BeeBase and Healthy Bees

BeeBase is a web based information tool for beekeepers in England and Wales run by The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) which is an executive agency of Defra. Beekeepers registered on Beebase can request a free apiary inspection visit from their local Bee Inspector and receive information and advice on disease recognition, control and colony husbandry and apiary management.

Many beekeepers have already registered so if you keep bees and have not yet signed up please do so. Registration is free of charge. The BeeBase website is at

Fera's Healthy Bees Project Management Board recently agreed the first phase of the husbandry and education programme. The programme includes making available and funding formally recognised ‘train the trainer’ courses to beekeepers who regularly provide training to other beekeepers. As a result the Board is offering two invitations for a train the trainer course to members of HBKA. The closing date for nominations to take up these courses is 7th January 2010 so if you are interested then please check the website or contact you division's secretary.

History of Taylors Bee Hives?

My name is Andrew Rogers ( and I have recently learnt that my great grandfather Henry Cuthbert Rogers worked for the Taylors Bee Hives in Hertfordshire as a tin smith. I was wondering if you could tell me anymore about the Taylors or the people who worked there my family still live in the area.

Hope to hear from you soon.

Varroa Problems? (part 2)

by John Mumford

I am still getting reports of colonies that have disastrously high Natural Mite Mortality drops and are still throwing out bees with tatty wings. These high mite drops are a sure sign that the colony will almost certainly die over winter.

It seems that Thymol has lost some of it’s effectiveness, or is it just the way it is being used? And I wonder how much longer it can be relied upon as a sole Varroa treatment. With 15 or so generations over a single year the natural selection, (survival of the fittest), of Varroa populations to change is very rapid.

With the very warm weather we have been having, (my bees still collecting pollen in late November), the bees are almost certainly still raising brood and therefore so are Varroa mites.

I put a single strip of Apistan in a colony of mine on 18th of October, the next day there were 500 or so mites on the tray. The number of mites then went down to 80 per day over the next 5 days and by the 31st. October there was only 15 mites per day. On 6th November the number of mites reduced to 0 per day. They are now dropping just 1 or 2 per week and if that is just natural mite mortality there can’t be many mites left in the colony. I counted 1800 mites dropped over a 19 day period.

I am informed, (thank you all), that Pura can still be obtained from Morrisons and Netto, and because Thymol is such a good remedy for Acarine infestations anyway I  will continue to use the Grease Patties for that reason alone.

Top Bar Hives

by Paul Cooper

As I mentioned last month, I am starting a project to investigate the pros and cons of a top bar hive. The literature claims all sorts of advantages not least of which is the greater tolerance to disease, especially varroa, due to the brood cells being the size the bees choose rather then being based upon the size of the foundation pattern.  I will need to consider how to extract honey (using a press rather than a centrifugal extractor) or just use it as comb honey. Oil seed rape is widespread where I live so comb honey will have to wait until later in the season otherwise it will set in the comb.

The picture is courtesy of

So there is lots to consider, not least of which is which design to use as I will be building it myself this winter. There are plans available online as well as lots of websites offering advice and guidance. Here are a few to look at:

I will provide you with an update each month in Herts Bees and hopefully next month some pictures of my new top bar hive.

For Sale and Wanted

Jars For Sale

Hi Sir/Madam,

I recently came across your Bee Keeping website and wondered if there are any jars that I can quote you on?

We are a glass wholesaler based in Lincolnshire, so we are handy if you need to collect or we can arrange a delivery through our haulier.

If you would like a no obligation quotation, let me know the quantity and a delivery postcode if applicable, and one of our sales team will email you within 24 hours.

Please visit our website for more information:

Kind Regards,
Pattesons Glass Ltd

T: 01472 751333
F: 01472 751029



November 2009


Winter is almost here, mouse guards are in place, all the varroa mites have been knocked down, winter stores are full and chicken wire is in place to stop the pesky woodpeckers. Let's hope so!

This is a full edition this month with lots of interesting articles and photographs.  Please keep them coming.

