Record attendance at Honey Tasting

DESPITE the fact that the thermometer didn’t rise above one degree Celsius all day over 50 members of the St. Alban’s Beekeepers’ Association put in what must be a record attendance at this year’s ‘Honey Tasting’ held at the United Reform Church Hall, Chiswell Green on Friday, November 26.
The evening followed its usual format with the jars of honey being displayed anonymously on a large central table and the spectacle was a joy to behold. Everyone is then invited to taste them all and mark them with a score of one to five. There were 25 jars put up for judging and the standard was in fact so high that it made selecting extremely difficult and in order to make a judgement between some it was necessary to deduct marks for things like presentation to help make a decision. All the honey was of extremely good quality being in the main very ripe and I would guess they all had a very low water content.
There were many varieties ranging from the more standard flavour of honey as gathered from our apiary which mainly consists of what comes from arable farm land being largely from rape, beans and the adjacent hedgerows to some very delicious pale varieties which I understand emanated from lime trees. At the other end of the spectrum there were a few very dark treacly jars which were either from the chestnut blossom or honey dew. One of these jars of honey dew honey had, we learned later, been flavoured by the bitumen on a garage or shed roof from which the bees had collected the honey dew. This is probably an acquired taste and could perhaps catch on.
The winner of the cup was again from the Wingate family. David, as opposed to Anne, who had won it previously, so the cup can again reside in the same place on their sideboard for another year. Second was Caroline Moore and third Maureen Thorne. This event was followed as usual by a sumptuous buffet which was supplied by the members who brought along a dish, either savoury or sweet, and this was followed by a cup of the ‘beekeepers best friend’ a cup of tea.

Solar Extractor

by Peter Mathews

This is aimed one of our new members who asked me last January if it was too early to putting on supers. Well, this is what you should be doing in January:-

After a year or two of keeping bees you should be in a position of collecting a lot of surplus wax. Do not throw this away it is valuable! Most people render wax down to trade in against new foundation. This should provide you with more than enough, so that you will rarely need to buy in.

If nothing else you should get yourself a solar extractor. This is simply an insulated box in which you put spare wax; it sits in the sun, the wax melts and runs off into a suitable container. All the usual suppliers will have something in their catalogue, at a price. If treating this as a business proposition then you will be looking at a fairly lengthy payback time. On the other hand if your bees are highly productive and you are getting a good price for your honey, then you may see it as a good investment.

As solar extractors work well even if poorly manufactured, most people make their own. The main box is probably easiest made out of marine ply. Don't bother with fancy joints, just use strips of baton to screw the sides together. Just ensure exposed edge are well protected against the weather. The window should be doubled glazed for maximum efficiency, and the whole thing lined with insulation. This could be expanded foam, felt etc. But, 2" roofing insulation board is very easy to work with. The most difficult part is making the inner tray. Commercial units are made in stainless steel with welded joints. An old cooking oil container, made of tin plate, from your local take away is free and easily worked with tin snips and a soldering iron. Make sure all cut edges are folded back to avoid cutting yourself.

I am reminder by a winning entry at the National Honey Show by John Nailard of St Albans which he built out of material retrieved from skips. The body was a high density polystyrene packing box, the window was triple glazed polycarbonate sheet and the tray knocked up from an old oil drum.

You can go on to refine your wax and use it for candle making etc, which is worth more than a trade in. But, for now rough filtered wax will be very acceptable to KBS, Maisemore, Thornes etc. This little project should keep you quiet until the end of February!

My First Bees by Derek Driver

I started beekeeping by accident, my brother in law rang me one day and said he had just done a beekeeping course at Taylors of Welwyn and a few days later I saw an advert in our local newspaper of a beekeeper selling all his bees and equipment due to retirement. Thinking my brother in law would be interested I arranged to meet him at the beekeepers cottage, in Nuthampstead. In the dark however I couldn’t find the cottage and went into the only pub there and found the local postman enjoying a pint. I soon found the cottage and the beekeeper welcomed me like a long lost son.

