Lew Ellison

It is with great sadness that I must bring you news of the death of Lew Ellison who died this morning. Although not a member of HBKA, Lew attended our AGM every spring with a full table of beekeeping wares for sale. He also advertised in our newsletter every month (LE Services).

Anyone who visited Lew's 'shop' (a large garage at his home) was always made to feel most welcome as he was keen to talk about beekeeping and give advice on the equipment that he sold.

He will be greatly missed.

Vale: Phillip Manning 1925 – 2007

by Peter Mathews

Phillip took up beekeeping in 1982, shortly after retiring from I.C.I where he was employed for many years as a research chemist. He brought with him a keen interest in natural history together with a disciplined scientific mind. His meticulous attention to detail made him a model beekeeper. His hives were always immaculate and benchmark for cleanliness. But, with his strong traditional views, he didn’t keep anything other than WBC hives.

I first met Phillip and Anne a few years later when I attended a ‘bee meeting’ in his beautiful garden in High Oaks Road. The month was June, the day hot and the sky blue. All this was before oil seed rape, varroa and wax moth had appeared on the scene. A gentle examination of his hives was rounded off with tea and huge quantities of cake on the terrace. They were wonderful days.

By ’86, Phillip had taken on the job of treasurer for the Welwyn association. Shortly after he took on the same role for HBKA. I have been unable to find a precise date, as everyone seems to be of the firm opinion that he had always been treasurer. Certainly, he held the position for something like 20 years until his retirement in March of this year. By the ‘90’s he had also taken on the chore of printing the newsletter on a hand cranked Gestetner. This involved waiting for the ink to dry on side one before printing off side two. This lasted until stencils became unavailable. Few people can really appreciate just the amount of time involved.

Phillip was a wonderful person to work with. He was never one to shun his duties, ceaselessly asking others if they needed help. Phillip could always be relied upon. During the course of this year he was still collecting swarms, helping with the Welwyn Street Market and he co-ordinated the Welwyn honey stall at Bee World in September.

Phillip demonstrated many ‘old fashioned’ qualities ever polite, courteous, reliable and always considerate and respectful of others. How often he reminded us of the ‘proper’ way of doing things. He was also an extremely modest man, never seeking the spotlight or looking for recognition. He just got on with the job. Phillip combined great dignity with warmth and friendliness, a rare quality. Perhaps, I most admired his skills as a diplomat, bringing calmness and common sense to a heated argument.

Phillip had numerous other interests. He had a large and beautiful garden, and was very much involved in the Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust. He greatly enjoyed playing bowls and was a keen bridge player. During chance conversation, I also discovered we shared an interest in caving, and that we had several friends in common from his younger days whilst at Sidcot school on the Mendips.

Phillip died suddenly on the evening of Monday, 19th November following a heart attack at the age of 82. Our heart felt condolences go to Anne, his children Alan, Susan and Gillian and other family members. He will be greatly missed.

The Prime Minister's response to the petition

The Prime Minister has responded to the petition that I mentioned in August. The response is as follows:
Honey bees are important pollinators of crops and wild flowers and make an important contribution to sustainable agriculture and the environment. The Government recognises the importance of a strong bee health programme in England to protect these benefits and takes very seriously any biosecurity threat to the sustainability of the apiculture sector.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has not reduced its expenditure with the National Bee Unit (NBU), and funding for this year remains at the same level as in recent years. In the 2007/8 financial year, Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government are providing the NBU with funding of £1,518,000. There is an ongoing review of expenditure on all Defra programmes, including bee health, and it is not possible to give long-term commitments on the continuation of funding into the distant future for any particular programme. In addition, work is underway to develop a bee health strategy. This is being discussed with all sectors of the industry and should help establish priorities and clarify the roles and responsibilities of government and the industry. The strategy will also determine whether the current approach to disease control is the most effective use of resources or whether alternative approaches might yield better results in terms of disease protection, including any response to potential new threats. That review will include consideration of resource implications and the role that industry has to play in working in partnership with government. In the event of any resultant proposals to change the provision of the NBU's inspection services, there will be further consultation.