Next month's edition covers December and January so if you have any meetings or events arranged for January or early February then please make sure you send them to me by the end of November.  The calendar is always up to date so please check that for forthcoming events.

Paul Cooper

North Herts news by Christine Phillips

A good group of beekeepers new, old and prospective met last Tuesday (20th) to exchange news on summer successes and failures, swarms caught and swarms lost, honey harvested (in some cases lots of honey) and to hear Robin's report on Buzzworks. It was particularly good to be able to welcome the new members.
Hitchin Apple Day on Saturday was a much better day than the forecast suggested and although a little damp at times a steady flow of people visited the NHBKA stall to taste some honey direct from Graham's super, ask questions and buy honey. Potential new beekeepers and new sites for hives also materialised.
Now the clocks have gone back and the temperature is dropping it really feels as if winter is coming. Time therefore to put on mouse guards and woodpecker protection. Hungry woodpeckers are not easily deterred and as you can see from photo they are quite able to peck through thin metal.

This queen excluder must have provided a handy perch whilst pecking.
Christmas Party
Tickets for the Christmas party (December 12th) will be available at the next meeting or from Graham or me (£3) and please let us know if you will be bringing a sweet or a savoury dish.
Next meeting
November 17th, 7.30pm at Howgills is a talk by Letchworth Heritage Foundation's Ecologist Elizabeth Towler. The Heritage Foundation own a lot of land in N. Herts and their farming practices and land use obviously make a difference to our bees.
Future meetings
We are hoping to have the well known beekeeper and lecturer Roger Patterson at our February meeting – watch this space.

St Albans news by Christine Aitken

2010 Membership Forms have been sent to all members. Please return promptly and therefore claim your discount! David Brown, our treasurer, needs your details and money to make certain insurance cover and Bee Craft deliveries are not disrupted. 

Honey Show on 27th November at 8.00pm at the United Reformed Church Hall, Chiswell Green, St Albans

This is an informal evening where members bring a jar of unlabeled clear honey along and we all taste and judge and present a cup to the winner. All members and their families welcome to attend. Please bring a plate of food. Drinks will be provided.

We are also intending to present certificates to all those who passed the Basic Beekeeping Examination back in the Summer.  

Winter meeting

An informative illustrated talk was given on 23rd October to a large audience of St Albans members (and Barnet too) by Pam Farley of The Woodland Trust which has recently bought nearly 350 hectares (over 850 acres) of land near Sandridge, St Albans. Here they plan to create England's largest new native wood by planting 600,000 trees. After covering the origins and aims of the Trust she went on to explain the acquisition and management strategy for the new Heartwood Forest. With this project right on our doorstep there were many interesting questions asked.

The evening ended with a lively question and answer session covering problems some members had experienced throughout the last beekeeping season. 

A reminder of our AGM on the 22nd January 2010. More details in the next newsletter.

West Herts news by Margaret Tighe

Our last apiary meeting for 2009 was held on 3rd October at which we had a brief look at the remaining hives to remove queen excluders and ensure the bees had enough stores for the winter.  This was followed by a very pleasant chat and exchange of information and ideas.  At the same time we enjoyed a leisurely cup of tea plus a slice of delicious honey cake, kindly made by Mrs Clavey, wife of our hard-working Treasurer, Andy. 

I hope I will be forgiven if I am repeating things that I have said before, but throughout the summer the informal tuition at apiary meetings has been excellent.  This was provided by all our very experienced beekeepers and, particularly from our Apiary Manager, Bob Whittingham.

At the moment we have no dates for our hoped for, winter talks. 

Welwyn news by Leslie Tamara

The last two events arranged for the end of this year are the Applecroft  School Christmas Bazaar and the Christmas Party for the Welwyn Division.

The Applecroft Christmas Bazaar will take place on Saturday 14th November between 11.00 and 14.30.  The Applecroft School  is located on Applecroft Road, Welwyn Garden City, AL8. 