He said my brother in law had been and gone but had made the beekeeper promise to save a hive for me!!! I cannot print the descriptive thoughts that went through my mind of my brother in law when I received those words. However I was taken into a barn which was filled with stacks of boxes called “supers” and shown “frames and queen excluders” the aroma from these were intoxicating.

I departed with a wooden box tired up with string and with grass stuffed into a hole in the front, and £10 lighter in the pocket. I drove away, conscious of the beekeepers last words ringing in my ears, “drive slowly boy”! The date was the 30th March 1974.

My learning curve was steep and I joined the local group which was the South East Herts beekeepers association, whose area was Hertford, Ware, Hoddesdon, Broxbourne, Cuffley, Goffs Oak and Cheshunt. A Mr.Ratcliffe was the chairman but soon there was a new chairman called Neville Woodward. I discovered the bees I had brought had AFB and the bee inspector for the county, Frank Croll also a member of SEHBA then joined Neville in taking me under their wing and became my joint mentors. This involved lots of apiary visits and on one occasion when Frank invited us up on Sunday for tea I left our children with his wife and mine whilst Frank and I walked over the fields to his bees.                  

He started to remove cover boards and examine the bees but as neither of us had any hats or veils just short sleeve shirts and I was reluctant. Of course one stung me above the eye and by the time we returned for tea it was shut. 

Within a few years of their tutorledge a young Clive De Bryn took me for my Basic exam although it wasn’t called that then, and I started to win various prize cards at our SEHBA division show and at the County Show. In those days there was fierce competition From John Mumford and Geoff Wilcox, from our association, who also won many prize cards, Geoff being especially expert in the various types of mead, even winning at the national.

Over the years I have realised how much enjoyment and friends I’ve gained from beekeeping, although I have never thanked my brother in law, But He did get his just deserts. Many years ago when I asked him to help with those lovely black bees we used to keep. The ones that always met and greeted you a hundred yards away and continued their welcome by bouncing off your face mask whenever you were in the apiary.

All he had to do was put a clearer board on a hive whilst I lifted the super clear. Well the next thing that happened was that I heard him yell, and I saw the clearer board flying through the air and him running across the field, then through the hedge, waving his arms like a Whirling Dervishes.

When I caught up with him he was in his car and about to drive off. His description of my bees cannot be printed and he never helped again. Now days the bees we keep are pussycats compared to those old black bees, and I often wonder how today’s newcomers would cope with those type of bees?

Bee scientists to force killer mites to self destruct

Defra news release -

Scientists may be able to halt global honey bee losses by forcing the deadly Varroa mite, lethal in the freezing weather, to self destruct.

The blood-sucking Varroa is the biggest killer of honey bees world-wide, having developed resistance to beekeepers’ medication. It is particularly destructive in winter as depleted colonies do not have enough bees huddling together to keep warm.

Now researchers from the Government’s National Bee Unit and Aberdeen University have worked out how to ‘silence’ natural functions in the mites’ genes to make them self destruct.

Dr. Alan Bowman from the University of Aberdeen said: “Introducing harmless genetic material encourages the mites’ own immune response to prevent their genes from expressing natural functions. This could make them self destruct. The beauty of this approach is that it is really specific and targets the mites without harming the bees or, indeed, any other animal.”

Dr Giles Budge from National Bee Unit, part of the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), said: “This cutting edge treatment is environmentally-friendly and poses no threat to the bees. With appropriate support from industry and a rigorous approval process, chemical-free medicines could be available in five to ten years.”

Environment Minister Lord Henley said: “Bees are essential to putting food on our table and worth £200m to Britain every year through pollinating our crops. This excellent work by UK scientists will keep our hives healthy and bees buzzing.”

The process uses the Nobel Prize-winning theory ‘RNA interference’, which controls the flow of genetic information. So far the ‘silencing’ has worked with a neutral Varroa gene, which has no significant effect on the mite. Scientists now need to target a gene with the specific characteristics that are perfect to force the Varroa to self destruct.

Tests by other scientists have shown the treatment can be added to hives in bee feed. The bees move it into food for their young, where the Varroa hides.

