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SPRING TRAPPING OF ASIAN HORNET QUEENS

Introduction
The purpose of spring trapping is to catch and kill queens which have newly emerged from hibernation at a time when they are most vulnerable. The theory is that if they are caught and killed at this stage they can’t go on to develop their own colonies.

The foundress queen is the head of a single parent family and Mum has go out to work to provide food for herself and for her young brood. It takes about 50 days from the time the first eggs are laid
to the emergence of the adult hornet (this reduces to about 29 days later in the season) and during this time the lone queen is at very high risk.

The attrition rate amongst queens emerging from hibernation is very high due to competition between them for nesting sites, a phenomenon known as usurpation, where newly emerged queens will try to kill and replace the occupant of an existing or newly constructed embryo or primary nest.

The emergence of queens from hibernation takes place over a relatively long period. Those queens waking up later do so in warmer weather, enjoy a richer food supply, and are likely to be bigger, stronger and more fertile. Trapping therefore needs to be continuous from the end of February until the end of May.

The French Connection
In France opinion is divided. In the INPN Regulations and Recommendations publication they insist that spring trapping is futile, in that for every queen you kill another, perhaps stronger queen will replace her https://frelonasiatique.mnhn.fr/lutte/#:~:text=–
%20Il%20est%20possible%20de%20réduire,la%20paralysie%20de%20la%20ruche

However, in an extended study by ITSAP https://itsap.asso.fr/articles/frelon-asiatique-evaluation-de-l-efficacite-du-piegeage-de-printemps * it was shown that spring trapping can be effective but it requires:

  • Trapping should only be in area where there is already an established population of Asian
    Hornets.
  • Traps set near the site of last year’s nests that were live from September onwards when sexuals would have been produced.
  • Traps to be set up in a grid-like pattern over an area of 3 sq km around the apiary.
  • 59 traps to be set with a maximum distance of 350 metres between them.
  • Traps set from the beginning of March (or after the last frost) until the end of May
  • Traps to be emptied and refreshed at least every 8 days.
  • Trapping to be repeated over at least 4 consecutive springs.
  • A high level of local engagement and coordination is essential.
  • Bottle-type traps to be avoided in favour of an inverted cone-shaped entry into a box of a type easily found on the Internet.
  • There is a high risk of by-catch with consequences for local diversity.

This is a tall order for the beekeeper working independently and is best organised as a collective exercise within the local community.

*NB. This study has not been published in any scientific journal. There is some doubt about the results which were influenced by an unusually strong first year for AH which made the following
years look better.

The Channel Islands
On the island of Guernsey a similar campaign, organized and financed by the Guernsey government, has been running for over 4 years. The whole island was covered with traps placed every 500 metres. The results for 2023 have not yet been released but the 2022 data (the 4th year of the campaign) show that out of 15 confirmed sightings, 9 queens were caught and a total of 4 nests were found and destroyed.

The Guernsey figures need to be viewed in the context of the unique situation of Guernsey as a very small island, not subject to the high rate of wind-blown inspects as Jersey, and with much less traffic in and out of its port.

By-catch
In all cases it is essential to avoid as far as possible catching insects of other species. Even if other insects are released, the effect of being captured and imprisoned with others in a highly stressful situation has an effect on them from which they are unlikely to recover, including on their survival and ability to reproduce.

Trap Design
There is at present no design of trap that can completely remove the risk of by-catch, but the least damaging is considered to be the inverted cone-in-a-box type similar to that designed by Denis Jaffré and marketed under the brand name of Jadeprod.

The Great Bait Debate
The ideal bait is one that is attractive to Asian Hornets but repulsive to all other species. As far as is known, no such bait has yet been identified. Research is underway in France at INRA in Bordeaux,
CNRS in Gif-sur-Yvette, and at IRBI in Tours to identify a bait that fits this criterion.

Other experiments are under way in France and elsewhere into the use of AH pheromones as lures, but no definitive findings have yet been released.

On Jersey the commercial wasp attractant labelled Trappit (formerly Suttera) has been effective in all seasons. Several other manufacturers have entered the market with similar products that beekeepers are currently testing.

In France a mixture of equal parts of pressed fruit juice, beer and wine is recommended. It has also been found that fermented wax cappings are enjoyed by the hornets.

he seasonal variation of using protein such as prawns as bait during predation has too many disadvantages and it has been noted that forging hornets will always go for sweet flavours whatever the season.

But by far the best attractant is other hornets. Once traps have hornets in them, they will attract others very quickly.
When the trap is full the contents can be killed by immersion in water or being placed in the freezer for 24 hours.
By-catch, such as the European Hornet (Vespa crabro), can be safely released after 10 minutes in the freezer (but see the remarks above about the impact on insects that have been trapped and confined}.

Conclusions
Some research in France suggests that spring trapping of queens might be effective in reducing the number of nests, but only if carried out at a high density over a prolonged period of time, in areas where there were live nests late in the previous year.

The official French Government policy remains that spring trapping is ineffective in reducing the
number of nests.

Individual efforts are likely to be futile because every queen trapped is replaced by another.
The logistics involved are beyond the resources of an individual amateur beekeeper.

The danger of by-catch is unlikely to be resolved until a bait which only attracts Asian Hornets is discovered.

Alan Baxter
https://www.alanbaxtersblogs.co.uk
Note: Alan has now updated the above blog which can be found on our Blogs 2024 page.


YELLOW LEGGED ASIAN HORNET (YLAH) TRAINING IN JERSEY

Between 4-8th September 2023 a team of enthusiastic Asian Hornet Team Leaders (AHTL) and volunteers were invited to attend YLAH track and trace training in Jersey. The training was heavily subsidised by Sharon Bassey and Luke Wyatt from the Better Bee Club and London Bee Removal Ltd and London BKA. Sharon and Luke’s planning and preparation ensured all of us learned a vast amount, preparing us for the onslaught we are likely to face in the UK.

