June 2009


Swarm, swarm, swarm!

May has been a busy month – lots of swarms and high honey yields.

The winter survey results are now in and only 15% of colonies were lost. Not good but much better than recent years.

Many thanks to all of the contributors this month. There is a lot of news and some interesting photographs of swarms and a picture of support from a local MP. I hope the bee suit wasn't claimed on expenses!


The visit to Graham's new apiary back at the end of April was well attended on a lovely sunny afternoon. The lucky bees have a very des. res. with plenty of space, nice thick hedges for shelter and a small lake nearby. They all seemed to be doing well although one colony had allowed a wax moth in and in another the queen had found her way into the supers. She was soon put back down under.

Last Thursday Nortonbury Apiary was inspected by Peter Folge in his new role of seasonal bee inspector. All hives were well and healthy except one which had been neglected and had died out.

Boxwood open apiary on Saturday was again a lovely sunny afternoon and very well attended by beekeepers old and new. Having only managed to arrive in time for tea and cakes I can only say that these were excellent and was told that the bees were fine and three new queens had been found and marked.

We have now officially been offered a new apiary site at Willian by Letchworth Heritage Foundation and Graham will be receiving the key soon. The committee need to agree a set of apiary rules and we should soon be able to move in the first hives. Any N. Herts members interested in using this site please contact Graham or me.

Andy finally, the Hitchin Triangle Community Garden Open Day - June 28th 2-5pm. Please contact me if you would like to talk to people about bees/beekeeping or to sell honey at this event. Last year it was a most enjoyable afternoon.


Loadsa Honey!

Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, is pictured below on a visit to STABKA’s Prae Wood apiary, admiring £93,000 in cash! But this was nothing to do with shady dealings on expenses. The money was from the Bank of Beekeeping and the queen’s head was a queen bee, not Elizabeth R.

Eileen Remnant, chair of the division (pictured), had been doing her sums and concluded that her members contributed a massive £93,000 to the UK economy, thanks to pollination of crops by their hard-working bees!
The sun shone for the visit on May 9th, the bluebells bloomed beautifully and the bees behaved immaculately, with no stings to report. Eric Margrave guided the MP through the workings of a hive and, right on cue, Fred Vanstone pointed out a sizeable swarm at rest in an apple tree.

Over tea and cakes, several members had the opportunity to talk to Mr Lilley and to bend his ear on the subject of threats facing bees and funding for research. He showed great interest and later issued a press release headed “Lilley supports call for more research on honey bees” in which he said:

“I was delighted to talk to members of the St Albans Beekeepers Association about their work and the serious situation confronting the honey bee population. . . . . It is sad that one of the world’s leading bee research units at Rothamsted in my constituency was closed three years ago for lack of funding. Honey bees are virtually extinct in the wild and only survive because beekeepers tend their hives. Unless this trend in bee numbers is reversed, the impact on food production could be devastating.” He also “…stressed how important it was that research focussed on honey bees which face serious threats rather than spread thinly among all the other insect pollinators.”

Mr Lilley left carrying a wealth of information in the form of books, papers and magazines drawn together by SABKA members, as well as a jar of honey from the apiary as a sweet reminder of the visit.

… And Loadsa Bees!

Members Stuart and Maureen Thorne were in the news recently. The following article appeared in the Borehamwood Times:

Aldenham Parish Councillor Viv Charrett got a surprise on Saturday when the 4ft swarm popped in for lunch at her garden in Theobald Street, Radlett. The bees landed on the grass, garden handrails, steps and filled the air, eventually settling on an apple tree in the middle of the lawn. Mrs Charrett quickly telephoned the police who tried to locate some bee-keepers, but without success. They then passed her on to Hertsmere Borough Council's environmental services department but that too proved a failure as the officers were unable to do anything outside office hours. Determined to find the bees a new home, preferably away from her apple tree, Mrs Charrett said she remembered residents Stuart and Maureen Thorne kept bees but there was no reply when she called. Looking out at the sunny afternoon Mrs Charrett soon realised Mr Thorne was likely to be looking after his allotment. She went out and found him more than willing to help get her and the bees out of trouble. Mrs Charrett said: “They cut the branch down with the bees attached and put them in a wicker basket which they left upside down in the garden until the evening when it became colder, by which time most of the bees had gone back inside the basket with the Queen. "They then wrapped it up in a large sheet and took it back to the allotments where the bees would be placed in a new hive. "It was an amazing experience to see the swarm and to see how it was dealt with. I am delighted Stuart and Maureen were around at the time and dealt with the bees so calmly and professionally.”