Varroa facts

  • The Varroa mite, like a brown crab, is the biggest global killer of honey bees.
  • It originally attacked the Asian honeybee but jumped to the European honeybee, which has a poor natural defence.
  • The mite injects viruses, suppresses the bees’ immune system and feeds on blood.
  • Beekeepers use chemical controls but can never eradicate it and over the past decade the Varroa developed resistance to some medication.
  • If untreated, or given inappropriate chemicals, it can take just 1,000 mites to kill a colony of 50,000 bees.
  • Honey bees are worth £200m to the UK economy a year through pollinating crops
  • The Varroa mite entered the UK in 1992.
  • Honey bee populations have dropped by 23 per cent since 1992, potentially costing the economy millions of pounds.
  • In 1992 there were 23,767 beekeepers and 151,924 colonies. In 2010 there have been 21,000 beekeepers, and 116,500 colonies.
  • In summer an average colony has 30,000 to 50,000 honey bees.


  1. Photos of the Varroa mite are available from Defra Press Office.
  2. The full report is available at:
  3. RNA interference (RNAi) was discovered by Professor Andrew Fire who won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for it: For more information go to:
  4. The Food and Environment Research Agency supports and develops a sustainable food chain and healthy natural environment, and protects against biological and chemical risks. The National Bee Unit advises beekeepers, supports industry, and controls serious pests and diseases to minimise economic and environmental impact.
  5. In 2009 the Government launched the Healthy Bees Plan, a 10-year strategy to protect and improve the health of honeybees in England and Wales. To help start it, Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) contributed £2.8million up to 2011.
  6. In June 2010, Defra and WAG announced £2.5million of funding for the Insect Pollinators Initiative for research into understanding and mitigating the biological and environmental factors affecting insect pollinators.
  7. In October Defra announced support for the British Beekeeping Association to increase the number of quality trainers for beekeepers across England and Wales. This is to teach amateurs the skills to care for bees and guard against pests and diseases.

National Bee Unit Update No. 7

A note regarding the Asian hornet (Vespa velutina), and the NBU’s current activities concerning this exotic pest threat.

The NBU is very aware of the recent arrival and spread of Asian hornets with the EU (France), the implications of this to beekeepers, and their understandable concerns. To bring you as up to date as possible, earlier this year the Non Native Species Secretariat (NNSS) requested the NBU to produce a formal Risk Assessment for the Asian hornet with respect to beekeeping in the UK (i.e. England, Scotland and Wales).

The draft assessment has been completed (in Sept. 2010), by the NBU and members of the Applied Entomology team at Fera. It considers in as much detail as possible, based on available literature, available scientific evidence and personal accounts, all feasible pathways of entry into UK – how these are regulated and potential volume of movement along each pathway (i.e. relative risk posed). It discusses likely impacts on honey bees and other insect prey sources (which may for example be important pollinators), possible methods of control, and implications to human health and amenities, should the Asian hornet be found over here. It also lists some actions that would be useful now to help “keep the hornet out”.

This lengthy document is currently under review by peer(s) in the field and by the Non-Native Species Risk Analysis Panel (NNRAP). In the meantime, the NBU is liaising with our colleagues in the NNSS to discuss what can do now to further raise awareness and the priority with which likelihood of entry should be addressed. In the immediate future we will be working on a Contingency Plan. A “Species Alert” for V. velutina has been posted on the front page of the NNSS website. We are working together to produce an identification sheet for V. velutina which will be made available through BeeBase and the NNSS website. In the meantime, BeeBase already posts a certain amount of information about V. velutina.

The NBU’s team of 60 Appointed Bee Inspectors carries out an annual apiary inspection programme across the eight beekeeping regions that comprise England and Wales. In a typical year the NBU’s Inspectorate makes between five and six thousand apiary visits, inspecting between 24,000 and 29,000 colonies. In 2009, however, ~40,000 colonies were inspected. Inspectorate personnel are already aware of the threat posed by the Asian hornet, and are clearly in an excellent position to educate the beekeeping community accordingly. However, other media and avenues of dissemination are being explored for use by, for example, garden centres, fruit and flower importers etc. The Plant Health and Seed Inspectorate (who monitor imports of fruit, flowers, and soil-bearing plants etc. that provide potential hibernation niches for mated hornet queens) will also be trained (January 2011) to identify and report any finds to the NBU.

