Chairman's Chat

The BeeHolder, Winter 2013

It seems the general opinion throughout Wales that the bees are going into winter in better condition than for the last few years. Stores have been built up during September and the bees were taking down lots of feed during late September and October. Furthermore the varroa count seems very low this year. Optimism should always be tempered with vigilance. And what is true in one part of Wales may not be true in another. The (wild) west of Montgomeryshire is very different from the east and we all know that one hive will be taking down stores from the feeder whilst its neighbour a metre away will not be touching the sugar. In my last Chairman’s Chat I mentioned the official Winter 2012/13 losses as given by the National Bee Unit were low as they didn’t take into account those losses after the beginning of April:- that second cold snap - a second winter in fact, for which the bees were especially unprepared. To get a better picture, the MBKA are doing an on-line survey about winter losses. This will a comprehensive survey and will, we hope, identify what type of hive does best in different circumstances, and what feeding and medication strategy seems best. Furthermore we hope that our survey will identify what bees do best where we are. Please, please take part. We do need to tease out things that maybe just myths (albeit feasible ones) from hard core reality. For the sake of the bees just give a few minutes of your time. If you haven’t got internet, please phone Maggie or myself for a hard copy of the survey. We’ll even send you a stamped addressed envelope for its return. Anonymity is guaranteed.

Often the media exclaim that winter losses of bees are unsustainable. It is a bit of an unnecessary panic because many beekeepers are developing strategies to make up the losses. Learn about such strategies by listening to the talk by Jenny and Wally Shaw Making up Winter Losses, on the 20th March; an essential meeting for any beekeeper who wants to take the craft seriously. However, no matter how skilled we get at producing new stock our efforts will be wasted if the type of bee we are increasing is not adapted to the unique environment of our own apiary. Just as up to 40 or 50 years ago each Welsh valley had its own unique breed of sheep, so each valley would have had a stock of bees better adapted to that valley than the next. Ideally we should try to get back to that situation but the constant introduction of Mediterranean and Central European queens and drones into Britain means that our mongrel bees are drifting further and further away from the indigenous Apis mellifera mellifera. Are we sacrificing colony survival for a larger honey crop? To what extent are our own practices as beekeepers having negative effects on the survival of colonies belonging to our neighbours? These are questions that all beekeepers should be asking themselves.

On a lighter note, do come to the Annual Dinner...it’s a good laugh!

Tony Shaw, Nov 13