Autumn 2013

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

Smiling through the stings: A contestant grins and bears it

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

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The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

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

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

Chris Leech

Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

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

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

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

Tony Shaw (Chair MBKA) September 2013

Black Bees return to Wiltshire

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Antiques Road Show

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

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

Chris Leech

The Care Of Bees

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

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

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

Virgil (translated J Dryden)

American Foul Brood, what we can learn

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warren and Margaret Towns

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

Bee Keeping with a change of Altitude

Bee Keeping with a change of Attitude Altitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

more bees

Bill Gough

Basic Beekeeping Assessment

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Pearce

AFB : A Cautionary Note

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

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

Gregynog Apiary Report

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Bennett
Apiary Manager

Annual Beeard Competition

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Champion and Nicole Le Marie, writing in Metro

New Equipment

The BeeHolder, Autumn 2013

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