder, April 2011


One in the eye for Varroa

Researchers have developed a genetic technique, which could revitalise the fight against the honeybee's worst enemy - the Varroa mite. The method enables researchers to "switch off" genes in the Varroa mite, a parasite that targets the honeybee. The scientists say this could eventually be used to force the mites to "self-destruct". The treatment is now at an early, experimental stage but could be developed into an anti-Varroa medicine.

Varroa destructor is widely accepted to be the major pest affecting the European honeybee, and has been linked to a worldwide decline in these important pollinating insects. Dr Giles Budge from the National Bee Unit in York, who was involved in the study, said the mites operated a particularly "severe form of parasitism". The human equivalent, he illustrated, would be having "an organism on your back that's about the size of a dinner plate, which creates a hole through which it can feed and through which its family can feed". "The hole doesn't seal up - they drink blood through it and inject viruses into it."

To tackle this particularly nasty pest, bee researchers and parasite specialists came together to harness a method called RNA interference (RNAi). This involves putting a tiny chunk of genetic code into an organism. This code cancels out a specific gene, essentially switching it off. The researchers added this piece of genetic material to a solution that they soaked the Varroa mites in. They described in the journal Parasites and Vectors that, via this soaking, their experimental treatment found its way into the mites and switched off the gene they were targeting.

Dr Alan Bowman from the University of Aberdeen led the research. He told BBC News that the approach "fooled the immune sysAnother nasty piece of worktem of the mite" into attacking itself.

Dr Budge explained that this proved it was possible to "control gene expression in the mite. In the experiment, we've targeted a non-lethal gene, because we were able to monitor if we has successfully silenced it. Now, we'll be looking to target genes which, when we silence them, the mite won't be able to function."

In the coming years, the researchers hope to develop this into a medicine, which could be added to the bees' food in order to protect them against Varroa. "The mites hide in the food that is being provided by the other bees in the colony for honeybee larvae," Dr Budge explained. "They will hide for several days in that food, so [a beekeeper could] put the treatment into the brood food and the mite, through its normal behaviour, would come into contact with that treatment." This could solve a conundrum for beekeepers - how to tackle the mites without damaging the bees they live so intimately with.

Currently, beekeepers use chemicals, or mitocides, in carefully conMore goretrolled doses to control the parasite. They even use trapping methods - physically removing mites from hives. Dr Bowman said: "This [new method] can target the mite in the hive. It would be completely selective - it wouldn't target the bees and wouldn't affect any other pollinating insects, such as ladybirds."

Professor Francis Ratnieks, a bee researcher from the University of Sussex cautioned that it would be a long time before this technique could be applied in the control of Varroa. "It may be possible to use gene knockout techniques such as RNAi to learn more about the physiology of pests and to use this to develop ways of controlling them, maybe by the development and application of novel pesticides," he said. "But to do this is a huge undertaking involving [many years] of testing and certification."

By Victoria Gill, Science and nature reporter, BBC News

Dancing inherited from Daddy

The BeeHolder, April 2011

In the dance world, not all bees are equal. In a colony of bees at any one moment, each element has a special task, be it laying of eggs (the queen) collecting propolis, or scouting for nectar and performing dances (the round dance for nearby forage, the figure of 8 dance if it is more than 100 metres away), to increase her comrades enthusiasm for a good source or diminish it when the supply is running low. However some foragers master this type of communication perfectly, while others are noticeably less gifted.

Wolfgang Kirchner and his team, at the university of Bochum in the Ruhr have discovered in their research into bee behaviour that specialisation even extends to the dances. The workers must perform several types of dance, but those that are more gifted for one type of dance are less so for another.

The most surprising thing is that this 'gift' is hereditary! All the workers in a hive have the same mother but they may have different fathers. At any given time there will be sisters and half sisters. Kirchner's team examined the dancers' genes after noting the frequency with which each bee practised one or other of the dances. The result was astonishing! The 17 groups of 'true' sisters were noted and sorted according to their preference for each type of dance. The results showed that the predilection for using the figure of 8 dance over the round dance or vice-versa was significantly related to the sibling grouping.

For Kirchner's team, that proves the importance of genes inherited from the father. According to which father she has, a forager will be more or less specialised in one or other of the dances, more or less assiduous in the performance of two communication codes that are related but different. If it were not the genetic inheritance, you would have to suppose that true sisters can recognise each other and regroup inside the colony to practise a kind of nepotism in certain activities!

Impossible! says Kirchner. How on earth would they manage it?

Article from Huntingdonshire BKA, AMC and courtesy of BEES

The Drone Family Tree Riddle

The BeeHolder, April 2011

The DroneThe drone is a male bee.
He develops from an unfertilised egg.
He has a Mother but no Father.
He has but one Grandfather.
He cannot have sons but he can have daughters.
He may have grandsons.
Can he have granddaughters?

Don't be fooled into thinking that the information to answer the question is included in the riddle. Just enjoy the sensation of your brain writhing in discomfort.

An Hes, The Newsletter of the West Cornwall BKA

Acquiring Bees

The BeeHolder, April 2011

Remember when making or acquiring nukes that there is a standard (leaflet available from the BBKA website). Also it is the policy of BBKA and WBKA to encourage people to acquire 'local' bees as far as possible to reduce the chances of the introduction of disease and to maximise the chances of the bees being able to survive in our climate. While your on the BBKA website, why not have a look round – there seems to be a wealth of useful information there.

Pesticides Ban Campaign

The BeeHolder, April 2011

Gordon Banks, MP for Ochil and South Perthshire has submitted an 'Early Day Motion' to the House of Commons to ban all Neo-Nicotinoid Pesticides from use in the UK. This follows hot on the heels of the Avaaz petition to ban neonicotinoids in Europe and America. It all seems to be based on unpublished research in America but has obviously opened up the debate once more.

The EDM is quoted below and you may wish to write to your MP in support of this motion.


“That this House is gravely concerned by the contents of a recently leaked memo from the US Environment Protection Agency whose scientists warn that bees and other non-target invertebrates are at risk from a new neonicotinoid pesticide and that tests in the US approval process are insufficient to detect the environmental damage caused; acknowledges that these findings reflect the conclusions of a 2009 `Buglife' report that identified similar inadequacies in the European approval regime with regard to neonicotinoids; notes reports that bee populations have soared in four European countries that have banned these chemicals; and therefore calls on the Government to act urgently to suspend all existing approvals for products containing neonicotinoids and fipronil pending more exhaustive tests and the development of international methodologies for properly assessing the long-term effects of systemic pesticides on invertebrate populations.“

Buglife have produced a draft letter which is available on their website and the website for the Avaaz petition is here. Clearly, the sooner the American research is published the better!

Theresa Simkin

 The insidious effects of neonicotinoids

picture by courtesy of Helen Hastings

Statement from the BBKA on Neonicotinoid Pesticides

The BBKA shares the concerns expressed relating to reports of possible harm to honey bees that may be caused by the neonicotinoid group of pesticides. It calls for an urgent review of all the available data on the effects of these compounds. The BBKA has consistently urged for more research into this group of compounds as evidenced in its paper Honey Bee Health Research Concepts (Jan 2009) and earlier papers submitted to Government. The BBKA itself is funding research on pesticide residues in bee colonies at Keele University.

This urgent review, based not only on existing literature but also encompassing any new and as yet unpublished data, should involve a thorough re-evaluation and up to date risk assessment of these agents and their effects on honey bees by the Chemicals Regulation Directorate in the UK and competent European authorities, the outcome of which must lead to appropriate action.

Martin Smith
24th January 2011

Toby's Top Tip

The BeeHolder, April 2011

Check your hive tool is clean and true before use.

"When you are not using your hive tool try to keep it in the pocket of your bee suit or in your hand. If you put them down they are easy to lose."
Toby Beavan


This is the first of what we hope to be a regular contribution from Toby Beavan. See the back of The Welsh Beekeeper, Spring 2011 for an article about Toby. You're never too old to learn or too young to teach.


Please note that the picture is not of Toby but a stock picture from the internet.


Plus ca change?

The BeeHolder, April 2011

The history (and future?) of bee diseases and their treatment in a nutshell.

1800 AD - Here, use this root.

1850 AD - That root is heathen – use a prayer.

1900 AD - That prayer is superstition – use this potion.

1950 AD - That potion is taboo – try this remedy.

2000 AD - That remedy is ineffective – try this miticide.

2050 AD? - That miticide has produced resistant mites – here, use this root.

Courtesy of eBees

Obituary: Dave A. Cushman

The BeeHolder, April 2011

Dave was a generous man who produced a website to help beekeepers. Throughout the world Dave’s website became the first port of call when needing bee advice. Rather than extol his virtue let this piece of writing by Dave himself serve as his memorial. His site is being preserved and will remain a treasure for beekeepers everywhere.

Tony Shaw

The usefulness of Internet information

Many beginning beekeepers use the internet as their first port of call when looking for information, but all beekeepers use the internet at some time or other. This can give some misleading information to the unwary as, indeed, can many books and research papers which can sometimes give a narrowly focused view.

Let me explain that bee research is carried out in many different parts of the world, mainly using the bees that are locally available to the researchers. Bees are not all the same, all races have different characteristics and behaviour anDave A Cushmand exist in various degrees of racial purity, so information gathered and conclusions drawn in any particular study cannot be applied universally to all other bees and circumstances.

The UK and Ireland have a population that contains a large proportion of Dark European Honey Bee genes and as such are very different in behaviour to the majority of bees commonly studied by scientists, so we have to be particularly careful about interpreting and applying information that we read in books and gather from the internet.

When reading papers and books you should try to fix in your mind where the bees concerned were and what racial type they may have been. For instance, in USA the bees are generally a mixture of Italian and Carniolan types, with less than three percent Dark European Honey Bee genes; parts of Germany can be Carniolan or Dark European; Slovenia and Czech Republic are almost exclusively Carniolan – and many parts of South America are Africanised.

There is another problem with online information, in that the internet is not policed, so Joe beekeeper can promote his favourite theory just as easily as a university researcher can publish genuine research. There are no checks as to whether the information is right or wrong so that someone who is a glib writer may easily promote misinformation just as easily as accurate data. Books pose other, additional problems in interpretation. During the period either side of year 1900, many of the beekeeping authors were members of the clergy, some of whom imparted a religious or moral 'spin' to their information. However the main problem with books is the propagation of inaccurate information, which in turn is repeated in subsequent books written by others that have done their learning from the earlier books. The fact that said piece of inaccurate information occurs in several books then lends weight for such information to be believed. There is another tendency with belief of printed texts and that is that 'it must be true because it has been published'.

I cannot give you any method of sorting the wheat from the chaff other than by improving your own education on bee matters. The best way of achieving this is by attending meetings, lectures and conferences and getting to know the researchers and lecturers themselves, so that you can ask them direct questions. This requires an investment in time and sometimes incurs travel costs, but over a few years you will gain enough knowledge to make sensible judgment on what you are reading. This process is also fun and you will meet many beekeepers in the process. I visit many conferences every year. I also get to meet many beekeepers as I also do a bit of lecturing. I have thoroughly enjoyed the last ten years, during which I have attended hundreds of conferences and have met thousands of beekeepers from all over the world. I hope you all get as much enjoyment from your own self education as I have had during mine.

(the late) Dave A. Cushman
Leicestershire & Rutland Beekeepers Association
Newsletter, via eBEES.

January 2011

The BeeHolder, January 2011

Some of the Hives at the MBKA Training Apiary at Gregynog

Some of the Hives at the MBKA Training Apiary at Gregynog

You can navigate through this copy of the BeeHolder using the links at the bottom of this page and the arrows at the bottom of each subsequent page, or the links in the sidebar of the page. If you prefer, you can access the magazine as a PDF (Portable Document Format) by selecting the attachment below. This requires Acrobat Reader, which is provided as a free download by Adobe.

BH Jan 11.pdf1.48 MB


The BeeHolder, January 2011

I write this with snow blocking the front door; snow piled high on the hives and ice everywhere. Is it climate change? I don’t know. But I am comforted by the fact that I have never lost a hive during a long cold winter. Our speaker in March Dr Rob McCall will no doubt tell us how we can cope. I am hoping he will tell us that fascinating bees such as Osmia rufohirta (featured on our cover) will be common place in the UK and that we will have the balmy weather of the Loire Valley and the grapes and wine to match. I am tired of struggling through the ice.

The frozen ground is holding up the building of our Bee Viewing Shelter in our Training Apiary at Gregynog. All the components are ready; we just need to wait for the ground to thaw to do the foundations. The gap between the double security barrier was supposed to have been planted with David Austin roses but the ground has been too hard for them to be dug up.

But there is one job that is best done after a long cold spell; Oxalic Acid Treatment. This is best done when there is no brood present and the recommended time is between Xmas and mid January. However, in past years some of us have actually noticed brood during this time. With the prolonged cold spell so early there won’t be any brood in the hives this year. So the treatment can go ahead. There was an article on oxalic acid vapour in the last BeeHolder. This time we give a fuller explanation of how to apply it (see here). A MBKA member has promised to put up a better U-Tube video of the oxalic acid procedure than the one mentioned in the article. We will email you when it is loaded up.

When I told SBI Peter Guthrie of my kitchen fire caused by neglecting a pan of dissolving sugar he laughed and reminded me of his bulk buy of Ambrosia. The cost is higher than the cheap deals that one can get from Price Jones for cane sugar but cheaper than sugar from a regular supermarket and certainly a saving on the excess one has to pay before the insurance provides a new kitchen. Those who attended Peter’s talk last year may have been cynical about his euphoria about the Ambrosia but the sheer convenience of ready dissolved bee food has convinced me. Now is the time to book up a delivery from Peter; his Ambrosia does give the girls a tremendous spring boost.

We now have a tradition of having our New Year/Xmas Dinner during January. It is a kick off for what should be a great new year rather than a celebration of the one just finished. Perhaps indeed we should forget 2010 and look forward to 2011. The dinner should be great. It is in the newly refurbished Music Room at Gregynog. And we will have our old friend Lembit Opik entertaining us and bullying us to be ebullient about the future. Then we have a series of Training sessions starting in Mid February and continuing till May. There may be more from June onward depending on demand.

Apiary visits will mostly be at Gregynog this year. If there is rain we will hold a meeting indoors in one of the Lecture rooms. The Apiary at Gregynog will allow us to have two meetings going on simultaneously: one for the novices and one for those more experienced beekeepers. Our aim next year must be to satisfy all those interested in bees from the nursery classes of 5 year olds using our secure Bee-Viewing Shelter, to the “5-generations-beekeeping-in-my-family” patriarch.

We welcome as new members

Scott Davies/Newtown, Jane Milner/Bettws,

Happy Xmas and a happy and productive New Year to you all

Tony Shaw


Reports on meetings

The BeeHolder, January 2011

See the pages below for reports on the last two meetings.

What goes around, comes around: honey for wounds

The BeeHolder, January 2011

In October, Dr Rose Cooper, Professor of Microbiology at the Cardiff University gave a fascinating lecture on the anti-bacterial properties of honey and how it may treat wounds, ulcers, lesions, burns etc.

Honey is composed of moisture, fructose, glucose, sucrose, maltose, other sugars, ash, nitrogen and over 600 low level components such as flavonoids, terpenes, organic acids and newly discovered bee-defensin-1. It has a pH of around 3.9 (acidic). The anti-microbial properties were first identified in 1892 by Von Ketel and in 1937 Dold discovered “inhibine”, the magic anti-bacterial component. Different types of honey have different types of properties, and darker honey is richer in anti-oxidants.

Author Michelle Boudin wanted a grisly picture of a wound healed by a Manuka dressing but Professor Cooper replied  “Unfortunately I am not able to give you the grisly photos, as they are restricted by copyright agreements and patient confidentiality issues. Here is a picture of a manuka  plant, though”Dr Cooper specialises in monofloral honey, in particular Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium), a tree native to New Zealand. It grows abundantly there but with its mild anti-septic taste, beekeepers unable to sell the honey, considered the trees a nuisance and dug them up until their anti-microbial properties were discovered. Only New Zealand’s Manuka honey can be labelled with a Unique Manuka Factor, UMF (5 , 10 or 15). The antimicrobial properties are compared to phenol. If Manuka is as effective as a solution of 5% phenol it is UMF5, if it is as effective as 10% then UMF10 etc.

Manuka honey is a broad spectrum anti-microbial agent, treating bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses. Dr Cooper's work on MRSA has shown that it prevents cell division and in pseudomonas it affects the surface causing the bacteria to ruptures and die. Studies reveal that bacteria are unlikely to develop resistance to honey. Other studies show that diluting honey by 50% is more effective as small amounts of hydrogen peroxide is created.

Manuka doesn't grow well in the UK. Some specimen trees can be found in the Isle of Wight, Kew and the National Botanical Garden of Wales. A plantation in Cornwall at Lord Falmouth's Tregothnan estate sells its British “Manuka” honey exclusively to Harrods.

Dr Cooper showed some graphic before and after pictures of typical untreatable wounds seen in the clinic. In particular she recounted a landmark case of a boy aged 15 who was admitted to hospital in January 1999 with life threatening meningococcal septicaemia. He was in intensive care and his fingers and lower legs amputated. By September 1999, still hospitalised, he required a general anaesthetic just to have his dressings changed due to the severe pain. As a last resort medicinal honey dressings were applied, on one leg only, the other left as a control. The results were simply astonishing and by Christmas he was allowed home.

1% of the population under 65 suffers from wounds but after 65 this increases to 4% as wound healing slows down as we age. Circulatory disorders such as diabetes, chemo or radiotherapy and some medications also delay healing. Treatment costs are high, antibiotics, antiseptics, dressings, ongoing nursing care, increased hospital stays meant in 2007 the NHS spent £29.3m on silver dressings alone! Medihoney licensed in 1999 in Australia is used in open heart surgery across the world. Other commercial dressings are now available. So why isn't honey routinely used in the UK?

The NHS has been slow to adopt the honey dressings over the silver ones as evidence is supposedly lacking (in spite of 17 clinical randomised controlled trials). However further studies are ongoing in Bonn with cancer patients and elsewhere.

Can we use our own honey to treat wounds? Sadly not. As Dr Cooper points out, honey is usually sterile until uncapped but 10% of honey is contaminated with Clostridium botulinum, (Botulism). Medicinal honey is irradiated making it sterile though Germany is investigating a filtration method

Dr Cooper firmly believes that whole honey must be used and attempts by pharmaceutical companies to isolate the one active constituent is unwise because honey is so complex. Once again the marvellous healing power of honey was clearly demonstrated in this lecture.

Michelle Boudin (Herbalist MAMH)

November meeting

The BeeHolder, January 2011

(Jane Frank who was due to speak was taken ill and had to cancel. Let’s wish her well in her recovery. Jane says we can book her in for the same time next year (2011) this time Michelle Boudin will be assisting in what can be a difficult set of demonstrations. We are not allowed to say “potentially dangerous” in case the H&S people rush in with their truncheons.)

Aging Well Research Project

On the 25th November 2010 we, the 'Ageing Well Research Project' attended a Beekeepers meeting with the Montgomeryshire Beekeepers group in Plas Dolerw. As a project we were very pleasantly welcomed by the MBKA. Our aim for the evening was to generate some interest in our project which is exploring the beneficial effects of beekeeping and honey consumption on the ageing process. We came prepared to do some recruitment however we were overwhelmed with the positive response we had from the members. In fact we came away from the evening with close to 30 blood samples! This is a tremendous response, one of the most successful evenings of recruitment we have had to date.

What is the purpose of the Ageing Well Project?

The Ageing Well Project aims to provide information on how diet, physical activity, socio-economic status, psychological factors, the environment and outdoor recreational activities influence biological ageing.

Evidence suggests that particular lifestyle factors may have anti-ageing effects, but there is a lack of sufficient integrative data. By analysing answers, measurements and blood samples collected from participants we might be able to find out to which extent different aspects of our lifestyle impact on the biological ageing process, beyond our genetic make-up.

The Ageing Well Project is not intended to help individual participants directly. Instead it aims to identify ways of enhancing the health and wellbeing of the ageing population as a whole and to prevent early disability and death from many age-related disorders.

What happens to the results of this research?

The project aims to observe what happens to participants over time so that future generations can benefit. It is not intended to change directly what happens to people who take part. The results of the project will be published in medical or scientific journals. In exceptional circumstances these results may lead to the discovery of new drugs and/ or treatments to fight disease.

Who can I contact for more information?

If you would like more information about this project you can contact us by telephone on 029 2020 1172 or email us your query. A member of our team will respond as soon as possible. Alternatively visit our website.

Thanks to the kind help of the Montgomeryshire group we are now able to move to a more advanced analysis of the data. You do not need to be a beekeeper to take part in the study - anyone can take part. We are currently adding the data gained from the Montgomeryshire groups with that from participants of many organisations including the BBC.

We noticed that between the discussion of our project, the questionnaires and the blood-taking your members consumed a hearty amount of tea cakes and biscuits and were animatedly discussing bees with your Seasonal Bee Inspector.

On behalf of the Ageing Well group I would like to say a big thank you to the Montgomeryshire group for making the evening such a pleasant experience and huge success.

Joann Warner, Research assistant

Please will all those who have received questionnaires through the post fill them in and return to the team in the envelope provide? This research is important. We do need to know whether there is any truth in the “rumour” that we beekeepers live better and longer lives. And why. (Ed)


Future Events

The BeeHolder, January 2011

Here is the first announcement of some interesting events coming up in 2011...

Saturday 15th MBKA Xmas Dinner

January 7.00pm Music Room, Gregynog Hall, Tregynon

It was a great evening last year and this year will be even BETTER Great Menu, fantastic value As well as Brian Goodwin, Chief of the Shrewsbury Flower Show and our favourite trainer, there will be our Bee Inspectors in attendance, plus the Warden and Estate Manager of Gregynog, and, drawing the Raffle and generally amusing us, will be Lembit Opik our one time MP and MBKA member. You must book and pay by the 31st December

February 12th Beginners Training Day with Brian Goodwin.

Saturday 9am to 5pm Gregynog Hall Lecture Room

This event has been a great success in previous years and considerably oversubscribed. If the weather is kind it maybe possible to visit the training Apiary and open some of the hives. The cost is £20 for the one day course. This includes all teaching materials and tea, coffee and biscuits throughout the day. Bring your own lunch or eat in the Gregynog Café. Send cheque to Jessica Bennett Plas Heulwen, Llanfair Road, Newtown, Powys SY16 3JY

February 24th AGM and Question Forum with our Seasonal Bee Inspectors

As usual we will be raffling a National hive. all those members attending get one free draw. In past years this has proved a big incentive to attend and the event has been jolly and informative. We keep the AGM business to a minimum.

March 24th The Future of the Honey Bee in a Changing Climate’ Dr Rob McCall

Rob is a Climate Change Adviser at the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW). He is responsible for the implementation of climate adaptation and mitigation measures affecting biodiversity and land use over which CCW has influence throughout Wales. He also manages a beef and sheep smallholding in Carmarthenshire. Rob will speak about how climate changes in the past and projected for the future affect our bees and the crops they pollinate.

April 16th Training for Beginners in Varroa Management with SBI John Beavan

Saturday 10am to 12noon. In the Lecture Room at Gregynog and then in the Training Apiary.

There is a £5 charge for this course which covers course materials and light refreshment. Book early and send cheque to Jessica Bennett Plas Heulwen, Llanfair Road, Newtown, Powys SY16 3JY

April 16th SATURDAY 2pm at Gregynog

The first Open Hive Day will be at our Training Apiary where the theme will be preparation for the year ahead. Those not veiled-up can watch the bees in safety from the Bee Viewing Shelter which should be completed before Easter. Those attending the Varroa training session in the morning can have lunch in the Gregynog Café.

April 30th Training in Varroa (more suitable for experienced beekeepers) with SBI John Beavan

10am to 12noon. In the Lecture Room at Gregynog and then in the Training Apiary.

There is a £5 charge for this course which covers course materials and light refreshments. Book early and send cheque to Jessica Bennett Plas Heulwen, Llanfair Road, Newtown, Powys SY16 3JY

May 15th SUNDAY 2pm at Gregynog

Open Hive Day at the Training Apiary where the theme will be European and American Foul Brood: How to prevent and spot. Fortunately most beekeepers have never seen either of these diseases BUT they can be so devastating that all beekeepers should be aware of what to look out for.

Varroa, Know your Enemy

The BeeHolder, January 2011

At the Bee Disease day in Gregynog I was quite horrified that some members were expressing delight at the sight of varroa under the microscopes. I hope it was delight at the journey into a microscopic world rather than admiration for the varroa mite The fertile workings of Tony Shaw's mind - imagine yourself the size of a bee larvaeitself.

Varroa mites are for me the epitome of revulsion. Not only do brothers incestuously mate with their sisters but oral sex reaches a new level of depravation; they ejaculate through their mouths!! And of course they kill bees. The male, understandably, looses interest in eating; in fact it can’t, and has a very short life. Since sex does not introduce any new genes, reproduction is akin to pathogenesis, virgin birth, cloning.

But somehow a genetic change must have happened for, as we all know Varroa has made the transition from the Asian bee to the European Honey Bee. The ranges of Apis cerana and Apis melifera have overlapped for many centuries and yet varroa is a comparatively recent pest to our European Honey bee. The Asian bee has learned to live benignly with both Varroa destructor and the related Varroa jacobsoni.

In the original host, Apis cerana, the mite enters a drone cell before it is capped. It will be a fertilised female, ready to lay eggs. With no eyes and only smell to go by it apparently gets a signal from the larva indicating that it is the right age to receive eggs; not too young to bear the parasites but old enough to give time for the young mites to mature before the drone emerges. Incidentally drones take that little bit longer to emerge than workers which is critical to the mite’s development. Things happen quickly: the mite lays about five eggs; the first to hatch is a male and he inseminates all the others that hatch, his sisters. The females then attach themselves to the drone and draw nourishment until the weakene

drone emerges. The four or so young mites jump out at the same time and scramble around looking for another drone cell to infect. They hitch rides on workers and often fall or are groomed off. By attaching to foragers and drones the mites spread from colony to colony since both of these occasionally 'drift’.

Varroa has been seen on a number of species: a bumble bee heavily infected is not an uncommon sight. Other insects infected are the sacab beetle and flower fly, Palpada vinetorum. But in these cases the parasite is merely sucking the haemolymph of its host; we have no evidence yet that it is actually breeding on these species. The original infestation of the European Honey bee was the same. At first varroa did not reproduce with colonies of the European Honey bee. That's because the mite failed to detect that vital signal from the bee larva that it was time to lay eggs. Varroa Destructor from the colder parts of Asia Korea, Japan and the mountains of the Philippines, first learnt to detect that vital signal probably sometime in the 1960ies. Only recently have we found that V jacobsoni has also learnt the signal If we can understand the nature of this signal we might find a way to the effective control of the mite.

Tony Shaw

Using Oxalic Acid

The BeeHolder, January 2011

The organic acids, Oxalic Acid, Formic Acid, and Lactic Acid are NOT LICENSED for use in the United Kingdom as treatments for bees for varroa control. No mention of any of the alternatives to the approved product or their method of use should be taken as an endorsement or recommendation to treat. The dribble or trickle method referred to for oxalic acid is commonly used in the UK and throughout Europe, and should you decide to use it you should ensure that you apply it in a safe and informed manner.

Remember that oxalic acid is a poisonous chemical and so should be treated with some care and caution. See here for more information (also information on extracting oxalic acid from rhubarb).

This short article is something that has been put together from reading about oxalic acid, listening to the experiences of others and also from my own experience of using it in my hives for the last few years. First we have to remember that oxalic acid is a dangerous chemical and should be treated with care. When mixing solutions gloves, goggles, overalls and ideally a breathing mask should be worn. Some methods are more dangerous than others and will be mentioned briefly below. Second we need to remember why we are using it. Legally in the UK as far as the Veterinary Medicines Directive is concerned it is just used as a ‘hive cleanser’ in beehives. However, as we all know it has the side effect whilst doing this of killing off varroa mites. General understanding is that it does this by burning the mouthparts, feet and other parts of the carapace, so damaging the mite that it can no longer function.

Formic acid CH2O2The acid treatment has greatest efficacy when the colony is broodless as the acid does not get into sealed brood and so cannot kill off any mites reproducing there. Having said that, with a small area of brood in the colony it will still have a reasonable effect on the mite population. Hence the best time for treatment is usually recommended as December and the first half of January.

There are 3 ways of treating with oxalic acid that are described here. The first is spraying, where the oxalic crystals are mixed with water and applied to the face of the frames and bees using a hand held sprayer like those used for indoor plants. The disadvantages of this method are the great disturbance to the bees and also, as the solution is just water and acid, it does not ‘stick’ to the bees very well.

Oxalic acid C2H2O4The second method is sublimation where the oxalic acid crystals are heated on a small tray or in an open-ended pipe and the gases permeate through the hive. With this method the hive has to be sealed (no open mesh floor or holes in the crown board) with foam or something similar along the entrance to stop the gases escaping. Also inhalation by humans of the gas is very dangerous. Getting this application correct and carrying it out safely is very difficult and is not recommended for the average beekeeper.

Lactic acid C3H6O3The third method is to mix the crystals with a sugar solution and apply it using the trickle method. This means using a syringe or some other small applicator with a measured quantity of solution and dribbling 5 ml per seam of bees (a seam is the gap between two brood frames where you can see the bees clustering). About 30-40 ml is needed for most colonies, as this would be sufficient for six to eight full seams of bees in a National hive. Adjustments need to be made for other frame sizes. As this is a sugar solution it sticks to the bees and is spread around more effectively and affects more mites. Most hobbyist beekeepers tend to buy in the oxalic acid in a pre-mixed sugar solution that is ready to apply. This is not very expensive but the downside is that we do not know how long ago it was made. Marion Ellis from the US related at the Somerset special lecture in 2007 that the HMF (Hydroxymethylfurfural, previously known as hydroxymethylfurfuraldehyde) level in the solution increases over time and so should not be stored. The general recommendation is to make up the solution with sugar and use immediately or store in the fridge for up to one month. With just a water and acid solution no HMF can be formed (it requires a reaction between the acid and the sugar) so the solution can be kept for a long time like this and sugar added when required..

It is not difficult to make up the solution and this can be done when needed using the following proportions, which give a 3.5% treatment: -

1:1 Water to Sugar (weight to volume) made into 1 litre of syrup
Oxalic acid crystals 35g

Mix up the syrup first with hot water to dissolve the sugar more easily, allow it to cool and then weigh the oxalic crystals on electronic kitchen scales and add them to the syrup. If you put it all in a large bottle with a lid and give it a good shake it should all mix nicely and be contained and so safer. When you make up a larger quantity like this the margin of error when weighing the oxalic acid becomes smaller (2g out on 3.5g is more than a 50% increase in the dose whereas 2g out on 35g is only about 6% out on the dose). Once made, this solution can be stored in the fridge and what is needed for treatment can be decanted into a smaller bottle. Warming this like a baby’s milk bottle - standing it in a jug of hot water – before treating the bees will mean they will not be so chilled and fewer bees will die.

Like all treatments it is a good idea to carry them out at the same time as your neighbouring beekeepers. There is a U Tube video of oxalic treatment by our SBI, John Beavan, here.

Adapted from an article by Megan Seymour courtesy Warwickshire Beekeeper

Database shows how bees see the world in UV

The BeeHolder, January 2011

Beekeepers and researchers are being offered a glimpse of how bees may see flowers in all their ultra-violet (UV) glory. The Floral Reflectance Database (FReD) was created by researchers at Imperial College London and Queen Mary, University of London. It enables beekeepers, with phot-manipulative software and some patience to manipulate the data, to "see" plant colours through the eyes of bees and other pollinating insects.

Bees have different colour detection systems from humans, and can see in the UV spectrum. This research highlights that the world we see is not the physical or the 'real' world - different animals have very different senses, depending on the environment the animals operate in," said Professor Lars Chittka from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.

"Much of the coloured world that's accessible to bees and other animals with UV receptors is entirely invisible for us. In order to see that invisible part of the world, we need this special machinery."

Creeping Zinnia as we see it (left) and with UV shades made visible (right). The petals appear two-toned to bees, the concentric colours drawing them towards the nectarThe researchers collected what's called "spectroreflective" measurements of the petals and leaves of a large number of different plants . These measurements show the colour of plants across both the visible and invisible spectrum. Users of the database can then calculate how these plants appear to different pollinating insects, based on studies of what different parts of the spectrum different species see.

Scientists have inferred what colours insects see by inserting microelectrodes into their photoreceptors, and by using less invasive behavioural studies. Seeing the world as insects may see it can reveal "landing strips" which are invisible to the human eye. These act to guide insects to the nectar they feed on. These landing strips might take the form of concentric circles of colour or dots.

"Quite often, you will find in radial symmetrical patterns that there is a central area which is differently coloured. In other flowers there are also dots in the centre which indicate where there is basically an orifice for the bee to put in its tongue to extract the goods."

But what is the point of such a tool beyond giving researchers an insect's view? Professor Chittka says seeing these invisible colours may have commercial applications in the greenhouse and beyond.

How a cactus appears in UV light"Every third bite that you consume at the dinner table is the result of insect pollinators' work. In order to utilise insects for commercial pollination purposes, we need to understand how insects see flowers. We need to understand what kind of a light climate we need to generate in commercial glass houses to facilitate detection of flowers by bees.

Co-author Professor Vincent Savolainen, from Imperial College London, says the database also offers us new perspectives on how plant colour evolved.

"We hope this work can help biologists understand how plants have evolved in different habitats, from biodiversity hotspots in South Africa to the cold habitats of northern Europe," he says. "FReD's global records may show how flower colour could have changed over time, and how this relates to the different insects that pollinate them, and other factors in their local environment."

Try it out here : the results can be spectacular, but be warned you will need patience.

Adapted from an article by Neil Bowdler, BBC



Swarm Collecting Rustic Style

The BeeHolder, January 2011

Once upon a time, one fine sunny morning in late May, I was enjoying myself in my garden wondering if it was time to go down to go down to the pub when I heard the sound we all dread; no not the Mother in law coming to stay, worse, a swarm leaving my only hive, and it was on a double brood.

 It was enormous. The sky so black with bees I couldn’t afford to lose them.

 I was in luck both good and bad. They settled close by in a tree. Good. 25 ft up right on the thinnest branches BAD. There’s no way a ladder could reach and nothing to lean it on. So bait an empty hive, cup of tea and think.

 Indian rope trick? No. (I was born north of Islamabad but never learned it)

English rope trick ? This involves throwing a weighted rope over a branch and giving a sharp tug. Usually resulting in a cut head or an overcoat of angry bees. Or both. Forget it.

 The Tony Bosworth method. Lay a large sheet under said swarm. Fetch .410 shotgun, aim at branch or swarm or close ones eyes and pull trigger.

 Today I am in luck. Move swarm in sheet to hive where 10,000 pairs of innocent eyes look up, say what did we do??? Point gun at swarm. Point finger at hive and, in a mad scramble like honey flowing uphill in they jolly well went.

 Later the Queen went to the ball, had loads of babies and they all lived happily ever after.

 This is a true story. I promise you. Although it did happen when I had long hair wore Cuban heels and flared trousers.

 Warning! Don’t do this unless you can’t see your neighbour’s house.

Tony Bosworth

Book Review - The Bee-Friendly Beekeeper

The BeeHolder, January 2011

The Bee-Friendly Beekeeper - A Sustainable Approach. Author: David Heaf
Published by: Northern Bee Books ISBN 978-1-904846-60-4

This book although not by the same author is perhaps best seen as a follow on from the book written by P J Chandler, The Barefoot Beekeeper. It gives much information on the ideology and practical techniques to be used with a top-bar hive, in particular the Warré Hive of the type currently placed in MBKA’s training apiary at Gregynog. It invites the beekeeper to examine some of the accepted practices of modern beekeeping techniques.

“In recent years, beekeepers on several continents have been suffering heavy losses of colonies. If we systematically investigate factors causing the losses, we can justifiably ask whether the way in which honey bees are kept is part of the problem. Could hive design, frames, foundation, intrusion, artificial queen breeding, drone suppression, queen excluders, artificial feeding, medication, transhumance and overstocking – all elements of modern beekeeping - be reducing the vitality of bees?”

This book examines the issues surrounding these practices, drawing where possible on the primary literature in bee biology and apiculture, in order to identify an approach to keeping bees that is more appropriate. It also analyses the fundamental attitudes underlying the different ways in which we chose to keep bees"

Our “traditional” ways are only a little over a hundred years old and mankind has kept bees for many thousands of years. Honeycomb is now known to be much more than just the skeleton of the bee colony super-organism. A case is presented for making natural comb the centre of a way of beekeeping that better respects the nature of the honey bee by allowing its species specific behaviours to be expressed.

Among the hives based on relatively natural comb, the author presents the top-bar hive of Emile Warré as a practical and economical alternative to frame hives and describes the bee friendly features of it’s operation. The book includes construction plans and modern tips for its management."

If the beekeepers sole intent is to maximise honey production at the expense of all else, then this approach to beekeeping will probably not appeal. If however the beekeeper has the health and welfare of the bees as a prime objective and is content to share the honey harvest with the bees then this methodology has much to commend it. In time to come the bee-friendly ethos may turn out to be the accepted way in which we are recommended, or even able, to sustainably keep bees at all – only time will tell.

I can recommend this book to any beekeeper interested in looking at alternatives to the accepted norms of modern beekeeping. It will certainly help to lift the veil of mystery and suspicion which sometimes seems to be evident when discussing the Warré hives in our club apiary, it answers almost every question I have ever heard asked about them. Definitely a recommended winter read, and who knows we might well have a few more top bar hive enthusiasts next summer.

Noel Eaton

On Nosema

The BeeHolder, January 2010

Two Nosema species have been identified in honey bees in England and Wales, Nosema apis and more recently the Asian species Nosema ceranae. Both are highly specialised parasitic Micro Sporidian fungal pathogens. Nosema spp. Invade the digestive cells lining the mid-gut of the bee, there they multiply rapidly and within a few days the cells are packed with spores, the resting stage of the parasite. When the host cell ruptures, it sheds the spores into the gut where they accumulate in masses, to be later excreted by the bees. If spores from the excreta are picked up and swallowed by another bee, they can germinate and once more become active, starting another round of infection and multiplication.

