Here are the BeeHolders for 2010. This saves menu space and makes it easier to find what you're looking for (Bono).

October 2010

The BeeHolder, October 2010

Monks contemplating

In the Middle Ages monks in their cells would contemplate the number of angels that could balance on the head of a pin. Nowadays it ‘s the number of spores in a cell of chalkbrood.

You can navigate through this copy of the BeeHolder using the links at the bottom of this page and the arrows at the bottom of each subsequent page, or the links in the right hand sidebar of the page. If you prefer, you can access the magazine as a PDF (Portable Document Format) by selecting the attachment below. This requires Acrobat Reader, which is provided as a free download by Adobe.

BH Oct 2010 E version.pdf2.79 MB


The BeeHolder, October 2010

Autumn is the time when we appraise the year and plan for the next year. Novice bee-keepers will have learnt to have confidence in handling bees and older beekeepers will have learnt to question their confidence that experience matters at all. There aren’t many beekeepers who claim to know it all and most of those are fooling themselves.

One of the most senior beekeepers in Wales is the Government’s Regional Inspector Frank Gallatly. Frank put himself in a learning mode when he questioned our novice beekeeper Noel Eaton about the workings of the Warré hive in our Gregynog Training Apiary. Frank’s experience with that particular hive was less than Noel’s and he was prepared to admit that and learn. Frank also took lots of photographs of this hive: perhaps the one on this page suggests that bees were very perplexed by the interest taken in them. Let us take it that the first lesson from Frank is to be open-minded: to listen to experts and novices with equal attention. Bees are in crisis because the experts did not know best.

Does anybody know what it is about beekeeping that produces so many cranky individualists? We have cranky colonies and cranky beekeepers. Is it the environment, the actual act of trying to domesticate bees, that causes a stubborn individuality? We must all know of beekeepers who won’t join local a Beekeeping Association on principle, others who hide their hives from the Bee inspectors on principle. And then there are the reports of colonies that develop self-cleaning behaviour and “immunity” from varroa. These reports are are now so many that maybe we should not dismiss them as tabloid sensationalism. It is unlikely that any natural resistance to varroa could evolve in the short space of time that the parasite had been around in the Western honey bee. Bees breed at about the same rate as cows and it has taken many hundreds of years to change cow behaviour. But, what if a problem like varroa had happened before many thousands or even millions of years ago and the bees had adapted to it then and had retained the genes to cope? There is no need to scrub our back if it never gets dirty so we don’t bother and, if there was a back-scrubbing gene, we would evolve a mechanism to switch it off to save energy. Maybe what is happening is that the environment itself is the trigger that causes an existing gene to be expressed. Stubborn individuality and crankiness would have had an evolutionary advantage to our forefathers many millions of years ago. A few years under a veil and so many bee-stings, or just living in Mid-Wales may result in the human crankiness gene being expressed. Similarly something that the varroa mite does and some way in which we manage certain colonies may result in what looks like a resistance to varroa. We should all keep talking: novices and experts. And how about dragging some of those no-joiners into Association meetings if only to exchange views over the cups of tea? The stubborn loner in the hills, hiding his or her hives from everybody, maybe the holder of the wonderful gene of human individualism and also the meme to protect our own bees.

What a shame that ex-beekeepers don’t join an Association to share their knowledge. We could learn from their failures just as much as from their successes. I know a few who would love to be dragged along (protesting all the way) just because they would enjoy the friendly chats that we always have over teas.

Finally, please consider yourself for the post of Chairperson, Secretary, and BeeHolder Editor, all of these posts are becoming vacant at the AGM in February. Those retiring have each done three years and each had no previous experience serving on the MBKA committee.

Tony Shaw July 2010

New Members

The BeeHolder, October 2010

We welcome as new members :

Jeremy and Liz Barnes (Caersws), Maeve Caplin (Abermule), Julia Ellacot (Abermule) and Auryn Hughes (Llanfair Caereinion).

Reports on Meetings

The BeeHolder, October 2010

I've split the reports down to one a page, so navigate using the links below for reports on alll the meetings since the last BeeHolder.

July apiary visit, Llanidloes

The BeeHolder, October 2010

The July Apiary visit was generously hosted by Kevin and Fran Blockley at their delightful farm complex located in the rolling hills near Llanidloes. This farmhouse serves not only as the headquarters of their archaeological business, but is also an active community experimenting in biodiversity, organic farm practices and running courses in stone carving, basket making and other rural crafts.

Having parked in a nearby field and walked in glorious sunshine the last few hundred yards, the swarm of MBKA beekeepers settled for a while on the lawn in front of the restored 17th century half-timbered farmhouse, chatting with exciting anticipation at the prospect of seeing the apiary, or possibly as a result of the promise of a cool glass of something alcoholic.

Fun on the farmThe visit was so well attended, we needed to split into two groups. As one group set off with Jim Crundwell to examine the apiary, the other group sat around on the lawn to take part in a multi-tasking exercise - concentrating on an informative talk by John Beavan on varroa control, whilst simultaneously and mindfully analysing the subtleties of a fruit beverage invented by James Pimm in 1823.

The apiary consisted of a number of vintage WBC hives, which on Fran’s admission had not been tended to for some time, and which were found to be in a little disrepair. As many members will only have had experience of National hives, the WBC’s presented a good opportunity. Some frames could not be lifted as the top bar had parted company with the sides. Nevertheless, for the bees it was home, and they were happily doing what bees do. Frames were handed around for the benefit of those members who had not yet experienced close encounters with bees, and Noel handed around a captured queen that he found in his bee-suit from the previous day’s work. A couple of WWOOFers from the farm also borrowed suits and joined in.

Members were invited to stroll around the complex, which included a yurt, a re-located 18th century barn, polytunnel, and for me what was the best building - a small, beautifully thatched circular goat shed that I would happily have converted into a weekend retreat.

In accordance with tradition, the afternoon was suitably rounded off by an impressive selection of very indulgent components of afternoon tea, with home produced Jersey milk on offer for the beverages (probably hand-milked). I seem to remember a very happy Labrador helping to keep the ground clear of debris. A very enjoyable visit, and our thanks to the hosts.

Keith Wood

August apiary visit, Gregynog Training Apiary

The BeeHolder, October 2010

A Noseama training day was held at the MBKA training apiary at Gregynog.

I arrived at Gregynog at 10am with my sample 30 bees from each hive to find the room already set up with microscopes and instructional charts and photographs on the notice board. Three professional bee inspectors, Frank Gellatly, Peter Guthrie and John Beavan, were in attendance to instruct, advise and generally explain what to do.

Only the abdomens were needed for the noseama examination. They were mashed or ground in a pestle and mortar with 30ml of water, one Mililitre per bee abdomen. The resulting soups from each sample would often differ in colour. This was all to do with the food that the bees had been consuming.

A single drop of the clear part of the “soup” was then pipetted onto a glass slide and placed under a microscope. The magnification of 400x reveals any Noseama as small kidney bean shaped particles. 6 or more spores visible within the field of the eyepiece indicated a noseama infection serious enough to require treatment. Most of the samples brought in revealed no noseama but some had so many noseama spores that it was difficult to count.

Bees questioning what all the fuss is about in the Warré Hive

It was strikingly apparent that the number of members who attended was a very small proportion of the members who attend most apiary meetings. Perhaps it was the lack of the promise of sandwiches and cakes and tea, perhaps it was that you all already knew how to test your bees and have access to microscopes! If it wasn’t the latter of the above, I am at a loss to imagine why anyone would pass up such a unique opportunity to learn something and participate in an activity which directly benefits your bees and your apiary, and is a significant contributing factor to winter survival.

During the afternoon we walked the 200 yards to the MBKA Training Apiary. The 3 bee inspectors discussed the progress of each hive and collected samples for testing under the microscope.

The Top Bar Hive had unfortunately been completely raided by wasps and there were no bees found, just lots of wasps.

The WBC seemed to be queenless. One of the Warré hives had a very small colony with a queen and after some discussion it was decided to amalgamate these two hives to create a colony which had some chance of surviving through the winter. This procedure was completed later that evening using the paper method.

The other Warré hive had plenty of bees and a queen.

Both the National hives had plenty of bees and queens present.

The surprising finding (surprising to me at least) was that none of the hives in the apiary had eggs, brood or stores in any quantity. My own hives at home have several frames of brood at various stages and supers or bars full of sealed honey and lots of nectar.

All of the hives at the apiary were in the same state of emptiness and all were fed with sugar solution the next day.

All in all I found this to have been one of the most interesting and informative of all the training days I have attended so far. I would like to give my personal thanks to all who contributed in particular the bee inspector Frank Galently, John Beavan and Peter Guthrie, and to the club members who arranged it all. Those who didn’t manage to attend for whatever reason missed a brilliant day of bee-keeping and learning more about this absorbing craft. We also had some fun socialising and quite a few laughs.

Noel Eaton

MBKA at the Welsh Food Festival Glansevern 2010

The BeeHolder, October 2010


SBI John Beavan and son Toby demonstrating that beekeeping.The annual Welsh Food Festival at the Glansevern Hall has been running for five years, showing the best of Welsh produce to whoever is willing to pay. The MBKA has had a presence there for three years, this being the third year. Previously the venue for the MBKA stalls was in the activity tent, however this year we were left to face the elements having to find our own tents for refuge.

Eric Eaton pulled through at the last minute finishing the cage for the bee presentation on Friday, which was erected on a flat bed trailer lent to us by the Gregynog estates manager. Having prepared the site for the show on Friday, the association and its willing volunteers were ready to face the crowds who would appear at the beginning of Saturday morning.

Toby passed his WBKA Junior exam on 9/9/2010, he is the first young person in years to pass this exam because it is not being promoted to schools!

Would you buy a raffle ticket, please?

Saturday gave the show a muggy but rainless air, which permitted the food festival a good flow of visitors. The demonstration bees in the cage were kindly lent to us by Mr. Paul Kingsley whose two hives werehidden behind the Grotto in the meadow. They were moved to the cage around 10 a.m., but most of the flying bees followed their God- given instincts and returned to their home hives, not impressed with the potential fame. The two small gazebos were used for photos, the bee display box and wares of members. During the day there were two demonstrations to initiate the unlearned into the mysteries of beekeeping and the difference between a wasp and a bee.

Our very own beekeeping inspector John Beavan and his son Toby kindly performed the first demonstration at 12pm.

As John could not do the second presentation that day Toby offered himself in his Father’s stead. At 2pm we saw the second show which was done by Dave Bennett with Toby assisting, allowing bystanders to behold some of the machinations of beekeeping. Sunday did not fare so well weather wise, as rain postponed the first demonstration to 1pm and eliminated the chances of the second one. This single demonstration was performed by Tony Shaw and a young volunteer called Oscar from a neighbouring beer stall, who beheld Toby the day before and was inspired to take his place that day. His parents were overjoyed to see their son involved with this and filled their phone memory with photos.

MP Glyn Davies drawing the raffle prize

On sale were pots of local Welsh honey. A couple of the lady volunteers went foraging with raffle tickets for pounds around the show. The raffle prize was a lovely hive purchased by the association from Brian Norris. The raffle ticket was drawn at 3:30 by our MP Glynn Davies who picked a visitor from the midlands. All in all the money raised came to £650 and shall be used to improve the bee sanctuary at Gregynog. There was also a petition asking the government to increase funding of bee research.

The two days went successfully, money was raised, people were informed and inspired and the petition was signed. Maybe next year there could be a tent, which explains in greater detail the problems facing bees in an easy to understand format. Also a clear handout that visitors can take away that can tell them what they can do to help, with a contribution slip on the bottom so they can help to ‘save the bees’! Also with the raffle a second and third prize may be a good thing to include. A big THANK YOU to all the volunteers who helped, it couldn’t have happened without you! Also thank you to Co-Op who contributed a substantial sum to build the demonstration cage! The bees say thank you too! Buzz Buzz!

David Platt

September apiary visit, Bishops Castle

The BeeHolder, October 2010

The variety of hives, owned by different people, in this apiary provided very interesting and instructive afternoon. Apiguard treatment and feeding were both in progress. How to achieve both at the same time involves creating extra top space for the bees to access the Apiguard without making too large a gap below the feeder. Usually crown boards are modified to have a deeper frame on one side and a standard bee space on the other. They can then reverse when required for Apiguard. When mesh floors are in use at this time solid bottom boards should be placed beneath to get the full benefit of varroa treatment.

It was interesting to see the plastic hives in use. These are of the Langstroth type , it will be useful to see how these compare with the wooden hives on the same site as the bees seemed to be all of the same strain: i.e. black and unusually gentle for black bees.

All the hives that I looked at had self-spacing brood frames although some had the narrower top bars or a mixture of both types. The advantage of the wide type was manifest in the lack of brace comb produced. Because the self-spacing frames are slightly narrower than the metal-end type, ie 1 3/8 inches instead of 1 ½ inches it is just possible to cram in 12 instead of 11 or 11 instead to the intended 10 in the case of the Langstroths. Several examples were noticed. The advantages of dummy boards were discussed, maybe a topic we could explore at a future meeting.

Part of the queue to get into the Wintles Apiary. Jim Crundwell leads from the far rightAll the hives were on double stands, convenient and necessary on a sloping site. I am a little doubtful if they will prove to be robust enough to bear the considerable weight of a good honey crop. Maybe next year we will find out.

I think most of us learned something and a good time were had by all thanks to our attentive hosts.

Jim Crundwell

The Wintles community venture

(I had asked Paul Crump about the social dynamics of running a communal apiary. Like many other members I was intrigued how a group of different people managed to come to decisions about how to run an apiary where hives can be owned individually. Paul talks in general in this article about the development of the community. I am wondering whether I had been too cheeky in asking for the intimate details of the social dynamics about and within the communal apiary. ED )

The Wintles is a community of currently 20 residences with a final phase yet to be completed which will increase the total to 40. Community is the key, although the outward look is unusual energy efficient housing the underlying concept of the original developer was a living village. So we all bought into this concept from the outset and with the demise of the first developer we have had to cooperate and set up our own organisations to manage the common parts allotments etc. We are not ageing hippies in sandals, well not many, but a group of people trying to become a community.

So it was inevitable that the allotments were only the start. Someone mentioned chickens and a group of interested people soon formed, built a coop, bought some chickens and we now have up to 15 eggs a day. The system is simple, I look after the chickens for one day a fortnight and in return have all the eggs produced on that day.

With the success of the hens we have considered other ventures and throughout this summer a group have kept 5 pigs on some spare land. Saves cultivating and they should taste good.

The bees were an ambition of several of us from the start. We were fortunate in obtaining several colonies last autumn and due to beginners luck there are now about 12 hives going into the winter. Most have their own hive or hives but a group of residents share a hive and seem to do it together. We are all beginners so it’s a big learning curve and we all help each other. It certainly helps that we all have similar ideals. Our founder Bob Tomlinson had a vision and to date we are a testament to it.

Paul Crump

Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery

The BeeHolder, October 2010

It has been one of the great murder mysteries of the garden: what is killing off the honeybees? Since 2006, 20 to 40 percent of the bee colonies in the United States alone have suffered “colony collapse.” Suspected culprits ranged from pesticides to genetically modified food.

Now, a unique partnership — of military scientists and entomologists — appears to have achieved a major breakthrough: identifying a new suspect, or two. A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have apparently interacted to cause the problem, according to a paper by Army scientists in Maryland and bee experts in Montana in the online science journal PLoS One.

Exactly how that combination kills bees remains uncertain, the scientists said — a subject for the next round of research. But there are solid clues: both the virus and the fungus proliferate in cool, damp weather, and both do their dirty work in the bee gut, suggesting that insect nutrition is somehow compromised.

Liaisons between the military and academia are nothing new, of course. World War II, perhaps the most profound example, ended in an atomic strike on Japan in 1945 largely on the shoulders of scientist-soldiers in the Manhattan Project. And a group of scientists led by Jerry Bromenshenk of the University of Montana in Missoula has researched bee-related applications for the military in the past — developing, for example, a way to use honeybees in detecting land mines. But researchers on both sides say that colony collapse may be the first time that the defence machinery of the post-September 11 Homeland Security Department and academia have teamed up to address a problem that both sides say they might never have solved on their own.

“Together we could look at things nobody else was looking at,” said Colin Henderson, an associate professor at the University of Montana’s College of Technology and a member of Dr. Bromenshenk’s “Bee Alert” team.