All the techniques utilised in Jersey were under the auspices of the Jersey Government and their laws. We were licensed to possess and release hornets under the Jersey Wildlife Law of 2021. A similar law exists in the UK but has not yet been extended to include personnel outside of the National Bee Unit (NBU). We are hopeful that our training and experience will be recognised, and we will be invited to support the NBU in their endeavours with suitably qualified and experienced personnel.

I travelled to Jersey independently on the overnight ferry from Portsmouth. The ferry is an excellent vector for the YLAH to enter our area. The M20 corridor, where most of the team were from, is experiencing nests along the M20 where Hornets have hopped off their ride from France to start a new home.

I met up with the remaining 11 people making up the group at the Westhill Country Hotel where we completed administration, Risk Assessments etc and an introduction to the bait stations and marking equipment. After changing into more appropriate clothing, bee suits aren’t required, although long trousers and boots are recommended, we headed off to the field behind the hotel to start practical training.   

It was hot and we quickly learned that Hornets tend not to fly during very hot periods. Our supply of hornet candidates to catch and mark were limited hence the multi coloured examples you can see in the photos below. It is this frequency of return to a bait station that allows tracking. ITV News captured our endeavours which were screened widely around the network.

Tuesday we were split into teams and deployed to areas where tracking had already commenced. I was at St Peters, lots of activity. Within the hour we, with the support of Jane, a Jersey Island volunteer, had located a nest. Hornets were flying in all directions, we had multiple bait stations out with flight lines in a variety of directions. We were going to hit the jackpot. Nothing more that day apart from numerous multicoloured hornets taking our bait and confusing the situation with their flightlines. We were in dense woodland.

In the evening we were invited to attend the Jersey Hornet team monthly meeting. We listened to their co-ordination efforts, Google mapping techniques and tracking reports. As a Nation we have much to do to organise ourselves. I met, and exchanged contact details, a team of ladies from the IoW which is three times the size of Jersey. With respect to boundaries, they are lucky as IoW in its entirety is theirs. In Hampshire we don’t have boundaries between BKA’s which could lead to challenges in co-ordination and recording. This is aside from the additional challenges posed by physical county boundaries and cooperation between these groups.

Wednesday – Keen to get another nest my teammates and wingmen Jools form Ladingford, Kent and Steve from Guildford, set off at 0530. We saw many of our old girls from Monday, sporting the remnants of tethers, chewed down, and their brightly coloured bodies. New bait stations were laid out and progress was being made. The remainder of the day was spent back at St Peters where we started tracking through school grounds (children still on holiday and permission was granted). Lots of flight paths, flight times and potential. Nothing.

Thursday – another pre breakfast foray around the hotel. This time a little further afield as we tried to separate the hornets to their individual nest areas. We stayed in the area all day, apart from a break to dissect a nest and have a look at old reports of nests in Goose Green. The nest had been in a freezer for at least two days and was mainly empty of hornets. The majority having taken an exhilarating ride down a vacuum cleaner hose. When dealing with nests close to the ground it is deemed the most viable solution to vacuum the entrance which gets both returning hornets and inquisitive ones from inside. Caution, working in and near the nest does require a bee suit. Fortunately for us the nest was quiet after the freezing process and only contained a handful of specimens which proved the viability of the vacuuming process.

Friday – a short track and track foray before travelling back. To be honest we were a little dejected after chasing our tails. In Jersey they have identified many nests this year and are struggling to remove them quickly enough. Some are very high in trees and require lances or tree climbers, others on the ground and require volunteer support. We retired back to the hotel to assess and discuss our experiences.

In conclusion we agreed that YLAH’s do not act in the same ways as bees. They do not share bait station information but happen across them in their own way. They take different flightpaths to and from a bait station. Patience is essential as the flight times reduce as Hornets learn quicker routes to and from the bait. We saw times reduce from 10 to 3 minutes. Initially we would have thought a nest was a kilometre away, but later readings would suggest 300 meters.

Our main learning point was this. If you find a nest, report it. Then go tracking somewhere else. Hornets fly in many different directions, and we eventually learnt that we were tracking back to the same nests. If the nest is still in place, you are likely to waste your time. The team in Jersey probably learned from our experience in 2023, we learned from theirs.      

By Adrian Hopwood


HONEY SHOW SUCCESS

Feeling a bit smug.  Not because a blind person won first prize for the honey cake class at our Honey Show but because the last one I made was a near disaster!

That time I was in San Francisco and was using nearly the same recipe by Professional Masterchef Champion, Steve Edwards, but using clearly very dubious commercial “honey”.  It was very much touch-and-go as to whether it would ever cook through.  This time I used the same Victoria sponge recipe, replacing sugar with our own Spring honey, and injected more while the cake was still warm.

Golden brown loaf-cake with darker brown crust and first prize certificate.

The honey and ginger cookies scarped a Very Highly Commended while the honey and bramble jelly  got a Third.  In reality, I thought that the jar was a bit mean on contents and the set was too firm: different juice/honey proportions next time.                                                       

Meanwhile, the sous-chef got a First for his crystallised honey.  Its from our Spring harvest and full of flavour with a hint of thyme.  His two matching labelled-for-sale jars got a Third and the wretched wax blocks didn’t even merit a mention.  Some we win, some we lose!

Two jars of yellowy orange sticky stuff and certificate.

