Spring 2013

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

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

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The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

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

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

Chris Leech

Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck with your 2013 beekeeping

Tony Shaw, Chairman MBKA, March 2013

BBKA Spring Convention

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

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

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


Reports on Meetings

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

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

February 22nd – Jenny Hawkins

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Leech

February 23 & March 2 – Intermediate Training.

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

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

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

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

Heather Venis

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

Nucs for sale with Red Queens

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gregynog Apiary Report

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

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

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

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

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

Dave Bennett
Apiary Manager

Show a leg

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

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

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

Source: Society for Experimental Biology.

Toby's Top Tip

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

A clean and shiny, sparkling smoker

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

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


Another Hot Topic

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Shaw (with gratitude to the BBC)

Poetry Corner

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013


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

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

We want your weeds

The BeeHolder, Spring 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

Turn your weeds into money for the apiary!

Tony Shaw