Human nature and bee nature were interconnected in how the puzzle pieces came together. Two brothers helped foster communication across disciplines. A chance meeting and a saved business card proved pivotal. Even learning how to mash dead bees for analysis — a skill not taught at West Point — became a factor.

One perverse twist of colony collapse that has compounded the difficulty of solving it is that the bees do not just die — they fly off in every direction from the hive, then die alone and dispersed. That makes large numbers of bee autopsies — and yes, entomologists actually do those — problematic.

Dr. Bromenshenk’s team at the University of Montana and Montana State University in Bozeman, working with the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Centre northeast of Baltimore, said in their jointly written paper that the virus-fungus one-two punch was found in every killed colony the group studied. Neither agent alone seems able to devastate; together, the research suggests, they are 100 percent fatal.

“It’s chicken and egg in a sense — we don’t know which came first,” Dr. Bromenshenk said of the virus-fungus combo — nor is it clear, he added, whether one malady weakens the bees enough to be finished off by the second, or whether they somehow compound each other’s destructive power. “They’re co-factors, that’s all we can say at the moment,” he said. “They’re both present in all these collapsed colonies.”

Research at the University of California, San Francisco, had already identified the fungus as part of the problem. And several RNA-based viruses had been detected as well. But the Army/Montana team, using a new software system developed by the military for analyzing proteins, uncovered a new DNA-based virus, and established a linkage to the fungus, called N. ceranae.

“Our mission is to have detection capability to protect the people in the field from anything biological,” said Charles H. Wick, a microbiologist at Edgewood. Bees, Dr. Wick said, proved to be a perfect opportunity to see what the Army’s analytic software tool could do. “We brought it to bear on this bee question, which is how we field-tested it,” he said.

The Army software system — an advance itself in the growing field of protein research, or proteomics — is designed to test and identify biological agents in circumstances where commanders might have no idea what sort of threat they face. The system searches out the unique proteins in a sample, then identifies a virus or other microscopic life form based on the proteins it is known to contain. The power of that idea in military or bee defence is immense, researchers say, in that it allows them to use what they already know to find something they did not even know they were looking for. But it took a family connection — through David Wick, Charles’s brother — to really connect the dots. When colony collapse became news a few years ago, Mr. Wick, a tech entrepreneur who moved to Montana in the 1990s for the outdoor lifestyle, saw a television interview with Dr. Bromenshenk about bees.

Mr. Wick knew of his brother’s work in Maryland, and remembered meeting Dr. Bromenshenk at a business conference. A retained business card and a telephone call put the Army and the Bee Alert team buzzing around the same blossom.

Kirk Johnson
New York Times October 6th 2010

Trying not to kill the bees

The BeeHolder, October 2010

We have now been “keeping” bees for just over a year. Both of us were bee-ginners with an interest in bees and the final push came when we went to the Glansevern Food Festival and saw the stand there. For Christmas I was given a brand new hive. Well, in fact I was given a block of wood with “Imagine I am a beehive” written on it, but the hive arrived in the spring of 2009.

Then came the training. We were lucky enough to attend one of Brian Goodwin’s training days. We were so impressed by his knowledge. One of the things that stuck in my mind was his advice to try to avoid killing the bees - as it upsets the others. We had no idea how hard this was going to be.

By July we took delivery of a nucleus of bees. It was exciting setting them up in their new hive, and fortunately the weather was good, and we had the excellent assistance of Dave Bennett. We spent the rest of that summer nervously tending them, and feeding them, and watching the pollen they were bringing home, and trying not to squash them as we manhandled the frames. The nucleus filled out the hive very quickly and soon the bees were really thriving. It was time to prepare them for winter. We treated them for varroa in September, and they took their medicine well. As we entered winter Mark built a hive shelter to keep the worst of the rain off the hive. And then we left them, and hoped that they were ok during the snow and bitterly cold weather.

This spring was a worrying time. Would the bees have made it through the winter? In February we had put a block of fondant icing in a feeder on the hive. It turns out we should have put this directly onto the frames or over the hole in the crown board, and the bees didn’t make use of it. In the end we fed them some winter strength sugar syrup. We saw some bees emptying the dead from the hive, and the pile gradually turned into a small mountain. By March some of the bees were flying in with orange pollen (snowdrops?), and by April the bees were very busy bringing back yellow pollen – their whole bodies covered in it, and marking the landing strip yellow too (dandelions?).

We agonised over the mouse guard. We put it in, and we took it out, and we put it in again. We had put one in for the winter, but then we got a range of advice about leaving it in over the summer too. Mark spent a lot of time making different sized entrances, and we now have a set for every eventuality. In the end we went for a mouse guard with an entrance a couple of inches wide. Any less and the bees just couldn’t get in and out when they were busy – and by this time we had a lot of bees – but this still reduced the area to be guarded.

By the middle of April the bees were running out of space in the hive. In order to give them more space we added a super with frames. We also did a varroa check, and were pleased to note that out of more than 50 drone cells we only found one mite. We started icing the bees at regular intervals too. The plan was to concentrate on getting honey this year.

The weather changed and it was very wet in early May which delayed us getting into the hive. When we did there were some strange cells in the frames that we hadn’t seen before and we couldn’t decide if they were drone cells or not. So we made a big mistake and removed the cells. The Queen was still in the hive at this point. That was on the 15th May, and on the 19th May the bees swarmed. Ironically we did our swarm control training on 22nd May – about a week too late. John Beavan did an excellent session and we were able to see exactly what we should and shouldn’t have done. Our hive had clearly been too crowded, with no space for the Queen to lay any more eggs. And the first thing the “There are queen cells in my hive – what should I do?” leaflet said is…don’t panic and on no account destroy them.

So we started again – trying to take some control of the situation. There were still a lot of bees in the hive, and some more Queen cells, so we took the decision to split the hive. We took 4 frames out of the main hive and made a nucleus in an empty hive next door. We made sure we left 2 Queen cells in each hive, we fed them, and we waited.

By the end of a week the Queen cells had hatched, so we were on the look out for eggs. No sign of any eggs in either hive after a week, but after two weeks we found larvae in the nucleus, and we saw our new Queen. There was still nothing in the original hive so we ordered a new Queen. Much was the excitement when the postman delivered her in a small jiffy bag, travelling with some ladies in waiting. We also had to take the honey out of the super so we could feed the hive. So in the matter of a few weeks we experienced swarming, creating a nucleus, extracting honey and introducing a new Queen to a hive. We ceased to feel quite so bitter about the swarm when we realised what we had learned from it, and that we now had two thriving hives of bees and 17 jars of honey. All of which we couldn’t have done without the excellent help of all the MBKA beekeepers who have advised us over the year. Although some bees were lost in the process – sorry Brian. And Mark has now had his first bee stings too…..

Julie Pearce & Mark Thomas

MBKA Training Apiary

The BeeHolder, October 2010

Rather than duplicate this report, link to the apiary pages of the web site here.

Dummy board and side feeder

The BeeHolder, October 2010

1 Dummy board

This useful piece of equipment is neglected by far too many beekeepers. There is a strong tendency on the part of manufacturers to make dummy boards too large, so that they quickly become propilised to the side walls of the brood chamber. However, if they are constructed properly to the same dimensions as the brood frame, the resulting bee space prevents attachment to the brood chamber.

The purpose of the dummy board is to fill in the space between the first frame and the end wall of the brood chamber, If this space is left vacant the bees will extend the depth of the cells on the outside of the comb making it too wide, or, alternatively build a comb or brace-comb in the space. The dummy board effectively presents this happening, and when removed it enables the first comb to move into the space before being lifted, thus avoiding rolling the bees on adjacent comb surfaces. Dummy boards should also be used outside the last comb when the full complement of combs not being used.

Figure 1 The finished size must be exactly the same as a brood frame except the thickness which is 12mm. To prevent warping fillets 19mm x 12mm are used at the edges. It is an advantage to have the top bar slightly wider at 15mm to give increased strength, but the depth must be 9mm to keep the lugs the same as the frame. The ideal material for making the main part of the board is 12mm thick red cedar board, but 12mm exterior plywood is a good substitute.

If Hoffman frames are used two spacer pieces 80 x 22 x 5mm should be glued on (see figure 1 above.)

2. Side Feeder.

Side feeders are invaluable for feeding nuclei and they deserve wider use. Like the dummy board they should be made to the same dimensions as the brood frame. They can be made in two widths, small ones equivalent to one frame for nucleus hives and boxes and wider ones for brood chambers. The overall widths are 25mm and 65mm. A wooden float is used to prevent bees drowning in the syrup. This is 5mm narrower and shorter than the inside of the feeder and has a number of holes bored through it. Small galvanised roofing nails are driven in at each corner top and bottom so that they protrude 6mm.

Construction details, side feeder.The frame is constructed of softwood about 15mm thick and the sides consist of 4mm exterior plywood. Waterproof glue should be used although small leakages can be tolerated as the feeder is contained within the hive and bees have access to the outside of it.

Jim Crundwell

Intelligence, Sleep and Memory - Beelogistics

The BeeHolder, October 2010


Research has provided insight into some stunning cognitive capabilities for such a tiny brain, as well as some especially fascinating anecdotes that liken bees to humans. For example, just like the human capacity to recognize faces, honeybees show the ability to discriminate between two different human faces. A major feature of this trait in humans is that it breaks down when the face is inverted 180°. This same feature was observed in honeybees. Further, bees can count up to four objects when they are encountered sequentially during flight. It appears that bees can navigate to food sources by maintaining a running count of prominent landmarks that are passed en route, provided this number does not exceed four.


Children often ask what bees do at night, wondering if they are always busy doing something, or if they too idle sometimes in front of the TV. We know from ancient times that the sleep of the labourer is sweetest. Accordingly, honeybee foragers are among the first invertebrates for which sleep behaviour has been described. Foragers have strong circadian rhythms; they are active during the day and sleep during the night moving through three sleep stages. However, young bees exhibit sleep behaviour consisting of the same stages as observed in foragers yet pass more frequently between the three and stay longer in the lightest sleep stage. These differences in sleep architecture represent evidence for plasticity in sleep behaviour in insects. The harder they work - the sounder they sleep!


During evolution, honeybees have developed sophisticated sensory systems and learning and memorizing capacities, essential mechanisms that do not differ drastically from those of vertebrates. To forage successfully, a bee has to learn and remember not only the colour and shape of flowers that contain nectar and pollen, but also how to get to them. Since the species of flowers that are in bloom in the morning are likely to be replaced by a different species at a different location in the afternoon, the bee has evolved an impressive ability to learn and memorize local features and routes, as well as the time of blooming, quickly and accurately. Thus, having found a nectar-bearing flower at a particular time on a particular day, a forager can remember the task and the time at which it was completed, and visit the flower at the same place and time on the following day. The time sense of the honeybee can modulate their response to a local stimulus according to the time of day. Honeybees can learn scents or colours in a time-linked process and remember them in a 24-hour cycle.

Circadian systems permit organisms to measure time for adaptively significant purposes. Bees synchronize their behaviour with daily floral rhythms, foraging only when nectar and pollen are at their highest levels. At other times, they remain in the hive, conserving energy that otherwise would be exhausted on non-productive foraging flights.

The processes of learning and remembering are undoubtedly more sophisticated in primates and mammals than in insects, but there seems to be a continuum in these capacities across the animal kingdom. The abilities of an animal seem to be governed largely by what it needs in order to pursue its lifestyle, rather than whether or not it possesses a backbone. The properties of learning and memory in insects have been shown to be well suited to the requirements of the tasks that they have to perform. Honeybees can plan their activities in time and space, and use context to determine which action to perform and when.

Courtesy of Nottingham BKA

Bee Prepared

The BeeHolder, October 2010

A lady from Pittsfield township, Michigan, had remembered to don her bee suit before inspecting her hives on the 29th of July. The bees were somewhat defensive due to the time of year and probed for an area of weakness on their human intruder. The weakness was quickly discovered and the poor lady received over 50 stings to her feet. Her husband abandoned his attempt to help with the garden hose and called the fire brigade, who doused the beekeeper with 750 gallons of water!

 The husband was quoted as saying "I saw these things and like, oh my gosh, I can't believe there were so many stings on her foot. Like, wow."

Joshua Mullen of Mobile, Alabama, just wanted to kill the bees swarming around his shed. Using gasoline soaked towels, he heard a "whoosh" and watched the utility shed erupt in flames that spread to his rented home and wound up causing some $80,000 in damage. Fumes from the gasoline appear to have been ignited by the pilot light of a hot water heater in the shed.

"Looking at all this, there might have been a better way," Mullen said while a few surviving bees buzzed around the ashes of the shed.

"It was a mistake. I wish I hadn't done it, but I did."

Learning points

  • Always wear appropriate protective clothing - the bees will find any gaps if so inclined
  • Use appropriate methods
  • Develop a reasonable vocabulary, in case you ever need to give an interview!

Courtesy of West Cornwall BKA

Oxalic acid

The BeeHolder, October 2010

Some thoughts on use of Oxalic acid vapour for controlling Varroa mites in the hive.

The popular treatment of dribbling Oxalic Acid (OA) over combs in the hive requires opening colonies for the winter treatment. Also, there are issues of bee toxicity and depressed Spring brood-rearing due to bees ingesting some of the syrup. Both these issues can be circumvented by applying the acid in vapour form. OA requires heat to vaporize. Once vaporized, though, OA can disperse throughout the colony, and then recrystallise into a fog of tiny crystals that attach to all surfaces (wood, comb, bee’s body, mites etc.). This vapour dispersion has the advantages of exposing the majority of phoretic mites to the tiny crystals, and there is no incentive for the bees to ingest it, since it is not mixed in sugar syrup, thereby minimizing any toxic effects it may have on the bees.

There is a vapouriser on the market (Varrox, made in Switzerland) consisting of a small pan into which is put a gram of OA crystals before it is inserted into the hive entrance, which is then sealed. The pan is then connected to a 12v battery. The OA vapourises and the device removed. After about 3 minutes, the now-empty unit is removed, and recharged with crystals for the next hive. Several units are generally run simultaneously, and in rotation. Time taken is about 5 mins. per colony, no opening of the hive or other disturbance of the bees is required and the bees are not apparently alarmed or upset in any way. The beekeeper can begin treating second and subsequent colonies whilst waiting to re-open treated hives.

However, I have made a device, similar to other DIY models, that consists of a copper tube with a cap at one end through which the crystals are introduced and a 9mm tube at the other which fits my narrow hive entrances. I heat the tube where the crystals are with a small gas blowlamp to vapourise the OA which then passes into the hive.

Some references relating to efficacy, toxicity, honey residue and applications of vapourised OA:

Tests carried out on broodless colonies during November and December of 2003 at the Institute of Agricultural Zoology in Rome showed an efficacy between 81% and 100%, with the best average results (85%) being for colonies treated with 1g twice with 15 day intervals. There was no significant effect found on either honey bees or their nest honey. See here for more details.

There is a good summary of alternative organic acid treatments here. As OA does not penetrate sealed brood, it is applied when brood is absent. Hence it is most successfully used for: Removal of mites from the overwintering bee population; Treatment of artificial swarms and nuclei in Spring/Early Summer; and ridding bees of mites after final honey harvest.


A letter to West Cornwall BKA by Bob Allen


Photos and articles wanted

The BeeHolder, October 2010

Have you photos of bees, flowers or apiary meetings which could feature in the Beeholder? Perhaps we could have a photo competition for the association.

The percentage of articles contributed by MBKA members is quite high but we are always on the look-out for more. Why not have a go writing something, anything, about bees or beekeeping? The BeeHolder is distributed not only to all members but to the editors of other Bee magazines. Articles that first originated in the BeeHolder are often copied and printed in the magazines of other counties or their websites. We in Montgomeryshire are quite unique having just one Association in the whole county. Most counties have many BKAS within their borders and most county magazines have a readership of thousands. The distribution of your article could be in the many many thousands. And your influence could spread nationally and internationally. Put Montgomeryshire on the map and prove that we are not just a load of hicks from the sticks.

If you have an idea for an article please phone me at 01686 412140 or contact me.

July 2010

The BeeHolder July 2010Warre hive at Gregynog

The Warré hive at Gregynog Apiary as seen from the public viewing area through the security net

You can navigate through this copy of the BeeHolder using the links at the bottom of this page and the arrows at the bottom of each subsequent page, or the links in the right hand sidebar of the page. If you prefer, you can access the magazine as a PDF (Portable Document Format) by selecting the attachment below. This requires Acrobat Reader, which is provided as a free download by Adobe.