We’ve been very engrossed in the Asian Hornet saga.  These invasive insects are bigger than wasps but smaller than their cousins, the European hornet.  They are cropping up all over the place (especially Kent, Sussex, London, Hull, Newcastle, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and here in Hampshire).  They have distinctive legs that look as if they’ve been dipped in yellow paint and an orange belt near its bottom.  Don’t get close as they can sting badly and some people end up in hospital. If you spend time in the countryside or even have a garden, download the App so you too can press  button, take a picture and report it to DEFRA in one go.  Then the experts can take over.

by Penny Melville-Brown


DRONE LAYING QUEEN

One of the queens I raised this year has turned out to be a drone layer.

Signs of Drone Laying Queen                     

How does it happen and how do we know whether it’s a drone laying queen or drone laying workers?

A drone Laying Queen (DLQ) has either:

  • failed to mate successfully and has no sperm
  • or she’s run out of sperm

If she were an existing queen who’d been laying normally but run out of sperm, the workers would probably have superseded her but as this is a new queen I know it’s a mating problem.

Drone Laying Workers (DLW) occur when: 

  • The colony is hopelessly queenless
  • The colony has had no brood for more than 3-4 weeks

 Why does it happen?

  • There is no Queen or brood pheromone
  • These pheromones inhibit the development of the workers rudimentary ovaries
  • The rudimentary ovaries become active and produce a few eggs
  • However, workers can’t mate because the don’t have the necessary reproductive organs
  • So, there is no sperm to fertilise the eggs
  • And therefore they can only produce drones.

Signs of Drone Laying Workers

 Here are some comparisons between the two: 

DRONE LAYING QUEENDRONE LAYING WORKERS
Queen presentNo queen
Regular laying pattern as normal broodScattered ‘pepperpot’ brood pattern
Single eggs in bottom of cellsMultiple eggs on side of cells (worker abdomen not long enough to reach to the bottom)
Domed cappings typical of drone broodKnobbly raised cappings
Nice arch of capped stores above the brood areaNo stores
Calm behaviour with no signs of queenlessnessListless air and lack of purpose in the colony
Normal foraging for nectar and pollenNo foraging
New queen accepted by workersNew queen killed by workers
Will build queen cells on a frame of eggs if you cull the DLQEggs and larvae killed and eaten by workers

 What can be done? 

  • Normally the DLQ can be replaced with another queen
  • You need to act quickly whilst there are still enough young nurse bees to look after her brood
  • You might have to add a frame of sealed brood to boost the numbers if it’s a Nuc or small colony
  • Early in the season (May to july) you can add a frame of eggs to produce queen cells
  • In the case of DLW’s the colony has no future. All you can do is to shake then out on the edge of the apiary on a sunny day and hope they will be able to beg their way into another hive.

 What now?

 In this case it’s not a complete disaster, I still have options:

  • Give them a new queen
  • Give them a frame of eggs
  • Merge them with another colony

 Decision points

  • Do I want to commit one of my other queens to this little colony? No
  • Is it getting too late in the season for making new queens? Yes
  • Are there going to be enough drones around for mating when a new virgin queen emerges? No
  • What’s the weather like for mating flights? Grotty
  • We’re entering winter preparation mode and need all our colonies to be strong with young laying queens. Yes

 Action 

  • Cull the DLQ and merge with another colony

 by Alan Baxter


COMING SOON

“How to carry out a health inspection”

by Alan Baxter


CHRONIC BEE PARALYSIS VIRUS (CBPV)

There have been two cases of this virus among FDBKA members’ colonies so far this spring/summer, including one of mine. It may be present in low levels in colonies that show no symptoms until put under stress.

The disease presents in two forms, both of which can be present at the same time:

Type 1 – symptoms include:

  • Large numbers of bees crawling or dead on the ground in front of the hive
  • Bees unable to fold their wings, K-wing
  • Bees trembling or staggering, unable to fly
  • Bees on top of frames not responding to smoke
  • Bloated abdomens with possible signs of dysentery

Type 2 – symptoms include:

  • Hairless, oily looking, almost black workers
  • Hairs have been rubbed off by excessive contact in a crowded hive
  • Healthy bees fighting to repel infected bees at the entrance
  • Sometimes called ‘Black Robber Disease’.

In one of my best colonies from which I was hoping to produce some queens this year I noticed symptoms of both types of CBPV. I took the following action:

  • Moved the whole hive to one side
  • Scrubbed the stand and the ground underneath clean with soda crystals and bleach mixture
  • Moved to another part of the apiary that I use to quarantine swarms
  • On a clean stand and floor I placed an empty super to keep the brood box clear of the floor and any falling dead or infected bees
  • Fitted an entrance blocker reduced to the smallest space
  • Added an extra brood box to give them more space and reduce overcrowding
  • Removed for destruction any frames without brood
  • Checkerboarded the remaining frames with new frames of drawn comb and foundation
  • Replaced the supers which contained some liquid stores and quite a lot of bees
  • Added a feeder with sugar syrup to boost their nutrition (fewer foragers bringing in food)
  • Destroyed my gloves, washed my boots with soda crystals and bleach mixture
  • Washed my bee suit with soda crystals added to the washing powder
  • Sterilised my hive tool, washed everything in my inspection tool box and cleaned my smoker, especially the bellows*
  • Planned no inspections for another 14 days to avoid stressing the bees.

After 14 days the colony looked much healthier, there were no more than the usual dead bees on the floor or the ground and activity at the hive entrance and inside had returned to normal.

I plan to keep it in quarantine for another 2 weeks then, if all is well, I’ll move it back into the main apiary.

Conclusion

CBPV can seriously weaken a colony and spread rapidly to other colonies by robbing, drifting or by the beekeeper.

Giving it space, fresh bedding, good hygiene and extra food and reducing stress can allow it to recover, especially if it’s strong and well-fed.

As with all diseases, maintaining a low varroa load is an essential part of keeping colonies strong, healthy and disease resistant.