In addition, the budget for Bee Health Research and Development in 2007/08 is £192,000, which is comparable to previous years. The R&D programme underpins bee health policy and covers work on all exotic and statutory pests and diseases of bees. This year the programme is focusing on the development of a system for the monitoring and surveillance of Small Hive Beetle (Aethina tumida (Murray)) and assessing the effectiveness of the shook swarm technique for the control of European Foul Brood. A 3-year PhD studentship studying bee viruses will also start this year. Defra is collaborating with other funders to optimise the outcome of the research programme. The inaugural meeting of the Research Funders Forum will take place early in November.

Defra is aware of the press reports about the serious situation in the USA in respect of cases of abnormally high levels of colony loss described as Colony Collapse Disorder. However, despite continuing press speculation, we do not have evidence to suggest that there is something similar happening in the UK. Scientists and inspectors at the NBU are monitoring the situation and are in contact with experts in the USA and in Europe to learn about developments.

It is not unusual for some colonies to be found dead or absent at the end of winter. If beekeepers report such cases in England and Wales to the NBU they are routinely investigated. The very limited number of cases of high losses for which there is no ready explanation is being investigated in depth by the NBU and bee inspectors. The figures from inspections strongly indicate that colony losses in 2007 will not be significantly higher than the 11.1% recorded in 2006, reflecting the upward trend since 2001. The NBU's research and apiary assessments suggest these losses are primarily due to Varroa and inappropriate control. Uncontrolled mite populations can lead to an increase in the associated secondary pathogens like viruses or Nosema.
So everything will be ok.....!

Down Your Way - News from the Regional Bee Inspector

by Andy Wattam

Well, all that can be said is “What a season”. Looking back to the opening words of my Spring Newsletter “With the good weather in the early part of March – Seasonal Bee Inspectors were able to make a good start”, everything looked so promising, but sadly went downhill afterwards.

Most beekeepers in East Anglia are reporting a bad year from the perspective of Honey Production (although not all), and this is reflected in the comments received by colleagues in other regions. It also seems to have been a very testing year for queen mating, superscedure and late swarming leaving small unviable colonies.

Please don’t think that as Bee Inspectors we are immune to the trials and tribulations suffered by other beekeepers, because we have all suffered some unusual things this season within our own apiaries.

From my own beekeeping records I note that the summers of 1984, 1987 and also 1988 were not good in this part of the country.

I started with bees in 1984, which was a bad year, so I would say to all of those beekeepers that have started their beekeeping this year – please stick with it and use it as experience for the future. Despite the poor weather – levels of inspections within our region are higher than last year, and are the highest levels of colony inspections and beekeeper visits since computerised inspection records began at the National Bee Unit in 1994.

On all of the Inspectors travels this year one thing, which has been very consistent, is beekeepers comments regarding their difficulties with the control of Varroa. Many of our call-outs by beekeepers where disease has been suspected have culminated in colonies either weakened or collapsing with varroa.

I cannot emphasise enough that the only way to control varroa (like any other type of parasite or disease) is to monitor it’s levels and be familiar with how it works. Much useful information is contained within the ‘Managing Varroa’ booklet produced by ourselves. Many thousands of these have been given to beekeepers but it is still apparent from the questions and queries we receive (whose answers are contained within the pages of the booklet), that they in many cases have not even been opened and read.

Winter Losses of Colonies
Any beekeeper who sustains abnormally high losses of colonies from now onwards which are ‘inexplicable’ please get in touch. A free visit will be made if you desire and an investigation carried out, with samples gathered for analysis at the National Bee Unit and advice offered where possible. Most of the samples gathered from dead colonies last winter showed that causes of death were mainly attributable to viruses.

My feeling is that it is essential that we continue to look at dead-out colonies and gather ‘baseline’ data to find out exactly what is happening with our colonies. Primary contact should be Andy Wattam, as the Seasonal Bee Inspectors are not employed at this time of year.