This year the Annual Christmas Party will take place on Saturday 5th December in Welwyn Garden City. Further details will be circulated soon.  All members of the Welwyn Division are cordially invited.  This event will provide a good opportunity to meet new members of the Association and to discuss individual successes, problems encountered throughout the past year and plans for the coming new beekeeping year.

Bishops Stortford news by Paul Cooper

We had an interesting end-of-season wrap-up meeting on 3rd October at Pat & Tony O'Connor's house in Sawbridgeworth.  Not many turned up but those that did were very grateful for Pat and Tony's hospitality.  There were no bees to look at but we did some useful planning for next season including initial thoughts for a one-day introduction to beekeeping course to be held in February/March 2010 in the Bishops Stortford area.

The BSBKA AGM has been set for 17th February 2010 and will feature Robin Dartington talking about BuzzWorks. The meeting will be held at 10 Redricks Lane, Sawbridgeworth, CM21 0RL at 19:30.

SE Herts news (pt1) by Derek Driver

The thanks go to all those members who helped organise and provide such a lovely Harvest supper for our group on October the 10th. A lot of effort went into this event and everyone who attended appreciated all your efforts. So well done! A number of members couldn’t make it but next year I hope everyone will mark their calendars when they receive our new programme, and come to this most enjoyable festive event. One couple came all the way from Northampton so that shows you how good it is.

This brings me to our 2010 program. Your committee after racking our brains develops the year’s program by the first week in January, but we need fresh input from our members, especially our newer ones. Our outdoor meetings are provided by those generous members who welcome us to their apiaries , and for winter meetings your committee does its best on speakers and topics, BUT WE NEED FRESH IDEAS AND INPUT FROM OUR NEWER MEMBERS! So tell us what you would like, and if it’s possible we’ll do our best to include it. Remember, don't wait for the AGM , contact us before January.

SE Herts news (pt2) by John Mumford

Many thanks to all those who helped, or took part in the BEE WORLD Event at Capel Manor on Saturday 19th. September. Barnet & West Herts Divisions took no part, and I had no acknowledgement or response to my correspondence to them on the subject.
The day seemed to go off OK and Julie Ryan our Capel Manor contact is keen to find a beekeeper who would supply honey for sale in their shop. And with the increased publicity given to beekeeping recently, Julie is also keen to have a ‘Special Event Day’  next year devoted entirely to Bees, Beekeeping, and Bee Hive Products, where members of the Public can experience bees at close quarters.

  1. Bee World: Bishops Stortford - Susie Brickwood and Dennis Osborne Extracting Honey
  2. Bee World: North Herts - A magnificent Display of Flowers and Hive Products compiled by Brian Fairy
  3. Bee World: SE Herts - Derek Driver and Andrew Watters inspecting the Observation Hive
  4. Bee World: St. Albans - Christine Aitken and her helpers on the Pollination Stand
  5. Bee World: Welwyn and District - Phil Jepson on the Sales Stand
  6. The Wasp Trap attracts all sorts of nasty insects
The Harvest Supper went very, very well at the new Pinewood School venue. So well that it went on till after 11.00 pm. The Harvest Supper is a great opportunity to meet fellow beekeepers in a relaxing environment. A place to establish friends and contacts for mutual help next year perhaps.
Many thanks to Daphne, and of course to Jo, Sam, Adrian and Ross for all the goodies a wonderful effort. Oonagh provided a nutty crossword to keep everyone moving around, and Danny Nicholls judged Adrian Lloyd’s excellent jar of liquid honey the winner of the Skillman Shield for 2009. The raffle was well supported and made £43.00.
The next Winter Meeting will be at 8.00pm on Thursday 12th March at Pinewood School when Derek and Roy will give a talk on Pollen and Pollination. (Ed. do you mean November?) 

