Shropshire Beekeepers' Association



Newsletter : January 2004


1.      Editorial

This year's queen colour is green. Being somewhat colour blind I tend to ignore these yearly changes and use white all the time - I can see it more easily and my records tell me how old the queens are anyway. However, if you prefer to follow the agreed pattern then the colour of the Newsletter will remind you what you ought to be using.

Have you made any New Year beekeeping resolutions? I know from experience that I am not very good at that, but I am going to try to do one thing differently this year. I have tended to delay removing supers from the hives until very late in the season - mostly because I find extracting such a tedious business that I keep putting off the evil moment. However, the arrival of pyrethroid resistant varroa mites is going to force me to change. Even if I don't have them in my hives yet, it seems a good idea to vary the Apistan/Bayverol treatment I have used up till now so as to prolong its usefulness further. As we know, the only licensed alternative chemical treatment at the moment is thymol - available most easily as Apiguard. This requires an ambient temperature of around 15C in order for efficient evaporation to take place. The logic of all this is that I shall have to take the supers off earlier than in the past so as to allow sufficient time to treat the colonies with Apiguard before the weather turns cooler. I would like to think I'll do this - but only time will tell.


2.      Next Meeting

We begin our 2004 programme next Wednesday, 14th January with a talk by fellow member Gordon Hartshorn. Many of you will remember his practical demonstration last January when he showed us how to "Sort Out Your Bees" by measuring the 'Discoidal Shift' and the 'Cubital Index' as revealed in the wing veins (which was simpler than it sounds!)

Gordon's enthusiasm for identifying the races of the bees in our hives comes from his belief that our native apis mellifera mellifera is the right bee for our latitude and climate and that the importation of other races has harmful effects on the temperament and productivity of our bees. His talk this time will be on "My Year's Queen Rearing" and we are guaranteed an interesting account of his continuing efforts to re-establish the British bee in his own apiary.

The presentation will begin at 7.30 p.m. in the Rosa Room at Radbrook College and, as always, there will be opportunities to discuss matters of common interest with fellow members both before and after the talk.


3.      December Meeting Report

The December meeting was given over to a presentation on the art of Mead making by Stan Sedman. I think most of us were surprised to discover what a variety of styles of drink this name covers, from the light flavoured mead produced from clover honey through to the heavy mead that is based on heather honey. Since honey lacks some of the ingredients needed for successful fermentation, it is necessary to add acid (in the form of citric acid or lemon juice) and yeast nutrient to the mixture. It is also now possible to obtain a specialised mead yeast from home-brewing stockists. The process is very similar to that used for wine-making and a basic recipe is set out below.

The strength of the mead is controlled by the amount of honey used in the recipe. A very strong drink can be created by adding extra honey as the fermentation proceeds, while lighter meads provide a good base for producing a sparkling drink.

Stan also introduced us to other drinks derived from mead, such as cyser (mead flavoured with apples), melomel (mead + fruit juices) and metheglin (mead flavoured with herbs or spices). His descriptions of how these drinks are made were generously illustrated with samples from his own cellar. By the time we broke for refreshments (the customary Christmas buffet - thanks to everyone who brought contributions) we were feeling very 'relaxed' and there was much enjoyable chatting between members. Our thanks go to Stan for his very enjoyable end-of-year treat.

The following recipe will make a light dry mead, which is best served chilled as a table wine. Yield: 6 bottles.
3 lb white crystalline honey ('such as clover or lime) 6 pints soft warm water oz citric acid (or the juice of 3 or 4 lemons) I tsp diammonium phosphate crystals All purpose wine yeast Campden tablets

Sterilize all equipment as needed. Dissolve the honey in warm water (l22 deg. F/50 deg. C) with the acid and diammonium phosphate crystals. Cover and set aside until the water has cooled. Add the activated yeast and pour the mixture into a fermentation jar. Fit an airlock and ferment at a temperature of about 68-75 deg. F/20-24 deg. C until finished. When the fermentation is over, move the jar to a cool place for a few days, then siphon the clearing mead into a storage jar containing 1 crushed Campden tablet. When the mead is bright, siphon it into bottles, cork, label and store.

Leave for at least 1 year, preferably 2, before drinking.