Continued online…… Click here to download and read the full newsletter.

Eastern Region courses run by the National Bee Unit in 2008 can be found by clicking here.

Courses in other areas (which may differ somewhat) should be discussed with your nearest Regional Bee Inspector, the contact details of whom can be found here.

NE Herts news by John Hill

At the time of writing this contribution, in mid-November, the colder, wet weather has only just arrived. Whereas last week, (Nov 11th), the warm climate had sustained the wasp population to such a degree that some ‘robbing’ was taking place in the apiary. The wasps were also in considerable numbers at the premises on a climbing ivy plant, (the name of which I know not), and were busily nibbling the profuse number of berries that the aforesaid plant was displaying. Not a bee in sight though! There was some hive activity however! But now with the continuous drenching we have endured over the past two days or so, I suspect that the wasps’ days are numbered. About time too, for this past summer has been a more successful one for the wasps than my bees, (as far as my hives are concerned). However, the latter insects have grown in numbers (and strength?), following intensive feeding and treatment....Fingers crossed for survival!

At our November meeting, we had a good turnout of 18 members to listen to Martin Buckle from the Beds. Assocn. who explained the intricacies and nuances of judging honey for Competition; and coupled with explanations of his experiences, gave the attendees a very entertaining evening. After the refreshments, Martin displayed his skills of wax manipulation by showing the audience his creations in wax of various subjects from a Railway Engine, a Windmill and various wonderful wax flowers. Thank you Martin for your talk!!

Our first meeting in 2008 will be in February, (second Tuesday, viz 12th), which, (hopefully) will be a talk by a Local Naturalist (sorry, not a Naturist!!), on a suitable topic to be decided, and then in March 2008 we shall be holding our AGM and Honey-tasting Competition. April will be a “Spring Preparation” evening, a review of the past season and what 2008 might bring. I should like to say at this point that 2008 will be my last year as Secretary, “Hooray” I hear you say, .…but by this time next year “I think I shall had enough”, and it’s time someone else had a ‘chance’, …that is if you want me continue in ‘08, (you can always vote me off earlier,!…please!).

Now, …we are holding a Christmas Party at Boxwood this year on December 14th (Friday) at 7.30 pm. Cost each £3. Bring your own food! Savoury or sweet, You must, please ring me up first to let me know what dish you would like to bring to ensure that we get a good distribution. Last year we had too many sweets! Free drinks … up to a point!!! (☏ or e-mail Bxwdhill@aol.com)… Note: I prefer the former but my answering machine at present is Kaput!

The answer to last month’s teaser was quite simple. (Re: “a share of Potatoes etc.”). The answer, course, is “Mash Them”.!!! Now here’s another:-

This is a ‘logic’ teaser:
Some hairy bees are fat,
All fat bees are yellow,
Some yellow bees have 6 stripes
Some bees with 6 stripes are fat.
Therefore some hairy bees definitely have 6 stripes!
Is this true or false?
And to finish here’s a slice of John Betjeman, I leave you to guess the title:-
Provincial public houses blaze
And Corporation tramcars clang
On lighted tenements I gaze
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says “Merry Christmas to you all”

Overwintering Nucs and Small Colonies

by John Mumford

The long cold wet winters that I remember when I first started keeping bees seem to have gone, and the overwintering of Nucs and Small Colonies (less that 6 Frames), has, with a little TLC become quite easy.

"There is no problem in beekeeping that can't be solved, by either putting something into, or, taking something out of a Nuc, and, Nucs rarely give problems." Wedmore 'A Manual of Beekeeping' par 1057.

While a Four frame BS Brood Frame Nuc is OK for Summer use, and also Winter with extreme care, a Five frame BS. Brood Frame Nuc makes overwintering much safer.

It is important to have young, well mated Queens that will continue to lay well into the Autumn, and will start laying again early in the Spring. Queens producing rubbish bees are not worth keeping.