Sterilisation of plastic hives is approved by FERA

by Robin Dartington

A commonly heard objection to Omlet’s new plastic version of the long-deephive, the ‘beehaus’, was that it would have to be destroyed if infected with foul brood as the plastic could not be flamed. The same objection has been made to tiered hives made of polystyrene, even though those have taken over the European market. The re-issue by FERA of the procedures if foulbrood is found has confirmed that hives and accessories can in fact be sterilized with disinfectants:

Brood boxes, supers, queen excluders and other bee-keeping equipment, which has been thoroughly cleaned of all waxand propolis, can be effectively sterilized by using commercialdisinfectants (e.g. bleach, Virkon S and others). It is important that the manufacturer’s instructions are complied with.

Comb should still be burnt. Sterilization would seem to apply also to plywood hives that have been painted internally. Painting reduces the amount of propolis the bees feel is needed to create a sterile nest, and makes it easy to clean of wax and propolis by scrubbing with washing soda in hot water – some of the advantages you get from plastic. It is however only safe to paint hives internally if they have permanent mesh floors to avoid condensation.

The document can be read or saved from screen - see page 30 (page 34 of the pdf) of ‘Foul Brood Disease of Honeybees and Other Common Disorders’, FERA2009 at

Reflections on becoming a new BKA secretary

by Christine Aitken of St Albans BKA

Nine months ago when I accepted the position as secretary of St Albans division I knew it would be a steep learning curve. My predecessor Anne Wingate, who had knowledgably steered us and HBKA for so many years, would be a hard act to follow. It has been an interesting gestation.

We started the year with our beginners course. Lots to organise but with an amazingingly helpful committee and enthusiastic membership it was a success with twenty-two staying the course and ten taking up our ‘Hives-for-all’ scheme at our association apiaries. Quietly we got on with mentoring our beginners and looking after our own bees.

Then BANG the full force of media coverage on the plight of the honeybee hit us. Bees and beekeeping were suddenly on everyones agenda. Personally I already had quite a full calendar of talks to clubs and an annual school visit organised. Requests for ‘someone to explain the issues’ to W.I. Clubs started to arrive and many schools thought their children would ‘really benefit’ from a talk and visit. One St Albans school produced 210 children for me to speak to! It was a long afternoon……Various environmental events and local shows requested our presence - but we were already committed to three such events in June/July.

I hardly dared answer my telephone as sometimes as many as three calls daily were of interested people anxious to start beekeeping ‘NOW’. They needed to save the planet. Suddenly people started to notice wasps, bumblebees and honey bees and didn’t know the difference. Swarm calls in abundance and I visited many interesting people and places. Surprisingly, Sunday 4th October, after a phone call from Herts Fire Brigade, found us in St Albans High Street, outside the Clock Tower collecting a colony of bees which had fallen to the pavement after spending the last three months building up nicely on a branch of  a tree. The Council had been made aware many times that the bees were there but failed to inform anyone. Thank goodness no-one was standing at the pedestrian crossing when it fell to the ground. Nurtured it will hopefully become a beginners colony next spring.

My Inbox daily contained at least two requests for information on how to take up the interest in beekeeping which had long been in their thoughts. Apparently ‘…the (article/T.V./radio) programme said you could keep bees anywhere’ and ‘…it would be so good for the children to have bees in the garden.’

I soon put together a standard e-mail suggesting they do some reading (and I suspect Amazon soon ran out of ‘Bees at the bottom of your garden’). I explained how St Albans division help prospective beekeepers by inviting them to our apiary site on a Saturday afternoon, don a bee-suit and watch our beginners and their mentors look at their colonies. Our apiary on most Saturday afternoons bulged at the seams and invariably there were not enough bee-suits to go round. The beginners course waiting list for 2010 very soon filled up and there is a very long cancellation list too.

The press obtained my details from HBKA website. Could a young lady reporter from the local newspaper join us for a fun day out looking at bees? A photographer wanted to take pictures of beekeepers at work to add to his portfolio. Another lady (comparing us to Bedfordshire Beekeepers) complained bitterly that St Albans BKA did not have a website of information and HBKA website was poor and what we really needed was her husband to design a proper site for us. I tried to explain that we were all volunteers and caring of our bees came before a website and would her husband do one for free - but she wasn’t listening.

