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Shropshire Beekeepers' Association



Newsletter : January 2010


1.      Editor's Notes

I write these notes wearing my hat as SBKA delegate to the BBKA’s Annual Delegates’ Meeting (ADM), which takes place on January 16th. This meeting receives reports of the various affairs of the BBKA and discusses propositions for future actions. Most of these are to do with the efficient running of the organisation for the benefit of its members and are rarely contentious. However, you should be aware of two items that will be discussed this time. One is a revisit of the issue of product endorsement of by the BBKA of certain pesticides. This was discussed at great length twelve months ago when a series of propositions was put to delegates that were designed to specify precisely the degree of support we gave to this policy (see our December 2008 Newsletter for details). After thorough discussion delegates approved all those propositions at last year’s meeting.

Twickenham BKA (which put the issue on last year’s agenda) has now asked for it to be discussed again. My view (which I will raise at our own Committee meeting in advance of the ADM) is that nothing has happened in the last twelve months that would justify overturning those carefully considered decisions. The present arrangement gives the BBKA a place at the table of the pesticide manufacturers when product safety in relation to bees is being considered and allows it a say in the guidance given to the agricultural industry for safe usage. Only 4 products are endorsed (all synthetic pyrethroids) and BBKA has said that it is unlikely that more will be added to the list. N.B. No neonicitinoids (implicated in bee deaths on the continent) are endorsed and the BBKA supports the call for more research into the possible sub-lethal effects of these products.

The only other contentious proposition, which comes from the Dorset Association reads: “This meeting expresses its regret at the action of the Executive in withdrawing from the (FERA) Healthy Bees Project Board. By the vote of this meeting, the Executive is instructed to rescind its action and rejoin the Project Management Board at the earliest possible opportunity.”

The Executive’s response is that they put a lot of time and energy into trying to work with FERA on the Healthy Bees Project, but were just expected to rubber stamp the Department’s decisions and then do the bulk of the work in implementing a plan about which they had not been properly consulted. To instruct the BBKA to return to the Board would be to rob the BBKA representatives of any prospect of influencing the management of the Project. (Thanks to Cheshire BKA for that summary). Personally I accept the Executive’s argument (which was expanded in a recent BBKA Newsletter) but will raise it at our forthcoming committee meeting to see if my view is shared. Further details of these two items are here - comments welcome.


2.      Association Meetings

The December meeting at Shirehall was our usual end of year social event. Members were entertained with a quiz on various bee-related topics and then shared food and drink of a seasonal kind. Many thanks to all who supplied one or another of these elements.

The first meeting of the New Year will be on January 13th at Shirehall (7.30 p.m.) when our speaker will be Dr. William Kirk, Senior Lecturer in Ecology and Entomology at Keele University. His talk will be about the ‘Pollen Loads of the Honeybee’. Dr. Kirk is currently Chairman of the International Bee Research Association, a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and President of the North Staffordshire Beekeepers' Association. He has carried out research on the foraging behaviour and diseases of honeybees and has kept bees for many years. Clearly this promises to be an expert presentation of a vitally important topic for beekeepers - don’t miss it!


3.      The charms of honey based alcohol -a dire warning

I found we had twelve bottles of mead stored away in the back of a cupboard. The contents of six of the bottles was sickly sweet, and the contents of the other six was sour and vinegary so it was decided that the mead should be poured away down the sink.< br>
I with drew the cork from one bottle of the sweet mead and poured it down the sink apart from one glass, and did the same with the other bottle of vinegary stuff. I found mixing the contents of the two glasses made very palatable mead, which I promptly drank. Then I with drew the cork from the second bottle of the sweat mead and poured it down the sink, apart from one glass and I did the same with a third bottle of vinegary stuff apart from one glass which I mixed and drank.

I pulled the bottle from the cork of the next; I drank one sink of it and threw the rest down the glass. I pulled the sink out of the next glass and poured the cork down the bottle and drank the glass. I pulled the next cork from my throat and missed the contents and poured and poured the sink down the bottle. I then corked the sink with the glass, bottled the drink and drank the pour.

When I had every thing emptied, I steadied the house with one hand and counted the bottles, corks, glasses and sinks with the other which came to twenty seven. To be sure I counted them again and they came to seventy two and as the house came by I counted them again and finally had all the houses, bottles and corks and glasses and sinks counted except one house and one bottle.... which I drank.