Members’ Activities

The next teaching meeting at the Prae Wood apiary will be on Saturday June 20th at 3pm. The subject will be harvest and end of season. Weekly meetings continue at the Prae wood and Oaklands apiaries, 2-4pm. Learners and observers welcome.

We will be meeting the public at the Oaklands open day on June 13th and at Larks in the Park, Victoria Fields, St Albans, on June 28th . Volunteers are needed to chat about bees to interested people at both events. If you can spare an hour or two, please contact Christine Aitken on 01582 792316.

Do you need an out-apiary?

Following much publicity in the media, we have been contacted by two people very kindly offering sites for beehives in their sizeable gardens. At present we believe that you all have satisfactory sites for your hives and so have written back thanking them and promising to keep their names on file for later reference. If you are thinking about an out-apiary, either now or in the future, do contact secretary Christine Aitken (phone No. above) or any other committee member for details.


Honeysuckle Cottage hosted the 9th May meeting. Three new "keen to learn" prospective Beekeepers were among the fourteen who attended. In Jenny's first hive 5 or 6 empty Queen cells were found,no evidence of brood and then the realization that a swarm and also possibly a small cast had occurred. Luckily then a Virgin Queen was spotted, still to begin laying brood. The second hive was ready to house the new Nuc which had arrived three days earlier. The Bees were successfully transferred from the Nuc box and checked. We then took a stroll up to another hive which Frances looks after. Unfortunately no Queen could be seen and evidence that maybe a swarm had occurred from this hive. Widford residents had reported four swarms during the past week! It was decided to take some frames plus a Queen cell and food and use the travelling Nuc box as a possible way of forming a Nuc. At teatime various meeting dates were confirmed. Volunteers were requested to help at Beeworld in August. Two members names were put forward as Trustees. Many thanks to Derek Driver for attending and sharing his knowledge with us.

The 8th August meeting will be held at the apiary of Jane Moseley at Blakesware Manor, Wareside, SG12 7RD. If you want to keep up with her progress as a new beekeeper then take a look at her blog at beehivejive.wordpress.com.


There are many articles being produced in the general press relating to bees and beekeeping. The following information was gleaned from two different sources.

The UK cereal company Jordans is a corporate member of the BBKA. They are based at Biggleswade and have joined up with The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to launch and national campaign to increase the number of bee-friendly habitats in the UK and also to raise the awareness of bees and their importance to the environment. Amateur apiarists maintain 8 hives at Kew. You can read more on www.jordanbigbuzz.co.uk and www.kew.org.

As always advice is given to add more flowering plants to the garden which will bloom at different times throughout the year to ensure a steady supply of nectar and pollen. Apart from the flowering fruit trees the following were mentioned ageratum, artichoke, sage, rosemary and borage, lavender, blackberry, hollyhocks and larkspur, crocus, golden rod, willow and ivy.

A new product is now being advertised on the market which claims to enhance the performance of bees as pollinators by encouraging foraging. The product is a blend of four pheromones which should be sprayed on crops such as brassica vegetables, mustard and beans at the start of flowering or on fruiting plants such as raspberries, strawberries and blackcurrants. This product is said to reproduce natural attractants and has already been used in France, Italy and Spain. Will Great Britain be next?

