1. Editor's Notes
As I write I am looking out at the first real snow of the winter. The last few days have been cold, with a hard frost, but even then my bees have been flying most afternoons when the sun has warmed up the hive. We are also often warned that they are tempted to fly out when there is snow on the ground because the intensity of the reflected light outside the hive tricks them into believing that there is bright sunshine around. The conclusion to be drawn from all this, which is becoming a recurring theme these days, is that is vital that colonies are not allowed to run out of food. Between now and March is the danger time. We cannot assume that just because there are stores in the brood chamber that all will be well. Graham Roberson’s article about his experience this winter underlines that point. I therefore make no apologies for repeating the options for emergency action:
2. Last Meeting
Brian Goodwin started off the year with an entertaining talk about preparing for the coming season by thinking, even now, about how to prevent swarming! A mild winter, with bees active and bringing in pollen, indicates that some brood rearing will be taking place. As well as food, the bees will need easy access to water to help this process along. A developing colony may need as much as half a pint a day. The consequence of all this is that the bees will quickly begin to fill up the available space - especially if, like most British beekeepers, we keep our bees in National hives rather than one of the more capacious alternatives.
The simplest way to provide more space is to give the bees an extra super beneath the queen excluder for breeding purposes. This arrangement, known as a ‘brood and a half’ also has the advantage that, when the time comes, it makes looking for queen cells easier. Bees have a strong preference for drawing queen cells near the bottom of the super. A quick inspection, made by tipping up the super and scanning the bottom bars will therefore usually reveal any evidence of queen cell development..
In addition to this space below the queen excluder, it is vital to provide plenty of room above. While the water content of stored honey is only about 20% of its volume, nectar is typically 80% water so the bees need plenty of space to store the nectar initially while they get to work on reducing its volume. Brian’s recommendation was to put three supers on each hive as soon as the nectar flow begins. Warmth in the hive can be retained by having a sheet of newspaper between each super. The bees will chew through it to get into the next super when they need it. Setting up our colonies in this way will reduce the likelihood of swarming, which is usually prompted by a lack of space for breeding. However, preparations to deal with swarm prevention also need to be ready for later in the season. Brian went on to address this in the second half of his talk, which will be reported on next month.
3. Next Meeting
The next indoor meeting will be on Wednesday 14th February at Shirehall, beginning at 7.30 p.m. At the time of writing the speaker and topic have yet to be published.
N.B. There will be an additional meeting this month to demonstrate the use of an oxalic acid vapouriser at an apiary in the Bridgnorth area. Contact Roger Evans (Tel: 01746 766042) for details.
4. Western Region Annual Report (Part 2)
Bee Inspectors are no longer testing routinely for the presence of Resistant Varroa Mites. Resistance is now spreading rapidly; in your area some 70% of the failing hives that we have been called to, and which we have tested voluntarily, proved to be positive. Most of these beekeepers were unaware that they had resistance, they had never done any testing at all and were shocked and surprised when their colonies began to collapse. Oxalic acid in syrup is now being widely used on broodless winter colonies. It is reported to be remarkably effective, but the absence of an MLR (maximum legal residue) standard for honey is a big issue for the legislators! – Watch this space.
Last season Bee Inspectors collected 114 honey samples on behalf of the Foods Standards Agency, and so far, nothing noxious has been discovered. Every sample is tested many times, each time for different things. There are 9 groups of suspect chemicals (and then their many derivatives) that may be present in honey, including lead from roadside hives. Additionally there is a new project, EU-funded, to try to establish a ‘DNA’ for honey, and we have also been collecting samples for this research. In future, when this test has been sufficiently refined, it may be possible to pinpoint the exact geographical area from which honey was gathered!
Defra is no longer looking at whether Small Hive Beetle and other pests such as the tropaelilaps mite, will enter the UK, but when! This coming year Bee Inspectors will be carrying out a series of training exercises to test a contingency plan for the measures that will be employed if it is discovered in time - before the threat has become established and too widespread. RBIs are already looking at vulnerable apiaries in the vicinity of shipping ports, airports, plant importers, beeswax importers, etc. Hive Beetles can easily live on fruit (melons, avocados, citrus, etc.) and may arrive this way. Their pupae can also come in on the soil of imported plants. If you notice any unfamiliar little beetles in your colonies, then please get in touch with me straight away. The laboratory at York now has the means to identify these quickly. I would also be pleased to hear of any possible vulnerable apiaries or sites that you think you may have in your own area.
This year there have been 1192 queen bees imported into the region from Hawaii and 740 from New Zealand. Their attendant workers were all examined for any disease or exotic pests and found to be clean. These are the only two countries outside the EU, apart from Argentina and Australia, from which queens can be legally imported into the UK. However, within the EU, bees can be moved around freely and thus imported here. They are not subject to any health check except at the point of origin, where standards may not be as rigorous as those in the UK. A number of queens have come into Gloucestershire from Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Cyprus and Italy. A new development this year is that virgin queens from right here in the Midlands are being sent to Greece and Cyprus to be mated there, and then their progeny are imported back!
5. Who’d be a beekeeper?Graham Roberson
I went into winter with four well-stocked and well provisioned hives. After a brief inspection yesterday (Feb 1st) when I went across the field to my bees to check the level of stores (I gave them their usual Christmas box of candy on Dec27th ) I found that in the space of four weeks three of the hives had succumbed to starvation. The bees were clustered over empty cells that had once contained honey, but next to them were cells still full of honey with their cappings in place!