Symptoms of Nosema

There are no outward symptoms of the disease. Dysentery is often seen in association with N. apis infections; this may be seen as ‘spotting’ at the hive entrance or across the frames. The dysentery is not caused by the pathogen, but as a consequence of infection and can be exacerbated during periods of prolonged confinement during inclement weather, especially during the spring. This can lead to the bees being forced to defecate in the hive, therefore contaminating it further. In Spain it has been The gut of the honeybee is shown distended due to Nosema infectionreported that N. ceranae infections are characterised by a progressive reduction in the number of bees in a colony until the point of collapse. The beekeeper may also see a significant decline in colony productivity. In the final phase of decline, secondary diseases frequently appear, including chalk brood and American foul brood. Eventually the affected colonies contain insufficient bees to carry out basic colony tasks and they collapse. Mortality in front of the hives is not a frequent symptom of N. ceranae infection. Dysentery and visible adult bee mortality in front of the hives are reported to be absent in N. ceranae infections. Dwindling can sometimes be rapid or take place over several months. Nosema is readily spread through the use of contaminated combs. The spores can remain viable for up to a year, it is therefore important not to transfer contaminated combs between colonies and as always to practice good husbandry and apiary management, maintaining vigorous, healthy stocks, which are better able to withstand infestations.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The simplest method of diagnosis of infections is by microscopic examination. Both N. apis and N. ceranae can be identified in adult bee samples using a standard adult disease screen - under the light microscope the spores of N. apis and N. ceranae appear as white/green, rice shaped bodies. However, both species are virtually identical when viewed using conventional microscopy, but can be distinguished by an expert eye. However, more accurate discriminatory tests are available which detect differences between the two species using genetic methods Currently treatment with the antibiotic Fumidil B available in the UK is an effective control against both Nosema species. As with all medicines ensure that the label instructions are followed.

Apologies to all those who have already read this article at BeeBase the website of the National Bee Unit . All beekeepers should be registered at BeeBase and use the facilities to get the latest informed information on bees. (Ed)

Hive Health Check List

The BeeHolder, January 2011

Over the last month or two, I have had a number of calls from new beekeepers phoning to check about problems which they have encountered with their bees this season. As always, my advice is to get to know what normal healthy bees and brood look like and check if you are unhappy or not sure about what you see in your colony - quite often Sally or I will go and have a look at them with the beekeeper.

Inspecting the brood combs of a honeybee colony is the only way to determine the health and general condition of the colony. However, you have to know what you are looking at and what it means in order to make a diagnosis.

In general, a healthy brood comb simply 'looks healthy'. The brood cappings have a ‘digestive biscuit’ colour; the larvae are white, glistening and 'fat'. The cappings of the brood cells are uniform and the overall pattern is solid, with few holes. A good queen will start laying eggs in the lower centre of the combs and radiate out from there.

Once the oldest brood emerges, the queen lays in those cells, and the youngest brood on the comb will now be in the centre. Once the brood-rearing cycle gets underway in the spring or following the introduction of a new queen, all stages of brood should be found at each inspection.


There will be a Seasonal Bee Inspector in attendance in the Training Apiary at Gregynog most Saturday mornings between April 16th and October 15th

(phone day before visit to check)

The SBI will be there to answer questions and show the working of the hives. This is a unique opportunity for both novice and experienced beekeepers to upgrade beekeeping skills. The apiary will be run to produce Nucs for sale at a discount to MBKA members.


I came across this check list recently which would be helpful when inspecting your colonies. Here are some conditions you may observe during your brood inspections and their possible causes:

No eggs, no brood present
(a) Not brood-rearing season.
(b) No queen.
(c) New queen not yet laying.
(d) Extended shortage of pollen.

No eggs, but brood present
(a) Brood-rearing ceased - end of the season.
(b) Queen has died or colony is preparing to swarm
(c) Lack of pollen curtailed brood-rearing.

Test for Presence of a Queen
If there are no eggs and you can't determine if there is a queen present, put in a brood comb with young larvae from another colony. Check back in three days; if the suspect hive starts queen cells, it has no queen.

Eggs present, but no brood
Brood-rearing has just resumed after being halted for some reason.

Wet-looking pollen - in the centre of the broodnest
If there is no queen and during the off-season, pollen may be stored in the centre of the brood nest and can take on an unkempt look - wet or glazed over. When the workers anticipate needing the pollen to feed brood, they move the pollen and freshen it up and it has a dry look.

Clean, empty cells - in the centre of the broodnest
The opposite of the wet-pollen look. When the workers anticipate that brood cells will be needed for eggs, they move nectar and pollen out of the way and give the cells a polish.

Too many eggs per cell
(a) Young, inexperienced queen, usually settles down quickly to laying one egg per cell.
(b) Something happened to queen and laying workers developed.

Scattered brood
Same-age brood scattered over the comb, not in adjacent cells, means:
(a) A failing queen running out of sperm.
(b) Something is killing the brood. In early spring, cold nights when there are too few adult bees to keep the brood warm can result in chilled brood. Sometimes pesticides or poison pollen can cause scattered patterns.

Clue: Is only one colony showing the symptoms, or are several?

Raised cappings on worker cells
The cappings look like the ends of bullets. Cause: Drone brood is developing in worker cells, because:
(a) Queen has become a drone-layer. Usually her sperm reserves are depleted, due to her age.
(b) Laying workers; lay only infertile eggs, resulting in drones.

Raised cappings in drone cells
Normal drone brood has a 'bullet' look, but not as pronounced as when it is in worker cells. Normally, queens lay unfertilized eggs in the larger (both in circumference and depth) drone cells. These are frequently found around the bottom edges of the brood comb and in areas where the comb has been damaged. The presence of some drone brood indicates a vigorous, well-nourished colony.

Queen cells
Queen cells are constructed along a vertical plane, as contrasted with the horizontal plane of worker and drone brood cells. They somewhat resemble peanuts (in the shells).
(a) Queen cells near the centre of the comb, growing out of worker brood cells – these are replacement cells the workers have developed in emergency, loss of a queen.
(b) Queen cells everywhere, particularly near bottom of comb. This is swarm preparation - the old queen will soon depart with about half the bees (called the 'prime swarm').

Tip: For a quick check of swarm preparation, in a hive with two brood boxes, break the boxes apart and look along the bottom bars and bottoms of the combs in the top box. Most colonies preparing to swarm will show cells along comb bottoms.

Dead larvae (not white)
(a) Chilled due to cold snap (usually in spring) when there are too few adult bees to keep the brood warm.
(b) Died due to lack of care for some reason.
(c) Disease: Sacbrood, American foulbrood, European foulbrood. Call the Bee Inspector.
(d) Pesticide damage.

Mummified larvae
Older stage larvae turn white and hard . This is probably Chalkbrood.

Mouldy pollen
Soft, white stuff in pollen cells - probably due to insufficient hive ventilation.

What about mites?
After some training, you can pretty easily identify Varroa mites on adult bees' abdomens and on your open mesh floor tray. Also, you can uncap pupae and pull them out of the cells and check for dark Varroa attached to the white pupae. Varroa are especially attracted to drone brood and can often be found in the bottom end of the cells from which drone pupae are extracted. They may run out of the cells as pupae are being extracted.

Adapted from the Beehive, published by Northwest Ohio Beekeepers Association.
Spotted by Somerton BKA.

Incidentally the Welsh Society of Central Ohio is the most active Welsh cultural group outside Wales!

It is worth looking at their website

Honey Bees: Genetic Labelling Decides Blue Blood

The BeeHolder, January 2011

It is hard to believe that they belong to the same species: The large, long-lived queen bee is busy producing offspring throughout her lifetime. The much smaller worker bees, on the other hand, gather food, take care of the beehive, look after and feed the brood – but they are infertile.

“The honey bee is an extreme example of different larval development,” Professor Frank Lyko explains. Lyko, a scientist at DKFZ, studies how genes are regulated by chemical labelling with methyl groups. This type of regulation is part of what are called epigenetic regulation mechanisms – chemical alterations in the genetic material which do not change the sequence of DNA building blocks. This regulation mechanism enables the cell to adapt to changing environmental conditions. .

Why are cancer researchers interested in bees? “Cancer cells and healthy cells have identical genomes, but they behave very differently. To a large extent this is due to differences in the methylation of genes. Queen bees and worker bees also share the same genome, despite all differences in appearance. Here, too, methyl labels could be responsible for different larval development,” says LykSo.

In a beehive, it is the food alone which determines the future of the offspring: If the larvae are fed pollen, they develop into worker bees. If they are to grow into queen bees, their only food is royal jelly, which is rich in fat and protein. Australian researchers have recently imitated the effects of this power food by turning off the enzyme that labels DNA with methyl groups in bee larvae. These larvae all turned into queens – completely without any royal jelly.

This was a clear indication that it is methyl labels that determine the larvae’s fate by influencing the activity of particular genes. In their current work, Lyko and his team have investigated which genes turn a bee into a queen. While previous epigenetic investigations concentrated on the methyl labelling of individual genes, the Heidelberg researchers, jointly with bee experts from Australia, have been the first to compare methylation of the whole genomes of queens and workers. “The bee with its small genome has served as a model for us to test the method. By now, we are able to perform such investigations also in the human genome,” Frank Lyko explains. .

Other than the richly methylated human genome, the bee genome carries considerably less methyl labels. In more than 550 genes the investigators found clear differences between worker bees and queen bees. These genes have often remained largely unchanged in the course of evolution, which is an indication for researchers that they fulfill important tasks of the cell. Moreover, Lyko’s team identified a previously unknown mechanism by which gene methylation might influence character production. In bees, methyl labels are frequently found at so-called splice sites of genes where the blueprint for protein production is cut.

If these recognition sites are made unrecognizable by chemical labels, the cell may possibly produce an altered protein with a different function. “So far, the theory has been that methyl labels block gene activity at the gene switches and thus produce diverging characteristics,” Frank Lyko says. “But now we have found evidence to suggest that the mechanism discovered in bees may also play a role in cancer cells.” This would mean that epigenetic factors in cancer not only turn genes on or off, but may also be responsible for production of proteins of a completely different kind.

Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
spotted by Jemima Watson, Scottish Beekeeper

Christmas Meal

The BeeHolder, January 2011


The MBKA New Year/Xmas Dinner

is being held in the Music Room at Gregynog Hall.

7.00 for 7.30pm Saturday 15th January.


It was a great evening last year and this year will be even BETTER

Great Menu fantastic value


As well as Brian Goodwin, Chief of the Shrewsbury Flower Show

and our favourite trainer, there will be our Bee Inspectors in attendance,

plus the Warden and Estate Manager of Gregynog,

and, drawing the Raffle and generally amusing us, will be

Lembit Opik our one time MP and MBKA member.


You must book and pay by the 31st December

Send cheque for £18 to Jessica Bennett

Plas Heulwen, Llanfair Road, Newtown, Powys SY16 3JY

01686 626872

Montgomeryshire Training Apiary at Gregynog

The BeeHolder, January 2011

An oak from the Gregynog Estate has been felled. It was planked in Guisfield and cut and worked by Welsh Oak Frames of Caersws to a design developed in conjunction with the MBKA. When the weather gets better the foundations will be dug and a slab poured. Then the fun begins as the Viewing shelter is erected. We will need some volunteers to help staple to protective wire mesh to the windows: please say what times your can be called upon. We hope to have everything finished by Easter. It is amazing how fast things happen when there is enthusiasm from all parties! We really want to see school children using the Shelter during the summer term. See also the apiary pages for more details of the shelter.

The first log from Gregynog being loaded.  This is the first time for about 100 years that an Oak from the Estate has actually been used for a Gregynog BuildingThe Boss which holds the bracing horizontals  and the  rafters together.


Here are the BeeHolders for 2010. This saves menu space and makes it easier to find what you're looking for (Bono).

October 2010

The BeeHolder, October 2010

Monks contemplating

In the Middle Ages monks in their cells would contemplate the number of angels that could balance on the head of a pin. Nowadays it ‘s the number of spores in a cell of chalkbrood.

You can navigate through this copy of the BeeHolder using the links at the bottom of this page and the arrows at the bottom of each subsequent page, or the links in the right hand sidebar of the page. If you prefer, you can access the magazine as a PDF (Portable Document Format) by selecting the attachment below. This requires Acrobat Reader, which is provided as a free download by Adobe.

BH Oct 2010 E version.pdf2.79 MB


The BeeHolder, October 2010

Autumn is the time when we appraise the year and plan for the next year. Novice bee-keepers will have learnt to have confidence in handling bees and older beekeepers will have learnt to question their confidence that experience matters at all. There aren’t many beekeepers who claim to know it all and most of those are fooling themselves.

One of the most senior beekeepers in Wales is the Government’s Regional Inspector Frank Gallatly. Frank put himself in a learning mode when he questioned our novice beekeeper Noel Eaton about the workings of the Warré hive in our Gregynog Training Apiary. Frank’s experience with that particular hive was less than Noel’s and he was prepared to admit that and learn. Frank also took lots of photographs of this hive: perhaps the one on this page suggests that bees were very perplexed by the interest taken in them. Let us take it that the first lesson from Frank is to be open-minded: to listen to experts and novices with equal attention. Bees are in crisis because the experts did not know best.

Does anybody know what it is about beekeeping that produces so many cranky individualists? We have cranky colonies and cranky beekeepers. Is it the environment, the actual act of trying to domesticate bees, that causes a stubborn individuality? We must all know of beekeepers who won’t join local a Beekeeping Association on principle, others who hide their hives from the Bee inspectors on principle. And then there are the reports of colonies that develop self-cleaning behaviour and “immunity” from varroa. These reports are are now so many that maybe we should not dismiss them as tabloid sensationalism. It is unlikely that any natural resistance to varroa could evolve in the short space of time that the parasite had been around in the Western honey bee. Bees breed at about the same rate as cows and it has taken many hundreds of years to change cow behaviour. But, what if a problem like varroa had happened before many thousands or even millions of years ago and the bees had adapted to it then and had retained the genes to cope? There is no need to scrub our back if it never gets dirty so we don’t bother and, if there was a back-scrubbing gene, we would evolve a mechanism to switch it off to save energy. Maybe what is happening is that the environment itself is the trigger that causes an existing gene to be expressed. Stubborn individuality and crankiness would have had an evolutionary advantage to our forefathers many millions of years ago. A few years under a veil and so many bee-stings, or just living in Mid-Wales may result in the human crankiness gene being expressed. Similarly something that the varroa mite does and some way in which we manage certain colonies may result in what looks like a resistance to varroa. We should all keep talking: novices and experts. And how about dragging some of those no-joiners into Association meetings if only to exchange views over the cups of tea? The stubborn loner in the hills, hiding his or her hives from everybody, maybe the holder of the wonderful gene of human individualism and also the meme to protect our own bees.

What a shame that ex-beekeepers don’t join an Association to share their knowledge. We could learn from their failures just as much as from their successes. I know a few who would love to be dragged along (protesting all the way) just because they would enjoy the friendly chats that we always have over teas.

Finally, please consider yourself for the post of Chairperson, Secretary, and BeeHolder Editor, all of these posts are becoming vacant at the AGM in February. Those retiring have each done three years and each had no previous experience serving on the MBKA committee.

Tony Shaw July 2010

New Members

The BeeHolder, October 2010

We welcome as new members :

Jeremy and Liz Barnes (Caersws), Maeve Caplin (Abermule), Julia Ellacot (Abermule) and Auryn Hughes (Llanfair Caereinion).

Reports on Meetings

The BeeHolder, October 2010

I've split the reports down to one a page, so navigate using the links below for reports on alll the meetings since the last BeeHolder.

July apiary visit, Llanidloes

The BeeHolder, October 2010

The July Apiary visit was generously hosted by Kevin and Fran Blockley at their delightful farm complex located in the rolling hills near Llanidloes. This farmhouse serves not only as the headquarters of their archaeological business, but is also an active community experimenting in biodiversity, organic farm practices and running courses in stone carving, basket making and other rural crafts.

Having parked in a nearby field and walked in glorious sunshine the last few hundred yards, the swarm of MBKA beekeepers settled for a while on the lawn in front of the restored 17th century half-timbered farmhouse, chatting with exciting anticipation at the prospect of seeing the apiary, or possibly as a result of the promise of a cool glass of something alcoholic.

Fun on the farmThe visit was so well attended, we needed to split into two groups. As one group set off with Jim Crundwell to examine the apiary, the other group sat around on the lawn to take part in a multi-tasking exercise - concentrating on an informative talk by John Beavan on varroa control, whilst simultaneously and mindfully analysing the subtleties of a fruit beverage invented by James Pimm in 1823.

The apiary consisted of a number of vintage WBC hives, which on Fran’s admission had not been tended to for some time, and which were found to be in a little disrepair. As many members will only have had experience of National hives, the WBC’s presented a good opportunity. Some frames could not be lifted as the top bar had parted company with the sides. Nevertheless, for the bees it was home, and they were happily doing what bees do. Frames were handed around for the benefit of those members who had not yet experienced close encounters with bees, and Noel handed around a captured queen that he found in his bee-suit from the previous day’s work. A couple of WWOOFers from the farm also borrowed suits and joined in.

Members were invited to stroll around the complex, which included a yurt, a re-located 18th century barn, polytunnel, and for me what was the best building - a small, beautifully thatched circular goat shed that I would happily have converted into a weekend retreat.

In accordance with tradition, the afternoon was suitably rounded off by an impressive selection of very indulgent components of afternoon tea, with home produced Jersey milk on offer for the beverages (probably hand-milked). I seem to remember a very happy Labrador helping to keep the ground clear of debris. A very enjoyable visit, and our thanks to the hosts.

Keith Wood

August apiary visit, Gregynog Training Apiary

The BeeHolder, October 2010

A Noseama training day was held at the MBKA training apiary at Gregynog.

I arrived at Gregynog at 10am with my sample 30 bees from each hive to find the room already set up with microscopes and instructional charts and photographs on the notice board. Three professional bee inspectors, Frank Gellatly, Peter Guthrie and John Beavan, were in attendance to instruct, advise and generally explain what to do.

Only the abdomens were needed for the noseama examination. They were mashed or ground in a pestle and mortar with 30ml of water, one Mililitre per bee abdomen. The resulting soups from each sample would often differ in colour. This was all to do with the food that the bees had been consuming.

A single drop of the clear part of the “soup” was then pipetted onto a glass slide and placed under a microscope. The magnification of 400x reveals any Noseama as small kidney bean shaped particles. 6 or more spores visible within the field of the eyepiece indicated a noseama infection serious enough to require treatment. Most of the samples brought in revealed no noseama but some had so many noseama spores that it was difficult to count.

Bees questioning what all the fuss is about in the Warré Hive

It was strikingly apparent that the number of members who attended was a very small proportion of the members who attend most apiary meetings. Perhaps it was the lack of the promise of sandwiches and cakes and tea, perhaps it was that you all already knew how to test your bees and have access to microscopes! If it wasn’t the latter of the above, I am at a loss to imagine why anyone would pass up such a unique opportunity to learn something and participate in an activity which directly benefits your bees and your apiary, and is a significant contributing factor to winter survival.

During the afternoon we walked the 200 yards to the MBKA Training Apiary. The 3 bee inspectors discussed the progress of each hive and collected samples for testing under the microscope.

The Top Bar Hive had unfortunately been completely raided by wasps and there were no bees found, just lots of wasps.

The WBC seemed to be queenless. One of the Warré hives had a very small colony with a queen and after some discussion it was decided to amalgamate these two hives to create a colony which had some chance of surviving through the winter. This procedure was completed later that evening using the paper method.

The other Warré hive had plenty of bees and a queen.

Both the National hives had plenty of bees and queens present.

The surprising finding (surprising to me at least) was that none of the hives in the apiary had eggs, brood or stores in any quantity. My own hives at home have several frames of brood at various stages and supers or bars full of sealed honey and lots of nectar.

All of the hives at the apiary were in the same state of emptiness and all were fed with sugar solution the next day.

All in all I found this to have been one of the most interesting and informative of all the training days I have attended so far. I would like to give my personal thanks to all who contributed in particular the bee inspector Frank Galently, John Beavan and Peter Guthrie, and to the club members who arranged it all. Those who didn’t manage to attend for whatever reason missed a brilliant day of bee-keeping and learning more about this absorbing craft. We also had some fun socialising and quite a few laughs.

Noel Eaton

MBKA at the Welsh Food Festival Glansevern 2010

The BeeHolder, October 2010


SBI John Beavan and son Toby demonstrating that beekeeping.The annual Welsh Food Festival at the Glansevern Hall has been running for five years, showing the best of Welsh produce to whoever is willing to pay. The MBKA has had a presence there for three years, this being the third year. Previously the venue for the MBKA stalls was in the activity tent, however this year we were left to face the elements having to find our own tents for refuge.

Eric Eaton pulled through at the last minute finishing the cage for the bee presentation on Friday, which was erected on a flat bed trailer lent to us by the Gregynog estates manager. Having prepared the site for the show on Friday, the association and its willing volunteers were ready to face the crowds who would appear at the beginning of Saturday morning.

Toby passed his WBKA Junior exam on 9/9/2010, he is the first young person in years to pass this exam because it is not being promoted to schools!

Would you buy a raffle ticket, please?

Saturday gave the show a muggy but rainless air, which permitted the food festival a good flow of visitors. The demonstration bees in the cage were kindly lent to us by Mr. Paul Kingsley whose two hives werehidden behind the Grotto in the meadow. They were moved to the cage around 10 a.m., but most of the flying bees followed their God- given instincts and returned to their home hives, not impressed with the potential fame. The two small gazebos were used for photos, the bee display box and wares of members. During the day there were two demonstrations to initiate the unlearned into the mysteries of beekeeping and the difference between a wasp and a bee.

Our very own beekeeping inspector John Beavan and his son Toby kindly performed the first demonstration at 12pm.

As John could not do the second presentation that day Toby offered himself in his Father’s stead. At 2pm we saw the second show which was done by Dave Bennett with Toby assisting, allowing bystanders to behold some of the machinations of beekeeping. Sunday did not fare so well weather wise, as rain postponed the first demonstration to 1pm and eliminated the chances of the second one. This single demonstration was performed by Tony Shaw and a young volunteer called Oscar from a neighbouring beer stall, who beheld Toby the day before and was inspired to take his place that day. His parents were overjoyed to see their son involved with this and filled their phone memory with photos.

MP Glyn Davies drawing the raffle prize

On sale were pots of local Welsh honey. A couple of the lady volunteers went foraging with raffle tickets for pounds around the show. The raffle prize was a lovely hive purchased by the association from Brian Norris. The raffle ticket was drawn at 3:30 by our MP Glynn Davies who picked a visitor from the midlands. All in all the money raised came to £650 and shall be used to improve the bee sanctuary at Gregynog. There was also a petition asking the government to increase funding of bee research.

The two days went successfully, money was raised, people were informed and inspired and the petition was signed. Maybe next year there could be a tent, which explains in greater detail the problems facing bees in an easy to understand format. Also a clear handout that visitors can take away that can tell them what they can do to help, with a contribution slip on the bottom so they can help to ‘save the bees’! Also with the raffle a second and third prize may be a good thing to include. A big THANK YOU to all the volunteers who helped, it couldn’t have happened without you! Also thank you to Co-Op who contributed a substantial sum to build the demonstration cage! The bees say thank you too! Buzz Buzz!

David Platt

September apiary visit, Bishops Castle

The BeeHolder, October 2010

The variety of hives, owned by different people, in this apiary provided very interesting and instructive afternoon. Apiguard treatment and feeding were both in progress. How to achieve both at the same time involves creating extra top space for the bees to access the Apiguard without making too large a gap below the feeder. Usually crown boards are modified to have a deeper frame on one side and a standard bee space on the other. They can then reverse when required for Apiguard. When mesh floors are in use at this time solid bottom boards should be placed beneath to get the full benefit of varroa treatment.

It was interesting to see the plastic hives in use. These are of the Langstroth type , it will be useful to see how these compare with the wooden hives on the same site as the bees seemed to be all of the same strain: i.e. black and unusually gentle for black bees.

All the hives that I looked at had self-spacing brood frames although some had the narrower top bars or a mixture of both types. The advantage of the wide type was manifest in the lack of brace comb produced. Because the self-spacing frames are slightly narrower than the metal-end type, ie 1 3/8 inches instead of 1 ½ inches it is just possible to cram in 12 instead of 11 or 11 instead to the intended 10 in the case of the Langstroths. Several examples were noticed. The advantages of dummy boards were discussed, maybe a topic we could explore at a future meeting.

Part of the queue to get into the Wintles Apiary. Jim Crundwell leads from the far rightAll the hives were on double stands, convenient and necessary on a sloping site. I am a little doubtful if they will prove to be robust enough to bear the considerable weight of a good honey crop. Maybe next year we will find out.

I think most of us learned something and a good time were had by all thanks to our attentive hosts.

Jim Crundwell

The Wintles community venture

(I had asked Paul Crump about the social dynamics of running a communal apiary. Like many other members I was intrigued how a group of different people managed to come to decisions about how to run an apiary where hives can be owned individually. Paul talks in general in this article about the development of the community. I am wondering whether I had been too cheeky in asking for the intimate details of the social dynamics about and within the communal apiary. ED )

The Wintles is a community of currently 20 residences with a final phase yet to be completed which will increase the total to 40. Community is the key, although the outward look is unusual energy efficient housing the underlying concept of the original developer was a living village. So we all bought into this concept from the outset and with the demise of the first developer we have had to cooperate and set up our own organisations to manage the common parts allotments etc. We are not ageing hippies in sandals, well not many, but a group of people trying to become a community.

So it was inevitable that the allotments were only the start. Someone mentioned chickens and a group of interested people soon formed, built a coop, bought some chickens and we now have up to 15 eggs a day. The system is simple, I look after the chickens for one day a fortnight and in return have all the eggs produced on that day.

With the success of the hens we have considered other ventures and throughout this summer a group have kept 5 pigs on some spare land. Saves cultivating and they should taste good.

The bees were an ambition of several of us from the start. We were fortunate in obtaining several colonies last autumn and due to beginners luck there are now about 12 hives going into the winter. Most have their own hive or hives but a group of residents share a hive and seem to do it together. We are all beginners so it’s a big learning curve and we all help each other. It certainly helps that we all have similar ideals. Our founder Bob Tomlinson had a vision and to date we are a testament to it.

Paul Crump

Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery

The BeeHolder, October 2010

It has been one of the great murder mysteries of the garden: what is killing off the honeybees? Since 2006, 20 to 40 percent of the bee colonies in the United States alone have suffered “colony collapse.” Suspected culprits ranged from pesticides to genetically modified food.

Now, a unique partnership — of military scientists and entomologists — appears to have achieved a major breakthrough: identifying a new suspect, or two. A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have apparently interacted to cause the problem, according to a paper by Army scientists in Maryland and bee experts in Montana in the online science journal PLoS One.

Exactly how that combination kills bees remains uncertain, the scientists said — a subject for the next round of research. But there are solid clues: both the virus and the fungus proliferate in cool, damp weather, and both do their dirty work in the bee gut, suggesting that insect nutrition is somehow compromised.

Liaisons between the military and academia are nothing new, of course. World War II, perhaps the most profound example, ended in an atomic strike on Japan in 1945 largely on the shoulders of scientist-soldiers in the Manhattan Project. And a group of scientists led by Jerry Bromenshenk of the University of Montana in Missoula has researched bee-related applications for the military in the past — developing, for example, a way to use honeybees in detecting land mines. But researchers on both sides say that colony collapse may be the first time that the defence machinery of the post-September 11 Homeland Security Department and academia have teamed up to address a problem that both sides say they might never have solved on their own.

“Together we could look at things nobody else was looking at,” said Colin Henderson, an associate professor at the University of Montana’s College of Technology and a member of Dr. Bromenshenk’s “Bee Alert” team.

Human nature and bee nature were interconnected in how the puzzle pieces came together. Two brothers helped foster communication across disciplines. A chance meeting and a saved business card proved pivotal. Even learning how to mash dead bees for analysis — a skill not taught at West Point — became a factor.

One perverse twist of colony collapse that has compounded the difficulty of solving it is that the bees do not just die — they fly off in every direction from the hive, then die alone and dispersed. That makes large numbers of bee autopsies — and yes, entomologists actually do those — problematic.

Dr. Bromenshenk’s team at the University of Montana and Montana State University in Bozeman, working with the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Centre northeast of Baltimore, said in their jointly written paper that the virus-fungus one-two punch was found in every killed colony the group studied. Neither agent alone seems able to devastate; together, the research suggests, they are 100 percent fatal.

“It’s chicken and egg in a sense — we don’t know which came first,” Dr. Bromenshenk said of the virus-fungus combo — nor is it clear, he added, whether one malady weakens the bees enough to be finished off by the second, or whether they somehow compound each other’s destructive power. “They’re co-factors, that’s all we can say at the moment,” he said. “They’re both present in all these collapsed colonies.”

Research at the University of California, San Francisco, had already identified the fungus as part of the problem. And several RNA-based viruses had been detected as well. But the Army/Montana team, using a new software system developed by the military for analyzing proteins, uncovered a new DNA-based virus, and established a linkage to the fungus, called N. ceranae.

“Our mission is to have detection capability to protect the people in the field from anything biological,” said Charles H. Wick, a microbiologist at Edgewood. Bees, Dr. Wick said, proved to be a perfect opportunity to see what the Army’s analytic software tool could do. “We brought it to bear on this bee question, which is how we field-tested it,” he said.

The Army software system — an advance itself in the growing field of protein research, or proteomics — is designed to test and identify biological agents in circumstances where commanders might have no idea what sort of threat they face. The system searches out the unique proteins in a sample, then identifies a virus or other microscopic life form based on the proteins it is known to contain. The power of that idea in military or bee defence is immense, researchers say, in that it allows them to use what they already know to find something they did not even know they were looking for. But it took a family connection — through David Wick, Charles’s brother — to really connect the dots. When colony collapse became news a few years ago, Mr. Wick, a tech entrepreneur who moved to Montana in the 1990s for the outdoor lifestyle, saw a television interview with Dr. Bromenshenk about bees.

Mr. Wick knew of his brother’s work in Maryland, and remembered meeting Dr. Bromenshenk at a business conference. A retained business card and a telephone call put the Army and the Bee Alert team buzzing around the same blossom.

Kirk Johnson
New York Times October 6th 2010

Trying not to kill the bees

The BeeHolder, October 2010

We have now been “keeping” bees for just over a year. Both of us were bee-ginners with an interest in bees and the final push came when we went to the Glansevern Food Festival and saw the stand there. For Christmas I was given a brand new hive. Well, in fact I was given a block of wood with “Imagine I am a beehive” written on it, but the hive arrived in the spring of 2009.

Then came the training. We were lucky enough to attend one of Brian Goodwin’s training days. We were so impressed by his knowledge. One of the things that stuck in my mind was his advice to try to avoid killing the bees - as it upsets the others. We had no idea how hard this was going to be.

By July we took delivery of a nucleus of bees. It was exciting setting them up in their new hive, and fortunately the weather was good, and we had the excellent assistance of Dave Bennett. We spent the rest of that summer nervously tending them, and feeding them, and watching the pollen they were bringing home, and trying not to squash them as we manhandled the frames. The nucleus filled out the hive very quickly and soon the bees were really thriving. It was time to prepare them for winter. We treated them for varroa in September, and they took their medicine well. As we entered winter Mark built a hive shelter to keep the worst of the rain off the hive. And then we left them, and hoped that they were ok during the snow and bitterly cold weather.

This spring was a worrying time. Would the bees have made it through the winter? In February we had put a block of fondant icing in a feeder on the hive. It turns out we should have put this directly onto the frames or over the hole in the crown board, and the bees didn’t make use of it. In the end we fed them some winter strength sugar syrup. We saw some bees emptying the dead from the hive, and the pile gradually turned into a small mountain. By March some of the bees were flying in with orange pollen (snowdrops?), and by April the bees were very busy bringing back yellow pollen – their whole bodies covered in it, and marking the landing strip yellow too (dandelions?).

We agonised over the mouse guard. We put it in, and we took it out, and we put it in again. We had put one in for the winter, but then we got a range of advice about leaving it in over the summer too. Mark spent a lot of time making different sized entrances, and we now have a set for every eventuality. In the end we went for a mouse guard with an entrance a couple of inches wide. Any less and the bees just couldn’t get in and out when they were busy – and by this time we had a lot of bees – but this still reduced the area to be guarded.

By the middle of April the bees were running out of space in the hive. In order to give them more space we added a super with frames. We also did a varroa check, and were pleased to note that out of more than 50 drone cells we only found one mite. We started icing the bees at regular intervals too. The plan was to concentrate on getting honey this year.

The weather changed and it was very wet in early May which delayed us getting into the hive. When we did there were some strange cells in the frames that we hadn’t seen before and we couldn’t decide if they were drone cells or not. So we made a big mistake and removed the cells. The Queen was still in the hive at this point. That was on the 15th May, and on the 19th May the bees swarmed. Ironically we did our swarm control training on 22nd May – about a week too late. John Beavan did an excellent session and we were able to see exactly what we should and shouldn’t have done. Our hive had clearly been too crowded, with no space for the Queen to lay any more eggs. And the first thing the “There are queen cells in my hive – what should I do?” leaflet said is…don’t panic and on no account destroy them.

So we started again – trying to take some control of the situation. There were still a lot of bees in the hive, and some more Queen cells, so we took the decision to split the hive. We took 4 frames out of the main hive and made a nucleus in an empty hive next door. We made sure we left 2 Queen cells in each hive, we fed them, and we waited.

By the end of a week the Queen cells had hatched, so we were on the look out for eggs. No sign of any eggs in either hive after a week, but after two weeks we found larvae in the nucleus, and we saw our new Queen. There was still nothing in the original hive so we ordered a new Queen. Much was the excitement when the postman delivered her in a small jiffy bag, travelling with some ladies in waiting. We also had to take the honey out of the super so we could feed the hive. So in the matter of a few weeks we experienced swarming, creating a nucleus, extracting honey and introducing a new Queen to a hive. We ceased to feel quite so bitter about the swarm when we realised what we had learned from it, and that we now had two thriving hives of bees and 17 jars of honey. All of which we couldn’t have done without the excellent help of all the MBKA beekeepers who have advised us over the year. Although some bees were lost in the process – sorry Brian. And Mark has now had his first bee stings too…..

Julie Pearce & Mark Thomas

MBKA Training Apiary

The BeeHolder, October 2010

Rather than duplicate this report, link to the apiary pages of the web site here.

Dummy board and side feeder

The BeeHolder, October 2010

1 Dummy board

This useful piece of equipment is neglected by far too many beekeepers. There is a strong tendency on the part of manufacturers to make dummy boards too large, so that they quickly become propilised to the side walls of the brood chamber. However, if they are constructed properly to the same dimensions as the brood frame, the resulting bee space prevents attachment to the brood chamber.

The purpose of the dummy board is to fill in the space between the first frame and the end wall of the brood chamber, If this space is left vacant the bees will extend the depth of the cells on the outside of the comb making it too wide, or, alternatively build a comb or brace-comb in the space. The dummy board effectively presents this happening, and when removed it enables the first comb to move into the space before being lifted, thus avoiding rolling the bees on adjacent comb surfaces. Dummy boards should also be used outside the last comb when the full complement of combs not being used.

Figure 1 The finished size must be exactly the same as a brood frame except the thickness which is 12mm. To prevent warping fillets 19mm x 12mm are used at the edges. It is an advantage to have the top bar slightly wider at 15mm to give increased strength, but the depth must be 9mm to keep the lugs the same as the frame. The ideal material for making the main part of the board is 12mm thick red cedar board, but 12mm exterior plywood is a good substitute.

If Hoffman frames are used two spacer pieces 80 x 22 x 5mm should be glued on (see figure 1 above.)

2. Side Feeder.

Side feeders are invaluable for feeding nuclei and they deserve wider use. Like the dummy board they should be made to the same dimensions as the brood frame. They can be made in two widths, small ones equivalent to one frame for nucleus hives and boxes and wider ones for brood chambers. The overall widths are 25mm and 65mm. A wooden float is used to prevent bees drowning in the syrup. This is 5mm narrower and shorter than the inside of the feeder and has a number of holes bored through it. Small galvanised roofing nails are driven in at each corner top and bottom so that they protrude 6mm.

Construction details, side feeder.The frame is constructed of softwood about 15mm thick and the sides consist of 4mm exterior plywood. Waterproof glue should be used although small leakages can be tolerated as the feeder is contained within the hive and bees have access to the outside of it.

Jim Crundwell

Intelligence, Sleep and Memory - Beelogistics

The BeeHolder, October 2010


Research has provided insight into some stunning cognitive capabilities for such a tiny brain, as well as some especially fascinating anecdotes that liken bees to humans. For example, just like the human capacity to recognize faces, honeybees show the ability to discriminate between two different human faces. A major feature of this trait in humans is that it breaks down when the face is inverted 180°. This same feature was observed in honeybees. Further, bees can count up to four objects when they are encountered sequentially during flight. It appears that bees can navigate to food sources by maintaining a running count of prominent landmarks that are passed en route, provided this number does not exceed four.


Children often ask what bees do at night, wondering if they are always busy doing something, or if they too idle sometimes in front of the TV. We know from ancient times that the sleep of the labourer is sweetest. Accordingly, honeybee foragers are among the first invertebrates for which sleep behaviour has been described. Foragers have strong circadian rhythms; they are active during the day and sleep during the night moving through three sleep stages. However, young bees exhibit sleep behaviour consisting of the same stages as observed in foragers yet pass more frequently between the three and stay longer in the lightest sleep stage. These differences in sleep architecture represent evidence for plasticity in sleep behaviour in insects. The harder they work - the sounder they sleep!


During evolution, honeybees have developed sophisticated sensory systems and learning and memorizing capacities, essential mechanisms that do not differ drastically from those of vertebrates. To forage successfully, a bee has to learn and remember not only the colour and shape of flowers that contain nectar and pollen, but also how to get to them. Since the species of flowers that are in bloom in the morning are likely to be replaced by a different species at a different location in the afternoon, the bee has evolved an impressive ability to learn and memorize local features and routes, as well as the time of blooming, quickly and accurately. Thus, having found a nectar-bearing flower at a particular time on a particular day, a forager can remember the task and the time at which it was completed, and visit the flower at the same place and time on the following day. The time sense of the honeybee can modulate their response to a local stimulus according to the time of day. Honeybees can learn scents or colours in a time-linked process and remember them in a 24-hour cycle.

Circadian systems permit organisms to measure time for adaptively significant purposes. Bees synchronize their behaviour with daily floral rhythms, foraging only when nectar and pollen are at their highest levels. At other times, they remain in the hive, conserving energy that otherwise would be exhausted on non-productive foraging flights.

The processes of learning and remembering are undoubtedly more sophisticated in primates and mammals than in insects, but there seems to be a continuum in these capacities across the animal kingdom. The abilities of an animal seem to be governed largely by what it needs in order to pursue its lifestyle, rather than whether or not it possesses a backbone. The properties of learning and memory in insects have been shown to be well suited to the requirements of the tasks that they have to perform. Honeybees can plan their activities in time and space, and use context to determine which action to perform and when.

