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October 2009

The BeeHolder, October 2009

Bee on a flower

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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 www.honeyshow.co.uk 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 guardian.co.uk, 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. “..be 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, http://www.biobees.com/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 www.biobees.com - 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 kits...how 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.http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7948633.stm

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 www.co-operative.coop/membership

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 www.bee-craft.com

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 scottishbeekeepers.org.uk/learning/documents/number%2013%20snelgrove%20board.pdf).

Diagram of a Snelgrove board.

Probably the best web-site is website.lineone.net/~dave.cushman 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 www.insectpix.net

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 www.earthwatch.org/europe/newsroom/science/news-3-result1.html 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. www.bumblebeeconservationtrust.co.uk 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 YOU...you 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