Spring 2014

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

Feasting and talking bees

Annual Dinner 2014

(Back on Chairs) Rod Blaine, Helen Woodruff, Mark Thomas, Emma Maxwell, David Ashley, Elaine Williams, Adrian Thoms, June Lawson, Wyn Richards, Derek Humphreys.

(Standing) Les Venis, Mark Gurden, David Bannister, Roger Stone, Graham Winchester, Bill Gough, Beverly Evans-Britt, Linda Davis, Richard Davis, Marion Humphreys, Joy Richards, Ian Hubbuck, Joy Shearer, Eileen Williams, Bridget Newbury, John Shearer , John Newbury, Jonathon Williams, Nick Platt, Daphne Goodwin, Peter Woolstenholmes, Christine Evans, Mervyn Evans, Julie Davies, Simon Church, Tommy Weedol.

(Seated) Debbie Gurden, Julie Pearce, Carol Gough, Lorraine Sharp, Brian Goodwin, Heather Venis, Kathleen Morris, Glyn Morris, Cerian Church, Nester Weedol.

(Crouching) Fiona Murton, Netty Batty, Jean Winchester, Keith Rimmer, Sian Jones, James Cass, Tony Shaw, Jean Blaine, Phil Sharp, Becky Nesbitt, David Bennett.

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.

BH Spring 14 b.pdf457.79 KB

We welcome as new members ...

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

My apologies if you have joined recently and are not mentioned – let me know for the next edition.

Alison Trott (Minsterley), Wyn Richards (Caersws), Beverly Evans-Britt (Llanidloes), Christine Gittins (Caersws), Mark Prust (Llanfyllin), Robert Oakey (Montgomery), Andrew & Chris Smart (Llanidloes) and Simon Cain (Montgomery).

Note that, to protect the innocent, the place names given are the post town rather than anything more precise.


The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

Better late than never! A conspiracy of events means that Spring BeeHolder is horrifically late. In light of that I hope very much that you enjoy this quarter's offering.

I have confined forthcoming events to a single page, which takes us out to August. The summer BeeHolder will take us through Autumn, if not to the end of the year. But if you are eager to know what is coming, why not look on the web site? In any event it is a good idea to keep a weather eye on the web site for last minute changes, as the seasons sometimes conspire against the best laid mice of plans and men. I put it all down to climate change and typos, myself. If those of you without internet access, whether through choice or circumstance, feel that you are not being kept informed, do appeal to a member of the committee as we are trying our best in the face of rising stamp prices, privatisation of the Post Office etc.

It was a gorgeous day today – let us hope it is an early sign of a beautiful and bountiful summer to come.

Chris Leech

The Treasurer Says ...

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

First of all, thank you to all of you who renewed your memberships. It is good when I don't have to send out too many reminders.

Secondly, the BDI receipts have now gone “on line”. When you renewed, you should have received a PDF file from me containing your BDI insurance receipt (which you will need should you have to make a claim). If not, or if you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me.

Heather Venis


Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

This edition of the BeeHolder is has come out later than planned; we’ve been struggling with factors outside our control. But perhaps the lateness is just as well because the programme of events has had to be drastically changed in the last few weeks to take account of unexpected difficulties that some of our generous apiary hosts have endured. This year we have a full programme of events that takes into account the early rape season, School holidays and a more even spread of locations around our county. I am especially pleased that in November Brian Goodwin will give the Welsh launch of his forthcoming book “Bee Collectibles”. Most of our meetings this year will have activities geared towards the family. We are making a special effort to have kids entertained, the idea being that some of the magic of beekeeping will rub off on them between the playing on swings and dressing up in bee suits*. Please do bring kids and grandkids along to meetings - we have a good selection of childrens’ bee suits*.

Despite the wettest winter for many years most of us have seen our colonies survive to spring. However there are still many tales of beekeepers throughout Wales losing all their stock.