Courtesy of Nottingham BKA

Bee Prepared

The BeeHolder, October 2010

A lady from Pittsfield township, Michigan, had remembered to don her bee suit before inspecting her hives on the 29th of July. The bees were somewhat defensive due to the time of year and probed for an area of weakness on their human intruder. The weakness was quickly discovered and the poor lady received over 50 stings to her feet. Her husband abandoned his attempt to help with the garden hose and called the fire brigade, who doused the beekeeper with 750 gallons of water!

 The husband was quoted as saying "I saw these things and like, oh my gosh, I can't believe there were so many stings on her foot. Like, wow."

Joshua Mullen of Mobile, Alabama, just wanted to kill the bees swarming around his shed. Using gasoline soaked towels, he heard a "whoosh" and watched the utility shed erupt in flames that spread to his rented home and wound up causing some $80,000 in damage. Fumes from the gasoline appear to have been ignited by the pilot light of a hot water heater in the shed.

"Looking at all this, there might have been a better way," Mullen said while a few surviving bees buzzed around the ashes of the shed.

"It was a mistake. I wish I hadn't done it, but I did."

Learning points

  • Always wear appropriate protective clothing - the bees will find any gaps if so inclined
  • Use appropriate methods
  • Develop a reasonable vocabulary, in case you ever need to give an interview!

Courtesy of West Cornwall BKA

Oxalic acid

The BeeHolder, October 2010

Some thoughts on use of Oxalic acid vapour for controlling Varroa mites in the hive.

The popular treatment of dribbling Oxalic Acid (OA) over combs in the hive requires opening colonies for the winter treatment. Also, there are issues of bee toxicity and depressed Spring brood-rearing due to bees ingesting some of the syrup. Both these issues can be circumvented by applying the acid in vapour form. OA requires heat to vaporize. Once vaporized, though, OA can disperse throughout the colony, and then recrystallise into a fog of tiny crystals that attach to all surfaces (wood, comb, bee’s body, mites etc.). This vapour dispersion has the advantages of exposing the majority of phoretic mites to the tiny crystals, and there is no incentive for the bees to ingest it, since it is not mixed in sugar syrup, thereby minimizing any toxic effects it may have on the bees.

There is a vapouriser on the market (Varrox, made in Switzerland) consisting of a small pan into which is put a gram of OA crystals before it is inserted into the hive entrance, which is then sealed. The pan is then connected to a 12v battery. The OA vapourises and the device removed. After about 3 minutes, the now-empty unit is removed, and recharged with crystals for the next hive. Several units are generally run simultaneously, and in rotation. Time taken is about 5 mins. per colony, no opening of the hive or other disturbance of the bees is required and the bees are not apparently alarmed or upset in any way. The beekeeper can begin treating second and subsequent colonies whilst waiting to re-open treated hives.

However, I have made a device, similar to other DIY models, that consists of a copper tube with a cap at one end through which the crystals are introduced and a 9mm tube at the other which fits my narrow hive entrances. I heat the tube where the crystals are with a small gas blowlamp to vapourise the OA which then passes into the hive.

Some references relating to efficacy, toxicity, honey residue and applications of vapourised OA:

Tests carried out on broodless colonies during November and December of 2003 at the Institute of Agricultural Zoology in Rome showed an efficacy between 81% and 100%, with the best average results (85%) being for colonies treated with 1g twice with 15 day intervals. There was no significant effect found on either honey bees or their nest honey. See here for more details.

There is a good summary of alternative organic acid treatments here. As OA does not penetrate sealed brood, it is applied when brood is absent. Hence it is most successfully used for: Removal of mites from the overwintering bee population; Treatment of artificial swarms and nuclei in Spring/Early Summer; and ridding bees of mites after final honey harvest.


A letter to West Cornwall BKA by Bob Allen


Photos and articles wanted

The BeeHolder, October 2010

Have you photos of bees, flowers or apiary meetings which could feature in the Beeholder? Perhaps we could have a photo competition for the association.

The percentage of articles contributed by MBKA members is quite high but we are always on the look-out for more. Why not have a go writing something, anything, about bees or beekeeping? The BeeHolder is distributed not only to all members but to the editors of other Bee magazines. Articles that first originated in the BeeHolder are often copied and printed in the magazines of other counties or their websites. We in Montgomeryshire are quite unique having just one Association in the whole county. Most counties have many BKAS within their borders and most county magazines have a readership of thousands. The distribution of your article could be in the many many thousands. And your influence could spread nationally and internationally. Put Montgomeryshire on the map and prove that we are not just a load of hicks from the sticks.

If you have an idea for an article please phone me at 01686 412140 or contact me.

July 2010

The BeeHolder July 2010Warre hive at Gregynog

The Warré hive at Gregynog Apiary as seen from the public viewing area through the security net

You can navigate through this copy of the BeeHolder using the links at the bottom of this page and the arrows at the bottom of each subsequent page, or the links in the right hand sidebar of the page. If you prefer, you can access the magazine as a PDF (Portable Document Format) by selecting the attachment below. This requires Acrobat Reader, which is provided as a free download by Adobe.

BH July 2010 eVersion.pdf1.9 MB


The BeeHolder, July 2010

Egypt, circa 2,000 Bee CWe’ll all have noticed the great improvement of the Welsh Beekeeper’s Magazine Gwenynwyr Cymru since Brian and Cherry Clark took it over. The magazine had been languishing on the edge of extreme parochial tedium for years and now has a broader aspect and more modern layout. The magazine had to be upgraded because it was being outclassed by some of the local bee magazines (including our own BeeHolder). In turn the upgraded National Magazine has led to some subtle changes in our local magazines. Why repeat the seasonal bee instructions when they are so adequately covered by The Welsh BeeKeeper? There are only so many times one can bee bombarded by a Snelgrove board!

However, the day-to-day practicalities of beekeeping are better covered locally. For example, we have had over-swarming locally, yet a few weeks ago I met an experienced beekeeper from Cheshire who remarked that the dearth of swarming behaviour up there was causing problems; two near-adjacent areas, two entirely different problems. I put our excess swarming down to the poor queen mating last year: our local weather was so much worse than that in Cheshire. Our local unique set of bee problems will be tackled at the Montgomery Training Apiary at Gregynog. Our aim is to replicate the range of hives and bee-keeping philosophies that our MBKA members follow. We will be collecting anecdotal evidence about best practices rather than undertaking any scientific study. I have noted more scepticism than enthusiasm for the various schemes proposed for research apiaries. Unless attached to a well-funded university programme the diverse views of local beekeepers will either tear the research apart or some local members will be excluded from participation. How much better to recognise that within the diverse practices of hobbyist beekeepers there probably lies the solution to most, if not all, of today’s bee woes. A case in point is the now-accepted use of icing sugar sprinkled over frames of bees to counteract Varroa. This was a gimmick that came from a hippy in Germany whose success caused a local then national, then international acceptance of the idea. Such a meme (idea which can be propagated, via natural selection, like a gene) would never have originated at a university. “I think icing sugar on bees might help reduce varroa. Give me some money please” would lead to a definite NO. Whereas “Icing sugar has been found empirically to reduce varroa infestation. Can I have some money to find out why and how best to apply the substance?” might lead to a YES.

“Think globally, act locally” said Schumacher. And that is what local beekeeping is about. Whether we breed for honey production, disease resistance, good temperament or stock increase; or whether we have bees for the pollination or honey or merely as a marker to show that we are concerned about the environment; or whether we take up committee posts to help a local bee organisation, we are all acting locally but thinking of the bigger picture of a world in crisis because our bees are in trouble. The hope lies in the amateur who is prepared to risk a few hives for a principle: a commercial beekeeper could never run the risk of losing all his/her hives. So at the next apiary meeting, on 25th July, let’s all drink a Pimms to all those crazy ideas that beekeepers have and defend so passionately. The government , through its Bee Inspectors, may wish to push ideas about best practices (see bee disease training day), but there is rarely a case of a “worst practice.” Don’t be afraid of beeing different: within your difference may lie the salvation of the world. Has anybody given a medal to that crazy German hippy?

See the last article for what is going on at our Training Apiary.

Tony Shaw July 2010

Vew Members

The BeeHolder, July 2010

We welcome as new members

Mark Jones/Caersws, Fiona Moulton/ Machynlleth, Nicola Platt/ Kerry, Alan Smart/ Llanfyllin, Roger Thomas/Montgomery

As usual the Data Protection Act prevents my publishing emails and addresses of members, but I can recommend the local telephone directory.

Reports on meetings

The BeeHolder, July 2010

Here are the several reports on the last three months' meetings.

Beginners Course

The BeeHolder, July 2010

The beginners' course was given on April 3rd by Master Keeper Brian Goodwin

On a bright but not particularly sunny Easter Saturday, some twenty or so “|wannabees”, “newbees” or “nearly newbees”, gathered in the main seminar room at Plas Dolerw in Newtown to listen to Brian Goodwin provide an all day beginners training session. Settled comfortably on a tall stool at the front of the room, Brian had the relaxed and quietly enthusiastic air of a man who had kept bees for some sixty or more years, and who didn’t expect to be wrong footed by any questions we might ask him. The structure of the day was provided by some thirty or more worksheets which Brian distributed to each of us a sheet at a time as he took us through an extraordinarily wide range of topics all of which are undoubtedly highly pertinent to the novice beekeeper. We did our best to test Brian’s knowledge with many interruptions and questions timed to coincide with whatever urgent thought was buzzing around in our own brain regardless of where Brian had reached in the structure of the day, all of which questions Brian answered with great patience and insight.

We learned about the makeup of a typical hive, bee foraging distances and areas, the plants, bushes and trees which provide the best pollen and nectar at different times of the year, the roles and genesis of drones, workers, and queens, and how a colony supports itself through a typical year. We also learned about the equipment involved in beekeeping from hive and frame design through to opinions about what fuel is best to keep a smoker working effectively for as long as possible. Apparently rotten wood does the trick! These are just samples of the topics covered during the day.

One of the more fascinating topics for me was the subject of drone congregation areas, where drones from throughout an area travel as far as fifteen miles to congregate in hot weather looking for rising thermal currents where they wait expectantly for any available local virgin queens to arrive and mate. Apparently queens may go to the same congregation area for several days until they are “fully” mated.

We were allowed a short break for lunch but even this time was used productively with a slide show while we munched our sandwiches. I think it would be a fair reflection of the day to say that it ended with us all feeling exhausted but elated at the extent of our new found knowledge. The word “guru” is undoubtedly overused nowadays, but not it has to be said, in Brian’s case. We extend our thanks to Brian for such a great start to our beekeeping journey, and I would highly recommend the course to any relatively inexperienced beekeepers. Experienced beekeepers would undoubtedly learn a thing or two as well.

Bill Jones

MBKA Training Mornings

The BeeHolder, July 2010

Being relatively fresh to beekeeping (my first bees arrived in September 2008 ), I was delighted to hear that John Beaven was to be running some training sessions through MBKA this spring. I attended the session about varroa in Llanfyllin at Andy’s house and the session on swarm control at David and Jessica’s home in Newtown.

My uncle is an 89 year old beekeeper in Harrogate, who still runs weekend training courses in the apiary at Harlow Carr Gardens. I attended one of these excellent weekends before getting my bees and this gave me a measure of confidence and copious notes. As with so many fields of learning, however, I have since discovered that the more that I know, the more I realise there is to know.

The morning on varroa was focussed on explaining and recommending a consistent approach using regular monitoring and treating with Apiguard in August and oxalic acid solution in December. Icing sugar dusting was also demonstrated. I was able to appreciate how important it is that each geographical area settles on a method and sticks to it, until it is updated in response to mite resistance. From the course in Yorkshire, I have supplies of Bayvarol and formic acid, these being the treatments of choice in that area. I shall give them back.

We were a group of eight, which seemed just the right size. John managed to balance delivering lots of information whilst encouraging us to ask questions. The handouts were clear and comprehensive and although it was too cold to visit Andy’s hives, the morning was extremely helpful.

The session on swarm control that I went to was held at David and Jessica Bennett’s home on a hot morning, so we were able to be outside and visit the hives. Again the information was clear, well-delivered, and supported with useful handouts. On this occasion, however, two hours did not seem long enough. So many aspects of swarm management were introduced that it was impossible to do them all justice. Having said that, I went home and was bold enough to make up a nucleus on the following day.

As a novice beekeeper, I found these two mornings extremely helpful and was very glad to have been able to attend. There was no charge and the hospitality of Andy, Jessica and David was wonderful. Teaching sessions are invaluable and it was exciting to hear that there is a possibility of a permanent training centre being set up at the apiary in Gregynog.

Ros Parnell

(Ros is a member of Shropshire BKA - her attendance was a recognition that we can run friendly relaxed training sessions in our area. Ed.)

May Apiary Visit

The BeeHolder, July 2010

The May Apiary visit was to Roy Norris near Newtown on May 16th. At last, after a year’s delay, we managed to get to Roy's apiary  to see his collection of solitary bees enthusiastically demonstrated by Nigel Jones, Roy has erected a series of solitary bee "hives" which consist of a piece of log or bamboo  drilled with deep holes of different diameter, it seems that each type of bee is very particular as to the exact size of hole it requires, most of these bees are very short lived and the males, which hatch before the females , seem to have only one thing on their mind!, Nigel was very pleased with the number of different species identified, all have impossible names, it would appear that the scientific name, the only moniker they have, is in all cases, in inverse proportion to the size of the insect.

Head in the netRoy's Apiary

To the left Nigel Jones of the solitary bee unit demonstrates the correct way of collecting an insect after swooshing the net across a meadow. It was lucky that the group was divided into two, one half doing Solitary bees and the other around Roy’s honeybee Hives. If those inspecting Roy’s hives had stepped back they would have been in the lake.


Roy's bees live in a purpose built mansion on the edge of their private lake, most of his colonies have only arrived recently and are still in the process of being integrated into the apiary.

Paula reports that a foal was expected so I imagine it has now arrived

Many thanks to Paula and Roy for a very pleasant and interesting afternoon

Joe Bidwell

I felt the most pertinent observation of the day was made by Nigel Jones, “Whilst the other group are worried about any parasites they find here we are delighting in the bee parasites we may find in this meadow” Ed.

June Apiary Meeting

The BeeHolder, July 2010

The June meeting was hosted by Tony Morgan and Lorraine Ward on June 20th. Their apiary is at their home in Abercegir, Machynlleth – a sheltered location at about 50m altitude, among village gardens and their 1 acre nature reserve beside the Nant Gwydol.

Tony and Lorraine have been beekeeping for 5 years and currently have 7 colonies and one nucleus.

There was an impressive turn-out to the meeting, which was held at 5 o’clock – fortunately an afternoon of the warm and sunny weather we have become accustomed to over the past several weeks. Steve Griffiths, the new Estate Manager at Gregynog had been invited to join us, as he will be first on hand at the MBKA apiary recently established there.

Tom Brown demonstrated. how we should open our hives and handle our bees. He began by showing us his Beekeeper’s Toolbox. This is a wooden box, in which he can stand his tools upright allowing easy access –(especially important for lone beekeepers with both hands busy). He explained the use of all his tools. I was especially taken with the leadweighted goosefeather – how easily the all-important feather can drift on a light breeze! He also emphasised the absolute importance of record-keeping. As it is crucial to do this on the spot in a form you can later understand, it is helpful to have a reasonably weather-proof system and a spare pencil.

Tom handles bees very gently and thoughtfully. He showed us how to move the hive parts slowly and carefully, minimising the crushing of any bees, and observing in the process the current state of the colony, with helpful comments from Jim Crundwell.

This was a strong colony – a well-developed May swarm with what Tony described as a ‘magnificent’ queen, indicating the importance of queen-quality. Steve Griffiths was invited to handle a frame of bees whilst his photograph was taken for University of Wales publicity purposes (Subsequently the magnificent queen was found to be on this frame!). There was a chance to distinguish between workers, drones and queen, and to see eggs and brood in different stages. Our summer meetings provide a brilliant opportunity for beginners to actually handle the bees. Tom also described the procedure of removing drone brood as a method of varroa control.

The subject of Jim Crundwell’s demonstration was another strong colony, with two supers on. This colony had not yet produced any queen cells. Jim showed us the desirable ratio of brood in all stages, and discussed the different styles of frame spacers. Tony had used wide spacers (usually used in supers) on alternate frames in the brood box – an economical alternative (or emergency stop-gap) to using narrow spacers on every frame. A technique for ‘Preventing Swarms without Creating a Young Colony’ which Tony had in operation on a neighbouring hive was discussed. Tony found this method in a German-published beekeeping book he found at a car-boot sale. He had photocopies of the relevant page available (with which he will happily provide anyone else who is interested, and details of the book). Jim did point out the disadvantages situating hives in a straight line, associated with bees drifting from one hive to the next.

We were told about Tony’s experiments with a temperature sensor in a hive, and to see on a screen the interior of an occupied hive via a bird nestbox camera; the screen was rather obscured by bees!

By this time most of us were feeling very warm and thirsty and ready to free ourselves of suits and gloves, and to gather on the terrace for a wonderful feast and a glass of Pimms; suitable reward for hard-working beekeepers!

MBKA meetings are an excellent forum for all beekeepers to share experiences and information, and for new beekeepers to learn from old; the more good information and encouragement beginners have the more likely they are to be beekeeping in 5 years time.

Tony has been fortunate to have Tom as mentor: – Tom now insists he is his equal!

Thanks, Lorraine and Tony, for hosting such an informative and enjoyable evening in a very beautiful setting.

Pippa Scott

Why Apiary Meetings are important

The BeeHolder, July 2010

The following is a message from Our President, Master Beekeeper, Jim Crundwell.

Herbie Parker was a jobbing gardener, that is he worked for people with large gardens too big to manage, but not large enough to warrant a full-time gardener. As such Herbie worked for our neighbour one day a week. Importantly to me he was a beekeeper. As I had started beekeeping with a beginner’s outfit from Taylors and had no contact with another beekeeper, Herbie was a godsend, he corrected my mistakes and misconceptions. I thought he was a terrific beekeeper, later I realise that he was wrong about some things, but he got lots of honey. Because he was self employed he was in a position to collect stray swarms and was never short of bees.

I did have a book “Beekeeping” by Joseph Tinsley which was alright as far as it went, but one of its shortcomings was advice on the use of the smoker. “If the bees get irritable or out of hand, they can be controlled by (the) application of a little more smoke” According to Ada Rowse with who I worked later, Joe did not always practice what he preached. She had been a student at West Scotland College of Agriculture where he was Lecturer in Beekeeping.

It is very difficult to learn practical beekeeping without seeing it done by a competent person. That is why apiary meetings are so valuable. Every beekeeper needs a Herbie Parker. If you have a few years experience, please consider becoming a mentor to someone near you who may be floundering. At least make contact and exchange ‘phone numbers. Offer the loan of equipment such as honey extractor. Herbie lent me his for my first crop, 9lbs about which he was rather dismissive but to me it was a triumph.

Jim Crundwell

Future Events

The BeeHolder, July 2010

July Apiary Meeting Sunday 25th Tylwch, Llanidloes

This is an interesting venue. A collection of old buildings converted, with considerable panache, into a home for training workshops into rural crafts, stone carving and Archaeological digs. Contrast the range of innovative energy saving additions to these old buildings to the new-build energy-efficient housing to be seen during the September Apiary meeting. And all this before we get to the bees!

Training Day, Bee Diseases and Basic Assessment Exam

Saturday 28th August 10am to 4pm Sunday 28t at The Montgomeryshire Training Apiary at Gregynog, Tregynon,

The day will be run by John Beavan Seasonal Bee Inspector with fellow SBI Peter Guthrie and their boss Welsh Regional Bee Inspector Frank Gellatly. They will be available to advise on diseases and to test bees from members’ hives for Nosema. Members should bring along samples of their bees for microscopic examination. Details of how to collect bees will be sent to members later. For details of the basic assessment see July 2008 edition of BeeHolder pages 7, 8 & 9 or on line here. If you’re contemplating the Basic Assessment:- Please don’t be put off by the title ‘Basic Assessment’ – on the one hand, it is not so ‘basic’ that it is not worth it nor is it trivial; on the other hand it is a face-to-face test and the assessor will do everything possible to direct you towards the right answers during the session. The nature of the assessment, both practical and oral, involves both procedures and knowledge of bees and disease. To be eligible for the assessment you must have ‘managed at least one colony for a minimum of 12 months’

For the moment, remember the day and come to visit the Gregynog Apiary and examine the collection of hives

Only MBKA members will be permitted within the apiary but guests, including your children and grandchildren can view the activities from the public viewing areas behind the security barriers.

To add to the fun there will be a B Xfactor event.

September 4 & 5th,Glansevern Food Festival

We will need help on the MBKA stall at the Glansevern Food Festival. Helpers can get into the festival FREE if they help out on the stall. Please liaise with Secretary Jessica about what times you can do. Going on our experience of the last two years volunteers are kept busy with questions from the public.

September Apiary Meeting Sunday 19th Bishops Castle

The Wintles, part of Bishop's Castle, is an eco-village with community woodland, allotments, apiary, etc. Although each household is independent the residents are active in participating in community activities, such as woodland and meadow maintenance, chickens, pigs, and beekeeping. Currently the apiary has around a dozen hives, including 2 polystyrene. Charles Millar (area Seasonal Bee Inspector) will be attending.

The Wintles, Bishop's Castle

The famous Bishop's Castle Michaelmas Fair will be running on Sept 18-19 - further details can be found at Parking will be available at the Wintles for MBKA visitors. Do the Fair, see the Apiary, and do the Fair again. Take advantage of the Wintles’ car park. Who said there weren’t perks in being a member of the MBKA?

Advice from the past

The BeeHolder, July 2010

I have always been fascinated by bees. Although my family did not keep bees I grew up being told stories of how people who did would tell the bees about important events in the life of the family. My mother would say, "Now that is something we should tell the bees". I wished we had a beehive so that I could.

I grew up in the hills of North Somerset. We grew most of our own food and had several apple trees in the garden including two Sheep's Nose cider apple trees, which I like but my favourite cider apple is the Morgan Sweet. At apple time, my father would take us for a walk to the next village where Morgan Sweets grew in the garden of a pub. The name of the pub was The Beehive.

Family photoI have always grown fruits and vegetables but have never kept bees. Then, in 2008, I visited the Welsh Food Fair at Glansevern Hall. The MBKA stall was like a magnet; I spent most of the afternoon there, talking to the incredibly enthusiastic people running it. As a result my husband and I joined the association, attended meetings throughout the winter, and in the summer of 2009 got our first bees. We were both very excited but found it very daunting as well. The worry of not knowing what to do was lifted off our shoulders by a member of MBKA who has become our mentor, without his help and the encouragement of other members of the association we would probably not have taken on such a responsibility.

Gair articleSince getting our bees we talk about them all the time. Our friends and family probably think we have become 'bee bores' but recently I had a surprise. My cousin, who has become the family archivist, wrote telling me that our great grandfather, who I only knew was a builder, had also been a beekeeper. So, there was already a tradition of bee keeping in my family but I did not know it! My great grandfather James Gair lived in Scotland, north of Inverness. Included with my cousin's letter was a copy of an article James had published. The title of the article was Great Grandfather James Gair

Bee barn"Bee-keeping in Ross-shire", and in it he gives advice to beginner beekeepers. I find it is exciting to receive advice from my great grandfather, that he wrote many years before I was born. My cousin also sent me a photograph that shows beehives sitting in a potato patch. James Gair took these hives up to the heather at flowering time. Also in the photo is his carpentry workshop with beehives built into the side. This was to give all-weather access to the hives, and apparently one of the hives had a window inside the workshop for observation. Honey in the comb was sent to my grandmother in Somerset where she had gone to find work, then met my grandfather and never returned home to Scotland.

Bridget Newbury

Why has this bee been marked?

The BeeHolder, July 2010

Marked worker

Why has this worker bee been marked?

One of my colonies, over a period of two to three weeks changed character dramatically. I was used to strolling amongst the hives without any armour just to see what they were taking in and to have a chat with them. I didn't bother them and they didn't bother me; a lovely amicable existence.

Gradually they became a little more aggressive until they were going for anyone who got within 25m of the apiary. There would be 20 to 50 of them all round my head screaming at my veil and stinging my gloves. It was impossible to source them as these nasties followed you down the row of hives such that every colony appeared to be the same. Although I had a rough idea which hive it was I was wary of taking the ultimate step in case I got it wrong.

I mark my queens so why not mark the workers? That evening I got an aerosol of fluorescent red paint from the workshop and after giving it good shake donned my armour again and waded into the fray. I waited until I had got a large crowd of bees going round and round and really going for me then stepped briskly back and sprayed a cloud of red paint into the air.

Next morning I opened the suspect hive and lo and behold, there was my evidence. The queen was promptly dispatched to the hive in the sky and a nucleus placed alongside for uniting the next day.

A great relief and hopefully it will be a happy ending.

Deryck Johnson courtesy Essex BeeKeepers and EBees July 2010

Bees Abroad

The BeeHolder, July 2010

Are you one of those people who just can’t help volunteering for things, no matter how busy you are? Well, I’m one of those people! Fascinated by the talk that Pam Gregory gave to the MBKA a couple of years ago about Bees Abroad, when I heard about the volunteer day that Bees Abroad were holding this March at Stoneleigh Park, I just couldn’t resist going along. Just as well, as it turned out, as I was the only person there from Wales (aside from Pam, of course). I also seemed to be the only person who didn’t already have some connection with Africa, or with development projects, so I feared I might be a little out of my depth. But Bees Abroad needs help in lots of different areas, so I was reassured that there were things I could help with.

For those of you who didn’t attend Pam’s talk, or who haven’t heard of Bees Abroad, they are a small UK-registered charity, dedicated to supporting beekeeping projects in developing countries. They send volunteer project managers to work with local community groups to develop beekeeping projects which will become self-sustainable. Using indigenous bees and techniques appropriate for each location, Bees Abroad offers training and support in beekeeping including making hives and protective clothing from local materials (we were shown photos of some very imaginative use of maize sacks, for example), managing bees, collecting and storing honey, and getting it to market. Bees Abroad advise on the production of honey and other saleable goods from the bi-products of beekeeping, together with marketing and business skills.  Bees Abroad projects are normally self-sustaining after five years.

There were about 20 potential volunteers and several of the Bees Abroad project leaders at the volunteer day. It began with an introduction by John Home, the Chairman, who is also a project leader in Kenya, supported by his wife Mary who works with the women, helping them to make cosmetics and set up small rural businesses. Then we were given a lightning tour of what Bees Abroad does in the various countries where it operates – Pam Gregory spoke about her project in Malawi; Brian Durk showed us some hair raising photos of the route to his project in Cameroon, which made us realise quite how remote some of these projects are; and Claire Waring, in between organising a delicious lunch and the biggest mound of chocolate biscuits you’ve ever seen, showed us photos of their project in Nepal.

Next we divided up into workshop groups to discuss what is needed to make a project sustainable. My group consisted of Brian Durk, Ronald from Uganda, who works as an accountant in this country, knows nothing about beekeeping, but is already running a chicken-raising project in Uganda, Keith from Southport who intends to set up a beekeeping project in northern Cyprus, Sally from Shepperton who has been a beekeeper for 20 years and makes cosmetics (as I do), and me. Being such a disparate bunch of people, we came up with some varied and interesting ideas, then gave feedback to the rest of the group.

After lunch we were given a description of what Bees Abroad does in this country, by the aptly named Jeff Bee. He explained that they give talks, have stands at shows, do fundraising, sell bee-related items, Christmas cards etc. They need help in all these areas, especially in developing internet sales. What sounds the more glamorous side, though Claire assured us it was very hard work, is organising Bees Abroad holidays. She showed us photos of some of the holidays that she has organised – to Nepal to see the honey hunters in action, to Cameroon, Thailand, the Yucatan, Cambodia, Rumania and to Chile where there’s a commercial operation harvesting active honey (similar to manuka honey) which I believe is sold at Waitrose. After this we again broke up for workshop discussions about how to raise the profile of Bees Abroad in this country. How about running a marathon dressed as a fluffy bee??

So – whilst running a marathon might be beyond me - what am I going to do for Bees Abroad? Well, I’ve written this account for a start, which might generate some interest and possibly a response. I will volunteer to help at the Shrewsbury Flower Show. And, who knows, maybe I’ll develop a line of beeswax & honey soaps especially for Bees Abroad. As a certain famous retailer is fond of saying, every little helps. Why don’t you volunteer to help them too? Visit to find out more.

Jane Frank (Former Secretary MBKA)

Additional Role of the Drone

The BeeHolder, July 2010

A man was driving down the road and ran out of petrol. Just at that moment, a bee flew in his window.

The bee said, 'What seems to be the problem?'

'I'm out of petrol,' the man replied.

The bee told the man to wait right there and flew away. Minutes later, the man watched as an entire swarm of bees flew to his car and into his petrol tank. After a few minutes, the bees flew out.

'Try it now,' said one bee.

The man turned the ignition key and the car started right up. 'Wow!' the man exclaimed, 'what did you put in my tank'?

The bee answeredBPbee pee 2


(At last - I knew that I could eventually prove that drones were useful for something more than the obvious! - ED)

 Courtesy AN HES ‘the swarm’ & eBees



The BeeHolder, July 2010

be informed, be up to date, be entertained

it must be


the 64 page full colour magazine in its 25th year

view a sample at

£26 per year from Northern Bee Books,

Scout Bottom Farm, Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge HX7 5JS (UK)

War and Bees

The BeeHolder, July 2010

Leo Tolstoy - Bees, from War and Peace

Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy, 1828-1910, beekeeper, pacificist, writer, and philosopher, enjoyed beekeeping to such an extent that his wife sometimes worried about his sanity. She should have realized that he was engaged in research for a book.

War and Peace: Chapter 20

Meanwhile, Moscow was empty. There were still people in it, perhaps a fiftieth part of its former inhabitants had remained, but it was empty. It was empty in the sense that a dying queenless hive is empty.

In a queenless hive no life is left, though to a superficial glance it seems as much alive as other hives. The bees circle round a queenless hive in the hot beams of the midday sun as gaily as around the living hives; from a distance it smells of honey like the others, and bees fly in and out in the same way. But one has only to observe that hive to realize that there is no longer any life in it. The bees do not fly in the same way, the smell and the sound that meet the beekeeper are not the same.

To the beekeeper’s tap on the wall of the sick hive, instead of the former instant unanimous humming of tens of thousands of bees with their abdomens threateningly compressed, and producing by the rapid vibration of their wings an aerial living sound, the only reply is a disconnected buzzing from different parts of the deserted hive. From the alighting board, instead of the former spirituous fragrant smell of honey and venom, and the warm whiffs of crowded life, comes an odour of emptiness and decay mingling with the smell of honey. There are no longer sentinels sounding the alarm with their abdomens raised, and ready to die in defence of the hive.

There is no longer the measured quiet sound of throbbing activity, like the sound of boiling water, but diverse discordant sounds of disorder. In and out of the hive long black robber bees smeared with honey fly timidly and shiftily. They do not sting, but crawl away from danger. Formerly only bees laden with honey flew into the hive, and they flew out empty; now they fly out laden. The beekeeper opens the lower part of the hive and peers in.

Instead of black, glossy bees- tamed by toil, clinging to one another’s legs and drawing out the wax, with a ceaseless hum of labour - that used to hang in long clusters down to the floor of the hive, drowsy shrivelled bees crawl about separately in various directions on the floor and walls of the hive. Instead of a neatly glued floor, swept by the bees with the fanning of their wings, there is a floor littered with bits of wax, excrement, dying bees scarcely moving their legs, and dead ones that have not been cleared away

The beekeeper opens the upper part of the hive and examines the super. Instead of serried rows of bees sealing up every gap in the combs and keeping the brood warm, he sees the skilful complex structures of the combs, but no longer in their former state of purity. All is neglected and foul. Black robber bees are swiftly and stealthily prowling about the combs, and the short home bees, shrivelled and listless as if they were old, creep slowly about without trying to hinder the robbers, having lost all motive and all sense of life. Drones, bumblebees, wasps, and butterflies knock awkwardly against the walls of the hive in their flight. Here and there among the cells containing dead brood and honey an angry buzzing can sometimes be heard. Here and there a couple of bees, by force of habit and custom cleaning out the brood cells, with efforts beyond their strength laboriously drag away a dead bee or bumblebee without knowing why they do it. In another corner two old bees are languidly fighting, or cleaning themselves, or feeding one another, without themselves knowing whether they do it with friendly or hostile intent. In a third place a crowd of bees, crushing one another, attack some victim and fight and smother it, and the victim, enfeebled or killed, drops from above slowly and lightly as a feather, among the heap of corpses.

The keeper opens the two centre partitions to examine the brood cells. In place of the former close dark circles formed by thousands of bees sitting back to back and guarding the high mystery of generation, he sees hundreds of dull, listless, and sleepy shells of bees. They have almost all died unawares, sitting in the sanctuary they had guarded and which is now no more. They reek of decay and death. Only a few of them still move, rise, and feebly fly to settle on the enemy’s hand, lacking the spirit to die stinging him; the rest are dead and fall as lightly as fish scales. The beekeeper closes the hive, chalks a mark on it, and when he has time tears out its contents and burns it clean.

So in the same way Moscow was empty when Napoleon, weary, uneasy, and morose, paced up and down in front of the Kammer-Kollezski rampart, awaiting what to his mind was a necessary, if but formal, observance of the proprieties - a deputation.

Leo Tolstoy

marcus aurelius

"What is not good for the swarm is not good for the bee"
Aurelius, Med. vi. 54

Remember the beginning of the film Gladiator?
The Russell Crow character loyally served an old
emperor on the battle field.
That was Marcus Aurelius.

Bee venom and health

The BeeHolder, July 2010

Honey Bee Venom May Help Design New Treatments to Alleviate Muscular Dystrophy, Depression and Dementia

Scientists researching a toxin extracted from the venom of the honey bee have used this to inform the design of new treatments to alleviate the symptoms of conditions such as muscular dystrophy, depression and dementia.

Apamin, a natural peptide toxin found in bee venom, is known for its ability to block a type of ion channel that enables a high-speed and selective flow of potassium ions out of nerves. The blocking of these channels in brain causes nerves to become hyperexcitable, producing improved learning that has implications for the treatment of dementia and depression. In addition, injection of apamin improves the symptoms experienced by sufferers of myotonic muscular dystrophy (MD).

Until now, the exact mechanism by which apamin acts was poorly understood. In a study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, two teams from the University of Bristol and the University of Liege in Belgium describe the results of their joint work on these KCa2 potassium ion channels, also called SK channels. Using computer models and a genetic approach, the researchers were able to pinpoint exactly where apamin binds to block the channel. To block ion channels, most molecules act as a plug at their external mouth. Perhaps surprisingly, the researchers have discovered that apamin binds away from the channel pore, and causes the shape of the channel to change through an 'allosteric' mechanism, resulting in block.

This discovery could accelerate research into the design of new SK channel blockers which could imitate the action of apamin, to target SK channels in neural and muscular conditions such as dementia, depression or MD.

Professor Neil Marrion, from the University of Bristol's Physiology & Pharmacology department, said: "Drug design depends on knowing the target. Our findings have provided a new approach to designing a therapeutic agent that could help with the treatment of a number of conditions."

Professor Vincent Seutin, from the GIGA Neurosciences at the University of Liège, commented on the study: "I am very enthusiastic about the results of our study and I believe that, with the help of this piece of information, the targeting of these channels for the development of future drugs has been made easier."

Science Daily (July 10, 2010) Courtesy AN HES ‘the swarm’ and EBees

Book Review

The BeeHolder, July 2010

This is the title of a really excellent new book on all aspects of beekeeping. The difference in type-face on the front page is telling. Who would want to keep unhealthy honey bees? Or was the intention to suggest the link between the reader’s health and honey bees: Keeping healthy... Keeping  honey bees honey bees ? There are other quirky things about this book: sudden blank pages that perhaps were intended for individual note-making and then perhaps not, because they are just as suddenly missing. But I quibble. The quirkiness probably comes from the production team rather than the superbly professional authors, David Aston, Vice Chair of the BBKA and Sally Bucknall, Chair of Garden Organic.

The book is very comprehensive in all aspects of beekeeping with everything explained in a relaxed easy-to-read style. It is especially useful for having up-to-date information about bees and bee diseases and excellent advice on diseases under the umbrella of Integrated Bee Health Management. The colour pictures are superb, the black and white ones less so.; some really needed to be in colour for easy understanding. I was delighted to see at last a picture (in colour) of brood frames that should be destroyed. So often we see hives containing such frames and the beekeeper convinced that just because the cells are neat and regular, the frame is OK. There is a lot of learning to be had from this book with plenty to help the novice and enough to challenge the expert. I can thoroughly recommend ” Keeping Healthy Honey Bees “.

Published by Northern Bee Books, paperback, 194 pages £16

Arthur Finlay

Montgomeryshire Training Apiary

The BeeHolder, July 2010

Leasing bees and cutting risks

As at 17th July the following hives are inhabited by bees.:-

2 National hives
1 Long frame hive (The type often used by commercial beekeepers)
1 WBC hive
2 Warré hives (designed by Abbé Émile Warré as a People's Hive (Ruche Populaire)
1 Top bar hive (modeled on the simple hives typically found in Africa and S.E.Asia)

The hives were bought by the MBKA or given by members. The colonies were from members or swarms reported by the general public.

Next year we will have survived a winter and ready to run the apiary both for the training of our members and as a public showcase for bees and beekeeping. The products of the apiary will be nucs and queens for MBKA members, and honey which will be sold at University of Wales outlets as “Gregynog Honey” (all profits naturally go to the MBKA).

The bees love the spectacular Rhododendrons at Gregynog but the honey from this source would be too toxic to sell commercially. So, whilst the Rhododrendrons are in flower, the apiary will be managed for the production of Nucs and Queens and after the flowers have gone then we can put on fresh supers and go all out for honey production.

We have been slow at getting colonies into the hives. Hardly surprising at a time when even experienced beekeepers are reporting a slow start to the season and a shortage of bees. We are grateful for all those bees we have received. A leasing arrangement has naturally evolved whereby those giving colonies have said that they would like the option of taking back the bees should their own apiaries suffer catastrophic collapse. With SBI John Beavan inspecting the hives once a fortnight the apiary should do well. First in the queue for Nucs and queens will be those who have given colonies. Indeed those giving will have cut down the risk of losing bees by their “gift”. This is somewhat similar to the individual arrangements that some old beekeepers have with their novice friends: a Nuc is given one season with the stipulation that an equivalent number of full frames of brood can be taken back the next year. A good arrangement for all concerned which spreads the risk of losing colonies.