* A plastic disposable shower cap over the bellows is a good way of keeping them clean.

by Alan Baxter


CHRONIC BEE PARALYSIS UPDATE 

I was chuffed to find during a recent inspection in my quarantine apiary that the hive with CBPV appears to have responded to the measures I took (see my blog below) and made a complete recovery. However, as a precaution, it stayed in isolation for another week until a second health check, watched over by a visiting Master Beekeeper, confirmed it can be given a clean bill of health and moved back into the main apiary. 

The measures I took were at slight variance from the usual advice offered by the NBU in the following respect: 

NBU advice is to remove the floor to allow dead and dying bees to fall to the ground underneath, clear of the hive and not infect the healthy bees. 

I wanted to be able to contain, monitor and destroy in a controlled way the number of casualties and not allow them to fall to the ground where they could be spread around by the wind, birds or other insects. 

Instead, I raised the brood box with an empty super and put an entrance above it so the flying bees could come and go, well clear of the contamination on the floor below. The contents of the floor were easily counted, removed and safely destroyed in a fire pit. The floor was then scrubbed with a strong soda crystal, soap and bleach mixture before being scorched with a blow torch. 

This is a huge relief, and it means I can resume the part of my queen rearing plan which includes this queen as one of my selected egg donors. 

The experience has reinforced my belief that a strong, well-fed, colony with a low varroa load can fight diseases if prompt, decisive action is taken at the first signs of trouble. If I’d dithered and waited for another week to see what happened, it could have been a very different story. 

by Alan Baxter 


BE PREPARED FOR SWARMING

The swarming season has been particularly intense this year due to a long, cool spring followed by a sudden spell of warm weather. Although the worst seems to be over there are still some swarms around and the season is by no means over so there is no room for complacency.

In an earlier blog I talked about the basic theory of swarming and some of the measures you can take to prevent or control it. In this paper I’ll expand on the mechanics and timings of swarming, the differences between prevention and control and the precautions to take against casts or secondary swarms.

In order to deal with the ever-present threat of losing half your bees and terrorizing your neighbours, it’s useful to understand the swarming process, the key indicators to look out for and the prevention or control measures you can take.

In the chart below you will see the progression that occurs. I’ve divided it into two parts – the times when you can take prevention measures, and those when control is necessary.

Prevention
Prevention requires regular, thorough inspections and careful observation, at least weekly unless your queens are clipped in which case every 10 days will do. Anticipate and act are the key words.

Here are some simple but effective measures you can take:

1. Mark your queens

  • If you can’t find the queen get another pair of eyes or two to help you
  • The earlier in the season the better when there aren’t too many bees
  • Do it in the warmest part of the day when the maximum number of bees are out foraging
  • Or move the brood box to one side and put a super on its original stand to divert all the flying bees and give you more room and quiet to look.

2. Clip your queens. This involves gently cutting off the end third of one wing. It isn’t to everyone’s taste but there are no nerves or blood vessels there – it’s like cutting your toenails.

If you’re struggling with any of these, get a more experienced beekeeper to help you. People are always happy to lend a hand.

3. Give them more space by adding supers early

  • The bees need room to live and to store incoming nectar and pollen
  • Nectar contains about 80% water and requires a greater volume of space than honey which only contains 20% or less
  • The queen needs more space to lay her eggs
  • Add a super as soon as the brood box starts to look crowded. When the flow starts they will be bringing in nectar very fast
  • If there are no supers they will store nectar in the brood box, thereby depriving the queen of laying space and the workers of living room
  • Remember that during the day, a lot of the bees will be out foraging. At night they need somewhere to sleep
  • Replace surplus frames of honey with drawn comb or foundation
  • Replace damaged comb which can’t be used efficiently

4. Have your equipment ready in advance to take off the pressure when the time comes to act.

Control
Once the queen cells have been formed, the time for prevention has passed and control measures are needed. I prefer to use either the nuc or the Pagden method if I want to make increase from the colony, or the Demaree technique if I don’t want any more hives or to breed from that particular queen. All three are described in my earlier blog or can be found on numerous websites and on YouTube.

Beware the cast or secondary swarm
After the first swarm has issued, all the sealed brood that the queen had been producing in the period before the swarm will start to emerge (remember those big slabs of brood about 3 weeks ago?). This could mean that newly-emerged virgin queens might trigger another swarm.

To reduce the risk of secondary swarming:

  • remove all the sealed queen cells
  • choose the best two unsealed ones, marking their position on the frame with a drawing pin
  • One week later go back and remove any more queen cells that have been made and
  • remove one of the marked ones
  • Make notes in your hive records of the dates – it can take longer than you think for a new queen to be mated and start to lay.

Don’t be beguiled into thinking that your colony haven’t swarmed because the hive is still full of bees – it’s all that brood emerging after the main swarm has left.

If they have swarmed, treat it as the parent colony and remove all the queen cells except one. Don’t be tempted to leave a second one as belt and braces.

Happy beekeeping!

Enormous thanks to Christine Coulsting, Master Beekeeper, for her excellent guidance on this and many other topics.

by Alan Baxter


TALE OF A SUSPECTED DRONE LAYING COLONY

My hive was full of old dark comb that needed changing, so with the help and advice of a very experienced beekeeperwe carried out a ‘shook swarm’.  The Queen marked yellow last year was definitely in the hive with the new foundation.

Unwilling to dispose of the bees and brood on the old dark frames, my beekeeping friend suggested that I leave the colony for a month to allow them to create a new Queen.  Meanwhile I ordered some more brood frames and foundation.

Move on one month, on inspection the brood box was full of honey with no sign of eggs, brood or queen (confirmed by the beekeeping colleague who was helping me).  As the bees were placid we thought that maybe there was a hidden virgin Queen.

