November 2010

Editorial by Paul Cooper

Another winter is almost here so make final checks that mouse guards are secure and the chicken wire is in place.  Heft each hive to get an idea how much they weigh when full of winter stores.

Next month will be a double edition covering December and January so please send me your news for December through to mid February.

North Herts news by Christine Philips

After Frank had explained the intricacies of artificial and shook swarms at our first winter meeting last Tuesday (with the help of various cardboard boxes and a rather fat wooden queen) we were treated to an antique quiz. This had been threatening to make an appearance for several years and wasn't advertised in case no-one turned up! It was concocted in the old days when beekeepers knew a thing or two, and amazingly some people knew the answers to some of the questions, even though there were several on skep beekeeping. Graham claimed chairman's privilege and read out the questions and, more importantly, the answers. It was enjoyed by all, and as Derrick said, everyone has now spoken at a bee meeting. Thanks go to Derrick for organising it.

We also discussed the money paid to the BBKA by some large chemical companies for allowing them to use the BBKA logo on their products, and the proposition put forward by Twickenham and Thames Valley BKA asking for this to stop. All present voted to support this proposition and I have forwarded your views to the Hertfordshire committee, but we are just one of eight Hertfordshire divisions and so have a very small voice.

The N. Herts Christmas party was discussed and one idea put forward was to have a bonfire party this year (if a suitable venue can be found) - sort of winter solstice festival! If this idea appeals to you or if you would rather keep to a more traditional event please let Graham know. Or come to the next meeting and help to decide.

Next meeting :

November 16th at 7.30pm at Howgills - a talk by Richard Smith - "Honey from Hive to Jar"

St Albans & District news by Christine Aitken

Winter meetings 

26th November 2010 at 8.00pm at Chiswell Green United Reformed Church Hall is our Honey Tasting Social. This is an informal evening where members bring a jar of their own unlabeled clear honey along and we all taste, judge and present a cup to the winner. Everyone also brings a plate of food which makes for an enjoyable evening. All members and their families welcome. 

4th February 2011 at 8.00pm at Chiswell Green United Reformed Church Hall is our AGM. We intend to hold our usual Wine and Cheese Social afterwards. 

We had a good attendance for our first winter meeting of the year on 15th October. Emma Wright, a PhD student working at Rothamsted in Harpenden, gave us a very interesting, humorous and enlightening presentation on the current research she and her colleagues are doing on 'Interactions between honeybee diseases and bee behaviour'.

Also at the meeting was Christopher Snow, a 3rd year veterinary student at the Royal Veterinary College, who as part of his animal husbandry project is looking at the various methods employed by beekeepers to control varroa levels in their hives in order to maximize productivity levels of the bees. He distributed confidential questionnaires to interested members and has offered to send a final report to us.

Both he and Emma stayed on for the review of the beekeeping season which was a lively question and answer session.

Beginners course 2011

Preparations are well under way thanks to Eileen Remnant who once again is co-ordinating.

West Herts news by Margaret Tighe

On Sunday 3rd October, Andy Clavey, with the three members who keep bees at the Apiary, set about extracting two of three supers removed from the new Association hives. They assembled in Lindsay and Diane Bruces' bee proof utility room and the Association extractor was used. Diane later bottled up 41 x 1lb jars. The flavour was very good. The honey in the third super had crystallised but will no doubt be used on one of the hives for winter stores.

This month we had the last of our apiary meetings this year. It was nice to see nearly all the West Herts BKA Committee members there along with other members new and long-term! After a hectic week it is easy to think - can I really spare the time to attend an apiary meeting? However, once there, I am swept along in the peaceful "away from it all" atmosphere. The jobs at home are forgotten, that is, until I look at my watch and see that nearly two and a half hours have slipped by and it's time to say goodbye.

Bishops Stortford news by Paul Cooper

Don't forget our Harvest Supper at the Nags Head in Little Hadham at 8pm on Friday 12th November.  If you have not booked then please contact Jane Moseley to see if there are any spare places.

A new bee-suit for Christmas?

We have negotiated a 10% discount for members of HBKA from All you have to do is enter the code BKS100 when you make your purchase.  The site also contains gloves and smokers for sale and will have other tools for sale by Christmas.