Reminders of Welwyn Beekeepers Association events in June:

7th Hertford Castle Fun Day (pm)
13th Applecroft School
20th Welwyn Street Market. (9.00 - 12.30). We will taking our usual stand. Setting up is from 8 am. The road will be closed at 8.30 am. We need you and we need your honey! Contact - Peter Folge tel 01438 816211.


If there was a shortage of bees this Spring, the bees are putting matters right with swarms galore. I have lost swarms, and collected swarms from my own apiary. I have seen two swarms where the Queens were clipped issue within a few minutes of each other, amalgamate, and then all go back into one hive. I have done exactly as the books suggest and left two marked open Queen Cells, then seven days later I broke one down together with any wild Queen Cells - they then swarmed - when I looked through the bees sounded very Queenless, so I gave them a test frame of eggs and young larvae only to have Queencells built over drone brood ! I then gave them a ripe Queencell which has emerged normally - will they swarm again? Who knows - it's just one of those years, when even experienced beekeepers have to put their hands up and admit that bees working 24-7 can run rings round us.

These swarms didn't get away.

I, like a lot of beekeepers, are now just waiting for some warm calm days to get Queens mated so that colonies can get back to something like normal before we get involved in extracting all that sticky stuff that bees collect.

I am writing this on the 22nd. May - I had some robbing going on a few days ago - and yesterday saw the first of the Blackberry blossom open! It's been a good year for the bees so far, but it will now be all over in just a few weeks.

I have had no response to my call for help in manning the stall at the Broxbourne Council Open Day on the 4th. of July, is it me that is the problem, or are our members not interested in showing Joe Public what Beekeepers do?

I have been asked by the committee to send out Gift Aid forms to those members who we have no record of their filling in a form. We can reclaim Tax to the value of about 25% of the subscriptions paid, this will mean that we can spend more and keep subscriptions down. If you get a Gift Aid Form please get it back to Roy Cropley ASAP.


This spring we find our apiary much improved with a new shed, some new hive stands and the refurbished "pavilion"! This has all come about thanks to the hard work of a small group of generous members who gave up their time to make these much needed improvements.

There were seven hives kept at the apiary during the winter and they all survived although several were attacked by woodpeckers.

We have already had four, well attended apiary meetings this year. There have been several potential new members at the meetings. Expert practical tuition was given at all the meetings which is very much appreciated. It is a wonderful way to learn more about beekeeping especially when followed by tea and biscuits and further discussion!


As a member of Herts BKA and employee at Rothamsted Research, I would like to correct a misunderstanding that I have unfortunately heard repeated in a number of beekeeping circles, i.e. the view that the "bee unit at Rothamsted has closed". It is all the more disappointing to hear this view expressed on Rothamsted's doorstep after Rothamsted staff associated with the bee group have only recently given talks to the Herts BKA about their current activities.

Hence I would like to clarify that the bee group at Rothamsted is live, well and very much active!

The group is being led by Dr Juliet Osborne and staffed by an additional 4 members of staff and 2 students. There obviously have been staff losses – Prof. Ingrid Williams, Brenda Ball and Andrew Martin have retired and Norman Carreck was made redundant. In Brenda and Norman’s case, this was largely a consequence of the Defra research grant, funding their bee pathology work, coming to an end and Defra indicating that they would not extend funding for an additional period. Defra would probably accept, with the benefit of hindsight, that that decision was poorly-made considering the extent to which bee health has quickly risen to the top of people’s concerns since. Knowing that Norman has since received funding to support his role at the Sussex Bee Research Laboratory is therefore brilliant news.

But others are still very active at Rothamsted. Reflecting the funding environment at the time, most of the continuing work of Rothamsted’s bee unit focussed on pollination, but we do have two current projects focussed on bee health – a BBSRC studentship on “the effects of pathogens on honey bee learning and foraging behaviour” (some North Herts members may remember meeting Emma Wright – the postgraduate student appointed and Juliet Osborne and Judy Pell – her two Rothamsted supervisors) and a industry-sponsored pilot study integrating the effects of stressors within the hive and in the landscape. Funding for additional projects are either already being considered or are in discussion with various funders and potential collaborators.