But your committee has recognised that the MBKA needs to give every assistance to local bee breeding and that one of the remits of the Gregynog Apiary should be the preparation of nucs that can be supplied (at a price) to members. This will take time to implement. Please don’t expect us to have any quantity of Nucs available this year.

There has change in management of the apiary. We have two teams of beekeepers managing a set of hives each and with total control over how they are managed. However, for at least this year there will be coordination about how disease control is managed throughout the apiary. At the oxalic acid day it was stated that any training apiary should abide by the current advice about Varroa control as issued by the National Bee Unit and their inspectorate. We as individual beekeepers might treat our own bees differently but beginners should start with the approved orthodox treatments before adopting other methods of varroa control. MBKA committee are agreed that doing nothing is not an option. If you disagree please put your views forward and open the debate. It is your apiary not the committee’s.

So folks, as usual in the spring BeeHolder I am saying don’t beat yourself up if you have suffered losses through the winter but do do consider that you might not have acquired the optimum bees for your area and do be aware that a colony that supersedes by mating with exotic your drones your neighbours exotic drones may well be at risk in the following winters.

Tony Shaw, April 2014

* I think he means suits to wear whilst looking at bees, not stripy shirts and plastic wings. Ed

Training Update

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

We have run two Beekeeping courses at Gregynog so far this year, with the help of Brian Goodwin. Both were well received and are reviewed separately in the Beeholder. Many thanks to Brian for all his hard work. We are hoping to arrange a Basic Beekeeping Assessment at the Apiary sometime over the summer. It would help if members could let me know if they are interested in doing the assessment so that I have an idea of numbers when setting it up (training@montybees.org.uk). Do consider it if you have been beekeeping for a couple of years and have done Brian’s intermediate beekeeping course. It is well worth the revision, and is a good opportunity to dust off all those beekeeping books you have on your bookshelf, as well as to get to grips with things like disease recognition. Details of the syllabus are on the Welsh Beekeepers website. Honestly, it is almost fun.

Julie Pearce

A big thank you to Julie for all the running around and organisation to arrange this training and exams. Ed

Reports on Meetings

What's been going on since you last looked ...

February 20 – Annual General Meeting

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

With the exception of the Annual Dinner, the Annual General Meeting is probably the best catered event in the MBKA year. It is not a lot of politics to put up with in order to enjoy a lovely spread. And to cap it off, we had an update from Jenny Hawkins about her research on using the apothecary bee as a tool for drug discovery.

Jenny talked at our last AGM and told us of her research. Many of our members gave her samples of their bees honey, and as a result the map of Wales showing where her samples came from now had a much healthier mid-section. She expressed her thanks for our help.

Jenny talkingHer talk was quite technical, but very interesting, and her results so far are very convincing that natural, local honey has a much more antimicrobial effect than mass produced (often pasteurised) shop bought honey (even some of those which make health claims).

With only ten months left to go, the next step is to use chemical analysis to identify the active compounds in the honey samples using solvent extraction techniques and mass spectroscopy. There is also a lot of pollen analysis to do comparing DNA extracted from the honey with the national DNA database (Barcode Cymru, Bangor University and the National Botanical Gardens). Good luck, Jenny.


February 8 - Beginners Course

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

Thanks to everyone that committed to the day at Greygynog a full compliment of new bee keepers turned up on the day 12 attendees... and all were spot on time and off we went.

After Brian Goodwin`s initial introductions we got under way and all were captivated by his knowledge and the ease that he dealt with a plethora of questions and comments throughout the morning. Refreshments were taken at 11.30 after the first question and answer session, then it was back to the big screen with graphs and handouts explaining the virtues of early days bee keeping. The information continued to flow and was clear and precise with the overall message being around the skill of the bee keeper to prevent swarming by providing the right environment in the hive when needed and also the surrounding landscape that provides the forage for the bees. It quickly became clear that the observational skills of the individuals plays a major part in successful bee keeping for new bee keepers and getting a feel for the area that your bees are based.

During the afternoon section of the course, more handouts and information were forthcoming. The last sector being based around what to do and what not to do when extracting the honey, the end result we all strive to achieve at the end of our summer.