The BBKA Forum

by Jane Moseley

Now if like me you are thinking what the heck is the BBKA Forum, I will endeavour to explain in very simple terms. Each County sends 2 representatives to discuss topics of interest/concern as proposed by the County Divisions & BBKA at a one day meeting. These findings are then presented back to the representatives and submitted to the BBKA for action.

Chaired by Brian Ripley, BBKA Chairman, the meeting opened on time with a keen start straight into the subject area of Commercial Chemical Endorsements which had been raised by the Twickenham division. The result of the debate was mixed and nothing was really determined.

We moved on then to the Course in a Case, which you may have heard me banging on about. Well this is a comprehensive detailed Bee Keeping Course, in a Case hence it’s name, which has been developed to provide each Division with quality materials that enable us to provide up to date current information at a Basic level. Heavily subsidised the course is both in printed and electronic form and the Bishops Stortford division will be using this material in its forthcoming course in the new year. Additional materials are being created - to take BeeKeepers to the next level and the first of these should be available at the ADM (Annual Delegates Meeting) in January.

BBKA has funding from FERA specifically for the training of trainers but works with Government Departments on the Healthy Bee Board in addition to developing it’s own courses. Through the FERA funding BBKA hopes to push through 400 trainers through the programme between November and March, when the fund may well be cut. So if you want to take advantage - do so now! See the next edition which will have a big education theme for more info on what’s going on and available education wise. We then broke out into discussion groups to discuss the materials and how it can be delivered to improve standards throughout the year to all members.

In the current environmental climate it has been determined that Research is vital to enable us to improve the health of our Bees. The question asked of attendees was what’s the best way to spend the meagre £63k of funds within the BBKA Research fund. We were asked to consider Applied, Case Awards, Scale and Topics for Research. Unanimously every break out group determined that Bee Keepers in the field could take part and that we should use our extensive membership intelligence as a resource for research undertaking and analysis.

Message below from Brian Ripley, BBKA Chairman

Dear Secretary

Can I take this opportunity for thanking you for any help you gave in encouraging members to complete the honey survey, we needed 1000 responses to make it credible and we received 1386 which was excellent and will allow careful analysis. As it is getting nearer to Christmas could you pass the following information to all your members as an email, or flag it up in your next newsletter so that we can reach as many BBKA members as possible well before Christmas. 

Ideas for Christmas that help the honey bee

Look at the choices on to order call 0871 911 1818 and quote 'BBKA 7'.

We have arranged a discount just for BBKA members on stationary for sale on the Adoptabeehive web shop, with 20% off all cards

Christmas cards, set of eight, two different snowy beehive scenes
Price to BBKA members £4.76 (saving £1.19 on each set)

Rainbow notelets, set of seven, honey bees on colourful flowers
Price to BBKA members £3.68 (saving 92p on each set)

Gold print wood cut skep cards, set of six
Price to BBKA members £4.48 (saving £1.12 on each set)

All profits from the sale of these cards go towards the research and education fund to support the honey bee. For example money from BBKA sales has recently been awarded to Ron Hoskins to help develop his varroa resistant bees.

To take advantage of this offer you must order BY PHONE 0871 911 1818 (calls cost no more than 10p minute) and quote 'BBKA 7 member offer' . ‘Adoptabeehive’ and ‘Spread a little Sweetness’ sets would also make an unusual present and help the honey bee, and can also be bought online at or by calling 0871 911 1818.

Small Hive Beetle - new brochure

Dear Beekeeper,

Please download from here the new National Bee Unit Small hive beetle brochure.

This has been developed and updated by the National Bee Unit, incorporating information on risks from the recent Defra funded Pest Risk Assessment and containing new information about contingency planning.

We hope that you find  this leaflet a useful addition to your beekeeping information.

Kind regards,
National Bee Unit

Breeding the Honeybee

by Richard Alabone (courtesy of Essex Beekeepers Association)

Of all animal species in the world, the honey bee is unique in that the multiple mating of queens creates colonies of half sister workers, fathered by drones of dubious parentage but all from the same geographical area.