My first thought was that they could not be bothered to make the effort to uncap them, which would suggest that the colony was weakened, by disease or perhaps verroa. I had checked the hives in mid-September and put in Apistan strips and the verroa numbers were very small indeed, in fact I had commented to fellow beekeepers that I had not seen much in the way of verroa all season. The Apistan strips were removed in late October and the bees seemed to be plentiful in number and thriving. Any suggestions/explanations as to the likely cause of my bees demise would be welcome.
On another note I now need to sacrifice this years honey production and raise as many nuclei as possible from my one remaining colony. Question! How many nucs can I hope to raise from an ‘average’ colony? What preparations must I make prior to splitting the colony? When and how do I go about it, bearing in mind that it is usually turned 7 o’clock before I get home in the evening and I am frequently away from home. I also have the usual demands placed on my time at weekends, plus the jobs that I have not been able to do in the week!
Any suggestions must be flexible regarding times - and quick!
6. BBKA ADM
The AGM of the BBKA took place early in January. Members will be able to read a full account of this in the BBKA’s own Newsletter soon but a brief resume is given below.
This was the best attended and best managed ADM that your current representative has seen. There were about 50 delegates representing Local Association from around the country, plus about 50 more attendees from sister organisations and other interested groups. A long agenda was worked through briskly and well received by members which, given the natural ‘cussedness’ of beekeepers, says much for the competence of the current Committee.
The morning was taken up with receiving reports from the Chairman, General Secretary, Treasurer, Apiary Manager, the Education & Husbandry Committee, Publicity & Promotions Committee, Technical Committee, Royal Show Working Party, Spring Convention Working Party and so on.
Amongst the issues brought to the attention of the meeting were
The morning session finished with elections to the Executive Committee and the Examinations Board, and the approval for membership of the BBKA to the charitable association ‘Bees Abroad’
The afternoon session focused on the proposed new BBKA Constitution. When this was presented last year it suffered a bruising from the assembled delegates and was referred back for further work. Since then the Committee has worked hard on the points raised by delegates and, as has previously been reported (see Newsletter for September 2006), has organised a series of consultative ‘roadshows’ around the country where members could closely examine the details. Further feedback has been addressed and, where appropriate, included in the revised proposal. The result of all this effort was rewarded in an overwhelming acceptance by the meeting of the new Constitution (48 vote for/ 3 votes against).
7. Mite Populations And The Late Onset Of Winter : Part 2Robert Swallow.
Last month I described treating my bees to two doses of oxalic acid, using a vapouriser, both of which resulted in substantial mite drop. I therefore determined to give a third treatment, so on December 28th. I gave them another 1 gram shot of Oxalic Acid having first cleaned out the sample trays. On New Years Day I recorded the drops, which ranged from 6 to 94, apart from one that had a drop of 730. That colony had previously dropped 341 on December 28th. Interestingly, this colony was not the one with the huge previous drop of over 1500. These results don't look statistically valid and I would suggest that there must be another factor such as the laying rate of queens in different colonies at different times.
Whatever the reason I am sure that the best way of looking at these drops will be the total fall following the final treatment which in some cases will add up to big numbers, for instance the colony referred to above, dropping 730 becomes 1071 plus those not recorded three days after the first application. In my opinion multiple treatments must be a good idea, something that hasn't been discussed at all as far as I am aware, in UK. I am also sure that these further quite substantial mite falls underline the importance of decisive action.
8. The Price of Honey
Mike Cross of Derbyshire BKA reported a survey of Derbyshire beekeepers as to the price they charged for a jar of honey, which ranged from £1.90 to £9- yes, it was nine! This last beekeeper, some could think of other names, was claiming that it was Manuka and had wonderful medicinal properties. Now I know bees can fly a great distance but I think this is stretching it somewhat! Mike then presented a spreadsheet to show the costs of setting, maintaining and producing bottled honey from 6 hives. According to his figures this would be £2564 but many in the audience came up with a multitude of ways of shaving this down. We all know beekeepers are thrifty!
Now if each hive produced an average of 60 pounds of honey per year the Mike reasoned with the aid of some high-tech graphs that:
at £2 you would never get your money back; at £3 a profit would be had after 2.3 years; at £4 this would take 20 months.
However, there are the hidden and running costs that include jars and labels, feed, Apistan or similar, insurance, electricity, petrol, frames and foundation and even the cost of a shed to store all the bits. This all came to £300-£400 a year. This put the profit time up to almost never, 4 and 2.5 years respectively.
Mike accepted that some will not just buy 6 new hives with the bees outright but would start small and breed their own until the target number of hives is reached. Again the spreadsheet turned out the figures that read as 3.75, 2.5 and 2 years for the respective prices.
The final ingredient was time that as we all know is not free! However, Mike pointed out that if you were not beekeeping then you might spend money on other things: the wife (partner), golf or ‘dededecccoorrr... ‘ Can’t quite get that word out but it uses a b-b-b-brush! Mike suggested that that for 6 hives it would take 8 hours per week for 10 months and at £12 per hour cost a grand total of £1950. His final comment was that to get your money back then it would need to be £12 per jar to recoup your costs in 2.5 years. Many comments came from the audience but the most salient was that not many hobbies actually generate some income. But do review your prices and don’t sell us all short!
(A report on a meeting of the Sutton Coldfield & N. Birmingham Branch of the Warwickshire BKA (Courtesy BEES)
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