The only stipulation Gregynog have made is that all hives should be either new or of obvious good quality. The apiary is another attraction at Gregynog for drawing in the public. The more hives the apiary has, the more public interest there will be. Members wishing to donate or lease hives to the apiary should contact the secretary.

To Visit the Apiary.

Park in the car-park and go to Gregynog reception and show your MBKA membership card. You will be given a free car-park ticket. The Apiary is in the Dell. Signposts should be erected soon. Please give your comments to any committee member. We need your feedback

Hover over pictures for a description

MBKA apiary in preparation by giant insect machines

Our  MBKA sign where the entrance to the covered Viewing Shelter will be.

The viewing rail with bee security netting one metre beyondThe hut where extraction and other activities take place

April 2010

The BeeHolder, April 2010

Not  an advert for the docile Italian bee

Not an advert for the docile Italian bee!

Chistchurch Hobbyist Beekeepers, March 6th 2010

You can navigate through this copy of the BeeHolder using the links at the bottom of this page and the arrows at the bottom of each subsequent page, or the links in the right hand sidebar of the page. If you prefer, you can access the magazine as a PDF (Portable Document Format) by selecting the attachment below. This requires Acrobat Reader, which is provided as a free download by Adobe.

APril 2010 E versionA5.pdf1.24 MB


The BeeHolder, April 2010

One of the joys of committee meetings over the last few years has been watching treasurer Roy Norris explode in a near-foaming fury every time bad-beekeeping or Devon are mentioned. Devon, he would claim, is the source of most of the bee troubles in the UK. I have asked him many times if he could put his passion into an article but as a senior officer of BDI (Bee Disease Insurance) he could not compromise his position by singling out one county for his wrath. “ ....and I tell you the Bayvarol strips weren’t just left in for one year, they were added to until they were creeping out the hive entrance... and this was a professional beekeeper!”  As you read Roy’s article (Beekeeping in Devon) try to imagine the original spoken comments complete with the teeth grinding and foam

Civilisation progressed by the exchange of ideas and the electronic age just makes that exchange faster but Arthur Finlay’s article about New Zealand Beekeeping and Roy’s article reminds us that chance personal contacts are still essential for learning. Just as the computer has not reduced our use of paper as was predicted, it has not lead to the social isolation that was also predicted. Incidentally, some years ago the committee voted that all committee meetings are open to all members. Do come along, they can be great fun and perhaps you will be amused enough to stand for committee next February.

We start 2010 full of hope after the previous disastrous year but we should be aware that some of 2009’s problems will come to haunt us in 2010. For example; mating of queens was so bad after last July that the 2009 queen will be especially weak in 2010. It is going to be harder to increase stock and honey production will also be less than we would normally expect from any given weather condition. It will take a few years before we can recover from 2009.

Is our weather particularly bad for bees?

Terry Cook (see here) would say “Yes” and that our native bee is ill adapted to providing sufficient production to be viable. He assumes of course that the commercial beekeeper and the honey bee are in a natural symbiotic relationship. Whether we like it or not Apis Mellifera is a result of thousands of years of selection by man (see here) we cannot just leave it alone and expect the traits we want to magically appear or reappear. Brother Adam always argued that you cannot get traits out of the bee that were never ever there in the first place. Would he have had sympathy with the search for Hive hygene genes or would he approve of investing in the scientific possibility of splicing a set of genes from Apis cerana into Apis Melifera so that the latter could reproduce with the grooming behaviour of Apis cerana (Arthur Finlay’s New Zealand report)? Arthur would argue that the crisis in agriculture caused by the rapid drop in Honey Bee numbers does not allow us the luxury of being finicky about the concept of GM (genetic modification). His view is backed by Dr Simon Potts at Reading university’s School of Agriculture. Dr Potts has found there has been a 54 per cent drop in the UK’s managed honeybee population over the last 20 years. This compared to an average drop of 20 per cent across Europe. The study ‘Decline of managed honeybees and beekeepers in Europe’ shows that the UK bee population is declining at over twice the rate of the other 17 European countries in the survey.

On a happier note a team from Louisiana (see here) claims to have found a Hive Hygiene Gene. We await with interest confirmation of this from other research establishments.

Tony Shaw, March 2010

New members

The BeeHolder, April 2010

We welcome as new members :

Charles Balcock (Meiford), Sarah Chapman (Llanfyllin), David Clark (Bishops Castle), David Davies (Forden), Mervyn Evans (Kerry), Debbie Francis (Y Van), Henk Jan Kuipers (Guilsfield), Chris Robinson (Bishops Castle), Dave & Jill Smith (Welshpool), and Judith Yates (Bishops Castle)

AGM Reports

The BeeHolder, April 2010

This is the secretaries' report as presented at the AGM on February 18th, 2010.

The year started well with a high turnout at the AGM, the year began with 70 members and as of today we now have over 100.

The first public exhibition of the year was held at Newtown Library. The committee put together a display of equipment past and present the Virtual Hive & lots of photos and of course the most important piece the Observation Hive. During the time at the library we were asked if we could perhaps do some demonstrations for a few primary schools, of course we said yes not realising how many children would be coming!

Tony, Graham, Ralph & Jessica put together a bit of display letting them taste honey, dress up in bee suits, show them how the equipment worked, how to extract honey and the grand finale looking at a working hive. One school however were not allowed to cross the busy main road so we took the display to them. This was so worthwhile the children & teachers were fascinated by it all and we received some lovely thank you letters.

After the school visits we started with the apiary visits the first one being in April to new members Rev John & Bridgit Newbury subject of the visit, where to place a hive.

Weather was too wet for the visit to Roy Norris’s in May so that is planned to go ahead again for this year.

We then had a very successful bee demonstration, BBQ and open garden hosted by Dr Beverly Evans-Britt & Tony Shaw. A whopping £291 was raised through the sales of teas & plants and the proceeds were then used to buy some bee suits for children.

In July we had an enjoyable trip to Attingham Park to meet Brian Goodwin. Even though it rained for most of the day the weather did stay dry enough for us to inspect the hives at Radbrook College. The day was nicely finished off with a meal at the Mytton & Mermaid in Attingham.

August & September were the highlights of the year with two days at Shrewsbury Flower show & two days at Glanseven Food Festival. We were offered a stand by Glamorgan beekeepers which in itself was a challenge to put together but definitely well worth the effort and was very professional so a big thank you to them for letting us have it.

At Glanseven we held a raffle and managed to raise £465.70. Winner of the hive was Nigel Moulding who is now a new member.

September was the last of the outdoor apiary visits what splendid weather we had and tea fit for a queen. This was held at Liz & Roger Farrington’s house in the hills above Manafon, the biggest turnout yet with over 60 people attending. Most were new members who had met us at the shows. With a bit of juggling with suits we managed to get everyone who wanted to see the bees into the hives. John Beavan our new SBI for the area also came along and did the talk & hive inspection.

In November we managed to persuade Sara Clutton from Theatr Hafren to put on the film Vanishing Of the Bees. This went down very well and had a large turnout and recruited a few new members on the strength of this.

In between these main events the committee has been working hard behind the scenes finding speakers for winter meetings, places for apiary visits, giving talks to WI’s, Gardening Clubs, more Schools etc.

The year ended in January with a Christmas Meal at the Lakeside Golf Club. Special guests were Brian & Daphne Goodwin, Peter & Marian Guthrie and John & Alison Beavan all of whom have (and still do) give a lot of time to the MBKA. An enjoyable evening was had by all with 40 members in attendance.

For 2010 it is important to help all the new members we currently have. In April we are again holding beginners courses at Plas Dolerw, Newtown with Brian Goodwin who is the President of The Shropshire Beekeepers. We then hope to get a training apiary set up with the help of John Beavan SBI, fellow members and a grant or two. We have kindly been offered a piece of land in the woodland at Gregynog Hall, Tregynon. We want to show new members excellent bee husbandry skills make sure they get the right advice anytime. We are all beginners and learning all the time & we need to learn from each other. We are currently seeking grants to help fund the project and have applied to a number of organisations for this. Outdoor apiary visits will get more difficult to find with so many new members as parking can be very limited at a lot of places so it is vital we get this up and running as soon as possible, Finally this is going to be our last year as secretary , and Doug woods last year as Chairman & Tony Shaw has asked me to tell you he will also be finishing as BeeHolder editor as it’s important to have change & some new blood.

We will still be hands on but without the paperwork!

To sum it up we have had a very good year with the start of many more to come.

Thank you all for your continued help & support hope to see you at future meetings

Jessica & Dave Bennett, Joint Secretaries MBKA

The treasurer's report and draft financial statements were distributed by Roy in January. Rather than repeat all the figures here, will those who want to see the final approved version please contact Roy and he will send you a full copy.

Reports on meetings

The BeeHolder, April 2010

The AGM, February 18th

Around 50 turned up for the AGM on 18th February. The formal part was rushed through with joyous abandon leaving the evening to our two guests. Laura Shrewing from Glasu let us know what money she had to offer us which is a possible £5.000. We hope we can put a good case so we can be awarded that money. Roy is putting his all into it.

Seasonal Bee Inspector John Beavan gave a description aided by lots of photos of what his job entails, the area he covers and how he can help us. The evening finished at 9.30 and considering that we are supposed to leave by 9:00pm we can use that as a guage of the evening’s success.

See here for the secretaries' and treasurer's reports.

Jessica Bennett

Will Messenger and the Stewarton Hive (see article in previous BeeHolder)

About 40 members came to hear Gloucester beekeeper, Will Messenger, talk about the Stewarton Hive. Will became fascinated by the claim of Robert Kerr, Stewarton’s inventor (1819) that the bees don’t swarm and give masses of honey. Will’s experience with a hive he built himself and operated over 7 years seems to bear this out. He has also had few health problems with this hive.

Will Messenger shows his Hive

The stewartson was one of several 18th and 19th century attempts at creating a hive which would be productive of honey, would reduce swarming and would so separate the honey storage areas from the brood areas that honey could be gathered without destroying the bees. We learnt about Neighbour’s Improved Cottager with chimney and thermometer to keep the hive below the supposed swarming temperature of 100⁰F; and of Mr Well’s double hive; the first WBC, Burt’s Extra Deep Easy to Work and the Burgess Perfection which concertinaed to give quadruple thick walls for extra winter warmth.

With its drawers, slides, shutters and windows the hive is a tribute to the cabinet maker’s skill. Will proposed that many of its unique features contribute to the reduction of swarming and the tidiness of the comb. The octagonal shape had no cold corners and the rigid top bars did not wobble as can happen with modern frames (perhaps the cause of brace comb). Being near circular in plan the queen’s pheromones spread evenly through the hive. In particular, the pheromone she secretes from her feet to discourage queen cell building is distributed along the bottom of the comb (because it is frameless) and so queen cell building is discouraged. An impressive pandering to the natural behaviour of the bee. However I could not help thinking that with so much monitoring and invigilation, the beekeeper might have been able to reduce swarming in any hive.

For this talk, Will also researched the history of beekeeping in mid-Wales and found that there is none ( history, that is). In fact there is little recorded history of beekeeping in all of Wales.

In the question and answer period at the end, somebody asked if the blue hive angered the bees. Will didn’t know as he had painted previous boxes red, and this has never had bees in. He does have a blue bee suit which he has never used, so he will let us know if the colour blue angers the bees when he tries that one out!

This was a very interesting talk well received and as usual the catering was superb!

Chris Leech

Beekeeping in Devon

The BeeHolder, April 2010

It is the best of places – it is the worst of places.

Before I launch into my polemic about Devon beekeepers. Let’s be clear – a polemic is a one-sided argument or discussion. There are some good, even great beekeepers in Devon. The former National Beekeeper lives and keeps bees in Devon.

But why oh why does everything that is bad also come out of Devon.

Varroa came into Wales in the late to mid 1980’s. It was first discovered in Tenby. Had it come in on a ship to Pembroke dock? No one knew and extensive research had to be undertaken only to discover that it had been imported into Wales from a beekeeper who had moved his stocks into Wales from Devon to gather more honey. Of course varroa could have come from anywhere, but it had to come from Devon.

Next, treatments are devised and Apistan and Bayvarol become available, are very effective and the problem is solved.

Or so we think -- but we hadn't reckoned on Devon beekeepers. Using Bayvarol or Apistan is quite simple, follow the instructions. The strips are not supposed to be in the hive for more than six weeks. As the meerkat says "simples".

But not so ‘simples’ to a Devon beekeeper who manages over a considerable number of years to stuff nearly 100 strips into a beehive. And guess what, the varroa mite gets quite used to the presence of synthetic pyrethroids and develops a liking for their taste. As do the mites very many offspring. And thus we have resistant mites. And these have spread all over the country. We now have integrated pest management which is demanding of time and not as effective as the pyrethroids were, if they were used properly.

But to ensure that the resistant varroa were quickly spread over the country, Devon beekeepers continue to sell nucs and colonies to the unwary. They continued to export their colonies to gather honey from wherever the honey was flowing. This ensured that even if bees were not purchased in to infect non-resistant areas, they got in somehow.

Devon SS20 BUDE 2
Devon ST10 HONITON 1
Devon SX54 WEMBURY 1
Devon SX96 TORQUAY 5

This table, above, shows the number of incidents of the more serious American Foulbrood disease recorded in Devon over the past 10 years. Information is from the beebase website – you’ll have register to see all the data available. The second column is the 10km grid reference square, the final column shows the number of colonies infected.

With 26 outbreaks Devon is up there with the leaders and think of the size of Devon compared to the other counties listed.

Devon does quite well for European Foul Brood as well. See the map below, again for Beebase, for 2005.

Foulbrood infected apiaries

What next - small hive beetle – tropilaelaps mites!

Just steer clear of any bees from Devon.

And don’t even think of sending your bees to Devon to collect Devon honey – you will never know what they have caught until it’s too late and we are all infected.

And that’s why it is easy to get me to rant about Devon beeping!

Roy Norris.

Selecting for the wrong traits

The BeeHolder, April 2010

Up until the beginning of the last century bees were kept in what were called straw skeps. The design of these skeps made it difficult to know how the bees were progressing with the making of honey. When the beekeeper wanted to obtain honey from one of the skeps it invariably meant the destruction of the bees within. To ascertain which skep that he would empty the beekeeper would "heft" the individual skeps to estimate the quantity of honey in each. He would then select the heaviest skeps and remove the bees by placing the skep over a pit of burning sulphur.

Robert Bums wrote of the method in his poem "The Brigs of Ayr": "The bees rejoicing o'er their summer toils, Unnumbered buds an flowers' delicious spoils, Sealed up with frugal care in massive waxen piles, Are doomed by man, that tyrant o'er the weak, The death o' devils smoored wi' brimstone reek.”

Read this article with the report on Will Messenger's March Stewarton Hive meeting

Learning from Kiwis

The BeeHolder, April 2010

Touring New Zealand it’s nice to occasionally bump into beekeepers, share a few yarns and exchange ideas. Before spending a day with the Christchurch Hobbyist Beekeepers I had already met a number of small holders, (“life stylists” is the Kiwi name) on the North Island who expressed dismay at the poor pollination of their orchards. A drop of 50% in the apple crop in Waiheke island just north of Auckland was related to the collapse of the local bee population. Aucklanders knew that all the evidence is that a local hobbyist was responsible for the introduction of varroa to New Zealand by illegally importing queens. Not surprisingly varroa is worse in the North island but a visit to Christchurch, half way down the east coast of the South Island, revealed a varroa crisis far worse than anything I had seen in Montgomeryshire.

Christchurch Hobbyist Beekeepers meet in their club apiary on the first Saturday of each month. The club has 150 members with most members, as in Montgomeryshire, having up to 10 hives . But they did have more than 20 members who each had more than 25 hives each. These “semi-professional beekeepers were the main source of bee-knowledge to the group.

On the 6th March 60 members and children turned up for a meeting whose theme was varroa and disease. Sam Miller, from Northern Ireland, was the guest speaker and ran through the problems of varroa in Europe emphasising that New Zealanders should learn from European experience of the parasite. He predicted that because of the longer honey season and more active bees varroa resistance would take hold in NZ at a faster rate than it had in Europe. I was startled to be invited to make a few comments and managed to remember some statistics about losses in the UK and about the DNA evidence that most of the viral and Fungal diseases killing off colonies were not new but had been around for at least 35 years and were opportunistic killers taking advantage of the lowered immune system that varroa infestation had caused. (Thank goodness I read my BeeHolders)

Then it was the turn of five of the semi-professional beekeepers who gave a sort of “topical tips”: little tricks for adding formic acid, cleaning hives and opening hives. Sam and I particularly liked a pair of metal handles which President Jeff Robinson uses for introducing boards between brood or supers boxes. See picture below.

Clearing board tool

Sam Miller from Northern Ireland looks on as president Jeff Robinson demonstrates the Board insertion tool

The distance between the flanges was just a bit more that the width of a clearing board. One is put on one side of the hive and another on the opposite side. The Clearing or Crown board can then just be slipped between and the pair of tools then removed. The boxes need not be lifted from the hive and the whole operation can be done by one person. Sam and I were most impressed, so simple , just why had we not seen something like that before?

I think our MBKA would benefit tremendously by actively recruiting the local professional and semi-professional beekeepers into our association. Like their NZ colleagues our semi-professionals are full of little gimmicks that one can never find in books.

Another “topical-tip” was a way of selecting queens for good hive hygiene behaviour. Take the top of a yogurt pot and press into an area of capped brood on each of your hives. Within the circle of brood prick each cell with a pin. Close the hives and examine again in two days and four days. The hive where the most cells have been cleaned out has the queen with the best “hive hygiene genes”. This is the queen that should be used for stock increase. During the afternoon I met a retired lecturer in zoology (whose father was a beekeeper in Staffordshire) and we mused together whether there was enough time for selection of hygiene behaviour to be of use in combating the ravages of varroa or whether the mapping of the genome of Apis cerana and the transfer of the gene for grooming behaviour from Apis cerana into Apis mellifera might be a far more certain and quicker way of saving the honey bee and western agriculture.

Clump of beesWhen it was time to open the hives all four were opened together with many members viewing the hives without protection and four young children playing between the hives also without veil or gloves on. How I envied the docility of the Italian bee. All the operations were made so easy. But Sam and I told the members we had never seen such a high degree of varroa infestation in the UK. Varroa mites everywhere. One frame was of recently introduced foundation. There was a patch of drawn comb about 10cells by 10 cells on both sides. On one side the drawn comb contained some brood larvae. Although there was no evidence of varroa on the brood there were varroa mites crawling over the undrawn foundation. However, on turning the frame over one could see the varroa underneath each of the larvae on the opposite side. The quality of light in the UK is rarely such that we can see such things. I remember so many of our MBKA apiary visits where members struggle, even on asunny Welsh day to see what is going on!

White at 7.30 to clump of bees is larvae on opposite side of frame with varroa seen feeding at the bottom of the cells.

A good learning experience for this Welsh and the Irish visitor.

Arthur Finlay

I have cut Arthur’s report on his NZ experiences on the grounds that his photos are self explanatory. Editor.

Why imported queens?

The BeeHolder, April 2010

The reason for leaving the BBKA and all associations in it ten years ago was the simple reason of the amount of unnecessary drivel that is talked about in the bee world. A prime example is the forever trying to find the best bee for use, the British black bee. Well ladies and gentlemen, the fact is quite simple:-it never existed as you all would like it to have done. In the mythology of British beekeeping you have all seen the pictures of the veil-less beekeeper or the lady with only the long flowing dress on tending the bees. Well for any class of beginners I can do the same thing, weaken the stock, subdue it prior to the class or photograph and low and behold a calm easily manageable stock!

Many people ask me is there a problem with bees? Are they dying out? Are they disappearing, will they survive? I normally answer that despite the beekeeper, they are all doing fine, however, something is wrong and losses are up. So what are we doing about it? Breed our own? So how can someone think they can change the bee in half a life time, when they have been around for the last 35 million years in their present form? Can anyone argue that the person with the most time and experience was the late and dare I say the great Brother Adam. Anyone who cannot see that he and he alone on this island had the best chance for finding the British black bee and failed are simply living in cloud cuckoo land. Please read the book “Breeding the Honeybee” by the man himself and you will find the quote “You cannot breed something that never existed”

I cannot believe people in today’s climate of bee losses; because their stocks get a little larger than they have seen before and thus the bees defend themselves more readily, they destroy the stock, yes destroy the stock and blame the aggressive bees. Not that they are not used to handling large colonies or that it was the wrong time of day to go messing with the bees, or simply that they have had the colony exposed to the outside world for so long so they can find the queen for the fourth time that week, no its the bees that are aggressive, so destroy. No ladies and gentlemen there are times bees get a little feisty, sometimes a little moody but never a bee that deserves to die because of a bad beekeeper.

I run a fair number of stocks so I don’t have time to play with Mother Nature and create the “ultimate bee”, so I import mated Carniolans (Carnica) bred with Italians. These are black queens that keep a very tight brood nest; I have found these to be the best in our climate even with the changes going on under our very noses today (I won’t bore you with the statistics and characteristics of the breed, please if you have time, read up on them yourselves.) All I can say is that I put a nuc. of five frames with a new queen in a national hive, six feet away from the established Branch hive and it produced 67 lbs of honey to the branch hives 34 lbs. Was that better beekeeping or a better bee? The Branch members inspected that colony when they did their own.

Mr Oliver Field once suggested that I breed my own queens and I pointed out that I can’t get mated queens in this country soon enough to replace losses or increase my stocks. I need to continuously expand, (have you seen the price of fuel?) and where on this island can you isolate? Unless you artificially inseminate! You cannot secure breeding. Now if the Carniolans supersede they are at least 50% Carniolan x Italians and within three years are normally replaced. So if and when I produce a batch of queens, I know at least their heritage back one generation.

What I am trying to say with all this, is that what people want are bees, new people coming into beekeeping want bees, not hours of needless talk about the latest bee that can overcome Varroa after destroying how many colonies because of not treating and infesting (if that's the right word ) hundreds of colonies locally; or the locally produced queens that are the best in Wiltshire or Yorkshire or the Outer Hebrides but they can’t have them, because the local queen breeders had a off year and only produced three in Wiltshire BKA. February August and maybe next year with a bit of luck you might get a queen to head a colony that they may get. They want a colony or a nucleus now or at least in May so they can start beekeeping.

So I might be an importer of queens and an enemy of the state but I can at least provide a nucleus of 100% Carniolans x Italians in May to produce a colony of honey producing, mild mannered bees, that are used to a climate very close to ours. By the way, each batch of queens are inspected by the National Bee Unit for any disease prior to introduction to the UK and the attendant workers destroyed.

Terry Cooke

I am sure that many of you would like to comment on Terry’s article! Please put pen to paper and let me have them.



Stopping the Waggle Dance

The BeeHolder, April 2010

ALL beekeepers know that bees use the waggle dance to indicate to their fellows where to find rich sources of nectar and pollen, but did you know the display can be stalled by headbutting the dancer? James Nieh, an associate professor of biology at the University of California in San Diego, says the rude interruption can serve as a warning that the journey could be too risky – if, for example, the foragers had been attacked by rival bees.

The stop sign involves the warning bee vibrating at about 380 times a second for perhaps a tenth of a second, butting or climbing onto her ʻvictimʼ for added emphasis Prof Nieh said this signal and its effect had been observed before, but until now no one had established a ʻclear natural triggerʼ for it. His findings, reported in Current Biology, resulted from experiments on honey bees that were attacked by competitors while foraging for food at an experimental feeder.

BeeMail Feb 2010

Honey Bees fight Back!

The BeeHolder, April 2010

Honey bees are now fighting back aggressively against Varroa mites, thanks to Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) efforts to develop bees with a genetic trait that allows them to more easily find the mites and toss them out of the broodnest.

The parasitic Varroa mite attacks the honey bee, Apis mellifera L. by feeding on its haemolymph, which is the combination of blood and fluid inside a bee. Colonies can be weakened or killed, depending on the severity of the infestation. Most colonies eventually die from varroa infestation if left untreated.

Varroa-sensitive hygiene (VSH) is a genetic trait of the honey bee that allows it to remove mite-infested pupae from the capped brood, ie developing bees that are sealed inside cells of the comb with a protective layer of wax. The mites are sometimes difficult for the bees to locate, since they attack the bee brood while these developing bees are inside the capped cells.

ARS scientists at the agency’s Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Unit in Baton Rouge, La., have developed honey bees with high expression of the VSH trait. Honey bees are naturally hygienic, and they often remove diseased brood from their nests. VSH is a specific form of nest cleaning focused on removing varroa-infested pupae. The VSH honey bees are quite aggressive in their pursuit of the mites. The bees gang up, chew and cut through the cap, lift out the infected brood and their mites, and discard them from the broodnest.

See this activity on video here.

This hygiene kills the frail mite offspring which greatly reduces the lifetime reproductive output of the mother mite. The mother mite may survive the ordeal and try to reproduce in brood again, only to undergo similar treatment by the bees.

To test the varroa resistance of VSH bees, the Baton Rouge team conducted field trials using 40 colonies with varying levels of VSH. Mite population growth was significantly lower in VSH and hybrid colonies than in bee colonies without VSH. Hybrid colonies had half the VSH genes normally found in pure VSH bees, but they still retained significant varroa resistance. Simpler ways for bee breeders to measure VSH behaviour in colonies were also developed in this study.

From The Scottish Beekeeper, Courtesy E-Bees, November, 2009


The BeeHolder, April 2010

The buzz on Klinker – Maryland’s Bee Dog

Sniffing out harmful bacteria in bee colonies is a full time job for Klinker — “our newest employee,” said William Troup, an apiary inspector with the Maryland Department of Agriculture. A black Labrador retriever trained late in 2009, Klinker is part of the department’s strategy to detect diseased bee colonies. Specifically, she’s looking for American foulbrood, the most common and destructive bacterial disease facing Maryland’s honeybees.

Clinker with handler William Troup.

Klinker’s normal workday consists of walking along rows of hives. When she smells bacteria, she sits, alerting her handler. Since the 1970s, U.S. beekeepers have reported a shrinking bee population because of bacteria, disease, pesticides and parasites. Some of those factors might also contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder, in which worker bees abandon their hive for no known reason.

 “If it were not for the honeybees, there would not be enough food on Planet Earth to support life as we know it,” said Jerry Fischer, who is in charge of the state’s Apiary Inspection Program. “Early detection of the disease by Klinker and Troup will save Maryland beekeepers substantial monetary loss from eradication of diseased bees and destruction of infected equipment.”

A trained hive-sniffing dog such as Klinker can inspect 100 honeybee colonies in about 45 minutes, far more than humans, who inspect fewer than half that number in a day. Klinker, who is 18 months old, is the fourth bee dog to serve in the department. In the late 1970s, Maryland became the first state to use dogs to detect disease in honeybee colonies, and it is the only state to keep a full-time “bee dog” on its staff.

Adapted from article in Washington Post March 5th 2009

Bee Inspectors' News

The BeeHolder, April 2010

At the time of going to Press the data for winter losses have not yet been compiled so it is too early to get the picture of the 2009/2010 winter . SBIs John Beavan and Peter Guthrie will give details when they have them. They would still like to inspect losses if people want to get in touch with about it, particularly if there are a few dead outs.

Regional Bee Inspector John Verran is retiring in April . His replacement has not yet been selected. I know I speak for the whole association when I extend a thinks to John for all his help to us and to wish him a fulfilling retirement.

Drone congregation areas

The BeeHolder, July 2010

July 1, 1792

‘There is a natural occurrence to be met with upon the highest part of our down on hot summer days, which always amuses me much, without giving me any satisfaction with respect to the cause of it; & that is a loud audible humming of bees in the air, tho’ not one insect is to be seen. This sound is to be heard distinctly the whole common through, from the Moneydells, to Mr White’s avenue-gate. Any person would suppose that a large swarm of bees was in motion, & playing about over his head. This noise was heard last week on June 28th.’

Gilbert White, ‘A Natural History of Selborne’

The above writing is believed to be the earliest known reference to what we now call a drone congregation area. (DCA)

Although a lot of research has been carried out into drone behaviour in DCAs, no one has yet satisfactorily explained why the DCAs occur in certain places, and even more mystifying, why they persist in the same places year after year. (The DCA referred to by Gilbert White is still in use today.

Virtually all drones die in the previous autumn, so how do the new drones know where to go? Light distribution and the contour of the horizon seem to play a part in choosing a site Pechhacker 1994) and Zmarlicki and Morse determined that most DCAs seem to be located over an open area of land of about a hectare, protected from strong winds .Obstructions such as high buildings and tall trees are avoided, but not all open spaces are used. The flyways connecting the DCAs tend to follow lines of trees or hedges, etc . There may be several DCAs adjacent to each other. One study showed that a 10 sq k. area next to an commercial apiary contained at least 26 DCAs and 18km of flyways. Based on radar images a DCA was defined as an area approx. 100m in diameter, where the drones fly at a mean height of 25m-it depends on wind velocity. The stronger the wind, the lower the drones fly.


The night is still young and our drinks are yet long,
The fire's burning bright and here brave is the throng,
So now I will sing you a sooth little song
Of the busy brown bee - with a ding and a dong.

—J. R. R. Tolkien, Natura Apis (A drinking song)

Many drones seem to stay faithful to one DCA, but may visit another in the same general direction. Two to three miles seems to be an average distance for a drone to fly, but they have been known to travel up to 5 miles. For a queen rearer wanting pure matings from a mating apiary, it seems that this is the minimum distance there must be from any other hives, or else a physical barrier of 500m or more must be present. The parentage of a sample of drones was tested in Germany in 1998, and the conclusion reached was that all the colonies in the area seemed to send roughly the same proportion of delegates to the meeting, thus minimising the chances of inbreeding. (C.Collinson, Bee Culture, Sep. 2008) Because mating takes place in flight, it is difficult to observe.

Modern technology such as radar, combined with the technique of tethering a virgin queen to a moving line, has shown drones detecting a virgin forming a long comet- shaped tail behind her. Recent studies have shown that the drones find the virgin primarily by smell. One of the components of queen substance, called 9-ODA, attracts drones during mating flights. (Apis UK, July 2008). However, it has also been noticed that drones will momentarily chase anything that moves, butterflies, dragonflies or a thrown stone, so presumably eyesight plays a part as well.

Drones have to be very fit and well developed to mate with a queen. In addition to the excellent flying power needed to catch the queen, they must have ample supplies of spermatazoa, as only a fraction of each ejaculate will migrate to the queen’s spermatheca. (Woyke and Jasinski, 1973) In a series of studies made by Duay et al, in 2002, it was shown that the effects of parasitism by Varroa destructor in the larval stage, could seriously affect the drones ability to mate. A significant reduction in drone body weight resulted from invasion by only one female varroa mite, and two or more mites reduced drone life expectancy so much that sexual maturity was seldom reached. Varroa parasitism by only one mite hardly affected flying power but sperm production was reduced by 24%. In those drones that survived, two female mites invasion resulted in greatly reduced flying power and a sperm reduction of 45%. Other interesting facts to emerge are;

  1. Drones like it hot. Flying to a DCA and gathering enough drones to form a comet only occurs at 18C or above.
  2. They are very good time keepers, generally flying between 2.00pm and 6.00pm This varies according to the weather.
  3. Drones returning to the apiary outside these times were not interested in a queen.
  4. Maximum flight height in flyways is 21m, but in DCAs it can reach 50m.
  5. Drones can make several trips to a DCA in an afternoon, returning to the hive to refuel when necessary. Each mating flight lasts about 30 mins.
  6. The number of drones in a DCA can vary enormously, from hundreds to thousands.
  7. Usually, 7 to 11 drones will mate with a queen. About 90 million sperm will be deposited in her oviducts, and a mixture of about 7 million of them will be stored in her spermatheca


The actual process of mating has now been documented quite thoroughly. drone mounts a queen and inserts his endophallus and ejaculates his semen. During ejaculation he falls backwards and his endophallus is torn from his body, remaining in the queen. Any subsequent males mating with the queen dislodge the previous drones endophallus and leave their own in its place. The drones die quickly with their abdomens ruptured in this fashion. The queen returns to her hive still carrying the endophallus of the last male to mate with her. Beekeepers call this the ‘mating sign’ It will be removed by the nurse bees. The process is described very clearly in ‘The Biology of the Honeybee’ by Mark Winston.

The Down-and-Out.

Once the mating season is over, the ‘raison d’etre’ of the drones is gone. Only in queenless or very well provisioned colonies will some be allowed to overwinter in the hive. There is no sentimentality in nature, and drones with no function to perform are simply a drain on valuable resources, ie honey stores. In the autumn they are refused entry to the hive, or have their wings bitten and are forcibly ejected, to die of cold and starvation.


‘Bees, Biology and Management’ by Peter G. Kevan.

‘The Biology of the Honeybee’ by Mark L. Winston.

‘Anatomy and Dissection of the Honeybee’ by H. A.Dade.

‘Bee Genetics and Breeding’ edited by Thomas Rinderer

‘Drone Congregation Areas’ by C. Collison. (Bee Culture, Sep 2008)

‘Beekeeping’ by Kim Flottum.

‘Pheromones of the Social bees’ by John Free.

‘The Honey Bees of the British Isles’ by Beowolf Cooper.


And why is understanding of drone behaviour so important? Understanding drones may well be the key to controlling varroa. Drones range over a 5 mile radius. Workers range over a 3 mile radius. Drones are tolerated , even welcomed in strange hives. Worker bees are prevented from entering starange hives unless they have a full load of honey. For the varroa mite to spread it needs to defferentially lay in drone cells . This behaviour has evolved within the primary host/parastite, that of apis cerana/Varroa destructor. Those who keep the Honey Bee, Apis melifera, have long noticed the preference for varroa to lay in drone cells. This has lead to the destruction of drone cells becoming an indicator of varroa infestation . Stimulation of the queen to lay whole frames of drones which are then destroyed is now a regular part of Integrated Pest Management IPM.


Closing pictures

The BeeHolder, April 2010

A sterilising tank for hivesA sterilising tank used for sterilising hives.

“We don’t scorch in New Zealand. We dip in a heated mixture of paraffin and bees wax.”

The double walled insulation tank is heater by propane to 150 degrees C. The lid was also insulated. The process not only sterilises but protects the wood by waterproofing it.

Would this work in the UK’s wetter climate?











Hobbyist group apiary with the group’s storage hut. Double broods on each hive. The hive second right was the “ladies Hive” with a ¾ depth brood boxes.

A Kiwi group apiary

January 2010

The BeeHolder, January 2010

Hivey ivyNot opened for 8 years and still going strong BUT...

... this picture is of a hive that had been neglected due to the beekeeper being hospitalised 8 years ago. There were 5 hives that had never been treated for any disease. The other 4 hives died out. This one survived but perhaps it had died out and was recolonised by a swarm; no-one can guarantee that part of the story. Could this hive be a problem with disease or the source of unique genes? The colony is being donated to the MBKA and we’ll be taking to Gregynog. Will it be trouble or an invaluable gift to the county and even the nation?  See here.

You can navigate through this copy of the BeeHolder using the links at the bottom of this page and the arrows at the bottom of each subsequent page, or the links in the right hand sidebar of the page.


The BeeHolder, January 2010

I hope you all like the programme for the 2010 season. In formulating it the committee were aware that beekeeping is about mixing novices and experienced beekeepers together; events must be interesting to both. A few years ago there was obviously a feeling amongst the more experienced beekeepers that meetings were offering them nothing new, that they had heard it all before or, in the case of our Apiary Meetings, seen it all before. This past year saw a welcome return of some very experienced beekeepers to meetings. But with the increase of novice beekeepers at our meetings we do need even more of the Old Guard to return. As Editor I get to read the magazines other beekeeping associations. Some editors remark that at meetings they look out over “a sea of the fellow white haired”. Are we fortunate that the sea at our meetings is distinctly auburn? A person not only has their own lifetime's knowledge to call upon but also stories and recollections from parents, grandparents and possibly great grandparents. These may be useful bits of knowledge or just anecdotes. We oldies probably know more than we think and our knowledge spans over, perhaps a century or more. Certainly that was the case with our SBI Peter Guthrie who spoke to us in November. We need more of our experienced beekeepers to come to meetings and share their knowledge and anecdotes with the novices.

The difficulty this last year is that perhaps we have had too many people at meetings. Sometime it seems that the novices are being neglected. So in 2010 all Apiary meetings will be in two halves: a time when the novices can be at the front of an open hive and a time when the more experienced can gather round. It is hoped that over tea the novices will grab an experienced beekeeper and ask about what they have seen: or an experienced beekeeper could tell a novice about the subtleties of what they had seen. We will have to experiment with ways of getting bee-knowledge across. I personally like the system of having colour-coded labels for the experienced and novice. It does save the embarrassment of being chastised for assuming a face one doesn’t recognise was that of a novice.

Do study the article on our new County Apiary and think of ways it could be used it to improve the state of beekeeping in the county.

As a association we have accepted that the membership fee covers two people for beekeeping is always a partnership requiring 4 hands or at least a tolerance of a partner way and beyond the normal. We have also been welcoming to guests believing that today’s guests often become tomorrow’s members. However if you bring a guest do encourage them to be generous in buying raffle tickets. It all helps balance the books without the need of irritating bureaucracy.

I hope the older members will not be annoyed by my repeating the 2000 Xmas cartoon from Dennis Cordwell. Dennis is retired and carless in Oswestry and we are now lucky to have a member who works in Oswestry who can bring him to meetings.

Happy New Year to you all

Tony Shaw December 2009

New Members

The BeeHolder, January 2010

We welcome as new members :

John Bennett (Welshpool), Andrew Brown (Oswestry), Paul Crump (Bishops Castle), Fleur Hinks & Tarquin Richardson (Newtown), Harry Hockly (Newtown), Anna Lockwood (Welshpool), Brandon Oram (Welshpool), Matt Pollit (Churchstoke), Paul Roughly & Julia Fox (Montgomery), Graham Sheen (Welshpool), Julian Symondson (Bishops Castle), Carol Whatley (Bishops Castle), Keith & Philomena Wood (Bishops Castle).

Coming Meetings

The BeeHolder, January 2010

AGM, 18th February.

Our AGMs have become a source of fun rather than something to loath and avoid. It has now officially become a Tradition to have a raffle for a National Hive. One free ticket per membership, which means that joint-members will have to argue with each other as to who actually owns the hive won.

No doubt the official AGM business will be rushed through with almost indecent haste. It is up to members to stand up and demand discussion. It is also up to members to propose themselves or someone else to the posts of the Association’s Officers. Doug Wood and Jessica/Dave Bennett really wanted to stand down as Chairperson and Secretaries but were persuaded by committee to stay on if no-one else volunteered. However they are definitely, 100%, going at February 2011 so please consider apprenticing yourself to some post during 2010 for taking over the mantle in 2011. (Also we will need a new Editor of BeeHolder in February 2011).