A small colony, is a small colony. When conditions are right, a small colony will expand at an incredible speed, and it will survive the coldest winter weather, providing that it has sufficient of the right stores, in the right place.

A weak colony will rarely survive, even in the mildest winter. The cause of weak colonies can be Queen related, Diploid Drone, Chalk Brood, or Sack Brood etc., or there may be other disease problems, EFB (god forbid), Nosema, or Varroa. Since using Thymol treatments Acarine, a major cause of a great many overwinter losses, is a thing of the past. The old beekeeping adage of taking Winter losses in the Autumn should be applied, and any weak colonies should be put down. Uniting up weak colonies should NOT be done unless both colonies are healthy, and reasonably free of Varroa and the Viruses that Varroa move around within the colony.

Nucs are best made up in late May, or early June, when most colonies can stand the loss of bees and brood, and Queen Cells are plentiful. Just two frames of bees and brood (not too much brood), a frame of stores containing fresh pollen, and a ripe Queen Cell. The Nuc will need to be moved away a mile or so for a couple of weeks so that the bees don't desert. Then it would be unwise to move it back until the Queen is mated and laying. However, if frames of brood (sealed and unsealed), are put over a Queen Excluder above the supers of a strong colony for a couple of days, then the bees on these frames will be young nurse and house bees. These frames can then be used to make up Nucs, and if the bees are pinned in and not released until the evening when other colonies have stopped flying, most of the bees will stay put. If any bees do desert before morning, then they are unlikely to bring back their friends and start robbing. Making up Nucs is an ideal opportunity to move tatty old drone filled combs from brood chambers.

Making up a Nuc with the old Queen from a colony that is making swarm preparations, and leaving two unsealed Queen cells, (one to be broken down before emergence), in the main colony is good beekeeping practice. And if a colony has swarmed, making up a Nuc with one of the surplus Queen cells, is a form of insurance, in case the Queen cell left in the main colony comes to nothing.

The queen emerging from a ripe Queen cell should be mated and laying in about 14 days after the Nuc was made up, weather permitting. And it will be another eight days before the new brood is ready for capping, by which time all of the original worker brood will have emerged. This is an ideal time to apply an effective Varroa Treatment since all the mites will now be on the bees!

The new Queens first brood will not begin to emerge until about 5/6 weeks after the Nuc was made up. The Nuc will now be at its weakest strength-wise and robbing (mid/end of July) must be prevented at all costs. In a normal August pollen and nectar is in short supply and any necessary feeding should be done with the utmost care. Feed only in the evenings using a 1lb honey jar with 5 or 6 gimp pin holes in the lid, but not more than twice a week. Use 50/50 wt./wt. syrup, ie. 1kg. of sugar to 1 litre of water, made with white granulated sugar. If any syrup is spilt then it must be washed away quickly with plenty of water.

At the beginning of August the Nuc should have a minimum of two HALF frames of brood, and two half frames of stores. (Feed if not). Half the stores should be open, and half of the stores sealed. Bees canít help themselves when it comes to feeding. But they will only store in combs that they can cover, and if over-fed, the bees will fill up the cells that should be used for brood rearing, and there will be less bees to go into Winter.

In September the Ivy yields an abundance of Pollen and some Nectar. This time is most critical! A young Queen will now show what she is worth! The Nuc should have a minimum of two well filled frames of brood, this brood represents approx. 5,000/6,000 bees, which together with the existing bees will be sufficient to take the colony through winter. The bees should be covering at least three frames, and providing that the bees are healthy and they have been given an effective Varroa treatment the Nuc is in an ideal condition to survive Winter.