Brian illustrated the talk with some interesting examples of his bee keeping life (which goes back to the days of his father's hives many years ago).

Keith Rimmer

Thanks to Andrew Smart who also wrote a brief report on the course. I'm sorry I could only publish one.  Ed

January 12 - Oxalic Acid Day at Gregynog

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

On a bitterly cold January morning, cold for for both humans and bees, 18 MBKA members came to Gregynog for information and demonstration on the use of oxalic acid as a treatment for varroa in bees.

Oxalic acid is a varroacide – a substance that kills varroa mites. As it is particularly toxic to open brood, it can only be used when there are no brood cells and the varroa mites are living on the adult bees. The recommended time for treatment is therefore in early January, when the bees are still huddled in a ball for the winter, but probably the least likely time when they would want to be disturbed.

The oxalic acid solution is applied with a syringe directly onto the bees. At the time of treatment in January, the bees will be clustered into a ball covering typically 4 or 5 frames. Removing the crown board and looking down between the frames, the size of the colony is determined by the number of ‘seams’ (spaces between frames) that the clustered bees are occupying. 5 ml of oxalic acid solution per seam is then quickly, evenly and accurately syringed down into the bees in each active seam and the hive closed back again.

The oxalic acid solution has an efficacy of about 90% (it kills around 90% of the varroa mites that it makes contact with) and it kills the mites by direct contact. It is important for the health of the bees that no more than 5 ml per seam (or a maximum 50ml for the whole colony) is given and, for this reason, it is important to accurately mix the oxalic acid solution and to measure the dose accurately using a graduated syringe.

The importance of moving quickly, accurate measurement and minimising disruption to the bees was emphasised and warming the oxalic solution before use was also recommended. While the roof was off the hive, it was also the opportunity to give the bees some fondant.

The meeting then divided into two groups to give members a chance to examine some Gregynog hives, measure the size of the bee clusters and apply the oxalic acid.

Following the demonstration, members were able to purchase syringes ready filled with oxalic acid and sugar syrup - particularly useful for small numbers of hives where only small quantities were required.

Chris Robinson

For a different opinion on using oxalic acid for varroa control, have a chat with Bill Gough. Ed

January 24 – Annual Dinner, Maesmawr Hall

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

By all accounts, a splendid time was had at the annual dinner. See also the cover photo which depicts the happy revellers. I'm sure Tony will let you have a copy in higher definition if you ask him nicely and promise not to use it for blackmail purposes.

March 15 – Intermediate Training Day

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

Brian, with his abundance of experience, knowledge and good lecturing-style, made this a hugely valuable day. Brian willingly gave his opinion on various techniques and bee-keeping approaches bringing in his own experiences around the world and his own literary research on the subject to explain his personal style of bee-keeping. He was not afraid to voice his opinion against some common practices citing why some just do not make sense. This was fantastic for a relatively novice BEEK such as myself who sometimes feels daunted by the lack of absolute answers.

Brian is a second generation BEEK with fifty plus years of experience all around the world experiencing different bee-keeping idiosyncrasies and bees’ environments. He has also collected over 500 beekeeping books which enables him to explain the historical backgrounds to many accepted bee “facts” in the UK. Refreshingly he was accepting of everyone’s methods and motives in bee-keeping. He was able to talk with ease about the pitfalls and benefits of each system with the easy confidence of someone who has seen both in action. It made bee-keeping clearer to me in a day than all the books, videos and internet research that I have done thus far put together!

For example, when discussing hive types he politely refrained from admonishing anyone's personal choice, whether the design was driven by bee studies, commercial gain, material availability or an excess of free time created by only working on Sundays. His enthusiasm for identifying the background of beekeeping techniques and asking potentially controversial questions makes me think there might be a pathway to not only learning by amassing our future successes and failures but by looking backwards and questioning why a technique has become mainstream, how it was motivated and therefore judging its application to current practice and our own desired outcomes. This can only improve knowledge and speed up our learning experience.