With Capel Manor, and our stand to organise, the season was drawing to a close. There were winter meetings and beginners course tutoring arrangements to be confirmed and just when I thought it was safe to put my head above the hive roof…I answered the phone and  was asked by a nice man from Endemol Production Co. if I was up for taking part in the game show ‘Total Wipe-out’ with a trip to Argentina, a prospective prize of £10,000 and was I available for late October to early December? Yes it was genuine and no I wasn’t too old to take part and as there was such a lot of interest in bees lately the BBC had requested beekeepers to participate in a programme! As I picked myself off the floor, I suggested and it was agreed to put this request on the St Albans BKA blog. I am patiently awaiting to hear if we have any brave souls out there.

So here I am, nine months on from taking up the challenge to follow in the footsteps of Anne. An interesting year was 2009, beyond my expectations and I think I am ready for the challenges of the next two years. With my statuary three years completed in 2012 then it is over to someone else in the division. Are you up for it?

BBKA Forum Report

by Peter Mathews

HBKA were represented by Robin Dartington (BuzzWorks) and myself. I was impressed by those coming from Sussex, Durham and other far flung places. Most of the meeting was devoted to Education & Training, and some brief notes are contained in the attachment. The aim of the Forum is to generate informal discussion in advance of the Delegates Meeting for directing the BBKA for 2010.

  1. Twickenham introduced the idea of open voting for the ADM card vote system. Voting is normally by a show of hands, ie one delegate one vote. For very close, or contentious issues, a card vote may be requested. The voting is then based upon the number of registered members represented by their delegate. The airing received mixed support. Whilst the proposal may be more open, the present system can hardly be described as undemocratic.
  2. Unlicensed Medicines - summary of present position. There are potential problems with people importing unlicensed medicines through internet sales. Products include varroacides such as Apivar and Apivar Live. These may have short term benefits for individuals, but may be ineffective long term unless introduced in a proper fashion.
  3. Tim Lovett will appear on Radio 4 'Gardeners' Question Time' to be broadcast 16th October.
  4. Tim described the background to BBKA walking out of the 'Healthy Bee Plan' meetings with FERA. Helen Crews replied on behalf of FERA. She apologized for the way BBKA had been treated, but explained that most of the decisions were made before FERA was formed so that she inherited a done deal.  Although the door is still wide open, there seems little point for a BBKA presence at meetings if they are being ignored in any discussion.
  5. Education will be the principal focus for the BBKA over the coming years, see attached.

Note the next Herts Exec Meeting is scheduled after the BBKA Delegates Meeting. This means we will not have an opportunity to discuss the agenda.  This will appear in the December 'BBKA News'. I will indicate my voting intentions then, but please feel free to draw our attention to any issues of concern.

Varroa Problems?

by John Mumford

I remember as though it were yesterday, the 21st September 2004 when I met Peter Heath our SBO at High Trees Farm. Peter needed to inspect some colonies due to a local outbreak of AFB at Standon. And I was there because the beekeeper was in hospital having his gallstones out.

I arrived a few minutes before the 2.30pm appointment to find Peter with the rear doors of his van open, sitting having his sandwiches.  It was a grey, chilly, and very windy afternoon and after our initial greetings Peter said to me, "it’s not a very nice day for it John!", and added, "do you think we ought to put it off till another day, it’s a bit windy!". Now my philosophy has always been that if it has to be done, then do it, and do it quickly. They weren’t my bees anyway! 

The beekeeper had suspected there was something wrong with his bees and had asked Peter to do a CSL. OP Resistance Test on three of the colonies.

I was given charge of the smoker and stood upwind of the hives to shelter the bees as much as possible while Peter did his stuff. It’s an experience to watch Peter handle bees, and several times he said, with a little urgency, "keep them down John". The bees were as good as gold. No sign of AFB, but all the signs of a heavy Varroa infestation were plain to see (bald brood, starved brood, tatty wings), the lot. Peter duly collected the samples of bees for the CSL Varroa OP Resistance Tests as he went round.

