Shropshire Beekeepers' Association



Newsletter : December 2007


1.      Editor's Notes

On a recent trip to London I visited a well known farmers’ market. Among a fantastic display of fresh foods there were a few stalls selling honey. One particularly I noticed because the producer had special lids on the jars embossed with the descriptions ‘gravity filtered’ and ‘cold extracted’. I had to think for a few moments before I realised that we could all say the same of our own honeys except, perhaps, for the rape honey that might crystallise before extraction. Obviously these words were intended to influence the inexperienced customer into thinking that here was something different from the normal product - and insofar as some of the honey on the supermarket shelves could not make those claims then that is true. It was just a reminder that the honey we produce is worth special presentation and a premium price, though whether we would sell much if we asked the London market prices is open to question!

For me, December means winter stores, especially since we are experiencing a mild season so far. So between now and the end of the year I will be putting a block of sugar candy onto each colony and also treating them to an oxalic acid treatment by the trickle-down method. A quick reminder of the candy recipe:

Dissolve 5 parts of sugar in 1 part of boiling water (e.g. 5lbs to 1 Pint); stir in ½ level teaspoon citric acid or cream of tartar. Simmer for three minutes. Place the pan in cold water and stir briskly until mixture starts to go cloudy. When this happens, pour into moulds (e.g. empty margaine tubs or foil containers) and allow to set.

For the oxalic acid, make up a 3% solution of crystals in a 1:1 sugar solution. Remove the crownboard and, using a syringe, trickle 5cc of the solution onto each seam of bees in the brood chamber. Close up quickly to avoid disturbing the bees more than strictly necessary.


2.      November Meeting Report

There was a late change to the advertised programme in November when the scheduled speaker had to cancel. Fortunately Gordon Hartshorn was able to speak to us about the work of the Marches Breeding Group at very short notice. He began by suggesting that for most beekeepers two of the most exciting moments are first, when they extract their first honey crop and secondly, when they raise their first queen. Surprisingly then, none of the 5 Beekeeping Associations that he has been a member of has ever mounted a campaign to improve their bees as a co-operative venture.

He believed that there are great advantages to working as a group on such a project: members share the pleasures and the pains; if one member cannot undertake a task at a critical time then another can take over; the group has access to far more colonies for selection than would otherwise be the case. In the case of the Marches Breeding Group the three beekeepers involved can draw bees from up to 80 hives if they need to.

Gordon reiterated his well-known preference for the British black bee (a. mellifera mellifera) based on its particular suitability for our climate. There are still plenty of them about and most of us should be able to track down a likely breeding source if we try. Even without having the wherewithal to check the genetic profile by wing morphometry, there are many clues that could help identify them, such as the colour (very dark!), the ability to fly at temperatures lower than other races (but not coming out in the snow), having the brood next close to the entrance, storing pollen under the brood nest, stopping breeding in August, producing cappings that are pure white and convex rather than concave etc. Other features he listed included the greater tendency of the black bee queens to supersede. He advised to keep looking through the brood chamber when checking for ‘queenrightness’ because seeing one queen does not preclude the possibility that there is another one present.

Gordon illustrated his talk with pictures of his group in action - much of it in the back of cars in the pouring rain this season! The subsequent discussion ranged over a wide number of issues, including the merits of apidea boxes over nucleus boxes, artificial insemination, techniques for grafting larvae and the importance of keeping good records.


3.      December Meeting

As usual we will be having a social ‘get-together’ in December, led by Brian Goodwin. Bring a few refreshments to share with colleagues if you can. 7.30 p.m. December 12th in the Shirehall


4.      Clearing granulated honey out of supers. (Robert Swallow)

I was interested to see the letter from Graham Roberson last month regarding getting bees to move honey out of supers. I once discussed a similar manipulation with a very experienced beekeeper who was uncapping honey stores in brood frames on the principle that unsealed honey would then be moved up to the super to create more space for brood expansion. I have experimented with something similar to this myself, although in my case the purpose was to persuade the bees to create full sealed supers out of partially capped ones containing liquid honey. The method I used was to uncap any sealed cells in the super to be cleared and place it below the brood box with a queen excluder between. The uncapping is important, as sealed honey will be ignored. As Graham suggested, springtime is probably when moving honey will be at the maximum, as it seems entirely logical that honey will be moved upwards to create brood space. Nectar flows at the particular time will also be an influence.

My results have been rather variable, sometimes it has worked well and others not, perhaps because of a lack of concentration on the bees’ behaviour coupled with not having kept a note of the observations made at the time. When it worked well and honey was moved rapidly, I found that I had to be quick to remove the super as soon as it was empty otherwise cells began to be filled with pollen. My understanding about that is that bees will move honey but never pollen, so if that cleared super is then used for the next honey crop, some of this pollen will get into the later harvested honey. Not only will this make it cloudy but also attract the attention of wax moth when the extracted supers are subsequently stored over winter. Pollen itself can also seed granulation.

Another factor that should be considered is the reason why the honey became granulated in the first place. It could be a honey such as rape that granulates quickly, in which case it will probably do the same again in the destination super. Even a small amount of any previously granulated honey can initiate premature granulation in the following crop. (With the sugar beet factory at Allscott closing, many farmers in the county are already turning to oilseed rape as a break crop. This will inevitably result in more beekeepers finding their honey being affected by granulation).

Two further suggestions come to mind, one outside the season, the other during, neither of which could be considered elegant. One is to immerse the frames in water and dissolve the honey over a period of several days, the other is to take the frames out of the supers some distance away (50 metres or more) and just allow the bees to scavenge the honey. The separation is of course important in order to reduce the possibility of the bees starting the robbing trait. Looking ahead, I have noticed that on many occasions when I have bought second-hand supers I have found that the frames had drone comb in them. My assumption has always been that the reason for doing this was the theoretical economy of wax needed to store a given quantity of honey. However, I also understand that bees seldom, if ever, put pollen in drone cells, so my next experiment will be to load super frames with drone pattern foundation in the hope of avoiding any pollen being stored in the supers. It could be that that using drone foundation in supers is an important little trick that has over time been forgotten.


5.      Mead   (Tony Burton from The Apiarian Dec. 2007 (South Staffs & District BKA)

If you are unfortunate enough to have some fermenting honey, you could turn bad luck into good by using the wild yeasts already in there to make mead. Alternatively, you could kill off the wild yeasts by heating the honey to 60°C and add a wine – makers’ yeast. Use 4 lb honey to a gallon of water and let it ferment in a bottle with an air trap in the cork so that it is more or less anaerobic inside. This allows the yeast to make alcohol as opposed to just carbon dioxide. When it has finished working, decant it off the yeast sediment and leave it for a year to settle.
The fairies may have turned that fermenting honey into a delicious beverage for Christmas. 2009!


6.      Jokes?

Q: Who's working at MI5 on Christmas Day?
A: Mince spies!

Q: What did the big angel say to the little angel?
A: Halo there!

Q. What kind of candle burns longer, a paraffin candle or a beeswax candle?
A. Neither - all candles burn shorter


7.      Subscriptions 2007/8

Subscriptions Please note that in order to continue receiving the Newsletter you must have paid the SBKA subscription by the end of this month at the latest. Contact the treasurer if you have any queries.


8.      Crossword

For anyone who would like to spend some time tackling a cryptic crossword during the Christmas break, there is one to try here. The solution (for those up-to-date with their subscriptions!) will be in next month's Newsletter. Have fun. (Ed.)


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