The AGM will be a good opportunity for members to make suggestions for the indoor meetings of October and November.

John Beavan, our East Montgomeryshire SBI, will be talking about the year ahead and how to recover from any specific winter problems. He will also be leading a discussion about the new County Apiary at Gregynog.

March 18th Pre-Victorian Beehive.

This meeting will be fascinating to both experienced and novice beekeepers.

Stewarton Hive

The Stewarton Hive, which Will Messenger will be describing, was almost certainly inspired by the octagonal hives recorded by Christopher Wren and John Evelyn. Members are recommended to Google “stewarton, octagonal, hive” or see wikipedia to follow the story behind the hive. By following the various links one can learn so much not only about the history of the technology but also about many of the fundamentals of beekeeping.

Will Messenger uses a description of this hive as a way of explaining bee-behaviour. The hive enjoyed considerable popularity during the nineteenth century as it did not suffer from dampness.

An understanding of the actual life cycle of the honeybee became known in the late eighteenth century as laid out in the Thomas Paine’s ‘The Age Of Reason’. Whilst he rest of us were then keeping bees in straw skeps, the Great House had the architectural and complex Stewarton Hive with exterior movable bars and glazed windows in each in each box, with the view of controlling the bees in much the same way as they did their servants and tenants.

Will Messenger is not only a commercial beekeeper with over 80 hives but also a bit of a fanatic about the history of bee-equipment and of the various Bee Keeping Associations throughout the UK.

Apiary Meetings in 2010

We have tried to have a meeting in each (and there are five of them) corner of the county in order than everybody can have a drive of less than 20 miles sometime during in the year.

April - Welshpool area : where the bees are active early in the year

May - Newtown area : where the meeting flooded-off last year will take place with the added interest of seeing the bee-houses well colonised.

June - Machynlleth area : great garden

July - Llanidloes area : Beautifully restored thatched barn, one of the complexes regularly featured in open house days by the Llanidloes ecological/energy aware groups.

September - Bishop’s Castle Area : (often said to be culturally part of eastern Montgomeryshire although strictly part of Shropshire) The apiary is one run by a group holding individual properties in an oft-featured low-energy housing development.

Report on Meetings

The BeeHolder, January 2010

October Meeting - Beekeeping, a Vet’s Perspective

The October meeting was very well attended by over 50 people, many of them new members who had attended the successful open day at Bryn Mawr in September. Sarah Farrington, a final year veterinary student at the Royal Veterinary College, gave a presentation on her recent four week visit to the National Bee Unit (NBU) to carry out research on acarapis mites. Sarah’s research formed part of her final year dissertation and is possible the first time a vet student has chosen to study a subject related to bees. Sarah gave a brief introduction about the work the NBU carry out and bee health from a veterinary student’s perspective, followed by a description of her project and it’s findings. Acarapis woodi is known to cause acarapisosis disease whereas the other two species of acarapis mites do not. The work aimed to distinguish the DNA of the three species with the aim of using the information to create a test for the mite. The talk included an interactive demonstration of DNA replication and an interesting question and answer session.

Tony Bosworth brought some varroa mites for members to view, which were of particular interest to some of the many new members. As usual the meeting was well supplied with refreshments and an enjoyable evening was had by all. Further information on the NBU can be found on the “Bee Base” web site at

Roger Farrington

Theoretically only fully qualified and licensed vets can prescribe “Medicines” for bees. It is wonderful that this trainee vet, coming from at least 3 generations of beekeepers, knows something about bees. See the article “Taking bees to the Vet ( Ed.)

November Meeting - The year behind and the winter to come

I have amalgamated the reports of both Paul Kingsley and Kate Franklin as they cover different aspects. Where their paragraphs covered the same point I have cut the longer one. It is the lot of the editor to have his wax effigy full of pins from many sources. (Ed.)

On a blustery Autumnal evening we listened to the thoughts, advice and reminiscences of Peter Guthrie. Peter is one of our regional bee inspectors and has been keeping bees for over 50 years himself and both his father and grandfather before him, so he has a wealth of knowledge available which is freely given.

The evening started by all members being asked to heft a hive and to guess its weight. The eventual total was revealed to be 55.6kg and the winner, John Bennett, was given a 25kg bag of sugar which had been secreted inside the hive. I don’t think his bees will go hungry next year.

I personally had never met Peter before but he is always highly spoken of so I was looking forward to listening to his talk. It was almost like a stream of consciousness as he has so much information to impart and as time was limited he wanted to give us as much benefit as he could. I was kicking myself that I didn’t bring a notepad and pen because there was so much sound information given, from the correct siting and orientation of a hive to treatments for varroa.

I’m sure even the old hands heard a few pearls of wisdom and enjoyed Peter’s thoughts on the general state of the environment, the hope of a varroa resistant bee strain and the availability of Ambrosia (not the food of the gods nor tinned custard) direct from Peter – at best price for MBKA members I’m sure!

Peter’s talk was aimed at newcomers and began by how to select a suitable site.  He showed us some of the basic equipment that he took  with him when setting up a new hive. A compass to orientate the hive opening, ideally southeast, but not if that is the direction of the prevailing wind. A spirit level to slope the hive slightly forward so any moisture would drain away and not collect on the floor of the hive.[We were shown some slides of hives on stands with solid floors where damp could be a problem.

Next Peter dismantled the hive he had brought along with him, layer by layer, explaining the purpose of each item. The whole stack of the hive was held tightly together with an adjustable strap which is another essential piece of kit when transporting the colony. Under the lid was a square of old carpet underlay for insulation laid on the crown board,  then an Ashworth feeder.[Another reason to tilt the hive is so that syrup in the feeder goes to the opening end and bees can easily access it.] A honey super was next with stores, followed by a queen excluder. It was recommended that the QX was taken off in winter so that the cluster of bees around queenie could move as one up to the stores when needed, otherwise they may be reluctant to leave her and could starve. Then there was the brood box on a mesh floor with space beneath to put in an observation floor to record mite drop.

The talk was very informative and entertaining. Peter had set himself a deadline to talk for an hour but he kept getting sidetracked and could have gone on all evening. We were quite happy to listen to him but Jessica said it was time to take a break, although she managed to get him to come again to talk to us and arrange the possibility of a visit to his apiary in Pembrokeshire. The evening was rounded off with mince pies and drinks all round and everyone agreed it had been most enjoyable.

On a point of interest Peter made it plain that he was speaking as a beekeeper of many decades experience, and a recent commercial beekeeper, and not as a SBI.  Perhaps it was just as well because, on speaking with some of the older beekeepers at the meeting, they told me that some of what he said was quite contentious.  For example Peter's views on open-mesh floors were certainly not the orthodox line I had heard elsewhere, however, all in all a very informative and entertaining evening.

Paul Kingsley & Kate Franklin

Apiary at Gregynog

The BeeHolder, Jabuary 2010

Gregynog HallAt the Glansevern Food Festival we were approached by the new Warden of Gregynog Hall, Karen Armstrong. She asked if we would put up a display about bees for the public at Gregynog. We answered that we would want to do more than just display: what we wanted/needed was a training apiary: something that would benefit both parties

Karen is dedicated to encouraging greater use of Gregynog; she wants to see people walk to grounds and be involved with activities there.

School parties and education classes will definitely rid Gregynog of its somewhat elitist image

Gregynog 2I am amazed at how many MBKA members have never heard of Gregynog, and many more have never been there. You just don’t know what you are missing! It’s a wonderful place with an interesting history: a romantic tale of two vibrant, art-loving sisters, with a fantastic social conscience, who gave their fortune and art collection to the Welsh Nation. (Some would say “back to the Welsh Nation” .... follow the history it is tear-jerking stuff).

Gregynog is almost equidistant from every corner of Montgomeryshire . It has a tea room, full conference facilities and wonderful grounds which the family can use whilst the beekeeper is hard at work over the hives.

It is part of the University of Wales. We have been given a site of 13 m roughly E/W by 17m roughly N/S. The picture, above left, is facing south and shows a 6’ man standing where Gregynog propose we erect a viewing shelter. Beyond the man is a public path so the viewing shelter would have to be sufficiently tall to force the bees upwards and over the heads of visitors. A glass and mesh front to the shelter would protect the public from flying bees

Gregynog 3The picture on the right shows the full width of 13m. The 17m depth ends by the stump of the tree in the centre.

The site is 100m east of the car park and 200m east of Gregynog’s reception area. 100m further east of the site is the little rustic hut (shown below left) half of which we can use as a storage and honey-extracting area. There is good quality foraging close by: The estate is not “organic” but is run sensitively. Beekeepers outside the estate always had lots of excellent honey. Obviously we will first have to fence off the area but this must be done in such a way as to allow the public to see the bees. Access into the 13 x 17m enclosure will be limited to MBKA members under supervision. John Beavan, our SBI, is keen to be a supervisor/trainer and Bill Downie has made some valid practical suggestions as to the rules under which the apiary could be managed.

Gregynog hutWarden Karen Armstrong insists that everything is “top quality”. This is a constraint that will ultimately work in our favour because it will force us to become professional and take the whole venture seriously. We definitely cannot just dump our old worn-out hives there. The shelter must be in keeping with the quality and rural image that Gregynog projects. It should be open-sided so as to encourage visitors and contain display boards about what is going on.We talked of having video links between the apiary and Gregynog’s reception area. This would be of benefit not only to the general public but also beekeepers who can watch the hives through monitors in the warmth far better than peering over them. The project will be expensive and we should think carefully how we proceed because grants cannot usually be given for projects already started! Any ideas, volunteers and/or sponsors should come to our AGM to discuss the project with SBI John Beavan. It’s a fantastic opportunity for our association and will be of great benefit to beekeeping.

Taking your bees to the vet

The BeeHolder, January 2010

An Article from journal of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons discusses the growing threat to honey-bees, and our need for more weapons in our armoury against Varroa. In particular the article mentions the agreement between the VMD (Veterinary Medicines Directorate) and “beekeeper representatives” that treatments which are available on the continent of Europe should be made available here. Apparently the VMD plans to develop a “Suitably Qualified Person” (SQP) qualification for beekeepers to enable them to prescribe appropriate medicinal products. (The frightening bit is when the article discusses the role of the Vet in all this.) Guidance to vets “confirms that veterinary surgeons may apply for Special Import Certificates or Special Treatment Certificates on behalf of beekeepers, and prescribe medicines for the bees. It also addresses the issue of when bees can be considered “under the care” of the veterinary surgeon, in order for them to prescribe the medication. In the current circumstances, and in light of the urgent need for treatments, the Committee has stated that it may not be necessary for the veterinary surgeon to visit the beehives before prescribing, as would normally be the case. The Veterinary surgeon must still, however, take professional responsibility for the prescriptions , maintain appropriate clinical records, and comply with the responsibilities for the supply of medicines.” The idea of taking your bees to the vet sounds like a good joke, until you realise that these people are serious! I have nothing but respect for vets, but most of them know nothing about bees. The prospect of my having to educate a vet about bees in order to get a prescription from him/her, and then paying vet’s fees for the privilege is a nightmare. I can hardly think of anything that would set back our fight for bee-health more effectively. We can only hope that the BBKA will be able to get someone to see sense before this sort of thing becomes law.

Pete Sutcliffe

Thanks to Cheshire BKA and EBees



The Fable of the Bees

The BeeHolder, January 2010

The Grumbling Hive, or Knaves Turn’d Honest by Bernard de Mandeville

Here’s just one verse written in 1705

A Spacious Hive well stock'd with Bees,Old frontispiece
That lived in Luxury and Ease;
And yet as fam'd for Laws and Arms,
As yielding large and early Swarms;
Was counted the great Nursery
Of Sciences and Industry.
No Bees had better Government,
More Fickleness, or less Content.
They were not Slaves to Tyranny,
Nor ruled by wild Democracy;
But Kings, that could not wrong, because
Their Power was circumscrib'd by Laws.

The 'hive' is corrupt but prosperous, yet it grumbles about lack of virtue. A higher power decides to give them what they ask for:

But Jove, with Indignation moved,
At last in Anger swore, he'd rid
The bawling Hive of Fraud, and did.
The very Moment it departs,
And Honesty fills all their Hearts;

This results in a rapid loss of prosperity, though the newly-virtuous hive does not mind:

For many Thousand Bees were lost.
Hard'ned with Toils, and Exercise
They counted Ease itself a Vice;
Which so improved their Temperance;
That, to avoid Extravagance,
They flew into a hollow Tree,
Blest with Content and Honesty.

The Poem was featured in de Mandeville’s more famous book The Fable of the Bees 1714. It might also be a good commentary on the latest obsession of spending our way out of recession

Recipe Corner - Parsnips with Gingered Honey

The BeeHolder, January 2010

The honey here enhances the natural sweetness of the parsnips.

Ingredients (Serves 6)

900 Gram Parsnips, (2 lb)
2 Tablespoon Olive Oil
50 Gram Butter (2 oz)
Thumb size of fresh ginger
1lb jar of honey of which only 2 Tablespoon honey will be used.


Peel a piece of ginger about the size of a (man’s) thumb. Dice into small cubes and stir into a 1 lb jar of honey. The longer the ginger is in the honey the better. Prepare now for Xmas 2010, but a few week’s steeping will whet your appetite for repeating this recipe.

Pre-heat oven to 220 °C/425 °F/Gas 7. Peel and quarter the parsnips longways, cutting out any woody centres. Pre-heat a roasting tray on top of the stove and add the oil and butter. Fry the parsnips until golden brown on all sides. Roast them in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes, turning occasionally.

Pour the honey over the parsnips and carefully turn them, making sure they have all been covered. Make sure that each parsnip has some of the diced ginger on top. Put them back in the oven for 10 minutes. The parsnips will now be tender and sweet. Stir them in a serving dish and spoon some of the honey glaze from the pan over the top to finish.

Do not worry if the honey has set, just spoon dollups onto each parsnip, it will run down the sides and leave the cubes of ginger behind. Never worry about the slight burns on the parsnips: the “charcoal” counter-acts the effects of Brussels Sprouts!

The rest of the gingered honey can be used on Vanilla ice cream for children and grown-ups with a sweet tooth and a discerning palate

Tony Shaw

Hive Cleaning: an Essential Winter Activity

The BeeHolder, January 2010

The use of Oxalic Acid The organic acids, Oxalic Acid, Formic Acid, and Lactic Acid are NOT LICENSED for use in the United Kingdom as treatments for bees for varroa control. No mention of any of the alternatives to the approved product or their method of use should be taken as an endorsement or recommendation to treat. The dribble or trickle method referred to for oxalic acid is commonly used in the UK and throughout Europe, and should you decide to use it you should ensure that you apply it in a safe and informed manner.

This short article is something that has been put together from reading about oxalic acid, listening to the experiences of others and also from my own experience of using it in my hives for the last few years.

First we have to remember that oxalic acid is a dangerous chemical and should be treated with care. When mixing solutions gloves, goggles, overalls and ideally a breathing mask should be worn. Some methods are more dangerous than others and will be mentioned briefly below. Second we need to remember why we are using it. Legally in the UK as far as the Veterinary Medicines Directive is concerned it is just used as a .hive cleanser. In beehives. However, as we all know it has the side effect whilst doing this of killing off varroa mites. General understanding is that it does this by burning the mouthparts, feet and other parts of the carapace, so damaging the mite that it can no longer function. The acid treatment has greatest efficacy when the colony is broodless as the acid does not get into sealed brood and so cannot kill off any mites reproducing there. Having said that, with a small area of brood in the colony it will still have a reasonable effect on the mite population. Hence the best time for treatment is usually recommended as December and the first half of January.

There are 3 ways of treating with oxalic acid that are described here.
The first is spraying, where the oxalic crystals are mixed with water and applied to the face of the frames and bees using a hand held sprayer like those used for indoor plants. The disadvantages of this method are the great disturbance to the bees and also as the solution is just water and acid it does not .stick. to the bees very well.

The second method is sublimation where the oxalic acid crystals are heated on a small tray or in an open-ended pipe and the gases permeate through the hive. With this method the hive has to be sealed (no open mesh floor or holes in the crown board) with foam or something similar along the entr ance to stop the gases escaping. Also inhalation by humans of the gas is very dangerous. Getting this application correct and carrying it out safely is very difficult and is not recommended for the average beekeeper.

The third method is to mix the crystals with a sugar solution and apply it using the trickle method. This means using a syringe or some other small applicator with a measured quantity of solution and dribbling 5 ml per seam of bees (a seam is the gap between two brood frames where you can see the bees clustering). About 30-40 ml is needed for most colonies, as this would be sufficient for six to eight full seams of bees in a National hive. Adjustments need to be made for other frame sizes. As this is a sugar solution it sticks to the bees and is spread around more effectively and affects more mites.

Most hobbyist beekeepers tend to buy in the oxalic acid in a pre-mixed sugar solution that is ready to apply. This is not very expensive but the downside is that we do not know how long ago it was made. Marion Ellis from the US related at the Somerset special lecture in 2007 that the HMF (Hydroxymethylfurfural . previously known as hydroxymethylfurfuraldehyde) level in the solution increases over time and so should not be stored. The general recommendation is to make up the solution with sugar and use immediately or store in the fridge for up to one month. With just a water and acid solution no HMF can be formed (it requires a reaction between the acid and the sugar) so the solution can be kept for a long time like this and sugar added when required.

It is not difficult to make up the solution and this can be done when needed using the following proportions, which give a 3.5% treatment:-
1:1 Water to Sugar (weight to volume) made into 1 litre of syrup
Oxalic acid crystals 35g

Mix up the syrup first with hot water to dissolve the sugar more easily, allow it to cool and then weigh the oxalic crystals on electronic kitchen scales and add them to the syrup. If you put it all in a large bottle with a lid and give it a good shake it should all mix nicely and be contained and so safer. When you make up a larger quantity like this the margin of error when weighing the oxalic acid becomes smaller (2 g out on 3.5 g is more than a 50% increase in the dose whereas 2 g out on 35 g is only about 6% out on the dose). Once made, this solution can be stored in the fridge and what is needed for treatment can be decanted into a smaller bottle. Warming this like a babies milk bottle . standing it in a jug of hot water - before treating the bees will mean they will not be so chilled and fewer bees will die. Like all treatments it is a good idea to carry them out at the same time as your neighbouring beekeepers.

Perhaps next year your local association could have an early December meeting when all members wishing to use it collect pre-mixed oxalic acid solution. Old plastic milk bottles are perfectly adequate for carrying the made up treatment (please label them clearly) and the cost is minimal as enough crystals and sugar can be bought for less than £20 to treat 150 colonies. This should appeal to the thrifty nature of all beekeepers! Syringes can be obtained via the Internet or from local farm suppliers.

Megan Seymour courtesy Warwickshire Beekeeper & eBEES

Result of caption competition

The BeeHolder, January 2010

 A disappointing number of entrants. Perhaps this was because some knew what Dracunculus vulgaris (the prize) was. Obviously some realised what the description of the scent as “out of this world” really entailed.

The prize of 3 large corms Dracunculus vulgaris goes to Chris Leech. I am sending out 2 second prizes of one large corm of Dracunculus vulgaris. Do you know the corny joke about a first prize being a week’s holiday in Warrington and the second prize being a fortnight’s holiday in Warrington? Perhaps I ought to be sending out 5 large corms as a second prize. I like the plant, it is a wonderful example of how pollination need not be by bees. How did the spectacular colour of the Spathe evolve?

Here's the image with caption.

Caption competition

I see that Bob has swarmed again

They are not "Killer Bees" and they're not so smart

The BeeHolder, January 2010

Killer beeReputable journals, such as the New Scientist, should not use the term “Killer Bees” when writing about the hybrids between the African Honey Bee and the European honey bees (November 18th 2009). The sting is no worse than the European honey bee. However they do display an exaggerated form of “following” behaviour. Let us use the less emotive and correct term “Africanised honeybee”.

These Africanised honeybees may be amongst the most feared of all insects - but they ain't too smart.

Since being introduced into Brazil in 1956, Africanised honeybees have spread through Central America to southern USA. UK biologist Margaret Couvillon (pictured), of the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, (LASI) Sussex University, and her colleagues are testing the cognitive abilities of the bees to try to reveal the secret of their success.

Increased intelligence had been suggested as one reason for this expansion. Apparently not.

Dr CouvillonA team led by Margaret Couvillon tested the abilities of the the European honeybee and the Africanised honeybee to associate a whiff of jasmine with a sugar reward. (Reread “Sniffer Bees”, The BeeHolder, July 2009 ED.) "Surprisingly, we found that fewer Africanized honeybees learn to associate an odour with a reward. Additionally, fewer Africanized honeybees remembered the association a day later," the team write.

When researchers gave bees a second whiff, about half of European honeybees stuck out their tongue-like proboscises as soon as the odour wafted by again, anticipating another drop of sugar water. The bees acted like Pavlov's dogs, drooling at the sound of a bell they associate with food, Couvillon says. Only about half as many Africanised honeybees picked up the association after a single trial, the researchers found.

Foraging style could explain this difference. European honey bees tend travel vast distances in search of flowery meals and they revisit sites. A keen memory and an ability to learn quickly would benefit this strategy. Killer bees, on the other hand, don't wander far from their hives and they often visit new flowers, so learning might not be as important, Couvillon's team speculates. "Perhaps learning has a cost," Couvillon says "If it were cost-free, wouldn't we all be getting smarter?"

Arthur Finlay


Honeybees communicate about danger

The BeeHolder, January 2010

Honeybees warn each other to steer clear of dangerous flowers where they might get killed by lurking predators. Scientists made this discovery by placing dead bees upon flowers and then watching how newly arriving bees reacted to the danger.

Not only do the bees avoid the flowers, they then communicate the threat when they return to the hive Crab spider attacking and eating bee on Ceanothus From Google images via their well known waggle dance. The discovery is published in the journal Animal Behaviour.

The honeybee waggle dance is a surprisingly sophisticated mode of communication. When foraging bees return to the hive, they waggle their bodies in a complex dance first deciphered by biologists more than 40 years ago. The angle and direction of the forager bees' waggle dance conveys how far and in what direction other more naive bees need to fly to reach flowers that will provide plentiful sources of food. Honeybees are also more likely to waggle and dance when returning from food sources containing high concentrations of sucrose.

Now scientists Kevin Abbott and Reuven Dukas of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada have found that honeybees also use the waggle dance warn other bees to avoid danger. They trained honeybees to visit two artificial flowers containing the same amount and concentration of food. They left one flower untouched, making it a "safe" food source for the bees. On the other flower, they placed the bodies of two dead bees, so they were visible to arriving insects, but would not interfere with their foraging. They then recorded whether and how the bees performed a waggle dance on their return to other members of the hive colony.

On average, bees returning from safe flowers performed 20 to 30 times more waggle runs that bees returning from dangerous flowers. That shows that the bees recognise that certain flowers carry a higher risk of being killed or eaten by predators, such as crab spiders or other spider species that ambush visiting bees. What's more, they factor this risk into their waggle dances, tempering them to steer their colony mates away from flowers that might be dangerous.

Story adapted from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/07/31 11:00:03 GMT

Trouble in the hedgerows?

The BeeHolder, January 2010

A letter

You may remember that last spring produced an exceptional flowering of all sorts of plants along the roadside verges throughout the County. This was most welcome, as it came when the bees were just starting to forage again after another difficult, mild winter. I remember admiring the flowers and thinking that perhaps the bees would have

a good few weeks to build themselves up for the summer ahead. Then the Council workforce came along and cut the verges leaving absolutely nothing except an inch or so of brown grass stems.

Now don’t get me wrong: I quite see that for road safety reasons it is necessary to trim long vegetation near to road junctions and on bends. The verges quite often get to that state here by about the end of June. But this was during April: the grass was only a few inches high and was neither a danger nor an inconvenience to anyone.

So here’s how I think the Council could save some of our money, and help the environment as well. They could leave all roadside grass cutting until the first spring flowering is over. I have written to them, but I don’t think they’ll listen to an individual. Do you think a letter from the Association or from other members would persuade them of the sense of this idea?

Bill Downie, Trefeglwys

Yes Bill, I think both letters could well help. Individual letters first and then I think Chairman Doug could make an executive decision to write on MBKA notepaper. For the correct format he could phone round a majority of the committee and get their approval first. When I first came to Wales the council sprayed herbicide on the verges twice a year. Over the years public pressure has encouraged the Council to take an ever more enlightened (and cheaper) policy. The pressure on them should be polite but relentless.


Betony (Betonica officinalis), Sheep's bit (Jasione montana), Wood sage (Teucrium scorodonia)

Pictures from PowysCC Roadside Verge Nature Reserves WebPage


Here are the BeeHolders for 2009. This saves menu space and makes it easier to find what you're looking for (Bono).

October 2009

The BeeHolder, October 2009

Bee on a flower

You can navigate through this copy of the BeeHolder using the links at the bottom of this page and the arrows at the bottom of each subsequent page, or the links in the right hand sidebar of the page.

If you prefer, you can access the magazine as a PDF (Portable Document Format) by selecting the attachment below. This requires Acrobat Reader, which is provided as a free download by Adobe.

Oct 2009 BeeHolder.pdf1.45 MB


The BeeHolder, October 2009

What happened to summer? Here in West Montgomeryshire it just didn’t happen. I’m not getting any honey this year and have to content myself that I have doubled my hives to 8. The open apiary day at my out-apiary was reported by Carol Gough in July’s BeeHolder. So full of praise. As editor I was in a dilemma about altering or adding to her text.


What Carol failed to record was that one of the hives had a large number of dead bees and the remaining ones tightly clustered together and a dead queen by the entrance. The colony was on the point of death. The sunny weather that day had allowed us to forget that the weeks proceeding had been almost continuous rain. There were no stores and the colony was starving. When the inspection was over and the BBQ began I quickly opened a jar of honey and ran it across the top of the frames. Within an hour the bees were frisky. The next day I united it with a nuc and a couple of pints of syrup and the hive settled down the week after. I hope our members took note of what a dying hive looked like. There were no dead bees the day before. All would have been dead the next day without the food . Death can be that fast ...


You will all have got John Verron’s (Welsh National Bee Inspector) message in July saying that we should check our hives for starvation. I took heed immediately. There was probably just two day’s worth of stores in the hives I keep at 1350’. I fed immediately. Beekeepers should take note of these warnings: sadly many don’t . .


I was so impressed by the Bee Hygiene workshops run by Shropshire Beekeepers Association. At the end of the day the local Bee Inspectors put on a quiz about bee hygiene. What had we learnt? There were 20 questions. We marked our own papers. “hands up who got 11 or more correct.” asked the Regional Bee Inspector. A sea of hands; well over half the attendees. .


“And hands up who got more than 13” Far fewer hands. .


Eventually a single person with the highest score was identified. A big round of applause. He was asked to come up and receive a prize which was a packet of Washing Soda to help in his work of Hygiene. When he had returned to his seat a casual remark that we could go the other way :


“hands up who got less than 10” And gradually the lowest scorer was identified. Dave Sutton (West Region Bee Inspector) lavished praise for the guy's openness and honesty and said that it wasn’t ignorance that was the enemy but the unwillingness to admit to ignorance. The person was invited to receive a prize. It was a very lavish bee book just published. A willingness to be open was deemed more important than a skill in identifying disease. We should learn from our mistakes and share them for the common good. . **


One of the MBKA committee remarked casually a month ago that when he open one of his hives he thought there was more varroa than bees. My immediate thought was to ask if we could have a apiary meeting but by the time it would have been arranged the problem would have been rectified. Seeing obvious varroa would have been so useful. Some of us are not sure we have ever seen Varroa. Bill Downie , (previous editor of BeeHolder and a very experienced beekeeper) was so convinced that he was failing to recognise varroa that he called in Peter Guthrie (Seasonal BI) to inspect his hives. Peter could not find any varroa. I myself have done three icing sugar shakes this year and cannot detect any varroa. The same happened last year no varroa detected yet I did have a bad case of Nosema. However Peter Guthrie said that he has noted in his area a very fast increase in varroa just in the last few weeks.


Tony Shaw September 2009


**At the September Apiary meeting, after this editorial was written, I met Tony Bosworth probably one of the longest serving MBKA members, he was praising the Bee Disease day and the test at the end and announced that he was the lowest scorer who got the wonderful prize. He said that after having trouble-free beekeeping for many decades he had probably got complacent. He was shocked to get such a low score, but thought it was a wake-up call that all experienced beekeepers should have. Thank you for the useful lesson Tony.

Volunteers needed to host apiary visits

The BeeHolder, Oct 2009

We are compiling the programme for 2010.  Opening hives is instructional for the host and guests alike.  And organising the tea is not difficult. Volunteers seem to magically appear from the woodwork. In order to assist that magic, please contact the Programme Secretary.

New Members

The BeeHolder, October 2009

We welcome as new members

Nicola Alexander, Llanfair Caereinon

Graham & Jane Brooker, Llandinam

Richard Davies, Mochdre

Chris & Gail Fynes, Trefeglwys

Brian & Marilyn Hinks, Llangadfan

Ian Hubbuck, Berriew

Paul King, Old Churchstoke

Nicola & Rob Mason, Berriew

Nigel & Rebecca Moulding, Berriew

Flavia Murton, Llanfechain

Funda Simmons, Montgomery

Ken Wakeley, Minsterly

Dee Yeoman, Guilsfield

It is a good number of new members and we will look forward to meeting them at the coming events at Plas Dolerw.

Next Meetings

The BeeHolder, October 2009

Sarah Farrington is coming on the 22nd October to replace Tony Spacey. Sarah Farrington, who represents the third generation of beekeepers in the family, has been working at the National Bee Unit (NBU) in York. She will give a talk on the work of the NBU and some of the latest developments in the search for cures for Bee diseases. The talk is titled A Vets perspective on bees & diseases. And she’ll concentrate on her research on the mite that causes acarine disease. (science is trying to get ahead in what could become a problem to British bees in the future). Even some of our newest members will be aware that the Government’s NBU is the foremost bee research station in the world: underfunded of course, but that is a reflection of the near universal neglect of the impact of insects upon the world economy.

Tony Spacey would have brought controversy with him. He splashes it round like a rampant teenager with the Lynx bottle. Essentially he blames the amateur beekeeper for all the woes of the world and the professional commercial beekeepers as the font of good sense. Many of us feel it is the other way round.

I give here some of his ideas because they do deserve consideration by all beekeepers. He explains that thousands of amateur beekeepers nationwide have overused the treatment to combat varroa, and the end result, over a period of time, has been the development of treatment resistant mites. ‘For every good amateur beekeeper there’s thousands that shouldn’t be allowed to keep goldfish, let alone bees. People just don’t realise the potential damage that they are doing.’

His argument bears some weight. If you keep cattle or pigs and keep them badly, you’re being cruel. But without direct contact you don’t affect the farmer five miles up the road. But bees fly for up to 5 miles, so if you keep them badly and they are infected, they could infect bees from colonies up to 10 miles away. He will cite several different instances of bad management to back up his case, such as one in Staffordshire last year where a senior amateur beekeeper was selling nucleus colonies (starter colonies) which he knew had foul-brood, a disease so contagious that, once proven, DEFRA* come along and dig a hole three foot wide by three foot deep, light a bonfire in the bottom and tip the hive into it – ‘foot and mouth for bees’, as Tony has it.

‘We are the last Western country that allows unlicensed beekeeping,’ he explains. ‘The sooner we ban it the better for the environment, the better for the bees and certainly the better for the honey industry.’ He adds that just a couple of weeks earlier, DEFRA’s senior bee inspector told him that 85 per cent of British bees should be put down because they are so badly bred.

In fact, Tony explains, the situation is now so bad that most commercial honey producers in the UK are having to import their queens, either from Scandinavia, or more typically from the Greek Islands. It’s a system that has little of the romance of local beekeeping. They find an island too remote for bees to reach other islands, eradicate the native strain of bee, and then breed a stronger train of bee – ironically, originally an English variety, the Buckfast, but bred in Greece to ship to the UK for our hives. Clearly this is exactly the opposite of what the National Bee Inspectors are telling us... “Don’t import bees from other areas”. Let us quiz Sarah Farrington on whether there is an NBU attitude to all this.

On November 26th SBI Peter Guthrie will talk to us about The year past and the preparations for the year to come. Peter has hinted that he will try to persuade us to revive the Honey Shows that the MBKA used to have many years ago. They were more of a honey competition than a show and often judged by Brian Goodwin from Shrewsbury. Peter’s remit has now been extended from March until October inclusive. He and his fellow SBI are tasked to visiting 5000 apiaries in the next year and so he is quite eager to be called in. Contact Peter of John Bevan for any bee problem.

There will be an announcement in the next BeeHolder about the speaker for the AGM on February 18th But do put it in your diaries now because we will be having a free raffle Smile of a new National Beehive for all members attending. Doug Wood, Jessica and Dave Bennett and I will all be making announcements that this will be the last year we will be standing in the posts of Chairman, Secretaries and Editor. Obviously anyone can take over from us February 2010 but by announcing our intention to retire definitely in 2011 it does give time for the association to push forward some new blood and ideas.


Report on Meetings

The BeeHolder, October 2009

MBKA Trip to Attingham Park and Radbrook College, July

The Coach full of Montgomery Bee Keepers set off in excitement. First we were off to see hives at Radbrook College then to Attingham Park. The weather was a bit dull but never mind. “This isn’t the way to Radbrook“ someone shouted and soon after we arrived at Attingham Park.  Change of plan we are meeting Brian Goodwin (President of Shropshire Beekeepers association and lecturer at Radbrook college)  by the Old hives in the walled garden and off to Radbrook afterwards. 

Breaking for tea at Attingham Park

We entered Attingham and went through to a lovely vegetable and flower garden reminiscent of Villandry Chateau with its clever geometric layout and we happily compared vegetable growing stories with fellow beekeepers.  We did however have some trouble locating the old beehives which were tucked away in a little used part of the garden.  Eventually we came upon a structure full of skeps, ancient How we are wearing our bees this yearwoven beehives, where we met Brian.  He gave us an interesting talk on how Shropshire Beekeepers were restoring the hives and building and how they would have a permanent presence in Attingham Park. He also told us about their work with school children learning about beekeeping. Conversation flowed through African tribes collecting honey to modern practices and varroa treatments. Then just as it started to pour with rain we posed in front of the skeps for photos.

By the time the heavens really opened most of us where firmly ensconced in the Tea Rooms. Then we were off again in the coach. Then we really went to Radbrook and changed into our bee suits to get up close and personal with the bees. Luckily by then the rain had stopped and the bees mainly behaved. At one point I was amused to see around 500 bees congregated on the back of someone’s suit. When I drew it to his attention I realised it was my husband!

A novice spotted the queen in our hive and we saw the experts at work and all got the chance to handle the bees. Afterwards I found my husband obviously flattered by the attention of all those lady bees unzipping someone else’s bee suit he claimed he had thought it was me!

Next it was back to Attingham or at least the pub opposite the Mytton & Mermaid where we enjoyed a delicious meal. We enjoyed the good company and even stretched the parameters to speaking about subjects other than bees for a while. Back on the coach we nearly took the scenic route home over the mountain to Montgomery. We really had a wonderful day out and look forward eagerly to the next social occasion.

                                                                      Janet Willson



A recycled bee stand

The BeeHolder, October 2009

South Glamorgan’s bee stand at this year’s Royal Welsh was probably the best ever seen.  It is well photographed in the latest quarterly edition of the Welsh Beekeeper.  It was obviously designed by a professional with text written by someone with an eye for capturing salient points without the clutter of too much information.  So often bee information stands are either twee or so scientifically complicated that they can only be appreciated by those already converted to an advanced state of bee awareness.  South Glamorgan BKA kindly agreed to lend us the stand for the Shrewsbury Flower Show and the Glansevern Food Festival

A quiet moment at Glansevern Food Festival

At Shrewsbury our stand was over twice the size of the next largest and our “Montgomeryshire BeeKeepers Association” signA flyer describing the beeless plight so dominated that many visitors had assumed that we had organised the whole of the Bee Honey and wine section rather than being merely guests of Shropshire BeeKeepers Association.  At Glansevern the bigger space we had been promised became so whittled down by other organisations coming in to share a marquee that we had to find and finance a marquee of our own. Fortunately Chairman Doug’s Church came to the rescue and put a tent up over an already erected stand.

Comments on our display were most favourable.  The thanks is not to ourselves but the clever designers who recognise the psychology of crowd behaviour.  People must be able to read the salient points at a distance without the need to make a commitment to enter the inner space of an empty stand. And, if a stand is already full with people then the text should be high and large enough for people to read it over the heads of those engaged in the bee activities such as examining virtual hives, drawing, honey, tasting and looking at live bees in an observation hive. 

On the far left of the picture above, a child is standing on a box to view the observation hive that is built into the wall of the hive. The hive was at a height for an adult to see without bending down. Children are more used to climbing up to see things than are adults used to bending down.  We had a petition calling on Powys Council to pay more attention to beekeeping within education and a raffle for a beehive which made over £500 profit.

The picture below shows Chairman Doug Wood presenting raffle winners Nigel and Rebecca Moulding from Berriew with a National Hive.  The Mouldings dashed back to Glansevern as soon as they picked up Lembit’s message on their answer machine. Rebecca, who bought the ticket, said they could hear the crowd cheering in the background as Lembit told them they had won. Rebecca gave the hive to her husband as an extra birthday present.

Chairman Doug Wood presents the raffle prize

MBKA Meeting 20th September, Llanfair Caereinion

The BeeHolder, October 2009

The apiary visit and tea this month was at…Liz Farrington’s apiary.  3 very smart hives very well maintained with very smart yellow mouse guards.  Each hive belonged to a different generation: Liz, her daughter and father Bill Gough. *The hives were on a steep valley side surrounded by fruit trees and an extensive plantation of mixed native hardwoods all of which had superb views

The meeting was led by John Bevan our seasonal bee inspector - John had been to my hives a few weeks before and I had found his whole approach so educational. So I was very pleased when he said he would do the apiary visit.

There were a lot of new members who asked a lot of good questions that were answered at a level that everyone understood. The main points covered were looking for varroa and checking the weight of the hives for winter stocks. New members learnt the good old beekeeping term “Heft”

Liz had treated with apiguard and John suggested that she remove the trays which were virtually empty and scrape any remainder over the top of the frames. The other tip was to not have a mesh floor in place as a solid floor (even if it was just a bit of cardboard) would keep in the fumes better

All the hives were down to a brood and one super. John was not bothered if the queen excluder was left on or not there was a bit of a discussion as to whether to have one or not. The conclusion was that if it was not left on then there was absolutely nothing to stop the bees harvesting anything in the super if one was left on.

