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