The following Sunday we again checked the hive and found the brood box FULL of drone brood, a drone laying worker we thought. So we decided to transfer a frame of  eggs from my other colony, and I then picked the brains of other experienced beekeeping colleagues.
I also researched on line; I found BeeBase didn’t help but ‘Dave Cushman’s’ site gave comprehensive advice for a drone laying colony: 
        +  Shake off the bees 100m from the apiary 
        + Return the hive to it’s original position 
        + The flying bees will find their way home but hopefully the drone layer will not.
An experienced Beekeeper had also recommended that I also put a Queen excluder under the brood box to keep out any returning drones.
So, to clear the super so I put on a ‘Porter-bee escape’ on the Monday and it worked beautifully.
On Tuesday the Super was removed, I had secured the use of a neighbour’s garden and at 4pm I set off to carry out the procedure, with help from another beekeeper.  I had not re-inspected the hive as it was only 2 days since my last inspection and we were carrying out a pre-prepared plan.
We carried the hive down the street and were busily shaking out the bees onto the grass when I got to the last frame (oh how I wish it had been the first).  I found some capped worker brood…my assistant advised to stick to the original plan so we returned the hive (with the worker brood) to my apiary.

I didn’t see much activity outside the hive so at 7pm I returned to my neighbour’s garden only to find a cluster of bees on the ground; did this mean that there was a queen?

A quick call to an experienced beekeeper who agreed and suggested I treat it like swarm. 
The cluster was at ground level in long grass so I scooped up as many as I could into a cardboard box and up-ended the box onto a sheet.  I propped up the box with a stone the rest of the bees took about half an hour to climb in.  I then wrapped the sheet around the box and returned home. 

I spread the sheet over a ‘ramp’ and tipped out the bees who formed an orderly queue and made their way inside the hive.

While boasting of my success my beekeeping friend reminded me that I had a Queen excluder under the brood box…..so I had a quick dash to remove it in my Pyjamas!
The plan is now to leave them undisturbed to recover from their ordeal.
What a day!

Lessons learned:-
1) ALWAYS inspect the hive before carrying out any procedure because bees are fast workers.
2) Bee colonies had managed without a beekeeper for millennia without our interference, we can trust them to sort themselves out.
3) If your colony is placid and abundant, there is probably a Queen present.

I’ll report back next week if I find her. 🙂

My thanks to the following for their support: Pete Wilson, Steve Wilson, Paula Little, Zahra Demirel, Alan Baxter, Greg Young & Chrissy Day.

by Frances Lord


QUEEN REARING

Larval transfer, often referred to as grafting, involves taking tiny larvae aged 12-24 hours with a special instrument and placing them in plastic ‘cells’ mounted on a frame before introducing it into a cell builder colony. The bees will build queen cells and feed them with royal jelly and in less than 2 weeks each larva will become a virgin queen.  Just before the queen is due to emerge each one is transferred to a mini mating Nuc stocked with about 300 bees from where she will go out on mating flights. Patience and a steady hand are rewarded by a supply of new queens bred from your favourite colonies.

by Alan Baxter


WORKING WITH PEWTER

A wooden plenishing hammer, a disc of pewter and nimble fingers helped me turn a basic piece of pewter metal into a simple bowl at the Mettle Studio’s in Sussex.  Add a strip of bee-shapes cast in the metal and the resulting bowl echoes their flight.

by Penny Melville-Brown


GRAFTING QUEENS

No, not what you think!  No royalty but helping the bees produce more new queens to keep the hives strong and active.
The knack is to remove a very young larva about the size of a small grain of rice from the honeycomb before the worker bees seal it with wax.  That rice grain is swimming in a bath of nutritious and sticky jelly.   Place your tool beneath the little body and gently remove from the cell and deposit in a distinctly non-royal plastic cup.  The fun is trying to get it off the tool without crushing or damaging that little living being.
Several cups are fitted into a special frame which goes into a queen-less hive heaving with bees.  The workers will spend the next days feeding the larvae with Royal Jelly, turning rice into royalty!

Meanwhile we are harvesting the Spring honey where my main task is hanging onto the spinner while the sous-chef turns like mad so that the centrifugal force extracts every last precious drop.  Hopefully, I can ferment the water and honey rinsings into mead.

by Penny Melville-Brown


EUROPEAN FOULBROOD (EFB) – IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE

This weekend I was due to go on a Queen Rearing Course at the Devon honey farm of Ken and Dan Basterfield, two of Britain’s most renowned beekeepers.

Unfortunately for them they have been struck by an outbreak of EFB in their teaching apiary, forcing them to close until they have the all-clear from the National Bee Unit.

There has also been a major outbreak in the London area with potential implications for all of us in the South East Region and we need to be super vigilant in our own apiaries.

It can be hidden in colonies for some time as bees tend to remove infected larvae.

So, what is EFB?

  • A highly infectious bacterial disease (Melissococcus plutonius) that usually kills larvae before they’re capped
  • he bacteria multiply in the larva’s gut competing for food, resulting in the twisting, contortion, and death of the infected larva
  • There is no visible segmentation, the larva has a watery appearance and turns a brownish colour
  • The brood has a pepper pot appearance
  • There might be an unpleasant smell associated with secondary bacteria.

EFB is a notifiable disease. If you suspect it, you must notify the NBU immediately.

Is there any treatment?

  • Severely infected colonies including all the equipment must be burned
  • The apiary will be placed in quarantine (standfast order) until cleared by the Bee Inspector
  • Antibiotics and shook swarm may be effective if the degree of infection is not too severe, at the discretion of the Bee Inspector
  • Affected equipment can remain infectious for many years

If you suspect it in your hives:

  • Take a screenshot of the suspected frames
  • Close the hive entrance to one bee space until dusk to collect the flying bees then close it completely
  • Burn any larvae you have pulled out in your smoker
  • Sterilise your hive tool and other equipment that’s been in contact with the suspect colony
  • Wash your beesuit, clothes and boots with soda crystals
  • Destroy your gloves
  • Isolate the apiary
  • Contact our Regional Bee Inspector (updated Dec’23 to Daniel Etheridge; Tel: 07979119376 / email:daniel.etheridge@@apha.gov.uk).