BH July 2010 eVersion.pdf1.9 MB


The BeeHolder, July 2010

Egypt, circa 2,000 Bee CWe’ll all have noticed the great improvement of the Welsh Beekeeper’s Magazine Gwenynwyr Cymru since Brian and Cherry Clark took it over. The magazine had been languishing on the edge of extreme parochial tedium for years and now has a broader aspect and more modern layout. The magazine had to be upgraded because it was being outclassed by some of the local bee magazines (including our own BeeHolder). In turn the upgraded National Magazine has led to some subtle changes in our local magazines. Why repeat the seasonal bee instructions when they are so adequately covered by The Welsh BeeKeeper? There are only so many times one can bee bombarded by a Snelgrove board!

However, the day-to-day practicalities of beekeeping are better covered locally. For example, we have had over-swarming locally, yet a few weeks ago I met an experienced beekeeper from Cheshire who remarked that the dearth of swarming behaviour up there was causing problems; two near-adjacent areas, two entirely different problems. I put our excess swarming down to the poor queen mating last year: our local weather was so much worse than that in Cheshire. Our local unique set of bee problems will be tackled at the Montgomery Training Apiary at Gregynog. Our aim is to replicate the range of hives and bee-keeping philosophies that our MBKA members follow. We will be collecting anecdotal evidence about best practices rather than undertaking any scientific study. I have noted more scepticism than enthusiasm for the various schemes proposed for research apiaries. Unless attached to a well-funded university programme the diverse views of local beekeepers will either tear the research apart or some local members will be excluded from participation. How much better to recognise that within the diverse practices of hobbyist beekeepers there probably lies the solution to most, if not all, of today’s bee woes. A case in point is the now-accepted use of icing sugar sprinkled over frames of bees to counteract Varroa. This was a gimmick that came from a hippy in Germany whose success caused a local then national, then international acceptance of the idea. Such a meme (idea which can be propagated, via natural selection, like a gene) would never have originated at a university. “I think icing sugar on bees might help reduce varroa. Give me some money please” would lead to a definite NO. Whereas “Icing sugar has been found empirically to reduce varroa infestation. Can I have some money to find out why and how best to apply the substance?” might lead to a YES.

“Think globally, act locally” said Schumacher. And that is what local beekeeping is about. Whether we breed for honey production, disease resistance, good temperament or stock increase; or whether we have bees for the pollination or honey or merely as a marker to show that we are concerned about the environment; or whether we take up committee posts to help a local bee organisation, we are all acting locally but thinking of the bigger picture of a world in crisis because our bees are in trouble. The hope lies in the amateur who is prepared to risk a few hives for a principle: a commercial beekeeper could never run the risk of losing all his/her hives. So at the next apiary meeting, on 25th July, let’s all drink a Pimms to all those crazy ideas that beekeepers have and defend so passionately. The government , through its Bee Inspectors, may wish to push ideas about best practices (see bee disease training day), but there is rarely a case of a “worst practice.” Don’t be afraid of beeing different: within your difference may lie the salvation of the world. Has anybody given a medal to that crazy German hippy?

See the last article for what is going on at our Training Apiary.

Tony Shaw July 2010

Vew Members

The BeeHolder, July 2010

We welcome as new members

Mark Jones/Caersws, Fiona Moulton/ Machynlleth, Nicola Platt/ Kerry, Alan Smart/ Llanfyllin, Roger Thomas/Montgomery

As usual the Data Protection Act prevents my publishing emails and addresses of members, but I can recommend the local telephone directory.

Reports on meetings

The BeeHolder, July 2010

Here are the several reports on the last three months' meetings.

Beginners Course

The BeeHolder, July 2010

The beginners' course was given on April 3rd by Master Keeper Brian Goodwin

On a bright but not particularly sunny Easter Saturday, some twenty or so “|wannabees”, “newbees” or “nearly newbees”, gathered in the main seminar room at Plas Dolerw in Newtown to listen to Brian Goodwin provide an all day beginners training session. Settled comfortably on a tall stool at the front of the room, Brian had the relaxed and quietly enthusiastic air of a man who had kept bees for some sixty or more years, and who didn’t expect to be wrong footed by any questions we might ask him. The structure of the day was provided by some thirty or more worksheets which Brian distributed to each of us a sheet at a time as he took us through an extraordinarily wide range of topics all of which are undoubtedly highly pertinent to the novice beekeeper. We did our best to test Brian’s knowledge with many interruptions and questions timed to coincide with whatever urgent thought was buzzing around in our own brain regardless of where Brian had reached in the structure of the day, all of which questions Brian answered with great patience and insight.

We learned about the makeup of a typical hive, bee foraging distances and areas, the plants, bushes and trees which provide the best pollen and nectar at different times of the year, the roles and genesis of drones, workers, and queens, and how a colony supports itself through a typical year. We also learned about the equipment involved in beekeeping from hive and frame design through to opinions about what fuel is best to keep a smoker working effectively for as long as possible. Apparently rotten wood does the trick! These are just samples of the topics covered during the day.

One of the more fascinating topics for me was the subject of drone congregation areas, where drones from throughout an area travel as far as fifteen miles to congregate in hot weather looking for rising thermal currents where they wait expectantly for any available local virgin queens to arrive and mate. Apparently queens may go to the same congregation area for several days until they are “fully” mated.

We were allowed a short break for lunch but even this time was used productively with a slide show while we munched our sandwiches. I think it would be a fair reflection of the day to say that it ended with us all feeling exhausted but elated at the extent of our new found knowledge. The word “guru” is undoubtedly overused nowadays, but not it has to be said, in Brian’s case. We extend our thanks to Brian for such a great start to our beekeeping journey, and I would highly recommend the course to any relatively inexperienced beekeepers. Experienced beekeepers would undoubtedly learn a thing or two as well.

Bill Jones

MBKA Training Mornings

The BeeHolder, July 2010

Being relatively fresh to beekeeping (my first bees arrived in September 2008 ), I was delighted to hear that John Beaven was to be running some training sessions through MBKA this spring. I attended the session about varroa in Llanfyllin at Andy’s house and the session on swarm control at David and Jessica’s home in Newtown.

My uncle is an 89 year old beekeeper in Harrogate, who still runs weekend training courses in the apiary at Harlow Carr Gardens. I attended one of these excellent weekends before getting my bees and this gave me a measure of confidence and copious notes. As with so many fields of learning, however, I have since discovered that the more that I know, the more I realise there is to know.

The morning on varroa was focussed on explaining and recommending a consistent approach using regular monitoring and treating with Apiguard in August and oxalic acid solution in December. Icing sugar dusting was also demonstrated. I was able to appreciate how important it is that each geographical area settles on a method and sticks to it, until it is updated in response to mite resistance. From the course in Yorkshire, I have supplies of Bayvarol and formic acid, these being the treatments of choice in that area. I shall give them back.

We were a group of eight, which seemed just the right size. John managed to balance delivering lots of information whilst encouraging us to ask questions. The handouts were clear and comprehensive and although it was too cold to visit Andy’s hives, the morning was extremely helpful.

The session on swarm control that I went to was held at David and Jessica Bennett’s home on a hot morning, so we were able to be outside and visit the hives. Again the information was clear, well-delivered, and supported with useful handouts. On this occasion, however, two hours did not seem long enough. So many aspects of swarm management were introduced that it was impossible to do them all justice. Having said that, I went home and was bold enough to make up a nucleus on the following day.

As a novice beekeeper, I found these two mornings extremely helpful and was very glad to have been able to attend. There was no charge and the hospitality of Andy, Jessica and David was wonderful. Teaching sessions are invaluable and it was exciting to hear that there is a possibility of a permanent training centre being set up at the apiary in Gregynog.

Ros Parnell

(Ros is a member of Shropshire BKA - her attendance was a recognition that we can run friendly relaxed training sessions in our area. Ed.)

May Apiary Visit

The BeeHolder, July 2010

The May Apiary visit was to Roy Norris near Newtown on May 16th. At last, after a year’s delay, we managed to get to Roy's apiary  to see his collection of solitary bees enthusiastically demonstrated by Nigel Jones, Roy has erected a series of solitary bee "hives" which consist of a piece of log or bamboo  drilled with deep holes of different diameter, it seems that each type of bee is very particular as to the exact size of hole it requires, most of these bees are very short lived and the males, which hatch before the females , seem to have only one thing on their mind!, Nigel was very pleased with the number of different species identified, all have impossible names, it would appear that the scientific name, the only moniker they have, is in all cases, in inverse proportion to the size of the insect.

Head in the netRoy's Apiary

To the left Nigel Jones of the solitary bee unit demonstrates the correct way of collecting an insect after swooshing the net across a meadow. It was lucky that the group was divided into two, one half doing Solitary bees and the other around Roy’s honeybee Hives. If those inspecting Roy’s hives had stepped back they would have been in the lake.


Roy's bees live in a purpose built mansion on the edge of their private lake, most of his colonies have only arrived recently and are still in the process of being integrated into the apiary.

Paula reports that a foal was expected so I imagine it has now arrived

Many thanks to Paula and Roy for a very pleasant and interesting afternoon

Joe Bidwell

I felt the most pertinent observation of the day was made by Nigel Jones, “Whilst the other group are worried about any parasites they find here we are delighting in the bee parasites we may find in this meadow” Ed.

June Apiary Meeting

The BeeHolder, July 2010

The June meeting was hosted by Tony Morgan and Lorraine Ward on June 20th. Their apiary is at their home in Abercegir, Machynlleth – a sheltered location at about 50m altitude, among village gardens and their 1 acre nature reserve beside the Nant Gwydol.

Tony and Lorraine have been beekeeping for 5 years and currently have 7 colonies and one nucleus.

There was an impressive turn-out to the meeting, which was held at 5 o’clock – fortunately an afternoon of the warm and sunny weather we have become accustomed to over the past several weeks. Steve Griffiths, the new Estate Manager at Gregynog had been invited to join us, as he will be first on hand at the MBKA apiary recently established there.

Tom Brown demonstrated. how we should open our hives and handle our bees. He began by showing us his Beekeeper’s Toolbox. This is a wooden box, in which he can stand his tools upright allowing easy access –(especially important for lone beekeepers with both hands busy). He explained the use of all his tools. I was especially taken with the leadweighted goosefeather – how easily the all-important feather can drift on a light breeze! He also emphasised the absolute importance of record-keeping. As it is crucial to do this on the spot in a form you can later understand, it is helpful to have a reasonably weather-proof system and a spare pencil.

Tom handles bees very gently and thoughtfully. He showed us how to move the hive parts slowly and carefully, minimising the crushing of any bees, and observing in the process the current state of the colony, with helpful comments from Jim Crundwell.

This was a strong colony – a well-developed May swarm with what Tony described as a ‘magnificent’ queen, indicating the importance of queen-quality. Steve Griffiths was invited to handle a frame of bees whilst his photograph was taken for University of Wales publicity purposes (Subsequently the magnificent queen was found to be on this frame!). There was a chance to distinguish between workers, drones and queen, and to see eggs and brood in different stages. Our summer meetings provide a brilliant opportunity for beginners to actually handle the bees. Tom also described the procedure of removing drone brood as a method of varroa control.

The subject of Jim Crundwell’s demonstration was another strong colony, with two supers on. This colony had not yet produced any queen cells. Jim showed us the desirable ratio of brood in all stages, and discussed the different styles of frame spacers. Tony had used wide spacers (usually used in supers) on alternate frames in the brood box – an economical alternative (or emergency stop-gap) to using narrow spacers on every frame. A technique for ‘Preventing Swarms without Creating a Young Colony’ which Tony had in operation on a neighbouring hive was discussed. Tony found this method in a German-published beekeeping book he found at a car-boot sale. He had photocopies of the relevant page available (with which he will happily provide anyone else who is interested, and details of the book). Jim did point out the disadvantages situating hives in a straight line, associated with bees drifting from one hive to the next.

We were told about Tony’s experiments with a temperature sensor in a hive, and to see on a screen the interior of an occupied hive via a bird nestbox camera; the screen was rather obscured by bees!

By this time most of us were feeling very warm and thirsty and ready to free ourselves of suits and gloves, and to gather on the terrace for a wonderful feast and a glass of Pimms; suitable reward for hard-working beekeepers!

MBKA meetings are an excellent forum for all beekeepers to share experiences and information, and for new beekeepers to learn from old; the more good information and encouragement beginners have the more likely they are to be beekeeping in 5 years time.

Tony has been fortunate to have Tom as mentor: – Tom now insists he is his equal!

Thanks, Lorraine and Tony, for hosting such an informative and enjoyable evening in a very beautiful setting.

Pippa Scott

Why Apiary Meetings are important

The BeeHolder, July 2010

The following is a message from Our President, Master Beekeeper, Jim Crundwell.

Herbie Parker was a jobbing gardener, that is he worked for people with large gardens too big to manage, but not large enough to warrant a full-time gardener. As such Herbie worked for our neighbour one day a week. Importantly to me he was a beekeeper. As I had started beekeeping with a beginner’s outfit from Taylors and had no contact with another beekeeper, Herbie was a godsend, he corrected my mistakes and misconceptions. I thought he was a terrific beekeeper, later I realise that he was wrong about some things, but he got lots of honey. Because he was self employed he was in a position to collect stray swarms and was never short of bees.

I did have a book “Beekeeping” by Joseph Tinsley which was alright as far as it went, but one of its shortcomings was advice on the use of the smoker. “If the bees get irritable or out of hand, they can be controlled by (the) application of a little more smoke” According to Ada Rowse with who I worked later, Joe did not always practice what he preached. She had been a student at West Scotland College of Agriculture where he was Lecturer in Beekeeping.

It is very difficult to learn practical beekeeping without seeing it done by a competent person. That is why apiary meetings are so valuable. Every beekeeper needs a Herbie Parker. If you have a few years experience, please consider becoming a mentor to someone near you who may be floundering. At least make contact and exchange ‘phone numbers. Offer the loan of equipment such as honey extractor. Herbie lent me his for my first crop, 9lbs about which he was rather dismissive but to me it was a triumph.

Jim Crundwell

Future Events

The BeeHolder, July 2010

July Apiary Meeting Sunday 25th Tylwch, Llanidloes

This is an interesting venue. A collection of old buildings converted, with considerable panache, into a home for training workshops into rural crafts, stone carving and Archaeological digs. Contrast the range of innovative energy saving additions to these old buildings to the new-build energy-efficient housing to be seen during the September Apiary meeting. And all this before we get to the bees!

Training Day, Bee Diseases and Basic Assessment Exam

Saturday 28th August 10am to 4pm Sunday 28t at The Montgomeryshire Training Apiary at Gregynog, Tregynon,

The day will be run by John Beavan Seasonal Bee Inspector with fellow SBI Peter Guthrie and their boss Welsh Regional Bee Inspector Frank Gellatly. They will be available to advise on diseases and to test bees from members’ hives for Nosema. Members should bring along samples of their bees for microscopic examination. Details of how to collect bees will be sent to members later. For details of the basic assessment see July 2008 edition of BeeHolder pages 7, 8 & 9 or on line here. If you’re contemplating the Basic Assessment:- Please don’t be put off by the title ‘Basic Assessment’ – on the one hand, it is not so ‘basic’ that it is not worth it nor is it trivial; on the other hand it is a face-to-face test and the assessor will do everything possible to direct you towards the right answers during the session. The nature of the assessment, both practical and oral, involves both procedures and knowledge of bees and disease. To be eligible for the assessment you must have ‘managed at least one colony for a minimum of 12 months’

For the moment, remember the day and come to visit the Gregynog Apiary and examine the collection of hives

Only MBKA members will be permitted within the apiary but guests, including your children and grandchildren can view the activities from the public viewing areas behind the security barriers.

To add to the fun there will be a B Xfactor event.

September 4 & 5th,Glansevern Food Festival

We will need help on the MBKA stall at the Glansevern Food Festival. Helpers can get into the festival FREE if they help out on the stall. Please liaise with Secretary Jessica about what times you can do. Going on our experience of the last two years volunteers are kept busy with questions from the public.