The end of September is the time to prepare the Nuc for Winter. The heat loss from a Normal plywood crown-board is wasteful and a strain on the bees. Cut a piece of 25mm thick polystyrene insulation board to cover the whole of the crown-board. Cut a hole 135mm x 85mm in the polystyrene to coincide with the position of the feed hole ,and make up a cover to go over the top of the Candy Box. (500gr. margarine tub). see photos. From now on the block of Candy MUST be checked every week and replaced as necessary, regardless of weather conditions. It doesn't take long! The Candy soaks up surplus moisture in the Nuc and helps keeps it dry, and the bees donít have to forage for so much water to break the candy down.

In the Spring, Nucs expand very quickly, (bees do best when kept tight), and they will need to be transferred into a full brood chamber about mid April, before they get too tight and start swarm preparations. A decent 4/5 frame Nuc will fill a brood chamber by the end of May and in a reasonable year will get a super of honey by the middle of June.

Candy Recipe : - Put the water from a 'full to the brim' 1lb honey jar into an 8" saucepan. Heat the saucepan and slowly add 2kg of white granulated sugar stirring constantly. When the mixture has come to the boil - turn off the heat and leave for a few minutes. A crust will start to form on the top of the mixture. Start stirring until the mixture begins to thicken and turn a milky colour. Pour out into 3 No. 500gr. Margarine Tubs. Keep the candy in a cool dry place with a lid on.

I spoil my bees and add some honey to the mix. For every tablespoon of honey added, half a tablespoon less water is used. Old fermenting honey won't hurt since the heat drives off any alcohol and kills any yeast.

SE Herts news by John Mumford

Just a few brave souls turned out in the cold weather to attend our November Winter Meeting to talk about Varroa. Varroa has been the biggest single cause of so many colony deaths in the last couple years. I trust that those who missed the meeting did so because they have everything under control, and that their bees are in safe hands!

There was some debate at the meeting about whether we should be leaving control colonies, (colonies not treated), so that our bees have a chance to develop a strategy for coexisting with Varroa. Unfortunately it’s not the Varroa per se that do the damage. It’s the Viruses, that the mites transmit from bee to bee, and bee to larvae, that cause most of the colony deaths. Some colonies seem to be able to cope with a much higher mite population than others. This is most probably because those colonies have less Virus problems.

I got called out on 29th of October to a couple of non-members colonies that had lots of crawling bees with deformed wings. I put on some Grease Pattie, and a strip of Apistan for good measure. When Apistan resistant mites were first found in SE Herts the number of resistant mites in different Apiaries was very variable, and so was the degree of resistance within colonies of the same Apiary.

Anyway, after we had had a cuppa, and a chat, we had a quick peep at the removable tray under one of the colonies. The tray was covered in dead mites. I’d forgotten just how effective Apistan could be, and I won’t claim that the knock down was all due to the Thymol! As I sit writing this report I have been told that the mite drop counts are less than a tenth of what they were just three weeks ago. I now have great hopes that the colonies will come through winter OK.

Although we will never again be able to rely on Apistan as a single treatment, because there will always be some resistant mites around. And if we don’t test for resistant mites, we won’t know just how many there are. But if 50% of the mites in a colony are resistant to Apistan, then 50% are not, and they will be killed by the Apistan very quickly. The resistant mites then remain, and if not killed by some other treatment, will breed mostly resistant mites the next year.

As a short term, one off fix, if you are in a hole, and need to reduce Varroa mite numbers quickly, Apistan could be a life saver, and well worth the expense, but only if it works.

I would prefer now, to keep Apistan up my sleeve and not see it abused. And only use it in emergencies, not routine. Just in case one day I find myself needing to do another quick clean out of Varroa mites late in the season, when other treatment may not be so effective.

The AGM is at 8.00pm on Thursday 14th. February 2008 at the Hoddesdon Baptist Church Hall where members attendance would be appreciated. We will need to talk about Subscriptions, and Newsletter Distribution, and of ships, and sails, and sealing wax, etc.

Have a Happy Christmas, and Best Wishes for 2008.


by Derek Driver (SE Herts)

The article by Roy Cropley on solar wax extractors was not only excellent but also timely. I have always recommended to new beekeepers to make this essential piece of equipment and winter is the ideal time. They are so simple to construct, anyone can do it, and to encourage any new beekeeper I have two aluminium double glazed windows they can have for free! Other costs can be kept down by using second hand wood, etc.