Too much in-breeding reduces virility; therefore the inevitable cross mating, within the geographical area, is a good thing.

We know that honey bees have remained virtually unchanged for at least 50,000,000 years and this has been achieved by their unique method of avoiding in-breeding which will destroy a good strain in a few generations. Apis Mellifera avoids in-breeding by queens flying several miles to be multiple mated, which has resulted in at least 12 identifiable races, that have bred into 12 different geographical areas to best fit the climate of those areas. This gives beekeepers a wealth of breeds to choose from to make crosses, some being dreadful, while others are very satisfactory.

We all know that plant and animal breeders have made dramatic improvements in output by crossing natural breeds, and bee breeding is no different in that respect. Honey yields can be increased by a factor of 10 by careful selection of crosses. The only problem being that in so doing we have now compromised the individuality of all the different breeds due to the bees own method of avoiding inbreeding. But bees will probably survive another 50,000,000 years despite our intervention.

This makes "pure-bred queens" difficult to produce and the best that can be done is to carefully select breeder queens and only mate them with good drones of the same strain. This is known as line breeding. As a result of multiple mating, the control of suitable breeding is a very inexact science, unless horrible instrumental insemination is used.

We buy pure bred yellow Italian queens from Hawaii, where queens are cheap to produce, which would not survive in this country unless pampered by the beekeeper. This race of Apis Mellifera has the hereditary factors best suited to survive in Italy.

A bee more suited to our climate is the Buckfast, sometimes regarded as a pure breed, but is in fact a carefully contrived first cross originally produced by Brother Adam's beekeepers at Buckfast Abbey in Devon. It is highly prolific and hard-working because it is a cross of two separate races. This high degree of virility is almost never achieved in bees of a single race because there is always too much inbreeding.  Brother Adam showed that the first cross of two races produced very different offspring, and by the crossing of two line-bred carefully selected strains the desired characteristics could be achieved to give a user-friendly breed capable of much increased honey yield. This was achieved by crossing, the highly selected European bee, bred at Buckfast Abbey over many years, with the bee from Carnica in northern Yugoslavia which has a range of important characteristics like, remarkably good temper, calmness on the comb and resistance to brood diseases.

Today we can buy "Buckfast strain" queens raised in this country which are prolific but sometimes very aggressive due to the difficulty of having pure strains to cross. Other bee breeders are more honest and sell them as "user friendly", or as their own breed.

Carniolan bees were once known here as the "best bee" but they have disappeared into our mongrel population in this country, while they are still line-bred in Germany as I read in Brother Adams book "Breeding the Honey Bee". I make no apology for using his title, as this article was based on his book, published by Northern Bee Books.

For me the interesting thing is the fundamental question of what makes a bee what it is, or for that matter what makes me what I am. We know that heredity plays a part in some way, and although scientists in their wisdom have rejected it, the answer is the inheritance of acquired characteristics. This is what formed the distinct bee races within the species. Scientific opinion dictates that it is the DNA which is the building block of the species, but biology is not able to explain this, with some biologists believing that there must be an information transfer mechanism between members of all species that dictates species form and instinctive behaviour. This mechanism has been given various names, but for me the obvious one is telepathy, which is very occasionally experienced by humans, and is that same mechanism which dictates growth, form and shares instinctive information between the members of every species. DNA is only the key of each species, rather than the complete description, ensuring that only species information is received, but blending with the acquired characteristics of heredity which is recorded in DNA.

I am aware that this all raises more questions than it answers. Some of the answers are on my website:

Government announces support for backgarden beekeepers

Britain’s backyard beekeepers are to be helped to avoid the problem of winter bee deaths by 400 Government-backed volunteer teachers.

Soaring numbers of people are taking up the hobby amid concern over honey bee decline. But due to challenges from pests and diseases, inexperienced beekeepers are losing more colonies over winter, so better skills are needed.

400 experts across England and Wales are to be trained to teach beekeepers good husbandry as part of a new project under the Government’s Healthy Bees Plan. It will be run in partnership by the British Beekeeping Association (BBKA) and National Diploma of Beekeeping Board (NDBB), and jointly funded by Defra.

For more information click here.