September Apiary Meeting Sunday 19th Bishops Castle

The Wintles, part of Bishop's Castle, is an eco-village with community woodland, allotments, apiary, etc. Although each household is independent the residents are active in participating in community activities, such as woodland and meadow maintenance, chickens, pigs, and beekeeping. Currently the apiary has around a dozen hives, including 2 polystyrene. Charles Millar (area Seasonal Bee Inspector) will be attending.

The Wintles, Bishop's Castle

The famous Bishop's Castle Michaelmas Fair will be running on Sept 18-19 - further details can be found at http://www.michaelmasfair.org.uk. Parking will be available at the Wintles for MBKA visitors. Do the Fair, see the Apiary, and do the Fair again. Take advantage of the Wintles’ car park. Who said there weren’t perks in being a member of the MBKA?

Advice from the past

The BeeHolder, July 2010

I have always been fascinated by bees. Although my family did not keep bees I grew up being told stories of how people who did would tell the bees about important events in the life of the family. My mother would say, "Now that is something we should tell the bees". I wished we had a beehive so that I could.

I grew up in the hills of North Somerset. We grew most of our own food and had several apple trees in the garden including two Sheep's Nose cider apple trees, which I like but my favourite cider apple is the Morgan Sweet. At apple time, my father would take us for a walk to the next village where Morgan Sweets grew in the garden of a pub. The name of the pub was The Beehive.

Family photoI have always grown fruits and vegetables but have never kept bees. Then, in 2008, I visited the Welsh Food Fair at Glansevern Hall. The MBKA stall was like a magnet; I spent most of the afternoon there, talking to the incredibly enthusiastic people running it. As a result my husband and I joined the association, attended meetings throughout the winter, and in the summer of 2009 got our first bees. We were both very excited but found it very daunting as well. The worry of not knowing what to do was lifted off our shoulders by a member of MBKA who has become our mentor, without his help and the encouragement of other members of the association we would probably not have taken on such a responsibility.

Gair articleSince getting our bees we talk about them all the time. Our friends and family probably think we have become 'bee bores' but recently I had a surprise. My cousin, who has become the family archivist, wrote telling me that our great grandfather, who I only knew was a builder, had also been a beekeeper. So, there was already a tradition of bee keeping in my family but I did not know it! My great grandfather James Gair lived in Scotland, north of Inverness. Included with my cousin's letter was a copy of an article James had published. The title of the article was Great Grandfather James Gair

Bee barn"Bee-keeping in Ross-shire", and in it he gives advice to beginner beekeepers. I find it is exciting to receive advice from my great grandfather, that he wrote many years before I was born. My cousin also sent me a photograph that shows beehives sitting in a potato patch. James Gair took these hives up to the heather at flowering time. Also in the photo is his carpentry workshop with beehives built into the side. This was to give all-weather access to the hives, and apparently one of the hives had a window inside the workshop for observation. Honey in the comb was sent to my grandmother in Somerset where she had gone to find work, then met my grandfather and never returned home to Scotland.

Bridget Newbury

Why has this bee been marked?

The BeeHolder, July 2010

Marked worker

Why has this worker bee been marked?

One of my colonies, over a period of two to three weeks changed character dramatically. I was used to strolling amongst the hives without any armour just to see what they were taking in and to have a chat with them. I didn't bother them and they didn't bother me; a lovely amicable existence.

Gradually they became a little more aggressive until they were going for anyone who got within 25m of the apiary. There would be 20 to 50 of them all round my head screaming at my veil and stinging my gloves. It was impossible to source them as these nasties followed you down the row of hives such that every colony appeared to be the same. Although I had a rough idea which hive it was I was wary of taking the ultimate step in case I got it wrong.

I mark my queens so why not mark the workers? That evening I got an aerosol of fluorescent red paint from the workshop and after giving it good shake donned my armour again and waded into the fray. I waited until I had got a large crowd of bees going round and round and really going for me then stepped briskly back and sprayed a cloud of red paint into the air.

Next morning I opened the suspect hive and lo and behold, there was my evidence. The queen was promptly dispatched to the hive in the sky and a nucleus placed alongside for uniting the next day.

A great relief and hopefully it will be a happy ending.

Deryck Johnson courtesy Essex BeeKeepers and EBees July 2010

Bees Abroad

The BeeHolder, July 2010

Are you one of those people who just can’t help volunteering for things, no matter how busy you are? Well, I’m one of those people! Fascinated by the talk that Pam Gregory gave to the MBKA a couple of years ago about Bees Abroad, when I heard about the volunteer day that Bees Abroad were holding this March at Stoneleigh Park, I just couldn’t resist going along. Just as well, as it turned out, as I was the only person there from Wales (aside from Pam, of course). I also seemed to be the only person who didn’t already have some connection with Africa, or with development projects, so I feared I might be a little out of my depth. But Bees Abroad needs help in lots of different areas, so I was reassured that there were things I could help with.

For those of you who didn’t attend Pam’s talk, or who haven’t heard of Bees Abroad, they are a small UK-registered charity, dedicated to supporting beekeeping projects in developing countries. They send volunteer project managers to work with local community groups to develop beekeeping projects which will become self-sustainable. Using indigenous bees and techniques appropriate for each location, Bees Abroad offers training and support in beekeeping including making hives and protective clothing from local materials (we were shown photos of some very imaginative use of maize sacks, for example), managing bees, collecting and storing honey, and getting it to market. Bees Abroad advise on the production of honey and other saleable goods from the bi-products of beekeeping, together with marketing and business skills.  Bees Abroad projects are normally self-sustaining after five years.

There were about 20 potential volunteers and several of the Bees Abroad project leaders at the volunteer day. It began with an introduction by John Home, the Chairman, who is also a project leader in Kenya, supported by his wife Mary who works with the women, helping them to make cosmetics and set up small rural businesses. Then we were given a lightning tour of what Bees Abroad does in the various countries where it operates – Pam Gregory spoke about her project in Malawi; Brian Durk showed us some hair raising photos of the route to his project in Cameroon, which made us realise quite how remote some of these projects are; and Claire Waring, in between organising a delicious lunch and the biggest mound of chocolate biscuits you’ve ever seen, showed us photos of their project in Nepal.

Next we divided up into workshop groups to discuss what is needed to make a project sustainable. My group consisted of Brian Durk, Ronald from Uganda, who works as an accountant in this country, knows nothing about beekeeping, but is already running a chicken-raising project in Uganda, Keith from Southport who intends to set up a beekeeping project in northern Cyprus, Sally from Shepperton who has been a beekeeper for 20 years and makes cosmetics (as I do), and me. Being such a disparate bunch of people, we came up with some varied and interesting ideas, then gave feedback to the rest of the group.

After lunch we were given a description of what Bees Abroad does in this country, by the aptly named Jeff Bee. He explained that they give talks, have stands at shows, do fundraising, sell bee-related items, Christmas cards etc. They need help in all these areas, especially in developing internet sales. What sounds the more glamorous side, though Claire assured us it was very hard work, is organising Bees Abroad holidays. She showed us photos of some of the holidays that she has organised – to Nepal to see the honey hunters in action, to Cameroon, Thailand, the Yucatan, Cambodia, Rumania and to Chile where there’s a commercial operation harvesting active honey (similar to manuka honey) which I believe is sold at Waitrose. After this we again broke up for workshop discussions about how to raise the profile of Bees Abroad in this country. How about running a marathon dressed as a fluffy bee??

So – whilst running a marathon might be beyond me - what am I going to do for Bees Abroad? Well, I’ve written this account for a start, which might generate some interest and possibly a response. I will volunteer to help at the Shrewsbury Flower Show. And, who knows, maybe I’ll develop a line of beeswax & honey soaps especially for Bees Abroad. As a certain famous retailer is fond of saying, every little helps. Why don’t you volunteer to help them too? Visit www.beesabroad.org.uk to find out more.

Jane Frank (Former Secretary MBKA)

Additional Role of the Drone

The BeeHolder, July 2010

A man was driving down the road and ran out of petrol. Just at that moment, a bee flew in his window.

The bee said, 'What seems to be the problem?'

'I'm out of petrol,' the man replied.

The bee told the man to wait right there and flew away. Minutes later, the man watched as an entire swarm of bees flew to his car and into his petrol tank. After a few minutes, the bees flew out.

'Try it now,' said one bee.

The man turned the ignition key and the car started right up. 'Wow!' the man exclaimed, 'what did you put in my tank'?

The bee answeredBPbee pee 2


(At last - I knew that I could eventually prove that drones were useful for something more than the obvious! - ED)

 Courtesy AN HES ‘the swarm’ & eBees



The BeeHolder, July 2010

be informed, be up to date, be entertained

it must be


the 64 page full colour magazine in its 25th year

view a sample at http://www.bkq.org.uk

£26 per year from Northern Bee Books,

Scout Bottom Farm, Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge HX7 5JS (UK)



War and Bees

The BeeHolder, July 2010

Leo Tolstoy - Bees, from War and Peace

Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy, 1828-1910, beekeeper, pacificist, writer, and philosopher, enjoyed beekeeping to such an extent that his wife sometimes worried about his sanity. She should have realized that he was engaged in research for a book.

War and Peace: Chapter 20

Meanwhile, Moscow was empty. There were still people in it, perhaps a fiftieth part of its former inhabitants had remained, but it was empty. It was empty in the sense that a dying queenless hive is empty.

In a queenless hive no life is left, though to a superficial glance it seems as much alive as other hives. The bees circle round a queenless hive in the hot beams of the midday sun as gaily as around the living hives; from a distance it smells of honey like the others, and bees fly in and out in the same way. But one has only to observe that hive to realize that there is no longer any life in it. The bees do not fly in the same way, the smell and the sound that meet the beekeeper are not the same.

To the beekeeper’s tap on the wall of the sick hive, instead of the former instant unanimous humming of tens of thousands of bees with their abdomens threateningly compressed, and producing by the rapid vibration of their wings an aerial living sound, the only reply is a disconnected buzzing from different parts of the deserted hive. From the alighting board, instead of the former spirituous fragrant smell of honey and venom, and the warm whiffs of crowded life, comes an odour of emptiness and decay mingling with the smell of honey. There are no longer sentinels sounding the alarm with their abdomens raised, and ready to die in defence of the hive.

There is no longer the measured quiet sound of throbbing activity, like the sound of boiling water, but diverse discordant sounds of disorder. In and out of the hive long black robber bees smeared with honey fly timidly and shiftily. They do not sting, but crawl away from danger. Formerly only bees laden with honey flew into the hive, and they flew out empty; now they fly out laden. The beekeeper opens the lower part of the hive and peers in.

Instead of black, glossy bees- tamed by toil, clinging to one another’s legs and drawing out the wax, with a ceaseless hum of labour - that used to hang in long clusters down to the floor of the hive, drowsy shrivelled bees crawl about separately in various directions on the floor and walls of the hive. Instead of a neatly glued floor, swept by the bees with the fanning of their wings, there is a floor littered with bits of wax, excrement, dying bees scarcely moving their legs, and dead ones that have not been cleared away

The beekeeper opens the upper part of the hive and examines the super. Instead of serried rows of bees sealing up every gap in the combs and keeping the brood warm, he sees the skilful complex structures of the combs, but no longer in their former state of purity. All is neglected and foul. Black robber bees are swiftly and stealthily prowling about the combs, and the short home bees, shrivelled and listless as if they were old, creep slowly about without trying to hinder the robbers, having lost all motive and all sense of life. Drones, bumblebees, wasps, and butterflies knock awkwardly against the walls of the hive in their flight. Here and there among the cells containing dead brood and honey an angry buzzing can sometimes be heard. Here and there a couple of bees, by force of habit and custom cleaning out the brood cells, with efforts beyond their strength laboriously drag away a dead bee or bumblebee without knowing why they do it. In another corner two old bees are languidly fighting, or cleaning themselves, or feeding one another, without themselves knowing whether they do it with friendly or hostile intent. In a third place a crowd of bees, crushing one another, attack some victim and fight and smother it, and the victim, enfeebled or killed, drops from above slowly and lightly as a feather, among the heap of corpses.

The keeper opens the two centre partitions to examine the brood cells. In place of the former close dark circles formed by thousands of bees sitting back to back and guarding the high mystery of generation, he sees hundreds of dull, listless, and sleepy shells of bees. They have almost all died unawares, sitting in the sanctuary they had guarded and which is now no more. They reek of decay and death. Only a few of them still move, rise, and feebly fly to settle on the enemy’s hand, lacking the spirit to die stinging him; the rest are dead and fall as lightly as fish scales. The beekeeper closes the hive, chalks a mark on it, and when he has time tears out its contents and burns it clean.

So in the same way Moscow was empty when Napoleon, weary, uneasy, and morose, paced up and down in front of the Kammer-Kollezski rampart, awaiting what to his mind was a necessary, if but formal, observance of the proprieties - a deputation.

Leo Tolstoy

marcus aurelius

"What is not good for the swarm is not good for the bee"
Aurelius, Med. vi. 54

Remember the beginning of the film Gladiator?
The Russell Crow character loyally served an old
emperor on the battle field.
That was Marcus Aurelius.

Bee venom and health

The BeeHolder, July 2010

Honey Bee Venom May Help Design New Treatments to Alleviate Muscular Dystrophy, Depression and Dementia

Scientists researching a toxin extracted from the venom of the honey bee have used this to inform the design of new treatments to alleviate the symptoms of conditions such as muscular dystrophy, depression and dementia.

Apamin, a natural peptide toxin found in bee venom, is known for its ability to block a type of ion channel that enables a high-speed and selective flow of potassium ions out of nerves. The blocking of these channels in brain causes nerves to become hyperexcitable, producing improved learning that has implications for the treatment of dementia and depression. In addition, injection of apamin improves the symptoms experienced by sufferers of myotonic muscular dystrophy (MD).

Until now, the exact mechanism by which apamin acts was poorly understood. In a study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, two teams from the University of Bristol and the University of Liege in Belgium describe the results of their joint work on these KCa2 potassium ion channels, also called SK channels. Using computer models and a genetic approach, the researchers were able to pinpoint exactly where apamin binds to block the channel. To block ion channels, most molecules act as a plug at their external mouth. Perhaps surprisingly, the researchers have discovered that apamin binds away from the channel pore, and causes the shape of the channel to change through an 'allosteric' mechanism, resulting in block.

This discovery could accelerate research into the design of new SK channel blockers which could imitate the action of apamin, to target SK channels in neural and muscular conditions such as dementia, depression or MD.

Professor Neil Marrion, from the University of Bristol's Physiology & Pharmacology department, said: "Drug design depends on knowing the target. Our findings have provided a new approach to designing a therapeutic agent that could help with the treatment of a number of conditions."

Professor Vincent Seutin, from the GIGA Neurosciences at the University of Liège, commented on the study: "I am very enthusiastic about the results of our study and I believe that, with the help of this piece of information, the targeting of these channels for the development of future drugs has been made easier."

Science Daily (July 10, 2010) Courtesy AN HES ‘the swarm’ and EBees

Book Review

The BeeHolder, July 2010

This is the title of a really excellent new book on all aspects of beekeeping. The difference in type-face on the front page is telling. Who would want to keep unhealthy honey bees? Or was the intention to suggest the link between the reader’s health and honey bees: Keeping healthy... Keeping  honey bees honey bees ? There are other quirky things about this book: sudden blank pages that perhaps were intended for individual note-making and then perhaps not, because they are just as suddenly missing. But I quibble. The quirkiness probably comes from the production team rather than the superbly professional authors, David Aston, Vice Chair of the BBKA and Sally Bucknall, Chair of Garden Organic.

The book is very comprehensive in all aspects of beekeeping with everything explained in a relaxed easy-to-read style. It is especially useful for having up-to-date information about bees and bee diseases and excellent advice on diseases under the umbrella of Integrated Bee Health Management. The colour pictures are superb, the black and white ones less so.; some really needed to be in colour for easy understanding. I was delighted to see at last a picture (in colour) of brood frames that should be destroyed. So often we see hives containing such frames and the beekeeper convinced that just because the cells are neat and regular, the frame is OK. There is a lot of learning to be had from this book with plenty to help the novice and enough to challenge the expert. I can thoroughly recommend ” Keeping Healthy Honey Bees “.

Published by Northern Bee Books, paperback, 194 pages £16

Arthur Finlay

Montgomeryshire Training Apiary

The BeeHolder, July 2010

Leasing bees and cutting risks

As at 17th July the following hives are inhabited by bees.:-

2 National hives
1 Long frame hive (The type often used by commercial beekeepers)
1 WBC hive
2 Warré hives (designed by Abbé Émile Warré as a People's Hive (Ruche Populaire)
1 Top bar hive (modeled on the simple hives typically found in Africa and S.E.Asia)

The hives were bought by the MBKA or given by members. The colonies were from members or swarms reported by the general public.