Peter phoned me that evening, and my heart sank as he confirmed that he had found up to 65% OP Resistant Varroa Mites in one sample, and how he was lining the mites up in rows of ten to make counting easier.

Next day I started phoning around to find an alternative treatment. Both Oxalic and Lactic Acids were expensive and difficult to get, and for best effect depended on a broodless period. I didn’t think the bees wouldn’t survive that long anyway!

I had a recipe for Thymol Grease Pattie, and some Thymol Crystals somewhere, and so with no experience to go on we decided to give it a try. One badly infected colony was the first to get a Pattie - 70 mites dropped in the first hour - it worked! The rest of the colonies received Patties and we couldn’t wait to do a mite drop count the next day. The next day we had difficulty counting the 500 or so mites that had dropped overnight. Most of these colonies survived the winter.

Peter did a lot of mite counting that Autumn and in the following weeks he established that resistant mites were widespread but the amount of resistance was variable from one apiary to another, and even from hive to hive within apiaries. A lot of bees died that winter, and so did their mites.

This year I was late in putting my Grease Patties on. I had noticed that one of my colonies was dropping more mites naturally (35 per day) than I would normally expect. They got a Grease Pattie on the 5th September. By the 13th they were dropping 100 mites per day and I thought everything was OK. On the 28th they were still dropping 80 mites per day, and it was then I saw a bee with tatty wings drop out of the entrance.

I remembered that I had an old packet of Apistan somewhere in the garage. I eventually found the re-sealed packet with just 3 strips and a 2006 expiry date. On the 4th October with nothing to lose that colony and two others, (how can a beekeeper have favourite colonies), got one strip of the Apistan each, right in the middle of the bees. Next day there were 220+ mites on the floor. By the 12th the mite drop was 60 per day, and on the 18th, 14 days after putting the Apistan strip in, the daily mite count was down to 8, (1074 mite drop in 14 days).

It appears that Apistan has regained some of its effectiveness, but it should not be relied upon as a sole treatment just in case the mites in that particular hive still have a high degree of resistance. When Apistan works, it works extremely well, and no Varroa treatment could be easier to apply. It is NOT temperature dependant and so can be used at any time of the year when honey supers are not present.

I now have a fresh supply of Apistan to treat my other colonies. It doesn’t matter how the mites are killed, providing the treatment doesn’t harm the bees or leave unwanted residues in the hives. I doubt if this 'GET OUT OF JAIL FREE' card will still work so well next year.

I have heard quite a few reports this Autumn about high residual mite populations in colonies that have had a Thymol based treatment, and that some colonies have dropped over 2000 mites when Apistan has been applied. Varroa mites have never developed 100% resistance to Apistan, only just sufficient resistance for the residual mite population to kill the colony and themselves in the process. It’s a poor parasite that kills its host. If a Colony has 20% OP Resistant Varroa Mites the other 80% are removed quick sharp with Apistan.

The efficacy of Thymol based Varroa treatments are temperature dependant. And the method of application is perhaps even more important than treatment itself. I have always thought that a 4 week treatment of Apiguard is not sufficiently long for good Varroa Mite Control.

Varroa Mites per se don’t kill bees it’s the viruses that the mites transmit from bee to bee that do the damage. A small mite population with a lot of virus will do more damage than that of a large mite population and no viruses. Just a few particles of ABPV injected into a bee will result in the death of the bee in a few days. These bees are unable to fly; they crawl away to die and are not normally noticeable at a casual glance. At this time of year they are probable taken by wasps and birds anyway.

Managing Varroa and Foulbrood and Other Common Brood Disorders

by Andy Wattam, National Bee Inspector

Ladies & Gentlemen

This is to let you know that the NBU Advisory Leaflets entitled Managing Varroa and Foulbrood and Other Common Brood Disorders have been reprinted due to demand and old stocks running out. They have not been vastly changed, as a more thorough review of all advisory material is on-going.

Printed copies can be obtained by letting us know how many copies you would like and we will arrange to get them sent to you direct from the National Bee Unit.