There was some discussion about MENTORING new members and it was generally thought to be a good idea as there are so many terms and ways of doing things that many questions would be asked and if someone of experience could be at the other end of the phone to try to answer questions as they cropped up it would be a great help and probably ensure the newcomer having more confidence would remain a member.

A great day.

Graham Winchester, MBKA Programme Secretary

Brian Norris - smokin'







Address:      Little Garth,

                  Garth Lane

                  Bettws, Newtown

                  Powys, SY16 3LN

Telephone:  01686 625250

A letter to the Editor

The BeeHolder, October 2009

I would like to wholeheartedly thank the MBKA group (and particularly the hosts) for a very welcoming and informative afternoon last Sunday (20th September) at Bryn Mawr. Diolch yn fawr !

After mistakenly arriving at Bill & Carol Gough’s ‘Old Farmhouse’ and finding it deserted (our fault) we managed to find our way to Bryn Mawr in time to join in the ‘experience’. This surpassed our expectations in terms of the friendly welcome received, the excellent ‘workshops’ - led by John Beavan, and the subsequent (and unexpected) generous feast of tea, sandwiches, cakes and conversation. We returned home even more enthusiastic about the project.

We are part of a group of people living in a small eco-village in Bishop’s Castle, who run allotments, orchard, woodland, and chickens amongst other cooperative/communal activities. Bees are high on our to-do list, and we are preparing to commence in earnest with a few hives next spring. In the meantime we will be busy acquiring the necessary equipment and enhancing our knowledge.

A couple of us have some previous (limited) experience of working with bees, but realistically it’s a clean start.

So no doubt one or two of us will be around at future apiary visits and meetings, and we will look forward to the privilege of maybe being hosts for an apiary visit in a few years’ time.

Keith Wood, Bishop’s Castle

(do I detect an interesting venue for a future open Apiary meeting??? ED )


Message from the New Seasonal Bee Inspector (SBI)

The BeeHolder, October 2009

John Beavan, the new SBI for the east of Montgomeryshire, announces that he would like any beekeeper to make a request to him for an inspection. “Inspection” is probably the wrong word for it’s a visit to see the bees and advise on ways to keep them healthy. Old beekeepers will already know that the visit and advice is excellent and is free. One only has to phone and ask. The Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) has upped the amount of money given to the Inspectorate so that we now have more inspectors and a longer season during which they are “in the field”.  It would be near crazy not to take up such an offer of help especially early on in one's beekeeping career.

Recipe Corner - Vicky’s Honey Bee Buns

The BeeHolder, October 2009

Here is the recipe for those wonderful bee buns made by Vicky FarringtonVicky Farrington

Makes 18

250g/9oz plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
125g/ 4 ½ oz butter, softened
125g/ 4 ½ oz soft brown sugar
1 large egg, separated
125g/ 4 ½ oz runny honey
4 tbsp milk


100g/4oz plain chocolate
1 small block golden marzipan
Flaked almonds

  1. Preheat oven to 200˚C/ 400˚F. Line bun tin with paper cases.
  2. Sift flour into large mixing bowl with cinnamon and bicarbonate of soda.
  3. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolk then gradually add honey.
  4. Vicky's honey bee bunsFold in flour mixture and enough milk to give a dropping consistency.
  5. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff then fold into cake mixture.
  6. Divide mixture among paper cases and bake for 15-20 minutes or until firm and golden brown.
  7. Break the chocolate into pieces, place in a heatproof bowl and melt over a pan of hot water.
  8. To make the bees: roll small pieces of marzipan into bee body shapes. Make a piping bag from greaseproof paper and spoon in a small amount of melted chocolate. Pipe stripes and eyes onto the marzipan bees. Push a flaked almond in on either side to make wings.
  9. Spread the rest of the melted chocolate onto the buns using a wide-bladed or palette knife. Sit a bee on top and leave to set.

New Varroa!

The BeeHolder, October 2009

A dangerous mutant gene in a previously harmless honeybee mite in Papua New Guinea has Australian beekeepers fearing for their future. The Asian honeybee mite has undergone a genetic mutation which allows it to infest European honeybees.

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization bee pathologist Denis Anderson tells the Australian Broadcasting Corp. the mite is one of a strain of Varroa mites which had never before been able to breed on the European honeybee, and thus had been no threat to horticulture. Now the mutant mites are running rampant through honeybee hives in Papua New Guinea, wiping out up to half the country’s honey industry. The mutation is believed to have originated from a single female mite.

Anderson says based on experiences in the past, the mites will be also carrying exotic viral diseases. ‘Those viruses are actually what cause the death to the European honey bee colonies,’ he says.


Why is this important?
Because at the moment there is, officially, no Varroa in Australia, and Australia exports many hundreds of thousands of hives each year to pollinate the American fruit and nut crop. A more virulent varroa in Australia would cause immediate problems for the USA but would also spread worldwide and cause major problems worldwide.


Australian Agriculture Minister Tony Burke is meeting Papua New Guinea officials in Brisbane and containment of the mite to prevent them from entering Australia will be on the agenda. Burke tells reporters the government recognizes the importance of rigorous quarantine and biosecurity measures to protect Australia's agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries. “In November last year we announced an extra $300,000 over two years to continue the sentinel hive program,” he says. “This is an important surveillance program for pests and disease in Australia's honey bee and pollination industries.”

An Asian honeybee eradication campaign is continuing in Queensland two years after an incursion was found in Cairns. Thus far 28 hives have been destroyed.

From ‘Catch the Buzz’, courtesy Bee Culture magazine

Propolis Sterilises Hives

The BeeHolder, October 2009

Yes yes: intuitively we knew it must do, but the actual scientific proof was a bit thin. The well known antimicrobial properties of propolis give the whole colony a form of "social immunity", which lessens the need for each individual bee to have a strong immune system. Although honeybee resin is known to kill a range of pathogens, it is only recently that bees themselves have been shown to utilise its properties. A team from the University of Minnesota in St Paul, US, has published details of their discovery in the journal Evolution.


Honeybees in the wild nest in tree cavities. When founding a new colony, they line the entire nest interior with a thin layer of resins that they mix with wax. This is the mixture we know as propolis.


They also use propolis to smooth surfaces in the hive, close holes or cracks in the nest, reduce the size of the entrances to keep out intruders, and to embalm intruders that they've killed in the hive that are too big to remove.


A number of studies have shown that propolis has a range of antimicrobial properties, but mostly in relation to human health. For example, numerous publications cite its effectiveness against viruses, bacteria and even cancer cells in humans. But Mike Simone, a PhD student and his supervisor Professor Marla Spivak at the University of Minnesota became interested in the effectiveness of honeybee propolis against bee pathogens, such as American foulbrood.


"This led us to wonder what other things propolis might be doing for the bees," said Simone.


In experiments funded by the US National Science Foundation, Simone's team painted the inside walls of hives with an extract of propolis collected from Brazil or Minnesota. This inside layer mimicked how propolis or resins would be distributed in a feral colony nesting in a tree cavity. They then created colonies of honeybees and housed either in hives enriched with resin, or hives without the resin layer - to act as a control. After one week of exposure they collected bees that had been born in each colony. Genetic tests on these 7-day-old bees showed that those growing in the resin-rich colonies had less active immune systems.


"The resins likely inhibited bacterial growth. Therefore the bees did not have to activate their immune systems as much," said Simone.


"Our finding that propolis in the nest allows bees to invest less in their immune systems after such a short exposure was surprising. Resins in the hive have been thought of as a potential benefit to a honey bee colony, but this has never been tested directly."


Using resins to help sterilise the colony can be thought of as a type of "social immunity" said the researchers. And it may partly explain why bees and other social insects, such as ants, collect resins to build their nests in the first place.


"Honeybees can use wax, which they produce themselves, to do all the things that they use resin for in the nest. So it is interesting to think about why they might go and collect resins," said Simone.


"Especially since resins, being sticky, are hard to manipulate and take a lot of energy for individual bees to gather in very small quantities."


There is also some evidence that some mammals and birds coat themselves in naturally-occurring plant resin in a bid to reduce infestations with parasites.


Story adapted from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/07/23 09:43:28 GMT

Caption Competition

The BeeHolder, October 2009

What’s going on here?        The prize for the best suggestion is 3 large corms of Dracunculus vulgaris, the dragon arum.,  with mottled leaf stalk and the gigantic and wonderful maroon spathe.  An interesting exotic with a scent that is out of this world.

Send your suggestion to the Editor by 1st December please.

Caption competition

The National Honey Show

The BeeHolder, October 2009

The 78th National Honey Show is just weeks away. It is the UK's gold-standard honey show - the equivalent of Wimbledon for tennis players. It will be held in Weybridge, Surrey from 29th to 31st October. There are almost 250 classes and beekeepers come from all over the world to enter so it is truly an international show. Why not book a ticket now to see the best of the best? I went last year as I just happened to be in the area. It is really about bees rather than just honey. Certainly the display tables groaning with racks of competitive honey exhibits are the most obvious thing one notices but Trade stalls, lectures and workshops are what most visitors will be engaged in.

The promotional blurb make it sound like a specialist nerdish gathering. But it is not.

What's on?

Apart from the world class honey show there will be a full programme of workshops and lectures throughout the event and a wide selection of trade stands with lots of equipment and books to buy. You can see the line-up and download the show schedule on the NHS website and you will receive all the details in the programme that comes with tickets purchased in advance. Advance tickets plus the 2009 schedule of classes and show entry application are available now.

When you arrive there are two doors : one for people buying daily tickets for £12 and another for people wishing to become members. It costs £10 to become a member and you then get in free. Also membership entitles you to bring a “partner” in for £5. So go to the door for membership and pay £15 to get two people in rather than the ticket door and pay £12. I could not quite believe this quaint madness but I met many repaat visitors who confirmed that this system had been going on for many years.

It seems the eccentricity of beekeepers has infected the whole organisation.

Apart from the excellent lectures and workshops one of the delights is watching people pass by the membership door and pay an extra 75% for two tickets.

Plague of bee-eating hornets

The BeeHolder, October 2009


The Asian predatory hornet, Vespa velutina



  • Pesticides and traps fail to halt steady colonisation
  • British summer could be their downfall, says expert



For five years they have wreaked havoc in the fields of south-western France, scaring locals with their venomous stings and ravaging the bee population to feed their rapacious appetites. Now, according to French beekeepers, Asian predatory hornets have been sighted in Paris for the first time, raising the prospect of a nationwide invasion which entomologists fear could eventually reach Britain.

Claude Cohen, president of the Parisian region's apiculture development agency, said a hornet nest had been found this week in the centre of Blanc Mesnil, north-east of the capital.

If confirmed by further testing, the find will raise fears that the spread of the bee-eating Vespa velutina is no longer limited to the Aquitaine region near Bordeaux, where it is believed to have arrived on board container ships from China in 2004, and the surrounding south-west.

Denis Thiery, a specialist at the National Institute for Agricultural Research, said the hornets were likely to push on with a relentless colonisation of their adopted country until they become a common sight in vast swaths of France – and ultimately in other European states.

"We are seeing a real geographical expansion," he said, adding that an eventual invasion of southern England, which has a relatively mild climate the hornets would enjoy, could not be ruled out.

Biologists insist that this variety of Asian hornet, which can grow to an inch long, is no more ferocious than its European counterpart, although its stings, which contain more poison than those of wasps, can be very painful and can require hospital attention. This summer swarms of the insects were reported to have attacked a mother and baby in the Lot-et-Garonne department, as well as pursuing passersby and tourists on bikes. But the hornet's menace to human beings pales into insignificance in comparison with the destruction it wreaks on its chosen habitat. In south-western France, where its population surges each year, beleaguered beekeepers claim that they are being driven into the ground by the insect's destructive eating habits.

"We have literally been invaded," said Raymond Saunier, president of the Gironde department's beekeeping union. "In the past two to four years we have lost 30% of our hives. All it takes is two or three hornets near your hive and you've had it."

He added: "It's not just about us trying to make honey. What's even more serious is the effect they have on the pollination process [by killing so many bees]. It's really a disaster."

Faced with a demographic explosion which Thiery said had seen thousands of nests documented last year in the city of Bordeaux alone, entomologists are unsure of the best way to halt the hornets' seemingly unstoppable advance. Neither pesticides nor traps have proved particularly effective, largely because the creatures nest high off the ground in trees. The Vespa velutina has no natural predator on European soil.

Because of this, and a gradual shift in climate which experts believe could encourage the hornets to move north, many experts are adamant that the French scourge will at some point cross the Channel. But the threat is not immediate, said Stuart Hind, head of the Natural History Museum's centre for biodiversity in London. "[A UK invasion] is very likely," he said. "It is entirely plausible. But it could be 10 to 15 years before they come knocking on our door."

But, he added, "If anything were to stop them it would be the good, old-fashioned British summers. They wouldn't cope well with heavy rain”.

Lizzy Davies Paris, Friday 25 September 2009

Artificial Swarming the easy way

The BeeHolder, October 2009

Take original site as site A New site B

Site A has parent cells and supers and sealed Queen cells

Move stock ie brood chamber to site B leaving supers at A

Brood chamber on new site B

Place a new brood box on site A with say 3 or 4 frames of preferably drawn comb (undrawn can be used if you have no drawn).

Go through parent stock now on site B and take out 2 or 3 frames which have sealed Queen cells and move over to site A

ENSURE QUEEN IS NOT ON THESE FRAMES    If in doubt shake all bees off!

What will happen is that all flying bees will leave B and return to A which ensures that A has enough bees.

Because the original colony that is now at B has lost all flying bees they will break down any remaining Queen cells and prevent swarming

Now re erect site A with supers back on

Put a super on site B

After a couple of weeks check A has eggs or larvae

If you are in a charitable mood you can feed B for a few days

Graham Winchester

Stop Press !

The BeeHolder, October 2009

This just in !!!

Experienced bee keepers will know that bees still celebrate Christmas on January 16th having declined to adopt the Gregorian calendar.

So on January 16th the Montgomeryshire BeeKeepers will be having a Christmas Meal . It is at the Lakeside Golf Course, Argae Hall, Gathmyl. Time and price to be announced BUT Secretaries Dave & Jessica always manage somehow to get a good deal for us.

Contact Dave or Jessica here.

The next edition of the BeeHolder is in January 2010.

Copy for inclusion should be sent, via email, to the Editor by December 10th. After initial e-mail contact, you will be able to arrange to send any docuemts etc directly to the editor.

Not an advert

The BeeHolder, October 2009

This is not an advertisement nor even an endorsement for these products BUT it is nice to see a company redesigning the traditional hive and using bright new materials.


Shiny plastic hive 1


Shiny plastic hive 2

July 2009

The BeeHolder, July 2009

Children looking at frames from a virtual hive

The theme of this edition is Education.

We are teaching children about bees
and how to handle them with confidence.


You can navigate through this copy of the BeeHolder using the links at the bottom of this page and the arrows at the bottom of each subsequent page, or the links in the right hand sidebar of the page.

If you prefer, you can access the magazine as a PDF (Portable Document Format) by selecting the attachment below. This requires Acrobat Reader, which is provided as a free download by Adobe.


July 2009 BeeHolder.pdf1.08 MB


The BeeHolder, July 2009

In common with many BeeKeeping Associations (BKAs) our membership is up and our finances secure. We all have to thank the media for keeping the subject of bee-health on the boil. At last the public is recognising that the health of bees is an indicator of the health of the environment: that bees are like the canary in the coal mine. Joining a BKA is perhaps like setting down a marker that one is environmentally concerned.

In the last three months we have given more bee talks, to schools, WIs and local “Shows”, than anyone can remember. Our displays have got better and our presentations more sophisticated. We have found, hidden away in attics and workshops, beneath layers of dust and guilt, a wonderful array of teaching aids. We have added to this stock of teaching aids: we have invested in a virtual hive made up of full scale photographs of bee-covered frames fitted to actual frames (see photo front page). We can now demonstrate opening a hive, looking for the queen, seeing eggs, larvae and capped brood without the need to don protective clothing or exposing people to the risk of being stung. It really does give confidence. But of course, there is nothing like the real thing. We have taken some prize winners of a class Bee-project to an Apiary and taught them to handle frames of live bees. The parents were as enthusiastic as the children, but our safety equipment was exposed as being woefully inadequate (see back page,20). It is obvious that we need to invest in children’s bee-suits. There is money out there: it is just a matter of identifying which organisations would give to the worthy cause of encouraging and training the next generation of bee-keepers. There is a knack in pleading for money: one has to understand the particular nuances which will pass the various selection criteria. Some people are just naturally very good at it. If you have this skill please please volunteer to help.

How nice to see so many MBKA members at the Bee Disease day organised by Shropshire Beekeepers and the bee inspectors from the Western Region The highlight for us all was a workshop where we had to don bio-security outfits and examine diseased combs. We’ve all read the books, seen the pamphlets, maybe attended lectures but nothing nothing can outdo actually seeing and smelling the diseases. Our continuing education is the best investment we can make towards the survival of the bee and our shared environment.

I had 3 contributions reporting on MBKA activities in promoting beekeeping for schools. It is the lot of the editor to choose, or edit. In the case of the contributions from Caroline Davies from CAFE and our own Joe Bidwell, both their articles covered activities in the Newtown area and I’ve done a cut-and-paste to make a single article. Neither party will thank me for interfering with their contribution. I have deliberately left the report full of details because other BKAs (who read this Magazine) may wish to share our experience when planning their own school/library events. We must thank Joe for organising our Newtown Library Exhibition and Caroline for introducing us to 7 primary schools in the Newtown area and guiding us through all the legal and bureaucratic palaver.

Tony Shaw July 2009

New Members

The BeeHolder, July 2009

We welcome as new members

William Smirk, Meiford, and a rejoiner Marilyn Watkins, Montgomery.

Report on Meetings

The BeeHolder, July 2009

Roy Norris’ May Apiary Meeting was cancelled due to quite appalling weatherRed Mason bee makes a home

We were going to have Nigel Jones of the solitary Bee Unit come to show us live solitary bees around the garden and in the houses which MBKA members had sent to Roy’s apiary. We will have to make do with this picture of Red Mason bees (Osmia rufa) which have colonised one of the houses sent to Roy.

The bees have made their home in an old piece of hard oak which was covered in a layer of ancient whitewash. Some of the holes have already been filled and sealed by the bees.

Red Mason bee Osmia rufus



Midsummer (June) Apiary Meeting

Our June apiary meeting was held on midsummer’s day at the glorious garden of Dr.Beverley Evans-Britt at Capel Deildre, which she has expertly tended for 40 years. Tony Shaw uses it as an out-apiary and keeps 3 hives of bees there and our visit coincided with the opening of the garden to the public through the National Garden Scheme (NGS).

BBC Wales camera-man filming “Gardening in Extremes” with weatherman Derek Brockway and gardener Dr Beverley Evans-Britt. The extreme in this case was growing plants at 1350’. The height is a challenge for beekeeping too as our apiary visit demonstrated: one hive was dying of starvation and had to be rescued. The other two hives were thriving.

A goodly number of Montgomery Beekeepers Association members attended and offered to steward the NGS event. They set up an impressive display of photos, equipment and information, 2 observation hives with live bees, and the new “virtual” hive. Then they were on hand to answer questions on beekeeping from visitors, from whom there was much interest and also concern about the decline in honey bee numbers.

June apiary visit

The garden itself is beautiful, with wonderful views over Llyn Clywedog and the surrounding countryside. The borders were full of colour, perfume and the constant hum of bees. The plants were vigorous and healthy, generously nourished by copious amounts of home-produced compost. Visitors wandered the garden, enjoying the planting schemes and the views, and were then treated to a lavish afternoon tea.

MBKA members manned the plant sales stall where customers were encouraged to purchase bee-friendly plants to take home to their own gardens. The most popular were Thalictrum aquilegifolium (Meadow rue), Astrantia major (Masterwort) and Polemonium caerulium (Jacob’s ladder) – all very attractive to bees and gardeners alike. The proceeds from the plant sales (nearly £300 Ed.) will go towards the purchase of bee suits for children, to safely educate and encourage our next generation of beekeepers, who will be vitally important.

After the public had left, Joe opened the 3 hives and Tony was particularly keen for our new members to be actively involved, to gain experience in handling their own bees.

Then it was time to enjoy a delicious barbecue, beautifully cooked by Dave and Jessica, giving members the opportunity to relax and socialize. The weather was kind and we had a most memorable and successful day, giving a great deal of pleasure to everyone who came.

Carol Gough

Next Meeting

The BeeHolder, July 2009

The next MBKA event will be a coach trip to Attingham Park and to see bee-keeping in the past (skeps and all that) and Radbrook College which houses the teaching apiary of Shropshire BKA. Here our old friend Brian Goodwin will show us round the apiary and introduce us to the bees. The day ends with dinner at the Mermaid Hotel. Secretary Jessica will no doubt pin name labels on us all to encourage bee-talk all the way there and back. So far, no one has objected to the labels, indeed increased attendances (over 50 at the last apiary meeting) attests to the fact that encouraging bee conversations is popular. Jessica needs numbers and money by 10th July. The cost of £15 covers all fees, travel and the dinner. That’s really very good value. The cost of the meal alone is normally £20 ! We negotiated very hard and decided to subsidize because it is environmentally correct to travel together and it’s more fun and productive.

The coach leaves Back Lane Car Park, Newtown 12.30pm and picks up from the car park by Spar, Welshpool at 1pm.

Contact Jessica for more details and booking.

Newtown Library Exhibition and aftermath

The BeeHolder, July 2009

I hope that most of you went to see our very successful exhibition in the Newtown library during April. We managed to borrow the WBKA  display stand and a quantity of top class photos plus the really excellent ones taken by Jessica and David Bennett. Jim Crundwell provided some really interesting old posters and equipment including a straw skep, and the Co-Op provided us with a quantity of packets of wild flower seeds which we gave away to children who visited the display.

Looking into a display hiveThe highlight of the show, however, was the two days of demonstrations of bee-craft to classes from local Primary Schools. Visits to the library had been arranged by Caroline Davies of the CAFE project (Children, Agriculture, Food & Education). Caroline helped us to overcome the hurdles of risk assessment and smoothed the path with those who can authorise these things. After all, we were talking not only about getting live bees into a public place, but also over 200 primary school pupils from the five schools in and around the town centre (Penygloddfa Junior, St Mary’s RC Primary, Hafren Junior, Ladywell Green Infants and Ysgol Dafydd Llwyd)

At the end of the two days the children had dressed up in beesuits, examined hive equipment, tasted several types of honey and experienced seeing (and in some cases touching...shh) live bees. Of course we were also “educating” the teachers. We had taken along the Bee educational resources binder and Caroline invited the teachers to look through it and sent them photocopies of all the sections they had highlighted the following week. Our three MBKA demonstrators, Jessica, Tony Shaw and Graham Winchester, were thoroughly exhausted but pleased that other schools had asked for the team to visit with their “performance” and, of course, their bees.

Arrangements for the exhibition were harder than we had imagined. We found it difficult to work out whether our insurance covered taking live bees outside our own apiaries and we found the legislation about “Risk Assessment” sheets very hard to understand. In the end everything turned out well. We were somewhat pleased when a few weeks later we got a phone call from Peter Guthrie, the Seasonal Bee Inspector asking if we would send the Risk Assessment Sheet to Brecon & Rad BKA so that they could use it for a similar library exhibition that they were holding.

One teacher asked us to judge the Bee project she had given her class. The efforts were of exceptional high standard; far better than I think I could have done at 8 years old. We decided to give a prize of an apiary visit to the best three. Again officialdom and bureaucracy had to be considered: one cannot just invite a child to see bees. Each parent gave written permission, and each child was accompanied by a parent or grandparent. We were lucky to have our Eifrion Thomas come with 3 children’s beesuits. As headmaster of Aberhafesp Primary School he had the easy confidence and authority of supervising the dressing of the children and putting them at ease. The rain relented for a couple of hours during which Graham Winchester showed the children his bee equipment and then opened his hives and encouraged the children to hold some frames. Each child was presented with a MBKA certificate saying they had handled live bees, and, as we guessed, they proudly showed these to their class-mates the next day. We had already asked each parent whether we could use pictures for publicity in the local paper or our magazine. Each had agreed. We then made a point of asking each child whether we could use their picture. After each had agreed we laboriously asked each parent whether it was indeed OK “ ....obviously it is up to you to make the final decision”. Many simple procedures during the afternoon took seconds to perform yet took ages of planning. The children learnt a lot about bees: we learnt a lot about introducing children to bees. We would like to take this opportunity of thanking the staff of the Newtown LiTeaching about beesbrary for allowing us to use the foyer for our Exhibition and especially for their tolerance of all the noise the children inevitably made. We did find a way of reducing the noise: the children were told that the queen would hide if there was too much noise around her. A little boy in one group who were round the Observation hive approached some excited children at the honey-tasting table. “ quite” he said sternly “we cannot find the queen”.

Maesyrhandir Primary School, Newtown, was one of the Schools that had requested a MBKA visit and Caroline was able to arrange this on 15th June. We came up with a ‘Bee Discovery Day’ with their 217 pupils plus of course, some very interested adults, teachers and teaching assistants, who were learning with the children. It started with a 20 minute presentation to the whole school at the morning assembly. We had to rush through each class through 4 different types of bee- within the tight schedule. Next time though we will not be quite as ambitious in terms of throughput. related activities: the observation hive, the bee suits, the empty hive and spinner and honey tasting – run by Arthur Bennett fresh from his GCSEs!. We could not always do all the activities

Speaking educationally the teachers were interested because we were able to point out how Bees linked in to so many of their National Curriculum topics about homes, food, habitats and the new agenda for ESD (Education for Sustainable Development). We learnt a few more acronyms doing this – education seems to breed them! Clearly there would be interest in doing more – if we have the energy of course.

Caroline Davies (Cafe Project) & Powys Council’s School Farm Visits Officer)
Joe Bidwell (MBKA Education Officer)

MBKA visit to Churchstoke Primary School

The BeeHolder, July 2009

“Fantastic! Amazing! Completely fascinating!” Those were just some of the comments from my teaching colleagues following a recent visit to school by the association’s new demonstration hive; the children, of course, were equally excited and enthusiastic! A beautiful sunny morning enabled us to use our outdoor classroom area which meant we could light a smoker and do a ‘real’ hive inspection with children dressed in suits and gloves, making the sessions more realistic than if we had been indoors.

I had already done a mini-topic on bees as part of our local harvest study last autumn with my class (9-11 yrs), so the hive provided an excellent opportunity to revise and extend the children’s understanding. The infant children are studying ‘minibeasts’ this term and had spent two days learning about bees through a range of multisensory activities prior to the hive session. Both groups were totally fascinated with every aspect of the session and I was impressed at how quickly they behaved like real beekeepers, handling the frames confidently and talking about what they could see. Spotting the queen and queen cells on the frame proved great fun.

We ended the sessions by opening a jar of my spring honey (thank goodness it’s been a better year!) and having a taste; it was surprising how many honey-haters were converted to the ‘real’ thing and came back for a second helping.

Excuse the pun, but there was a real ‘buzz’ in the staffroom when we had finished; two members of staff are now seriously considering taking up beekeeping with their children and will hopefully be able to attend the association’s final apiary opening in September to experience live bees.

Overall impressions? The virtual (demo) hive is a brilliant teaching tool which makes the life of the honeybee and beekeeping accessible to a wide age-range of children (and school staff, too). With thoughtful preparation and follow-up activities, it offers teachers an excellent opportunity to bring learning alive and MBKA the chance to get some important messages into schools and encourage a new generation of apiarists. Many thanks from all of us at Churchstoke School, especially to Brian Norris for loaning the bits and pieces to make a complete hive and to Bill Gough for bringing the hive in and answering the children’s questions. Now, of course, the children are clamouring to see some real bees next time…!

(Cover picture shows use of virtual hive at Churchstoke School)

Liz Farrington

The MBKA Web Site

The BeeHolder, July 2009

The website is up in a prototype state. But you know that because you're looking at it! We are having discussions about privacy and legalities. We will resolve these problems, please be patient.

Please make any comments to Web Admin (Chris Leech) via the contact page. The site belongs to us all so please help us develop it with your comments and suggestions Cool.

Beebores (New Beekeeper reports on her first days as an MBKA member)

The BeeHolder, July 2009

The fateful words “why don’t we get some bees?” were uttered quite innocently. I can’t remember who first suggested it, but the touch paper was well and truly lit and it’s been all go since then.

Myself and one of my oldest & closest friends Christine are both consciously trying to become more self sufficient and be more environmentally aware and often have lots of good but totally impractical ideas on how we can achieve this, but beekeeping seemed relatively attainable…or so we thought! After doing our own research on what would be involved we decided we had better have a go at handling some bees to see if we had enough courage to do it. Not minding a few bees going about their business in the garden is one thing but 20,000 plus in close proximity is a whole different ball game.

The internet was our first point of call but the closest BKA we could find was Shropshire. As we were debating how far we would be willing to travel, fate and the County Times intervened. “MBKA AGM at “Plas Dolerw”, Newtown. New members welcome!” It’s obviously meant to be we decided and waited anxiously for the meeting.

We didn’t know quite what to expect when we got there but were encouraged by the mix of old and new beekeepers and the amount of people there. Unbeknown to us this was a surprise to everybody else too!

Even with all our previous research the people at the meeting seemed to be speaking in a different language. What were we letting ourselves in for? But by the end of the meeting we had chatted to a lot of different people, found somebody local who sold beekeeping equipment, had been invited to observe a hive being opened up after Winter and signed up for a training course with Brian Goodwin.

Phew! It was hard work but with determination and arm twisting things were moving on.

Now most of the conversations between Christine and myself seem to consist of anything bee related. “Where can we get some second hand hives?” “How would we treat for Varroa?” “Who do you know that would buy honey from us?” “Can we make candles?” Yes we were definitely becoming “Beebores”, but our enthusiasm was growing and not diminishing.

We attended and thoroughly enjoyed the training day with Brian Goodwin. After over 70 years as a beekeeper he kept us entertained with lots of information and anecdotes and we came away with plenty of handouts for future reference. The next day we went along to an apiary visit hosted by John and Brigit Newbury. They are new beekeepers too and wanted advice on where to site their hive when they get it. We thought we could only benefit by going along and how right we were! While we were enjoying a lovely tea Graham Winchestor very kindly offered to loan us a hive and equipment to set as a bait hive to catch us some bees! This was a great helping hand until we can get more equipment together and is much appreciated. We’ve also been for a visit to Graham and Jean’s apiary to have a go at handling some bees. Hopefully we behaved ourselves and didn’t upset the bees as nobody was stung. It was one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done and as Christine said “the time whizzed by”

My advice to established beekeepers is to be friendly and offer lots of advice. Make any old or redundant equipment available. We need your experience and knowledge to help us keep this essential pastime alive.

And my advice to any new beekeepers is to join your local BKA, go along to meetings, apiary visits and social events. Ask lots of questions and be a bit cheeky and ask for old equipment either to borrow or buy. And the main thing I’ve learnt so far is that there doesn’t seem to be a right or a wrong way in beekeeping just your own way! All we need now are some bees!

Alisa Cakebread

Rare bumblebee coming back to UK

The BeeHolder, July 2009

Bumblebee numbers have been dropping around the world but a bumblebee which is extinct in the UK, is to be reintroduced from New Zealand. The short-haired bumblebee was exported from the UK to New Zealand on the first refrigerated lamb boats in the late 19th Century to pollinate clover crops. It was last seen in the UK in 1988, but populations on the other side of the world have survived. Now Natural England and several other conservation groups have launched a scheme to bring the species home.

Picture of the short-haired bumblebeeInternational rescue

Poul Christensen, Natural England's acting chairman, said; "Bumblebees are suffering unprecedented international declines and drastic action is required to aid their recovery.

"Bumblebees play a key role in maintaining food supplies - we rely on their ability to pollinate crops and we have to do all we can to provide suitable habitat and to sustain the diversity of bee species.

"This international rescue mission has two aims - to restore habitat in England, thereby giving existing bees a boost; and to bring the short-haired bumblebee home where it can be protected."

As many as 100 of the bees will initially be collected in New Zealand and a captive breeding plan established, with the aim of eventually releasing them at Dungeness, Kent, where they were last seen.

They will be flown back on planes in cool boxes, and will not be disturbed, according to Natural England, as they will be in hibernation during transit.

The scheme's project officer Nikki Gammans said the bumblebee was a "keystone species" which was key to pollinating around 80% of important crops.

"By creating the right habitat for these bumblebees, we are recreating wildflower habitat that has been lost, which will be good for butterflies, water voles and nesting birds."

Adapted from are article by Tania Rana (BBC Science)

Book Review

The BeeHolder, July 2009

Queen Bee – Biology, Rearing and Breeding

By David Woodward.

There is no single way to be a beekeeper. But the easiest way to start is to read a book and accept an old beekeeper as a guru. To read two books or have two gurus will be confusing. Our Training Course tutor, Brian Goodwin, from Shrewsbury recommends that one either starts beekeeping by reading one bee book or 6. Reading two is just too confusing.

Queen Bee, Biology, Rearing and Breeding has a wealth of knowledge beyond that suggested by the title. It is really about the biology care and breeding of the honey bee and as such, it is definitely one of the 6 beebooks to have on ones shelf. But don’t have it as your first beebook: David Woodward goes through his subject far too fast. Different methods of rearing bees are described without dogmatically advocating any one method. So have this book as your third beebook and you probably won’t need to buy the 4th 5th and 6th.

As head of the Head of the Apiculture Department at the Telford Rural Polytechnic, Balclutha, New Zealand one would expect Dr Woodward to know how to communicate with students. He makes complex subjects very simple without ever talking down to his audience. But he does assume a background knowledge of the subject matter hence the book should never be one’s first read about bees

The book is £21 post-paid from Northern Bee Books, has clear and comprehensive coloured pictures, drawings and tables and enough information to fill a book three times the length. It is to Dr Woodward’s credit that so much information can so clearly and simply be expressed in so few pages. At the end of each page I often found myself thinking that I had attended whole lectures on the subject of just one of Dr Woodward’s paragraphs, and I had understood his explanation far better.

There are times when Dr Woodward seems to suggest that successful Queen Rearing can only take place when one has more than 100 hives. The average reader, however, will be the hobbyist with far fewer. To these he makes a persuasive case for manipulating hives so as to encourage the supercedure rearing impulse of the colony.

Understanding the principle of queen breeding on the large commercial level will allow many beekeepers the opportunity of selecting a regime adapted to their own small apiary. However the chances of being able to select for any characteristic seem very slim. In a way that is comforting. To those who think they have successfully bred docile bees Dr Woodward would say it is luck. To those who struggle year after year with low yields or too much swarming (or any other the other traits that both annoy and fascinate beekeepers) Dr Woodward brings comfort through some easy to follow explanations.

For most hobbyists being able to successfully raise replacement queens will be the height of their beekeeping ambition. This book is an essential read to achieving that ambition.

Arthur Finlay

Sniffer Bees

The BeeHolder, July 2009

Essex beekeepers had an interesting talk in April. It was given by Mathilde Briens, who is the Research and Development Manager of Inscentinel Ltd., a private company based at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire.

Sniffer beesMathilde is an environmental scientist and grew up in an amateur beekeeping family in Normandy. She worked in a bee research lab. in France collaborating with Rothamsted Research. From this came the idea of using honeybees as sniffer bees and Inscentinel Ltd was set up in 2003.

Sniffer bees are used in much the same way as sniffer dogs except that their training takes less than one hour. They are trained by *Pavlovian conditioned reflexes. The bees are given a taste of sugar at the same time as being exposed to the scent that is to be detected, whether it be explosives, drugs, money, moulds in foodstuffs and now even dry rot in woods is being detected.

The bees are given five lots of training each lasting five minutes and then they are ready for use. In the prototype equipment three conditioned bees were put in cages in a box with their heads projecting into a tube through which the air from the object being tested would pass. An infra-red camera was fitted to the box which would detect the bees' tongues coming out if the scent to which they had been conditioned was present. This would be picked up by the software on a computer. The bees are used for only two days after which they are returned to their hive, after being marked so that they would not be used again.

Bees can be conditioned to more than one scent but a recent development is equipment which will, house 36 bees in six groups of The bee sniffing boxsix so that each group can be trained on a different scent or scents. Instead of an infra-red camera a beam of light is now being used and the breaking of the beam by tongues can be detected. I should add that an advantage of using sniffer bees is that because of the short training/conditioning time operators do not have to take bees with them and can use local sources thus overcoming any import restrictions in other countries.

* Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849 - 1936), Russian physiologist and experimental psychologist. For his research on the nature of digestion he received the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1904. He is best known for his research on conditioned reflexes in animals, principally his experiments with dogs whereby he fed dogs and rang a bell at the same time so that they associated the bell ringing with food. When he rang a bell after the dogs had been conditioned it caused the dogs to salivate in the absence of food.

Based upon a report by Nobby Clark in Essex Beekeeper june 2009 with Inscential pictures added

In the BEEginning

The BeeHolder, July 2009.

the evolution of Hymenoptera (bees wasps and ants)

Diagramatic representation of a bee.Flowering plants and bees evolved together. In the last issue of BeeHolder we examined the early evolution of bees. Here we look at the pressures which caused the flowering plants to evolve.

Raison d'eater cont :

The mutualistic relationship between plants and insects may have begun as long ago as 200 million years when the first flowering plants benefitted by the visits of foraging beetles. About this same time (during the Triassic period) the order Hymenoptera, to which bees belong, arose from either an off-shoot of the Mecoptera (represented today by the scorpionflies ) or the Neuroptera (fishflies, snakewings and lacewings). The earliest Hymenoptera were probably completely herbivorous and thus in direct competition with other plant-eating organisms. There was a strong evolutionary incentive to maintain any favourable random mutation that inevitably occurred and which eventually led to specialized life-styles assisting survival. Some hymenopteran species developed a larval stage which burrowed into the plant tissue and eventually developed special adaptations which regulated the growth of plant tissues stimulating gall formation. The galls offering both a food source and a protective defence against predators.

Adult females of some of these species developed the trait of using their ovipositor to cut slits in foliage or twigs into which eggs were laid (hence their name "sawflies”). Some 125 million years ago the flowering plants were enjoying a period of expansion due to the cooling climate of the era, against which their protected seeds gave them some defence. It was at this point that some sphecoid wasp species turned away from a predaceous existence to find nurture in the pollen and nectar produced by the flowering plants: they giving rise to the bees. Bees, as a group (the superfamily Apoidae), are distinguished from wasps in that they have plumose body-hairs, that is, branched or feathery hairs (rather than smooth hairs as seen in the wasps). Bees then derived all their food from floral sources while wasps were frequently carnivorous (scavenging on dead animals or attacking other insects, including bees).