Next year we will have survived a winter and ready to run the apiary both for the training of our members and as a public showcase for bees and beekeeping. The products of the apiary will be nucs and queens for MBKA members, and honey which will be sold at University of Wales outlets as “Gregynog Honey” (all profits naturally go to the MBKA).

The bees love the spectacular Rhododendrons at Gregynog but the honey from this source would be too toxic to sell commercially. So, whilst the Rhododrendrons are in flower, the apiary will be managed for the production of Nucs and Queens and after the flowers have gone then we can put on fresh supers and go all out for honey production.

We have been slow at getting colonies into the hives. Hardly surprising at a time when even experienced beekeepers are reporting a slow start to the season and a shortage of bees. We are grateful for all those bees we have received. A leasing arrangement has naturally evolved whereby those giving colonies have said that they would like the option of taking back the bees should their own apiaries suffer catastrophic collapse. With SBI John Beavan inspecting the hives once a fortnight the apiary should do well. First in the queue for Nucs and queens will be those who have given colonies. Indeed those giving will have cut down the risk of losing bees by their “gift”. This is somewhat similar to the individual arrangements that some old beekeepers have with their novice friends: a Nuc is given one season with the stipulation that an equivalent number of full frames of brood can be taken back the next year. A good arrangement for all concerned which spreads the risk of losing colonies.

The only stipulation Gregynog have made is that all hives should be either new or of obvious good quality. The apiary is another attraction at Gregynog for drawing in the public. The more hives the apiary has, the more public interest there will be. Members wishing to donate or lease hives to the apiary should contact the secretary.

To Visit the Apiary.

Park in the car-park and go to Gregynog reception and show your MBKA membership card. You will be given a free car-park ticket. The Apiary is in the Dell. Signposts should be erected soon. Please give your comments to any committee member. We need your feedback

Hover over pictures for a description

MBKA apiary in preparation by giant insect machines

Our  MBKA sign where the entrance to the covered Viewing Shelter will be.

The viewing rail with bee security netting one metre beyondThe hut where extraction and other activities take place

April 2010

The BeeHolder, April 2010

Not  an advert for the docile Italian bee

Not an advert for the docile Italian bee!

Chistchurch Hobbyist Beekeepers, March 6th 2010

You can navigate through this copy of the BeeHolder using the links at the bottom of this page and the arrows at the bottom of each subsequent page, or the links in the right hand sidebar of the page. If you prefer, you can access the magazine as a PDF (Portable Document Format) by selecting the attachment below. This requires Acrobat Reader, which is provided as a free download by Adobe.

APril 2010 E versionA5.pdf1.24 MB


The BeeHolder, April 2010

One of the joys of committee meetings over the last few years has been watching treasurer Roy Norris explode in a near-foaming fury every time bad-beekeeping or Devon are mentioned. Devon, he would claim, is the source of most of the bee troubles in the UK. I have asked him many times if he could put his passion into an article but as a senior officer of BDI (Bee Disease Insurance) he could not compromise his position by singling out one county for his wrath. “ ....and I tell you the Bayvarol strips weren’t just left in for one year, they were added to until they were creeping out the hive entrance... and this was a professional beekeeper!”  As you read Roy’s article (Beekeeping in Devon) try to imagine the original spoken comments complete with the teeth grinding and foam

Civilisation progressed by the exchange of ideas and the electronic age just makes that exchange faster but Arthur Finlay’s article about New Zealand Beekeeping and Roy’s article reminds us that chance personal contacts are still essential for learning. Just as the computer has not reduced our use of paper as was predicted, it has not lead to the social isolation that was also predicted. Incidentally, some years ago the committee voted that all committee meetings are open to all members. Do come along, they can be great fun and perhaps you will be amused enough to stand for committee next February.

We start 2010 full of hope after the previous disastrous year but we should be aware that some of 2009’s problems will come to haunt us in 2010. For example; mating of queens was so bad after last July that the 2009 queen will be especially weak in 2010. It is going to be harder to increase stock and honey production will also be less than we would normally expect from any given weather condition. It will take a few years before we can recover from 2009.

Is our weather particularly bad for bees?

Terry Cook (see here) would say “Yes” and that our native bee is ill adapted to providing sufficient production to be viable. He assumes of course that the commercial beekeeper and the honey bee are in a natural symbiotic relationship. Whether we like it or not Apis Mellifera is a result of thousands of years of selection by man (see here) we cannot just leave it alone and expect the traits we want to magically appear or reappear. Brother Adam always argued that you cannot get traits out of the bee that were never ever there in the first place. Would he have had sympathy with the search for Hive hygene genes or would he approve of investing in the scientific possibility of splicing a set of genes from Apis cerana into Apis Melifera so that the latter could reproduce with the grooming behaviour of Apis cerana (Arthur Finlay’s New Zealand report)? Arthur would argue that the crisis in agriculture caused by the rapid drop in Honey Bee numbers does not allow us the luxury of being finicky about the concept of GM (genetic modification). His view is backed by Dr Simon Potts at Reading university’s School of Agriculture. Dr Potts has found there has been a 54 per cent drop in the UK’s managed honeybee population over the last 20 years. This compared to an average drop of 20 per cent across Europe. The study ‘Decline of managed honeybees and beekeepers in Europe’ shows that the UK bee population is declining at over twice the rate of the other 17 European countries in the survey.

On a happier note a team from Louisiana (see here) claims to have found a Hive Hygiene Gene. We await with interest confirmation of this from other research establishments.

Tony Shaw, March 2010

New members

The BeeHolder, April 2010

We welcome as new members :

Charles Balcock (Meiford), Sarah Chapman (Llanfyllin), David Clark (Bishops Castle), David Davies (Forden), Mervyn Evans (Kerry), Debbie Francis (Y Van), Henk Jan Kuipers (Guilsfield), Chris Robinson (Bishops Castle), Dave & Jill Smith (Welshpool), and Judith Yates (Bishops Castle)

AGM Reports

The BeeHolder, April 2010

This is the secretaries' report as presented at the AGM on February 18th, 2010.

The year started well with a high turnout at the AGM, the year began with 70 members and as of today we now have over 100.

The first public exhibition of the year was held at Newtown Library. The committee put together a display of equipment past and present the Virtual Hive & lots of photos and of course the most important piece the Observation Hive. During the time at the library we were asked if we could perhaps do some demonstrations for a few primary schools, of course we said yes not realising how many children would be coming!

Tony, Graham, Ralph & Jessica put together a bit of display letting them taste honey, dress up in bee suits, show them how the equipment worked, how to extract honey and the grand finale looking at a working hive. One school however were not allowed to cross the busy main road so we took the display to them. This was so worthwhile the children & teachers were fascinated by it all and we received some lovely thank you letters.

After the school visits we started with the apiary visits the first one being in April to new members Rev John & Bridgit Newbury subject of the visit, where to place a hive.

Weather was too wet for the visit to Roy Norris’s in May so that is planned to go ahead again for this year.

We then had a very successful bee demonstration, BBQ and open garden hosted by Dr Beverly Evans-Britt & Tony Shaw. A whopping £291 was raised through the sales of teas & plants and the proceeds were then used to buy some bee suits for children.

In July we had an enjoyable trip to Attingham Park to meet Brian Goodwin. Even though it rained for most of the day the weather did stay dry enough for us to inspect the hives at Radbrook College. The day was nicely finished off with a meal at the Mytton & Mermaid in Attingham.

August & September were the highlights of the year with two days at Shrewsbury Flower show & two days at Glanseven Food Festival. We were offered a stand by Glamorgan beekeepers which in itself was a challenge to put together but definitely well worth the effort and was very professional so a big thank you to them for letting us have it.

At Glanseven we held a raffle and managed to raise £465.70. Winner of the hive was Nigel Moulding who is now a new member.

September was the last of the outdoor apiary visits what splendid weather we had and tea fit for a queen. This was held at Liz & Roger Farrington’s house in the hills above Manafon, the biggest turnout yet with over 60 people attending. Most were new members who had met us at the shows. With a bit of juggling with suits we managed to get everyone who wanted to see the bees into the hives. John Beavan our new SBI for the area also came along and did the talk & hive inspection.

In November we managed to persuade Sara Clutton from Theatr Hafren to put on the film Vanishing Of the Bees. This went down very well and had a large turnout and recruited a few new members on the strength of this.

In between these main events the committee has been working hard behind the scenes finding speakers for winter meetings, places for apiary visits, giving talks to WI’s, Gardening Clubs, more Schools etc.

The year ended in January with a Christmas Meal at the Lakeside Golf Club. Special guests were Brian & Daphne Goodwin, Peter & Marian Guthrie and John & Alison Beavan all of whom have (and still do) give a lot of time to the MBKA. An enjoyable evening was had by all with 40 members in attendance.

For 2010 it is important to help all the new members we currently have. In April we are again holding beginners courses at Plas Dolerw, Newtown with Brian Goodwin who is the President of The Shropshire Beekeepers. We then hope to get a training apiary set up with the help of John Beavan SBI, fellow members and a grant or two. We have kindly been offered a piece of land in the woodland at Gregynog Hall, Tregynon. We want to show new members excellent bee husbandry skills make sure they get the right advice anytime. We are all beginners and learning all the time & we need to learn from each other. We are currently seeking grants to help fund the project and have applied to a number of organisations for this. Outdoor apiary visits will get more difficult to find with so many new members as parking can be very limited at a lot of places so it is vital we get this up and running as soon as possible, Finally this is going to be our last year as secretary , and Doug woods last year as Chairman & Tony Shaw has asked me to tell you he will also be finishing as BeeHolder editor as it’s important to have change & some new blood.

We will still be hands on but without the paperwork!

To sum it up we have had a very good year with the start of many more to come.

Thank you all for your continued help & support hope to see you at future meetings

Jessica & Dave Bennett, Joint Secretaries MBKA

The treasurer's report and draft financial statements were distributed by Roy in January. Rather than repeat all the figures here, will those who want to see the final approved version please contact Roy and he will send you a full copy.

Reports on meetings

The BeeHolder, April 2010

The AGM, February 18th

Around 50 turned up for the AGM on 18th February. The formal part was rushed through with joyous abandon leaving the evening to our two guests. Laura Shrewing from Glasu let us know what money she had to offer us which is a possible £5.000. We hope we can put a good case so we can be awarded that money. Roy is putting his all into it.

Seasonal Bee Inspector John Beavan gave a description aided by lots of photos of what his job entails, the area he covers and how he can help us. The evening finished at 9.30 and considering that we are supposed to leave by 9:00pm we can use that as a guage of the evening’s success.

See here for the secretaries' and treasurer's reports.

Jessica Bennett

Will Messenger and the Stewarton Hive (see article in previous BeeHolder)

About 40 members came to hear Gloucester beekeeper, Will Messenger, talk about the Stewarton Hive. Will became fascinated by the claim of Robert Kerr, Stewarton’s inventor (1819) that the bees don’t swarm and give masses of honey. Will’s experience with a hive he built himself and operated over 7 years seems to bear this out. He has also had few health problems with this hive.

Will Messenger shows his Hive

The stewartson was one of several 18th and 19th century attempts at creating a hive which would be productive of honey, would reduce swarming and would so separate the honey storage areas from the brood areas that honey could be gathered without destroying the bees. We learnt about Neighbour’s Improved Cottager with chimney and thermometer to keep the hive below the supposed swarming temperature of 100⁰F; and of Mr Well’s double hive; the first WBC, Burt’s Extra Deep Easy to Work and the Burgess Perfection which concertinaed to give quadruple thick walls for extra winter warmth.

With its drawers, slides, shutters and windows the hive is a tribute to the cabinet maker’s skill. Will proposed that many of its unique features contribute to the reduction of swarming and the tidiness of the comb. The octagonal shape had no cold corners and the rigid top bars did not wobble as can happen with modern frames (perhaps the cause of brace comb). Being near circular in plan the queen’s pheromones spread evenly through the hive. In particular, the pheromone she secretes from her feet to discourage queen cell building is distributed along the bottom of the comb (because it is frameless) and so queen cell building is discouraged. An impressive pandering to the natural behaviour of the bee. However I could not help thinking that with so much monitoring and invigilation, the beekeeper might have been able to reduce swarming in any hive.

For this talk, Will also researched the history of beekeeping in mid-Wales and found that there is none ( history, that is). In fact there is little recorded history of beekeeping in all of Wales.

In the question and answer period at the end, somebody asked if the blue hive angered the bees. Will didn’t know as he had painted previous boxes red, and this has never had bees in. He does have a blue bee suit which he has never used, so he will let us know if the colour blue angers the bees when he tries that one out!

This was a very interesting talk well received and as usual the catering was superb!

Chris Leech

Beekeeping in Devon

The BeeHolder, April 2010

It is the best of places – it is the worst of places.

Before I launch into my polemic about Devon beekeepers. Let’s be clear – a polemic is a one-sided argument or discussion. There are some good, even great beekeepers in Devon. The former National Beekeeper lives and keeps bees in Devon.

But why oh why does everything that is bad also come out of Devon.

Varroa came into Wales in the late to mid 1980’s. It was first discovered in Tenby. Had it come in on a ship to Pembroke dock? No one knew and extensive research had to be undertaken only to discover that it had been imported into Wales from a beekeeper who had moved his stocks into Wales from Devon to gather more honey. Of course varroa could have come from anywhere, but it had to come from Devon.

Next, treatments are devised and Apistan and Bayvarol become available, are very effective and the problem is solved.

Or so we think -- but we hadn't reckoned on Devon beekeepers. Using Bayvarol or Apistan is quite simple, follow the instructions. The strips are not supposed to be in the hive for more than six weeks. As the meerkat says "simples".

But not so ‘simples’ to a Devon beekeeper who manages over a considerable number of years to stuff nearly 100 strips into a beehive. And guess what, the varroa mite gets quite used to the presence of synthetic pyrethroids and develops a liking for their taste. As do the mites very many offspring. And thus we have resistant mites. And these have spread all over the country. We now have integrated pest management which is demanding of time and not as effective as the pyrethroids were, if they were used properly.

But to ensure that the resistant varroa were quickly spread over the country, Devon beekeepers continue to sell nucs and colonies to the unwary. They continued to export their colonies to gather honey from wherever the honey was flowing. This ensured that even if bees were not purchased in to infect non-resistant areas, they got in somehow.

Devon SS20 BUDE 2
Devon ST10 HONITON 1
Devon SX54 WEMBURY 1
Devon SX96 TORQUAY 5

This table, above, shows the number of incidents of the more serious American Foulbrood disease recorded in Devon over the past 10 years. Information is from the beebase website – you’ll have register to see all the data available. The second column is the 10km grid reference square, the final column shows the number of colonies infected.

With 26 outbreaks Devon is up there with the leaders and think of the size of Devon compared to the other counties listed.

Devon does quite well for European Foul Brood as well. See the map below, again for Beebase, for 2005.

Foulbrood infected apiaries

What next - small hive beetle – tropilaelaps mites!

Just steer clear of any bees from Devon.

And don’t even think of sending your bees to Devon to collect Devon honey – you will never know what they have caught until it’s too late and we are all infected.

And that’s why it is easy to get me to rant about Devon beeping!

Roy Norris.

Selecting for the wrong traits

The BeeHolder, April 2010

Up until the beginning of the last century bees were kept in what were called straw skeps. The design of these skeps made it difficult to know how the bees were progressing with the making of honey. When the beekeeper wanted to obtain honey from one of the skeps it invariably meant the destruction of the bees within. To ascertain which skep that he would empty the beekeeper would "heft" the individual skeps to estimate the quantity of honey in each. He would then select the heaviest skeps and remove the bees by placing the skep over a pit of burning sulphur.

Robert Bums wrote of the method in his poem "The Brigs of Ayr": "The bees rejoicing o'er their summer toils, Unnumbered buds an flowers' delicious spoils, Sealed up with frugal care in massive waxen piles, Are doomed by man, that tyrant o'er the weak, The death o' devils smoored wi' brimstone reek.”