The NBU is currently requesting that members of the public who suspect they have found an Asian hornet should a notify us immediately, providing as much information as possible. If possible, they should send us a sample for examination to confirm identity.

Kind regards,

National Bee Unit

BBKA Strategic Review 2011 and its relationship with the plant protection industry

by Martin Smith (BBKA President), 16th November 2010

As an educational charity, the BBKA is primarily concerned with the health and welfare of honey bees and seeks to educate, inform and influence all parts of society including beekeepers, the public and industry about honey bees. Over time, a number of arrangements has been made between the BBKA and third parties, who have been attracted to entering into relationships with the BBKA for a variety of reasons, but all of which have been agreed on the basis they will deliver benefits to honey bees. It is necessary to review strategically the appropriateness of these relationships from time to time to ensure that they continue to be relevant, effective and indeed do deliver the intended benefits.

Usually such arrangements have meant the granting or licensing of the use of the BBKA logo (which is a registered trade mark) on the literature and goods of the third party. The BBKA strategic review intends to assess the options and opportunities available to it to develop its brand name and to develop others.

One such strategic relationship has been the BBKA policy of actively engaging with the plant protection industry in an attempt to improve stewardship of pesticides and agricultural practice to minimise damage to honey bees and to ensure that the views of beekeepers are taken into account in the development of pesticides and their application in the field.

This relationship started in the 1980's and has taken a number of forms, including sponsorship of the BBKA’s presence at the Royal Show and more recently, the BBKA has agreed to allow its logo to be used on four synthetic pyrethroid based products. These products on the basis of evidence provided and in conjunction with the stewardship activities of the supplying companies, appear to offer reduced risks for harm to honey bees when used correctly. The BBKA has received modest payments for these endorsements part of which covers the costs of administration and meetings held to engage with the companies. Positive developments that have come from this policy have included the inclusion of the BBKA 10 point guidelines into the UK Pesticide Guide, the so-called ‘Green Book’, published by BCPC and most importantly, significant reductions in bee colony losses attributed to pesticides, from the 100 or so per annum in the 1990s to the current negligible figures.

The four products currently subject to BBKA endorsement are today of declining commercial importance and the development of new classes of pesticide and application techniques means that the relationship with the plant protection industry should be reviewed. The way in which the BBKA will engage with the industry as a whole and individual companies will vary, but an example of the wider approach to be pursued is the co-operation over the production of the recently published Crop Protection Association (CPA) leaflet ‘Bee Safe, Bee Careful’ which bears the BBKA and NFU logos.

As a first step in the overall review of strategic relationships the BBKA Trustees have decided that it is time to broaden the range of engagement with the crop protection industry beyond the narrow focus of endorsing certain products; rather to contribute more directly to the development of new regulatory criteria for pesticide approval with the Chemicals Regulatory Directorate (CRD) and to further support the industry in the general move to improve countryside stewardship. For example, this might include promoting specific initiative such as nectar bars, tree planting and restoration of hedgerows.

Following discussion with the companies involved, the BBKA Trustees have decided that endorsement and related product specific payments will cease as soon as practically possible.

The Trustees do not preclude accepting funds in the future from either the crop protection industry in the guise of the CPA or individual companies nor other organisations involved in horticulture and agriculture, which are beneficiaries of honey bee activity. The Trustees have no specific funding proposals in mind at present, but for the sake of clarity do not wish to be constrained by any notion of working with one particular industry on a 'free' basis, whilst accepting funding from individual and other corporate members to fund its activities. For example the Trustees may wish to invite companies to fund a future research colloquium, to exhibit at the BBKA Spring Convention or make a contribution to the BBKA Research Fund.

As part of its strategic review the BBKA is developing a range of other products, including literature, a distinctive house style, sponsorship, logos and devices and wishes to be able to further develop these to maximise their impact and financial benefit. It is essential that any that any contractual arrangements made meets the requirements of the BBKA strategy for the coming years, with the overall aim of encouraging society to take measures which will help honey bees.