This series of shifts in life-style, from external foliage-feeding to gall-forming to parasitism to pollen and nectar foraging, also provided the basic anatomical tools to allow the development of another adaptation that is almost uniquely Hymenopteran: eusociality. The "fortuitous" acquisition of certain behaviours, which are, in fact, adaptive in themselves, seems to have neatly predisposed the order for the development of eusocial existence. In an impressive example of evolutionary convergence, eusociality has arisen independently in the Hymenoptera at least eleven times and only once, in termites, among other insects. The preconditions that favoured the development of such eusocial behaviour include: parental care of offspring, including feeding and nest defence, mutualism, parental manipulation and indirect kin selection.

To offer some idea of the diversity and venerableness represented by the order Hymenoptera in general (of which over 100 thousand species have been described) and of the bees in particular: we should contemplate the fact that there are as many species of bees around today as there are individual honeybees in an average wild colony.

Twelve Golden Rules of Apiary Behaviour

The BeeHolder, July 2009

This has been ‘foraged’ from Notts BKA and e-BEES. Good advice for all beekeepers, I think, old and new! Here is an all-important set of rules you need to follow when working in your apiary. These rules are primarily for your safety and following these rules

habitually will make your and the bees’ lives much happier. Understanding the rules makes forming the right habits easy and they will quickly become second nature to you. So don’t be intimidated by the number of rules. They’re all just natural common sense once you have understood them and why they are important.

  1. Smoke the hives before opening them. Using the smoker is an absolute must if you are going to be opening the hive (where any frames are exposed. Lifting the top cover to inspect the feeder or refill syrup does not qualify as opening the hive.
  2. Approach the hives from the back or the side Guard bees stand at the entrance of the hive, watching for intruders. Don’t give them an opportunity to put the colony on alert. Always approach the hive from the back or the side and do all your work there – never from the front, except for a brief entrance examination in lieu of opening the hive.
  3. Don’t stand in the bees’ flight path Honeybees don’t appreciate running into unexpected objects in their flight path. If they run into you, they may get mad and be more prone to sting. (see Rule 2).
  4. Move steadily and smoothly You should always avoid sudden, jerky movements when you are close to the hive. Bees are especially good at noticing movement. If you move around steadily and smoothly while you are in the apiary, you will not attract their attention.
  5. Avoid any strong or unnatural odours Bees are especially sensitive to smell - their sense of smell is critical to the operation and social structure of the colony and to their ability to detect nectar sources. Since bees have been designed with an excellent sniffer, they will easily pick up strong, foreign odours near the hive.
  6. Dress properly for the job Various jobs call for different dress. Opening the hive requires that you don your bee suit, bee hat and veil. If you have aggressive bees, you may also want to wear your gloves. But just performing a periodic inspection of the hive or refilling syrup should not require putting on all your garb.
  7. Maintain a firm grip on everything Never drop any hive components and don’t drop anything on or into the hive. When you are working the hive, don’t wear gloves unless the bees are especially irritable that day. You can maintain a much better grip with your bare hands. If you have ill-tempered bees and must wear gloves, take extra care to ensure you are holding things securely, especially the frames.
  8. Never bump the hive. Maintain a slight gap between your body and the hive. This practice, and keeping the apiary free from clutter means you don’t trip on things and ensures you will not bump the hive which will cause the bees to go on alert.
  9. Keep the apiary clean. Whoever said, “Cleanliness is next to godliness” never mowed, trimmed and cleaned an apiary on a hot summers’ day while wearing a bee suit. Nevertheless, keeping your apiary clutter free, both at your feet and your head, pays dividends in convenience, safety and comfort each time you visit your bees.
  10. Don’t open the hives unless you need to do so One of the most fundamental practices to ensure the best honey production and the most docile bees to the absolutely minimise the number of times you open up your hives.
    97% of American Foul Brood
    is diagnosed by Bee Inspectors
    Only 3% by the beekeeper.
    A terrifying statistic about this terrifying disease
  11. Only open the hives early or in good weather. Never attempt to open a hive when a storm or cold-front is imminent and never open a hive in the evening when it is becoming dark, or at night. Bees are especially defensive at these times and the foragers are also coming back into the hive before bad weather or nightfall. It is very likely that you will be greeted with stinging bees. Just don’t do it.
  12. Watch the bees’ behaviour and react accordingly. Your goal in the apiary is that you seem invisible to the bees and they act as if they don’t even notice you. Of course, they will notice you when you open the hive but if you properly apply smoke first and follow these rules of apiary etiquette, they will first be preoccupied with engorging on honey and then they will be too docile to care under most circumstances. Monitoring the bees’ behaviour will ensure your safety and the success of your apiary visit.

BEGINNERS ... note in particular, item 5 above.

I well remember an apiary visit years ago when a member arrived duly ‘spruced up’, having used a particularly pungent after shave. It was quite a sight - the previously docile bees took offence at this and proceeded to ‘bomb’ his bee-veil. There was nothing for it, he had to retreat in haste. Another smell they definitely don’t like - although the manufacturers say they are “unaware of any problem”, or they were some years ago - is that of ‘Head & Shoulders’ shampoo. Our neighbour - just the husband, no-one else in the family - used to be stung by our bees when he was in his garden. None of us could understand why and I had to mollify him with endless jars of honey, until the day he mentioned his problem to a bee-keeping colleague at work. This colleague immediately came up with the answer; neighbour stopped using that particular shampoo and the problem disappeared.

Thanks to Notts BKA and e-BEES.

Barefoot Beekeeping - a different way 'Top Bar Hives'

The BeeHolder, July 2009

I am very much a ‘new boy’ to the wonderful world of bees and beekeeping and yet, I feel that this is an advantage in pursuing this alternative way of keeping bees as I do not come filled with experiences and know-how of the current modern beekeeping way. Barefoot Beekeeping is a natural, sustainable approach to beekeeping; it is not a new thing and has been used extensively in the developing countries. Its popularity is increasing all the time and is particularly ‘big’ in America as well as being practiced in many other countries. Indeed, in my search for information and answers to my questions, I have been ‘talking’, via the dedicated internet forum, with beekeepers in Portugal, Germany, USA, Australia and even Corsham!

In this country, and probably worldwide, the inspiration and ‘voice’ of this natural approach is ‘THE’ Barefoot Beekeeper, Phil Chandler who lives in Devon. More information on him and his beekeeping world can be found on - well worth a look. What appealed to me about this method of looking after bees? Well, I believe in the natural way of doing things. I feel that humankind interferes with nature far too much for the good of nature and ourselves (oops – just fell off the soapbox!!). Also, I needed to do this beekeeping lark as inexpensively as possible.

It is not possible to convey in this Newsletter all about Barefoot Beekeeping and Top Bar Hives (TBHs), so here is only an outline.

Where to begin? For a start the hives are completely different. There are two basic types: the vertical TBH (VTBH), developed by a French Abbé named Emile Warré, from where we get the Warré Hive and the horizontal TBH which is the method I shall be using. A horizontal top bar hive (HTBH) is a long box with either vertical or sloping sides on which are placed on top, simple wooden bars with a shallow groove cut along the lower face, filled with wax.

The bees build their comb as they please – using these strips as ‘starters’ or guides – resulting in alost as natural a formation as would be found in a hollow tree, but the advantage for the beekeeper of being individually removable. TBHs can be made from virtually any wood, indeed some build from recycled pallets – but the best is Western Red Cedar (which is what I shall be making mine with from local forests) or Douglas Fir. There is no hard and fast rule to the size, but as simplicity is the by-word of Barefoot Beekeeping, a 48"or 36" long hive is the norm. It makes moving the hive a very simple matter, easily managed by one person when empty or two when full, and that’s everything in one lift! TBHs are untreated as far as paint, wood preservers and the like. The external can be weather-proofed with a mixture of linseed oil and beeswax: as for the internal area, the bees will treat that themselves. Timber is 20-25 mm thick (about an inch in old money), which provides excellent protection against both the winter and summer conditions. TBHs can be made with an observation window built in one side, made from clear plastic sheet or even glass. This observation window is really useful in observing your bees without having to disturb them, particularly in the winter months. This is, of course, one of the essences of Barefoot Beekeeping and that is minimum disturbance of the bees throughout the year. One of the many advantages is the management of swarms: there is no need for purpose-built ‘nuc’ boxes. A 15" square plastic planter, (£2.49 from Wilkinsons), will do very well. Top bars on the top, a plastic sheet over the top to keep the weather off and a cork to plug the entry hole when the need arises.

Some of the things not needed are: frames, foundation wax, supers, mouse guards, queen excluders, bottling equipment and fancy feeders. As I have said, it is just not possible to cover every aspect of Barefoot Beekeeping and TBHs here. Maybe there has been some whetting of appetite or interest to know more. Be assured, Barefoot Beekeepers are not ‘New-Age’ types or out to criticize present beekeeping methods. Their aim is to provide the best possible environment for the bees naturally: their needs above that of their keeper! Barefooters will also take to task and challenge the pesticide manufacturers for the damage their insecticides are doing to the natural foraging habitation of our bees and consequently to the bees themselves.

I will close by leaving you with the principles of a sustainable beekeeping system:

  1. Interference in the natural lives of the bees is kept to a minimum.
  2. Nothing is put into the hive that is known to be, or likely to be harmful either to the bees, to us or to the wider environment and nothing is taken out that the bees cannot afford to lose.
  3. The bees know what they are doing: our job is to listen to them and provide the optimum condition for their well being.

David Smith West Wilts

Seasonal Bee Inspectors in Montgomeryshire

The BeeHolder, July 2009

With the strengthening of the service in Wales by the National Assembly Government the number of seasonal bee inspectors has been increased from 7-11 under Regional Bee Inspector for Wales John Verran. As a result of the reorganisation of the boundaries of individual inspectors, that part of Montgomery broadly to the North and East of Caersws which was previously covered by Peter Guthrie has now been transferred to John Beavan (tel 01824707286, Mob 07793584139) Peter wishes to sincerely thank all beekeepers old and new for their help and cooperation over the past three years since taking over from Phillip Jennings.

Members who have not yet done so are still urged to complete and return to the National Bee Unit the Honey Bee Husbandry Survey 2009. Further to this and with the receipt of additional funding the NBU has recently set up a Random Apiary Survey for 2009/10. This is designed to quantify the overall health status of bees as a whole in England and Wales. It is therefore, quite possible that apiaries already visited this year may come up for revisiting by either John Beavan or Peter Guthrie in order to secure a small sample of bees from specific hives to be sent to the NBU for detailed analysis. Your help with this is both essential and much appreciated by the inspectors in order to achieve a statistically viable picture of bee health.

Peter Guthrie SBI

Suits you, sir!

The BeeHolder, July 2009

These two pictures show why we need to buy some decent bee suits for when we take school children into apiaries.

Children in bee suits

In order to see anything the children had to stand in a flight path. Luckily no 747's came through that day.

More men in suits

The suits were theoretically “Children’s suits” but they were obviously for bigger children. We did our best with cords and belts around the suits but we were probably lucky that the bees behaved themselves. Full suits would be more adaptable for different sized kids. More expensive but they would give children more confidence. One the day Eithrion Thomas, a local headmaster, and Tony Shaw were standing close without veils in order to give that extra feeling of confidence to the kids. If anybody out there knows of grants or any other way of getting funding please contact Treasurer Roy Norris. Some local Companies sponsor football very much more worthy to sponsor a set of bee-suits and ensure the training of the next generation of beekeepers!

April 2009

The BeeHolder, April 2009

Our Bees need you - the cover picture for the April 09 Beeholder.

You can navigate through this copy of the Beeholder using the links at the bottom of this page and the arrows at the bottom of each subsequent page, or the links in the right hand sidebar of the page.

If you prefer, you can access the magazine as a PDF (Portable Document Format) by selecting the attachment below. This requires Acrobat Reader, which is provided as a free download by Adobe.

April 2009 BeeHolder.pdf808.3 KB


The BeeHolder, April 2009

A quick phone survey of friends reveals that winter losses are fewer than last year. Bees can cope with the old far better than the mild and wet. But maybe it is because we have all been that little bit more diligent than normal. Last year was characterised not only by the worst bee weather for a long time but also by the sheer weight of the bombardment of advice from our bee inspectors, specialist bee magazines and the general media. One couldn’t even have a quiet cup of tea at an Apiary meeting without being confronted with the problems of the previous winter and the lessons to be learnt for the next. Perhaps all of this has paid off. David Culshaw, the Chairperson of the Welsh Beekeepers Association, remarked last year that it was the older beekeepers who were suffering the greatest losses. The newer beekeepers are better at accepting advice than the older beekeepers. The advice works: we ignore it at our peril.

Our training course with Brian Goodwin was so popular that we have organised another on Saturday the 25th April. At the time of going to press there were just a couple of places left. See on page XX just how much a new MBKA member Captain Tim Blackmore enjoyed his first training session. We now have a considerable number of new members who have not started to collect equipment let alone their first bees. Other BeeKeeping Associations are finding the same: a greater proportion of beeless members than in previous years. To many the bee has become a symbol of the environment and its problems and joining a Beekeeping Association has become a way of setting down a marker that one is concerned about the environment and wants to help. How different to ten years ago when I first took up beekeeping. Then new members were divided into those whose primary interest was Honey and those who were interested in Apis Mellifer. This division was reflected in shows: there were those called “Honey shows” and those called “Beekeeping Conventions; different orientations and different organisations. The new members seem more catholic in their interests with solitary or bumble bees commanding as much interest as the honeybee.

Beekeeping committees cannot just sit back and revel in the rejuvenation of their Association for It is the multitude of articles in the press and TV that has caused so many of the public to seek-out and join their local Beekeeping Association. In Montgomeryshire our membership actually went down slightly in 2008 because so many who had lost bees became disillusioned and did not rejoin. Like other BKAs we in Montgomeryshire must rethink the way we organise our programme to keep the members even when they do not have bees. We must constantly support and educate new beekeepers and persuade those who have lost their bees to rejoin and share their experiences with us all. A failed strategy is as informative as a successful one. The fact is that there is no clear cut answer about the surge in hive losses over the last few years. Everybody has some useful experience to contribute to the debate. So, do encourage any ex-beekeeper you know to rejoin the Association. For the sake of our bees we really do need the person who can say “I tried that, it didn’t work”.

Fast and efficient communication about bee problems has become a major issue in the last few years. We are told that it is not the case of IF but WHEN some infection or disaster will strike:

And that we have to be ready to swing into action. It is not the case of the strong who will survive but the fast who will survive. Perhaps beekeepers need to have training sessions in the use of their computers. I am amazed at how many MBKA members only open emails when there is a J in the month and the moon is in Sagittarius. OK, of course, our broadband connections in Mid Wales are scandalously slow or non-existent and some just do not feel happy opening attachments even when they are on broadband. Sending emails out to members is a major problem. My email box is cluttered for many days with bounce-backs and the secretary and treasurer have the same problem. Such an enormous number of bounce-backs, so many accounts are reported defunct, so many are full and awaiting the removal of old emails before any new ones can be accepted. One way to get over these problems is to have a MBKA website. Chris Leech has kindly offered to set one up for us. Read his article on page 17. The other way is for those MBKA members, who have yet to join the 21st century, to have a go. It’s quite fun really.

Tony Shaw April 2009.

The plate

The Beeholder, April 2009.

The plate was claimed and is now happy back in its old home. It is a pity the same cannot be said for the 2 bee videos lent to one or two MBKA members and yet to be returned. They belong on a shelf in Radnorshire and their absence is causing quite a tense diplomatic situation. Contact Graham who will guarantee anonymity.



New Members

The Beeholder, April 2009.

We welcome as new members: Captain Tim Blackman, Aberhosan; Gillian Evans, Llanidloes; Mark Swain, Forden; Alisa Cakebread, Berriew; Monica Bukalgo, Carno

I’m sure I speak for all MBKA members in telling them not to be shy about contacting other local beekeepers at meetings. They could always contact Jessica, our Secretary or Roy our treasurer to ask the email of a neighbouring beekeeper. Neighbourly advice is always welcome and is more likely to be appropriate than that of a beekeeper 20 miles away in a different climate.

The Data Protection Act prevents me from publishing emails and addresses of members but I can recommend the local telephone directory.

Good luck in their beekeeping or bee watching career!

Meeting Reports

The Beeholder, April 2009.

AGM February 19th Who ever heard of 40 people turning up for and AGM.? “I expect to see 7 to 10 at an AGM” said Jim Crundwell our President. Jim exaggerates terribly. I’ve been at a MBKA AGM with just 4 other people. Perhaps the large attendance was for our speaker Caroline Davies from the CAFE (Children, Agriculture, Food & Education). Caroline had admired our stand at the Welsh Food Fair and talked to us there of her interest in bringing bees into schools for teaching purposes.

“It was immediately evident to me that this would be of interest to schools.” said Caroline “ The CAFE Project has been running in Montgomeryshire since January 2005.. Funded by a CCW education grant and by the Powys County Council Schools & Inclusion Service, the project is a partnership with the Mid Wales Food and Land Trust. The trust has found it invaluable to have on its board both local primary head teachers and farmers prepared to host school visits.”

As beekeepers we were aware that a tendency to a “No Risk Culture” had made visiting schools seem out of the question. Caroline however assured us that things were not as daunting as we had assumed. First of course it was necessary to ‘talk the same language’ as teachers. We had to understand the meaning of and relevance of such terms as ‘National Curriculum’, ‘Key Stages’, the ‘Foundation Phase’, the ‘skills agenda’ and ‘pathways’ before we could appreciate where learning about bees fits in. Recently Schools have been encouraged to include Education for Sustainable Development & Global Citizenship known as ESDGC into the curriculum and this is where bees might well be able to fit in. This stimulated some useful discussion during which Caroline summarised the ‘risk assessment’ process that teachers were used to doing for any activity (“and parents could depend on them so to do when entrusting their offspring to their care…”). To a somewhat sceptical audience Caroline stated that children were not as cotton-wooled as commonly imagined. Parents did appreciate that it was important for children to visit places of work including farms and that a vital part of education was to have workers from these places visit schools to talk about their expertise. Criminal Records Bureau checking was not applicable to those going into schools or hosting visits as the children are always supervised by teachers. These outside visitors, whether they were farmers or beekeepers, would never by left alone supervising a child or children.

March 19th Just back from a lecture tour of New Zealand Wally Shaw from Anglesey came for a first visit to Newtown. His talk “Where do we go from here” was a continuation of his article in The Welsh Beekeeper. Wally’s theme was that we all have responsibility for the present state of the honey bee. We, localities , countries and communities have either directly interfered with the honey bee or allowed things to happen in our name. “We have bred bees for our own purposes –selecting for characters such as uniform behaviour, honey production, docility etc, with little regard for their climatic adaption or disease resistance.” The result was a lowering of the gene pool and an inevitability that beekeepers had to resort to medications to cure some of the problems thus created. Inbreeding of bees quickly produces profoundly dysfunctional colonies. There was a need for genetic variability within available drones (see “Honeybee sex mystery solved at last” Page 9 January BeeHolder), and for beekeepers to have a faith in Natural selection and ruthless cull colonies showing propensity for diseases. Wally was throwing his weight behind a WBKA sponsored “No Varroa treatment colony Survival Project” to be set up on Anglesey. For all our sakes we must wish the project well but the rate of natural genetic mutation would seem too low for natural selection to work in the necessary time span.

Library Exhibition

The Beeholder, April 2009.

As you are all aware the MBKA is holding an exhibition in the foyer of the Newtown library throughout the whole of April, nothing is fixed yet as to displays but we seem to be accumulating some interesting bits. If you have anything you will be prepared to lend us will you please come along on the morning of 4th when we shall be setting up? The exhibition will, of course, be unmanned, but we are hoping that people may drop by on Saturday mornings to explain the exhibits to visitors, also if anyone is visiting the library themselves and see milling crowds around the displays, then perhaps they could spare a few moments to enlighten the ignorant.

At this time we are intending to have an empty hive in the corner complete with foundation and drawn comb also some wonderful photos of brood and stores stuck to frames by Jessica and David, Jane Woods is going to do candle making on Saturdays and Tony is hoping to fill the MBKA observation hive with live bees for the final week. Caroline Davies of the CAFE Project is exploring the possibility of the three nearby schools walking children into the Library to see the observation hive there.

Picture of an old gent trying to hush a bee in the library.

We have the use of three glass cabinets in which we intend to display old beekeeping kit and other items of interest  and we have a number of posters to but on the wall, what else? If you have any ideas please contact me:- Joe Bidwell tel: 01686 670347

Beginners Beekeeping Course

The Beeholder, April 2009.

On Saturday 14th March Plas Dolerw, Newtown was the venue for the Beginners Beekeeping Course with Brian Goodwin, President of the Shropshire Beekeepers Association. There were twelve students on the course, one or two with some experience, the remainder absolute beginners. Bee evolution and the history of beekeeping was an excellent way in which to introduce the students to the course. The morning progressed with Brian covering the colony, bees from egg to adult and how the workers control events. Medical matters in the event of bee sting, varroa control and the work of bee inspectors were all addressed. With scale models of the WBC and National hive students were able to see how hives are constructed. Samples of actual frames and comb were used to illustrate specific points. Details such as ‘bee space’, frame spacing, queen exclusion and various personal preferences were also covered. I’m sure everyone was impressed by the potential honey harvest that could be obtained from a single hive in a season. The morning’s teachings had gone without a break and so a 30 minute recess was called at 1230 giving a chance for a bite of lunch.

The afternoon session was started with a most interesting slide show illustrating much of what had been talked about during the morning. Then a more detailed talk about swarming, swarm control and how to collect a swarm as this was considered important for the beginner to understand particularly the advantages for expansion of the apiary. Whilst talking about inspection for queen cells the use of a manipulation cloth was demonstrated showing how useful such a simple piece of equipment was. Collection of nectar by the bees and how it is converted into the honey we know was followed by the all important extraction and the equipment required for this task. Finally the principle of feeding bees was covered and with a range of feeders on hand Brian was able to demonstrate their use.

This narrative is the absolute basis of the course which also included such a wealth of personal knowledge that I’m sure all of us came away with a far greater understanding of the craft that we are about to take up. Brian has a wonderful way of speaking with clarity of explanation and his passion for the craft cannot fail to keep an audience interested. I don’t think anyone fell asleep as so often happens when confined in a warm room. The class had questions for Brian right from the start and even though the question often side tracked that part of the course he not only answered with absolute conviction but tried to ensure that the person asking the question was satisfied. In conclusion, the day was a great success and was just what the ‘beginner’ needed, not too much in depth detail but enough that someone starting should not make a complete hash of it. Also the individuals on the course were able to have any questions about their own circumstance answered and, with tips and tricks learnt over a lifetime, everyone will have gone away with information that cannot be learnt from books. One fact that everybody should know, and certainly those on the course will always remember, is that everything costs £15 or multiples thereof! Capt. Tim Blackman (The next Training Day with Brian Goodwin is Saturday 25th April. There may be places left, check with Jessica OR pressurise for another course! Ed)

Start 'em young!

The Beeholder, April 2009.

A picture of children learning about bees.

The picture above shows pupils at Aberhafesp School learning the basic of hive construction. The Headmaster, MBKA member Eifion Thomas, is keen that the school teaches beekeeping as part of its curriculum. Brian Goodwin ( see course report ) would approve of training as young as this. Of the 10 finalists for “Welsh BeeKeeper of the Year” 8 had been taught beekeeping in school.

Shamans, Saints and Bees

The Beeholder, April 2009.

HEALTH WARNING : a reader has contacted BeeHolder editor and complained that this book ruthlessly plaguerises PL Travers work "What The Bee Knows – Reflections on Myth Symbol and Story". I have not been able to verify that faact yet, but am looking into it. In the meantime you are warned to do your own research!


A friend had recommended “The Shamanic Way of the Bee” by Simon Buxton so passionately that I put my name down in the queue to borrow it. But the queue is long so I Googled for a review and found this by the poet David John Drew.

The Gentle Bee Shaman: Keeper of the Pollen Path.

“Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt a marvellous error;
That I had a beehive here inside my heart.
And the golden bees were making white combs
And sweet honey from my past mistakes.

-Antonio Machado                                        (Spanish Poet 1875 –1939 Ed)

The Shamanic spiritual path of the anthropologist Simon Buxton developed slowly over a 13 year apprenticeship with a European Bee-Keeper. During that time he established the British branch of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, and The Sacred Trust; an organization which guides those seeking native spiritual traditions. His sharp and enlightening path is detailed in his book; ‘Shamanic Way of the Bee: Ancient Wisdom and Healing Practices of the Bee Masters.’

I find this a strange, beautiful but not altogether surprising occupation. The ‘Pollen Path’ is certainly mystical, yet based on practical elements and possesses a sound purpose. The honey bee and all its relatives have been exchanging information with humans since the beginning of our time, they themselves are prehistoric, having been here for at least 55 million years since the Cenozoic era. Within the concept of healing and nutrition we are indebted to this marvellous creature, their beneficence is without doubt. Buxton’s initiation into this secret world came when as a nine your old boy he succumbed to a fatal infection of encephalitis, yet was miraculously saved by an Austrian bee-keeper Shaman. We need only consider the various healing agents of the hive to understand; honey, pollen, propolis, wax and royal jelly to understand the immense potential. I myself recently created a successful skin healing salve with bee’s wax and lemon balm for a particularly bad irritation. This is animal-spirit medicine at its most potent; traditional practitioners even used the bee stings as a form of acupuncture!

In medieval Ireland there was a saying; that one of the three most difficult things to understand was the work of bee’s (obair na mbeach) and as such were closely connected to the mysterious and magical priestly functions of the Druids. Legal restrictions were imposed as to who kept bee hives and who was entitled to the seemingly divine produce of honey, but especially mead; reserved for warriors and nobles. Throughout Europe, especially amongst monastic orders the bee was not only symbolic of the soul, death and rebirth but also of the Virgin Mary herself; the queen bee of heaven. Amongst the Native Navajo the pollen path is sacred, representing the very source of life and incorporates a ritual as a way of envisioning the centre of existence. They sing;

“O beauty before me, beauty behind me, beauty to my right, beauty to my left, beauty above me, beauty below me, I am on the Pollen Path.”

It is a journey to understanding the deepest aspects of the self, to the hive of the heart, to listen to the constant drone of the song of creation, and extract the honey-like essence of our mind and bodies. Pollen is the substance of the earth, the spirit, the cosmos; truly the finest blessing.

As a totem animal the bee possesses the powers of a higher consciousness, prophetic dreams, industriousness, diligence, productivity, creativity, immense sexual attraction and can act as a divine messenger. Like the Queen Bee in the Grimm fairy tale, this creature has the capacity to restore order, life and love; a balm blessing on the lips of the ‘forever young.’

One of my favourite stories is that of Saint Modomnoc; as a young lad of the O’Neil clan in Ireland he longed for a spiritual life, life his relative St. Columba. So one day he set off across the sea to serve and study as a monk in the monastery with St. David in Wales. Modomnoc was given charge of the bee hives, and diligently he cared for them like they were his own children; even planting the sort of flowers they liked best in the garden. The bees likewise became enamoured of the monk, constantly following him around, buzzing about his head singing fair melodies in an enchanting manner.

Soon it came to the end of his time there, and after his ordination he packed up and prepared to return to Ireland; bidding farewell to his bees. Every time he boarded the ship the bees would fly after him, not even twice but thrice times in a row. He tried all means to persuade the creatures to remain in the Welsh monastery, but all without success until eventually St. David himself told Modonmoc to take them with him. He eventually settled in Bremore near Dublin and built there a spiritual dwelling which soon became known as ‘The Church of the Beekeeper.’ David John Drew, Aurora Colorado USA

For a comparison here is the official review of the book:-

“Bee shaman Simon Buxton recounts the enthralling story of his apprenticeship with Bridge, a beekeeper and master of the Path of Pollen, whom Buxton describes as living ‘simultaneously in the past, present, and the future, a bridge across, through and outside the circles of time'. In The Shamanic Way of the Bee, we follow Buxton through an intense initiation that opened him to the mysteries of the hive mind, and through his experiences over the next thirteen years as he learned the practices, rituals and tools of bee shamanism. What he has to say about the healing and spiritual powers of honey and other bee products will make you see them in an entirely new way, and, as a result of reading this powerful book, you'll feel deeply connected with our friends, the bees, and their magical world.”

`Armed' chimps go wild for honey

The Beeholder, April 2009.

Cameras have revealed how "armed" chimpanzees raid beehives to gorge on sweet honey. Scientists in the Republic of Congo found that the wild primates crafted large clubs from branches to pound the nests until they broke open. The team said some chimps would also use a "toolkit" of different wooden implements in a bid to access the honey and satisfy their sweet tooth. The study is published in the International Journal of Primatology.

Crickette Sanz, from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said: "The nutritional returns don't seem to be that great. But their excitement when they've succeeded is incredible, you can see how much they are enjoying tasting the honey. ..... But these nests are tough to get into - they can be at the top of the forest canopy, at the end of a branch - and the chimps will go up there and hang at all sorts of precarious angles to get to the honey, using these clubs in any way that they can to access it."

Chimps' love of honey and their ingenuity at accessing it are well known amongst primatologists - previous studies have revealed how the great apes can fashion sticks to dip into or prise open nests. But until now, nobody realised how prevalent the beehive-bashing behaviour was amongst chimpanzees in the Goualougo Triangle in the Congo Basin.

Dr Sanz said: "It seems these chimps in central Africa have developed more sophisticated techniques for getting at the honey than populations in eastern and western Africa - maybe it is some kind of regional feature. Perhaps for obvious reasons, the chimps avoided bee species that sting, targeting the hives of stingless bees instead."

A picture of a chimpanzee in a tree

The video footage, which was filmed by the researchers over four years, revealed the chimps' sheer determination to get at the sweet stuff.

Dr Sanz explained: "Nobody knew they would pound over 1,000 times to get to the honey. Sometimes it could take several hours - they would start in the morning at around 10am, then take some rests, and then finish up at about 2 or 3 in the afternoon. It is quite physically challenging - in the videos you can see how large those pounding clubs are - some weigh over a kilogram."

The primatologists also found that the Congo chimps' tool use was more sophisticated than previously thought. David Morgan, a co-author on the study from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, said: "One of the most exciting aspects is that they are using multiple tools to access the honey that is in these hives. They have a tool kit ready when they go for honey. They will have large pounding clubs and they'll use those to hammer the hives. And if that doesn't do, if the holes are too small, then they'll access them using smaller, thinner dipping wands. And they are also using smaller sticks for leverage to get better access to the hive."

The researchers also said that once the chimps had spotted and then crafted a suitable club from a branch, by pulling off unwanted twigs and leaves with their teeth or hands, they would set it aside for later use. Dr Morgan said: "They cache them in the canopy."

Last week, the same team also reported how Goualougo Triangle chimps were crafting fishing rods with a brush-tipped end to fish for termites, and the scientists say there is still much to learn about tool use in these chimps. However the chimps' future was uncertain, as the primates and their habitat were under threat.

Dr Morgan said: "These beehives are found in tree species that are exploited for logging, so this could be a direct affect we have on their behaviour, their feeding and their conservation."

Adapted from an article by Rebecca Morelle , Science reporter, BBC News

Symmetry is in the Eye of the Beeholder

The Beeholder, April 2009.

When selecting a mate humans tend to go for a high degree of bilateral symmetry. Indeed it is almost the case that the greater the symmetry the greater is the perceived beauty. The same quest for symmetry is working in the parallel evolution of insects and plants. Bilateral symmetry has been considered as an indicator of phenotypic and genotypic quality supporting innate preferences for highly symmetric partners. Insect pollinators have been found to preferentially visit flowers of a particular symmetry type. This has lead to a suggestion that insects have innate preferences for symmetrical flowers or flower models. Researchers* show that flower-naïve bumblebees (Bombus terrestris), with no experience of symmetric or asymmetric patterns and whose visual experience was accurately controlled, have innate preferences for bilateral symmetry. The presence of colour cues did not influence the bees' original preference. The researcher’s results showed that bilateral symmetry is innately preferred in the context of food search, a fact that supports the selection of symmetry in flower displays. Furthermore, such innate preferences indicate that the nervous system of naïve animals may be primed to respond to relevant sensory cues in the environment.

(*=I Rodríguez, A Gumbert, N Hempel de Ibarra, J Kunze, M Giurfa Naturwissenschaften, Vol. 91, No. 8)

Tony Shaw

Launching Plan Bee

The Beeholder, April 2009.

As a locally based regional office I was pleased to be asked to write for you. It’s not often that we are approached and our voice is usually that of our head office in Manchester. But, we do exist here in Cymru/Wales and we are tuned in to the issues that face our local area and farming community.

In February on a snowy winters evening thirty co-operative members braved the cold to come along to Plas Dolerw in Newtown to find out more about the Co-operatives Plan Bee, our campaign and ten point plan to help save the bee. I know that bees produce honey from nectar, and that they pollinate fruit and vegetables but other than that I hadn’t thought much about them. Bees have always been around – something I would run from in my childhood and that my dog would chase about the garden. But on that cold night in February, along with several bee keepers from Montgomeryshire, I watched a short film about bees that showed me just how important bees were and how their continued demise could impact on society.

As a leader on the environment and the UK’s largest farmer, The Co-operative couldn’t ignore the recent decline in the UK’s bee population. The bee has been used in the Co-operative Society’s iconography since the middle of the 19th Century - bees are fundamentally co-operative in their nature. In fact the Rochdale Pioneers even included a beehive in the brickwork of their central premises in mid 1860’s.

So we launched Plan Bee - a ten point plan to help the bee.

  1. The Co-operative Food will temporarily prohibit the use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides on own-brand fresh produce.
  2. £150,000 will be made available to support research into the demise of the honeybee.
  3. Over three years The Co-operative Farms will trial a new wildflower seed mix that will be planted alongside crops on our farms across the UK.
  4. The Co-operative Farms will invite beekeepers to establish hives on all our farms in the UK.
  5. The Co-operative will engage our three-million members in a campaign to protect and nurture the bee population in the UK.
  6. Members were invited to screenings of a special preview from a forthcoming film that addresses the decline of the worldwide bee population. The Co-operative has also commissioned a new bespoke documentary on the decline of the bee population in the UK.
  7. The Co-operative will partner with RSPB’s 'Homes for Wildlife' team and empower members to garden in ways that are honeybee-friendly.
  8. An initial 20,000 packets of wildflower seed mix will be made available to members free of charge.
  9. Bee boxes are being sourced and made available to The Co-operative members at discounted prices.
  10. The Co-operative will support our members and colleagues to find out more about amateur beekeeping.

To find out more about the Co-operative and our ten point bee campaign visit our website at

Alison Clinton, The Co-operative, Glansevern Hall, Berriew, Welshpool

What do I need to start beekeeping?

The Beeholder, April 2009.

Part 2 - apprentice yourself to an old beekeeper

In the last BeeHolder “What do I need to start beekeeping” gave some rough prices for the equipment needed. If one was committed to start a hobby such as dressmaking, shooting or photography a start-up cost of around £200 would not seem excessive. But beekeeping is different. The decision to commit to the hobby really only comes once one has started. So keeping initial expenditure down is really important. This is an area where the local BKA can help.

There are so many ex-beekeepers around who are hanging onto old equipment. Perhaps they hang on out of sentiment, perhaps because they think they might come across a swarm and start again or perhaps because they are just forgetful and lazy. This equipment should be passed around. Old is not going to be the best. But as long as it is cleaned and sterilised it will be good enough to help a newcomer get a taste of the craft and be able to buy new equipment with confidence after a season or two. And how many old beekeepers have downsized and kept a hoard of equipment which could have been lent or given to a newcomer?

BKAs should come up with schemes to take over and redistribute equipment. New members should accept that they could offer old beekeeper something. Perhaps a share of any honey they produce, perhaps manual help at the time of honey extraction. In helping and giving they could become a sort of apprentice to the experienced. Remember, in the good old days of apprenticeships it wasn’t just the master who looked for apprentices it was the unskilled who sought out a master and asked to be an apprentice. Both the new and the old beekeeper need to seek each other out for the benefit of the bees. Perhaps we should revive the ancient custom of the Hiring Fair

So, having borrowed, leased, or liberated some equipment how do you get the bees? You can always buy a Nuc. Expensive but safe. Swarms are safe if you know the history of the apiary from which they came. Otherwise, well you could be importing trouble. But so many beekeepers started that way and the swarm could be a real gem. Seek the advice of an older beekeeper. You will need help the first time you catch a swarm because no amount of book reading will be able to prepare you for practicalities of that first catch. Theoretically each police station should keep a list of local beekeepers prepared to come out and catch a swarm. In practice the police seem unaware of this obligation. However there is no harm in telling them what they are supposed to be doing and insist that your name is on their notice board. Most BKAs have a Swarm Co-ordinator, ours is Roy Mander who will keep your name on his list. Another way would be to put a small ad in the BeeHolder or our new website.

Remember that a kindness received should be repaid by a kindness given. Most of us were taught by someone more experienced and that is why, even when we are getting grumpy in our old age, we can always spare time to help a younger beekeeper. Don’t be afraid to ask and don’t be mean with equipment you are no longer using. (Hey you old b*ggers out there you know exactly who I am referring to!)

And just a word about expense. On a good season you could make enough profit to cover your costs. Old is not always best and New is not always the most expensive.

Tony Shaw

Honey dew

The Beeholder, April 2009.

Flowering plants and pollinating bees evolved in parallel. The plant encourages visits by the bee by producing nectar which the bee uses as a source of energy and as a food store when converted to honey. However nectar is not the only source of sugars which bees turn into honey. Exudates from the Sugarcane sugar as well as the great industrial sugar mills provide enormous quantities of sugars which bees concentrate into a “honey”. (in Europe we would not be allowed to call this Honey but it is sold as such in the Caribbean.) The other major source of sugars for bees is honeydew. This is the exudate, that little glistening blob of liquid, which come from the backside of sap-sucking insects.

When the aphid or other sap-sucking insect bites into the stem or leaf a sugary, high-pressure liquid is forced into the insect. The “sap” is has a very low concentration of proteins relative to the sugar content. In order to get enough proteins to build their bodies the insect must ingest vast quantities of sap and exude the excess sugary liquid. Ants and bees gather this sugary liquid called honeydew.

Honeydew honey is very dark brown in colour, with a rich fragrance of stewed fruit or fig jam and is not as sweet as nectar honeys. Honeydew honey is popular in some areas, but in other areas beekeepers have difficulty selling the stronger flavoured product. In fact honeydew is a good indication not of the extent of flowers but of the extent of disease in the local flora. Sap-sucking insects are of course a major transmitter of plant diseases.