Read this article with the report on Will Messenger's March Stewarton Hive meeting

Learning from Kiwis

The BeeHolder, April 2010

Touring New Zealand it’s nice to occasionally bump into beekeepers, share a few yarns and exchange ideas. Before spending a day with the Christchurch Hobbyist Beekeepers I had already met a number of small holders, (“life stylists” is the Kiwi name) on the North Island who expressed dismay at the poor pollination of their orchards. A drop of 50% in the apple crop in Waiheke island just north of Auckland was related to the collapse of the local bee population. Aucklanders knew that all the evidence is that a local hobbyist was responsible for the introduction of varroa to New Zealand by illegally importing queens. Not surprisingly varroa is worse in the North island but a visit to Christchurch, half way down the east coast of the South Island, revealed a varroa crisis far worse than anything I had seen in Montgomeryshire.

Christchurch Hobbyist Beekeepers meet in their club apiary on the first Saturday of each month. The club has 150 members with most members, as in Montgomeryshire, having up to 10 hives . But they did have more than 20 members who each had more than 25 hives each. These “semi-professional beekeepers were the main source of bee-knowledge to the group.

On the 6th March 60 members and children turned up for a meeting whose theme was varroa and disease. Sam Miller, from Northern Ireland, was the guest speaker and ran through the problems of varroa in Europe emphasising that New Zealanders should learn from European experience of the parasite. He predicted that because of the longer honey season and more active bees varroa resistance would take hold in NZ at a faster rate than it had in Europe. I was startled to be invited to make a few comments and managed to remember some statistics about losses in the UK and about the DNA evidence that most of the viral and Fungal diseases killing off colonies were not new but had been around for at least 35 years and were opportunistic killers taking advantage of the lowered immune system that varroa infestation had caused. (Thank goodness I read my BeeHolders)

Then it was the turn of five of the semi-professional beekeepers who gave a sort of “topical tips”: little tricks for adding formic acid, cleaning hives and opening hives. Sam and I particularly liked a pair of metal handles which President Jeff Robinson uses for introducing boards between brood or supers boxes. See picture below.

Clearing board tool

Sam Miller from Northern Ireland looks on as president Jeff Robinson demonstrates the Board insertion tool

The distance between the flanges was just a bit more that the width of a clearing board. One is put on one side of the hive and another on the opposite side. The Clearing or Crown board can then just be slipped between and the pair of tools then removed. The boxes need not be lifted from the hive and the whole operation can be done by one person. Sam and I were most impressed, so simple , just why had we not seen something like that before?

I think our MBKA would benefit tremendously by actively recruiting the local professional and semi-professional beekeepers into our association. Like their NZ colleagues our semi-professionals are full of little gimmicks that one can never find in books.

Another “topical-tip” was a way of selecting queens for good hive hygiene behaviour. Take the top of a yogurt pot and press into an area of capped brood on each of your hives. Within the circle of brood prick each cell with a pin. Close the hives and examine again in two days and four days. The hive where the most cells have been cleaned out has the queen with the best “hive hygiene genes”. This is the queen that should be used for stock increase. During the afternoon I met a retired lecturer in zoology (whose father was a beekeeper in Staffordshire) and we mused together whether there was enough time for selection of hygiene behaviour to be of use in combating the ravages of varroa or whether the mapping of the genome of Apis cerana and the transfer of the gene for grooming behaviour from Apis cerana into Apis mellifera might be a far more certain and quicker way of saving the honey bee and western agriculture.

Clump of beesWhen it was time to open the hives all four were opened together with many members viewing the hives without protection and four young children playing between the hives also without veil or gloves on. How I envied the docility of the Italian bee. All the operations were made so easy. But Sam and I told the members we had never seen such a high degree of varroa infestation in the UK. Varroa mites everywhere. One frame was of recently introduced foundation. There was a patch of drawn comb about 10cells by 10 cells on both sides. On one side the drawn comb contained some brood larvae. Although there was no evidence of varroa on the brood there were varroa mites crawling over the undrawn foundation. However, on turning the frame over one could see the varroa underneath each of the larvae on the opposite side. The quality of light in the UK is rarely such that we can see such things. I remember so many of our MBKA apiary visits where members struggle, even on asunny Welsh day to see what is going on!

White at 7.30 to clump of bees is larvae on opposite side of frame with varroa seen feeding at the bottom of the cells.

A good learning experience for this Welsh and the Irish visitor.

Arthur Finlay

I have cut Arthur’s report on his NZ experiences on the grounds that his photos are self explanatory. Editor.

Why imported queens?

The BeeHolder, April 2010

The reason for leaving the BBKA and all associations in it ten years ago was the simple reason of the amount of unnecessary drivel that is talked about in the bee world. A prime example is the forever trying to find the best bee for use, the British black bee. Well ladies and gentlemen, the fact is quite simple:-it never existed as you all would like it to have done. In the mythology of British beekeeping you have all seen the pictures of the veil-less beekeeper or the lady with only the long flowing dress on tending the bees. Well for any class of beginners I can do the same thing, weaken the stock, subdue it prior to the class or photograph and low and behold a calm easily manageable stock!

Many people ask me is there a problem with bees? Are they dying out? Are they disappearing, will they survive? I normally answer that despite the beekeeper, they are all doing fine, however, something is wrong and losses are up. So what are we doing about it? Breed our own? So how can someone think they can change the bee in half a life time, when they have been around for the last 35 million years in their present form? Can anyone argue that the person with the most time and experience was the late and dare I say the great Brother Adam. Anyone who cannot see that he and he alone on this island had the best chance for finding the British black bee and failed are simply living in cloud cuckoo land. Please read the book “Breeding the Honeybee” by the man himself and you will find the quote “You cannot breed something that never existed”

I cannot believe people in today’s climate of bee losses; because their stocks get a little larger than they have seen before and thus the bees defend themselves more readily, they destroy the stock, yes destroy the stock and blame the aggressive bees. Not that they are not used to handling large colonies or that it was the wrong time of day to go messing with the bees, or simply that they have had the colony exposed to the outside world for so long so they can find the queen for the fourth time that week, no its the bees that are aggressive, so destroy. No ladies and gentlemen there are times bees get a little feisty, sometimes a little moody but never a bee that deserves to die because of a bad beekeeper.

I run a fair number of stocks so I don’t have time to play with Mother Nature and create the “ultimate bee”, so I import mated Carniolans (Carnica) bred with Italians. These are black queens that keep a very tight brood nest; I have found these to be the best in our climate even with the changes going on under our very noses today (I won’t bore you with the statistics and characteristics of the breed, please if you have time, read up on them yourselves.) All I can say is that I put a nuc. of five frames with a new queen in a national hive, six feet away from the established Branch hive and it produced 67 lbs of honey to the branch hives 34 lbs. Was that better beekeeping or a better bee? The Branch members inspected that colony when they did their own.

Mr Oliver Field once suggested that I breed my own queens and I pointed out that I can’t get mated queens in this country soon enough to replace losses or increase my stocks. I need to continuously expand, (have you seen the price of fuel?) and where on this island can you isolate? Unless you artificially inseminate! You cannot secure breeding. Now if the Carniolans supersede they are at least 50% Carniolan x Italians and within three years are normally replaced. So if and when I produce a batch of queens, I know at least their heritage back one generation.

What I am trying to say with all this, is that what people want are bees, new people coming into beekeeping want bees, not hours of needless talk about the latest bee that can overcome Varroa after destroying how many colonies because of not treating and infesting (if that's the right word ) hundreds of colonies locally; or the locally produced queens that are the best in Wiltshire or Yorkshire or the Outer Hebrides but they can’t have them, because the local queen breeders had a off year and only produced three in Wiltshire BKA. February August and maybe next year with a bit of luck you might get a queen to head a colony that they may get. They want a colony or a nucleus now or at least in May so they can start beekeeping.

So I might be an importer of queens and an enemy of the state but I can at least provide a nucleus of 100% Carniolans x Italians in May to produce a colony of honey producing, mild mannered bees, that are used to a climate very close to ours. By the way, each batch of queens are inspected by the National Bee Unit for any disease prior to introduction to the UK and the attendant workers destroyed.

Terry Cooke

I am sure that many of you would like to comment on Terry’s article! Please put pen to paper and let me have them.



Stopping the Waggle Dance

The BeeHolder, April 2010

ALL beekeepers know that bees use the waggle dance to indicate to their fellows where to find rich sources of nectar and pollen, but did you know the display can be stalled by headbutting the dancer? James Nieh, an associate professor of biology at the University of California in San Diego, says the rude interruption can serve as a warning that the journey could be too risky – if, for example, the foragers had been attacked by rival bees.

The stop sign involves the warning bee vibrating at about 380 times a second for perhaps a tenth of a second, butting or climbing onto her ʻvictimʼ for added emphasis Prof Nieh said this signal and its effect had been observed before, but until now no one had established a ʻclear natural triggerʼ for it. His findings, reported in Current Biology, resulted from experiments on honey bees that were attacked by competitors while foraging for food at an experimental feeder.

BeeMail Feb 2010

Honey Bees fight Back!

The BeeHolder, April 2010

Honey bees are now fighting back aggressively against Varroa mites, thanks to Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) efforts to develop bees with a genetic trait that allows them to more easily find the mites and toss them out of the broodnest.

The parasitic Varroa mite attacks the honey bee, Apis mellifera L. by feeding on its haemolymph, which is the combination of blood and fluid inside a bee. Colonies can be weakened or killed, depending on the severity of the infestation. Most colonies eventually die from varroa infestation if left untreated.

Varroa-sensitive hygiene (VSH) is a genetic trait of the honey bee that allows it to remove mite-infested pupae from the capped brood, ie developing bees that are sealed inside cells of the comb with a protective layer of wax. The mites are sometimes difficult for the bees to locate, since they attack the bee brood while these developing bees are inside the capped cells.

ARS scientists at the agency’s Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Unit in Baton Rouge, La., have developed honey bees with high expression of the VSH trait. Honey bees are naturally hygienic, and they often remove diseased brood from their nests. VSH is a specific form of nest cleaning focused on removing varroa-infested pupae. The VSH honey bees are quite aggressive in their pursuit of the mites. The bees gang up, chew and cut through the cap, lift out the infected brood and their mites, and discard them from the broodnest.

See this activity on video here.

This hygiene kills the frail mite offspring which greatly reduces the lifetime reproductive output of the mother mite. The mother mite may survive the ordeal and try to reproduce in brood again, only to undergo similar treatment by the bees.

To test the varroa resistance of VSH bees, the Baton Rouge team conducted field trials using 40 colonies with varying levels of VSH. Mite population growth was significantly lower in VSH and hybrid colonies than in bee colonies without VSH. Hybrid colonies had half the VSH genes normally found in pure VSH bees, but they still retained significant varroa resistance. Simpler ways for bee breeders to measure VSH behaviour in colonies were also developed in this study.

From The Scottish Beekeeper, Courtesy E-Bees, November, 2009


The BeeHolder, April 2010

The buzz on Klinker – Maryland’s Bee Dog

Sniffing out harmful bacteria in bee colonies is a full time job for Klinker — “our newest employee,” said William Troup, an apiary inspector with the Maryland Department of Agriculture. A black Labrador retriever trained late in 2009, Klinker is part of the department’s strategy to detect diseased bee colonies. Specifically, she’s looking for American foulbrood, the most common and destructive bacterial disease facing Maryland’s honeybees.

Clinker with handler William Troup.

Klinker’s normal workday consists of walking along rows of hives. When she smells bacteria, she sits, alerting her handler. Since the 1970s, U.S. beekeepers have reported a shrinking bee population because of bacteria, disease, pesticides and parasites. Some of those factors might also contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder, in which worker bees abandon their hive for no known reason.

 “If it were not for the honeybees, there would not be enough food on Planet Earth to support life as we know it,” said Jerry Fischer, who is in charge of the state’s Apiary Inspection Program. “Early detection of the disease by Klinker and Troup will save Maryland beekeepers substantial monetary loss from eradication of diseased bees and destruction of infected equipment.”

A trained hive-sniffing dog such as Klinker can inspect 100 honeybee colonies in about 45 minutes, far more than humans, who inspect fewer than half that number in a day. Klinker, who is 18 months old, is the fourth bee dog to serve in the department. In the late 1970s, Maryland became the first state to use dogs to detect disease in honeybee colonies, and it is the only state to keep a full-time “bee dog” on its staff.

Adapted from article in Washington Post March 5th 2009

Bee Inspectors' News

The BeeHolder, April 2010

At the time of going to Press the data for winter losses have not yet been compiled so it is too early to get the picture of the 2009/2010 winter . SBIs John Beavan and Peter Guthrie will give details when they have them. They would still like to inspect losses if people want to get in touch with about it, particularly if there are a few dead outs.

Regional Bee Inspector John Verran is retiring in April . His replacement has not yet been selected. I know I speak for the whole association when I extend a thinks to John for all his help to us and to wish him a fulfilling retirement.

Drone congregation areas

The BeeHolder, July 2010

July 1, 1792

‘There is a natural occurrence to be met with upon the highest part of our down on hot summer days, which always amuses me much, without giving me any satisfaction with respect to the cause of it; & that is a loud audible humming of bees in the air, tho’ not one insect is to be seen. This sound is to be heard distinctly the whole common through, from the Moneydells, to Mr White’s avenue-gate. Any person would suppose that a large swarm of bees was in motion, & playing about over his head. This noise was heard last week on June 28th.’

Gilbert White, ‘A Natural History of Selborne’

The above writing is believed to be the earliest known reference to what we now call a drone congregation area. (DCA)

Although a lot of research has been carried out into drone behaviour in DCAs, no one has yet satisfactorily explained why the DCAs occur in certain places, and even more mystifying, why they persist in the same places year after year. (The DCA referred to by Gilbert White is still in use today.

Virtually all drones die in the previous autumn, so how do the new drones know where to go? Light distribution and the contour of the horizon seem to play a part in choosing a site Pechhacker 1994) and Zmarlicki and Morse determined that most DCAs seem to be located over an open area of land of about a hectare, protected from strong winds .Obstructions such as high buildings and tall trees are avoided, but not all open spaces are used. The flyways connecting the DCAs tend to follow lines of trees or hedges, etc . There may be several DCAs adjacent to each other. One study showed that a 10 sq k. area next to an commercial apiary contained at least 26 DCAs and 18km of flyways. Based on radar images a DCA was defined as an area approx. 100m in diameter, where the drones fly at a mean height of 25m-it depends on wind velocity. The stronger the wind, the lower the drones fly.


The night is still young and our drinks are yet long,
The fire's burning bright and here brave is the throng,
So now I will sing you a sooth little song
Of the busy brown bee - with a ding and a dong.

—J. R. R. Tolkien, Natura Apis (A drinking song)

Many drones seem to stay faithful to one DCA, but may visit another in the same general direction. Two to three miles seems to be an average distance for a drone to fly, but they have been known to travel up to 5 miles. For a queen rearer wanting pure matings from a mating apiary, it seems that this is the minimum distance there must be from any other hives, or else a physical barrier of 500m or more must be present. The parentage of a sample of drones was tested in Germany in 1998, and the conclusion reached was that all the colonies in the area seemed to send roughly the same proportion of delegates to the meeting, thus minimising the chances of inbreeding. (C.Collinson, Bee Culture, Sep. 2008) Because mating takes place in flight, it is difficult to observe.

Modern technology such as radar, combined with the technique of tethering a virgin queen to a moving line, has shown drones detecting a virgin forming a long comet- shaped tail behind her. Recent studies have shown that the drones find the virgin primarily by smell. One of the components of queen substance, called 9-ODA, attracts drones during mating flights. (Apis UK, July 2008). However, it has also been noticed that drones will momentarily chase anything that moves, butterflies, dragonflies or a thrown stone, so presumably eyesight plays a part as well.