Similarly explaining the issues of swarm risk in terms of hive type on the basis of there being 61,000 potentially available cells in a Langstroth versus 84,000 in one and a half National Brood was both an interesting and refreshingly stark means of provoking thought.

I'm sure most beekeepers have worked this stuff out for themselves but as a new beek it is great to have the information put across so succintly that after one day we feel that we can make better choices about our approach for our bees.

Rus Coleman

Don't miss …

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

Bee and Beetle weekend at Gregynog is on Easter Weekend, April 19th and 20th. The forecasts are good. We have Nigel Jones of the Shropshire Entomological Services shThe MBKA tent at an eventowing us the Bees of Gregynog and Dr Wolfgang Schaefer showing us the various beetles on the estate. You’ll have noticed queen bumble bees are already scanning the ground to spot nesting sites. We have prepared the back of the apiary to encourage bees to adopt that as their nesting territory and Dr Schaefer tells me that Gregynog has a fabulous array of beetles throughout the Estate. We will have children’s beesuits to lend. IF the children are bored with insects then there are the Easter egg treasure hunt and bunny spotting throughout the estate. And for grown-ups there is a tour of Gregynog Hall, its collection of art and history at 2.30pm. Bad News : over the Easter weekend there is no free parking for beekeepers. Good News : the forecasts are for good weather.

This year we will be having a stall at the Coed y Dinas Spring Fair (Sat & Sun, May 24th and 25th) and again at Llangurig Show (Sat August 9th). This picture (right) was taken at our tent at the Glansevern Food Fair a couple of years ago. There will be other things going on at both these events, so why not come along and support MBKA whilst enjoying the other entertainment. Maybe even join in and help out on the stall? Its a good way to join in with the Association and help spread the word about bees.

See Forthcoming Events (right side bar of the web site) for all of the apiary meetings and training days planned this bee year.


The Welsh and BBKA Spring Conventions.

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

Both conventions are in our neighbouring counties – Radnorshire and Shropshire – not a long way to go to hear the latest thoughts on Beekeeping.

Both conventions offered lectures on the subject of Bee Nutrition and these lectures emphasised that we tend to neglect the importance of pollen in favour of nectar and honey. This seems something peculiar to the UK for on Mainland Europe it is common to make Pollen and Fondant Patties to give to bees in Autumn and Spring. One explanation of the losses in the UK over the last two years is inadequate pollen collection in the wet autumn. This has lead to lower numbers of bees going through the winter and a slow start in the spring due to low pollen stores. We learnt that fresh pollen is best and that the nutritional content drops to 25% after a year and is negligible after 2 years. For some years I have been making spring patties for my bees out of fondant, honey, Soya flour and my magic ingredient... fish oil. There was no mention of this recipe in the lectures. I asked an Italian company, which was selling Patties with irradiated pollen, about the use of Soya flour and they were most dismissive; not quite believing that GM free Soya flour could be as good as natural pollen. Pollen retains its nutritional value if frozen but will also retain pathogens for disease, hence the need for irradiation according to the Italians.

Nectar is for fuel, pollen provides the protein to feed the brood. The bee is quite capable of appreciating the quality of the nectar. Plants that give have high concentrations of sugars in the nectar are favoured by the initial foragers. The bee will return to the hive and give information about the quality of the nectar it has collected. The hive will then choose to send bees to those flowers giving the most nectar. When the foragers come back to the hive the nectar is transferred to other bees and stored in cells which could have nectar from a variety of plants species. Pollen collection is entirely different. The bee is not able to assess the quality of the pollen when collecting it. Each type of pollen is stored in different cells. It is easy for the beekeeper to spot this, for cells will be filled with different coloured pollen. A healthy colony will have pollen from many different sources. This is because not all pollens are of equal nutritional value.