Alternatively they can be downloaded as PDF documents from Beebase to your PC: 


Also the handover period from myself to your new Regional Bee Inspector Keith Morgan is complete and you are now in Keith's hands, or vice versa perhaps.

Keith's contacts are as follow, and they are different from his previous ones:

Telephone: 01485 545838
Mobile Telephone: 07919 004215
E Mail Address:

Trouble with an extractor

by Peter Folge

I just had an Electric 15 frame Lega Stainless Steel Honey Extractor delivered personally by Johnathan from Maisemore Apiaries to my door this morning (ordered from their sales items as advertised in BeeCraft). All looked well until I asked to have it up and running. I was assured all was OK but insisted it would not take too long. Hmmm...

Firstly electric extractors now have a safety catch to stop the machines being opened while in use. This did not line up correctly or work very well at all. It was mentioned this could be by-passed which were my thoughts also.

Once up and running I decided to try fitting my national frames... Guess what..... The cage was far to big and all the supers fell through. Not a good start!

It was suggested that he would take the cage back to the Maismore workshop and have the cage cut down to size. Although a little hesitant I offered to pay half until the work was completed. He was not too happy and wanted full payment.

Of course his fault for selling unchecked? equipment; he ended loosing a sale and taking everything back. From his  point of view a very long waisted journey. He also told me he had quite a few cages coming back already!

Luckily I had not parted with any cash.

If he knew about this why is he selling these items wrongly described? 

Anyway be warned any new members buying extractors look else where.

Please can anyone advise me which electric extractors are to be recommended?

Please pass on this message. Many thanks.

Editor's note: the above views are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Herts Bees or Hertfordshire Beekeepers Association.

Comments over the BBKA News, October 2009

by Peter Folge, Welwyn Beekeepers Association

Having ripped open the plastic sleeve I couldn't wait any longer to thumb through the green pages of this month's magazine as it fell through the letterbox this morning. The Front Headlines said it All!

I was somewhat dismayed to read the written response the BBKA had over the fallout with DEFRA (National Bee Unit). It is long time due that the BBKA commit themselves to something positive but now we are told to wait until the next ADM for a decision to be made how the BBKA will announce their own long awaited project and in which way they will use some of their funds.

Andy Wattam (National Bee Inspector)'s article further back in the News was also an interesting read and much to the point.

Quoting BBKA, "£370K remains uncommitted of the original £2.3M. FERA decided to commit the bulk to increasing the number of inspectors, a disease survey, and promotion of BeeBase."

"The HBP (Healthy Bee Plan) will deliver little if any worthwhile outcome for bees and beekeepers."

Unfortunately I already have to disagree with last of these statements. The BBKA are underestimating the help the increased Seasonal Bee Inspectors have already been. This year's increase actually only reflects the number of inspectors that were lost in the 1980s when the government cut back funding.

Because of this, the remaining inspectorate could not cope and could never catch-up with the amount of visits required in order to keep beekeepers and apiary inspections up-to-date; this has led to a number that had not been visited for more than 10 years. Once disease AFB & EFB has been confirmed this could tie down an inspector to the surrounding area for many weeks at a time and if further disease is found during  the six week follow up inspection, this would mean inspectors must concentrate on all surrounding apiaries in a 10km radius once again. Now just image one of these beekeepers is a honey farmer of 200+ colonies. These all need to be rechecked if cross contamination is suspected.

The HBP involves inspectors visiting new and existing beekeepers and not just examining their hives. It's much more. Inspectors spend time to show/explain and even teach some newbies the correct ways and methods how to apply treatments. Unfortunately some existing records are never fully completed and this makes in years to come tracing beekeepers who have either moved away or ceased keeping bees a real headache and time and expense to update. So if you have registered and never updated then please do so.

This all takes time but in no way can even the BBKA or other beekeeping associations cover such a vast area from county to county like the inspectors do.

Remember inspectors should be approachable and not to be afraid of. Don't forget nearly all inspectors are beekeepers normally with many years of experience and expertise.