With three ladies in my home I found the ideal filter is to use old stockings or tights, its best with cappings, you fill the tights until they look like legs and most extractors take four legs. First any honey runs out and then the wax, golden yellow in colour. The honey & wax will separate with the wax on top and when it’s all cooled down only the dross is left in the stockings. The blocks are so clean & good in colour you could even use it for shows. Depending on the sun you can produce a pound or two of rendered wax per day, for only the one off cost of construction.

If you’re renewing a third of all you comb per year, which is the least all beekeepers should be doing, then you cannot be without a solar wax extractor!!! Sometimes when I’m going through other people’s hives I silently cringe over the amount of black comb I see. Remember, you cut down a lot of potential health problems with new comb and what a joy it is to pick up a newly drawn frame full of wall to wall capped brood.

So don't wait until summer when your working like mad with your bees, MAKE IT NOW!

St Albans news by Anne Wingate

Thanks to Eileen and support team, Philip, for giving us an insight into the Anatomy of the Honeybee. We all learnt something!

Our next Meeting is on Friday 7th December at 8pm at the United Reformed Church, Watford Rd. Chiswell Green. This is the meeting where we taste the year's honey crop, followed by a Social Evening. Please bring a jar of liquid honey, with your name on a label on the lid, and a plate of finger food for us to share. If you have no honey come and enjoy other peoples and dream of years to come. Please bring your spouse or partner to join us, they are most welcome.

A date for your new diary ,our AGM is on Friday 25th January 2008 at 8pm at the above address. See enclosed flyer for further details.

SE Herts Harvest Supper by Derek Driver

When I first joined our group the harvest supper was very different to the present format. Then you paid in advance and sat on your seat through out the meal and the chairman always started with grace! But that was 35 years ago and times and people change Now days we bring a jar of honey to try and win the skillman shield, and there is the raffle and a light hearted quiz, both with lots of prizes.

The meal now days is a wonderful buffet where members help themselves and this years starters were a choice of salmon and cottage cheese or pate followed by a range of cold meats, various salads and all sorts of goodies! Then there was the cheese board, one member said it was the best Stilton he had eaten for years. Home made apple pie and German cheese cake plus a meringue with plenty of tea or coffee rounded off our evening. Oh. I forgot to mention the welcome glasses of sherry when we arrived. One of the nicest things at these events is that members and their partners move around and chat. Every ones relaxed and with such gregarious people we all have a splendid evening.

Varroa by Derek Driver

Two years ago I was asked to talk to a group in Essex and show them my Varroa records which covered my knock down rate. Many were surprised that with two doses of Apiguard followed by Thymol patties one could knock down, in some hives 2500 plus, and at the end of treatment have a zero weekly count.

Now all my supers are off in August and that's when I start treating and feeding. Some people claim they get a poor knock down with Thymol products but then told me they don't start treating until October or even November!! (even people in Herts) I thought by now, most people understood that Thymol products need a reasonable temperature to be effective, such as the average we get in August & September but it appears some still haven't learnt the lesson.

When I asked why they treated so late I was told that honey was still coming in. Frankly if these people think they are going to get full supers in September and October they must be on a different planet to me. Any honey which comes in at this time goes straight into winter stores.

There are others who say you must not feed too soon because you restrict the brood nest. Well I've always found bees stop taking down feed when THEY decide they have enough stores and if you've knocked down 2500 mites out of your brood nest Then those dead mites will not be damaging your young winter bees and therefore a smaller brood nest is viable.

I realise that some people are trying all sorts of concoctions, all unapproved and some of which are dangerous to us humans. There may come a day when a jar of English honey is tested and residues of a banned food substance will be found, the affect to our beloved hobby could be catastrophic. We will not be able to blame Varroa, just ourselves.