In order to build protein insects need 20 common and 2 rare amino acids. These acids are only made by plants; the insect cannot synthesise them. So the limiting factor in colony survival is actually the least available amino acid that can be gathered from the field. Buckwheat, Maize, sunflower and dandelion are all deficient in some amino acids. Surprisingly the much maligned oil seed rape has a very well balanced mix of all the amino acids essential for insect growth. Pollen also has some vitamins. As with humans the B complex vitamins are essential for bees. But unlike humans the bee can synthesise Vitamin C. Lipids are also in pollen and again humans and bees are different, the cholesterol that is bad for humans is good for bees. The yellow dyes we see in beeswax are from lipids and here the dandelion an especially good source.

These lectures were wake-up calls for many beekeepers. From what I gathered at coffee tables and the bar, many left the conventions with a determination to take more notice of the protein intake of their bees. Collecting pollen from one’s own hives and feeding it back to the bees in autumn and spring was thought to be worth trying. Who knows, some beekeepers may even try some fish oil.

I also learned that feral colonies are not “more Native” than the background managed colonies, they are genetically similar. The Varroa content of feral Honey Bees is about the same as would be seen in managed colonies, the incidence of nosema is lower but not significantly so. However the incidence of Deformed Wing Virus is 2.4 times that seen in managed colonies. Incidentally DWV is seen at a much greater rate in “natural Beekeeping Colonies” than those managed the more orthodox manner. The apparent survival of feral colonies is used as an argument to reduce varroa treatment in managed colonies. But it appears that the incidence of feral bee colonies is related to the increase in new beekeepers. Feral colonies have a higher mortality rate than managed colonies but do not pose a risk to varroa treated managed colonies.

The Welsh Venue, at the Royal Showground, Builth Wells is 32 miles from Newtown and the BBKA Convention at Harpers Adam University is 51 miles away. Most attendees have made much longer journeys to experience the excellent workshops and lectures and sample the trade shows. Why are there so few from the MBKA at these conventions, maybe 10 at the Welsh Convention and I didn’t notice any other than myself at the BBKA convention. Bridgend, Swansea, Anglesey and Conwy BKAs all had good representation at the Conventions. And at the BBKA there were delegates from all over England and Wales as well as Scotland and Ireland. I met one American who said he thought he should come to discover why his beekeeping wife travels every year to the Convention from Florida. He was totally bowled over by the standard of lectures and trade stands. Are Beekeepers in Montgomeryshire so expert that they don’t need to learn new tricks?

Tony Shaw

The Honey Bee – a Farmer’s Friend

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

David Foulkes, as a bright small school boy, benefitted by tuition in the art of beekeeping by his Headmaster, David Hamer, at Aberhafesp School.

Further inspired and excited at the prospect of keeping bees he persuaded his mother to let him buy a beehive at a local farm sale. Throughout the rest of his life beekeeping was dovetailed into his love for sheep, cattle, poultry, pigs and the farm in general. David farmed The Lluest, Tregynon until his death in 2001.

His hives were carefully laid out in the shelter of a dense hedge with a southerly aspect and easy access to the Lluest house so that he “could keep his eye on them”. He was always anxious as to their wellbeing - only entering the hives when necessary. He seemed to know when to look out for swarms and place empty boxes in strategic places to attract such passing swarms.

Even after keeping bees for all his life he remained fascinated by the mysteries of bees. He shared the many unanswered questions as to the lifestyle of the bee in an effort to become a more proficient beekeeper with a greater understanding – always willing to learn with humility and joy.

David Foulkes enjoyed sharing his love of bees with those willing to listen - much in the same way as he learnt from his schoolmaster. Many new people became beekeepers under his guidance and he was so pleased when they were successful. Many “open days” were held at the Lluest where he would demonstrate the finer points over a cup of tea. His enthusiasm was infectious.

He looked forward to the warmer weather after a long winter for his bees to forage pollen on the snowdrops he had planted at the Lluest. As the season went forward a wide variety of tree and shrub pollen became naturally available on the farm – he particularly welcomed wild white clover. The farm, garden and orchard benefitted by the pollination carried out by his bees. Successful farmers have a holistic approach to life and that includes keeping bees in our rich Montgomeryshire countryside.