FERA has been promoting BeeBase and getting beekeepers to register online. This helps inspectors to get in touch. Do not forget you can also request a visit from your nearest SBI.

Oh...all I wanted to say is, "What happened to this month's Magazine???

I was really wanting to read the article "How Pure is the Wax in Your Hive" and looks like somebody printed twice the beginning, no middle and an end. Not much of a read then! Thanks a bunch! That's me ready for a night cap.

BBKA and Bayer

There has been some renewed criticism of the BBKA policy of engaging with Agro - Chemical companies following a recent incident in Germany associated with a product marketed by Bayer. BBKA's policy is one of:

constructive engagement with such companies to ensure that the products are sold with the correct instructions to farmers in relation to when and how to spray to ensure that honey bees are not affected

BBKA acknowledges that not all its members agree with the policy but say that the majority of members do. The Twickenham and Thames Valley Beekeepers Association are trying to overturn BBKA's policy at the 2010 ADM and are campaigning to try and force BBKA to withdraw from all pesticide and insecticide endorsement.

HBKA will be represented at the ADM and therefore your views on this matter should be passed up through your divisional officers for discussion at the HBKA Executive.

Top Bar Hives and Varroa Control

by Martin Edwards (

Following a recent question from @AmethystDragon on Twitter I asked a few of my beekeeping collegues what their opinion was on the assertion that using top bar hives led to a substantial reduction in the infestation of bees by Varroa mites.

The question had been prompted by this article on Warre Beekeeping.

Although most people felt it unlikely to make a big diference to the incidence of Varroa there is some logic to the assertion and there is a connection between this and the work of an Italian beekeeper who claims that increasing the space between frames to give a wider "Bee Space" shows a significant improvement. (Can't find a web reference for this at the moment will update later).

The theory is that top bar hives in which the bees build natural comb without wax foundation as a guide tend to use a wider space between combs. The mites travel around the hive after hatching by being transfered from bee to bee. A wider bee space may lead to fewer interactions between the bees as they pass each other over the comb and therefore statistically reduce the ability of the mites to spread.

This is only a theory and I have not been able to find any scientific peer reviewed work to back it up - anyone reading this who does know of studies please contact me and I will update this with relevant links.Natural comb building is of course what happens in nature and there is evidence that wild colonies have been known to exist quite happily in inaccessible places when they will almost certainly have picked up mites whilst out foraging or robbing hives. This is one of the reasons that wild colonies are very important for research. Whether it is a genetic or a behavioural trait it may well hold the answer to keeping bees that are more resistant to Varroa and disease.

On a practical note. The use of top bar hives presents particular management and manipulation issues. Modern beekeeping practice requires colonies to be regularly checked for disease and most swarm control techniques requires the regular manipulation of combs. Comb without a wooden frame around it is very delicate and on a hot day could easily break whilst being examined. Extracting honey from natural comb almost certainly will require cold pressing equipment or heating to melt the wax the later being significantly detrimental to the flavour, aroma and beneficial qualities of the honey.

This I suggest would lead to the advice that one should learn beekeeping on the more usual framed system and then start experimenting with top bars once a significant level of skill and knowledge of bee behaviour and husbandry has been gained.

This is not to suggest that keeping bees in the Warre way should be dismissed out of hand. I believe that there may be substantial benefits to this system if applied properly and with the appropriate regard to disease control. I and many of my collegues are sceptical that it is the answer to varroa problems but any system which gets as close as possible to the natural environment for the bees themselves is worthy of serious consideration and should be supported by all Associations in a spirit of collaboration and research.

Editor's note: I am intrigued by this type of hive and have decided to build one for next season. I will provide monthly updates in Herts Bees on its progress. Designs are readily available on the internet including this one at: 

White House Honey

Michelle Obama had a large bee hive installed near the garden, and it produced plenty of honey. Enough, in fact, that she was able to give each of the wives of the heads of state attending the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh a very attractive jar of "White House Honey." Click here for pictures.