 IF IT CAN HAPPEN TO THE BASTERFIELDS IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU!

by Alan Baxter


ROYAL CELEBRATIONS

Aunt Hilary decorated another Coronation cake for the weekend’s local neighbourhood lunch.  Masses of delicious dishes contributed by all for a long happy session of talk and laughter.  I’d cooked a vacuum-packed gammon joint (skin removed but trussed with string) in the water bath at 70C for about 12 hours.  De-bagged, patted dry and brushed with our own honey before roasting for 10 minutes 200C, Gas 6: dead easy and numerous servings.

As I write, the sous-chef is out on a mission to collect a bee swarm: high in a dense shrubby bush.  He’s up a ladder hoping that a little cool smoke will encourage them to follow their queen into the “skep” (beekeepers’ large basket for swarm collection).  Then hopefully back to the pre-prepared brood box where the workers will produce wax to make the familiar comb in which the queen can lay new eggs.   Those eggs will be fed with nectar and pollen collected by the foraging flying bees.  That’s the theory anyway but, first, the new colony needs to be quarantined in case they are carrying any undesirable bee diseases.  

Swarming is the bees natural reproduction method.  When the old queen gets frisky at this time of year, she wants to get out and about to start a new colony.  She’s already laid eggs that are being turned into new queen cells in the original hive.  Now she’s ready to spread her wings, along with a sizeable number of her previous offspring which, together, make the swarm.  

Meanwhile, back in the original hive, hopefully at least one of the “new” queens will emerge and take to the air.  She’ll be following the pheromone “scent” of the male drones from across a very wide area.   Those drones all get together in a congregation site (often the same location for hundreds of years) where they vie with each other to contribute to the new queens’ sperm collection.  It’s the last thing those drones do before a raffish backwards somersault and death.  

That come-hither new queen stores up the sperm of numerous drones for later use and returns, with a smile on her face, to her original hive.  She’ll be laying her own eggs in their thousands over the coming months, not going out again until she too feels frisky in about a year. And so procreation continues: the new queen in her original quarters, the old one hopefully checking out the new.

The beekeeper’s life isn’t all honey and sweetness as swarm collection is an evening escapade, often up ladders and battling through the vegetation.  The worse aspect is that he doesn’t have a clue about the pedigree of the old queen and her swarm.  They could be wonderfully calm and productive or an angry brood ready for a fight.        

Link to video

by Penny Melville-Brown


SWARM PREVENTION OR CONTROL – DEMAREE METHOD

If you don’t want to increase the number of colonies in your apiary or you’re short of space, this very simple method is the one for you.

Remember the principle of swarm prevention is to trick the bees into thinking they’ve swarmed by separating the queen and flying bees from the brood and the nurse bees.

The Demaree method is in fact a vertical split.

 Equipment needed: 

  • Clean brood box
  • 11 frames of drawn comb or foundation
  • 2 x supers
  • 2 x Queen excluders
  • 1 x dummy board

 Method:

 Day 1

  • Move the brood box to one side
  • Place the new brood box on the original floor
  • Add 9 frames of drawn comb or foundation leaving a gap in the middle
  • Go through the original box and find the frame containing the queen
  • This frame must have no queen cells
  • Put this frame in the middle of the new box
  • Add the extra frame and dummy board
  • Add a queen excluder
  • Put on 2 supers above the QE
  • Add the second QE
  • Put the original brood box with the brood on top
  • Go through original brood box, shake off all frames & destroy any queen cells
  • Add a frame to replace the one with the queen
  • Put on crown board and roof
  • Leave for a week

Day 8

  • Inspect the top box and remove any queen cells
  • Close the hive and wait for all the brood in the top box to emerge
  • Leave for about 3 weeks

Day 25

  • All the brood has emerged
  • Remove upper brood box and reassemble the hive
  • Voilà!

by Alan Baxter


SIMPLE SWARM PREVENTION

We’re coming into the swarming season, and I thought I’d share what I did recently with one of my colonies that was very crowded and I thought might be preparing to swarm.

Swarming is one of the colony’s natural impulses, it’s the way they reproduce.

When a swarm occurs the queen and about half the workers leave the nest and relocate in another place that has already been found by scout bees.

The swarm leaves behind:   

  • the brood
  • the remaining bees to look after them
  • a number of queen cells about to emerge to produce a replacement queen

Before the swarm, there will have been some other preparations and changes including: 

  • Slimming down the old queen by not feeding her so she’s fit to fly
  • Hormonal changes in the workers that allow nurse bees to fly and foragers to revert to house duties as required
  • Wax glands activated in the departing workers who will need to build a lot of comb very quickly to furnish their new home
  • Gorging themselves on honey so they have enough food for the flight and for a few days’ comb building until the new nest is established

The bees wait before swarming until the weather conditions are good and the replacement queen(s) are ready to emerge from their cells.

On the day of e swarm there is a lot of unusual activity in the colony and they all become very excited before flying off in a dramatic cloud.

Q: What can we do to prevent the swarm from happening?

A: Simple. Trick them into thinking they’ve swarmed by separating the queen and some of the bees from the brood.