Many farmers keep bees as a hobby – which raises the question as to why bees are not kept commercially on farms in the same way as sheep and cattle are managed.

Eileen Williams

Northern Europe hit by bee deaths

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

There is much concern about the widespread collapse of bee colonies; a new study covering 17 EU countries says that far more honeybees are dying in the UK and other parts of northern Europe than in Mediterranean countries. The European Commission says it is Europe's most comprehensive study so far of bee colony deaths.

Winter mortality was especially high for bees in Belgium (33.6%) and the UK (29%) in 2012-13. But in spring-summer 2013 France was highest with 13.6%.

Bumblebees and other wild bees were not studied, nor were pesticide impacts. The study, called Epilobee, described 10% as an acceptable threshold for bee colony mortality - and Greece, Italy and Spain were among the countries with rates below that threshold. The mortality percentages are national estimates based on representative samples. All 17 countries applied the same data collection standards, the report says.

BeeThe survey covered almost 32,000 honey bee colonies. But there is also much concern about death rates among other bee species, which are vital pollinators too.

Last year the EU introduced a ban on four chemicals called neonicotinoids which are used in pesticides. They are believed to be linked to the collapse of bee colonies across Europe, though there is a heated scientific debate over the chemicals' impact and many experts say further studies are needed. The Commission wanted pesticide impacts to be included in the Epilobee study, but it was overruled by member states' governments.

I would suggest that steady influx to Northern Europe of the genes of Southern European bees is largely responsible for the different mortality rates.

Arthur Finlay (adapted from a BBC news Article 7th April 2014)

Collecting a swarm

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

Collecting a swarm in 13th Century Britain (from a collection in the Bodleian Library, Oxford) – thanks to Joe Bidwell

Collecting a swarm


I Dream of Sheep

The BeeHolder, Spring2014

One only has to take a short drive through Wales to notice, in the fields and hills, a profusion of different breeds of sheep. The reason is obvious, each breed is adapted to the local environment. 70 years ago there was an even greater diversity, almost every valley would have a distinct type of sheep; mixtures, mongrels if you like, that were especially suited to the environment of one specific area. Severn Trent Water used to breed salmon, trout and crayfish and dump the same batch in each of the feeder streams. Now it breeds Trannon trout, Mule trout and Vyrnwy trout and releases each only into the parent stream. It has determined that each is distinct genetic type and we recognise, almost instinctively, that putting fish back into their original rivers “must be right”. Yet how come so many beekeepers fail to recognise that bees are similarly adapted to very specific environmental parameters? We know of an old beekeeper with many years of successful beekeeping and obtain a colony from him or her and then often we wonder why the bees behave differently in our own apiary. We even import bees from dealers who offer “Local” bees which are merely last year’s locally hatched workers with a mated queen imported from Greece, Spain or Slovenia. These bees work well around the Mediterranean or Central Europe but which are ill-adapted to life in Wales.

I hope you all have noticed that a recurring theme in the BeeHolder and at meetings is the need to take great care in the sourcing of bees. Most Beekeeping Associations in Wales are now also campaigning for locally bred bees. We all realise many disappointments with bees are due to having inappropriate stock. I would love to see regulations that would stop exotic queens being imported into the UK. It is not going to happen; the commercial beekeepers would lobby against such an idea. What legislators fail to appreciate is that the genes of the exotic imports, Apis mellifera ligustica and Apis melifera carnica, are constantly polluting the bee-stock of hobbyist beekeepers. There are many stories told of experienced and diligent beekeepers finding their stock suddenly becoming irritable, and dying out in an average wet Welsh winter. The beekeeper cannot stop his queens mating with exotic drones. The sheep farmer can be sued if his ram pollutes a neighbouring flock with his genes. It is easy to pen a ram; impossible to restrict the flight of a drone.

So, you’ll be saying, where can I get suitable stock? We would like to be able to supply everyone from the breeding program at the apiary, but until we can we will continue to source quality nucs from reliable breeders on behalf of our members.

LC Cheshire