Drones have to be very fit and well developed to mate with a queen. In addition to the excellent flying power needed to catch the queen, they must have ample supplies of spermatazoa, as only a fraction of each ejaculate will migrate to the queen’s spermatheca. (Woyke and Jasinski, 1973) In a series of studies made by Duay et al, in 2002, it was shown that the effects of parasitism by Varroa destructor in the larval stage, could seriously affect the drones ability to mate. A significant reduction in drone body weight resulted from invasion by only one female varroa mite, and two or more mites reduced drone life expectancy so much that sexual maturity was seldom reached. Varroa parasitism by only one mite hardly affected flying power but sperm production was reduced by 24%. In those drones that survived, two female mites invasion resulted in greatly reduced flying power and a sperm reduction of 45%. Other interesting facts to emerge are;

  1. Drones like it hot. Flying to a DCA and gathering enough drones to form a comet only occurs at 18C or above.
  2. They are very good time keepers, generally flying between 2.00pm and 6.00pm This varies according to the weather.
  3. Drones returning to the apiary outside these times were not interested in a queen.
  4. Maximum flight height in flyways is 21m, but in DCAs it can reach 50m.
  5. Drones can make several trips to a DCA in an afternoon, returning to the hive to refuel when necessary. Each mating flight lasts about 30 mins.
  6. The number of drones in a DCA can vary enormously, from hundreds to thousands.
  7. Usually, 7 to 11 drones will mate with a queen. About 90 million sperm will be deposited in her oviducts, and a mixture of about 7 million of them will be stored in her spermatheca


The actual process of mating has now been documented quite thoroughly. drone mounts a queen and inserts his endophallus and ejaculates his semen. During ejaculation he falls backwards and his endophallus is torn from his body, remaining in the queen. Any subsequent males mating with the queen dislodge the previous drones endophallus and leave their own in its place. The drones die quickly with their abdomens ruptured in this fashion. The queen returns to her hive still carrying the endophallus of the last male to mate with her. Beekeepers call this the ‘mating sign’ It will be removed by the nurse bees. The process is described very clearly in ‘The Biology of the Honeybee’ by Mark Winston.

The Down-and-Out.

Once the mating season is over, the ‘raison d’etre’ of the drones is gone. Only in queenless or very well provisioned colonies will some be allowed to overwinter in the hive. There is no sentimentality in nature, and drones with no function to perform are simply a drain on valuable resources, ie honey stores. In the autumn they are refused entry to the hive, or have their wings bitten and are forcibly ejected, to die of cold and starvation.


‘Bees, Biology and Management’ by Peter G. Kevan.

‘The Biology of the Honeybee’ by Mark L. Winston.

‘Anatomy and Dissection of the Honeybee’ by H. A.Dade.

‘Bee Genetics and Breeding’ edited by Thomas Rinderer

‘Drone Congregation Areas’ by C. Collison. (Bee Culture, Sep 2008)

‘Beekeeping’ by Kim Flottum.

‘Pheromones of the Social bees’ by John Free.

‘The Honey Bees of the British Isles’ by Beowolf Cooper.


And why is understanding of drone behaviour so important? Understanding drones may well be the key to controlling varroa. Drones range over a 5 mile radius. Workers range over a 3 mile radius. Drones are tolerated , even welcomed in strange hives. Worker bees are prevented from entering starange hives unless they have a full load of honey. For the varroa mite to spread it needs to defferentially lay in drone cells . This behaviour has evolved within the primary host/parastite, that of apis cerana/Varroa destructor. Those who keep the Honey Bee, Apis melifera, have long noticed the preference for varroa to lay in drone cells. This has lead to the destruction of drone cells becoming an indicator of varroa infestation . Stimulation of the queen to lay whole frames of drones which are then destroyed is now a regular part of Integrated Pest Management IPM.


Closing pictures

The BeeHolder, April 2010

A sterilising tank for hivesA sterilising tank used for sterilising hives.

“We don’t scorch in New Zealand. We dip in a heated mixture of paraffin and bees wax.”

The double walled insulation tank is heater by propane to 150 degrees C. The lid was also insulated. The process not only sterilises but protects the wood by waterproofing it.

Would this work in the UK’s wetter climate?











Hobbyist group apiary with the group’s storage hut. Double broods on each hive. The hive second right was the “ladies Hive” with a ¾ depth brood boxes.

A Kiwi group apiary

January 2010

The BeeHolder, January 2010

Hivey ivyNot opened for 8 years and still going strong BUT...

... this picture is of a hive that had been neglected due to the beekeeper being hospitalised 8 years ago. There were 5 hives that had never been treated for any disease. The other 4 hives died out. This one survived but perhaps it had died out and was recolonised by a swarm; no-one can guarantee that part of the story. Could this hive be a problem with disease or the source of unique genes? The colony is being donated to the MBKA and we’ll be taking to Gregynog. Will it be trouble or an invaluable gift to the county and even the nation?  See here.

You can navigate through this copy of the BeeHolder using the links at the bottom of this page and the arrows at the bottom of each subsequent page, or the links in the right hand sidebar of the page.


The BeeHolder, January 2010

I hope you all like the programme for the 2010 season. In formulating it the committee were aware that beekeeping is about mixing novices and experienced beekeepers together; events must be interesting to both. A few years ago there was obviously a feeling amongst the more experienced beekeepers that meetings were offering them nothing new, that they had heard it all before or, in the case of our Apiary Meetings, seen it all before. This past year saw a welcome return of some very experienced beekeepers to meetings. But with the increase of novice beekeepers at our meetings we do need even more of the Old Guard to return. As Editor I get to read the magazines other beekeeping associations. Some editors remark that at meetings they look out over “a sea of the fellow white haired”. Are we fortunate that the sea at our meetings is distinctly auburn? A person not only has their own lifetime's knowledge to call upon but also stories and recollections from parents, grandparents and possibly great grandparents. These may be useful bits of knowledge or just anecdotes. We oldies probably know more than we think and our knowledge spans over, perhaps a century or more. Certainly that was the case with our SBI Peter Guthrie who spoke to us in November. We need more of our experienced beekeepers to come to meetings and share their knowledge and anecdotes with the novices.

The difficulty this last year is that perhaps we have had too many people at meetings. Sometime it seems that the novices are being neglected. So in 2010 all Apiary meetings will be in two halves: a time when the novices can be at the front of an open hive and a time when the more experienced can gather round. It is hoped that over tea the novices will grab an experienced beekeeper and ask about what they have seen: or an experienced beekeeper could tell a novice about the subtleties of what they had seen. We will have to experiment with ways of getting bee-knowledge across. I personally like the system of having colour-coded labels for the experienced and novice. It does save the embarrassment of being chastised for assuming a face one doesn’t recognise was that of a novice.

Do study the article on our new County Apiary and think of ways it could be used it to improve the state of beekeeping in the county.

As a association we have accepted that the membership fee covers two people for beekeeping is always a partnership requiring 4 hands or at least a tolerance of a partner way and beyond the normal. We have also been welcoming to guests believing that today’s guests often become tomorrow’s members. However if you bring a guest do encourage them to be generous in buying raffle tickets. It all helps balance the books without the need of irritating bureaucracy.

I hope the older members will not be annoyed by my repeating the 2000 Xmas cartoon from Dennis Cordwell. Dennis is retired and carless in Oswestry and we are now lucky to have a member who works in Oswestry who can bring him to meetings.

Happy New Year to you all

Tony Shaw December 2009

New Members

The BeeHolder, January 2010

We welcome as new members :

John Bennett (Welshpool), Andrew Brown (Oswestry), Paul Crump (Bishops Castle), Fleur Hinks & Tarquin Richardson (Newtown), Harry Hockly (Newtown), Anna Lockwood (Welshpool), Brandon Oram (Welshpool), Matt Pollit (Churchstoke), Paul Roughly & Julia Fox (Montgomery), Graham Sheen (Welshpool), Julian Symondson (Bishops Castle), Carol Whatley (Bishops Castle), Keith & Philomena Wood (Bishops Castle).

Coming Meetings

The BeeHolder, January 2010

AGM, 18th February.

Our AGMs have become a source of fun rather than something to loath and avoid. It has now officially become a Tradition to have a raffle for a National Hive. One free ticket per membership, which means that joint-members will have to argue with each other as to who actually owns the hive won.

No doubt the official AGM business will be rushed through with almost indecent haste. It is up to members to stand up and demand discussion. It is also up to members to propose themselves or someone else to the posts of the Association’s Officers. Doug Wood and Jessica/Dave Bennett really wanted to stand down as Chairperson and Secretaries but were persuaded by committee to stay on if no-one else volunteered. However they are definitely, 100%, going at February 2011 so please consider apprenticing yourself to some post during 2010 for taking over the mantle in 2011. (Also we will need a new Editor of BeeHolder in February 2011).

The AGM will be a good opportunity for members to make suggestions for the indoor meetings of October and November.

John Beavan, our East Montgomeryshire SBI, will be talking about the year ahead and how to recover from any specific winter problems. He will also be leading a discussion about the new County Apiary at Gregynog.

March 18th Pre-Victorian Beehive.

This meeting will be fascinating to both experienced and novice beekeepers.

Stewarton Hive

The Stewarton Hive, which Will Messenger will be describing, was almost certainly inspired by the octagonal hives recorded by Christopher Wren and John Evelyn. Members are recommended to Google “stewarton, octagonal, hive” or see wikipedia to follow the story behind the hive. By following the various links one can learn so much not only about the history of the technology but also about many of the fundamentals of beekeeping.

Will Messenger uses a description of this hive as a way of explaining bee-behaviour. The hive enjoyed considerable popularity during the nineteenth century as it did not suffer from dampness.

An understanding of the actual life cycle of the honeybee became known in the late eighteenth century as laid out in the Thomas Paine’s ‘The Age Of Reason’. Whilst he rest of us were then keeping bees in straw skeps, the Great House had the architectural and complex Stewarton Hive with exterior movable bars and glazed windows in each in each box, with the view of controlling the bees in much the same way as they did their servants and tenants.

Will Messenger is not only a commercial beekeeper with over 80 hives but also a bit of a fanatic about the history of bee-equipment and of the various Bee Keeping Associations throughout the UK.

Apiary Meetings in 2010

We have tried to have a meeting in each (and there are five of them) corner of the county in order than everybody can have a drive of less than 20 miles sometime during in the year.

April - Welshpool area : where the bees are active early in the year

May - Newtown area : where the meeting flooded-off last year will take place with the added interest of seeing the bee-houses well colonised.

June - Machynlleth area : great garden

July - Llanidloes area : Beautifully restored thatched barn, one of the complexes regularly featured in open house days by the Llanidloes ecological/energy aware groups.

September - Bishop’s Castle Area : (often said to be culturally part of eastern Montgomeryshire although strictly part of Shropshire) The apiary is one run by a group holding individual properties in an oft-featured low-energy housing development.

Report on Meetings

The BeeHolder, January 2010

October Meeting - Beekeeping, a Vet’s Perspective

The October meeting was very well attended by over 50 people, many of them new members who had attended the successful open day at Bryn Mawr in September. Sarah Farrington, a final year veterinary student at the Royal Veterinary College, gave a presentation on her recent four week visit to the National Bee Unit (NBU) to carry out research on acarapis mites. Sarah’s research formed part of her final year dissertation and is possible the first time a vet student has chosen to study a subject related to bees. Sarah gave a brief introduction about the work the NBU carry out and bee health from a veterinary student’s perspective, followed by a description of her project and it’s findings. Acarapis woodi is known to cause acarapisosis disease whereas the other two species of acarapis mites do not. The work aimed to distinguish the DNA of the three species with the aim of using the information to create a test for the mite. The talk included an interactive demonstration of DNA replication and an interesting question and answer session.

Tony Bosworth brought some varroa mites for members to view, which were of particular interest to some of the many new members. As usual the meeting was well supplied with refreshments and an enjoyable evening was had by all. Further information on the NBU can be found on the “Bee Base” web site at https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/beebase/

Roger Farrington

Theoretically only fully qualified and licensed vets can prescribe “Medicines” for bees. It is wonderful that this trainee vet, coming from at least 3 generations of beekeepers, knows something about bees. See the article “Taking bees to the Vet ( Ed.)

November Meeting - The year behind and the winter to come

I have amalgamated the reports of both Paul Kingsley and Kate Franklin as they cover different aspects. Where their paragraphs covered the same point I have cut the longer one. It is the lot of the editor to have his wax effigy full of pins from many sources. (Ed.)

On a blustery Autumnal evening we listened to the thoughts, advice and reminiscences of Peter Guthrie. Peter is one of our regional bee inspectors and has been keeping bees for over 50 years himself and both his father and grandfather before him, so he has a wealth of knowledge available which is freely given.

The evening started by all members being asked to heft a hive and to guess its weight. The eventual total was revealed to be 55.6kg and the winner, John Bennett, was given a 25kg bag of sugar which had been secreted inside the hive. I don’t think his bees will go hungry next year.

I personally had never met Peter before but he is always highly spoken of so I was looking forward to listening to his talk. It was almost like a stream of consciousness as he has so much information to impart and as time was limited he wanted to give us as much benefit as he could. I was kicking myself that I didn’t bring a notepad and pen because there was so much sound information given, from the correct siting and orientation of a hive to treatments for varroa.

I’m sure even the old hands heard a few pearls of wisdom and enjoyed Peter’s thoughts on the general state of the environment, the hope of a varroa resistant bee strain and the availability of Ambrosia (not the food of the gods nor tinned custard) direct from Peter – at best price for MBKA members I’m sure!

Peter’s talk was aimed at newcomers and began by how to select a suitable site.  He showed us some of the basic equipment that he took  with him when setting up a new hive. A compass to orientate the hive opening, ideally southeast, but not if that is the direction of the prevailing wind. A spirit level to slope the hive slightly forward so any moisture would drain away and not collect on the floor of the hive.[We were shown some slides of hives on stands with solid floors where damp could be a problem.

Next Peter dismantled the hive he had brought along with him, layer by layer, explaining the purpose of each item. The whole stack of the hive was held tightly together with an adjustable strap which is another essential piece of kit when transporting the colony. Under the lid was a square of old carpet underlay for insulation laid on the crown board,  then an Ashworth feeder.[Another reason to tilt the hive is so that syrup in the feeder goes to the opening end and bees can easily access it.] A honey super was next with stores, followed by a queen excluder. It was recommended that the QX was taken off in winter so that the cluster of bees around queenie could move as one up to the stores when needed, otherwise they may be reluctant to leave her and could starve. Then there was the brood box on a mesh floor with space beneath to put in an observation floor to record mite drop.

The talk was very informative and entertaining. Peter had set himself a deadline to talk for an hour but he kept getting sidetracked and could have gone on all evening. We were quite happy to listen to him but Jessica said it was time to take a break, although she managed to get him to come again to talk to us and arrange the possibility of a visit to his apiary in Pembrokeshire. The evening was rounded off with mince pies and drinks all round and everyone agreed it had been most enjoyable.

On a point of interest Peter made it plain that he was speaking as a beekeeper of many decades experience, and a recent commercial beekeeper, and not as a SBI.  Perhaps it was just as well because, on speaking with some of the older beekeepers at the meeting, they told me that some of what he said was quite contentious.  For example Peter's views on open-mesh floors were certainly not the orthodox line I had heard elsewhere, however, all in all a very informative and entertaining evening.

Paul Kingsley & Kate Franklin

Apiary at Gregynog

The BeeHolder, Jabuary 2010

Gregynog HallAt the Glansevern Food Festival we were approached by the new Warden of Gregynog Hall, Karen Armstrong. She asked if we would put up a display about bees for the public at Gregynog. We answered that we would want to do more than just display: what we wanted/needed was a training apiary: something that would benefit both parties

Karen is dedicated to encouraging greater use of Gregynog; she wants to see people walk to grounds and be involved with activities there.

School parties and education classes will definitely rid Gregynog of its somewhat elitist image

Gregynog 2I am amazed at how many MBKA members have never heard of Gregynog, and many more have never been there. You just don’t know what you are missing! It’s a wonderful place with an interesting history: a romantic tale of two vibrant, art-loving sisters, with a fantastic social conscience, who gave their fortune and art collection to the Welsh Nation. (Some would say “back to the Welsh Nation” .... follow the history it is tear-jerking stuff).

Gregynog is almost equidistant from every corner of Montgomeryshire . It has a tea room, full conference facilities and wonderful grounds which the family can use whilst the beekeeper is hard at work over the hives.

It is part of the University of Wales. We have been given a site of 13 m roughly E/W by 17m roughly N/S. The picture, above left, is facing south and shows a 6’ man standing where Gregynog propose we erect a viewing shelter. Beyond the man is a public path so the viewing shelter would have to be sufficiently tall to force the bees upwards and over the heads of visitors. A glass and mesh front to the shelter would protect the public from flying bees

Gregynog 3The picture on the right shows the full width of 13m. The 17m depth ends by the stump of the tree in the centre.