I decided to use the easiest method, which is a simple split and which goes like this:

Day 1

  • Move the hive about 1 metre to one side of its original position
  • Place a new brood box with 10 frames of drawn comb or foundation on the original stand
  • Inspect the original colony and find the frame containing the queen
  • Transfer that frame with the queen and another frame of brood into the new brood box. These frames must not have any queen cells. Destroy any if present
  • Add contact feeder with light sugar syrup to the new box
  • Put a crown board on that new box
  • Close the new hive
  • All the flying bees will return to this new hive and the colony will ‘think’ it has swarmed In the old hive
  • Replace the missing frames with foundation or drawn comb
  • If there are queen cells, select the best looking one and break down the rest*
  • Add/replace the queen excluder and any super
  • Put on the crown board
  • Close the original hive

Day 7

  • Move the old hive to a new position on the opposite side of the new hive
  • All the foraging bees will return to the new hive. This reduces the risk of a secondary or cast swarm from the original hive
  • Check for any new queen cells in the new hive and break them down
  • Do not touch for 14 days.

Day 21

There should be a newly mated queen starting to lay eggs in the old hive.

Find and mark this new queen (if you’re not sure, ask your mentor or another experienced beekeeper in the Association for help).

You now have options : 

  • to keep the two colonies or
  • unite the two colonies and offer the spare queen to another beekeeper

* Some people prefer to leave only one queen cell, but you can keep a second queen cell as belt and braces if you prefer.

This is also a good way to increase your number of colonies without buying in queens or doing complicated manipulations.

CLICK HERE TO SEE AN ENLARGED DIAGRAM

If you don’t want additional hives, I’ll offer some tips in my next blog.

by Alan Baxter


SPRING FIRST INSPECTION

I wouldn’t normally open my hives until the temperature reaches tee-shirt level. It’s not worth the risk of chilling the colony or accidentally harming the queen with no chance of the colony being able to replace her.

In case of doubt, especially if you’re new to beekeeping, it’s better to wait for another week or so until the weather is consistently better.

However, it managed to get up to 14 degrees for a few hours on Thursday in my sheltered south-facing home apiary and I carried out very quick first inspections, mainly to check for early signs of swarming. All was well except for one colony which appears to have a mixture of normal worker brood and a high proportion of drone brood.


I suspect it’s a failing queen despite her being less than a year old. This is a colony that suffered an attack of heavy robbing last year and never recovered its original vigour.

There are options :

  • 1. Kill the queen and unite them as they are with another colony
  • 2. Destroy the queen and all the drone brood, together with any varroa, then unite them
  • 3. Squidge the queen and give them a frame of brood from another colony
  • 4. Shake them out and let the bees take their chance begging for admission to the other hives
  • 5. Let nature take its course, allow the brood to hatch and see what happens.

Factors to consider:

  • There are only 4 frames of bees
  • Most of them will be winter bees nearing the end of their lives
  • There won’t be enough nurse bees to tend to the emerging larvae
  • Drones are a drain on the colony’s resources at this time of the year, whilst giving nothing back in return.

The remaining workers might be useful to a receiving colony if:

  • their hypopharyngeal glands are still active and they’re able to produce brood food or
  • they could add to the foraging force

These benefits are likely to be short-lived for the reasons stated above.

Any new queens produced this early in the season would struggle to get mated.

My preferred option is No: 2. This offers me the opportunity to give another colony a temporary boost and to carry out a bit of varroa control at the same time, but I would love to hear what other members think.

by Alan Baxter


March 2023

THE GREAT HONEY FRAUD ALERT

Too good to be true; if you’ve bought ultra-cheap honey from a supermarket, you’ve probably just been scammed! After milk and olive oil, honey is the most adulterated food in the world.

Real honey that we love is produced in hives by bees.  The bees collect nectar and honeydew direct from plants, store it in the hexagonal honeycomb cells, add some magic enzymes and flap their wings like mad to evaporate extra water. Hey presto; ripe honey with less than 20% water (23% for heather honey).  All the beekeeper does is extract ripe honey from the honeycomb, filter out any odd bits of wax and put it into jars.

Real honey takes massive effort by both the bees and beekeepers.  It’s not a cheap product but extra special like the best champagne, chocolate or truffles. Like any premium foodstuff, low cost should make you suspicious.

The fraudsters have caught on.  Now there is an international trade in synthetic, adulterated honey.  All around the world, Governments, legal authorities, food safety organisations, Trading Standards and beekeepers use a range of different tests in their battle against the swindlers.  But the criminals have become just as sophisticated. Some scammers extract the nectar as soon as it has been collected by the bees and then remove the water in factories.  Other lawbreakers create complicated sugar syrups in their attempts to fool the tests and pass off their fake jars.  Some syrups contain distinctly troubling ingredients that you probably don’t want anywhere near your body.  These are huge international frauds involving many countries, misleading labelling and massive amounts of money.  In contrast, the authorities tasked with keeping our food safe and truthful seem to lack the resources to fight the fake honey battle.

The consequences are worse than just “honey” getting a bad reputation. Legitimate beekeepers and honey producers are facing an uphill battle competing against the fraudsters.  Many go out of business when shoppers turn their spending power to the cheap substitute.  Less beekeepers means less bees and less pollination of our key food crops.  Everyone loses out simply to line the pockets of the fraudsters.

In these times of financial pressure, you may be happy with the synthetic, sticky sweet stuff but don’t assume it is actual honey.  If you want authenticity, check the jar label.  Even better, find local beekeepers who offer the real deal.

Get the Government to act – View the Petition and share with anyone who might be interested.  The petition closed on April 13th 2023 but is still able to be viewed..  

And my thanks to Somerset’s Master Beekeeper Lynne Ingram for revealing this sticky topic at the Hampshire Beekeepers’ Convention on Saturday 19th November’22. 

by Penny Melville-Brown


POLLEN PATTIES – TO FEED OR NOT TO FEED 

There is a lot of controversy about the feeding of pollen in spring.