Honey dew is also the liquid that continues to exude from the wounds on leaves after the sap-sucking insect has moved on. You’ll have noticed the mess on cars parked beneath lime and Sycamore trees. This is honeydew dripping from open wounds. Perhaps you have also noticed in early summer masses of bees lying comatosed beneath a sycamore tree. What has happened is that natural yeasts have become embedded on the sticky leaves and have turned the sugars to alcohol. The bees are drunk.

The production of Honeydew honey has some complications and dangers. The honey has a much larger proportion of indigestibles than light floral honeys, which can cause dysentery to the bees, resulting in the death of colonies in areas with cold winters. Good beekeeping management requires the removal of honeydew prior to winter in colder areas. Bees collecting this resource also have to be fed protein supplements, as honeydew lacks the protein-rich pollen accompaniment gathered from flowers.

The MBKA Web Site

The Beeholder, April 2009.

I'm a new member of the MBKA, and yet to get my first colony of bees (which will hopefully come along this year). I was a member of the Somerset Bee Keepers Association before moving up here to Montgomeryshire, and have been impressed at the helpfulness and enthusiasm of bee keepers of both associations towards new members, so when somebody suggested a web site at the AGM I was happy to volunteer to help get it off the ground.

Most clubs and societies these days have a website as a useful tool for members and to advertise their presence to the rest of the world. For people already receiving club information by e-mail, it is a small step to bookmarking the club web site in your internet browser and the problems of bouncing e-mails are suddenly a thing of the past. For everybody else, we can continue with paper and stamps!

We intend that the web site will provide information on the MBKA and bees generally to the public, maintain current and archive copies of the BeeHolder, have links to other bee web sites and serve as the first stop for news and information for our members. We would also like to hear from any members with ideas for things to put on the web site, or any web sites you've seen which have features you'd like to see included.

Finally, I plan to put out a questionnaire to all members to find out who has broadband, who uses dial up etc in order to design a web site which can be used most effectively by as many members as possible.

Please contact me with any comments or suggestions. If I know what problems you are having with email and the internet then it will be easier for me to design a website suitable for the slow connection rates of Montgomeryshire.

Chris Leech

CCD "does not exist" say scientists

The Beeholder, April 2009.

The battle against the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder which has swept the US over the past two years took a bizarre turn this month as some experts say they no longer believe it exists. Baffled by their attempts to pin down a cause for the widespread colony losses, some scientists are now blaming a cocktail of existing threats, which they say have come together in a ‘perfect storm’ to decimate honey bee numbers.

Chief among the more usual suspects is the Varroa destructor parasitic mite and the Nosema variant N. ceranae, first mooted as a cause by Spanish scientists, and Israeli Acute Bee Paralysis Virus. These are backed up by fears over pesticide use and the ongoing debate over lack of diversity in the bees’ diet, brought about mainly through modern monoculture farming practices, particularly in the US.

Dr Dennis Anderson, principal research scientist in entomology with the Australian research organisation CSIRO, said: “Researchers around the world are running round trying to find the cause of the disorder – and there’s absolutely no proof that there’s a disorder there.”

Read more in Bee Mail available on line at

In the BEEginning:

The Beeholder, April 2009.

the evolution of Hymenoptera (bees wasps and ants)

Diagramatic representation of a bee.Flowering plants and bees evolved together. In the last issue of BeeHolder we examined the early evolution of bees. Here we look at the pressures which caused the flowering plants to evolve.

Raison d'eater.

The flowering plants, or angiosperms, arose from another, older, division of seed-producing plants, the cone-bearers, or gymnosperms. In both cases the male and female sex cells are separated into distinct organs. For fertilization to occur, pollen, which carries the male germ plasm, must first be conducted to the female organs of the plant- - this, of course, is pollination. The gymnosperms produce air-borne pollen, as, most likely, did the first flowering plants. The success of air-borne pollen in pollination is dependent on the whims of wind and on the amount of pollen that a plant produces. So plants that tended to produce large quantities of pollen had a greater chance for competitive success. All this pollen represented a source of high energy lipids and proteins-- food-- to the insect world. Competition for food sources represents a major selective pressure and serves to mould the life history of an organism. Insects that were better able to exploit this resource, because of behaviour or physiology (form and function) appropriate to the task, had a better chance for survival and thus more of their offspring survived.

These insects, in their rummaging about for food, became the agents of pollination, as the pollen adhering to their bodies was transferred to the female organs of the plant. Thus, not only were the plants benefitted by increased pollination but the insects were helping to pave the way for an ensured supply of their food source. Eventually, both plants and insects became more and more specialized as a result of this relation. Many of the insects evolved behaviour and physiology completely dependent upon the cycles of flowering plants. Similarly, certain plants developed flower structures in which pollination was possible only with the intervention of an insect intermediary.Even the structure of pollen, itself, changed. Air-borne pollen, like that of the gymnosperms and some angiosperms, is generally smooth, small and light. Pollen that is transferred by insects or other animals usually has spines, ridges or an adhesive surface which aids in attaching to the animal vector.(5) Expanding this adaptive arsenal even further, some plants even developed certain organs, nectaries, that secreted a sugary liquid, nectar, at the base of the flower. This proved to be an adaptive advantage for the plant since the nectar, as a food source, was a further attraction to many insect species whose, now, increased rummaging promoted the success of pollination and seed-set even further. The lifestyles of flowering plants and of pollinating insects became forever intertwined.

To be continued next issue...

Your Country Needs YOU!

The Beeholder, April 2009.

-call goes out to invisible army of hobby beekeepers

The survival of honeybees is under threat because of an unknown army of 20,000 hobby beekeepers who lack the knowledge they need to spot and combat disease.. In a hard-hitting report on 4th March the National Audit Office (NAO) suggests that unless these amateurs are identified and taught the skills they need to protect their hives the country’s food production capacity will be reduced. The urgency is reinforced by the growing popularity of the pastime with about 3,200 people a year investing in safety suits and veiled helmets.

The plight of the honeybee was part of an investigation into whether the handling of animal disease control budgets by the Department of the Environment, food and Rural Affairs represented value for money. About 30% of colonies were lost during the 2007-08 winter and the endemic varroa parasite now affects 95% of hives. There are an estimated 274,000 colonies compared to 400,000 in 1960. The audit Office is concerned, however, that the control of varroa is being hampered by the lack of colony inspections by the National Bee Unit, part of Defra. It is also unhappy that control efforts to date have failed to prevent varroa, which was not seen in Britain before 1992, from becoming endemic in 2006. Unless Government inspectors find out who keeps bees and where they will be unable to prevent the further destruction of bees.

The NAO suggests a new campaign by inspectors to persuade all beekeepers to join a national register. So far only 17,000 have done so. If that fails, it suggests that ministers should examine the viability of a compulsory scheme, similar to those in Belgium, France and New Zealand. It is also anxious that the Government should organise training for beekeepers to help them to spot signs of disease and to notify inspectors who can then prevent further losses of colonies.

At present inspectors identify about 80% of hives with disease. Only a fifth of keepers report possible disease problems in their own hives. (Hey this is serious folks. Ed)

Another problem highlighted by the report is that the varroa mite, which feeds on bees and spreads viruses, is resistant to treatments hat tackle infestation. Some keepers are therefore buying supplies of oxalic acid via the internet. Its use is widespread within the European Union but it is not licensed in Britain. Enforcement authorities have turned a blind eye to this unlawful activity because they recognise that the substance needs to be approved for use.

Edward Leigh, the Conservative MP and chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, is particularly concerned that disease controls are being undermined by the enormous numbers of beekeepers unknown to the Government.

“Action to stem the very high losses of honeybees in recent years crucially depends on a regime of comprehensive inspections and treatment of colonies. At the moment it isn’t being done” he said

In January Hilary Benn, the Rural Affairs Secretary, announced an extra £4.3million to be spent over the next five years on bee protection and disease research.

Martin Smith, the chairman of the British Beekeepers Association, who keeps 8 colonies in Skelmersdale Lancashire, said he was concerned that the extra money would be spent on leaflets and campaigns to persuade beekeepers to join the national registration instead of vital research into the underlying Causes of the decline in colonies.

Adapted from an article in The Times 4th March 2009


Homework for New Beekeepers

The Beeholder, April 2009.

Look up and learn about the Snelgrove Board... Then ask about it at the next Photo of a Snelgrove board.

Training Session or Apiary meeting. It is like a stage design by Lord Brian Rix for a Whitehall Theatre farce! (see

Diagram of a Snelgrove board.

Probably the best web-site is from where this picture of a Snelgrove Board came


January 2009

The Beeholder, January 2009.

Bombus-lapidarius taken by Howard Gilbert

bombus-lapidarius taken by Howard Gilbert

You can navigate through this copy of the Beeholder using the links at the bottom of this page and the arrows at the bottom of each subsequent page, or the links in the right hand sidebar of the page.

If you prefer, you can access the magazine as a PDF (Portable Document Format) by selecting the attachment below. This requires Acrobat Reader, which is provided as a free download by Adobe.

Unfortunately the January Beeholder is not yet available as a PDF. We apologise for this and hope to make it available soon.


The Beeholder, January 2009.

A New Year, and with luck all our bees will have survived the winter.
Theoretically the weather over the Xmas/New Year period has been excellent for our bees. Cold, low wind and low rainfall. The bees will be balled up tight and not tempted out in search of non-existent nectar. The ideal situation is a hard dry winter and an early spring where the temperature rises consistently. We don’t want our bees flying when there is nothing to collect. Some beekeepers delight in a warm day in February when the bees dash out seemingly revelling in the sun. OK it is nice to see them after the long winter absence but on such a day the washing also goes out and is ruined by the mass defecation of the bees. Is there any scientific evidence that a mid-winter defecation is good? The bees return having collected nothing and expended valuable winter stores and irritated those in the family whose goodwill is needed for the rest of the year.

Controversies about the best strategy for overwintering bees seem to increase every year. Do we feed over winter and when? Do we treat small hives or Nucs any different from large hives? A few years ago we worried whether to treat for varroa, then it was a worry about which treatment to use. Then whether to treat for Nosema and now it is whether to drip Oxalic acid over bees as a varroa reducer.

Increasing I’m finding sympathy with the “when in doubt do nought” brigade. But I am reminded of The Bee Inspectorate’s stricture “Doing nothing is NOT an option”.
We are advised either to buy just one beekeeping book and stick with it or else buy 6 and choose from them a regime that fits into your life style. Somehow we should distinguish between controversy and confusion. And, in response to members’ requests the MBKA committee is working to have a training programme this year. This will obviously be geared to new beekeepers but will also allow some of us oldies to fill in the blanks of our knowledge. It will be a forum to discuss all the various theories in the text books.

Our attendance at the Welsh Food Fair last year was a matter of chance, we were offered a spare space and thought “why not?” . The success of our attendance at that fair has altered our whole outlook. This year we are being more pro-active (did that word even exist 4 years ago?) . As well as having a training programme , we are attending the Welsh Food Fair again and the Honey/Bee section at the Shrewbury Flower Show and we will also be at some of the village fetes around the county.

We have also been invited to talk to Schools by Powys County Council. MBKA has two observation hives as well as some publicity stands: we should make more use of them. We’ll need a team of volunteers for all this. Come on, Hands Up, don’t be shy.

And finally, remember that as an encouragement to turn up to the AGM on February 19th we have a free raffle of a new bee hive for all those members present. But the AGM meetings have always been fun without the bribe!

Happy New Year , Tony Shaw January 2009

New Members

The Beeholder, January 2009.

We welcome as new members :

Rev & Mrs John & Bridget Newbury, Llangurig; Mr Julian Kirkham, Berriew;
Mr Chris Leech, Old Hall; Ms Frances Blockley, Tylwch; Mr Lembit Opik, Newtown;
and David & Emma Ashley, Old Hall.

Not all have bees yet and maybe some don’t even want bees just yet BUT do keep these members in mind if you have a spare swarm. Neighbourly advice is always welcome and is more likely to be appropriate than that of a beekeeper 20 miles away in a different climate.
The Data Protection Act prevents me from publishing emails and addresses for members but I can recommend the local telephone directory.

Good luck in their Beekeeping or bee watching career

The plate

he Beeholder, January 2009.

Picture of the plate left at Roy Mander's house.

The photo, left, is of a plate left at Roy Mander’s house during the apiary meeting there on July 27th . Will the owner please contact Roy to arrange collection.
Roy is our Swarm Co-ordinator contact him at
tel 01938 555834




Report on Meetings

The Beeholder, January 2009.

For the last two meetings we been having tea, biscuits and wine on the tables half hour before the meeting. It’s an experiment that seems popular It has certainly encouraged informal bee discussions before the main speaker. October’s meeting was an opportunity to examine bygone beekeeping equipment. The discussion was lead by our old friend from Shropshire, Brian Goodwin, who brought his considerable collection of classic beekeeping equipment for us to examine. We were lucky to have our own president Jim Crundwell in frisky form at the other end of the room giving another slant on some of the exhibits. It was a wonderfully humbling experience to be in the middle of these two titans of the beekeeping world. The new format allowed an easy exchange of individual experiences
of 2008 beekeeping.

The anecdotes about 2008 continued at the November meeting before our speaker Nigel Jones started his talk about Solitary Bees. Nigel is a self taught amateur entomologist who has been collecting and studying hoverflies, various other families of flies, bees, wasps and various other insects for twenty years now. He emphasised that he was “Still learning!”
As well as describing a number of solitary bees that we could expect to see in our gardens Nigel showed us a number of beautiful specimens. His favourite was obviously the strangely named Hairy Footed Flower Bee. Next time we have a meeting like this we should arrange to have a collection of hand-lenses on each table. The 3 or 4 we had during the meeting were just not enough. Nigel also explained how to make homes (which he called traps) for these bees (see this item below) and where to place them. Our expectation is that people will make homes for solitary bees and put them in their gardens during the next few weeks.

Nigel is coming back to talk to us on 17th May at the Apiary meeting at Roy Norris’s place. During that meeting we’ll be examining Roy’s hives as well as the solitary bee homes Roy will have placed round his land. Anybody who makes a spare set of solitary bee nests can place them at Roy’s place during February/March and we could see which the bees prefer. Maybee a prize for the maker of the most popular bee home. To find out more about Solitary bees visit Nigel’s website

We should expect to rendezvous Hairy Footed Flower Bees in gardens in April and early May. In 2007 the Solitary Bee Unit asked Shropshire Wildlife Trust members to look for the Hairy Footed Flower bee in their gardens and they got quite a lot of sightings, once people knew what to look for they could find them. Nigel and his team would be delighted to get some records for this bee from Monty Beekeepers, as it has not been recorded in the county by the National Recording Scheme, but they are certain to be present in the county.

Maybe it’s appropriate to remind members that Honey Bees work harder the greater is the population of other pollinators in an area!!

Bees win Earth Watch debate

The Beeholder, January 2009.

Several Bee Keeping Associations, as well as our own, have noticed an increasing number of members who do not actually keep honey bees. Interest in the honey bee has become a way of expressing interest in the environment in general and an acceptance that the health of the honey bee population is an indication of the health of the environment. Confirmation of this can be gleaned from the annual EarthWatch debate held on November 20th 2008.

The debate discussed “Irreplaceable – The World’s Most Invaluable Species”, Bats, bees Fungi, plankton and primates each had their illustrious academic champions. Members of the audience had to make up their minds whether to vote with their heads or their hearts .. An initial vote put Professor David Thomas in the lead with plankton, followed by Dr. George McGavin representing bees; then the pair were each given another five minutes to win over support for their species - and everything changed.

Bees were declared the most invaluable species on the planet Dr. McGavin, won the day with his persuasive argument, explaining how one quarter of a million species of flowering plants depend on bees. He added that many species are crucial to world agriculture, and without them, we would lose not only flowering plants, but many fruit and vegetables. Personally I would have gone a lot further and pointed out that without bees there would be no soya or clover and without these two crops the whole of the dairy and meat industry would collapse. A world without Tofu and Hamburgers would soon galvanise the Vegans and Carnivores into uniting to save the bees.

Click onto where there’s an opportunity to listen to the speakers argue their case: and listen to the finalists battle it out between plankton and bees.

Honeybee sex mystery solved at last.

The Beeholder, January 2009.

Subtitle = Why we fail in Wales

The low population density of Montgomeryshire means that many of us find it easy to maintain genetically isolated stocks. Having the nearest neighbouring beekeeper more than 3 miles away theoretically means that we can select for certain behaviour traits. But research shows that unless we have genetically diverse drones then we may have weak or collapsing colonies. There is anecdotal evidence that in isolated apiaries 5 or fewer hives are not viable in the long term and that the introduction of a swarm from elsewhere seems to give a fillip to the whole apiary. Understanding the genetics of sex determination in the honey bee allows us to understand what may have been happening.

In honeybees males don’t have fathers, queens are promiscuous and bee breeders struggle to develop pure-bred animals – and now we finally understand why.

It was 1845 when a Polish parish priest named Johann Dzierzon discovered that male bees have no fathers . Unfertilized bee eggs, which we now know contain only one set of chromasones (haploidy), develop into males. Fertilised eggs , with two sets of chromasones (diploidy)), become females. Ants and wasps have the same sex determination system, but how it works has been a mystery.

Occasionally, however, it goes wrong, and a fertilised egg develops into a diploid male, whose offspring are sterile. It is these oddments that allow scientists to find the gene responsible. It’s called the Complementary Sex Determinator (csd), the gene works in a completely different way to anything geneticists have discovered before.

There are 19 different variations of the gene. Females have 2 copies whereas males have one. Although the precise mechanism is not yet understood, as long as two different versions of csd are inherited, a female developes from an egg. An unfertilised egg, with just one copy of csd, becomes male (Cell, vol 114, p 419). The system goes wrong when a fertilised egg inherits two copies of the same version of the csd gene. Instead of a female developing the result is a diploid male. Such animals are usually destroyed by the workers at the larval stage.

As beekeepers we try to breed for desirable traits such as, good behaviour, high productivity and disease-resistance but inevitably we are causing inbreeding and the chance that the number of csd variations being reduced. Thus fertilized eggs with two copies of the same csd variation are far more likely to occur. These eggs develop into sterile diploid males. And that means that inbred honeybee colonies quickly die out.

Females probably mate with many males to ensure that they encounter partners with different csd genes and thus avoid producing useless diploid males. Attempts by beekeepers to create pure bred lines have probably failed because there is not enough csd diversity in the strains we create. In the future, it maybe possible for breeders to screen stocks to ensure there is enough csd diversity to keep bees fertile. For further reading try Frontiers in Zoology 2006, 3:1 Single locus complementary sex determination in Hymenoptera: an "unintelligent" design?

Tony Shaw

Hey Bumblebees are Different

The Beeholder, January 2009.

Only solitary bees will use the kind of bee home described in the next two pages. The needs of bumblebees are very different - their nests consist of communal wax combs, which they construct mostly in holes underground or in long tussocky grass. Bumblebee boxes are available from many wildlife gardening outlets, and some are hugely expensive - yet bumblebees rarely take to them.

Beware wasting your money! Better to encourage the kind of flowery habitat, that bumblebees like, not over-manicured, and let them find their own nest sites. The website of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, has good advice about bumblebee nests, and how you can make inexpensive nest sites yourself. My own way, which, I can thoroughly recommend, is to collect the waste bedding from mice or rat cages. Rags of cotton or wool are best, (the rats prefer these materials too rather than saw-dust) but if you can only find old ratsmelling sawdust (pet shops tend to be aesthetic rather than practical) then mix in some of the wool fibre festooning sheep fences.

Vaccination by bees

This is probably why rheumatism died out in the 1920's.

How to Make Homes for Solitary Bees

The Beeholder, January 2009.

As well as bumble bees and honeybees (that live collectively) there are some 200 species of wild bees in the UK that are called 'solitary bees' because they make individual nest cells for their larvae. Some species nest in small tunnels or holes in the ground or in sandy banks, piles of sand, or crumbling mortar. Others use the hollow stems of dead plants such as brambles, or tunnels previously bored into dead wood by beetles.

Nests for solitary beesSolitary bees are harmless and do not sting, they do not live in hives or build combs, and they do not swarm. If you find them (for example in old house walls) please leave them alone. Colonies are very faithful to their nest sites and may have been living there for many decades. They are part of the 'fine grain' of your local biodiversity - something to be cherished. A number of species are commonly seen in gardens, and they are very useful as they pollinate fruit crops. It is easy for gardeners to encourage them. By drilling holes in dry logs or blocks of wood it is possible to create artificial nesting sites for them.

Constructing the Homes

All you need is a series of holes in a piece of wood; a fence post will do. But make sure the wood is not treated with a preservative. A more elaborate scheme would be wooden box, open on one side, which is then fixed to a sunny fence or wall. You then fill it with blocks of wood or small logs in which you have drilled small holes. A variety of solitary bees will use these tunnels as nest sites. The box does not need to be deeper than 8ins, but must have an overhang at the top to keep rain off. You may already have a wooden box or a drawer from an old wooden chest of drawers that you can adapt for this purpose. If not, you can make one. But you don’t actually need a separate house a single drilled block can be placed anywhere where there is some shelter. Indeed if making more than one block of holes then you could experiment be placing them in different locations around you gardens. February is the best time for putting solitary bee homes in the garden.

A bee going into a nestInside the shell of the bee house you stack dry logs or sections of untreated timber, up to about 7ins in length, into which you have drilled a selection of holes of varying diameters between 2mm and 10mm, but no bigger. [Note that the diameter of the holes in some commercially sold wooden solitary bee houses is too large, and the bees cannot use them!] Make sure that holes are drilled slightly upwards into the wood. This prevents rain water from collecting in the borings. Don't make the borings too steep though The open ends of these holes should face outwards, and must be smooth and free of splinters. If necessary use a countersinking drill bit to clean and smooth the entrance to each hole, as the bees will not enter holes with rough splintered wood around them.

Carefully clean away any sawdust, as this will also put them off. If you are able to obtain extra- long drill bits and can drill deep holes into the wood you can make your bee house deeper, and stack longer sections of drilled logs and timber in it.

The bee house must be positioned in full sun, facing south east or south, at least a metre off the ground, and there must be no vegetation in front of it obscuring the entrances to the tunnels. The bees are cold- blooded and rely on the sun's heat to warm them up in the morning, hence the need for a sunny site. They do not have furry coats to keep themselves warm like bumblebees do.

Bees Take up Residence

Different species of Mason Bees (Osmia) will occupy different diameters of tunnels. They will construct a series of 'cells' in each tunnel. In each cell they leave a block of pollen that they have collected from nearby flowers, lay an egg, and wall it up with mud they have collected from the ground nearby (see image below). In dry weather make a small mud patch for them. Later in the summer, Leafcutter Bees (Megachile) may also use the tunnels, lining their cells with circles of leaf that they cut from wild rose bushes. Include some holes of very small diameter (e.g. 2mm) and you will get various other small solitary bees using them. I suggest drilling some blocks just with very small diameter holes, or having a whole separate bee house of them.

Bee activity will cease by mid-September at the latest. You can then remove the occupied logs and tubes and keep them in a cold dry place during the winter, to protect them from winter wet, replacing them in the bee house in March. This is very important – winter wet, not cold, is their enemy. Do not store in a warm place – they need to be cold and dry during the winter. If your bee house has a good overhanging roof and is waterproof you can leave the tubes there. From April onwards, young bees that have over wintered in a dormant state inside the tunnels will emerge, and start the cycle over again.

Various solitary bee nestsA whole insect community

Various other sorts of parasitic solitary wasps and parasitic bees will find your bee house once it is occupied, preying on, or taking over, the nest cells of mason bees. Don't worry about them, they are all part of the fascinating community of insects.

Beware Birds!

If you notice Woodpeckers or other birds attacking the tunnels looking for bee larvae, fix a piece of chicken wire across the front of the bee house. This does not seem to deter the bees.

Bundles of dead stems

Bundles of bamboo canes, sawn into lengths about 8ins long just below a joint may also be occupied by solitary bees, as will bundles of rigid dried stems of various herbaceous garden plants, especially raspberries, brambles, teasels, and elder. Some species of bees prefer these stems and will not use drilled holes. The stems must be kept dry. Rolls of dried reeds (sold as portable screens in garden centres) can also be cut up and placed in your bee house will be used by very small species of solitary bees. If you make a larger bee house you will have scope to include all of these nesting opportunities.

A large scale solitary bee houseAdapted from an article by Marc Carlton

Extracts from Ceredigion Notes

The Beeholder, January 2009.

We all get the quarterly Gwenynwyr Cymru, Welsh Beekeeper, as part of our MBKA subscription. Those of us who do not speak Welsh were missing out on the Welsh articles. But Welsh learner Margaret Franklin has submitted a translation from the Winter 2008 edition. Read her translation opposite and get inspired about what a learner can do. Margaret and husband Eric were the organisers of the MBKA raffles and were particularly good at getting good prizes and prizing money from our pockets.     (Ed)

Extracts from Ceredigion Notes by W. I. Griffiths

Translated from the Welsh by Margaret Franklin

This article was written after Mr Griffiths had seen the film ‘The City of the Bees’ and he compares the attitude of financiers who fill their own pockets to that of the bees who work solely for the survival of their colony.

The season this year has made me realise that I don’t know a lot about what’s going on in the hive even after half a century of experience. They or I have made the strangest mess this year. It started about the middle of summer after returning from holiday and learning from Meiron (the little helper) that there were several stocks preparing to swarm. My usual routine is to move the queens from those hives and if they are young to keep them in a nutshell queen cage. If they are old then destroy them between finger and thumb; no sentimentality in the world of beekeeping. While going through every stock I search in detail for queen cells and leave two that are open. I emphasize the open each time – ensure as well that there is a good larva maggot with enough queen food in each one. Make the survey, of course, without turning the frame upside down, so as not to drown the larva in it’s food. This is only part of the preparations. It is necessary to come back in six days to see that there are no other cells started or even closed. By now the queens in the two cells will be near to hatching and if everything is looking good then cut the weaker of the two cells out. The reason to make a second inspection of the queen cells after six days, is that there will be eggs and young larvae left in the hive after choosing the two original cells. The bees will often have prepared other queen cells by using these larvae and eggs. It is important to remember the ability of the hive to produce sealed queen cells within four days through using larvae three days old – so a stock can swarm within four days after losing a queen. This can happen often when cutting out cells is used as a way of restraining swarming. Perhaps the queens from these cells will not turn out very well – but who knows? Having done all of this very carefully I expected to see the queens laying after a fortnight – but nothing at all. Three times eggs and young larvae were put in a number of hives but with no result. Every time the stocks were opened they were complaining noisily – proving that things weren’t good. By mid-August they had weakened quite a bit. There was a little spring honey in some of them and I decided to take this before the other bees started to rob. It was impossible to clear the bees with Porter escapes and after brushing and brushing they were still sticking to the frames. I must confess they were in a bad temper – I have noticed that bees are always in a bad temper if things aren’t good in the hive.

Towards the end of August, one fine afternoon, one of the few we had, I noticed that a number of the queenless hives were busy carrying pollen from water balsam. After opening them I realised that each one had brood. The queens, raised secretly, must have taken over a month to mate and start laying. One even had a sealed queen cell and I couldn’t see anything wrong with the eggs or brood. I don’t know how good the mating and fertilizing of each one was – only time will tell.To crown everything a lot of them have got a problem with food for the winter. Hive after hive, specially the weakest are not prepared to take syrup. This is containing Fumidil B this year to lessen the problem with Nosema Ceranae. I must confess that this is a lot easier to mix than the one we had in the sixties and early seventies. A lot of us used it at that time as Nosema was a problem. We’ve had a fairly quiet period since then until this Ceranae has come recently. I don’t think that the Fumidil flavours the syrup but somehow or another the food is taken very slowly by a number of the hives – to make things worse, the chemical within a fortnight of being mixed, looses a lot of its strength. Candy fondant will have to be fed to those that are weak. ‘Book wisdom’ says that we shouldn’t feed candy but I don’t see any problem as nearly every nuke with five frames has worked well on it for years. To me the purpose of candy is to save winter food by feeding them from now until Christmas, rather than to use it to rescue colonies at the start of the year. If it is used now the weather is not too cold to collect water to soften it and this will save the little food that is in the hive for the colder weather in January and February. On the whole the bees don’t store candy as they do with syrup but rather use it from day to day. Because of this it’s important that the candy be placed as close as possible to the food (or the bit of food) that’s in the hive not on top of the crown board. The reason for this is obvious enough. While the weather is fairly warm the bees tend to collect around the candy but if the weather turns cold they will cluster in the place where the candy is but fail to use it because it is too cold to fetch water. If the weather continues cold for long they will often be too far from their natural food and thus fall between two stools.

In my opinion we need to rethink the time we feed before the winter. Most of us expected to start feeding in September and to finish in the course of one month. That was in a time when the temperature was a lot lower than nowadays. There were periods of frost before New Years Day with the ground completely solid until half way through March – and this without mentioning thick snow. By now the winters are open enough to feed throughout the period – perhaps as well as often the bees can’t live on stores that have soured because the syrup fed was too weak and so couldn’t be capped to keep it edible.

By now it is time to prepare the Society’s programme for the winter. Something that is getting harder and harder every year from what is heard from some secretaries of our societies. It is so important for everybody to be a Society member not only to learn from others but also to share their experiences with those who are learning. By now we need all sorts of drugs to keep bees healthy and we could save a few pennies by buying in bulk and then sharing out.

From Gwenynwyr Cymru, Gaeaf 2008

Bees keep Pests off Plants

The Beeholder, January 2009.

Bees can be good for plants in more ways than one. Researchers in Germany discovered that the flapping of bees' wings scared off caterpillars, reducing leaf damage. Many wasp species lay their eggs in caterpillars, and so caterpillars have evolved mechanisms to avoid them. The sounds of bees' and wasps' wings are similar.

Writing in the journal Current Biology, the scientists suggest this is an added bonus of having bees around, as well as the pollination they provide.

"Our findings indicate for the first time that visiting honeybees provide plants with a totally unexpected advantage," they write. "They not only transport pollen from flower to flower, but in addition also reduce plant destruction by herbivores."

The experiment used bell pepper and soybean plants, beet-armyworm caterpillars, and honeybees. Researchers set up experimental plots of the plants, added the caterpillars, and allowed the bees to enter some of the plots but not others. When the caterpillars had turned into pupae and buried away in the soil, the scientists went back into the cages and measured the extent of leaf damage - the amount of munching that the caterpillars had indulged in.

In plants that had not fruited, the presence of bees reduced caterpillar damage by about 60%. The researchers believe the caterpillars were sensing the bees' presence through the tiny hairs on their bodies, which enable them to detect vibrations in the air.

"These sensory hairs are not fine-tuned," said lead researcher Jurgen Tautz from the Biozentrum at Wurzburg University. "Therefore, caterpillars cannot distinguish between hunting wasps and harmless bees."

When plants had borne fruit, the caterpillars were able to hide in the fruit and the bees had much less effect.

from an article by Richard Black BBC’s Environment correspondent 22nd Dec 2008

In the BEEginning:

The Beeholder, January 2009.

Diagramatic representation of a bee.

the evolution of Hymenoptera (bees wasps and ants)

This is a long but interesting subject and will be
printed in stages in successive issues of the Beeholder.

Recently, fossils of what are thought to be the nests of solitary bees were found in 200-million-year-old petrified wood in Arizona. These are "trace" fossils meaning that only circumstantial evidence, like footprints, rather than fossilized parts of the organism itself were discovered-- so there is some doubt as to whether the galleries bored in the wood were made by bees or by some other insect. Much less questionable is the fossilized bee which was discovered in the late 1980's preserved in a lump of 80-million-year-old amber from what is now New Jersey. That means that the poor creature became mired in the (then) sticky tree sap at a time when the dinosaurs were galumphing about the future sites of Hackensack and Passaic. The dinosaurs played their parts and then faded from centre stage to become modern birds .Today, few people would have trouble distinguishing an archaeopteryx from a flamingo but even to the trained eye the 80-million-year-old bee is remarkably similar to existing species of bees.

Bees were already a well established part of the ecosystem during the hey-day of the dinosaur and had, by this time, developed the biological structures and behaviours necessary to successfully maintain the ecological niche which they still occupy. Although the aforementioned specimen represents the oldest known fossil bee, its highly specialized form indicates that, by the end of the Cretaceous period of the Mesozoic era, bees were already seasoned travellers on the road of evolution (and had already developed sociality) and it is estimated that the first protobee appeared about 125 million years ago-- a time when flowering plants were assuming a more prevalent role in the global ecosystem.

To be continued next issue...

What do I need to start beekeeping?

The Beeholder, January 2009.

Print out these pages and give them to a friend
Obviously you need a hive with bees, but you need to make a decision on what type of hive and what type of bee. You also need some spare hive parts - indeed a whole spare hive is useful so that you can deal with swarms easily, a cheap second hand one would be fine.

The Complete (single walled) Hive:
  • Roof
  • Crown board
  • Up to three or more (honey) super* boxes
  • Queen excluder
  • Brood box
  • Floor
The Beekeepers Equipment:
  • Bee suit and veil
  • Suitable boots
  • Bee gloves
  • Smoker
  • Hive tool
  • Queen marking cage and pen
  • A feeder to feed your bee’s sugar syrup
  • A Porter bee escape (a one way valve for bees)
  • ONE good book for reference (Better to have just one at first ...avoids confusion!)

How much time does it take up?

Beekeeping is a seasonal hobby therefore the time varies with the seasons. In the middle of winter there is practically nothing to do, except to occasionally check for physical damage or snow blocking the entrances. The busiest time is the early summer when each hive should be checked weekly to stop swarming and add supers. This need take no longer than a few minutes when you get the hang of it.

How much is it going to cost me to get started?

You can spend a small fortune if you buy everything new and buy everything possible and make the beekeeping suppliers very happy. In practice in the UK a second hand hive with bees cost around £50-70 and your local association might do you a good deal as a new member. A new bee suit and veil will be between £40-£100 the other bits and pieces if you buy new such as smoker, gloves etc should come to less than £100. The most expensive piece of equipment

Cartoon : A new bee keeper gets stung.

you will want within a year or two will be an honey extractor and these start at around £150 up, most associations will allow you use of a shared extractor.

Do I need to belong to a local association?

This is to be highly recommended as your association will keep you in touch with local expertise, and local problems and conditions. They will often run training programs and undoubtedly have topical meetings, newsletters etc. In the UK most associations are affiliated with the BBKA which means you have joined two associations really. Your BBKA membership gives you third party and product (honey) insurance.

When & how should I start?

think of beekeeping as circle, it is locked to the seasons and you could start at any point in that circle but it is best to start by planning and reading and talking to beekeepers. So the best time to start that process is late summer or autumn by first joining your local association. You may not even need to join initially, most will allow you to attend as guest or visitor. Then go to their winter meetings usually monthly where you will meet real beekeepers and listen to talks and subjects related to the craft On the other hand you could use tea breaks during meetings of the Montgomeryshire BeeKeepers Association to ask around who has spare equipment and plead poverty or merely state that you could give the equipment a good home. That is how I got most of my equipment. I think beekeepers have a duty to pass on old equipment when they downsize.
Hey are you listening out there? Yes guys know who I am referring to.

Fungus Foot Baths Could Save Bees

The Beeholder, January 2009.

One of the biggest world wide threats to honey bees, the varroa mite, could soon be about to meet its nemesis. Researchers at the University of Warwick are examining naturally occurring fungi that kill the varroa mite.

It is well known that bees world wide are suffering serious declines and one of the causes of that decline is the varroa mite, Varroa destructor. No natural insect or other enemies of varroa species have been identified on the varroa or on their bee hosts. Now Defra-funded studies by Warwick HRI, and Rothamsted Research have found some new natural enemies of varroa from other hosts.
University of Warwick researcher Dr Dave Chandler said: ”We examined 50 different types of fungi that afflict other insects (known as entomopathogenic fungi) to see if they would kill varroa. We needed to find fungi that were effective killers of varroa, had a low impact on the bees and worked in the warm and dry conditions typically found in bee hives. Of the original 50 fungi we are now focusing on four that best match those three requirements.” The fungi typically kill the Varroa mites within 100 hours . ( see picture next page below)

Although the fungi occur naturally the mites rarely encountered them inside hives because honeybees kept their homes so clean. So the challenge is to find a method of introducing a constant supply of the appropriate fungi into the hive . A number of approaches are being considered including having fungal footbaths at the main entrances to hives. However the complex environment within bee hives means that more devious means of application may be needed.

Dr Chandler said the aim was not to eliminate the Varroa mite, but to ensure that populations were kept to very low levels. The fact that the fungal controls kills Varroa by different methods could mean that the mites never develop the kind of resistance that is making pesticides less effective.

Listen to Dr Dave Chandler discussing his work here:

Dr Chandler himself hosted the Society for Invertebrate Pathology’s international conference at the University of Warwick, in August 2008. In the corridors around the Special Session on Honeybee Health the rivalries between research teams from NZ , the USA and Great Britain surfaced. Finding a cure to the world wide Varroa problem is the Holy Grail of the bee health: whoever can get out the first patent for a successful cure will make some very serious money.

New Zealand scientists consider themselves in the forefront having discovered a Metarhizium fungus that kills Varroa but doesn’t affect bees or the honey. Initially it was effective in the lab only, but now HortResearch have developed a delivery system that has shown a 95% kill rate against Varroa in the field. HortResearch is now working with Becker Underwood, an international company based in Australia, to commercialise the product for the beekeeping industry to use.

All research teams are looking at the footbath method of delivering the fungus into the hive. It is this link between Varroa and fungus that can be most easily be patented. However researchers have to be careful not to fall foul of an existing patent on bee footbath. Strangely this patent was (is) for infecting the feet of bees as they leave the hive. “Bee footbaths were originally designed so that bees would take beneficial fungi to flowers”, explains Joseph Kovach, Associate Professor of Entomology at Ohio State University who has a patent on the apparatus. “This idea is the reverse, with spores going into the hive. It is an efficient way to inoculate a hive…the footbaths[allow the bees to carry] the spores on their legs and disseminate them throughout the hive.”

The patented footbath is attached to the entrance of the hive and has been found to be so easy and effective that researchers into bee health are taking out licences to use the method to induce fungi (sometimes with a electrostatic charge) into the hive.

In public most academics deny that there is any holding back of information about bee health but in private most accept that a strong rivalry and secrecy between research teams is holding back the release of an effective cure for varroa. However, we beekeepers should be able to buy an effective fungus based anti-varroa treatment within 5 years ..maybe 10..maybe...

Tony Shaw

Volunteer craftsman please

The Beeholder, January 2009.

The observation hive for honey bees shown below would require a skilled craftsman. Having one of these to take around schools would be a great boon to the teaching of biology in Montgomeryshire. The hive when filled with comb and bees shows how bees live in their “natural state”.

Bill Oddie poses next to a 'natural' observation hive