The site is 100m east of the car park and 200m east of Gregynog’s reception area. 100m further east of the site is the little rustic hut (shown below left) half of which we can use as a storage and honey-extracting area. There is good quality foraging close by: The estate is not “organic” but is run sensitively. Beekeepers outside the estate always had lots of excellent honey. Obviously we will first have to fence off the area but this must be done in such a way as to allow the public to see the bees. Access into the 13 x 17m enclosure will be limited to MBKA members under supervision. John Beavan, our SBI, is keen to be a supervisor/trainer and Bill Downie has made some valid practical suggestions as to the rules under which the apiary could be managed.

Gregynog hutWarden Karen Armstrong insists that everything is “top quality”. This is a constraint that will ultimately work in our favour because it will force us to become professional and take the whole venture seriously. We definitely cannot just dump our old worn-out hives there. The shelter must be in keeping with the quality and rural image that Gregynog projects. It should be open-sided so as to encourage visitors and contain display boards about what is going on.We talked of having video links between the apiary and Gregynog’s reception area. This would be of benefit not only to the general public but also beekeepers who can watch the hives through monitors in the warmth far better than peering over them. The project will be expensive and we should think carefully how we proceed because grants cannot usually be given for projects already started! Any ideas, volunteers and/or sponsors should come to our AGM to discuss the project with SBI John Beavan. It’s a fantastic opportunity for our association and will be of great benefit to beekeeping.

Taking your bees to the vet

The BeeHolder, January 2010

An Article from journal of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons discusses the growing threat to honey-bees, and our need for more weapons in our armoury against Varroa. In particular the article mentions the agreement between the VMD (Veterinary Medicines Directorate) and “beekeeper representatives” that treatments which are available on the continent of Europe should be made available here. Apparently the VMD plans to develop a “Suitably Qualified Person” (SQP) qualification for beekeepers to enable them to prescribe appropriate medicinal products. (The frightening bit is when the article discusses the role of the Vet in all this.) Guidance to vets “confirms that veterinary surgeons may apply for Special Import Certificates or Special Treatment Certificates on behalf of beekeepers, and prescribe medicines for the bees. It also addresses the issue of when bees can be considered “under the care” of the veterinary surgeon, in order for them to prescribe the medication. In the current circumstances, and in light of the urgent need for treatments, the Committee has stated that it may not be necessary for the veterinary surgeon to visit the beehives before prescribing, as would normally be the case. The Veterinary surgeon must still, however, take professional responsibility for the prescriptions , maintain appropriate clinical records, and comply with the responsibilities for the supply of medicines.” The idea of taking your bees to the vet sounds like a good joke, until you realise that these people are serious! I have nothing but respect for vets, but most of them know nothing about bees. The prospect of my having to educate a vet about bees in order to get a prescription from him/her, and then paying vet’s fees for the privilege is a nightmare. I can hardly think of anything that would set back our fight for bee-health more effectively. We can only hope that the BBKA will be able to get someone to see sense before this sort of thing becomes law.

Pete Sutcliffe

Thanks to Cheshire BKA and EBees



The Fable of the Bees

The BeeHolder, January 2010

The Grumbling Hive, or Knaves Turn’d Honest by Bernard de Mandeville

Here’s just one verse written in 1705

A Spacious Hive well stock'd with Bees,Old frontispiece
That lived in Luxury and Ease;
And yet as fam'd for Laws and Arms,
As yielding large and early Swarms;
Was counted the great Nursery
Of Sciences and Industry.
No Bees had better Government,
More Fickleness, or less Content.
They were not Slaves to Tyranny,
Nor ruled by wild Democracy;
But Kings, that could not wrong, because
Their Power was circumscrib'd by Laws.

The 'hive' is corrupt but prosperous, yet it grumbles about lack of virtue. A higher power decides to give them what they ask for:

But Jove, with Indignation moved,
At last in Anger swore, he'd rid
The bawling Hive of Fraud, and did.
The very Moment it departs,
And Honesty fills all their Hearts;

This results in a rapid loss of prosperity, though the newly-virtuous hive does not mind:

For many Thousand Bees were lost.
Hard'ned with Toils, and Exercise
They counted Ease itself a Vice;
Which so improved their Temperance;
That, to avoid Extravagance,
They flew into a hollow Tree,
Blest with Content and Honesty.

The Poem was featured in de Mandeville’s more famous book The Fable of the Bees 1714. It might also be a good commentary on the latest obsession of spending our way out of recession

Recipe Corner - Parsnips with Gingered Honey

The BeeHolder, January 2010

The honey here enhances the natural sweetness of the parsnips.

Ingredients (Serves 6)

900 Gram Parsnips, (2 lb)
2 Tablespoon Olive Oil
50 Gram Butter (2 oz)
Thumb size of fresh ginger
1lb jar of honey of which only 2 Tablespoon honey will be used.


Peel a piece of ginger about the size of a (man’s) thumb. Dice into small cubes and stir into a 1 lb jar of honey. The longer the ginger is in the honey the better. Prepare now for Xmas 2010, but a few week’s steeping will whet your appetite for repeating this recipe.

Pre-heat oven to 220 °C/425 °F/Gas 7. Peel and quarter the parsnips longways, cutting out any woody centres. Pre-heat a roasting tray on top of the stove and add the oil and butter. Fry the parsnips until golden brown on all sides. Roast them in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes, turning occasionally.

Pour the honey over the parsnips and carefully turn them, making sure they have all been covered. Make sure that each parsnip has some of the diced ginger on top. Put them back in the oven for 10 minutes. The parsnips will now be tender and sweet. Stir them in a serving dish and spoon some of the honey glaze from the pan over the top to finish.

Do not worry if the honey has set, just spoon dollups onto each parsnip, it will run down the sides and leave the cubes of ginger behind. Never worry about the slight burns on the parsnips: the “charcoal” counter-acts the effects of Brussels Sprouts!

The rest of the gingered honey can be used on Vanilla ice cream for children and grown-ups with a sweet tooth and a discerning palate

Tony Shaw

Hive Cleaning: an Essential Winter Activity

The BeeHolder, January 2010

The use of Oxalic Acid The organic acids, Oxalic Acid, Formic Acid, and Lactic Acid are NOT LICENSED for use in the United Kingdom as treatments for bees for varroa control. No mention of any of the alternatives to the approved product or their method of use should be taken as an endorsement or recommendation to treat. The dribble or trickle method referred to for oxalic acid is commonly used in the UK and throughout Europe, and should you decide to use it you should ensure that you apply it in a safe and informed manner.

This short article is something that has been put together from reading about oxalic acid, listening to the experiences of others and also from my own experience of using it in my hives for the last few years.

First we have to remember that oxalic acid is a dangerous chemical and should be treated with care. When mixing solutions gloves, goggles, overalls and ideally a breathing mask should be worn. Some methods are more dangerous than others and will be mentioned briefly below. Second we need to remember why we are using it. Legally in the UK as far as the Veterinary Medicines Directive is concerned it is just used as a .hive cleanser. In beehives. However, as we all know it has the side effect whilst doing this of killing off varroa mites. General understanding is that it does this by burning the mouthparts, feet and other parts of the carapace, so damaging the mite that it can no longer function. The acid treatment has greatest efficacy when the colony is broodless as the acid does not get into sealed brood and so cannot kill off any mites reproducing there. Having said that, with a small area of brood in the colony it will still have a reasonable effect on the mite population. Hence the best time for treatment is usually recommended as December and the first half of January.

There are 3 ways of treating with oxalic acid that are described here.
The first is spraying, where the oxalic crystals are mixed with water and applied to the face of the frames and bees using a hand held sprayer like those used for indoor plants. The disadvantages of this method are the great disturbance to the bees and also as the solution is just water and acid it does not .stick. to the bees very well.

The second method is sublimation where the oxalic acid crystals are heated on a small tray or in an open-ended pipe and the gases permeate through the hive. With this method the hive has to be sealed (no open mesh floor or holes in the crown board) with foam or something similar along the entr ance to stop the gases escaping. Also inhalation by humans of the gas is very dangerous. Getting this application correct and carrying it out safely is very difficult and is not recommended for the average beekeeper.

The third method is to mix the crystals with a sugar solution and apply it using the trickle method. This means using a syringe or some other small applicator with a measured quantity of solution and dribbling 5 ml per seam of bees (a seam is the gap between two brood frames where you can see the bees clustering). About 30-40 ml is needed for most colonies, as this would be sufficient for six to eight full seams of bees in a National hive. Adjustments need to be made for other frame sizes. As this is a sugar solution it sticks to the bees and is spread around more effectively and affects more mites.

Most hobbyist beekeepers tend to buy in the oxalic acid in a pre-mixed sugar solution that is ready to apply. This is not very expensive but the downside is that we do not know how long ago it was made. Marion Ellis from the US related at the Somerset special lecture in 2007 that the HMF (Hydroxymethylfurfural . previously known as hydroxymethylfurfuraldehyde) level in the solution increases over time and so should not be stored. The general recommendation is to make up the solution with sugar and use immediately or store in the fridge for up to one month. With just a water and acid solution no HMF can be formed (it requires a reaction between the acid and the sugar) so the solution can be kept for a long time like this and sugar added when required.

It is not difficult to make up the solution and this can be done when needed using the following proportions, which give a 3.5% treatment:-
1:1 Water to Sugar (weight to volume) made into 1 litre of syrup
Oxalic acid crystals 35g

Mix up the syrup first with hot water to dissolve the sugar more easily, allow it to cool and then weigh the oxalic crystals on electronic kitchen scales and add them to the syrup. If you put it all in a large bottle with a lid and give it a good shake it should all mix nicely and be contained and so safer. When you make up a larger quantity like this the margin of error when weighing the oxalic acid becomes smaller (2 g out on 3.5 g is more than a 50% increase in the dose whereas 2 g out on 35 g is only about 6% out on the dose). Once made, this solution can be stored in the fridge and what is needed for treatment can be decanted into a smaller bottle. Warming this like a babies milk bottle . standing it in a jug of hot water - before treating the bees will mean they will not be so chilled and fewer bees will die. Like all treatments it is a good idea to carry them out at the same time as your neighbouring beekeepers.

Perhaps next year your local association could have an early December meeting when all members wishing to use it collect pre-mixed oxalic acid solution. Old plastic milk bottles are perfectly adequate for carrying the made up treatment (please label them clearly) and the cost is minimal as enough crystals and sugar can be bought for less than £20 to treat 150 colonies. This should appeal to the thrifty nature of all beekeepers! Syringes can be obtained via the Internet or from local farm suppliers.

Megan Seymour courtesy Warwickshire Beekeeper & eBEES

Result of caption competition

The BeeHolder, January 2010

 A disappointing number of entrants. Perhaps this was because some knew what Dracunculus vulgaris (the prize) was. Obviously some realised what the description of the scent as “out of this world” really entailed.

The prize of 3 large corms Dracunculus vulgaris goes to Chris Leech. I am sending out 2 second prizes of one large corm of Dracunculus vulgaris. Do you know the corny joke about a first prize being a week’s holiday in Warrington and the second prize being a fortnight’s holiday in Warrington? Perhaps I ought to be sending out 5 large corms as a second prize. I like the plant, it is a wonderful example of how pollination need not be by bees. How did the spectacular colour of the Spathe evolve?

Here's the image with caption.

Caption competition

I see that Bob has swarmed again

They are not "Killer Bees" and they're not so smart

The BeeHolder, January 2010

Killer beeReputable journals, such as the New Scientist, should not use the term “Killer Bees” when writing about the hybrids between the African Honey Bee and the European honey bees (November 18th 2009). The sting is no worse than the European honey bee. However they do display an exaggerated form of “following” behaviour. Let us use the less emotive and correct term “Africanised honeybee”.

These Africanised honeybees may be amongst the most feared of all insects - but they ain't too smart.

Since being introduced into Brazil in 1956, Africanised honeybees have spread through Central America to southern USA. UK biologist Margaret Couvillon (pictured), of the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, (LASI) Sussex University, and her colleagues are testing the cognitive abilities of the bees to try to reveal the secret of their success.

Increased intelligence had been suggested as one reason for this expansion. Apparently not.

Dr CouvillonA team led by Margaret Couvillon tested the abilities of the the European honeybee and the Africanised honeybee to associate a whiff of jasmine with a sugar reward. (Reread “Sniffer Bees”, The BeeHolder, July 2009 ED.) "Surprisingly, we found that fewer Africanized honeybees learn to associate an odour with a reward. Additionally, fewer Africanized honeybees remembered the association a day later," the team write.

When researchers gave bees a second whiff, about half of European honeybees stuck out their tongue-like proboscises as soon as the odour wafted by again, anticipating another drop of sugar water. The bees acted like Pavlov's dogs, drooling at the sound of a bell they associate with food, Couvillon says. Only about half as many Africanised honeybees picked up the association after a single trial, the researchers found.

Foraging style could explain this difference. European honey bees tend travel vast distances in search of flowery meals and they revisit sites. A keen memory and an ability to learn quickly would benefit this strategy. Killer bees, on the other hand, don't wander far from their hives and they often visit new flowers, so learning might not be as important, Couvillon's team speculates. "Perhaps learning has a cost," Couvillon says "If it were cost-free, wouldn't we all be getting smarter?"

Arthur Finlay


Honeybees communicate about danger

The BeeHolder, January 2010

Honeybees warn each other to steer clear of dangerous flowers where they might get killed by lurking predators. Scientists made this discovery by placing dead bees upon flowers and then watching how newly arriving bees reacted to the danger.

Not only do the bees avoid the flowers, they then communicate the threat when they return to the hive Crab spider attacking and eating bee on Ceanothus From Google images via their well known waggle dance. The discovery is published in the journal Animal Behaviour.

The honeybee waggle dance is a surprisingly sophisticated mode of communication. When foraging bees return to the hive, they waggle their bodies in a complex dance first deciphered by biologists more than 40 years ago. The angle and direction of the forager bees' waggle dance conveys how far and in what direction other more naive bees need to fly to reach flowers that will provide plentiful sources of food. Honeybees are also more likely to waggle and dance when returning from food sources containing high concentrations of sucrose.

Now scientists Kevin Abbott and Reuven Dukas of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada have found that honeybees also use the waggle dance warn other bees to avoid danger. They trained honeybees to visit two artificial flowers containing the same amount and concentration of food. They left one flower untouched, making it a "safe" food source for the bees. On the other flower, they placed the bodies of two dead bees, so they were visible to arriving insects, but would not interfere with their foraging. They then recorded whether and how the bees performed a waggle dance on their return to other members of the hive colony.

On average, bees returning from safe flowers performed 20 to 30 times more waggle runs that bees returning from dangerous flowers. That shows that the bees recognise that certain flowers carry a higher risk of being killed or eaten by predators, such as crab spiders or other spider species that ambush visiting bees. What's more, they factor this risk into their waggle dances, tempering them to steer their colony mates away from flowers that might be dangerous.

Story adapted from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/07/31 11:00:03 GMT

Trouble in the hedgerows?

The BeeHolder, January 2010

A letter

You may remember that last spring produced an exceptional flowering of all sorts of plants along the roadside verges throughout the County. This was most welcome, as it came when the bees were just starting to forage again after another difficult, mild winter. I remember admiring the flowers and thinking that perhaps the bees would have

a good few weeks to build themselves up for the summer ahead. Then the Council workforce came along and cut the verges leaving absolutely nothing except an inch or so of brown grass stems.

Now don’t get me wrong: I quite see that for road safety reasons it is necessary to trim long vegetation near to road junctions and on bends. The verges quite often get to that state here by about the end of June. But this was during April: the grass was only a few inches high and was neither a danger nor an inconvenience to anyone.

So here’s how I think the Council could save some of our money, and help the environment as well. They could leave all roadside grass cutting until the first spring flowering is over. I have written to them, but I don’t think they’ll listen to an individual. Do you think a letter from the Association or from other members would persuade them of the sense of this idea?

Bill Downie, Trefeglwys

Yes Bill, I think both letters could well help. Individual letters first and then I think Chairman Doug could make an executive decision to write on MBKA notepaper. For the correct format he could phone round a majority of the committee and get their approval first. When I first came to Wales the council sprayed herbicide on the verges twice a year. Over the years public pressure has encouraged the Council to take an ever more enlightened (and cheaper) policy. The pressure on them should be polite but relentless.


Betony (Betonica officinalis), Sheep's bit (Jasione montana), Wood sage (Teucrium scorodonia)

Pictures from PowysCC Roadside Verge Nature Reserves WebPage