This year also sees the opening of the Rothamsted bee group’s new purpose-built field research laboratory.
Losing such experienced researchers has definitely been a challenge for the bee group at Rothamsted, but please do no ‘bury’ the bee group before their time.

Pete Kennedy
(St Albans branch of HBKA)


by Derek Driver

Recently I was asked to visit a member’s apiary because one of his hives had bees all over the front and the owner of the garden was not a beekeeper. This member was on holiday but had asked me to help if needed. This was the 7th of May.

I arrived on site with a lady member and found ourselves looking at a group of Dadant hives, which are not my favourites, as they have such large frames and I find them difficult to manipulate looking for queens. The middle one had a mass of bees over the entrance and hanging underneath the floor, so I brushed nearly all into a swarm box and set it aside.    I started by removing three full supers, (the site was adjacent to a rape field.) and started to go through the brood frames which were set out in the warm way. There were queen cells everywhere and on the second frame I found a marked and clipped queen. So, I decided to move her into one of the spare hives on site with additional bees, and continued going through the rest of the frames deciding which queens cells would be best to leave.

On the forth frame I found another marked and clipped queen! This was a surprise as I have never found two clipped queens in the same brood chamber before. A queen and a virgin yes, but not two clipped queens! So I moved her, plus bees into another spare hive on site and finished going through the original  hive leaving the two best queen cells  On rebuilding this hive I  put a empty super over the queen excluder before replacing the three full supers.

The mass of bees in the swarm box I then empted into the one of the hives in which I had placed one of the clipped queens.

My guess as to what happened is one of the hives swarmed but the clipped queen found herself in the grass and walked back up the legs of the adjacent hive, and in, but the swarm bees with her remained outside hanging underneath, but why didn’t the two queens fight?  Perhaps the experts will come up with all sorts of theories and keeps our editor busy judging which answer is more plausible


Hello! I know this is really short notice, but I'm wondering whether you know of anyone who visits primary schools!! I teach in Chorleywood, and have just been given the topic of bees to research and work around during W/C 6.7.09. I'd love any info etc and would especially like someone to talk to our children, show protective gear etc.  I believe there are beekeepers in Chorleywood, but I'm not sure where! My name is Vanessa Southworth. I teach 7 year olds in The Russell School, Chorleywood. My school tel no is 01923 284272, and I will be there from 1.6.09.


From a sample of 150 colonies across Hertfordshire at the start of winter, 36 (24%) were strong, 80 (53%) were average, 12 (8%) were weak and 22 (15%) had died by the start of the new season. This is much better than in previous years and, despite a cold winter, is a promising start to the new year.


I have now taken over from Peter Heath West Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. Peter Heath will continue to work in Essex. I have already started to make my rounds and generally have found bees in Herts are mostly in good hands. There are however one or two beekeepers who need to brush up their husbandry. We must not forget after all the honey is taken for human consumption and bees must be respected as much as other farm animals.

My role as Seasonal Bee Inspector takes into account the identification of bee diseases and contaminants that could possibly be found in the hive. SBI's work from April - October for the NBU (National Bee Unit, based in York) under the control of FERA (Food & Environmental Research Agency).

Modern techniques allow inspectors to analyse and test foulbrood diseases on site giving an instant diagnosis. Thanks to beekeepers getting more involved and with an open hands approach has helped to keep this critical work flowing smoothly. Voluntary Registration on "Bee Base" is the key of our success in controlling bee pathogens in the UK. Unfortunately EFB is on the rise and we all need to be looking for unusual brood patterns and report these asp. No one likes to find disease but the sooner we take action the quicker we can stop the spread.  All SBI's are beekeepers with most having a good number of years of beekeeping experience.

We also have a duty to investigate unknown apiary sites and look for their owners.

I look forward to meeting and seeing you and your bees and am happy for you to request a visit.

Peter Folge (SBI)
"The Bees Knees"
Welwyn Beekeepers Association

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