We all want to do the best for our bees, including making sure that, having survived the winter, they don’t succumb to spring starvation. We know there is very little forage available, but we see our bees becoming increasingly active on warmer days and we suspect the queens are already laying. Newly-emerged brood will soon be demanding to be fed. Worker larvae need lots of protein and protein comes from pollen, but do they have enough pollen stores and are the foragers finding enough sources of early pollen around? Snowdrop, crocus, willow, hazel….?

So being caring, responsible beekeepers we top up the fondant and add a dollop of pollen mixture to the feed. We are careful to make sure that the product we buy is of good quality and that the ingredients are digestible by the bees without upsetting their tummies. 

But is it really a good idea? Or is it even necessary? There are different schools of thought, widely varying in their opinions, but briefly they go like this: 

The pro-pollen feeders: 

  • Feeding pollen will stimulate rapid spring build-up so the colony has a maximum workforce for the spring nectar flow, especially in areas where there is OSR. 
  • The queen has already started to lay and needs all the help she can get if healthy, well-fed workers are to be produced. 
  • Let’s give them some just in case and because it’s a ‘good thing’ to do. 

The anti-pollen feeders may argue: 

  • The colony will develop or not in the spring according to the availability of food. This is the way that bees have evolved, to be in synch with the natural rhythm of the seasons. 
  • If we encourage the queen to start laying early, when the brood emerges there won’t be enough forage to sustain the growing population and more artificial feeding will be needed. 
  • An early boost in the amount of brood requiring care will outnumber the nurse bees needed to look after them, and the brood will either die of starvation or develop into undernourished, smaller, weaker adults. 
  • Winter bees nearing the end of their lives, but still needed for colony survival, will be required to do more work than they are capable of and will die earlier, leaving the colony short. 
  • We want our bees to adapt to changing climatic conditions, and by feeding them artificially we will only delay their ability to evolve, thereby making them more dependent on us. 

For me the jury is still out and I’d welcome any thoughts members have on this topic. 

by Alan Baxter


ASIAN HORNET

After the excellent Asian Hornet (AH) talk, 2 Feb, by Nigel Semmence, it was appropriate to summarise and make suggestions as to how we may monitor the situation. At this stage all we need to do is watch. Trapping insects isn’t, as yet a necessary action. Unless of course we identify an AH and need to move to the trapping stage which is a separate topic.

Mid-February and throughout March is the ideal time to monitor for AH foundress queens. It tends to be later in the year, Sep – Oct when AH, as wasps do, start to seek out Honeybees and we may see more activity in our apiaries.

Attracting insects to identify AH: Bait stations, AHAT website link below, are the ideal way to attract many insects without harm. The wick style bait station is perfect for our use and if AH are present they will be attracted. It does require some standing or sitting (approx. 10 mins) to watch the AH come and go.

If one is suspected, it is at this point that a trap, homemade, bought, fishing net, or other, YouTube link below, could be considered whilst opening the AH Watch App (Android or Apple stores) to record your find.

The NBU and BBKA websites provide excellent additional information on the AH.

Join the AH Action Team: For Association members who would like to support our efforts to stay one step ahead of the AH please complete the following short BBKA AH exercise.  https://forms.gle/nfsUFL3fWmrDwq7XA

Ref: WWW.AHAT.ORG.UK

Beebase – Beekeeping information resource for Beekeepers (nationalbeeunit.com)

British Beekeepers Association (bbka.org.uk)

YouTube cheap trap. Please consider how to release trapped insects when not actively targeting 1000’s of AH. With a long stick and bee suit perhaps. Hornet or Wasp Trap, Make Your Own It’s Cheap and Easy Do It yourself, it works! Darkness & Light. – Bing video

by Adrian Hopwood


Happy New Year  👍

WINTER TREATMENT FOR VARROA

Mid-winter is a good time to treat our colonies for varroa as part of an Integrated Pest Management System (IPM). 

For most of the year Varroa mites live and breed on larvae but in winter, when there is little or no brood, they live and feed on the bodies of the adult bees. This is known as the phoretic stage of the varroa life cycle and it weakens and shortens the lives of the vital winter bees, reducing the colony’s chance of survival until spring.

For treatment we use a chemical called Oxalic Acid which is sold commercially online as Api-bioxal. It comes in powder form and can be administered in several ways:   

  •  In liquid form by the trickle method with a syringe
  • By sublimation, which is a posh way of saying you change it from solid state to a vapour.

Trickle method
For this you need a large syringe and some 2:1 sugar syrup. Simply mix the required amount of OA powder with the warm syrup and trickle it gently between the occupied brood frames. For instructions on how to do this see http://bit.ly/3vMn6j6

One downside of this method is the need to open the hives so a mild day is better to avoid chilling the colony.

Dosage
One sachet of 35g dissolved in 500 ml of syrup gives treatment for around 10 beehives.

Sublimation
This requires some more expensive equipment and good PPE. Inhaling the vapour is very dangerous and can inflict permanent damage to the lungs. This year I used a simple device called GasVap which enabled me to carry out the treatments quickly and efficiently. See https://gas-vap.com

              Oxalic Acid  applied through the mouse guard / Good PPE is essential

Dosage
The Manufacturer’s recommended dosage 2.3g per hive as a single administration. One treatment per year. It is recommended to follow manufacturer’s instructions in order to achieve maximum sublimation.

These are the amounts and number of treatments specified by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.  However, many beekeepers dispute this and apply a series of two or more doses. 

Api-bioxal usually has a relatively short shelf life so if you only have a few colonies, it might be more economical and avoid waste to share the cost with another beekeeper.

Records
All treatments are required to be recorded. The best way to do this is on the Veterinary Medicine Administration Record Form which can be downloaded from the Internet. Records must be kept for 5 years.

Good luck with your treatments and look out for future blogs on the subject of Varroa and how to manage it throughout the year.

by Alan Baxter