4.      Seasonal Greetings 2004 from Robin Hall (Regional Bee Inspector)

I hope now with all the festivities past we can settle down to some serious beekeeping. Did you check your bees over the Christmas break? With all the mild weather we have had it is a good idea to heft your hives to have some idea as to how much stores the bees have. If you feel the hive is 'light' then some action needs to be taken. The books say feed sugar candy but to those that have tried making it, it is not the easiest to make. It is far easier to buy a block of baker's fondant and feed this to the bees. I usually fill an old margarine container with the fondant. I cut a hole the size of a 10p coin in the lid. This is so the fondant doesn't slurp down through the 'feed' or porter escape hole and over the frames. The bees if they want extra stores will soon find your offering but be warned that once you start feeding you may have to keep this going until spring nectar is available. However over feeding will clog the brood box with stores and therefore restrict the queen laying. It is all a question of balance.

A good idea to check your supers for wax moth- both types. One of the easiest ways of eradication is to put all your comb in a chest freezer and freeze them for two days. At this point why not clean up the top bars of the frames also scrape and clean the inside of super boxes also queen excluders. Keep all the 'scrapings' and render together. It can be surprising how much this can amount to and how useful a commodity wax is especially as 'trade in' for foundation.

If you have any damaged equipment now is the time to repair it. If the item is beyond economic repair then be bold and scrap it. Hopefully this is a rare incident. Make up new equipment. How about making some open mesh floors? There are numerous designs available, I understand. Open mesh floors (OMF) are going to form a valuable front line method of varroa control. It is said that 20% of all varroa mites fall off bees or comb within the first 3-4 days after hatching. With OMF the mites fall straight through whereas with a solid floor the mites wait for a passing bee, hitch a lift and in no time are back on comb! If any beekeeper keeps records of natural mortality mite drops either on a day by day basis or even on a weekly basis would they contact me. The Bee unit is looking for field information to compare with their findings.

Finally, I noticed on Saturday (3rdJan.) that hazel catkins were out. They look as if they had been out for some time ( possibly a week before this date) Is this a record ? Is it going to be and even earlier Spring start than 2003? or possibly a another bumper honey year. We will have to wait and see, but it does make all the tasks above the more urgent.

Best wishes for 2004


5.      Bees Buzz Elephants!

Bees Buzz Elephants Marauding elephants can present a serious problem, destroying crops and trees in many parts of Africa. But now there may be a safe way to stop them in their tracks by using African honeybees.

Due to effective poaching control, numbers of African elephants have risen over the past ten years. Elephants often find themselves coming into contact with the local inhabitants, sometimes with disastrous results. With a human death occurring once every 2 weeks, villagers, not surprisingly are calling for a cull of elephant numbers. However a biologist from Oxford University may of found a solution. Fritz Vollrath noticed that when elephants knocked over a hive, the bees followed them for miles. By placing hives of Apis mellifera Africana in trees around local farms and fragile habitats, elephants could be controlled. Vollrath found that elephants stayed clear of all trees with occupied hives in them. A third of trees with empty hives placed in them were also left undamaged, presumably by elephants who had learnt not to take the risk.

Extracts from Gwenyn Kernow, Cornwall BKA Courtesy of BEES


6.      Weird Science

Honey bees select suitable nest sites by short hop flights and crawling along walls to measure the size of their hives. Scientists from Bristol University discovered that when bees swarm, they prefer cavities with a capacity of 40 litres that can accommodate 30,000 nestmates plus honeycombs. The biologists believe the bees estimate the ideal-sized space by crawling over internal walls to measure surface area and making short hop flights to estimate the free path length. Professor Nigel Franks, of the University's school of biological sciences, said the feat was the equivalent of humans being able to estimate in darkness the size of a cavity that could accommodate 30,000 people, such as a football stadium, in a valley.

Source: Biology Letters, Oxford University reproduced in The Scottish Beekeeper December 2003, Courtesy BEES)


7.      Removing Sticky Labels

Some time ago we had some correspondence about cleaning labels from honey jars. Here is another contribution by Joe Dod, taken from the West Cornwall Newsletter (Courtesy of BEES)

If, like me, you gather empty honey jars, kindly returned by friends you will know what a pain it is trying to remove the self-adhesive labels. Jars are worth about 2Op each and are well worth recycling. A friend who always returns his jars in pristine condition and used to be in the adhesives business showed the trick to me. Apparently self-adhesive labels are 'hot-dipped' and all you need to do is heat the jar to 100C and the label peels off cleanly. He demonstrated this by filling a jar with boiling water, emptying it and peeling off the label without leaving a mark. (Dishwasher temperature is only 65C max. and will not work.) A larger load of jars could be placed in an oven set to 100C.

Clearly precautions need to be taken. Boiling water should only be poured into jars in a sink, so that if the jar cracks, it will not scald anyone. Also hot jars should only be handled with an oven glove or similar and the peeling started with a knife. Children should be kept away and any other adults in the room should be told that 'THEM JARS IS HOT!'

So Goodbye to all that scraping and Meths!


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