Pam Willis, From the Petersfield Beekeeper, August 2006, courtesy of BEES


4.      Are Honeybees warm blooded?

Like many apparently simple questions this one from a non-beekeeper raised several others. Firstly what does the term warm-blooded mean? Secondly what is its importance to bees and, by extension, to our management of bee colonies?

First, the term warm blooded doesn’t necessarily mean warm. Rather it refers to the ability to maintain and regulate body temperature between specific limits, that is homiothermy. Equally an absence of temperature regulation, termed cold-bloodedness, is poikilothermy. A general conclusion would be that bees, being invertebrates, are poikilotherm, unable to regulate body heat.

However, we as beekeepers are well aware that a colony of bees must be homiothermic. The colony forms a cluster at 15ºC. This response to cold is mainly by the older bees. All organisms produce heat by chemical reactions within their bodies (metabolism). The cluster is like a hollow ball and contracts with lowering of temperatures. Bees’ bodies, being mostly air, are good insulators. If brood is present, heat from metabolism is retained within the cluster to keep the temperature around 35ºC. (There is a threat posed by too high a temperature and instant collapse occurs if a bee’s internal temperature reaches about 40ºC

But what about an individual bee? We have all seen the pathetic sight of bees floating in pond water often in the spring, having tried to drink and fallen in, chilled and inert. So is the individual bee unable to regulate its temperature? Experiments on lowering the temperature of a single bee show progressive stages through wing flickering to chill coma. The onset of chill coma for bees is 11.2ºC, beeflies 7.3ºC bumble bees 7ºC, wasps 6.7ºC and sphinx moth 0.3ºC. Bees will not recover from chill coma by themselves but if warmed in time are apparently none the worse. They have to be first warmed to 15ºC for them to initiate their own self heating processes. The self heating comes first from their own basic metabolism and then shivering or muscle contraction. These results provide comfort for all would be rescuers.

This raises a further question of how it is that bees can fly on very cold days when the air temperature must be nearing 2 or 3ºC. Bees generate a lot of internal heat from flying and are moderately well insulated with hairs, so provided the bee’s internal temperature exceeds 15ºC, it can make it back to the hive. So the answer to our question would be that bees have some self regulation above an internal body temperature of 15ºC but below 40ºC.

It will be seen from the above that personal insulation from cold is an advantage. Bees have some hair on their bodies which serves to insulate as some air is trapped next to the skin. However for heat conservation it also pays to be bigger. Heat loss depends upon the surface area of the skin exposed to the cold. The greater the surface area the greater the heat loss. So, bigger bees have relatively less surface area of skin through which to loose heat. This may explain, along with the above information on the onset of chill coma, why bumblebees can forage earlier and later in the day when temperatures are low, to the great chagrin of one of my beekeeping friends. Bumblebees are also hairier.

What has this to do with practical beekeeping? A good flow of air to ventilate the hive is of utmost importance. This not only provides the oxygen to support metabolism in cold weather but will remove the chilling effect of a damp atmosphere. Also it stops the honey absorbing moisture and fermenting. The mesh floor is an asset to successful overwintering.

The overall conclusion must be that individual honeybees are homiothermic within narrow limits. Entire colonies are certainly homiothermic and this enables them to colonise a large range of habitats throughout the world to their and our considerable advantage.

William Fyfe – Edited from the Scottish Beekeeper courtesy of BEES


5.     The Captive Drones : ‘Calendar of Operations 1943-44’

Beekeeping received a lot of interest during WWII and several excellent beekeeping books were written during this period. The following extraordinary account does rather put misgivings about sitting the Basic into perspective. < br>
“Many associations have small beginnings and ‘Captive Drones’ was no exception. From a small, but enthusiastic group of students under CSM Savage, MM, the craft and science of agriculture was first studied in Stalag 383, on 14th October 1942. Conditions of study were far from agreeable but the group gradually gathered momentum and in the spring of the following year was over fifty strong. The need for free discussion and the possibility of obtaining a stock of bees brought about the formation of an association, under the Presidency of Captain C F Grant, and on the 3rd May 1943 fifty-three members signified their assent. A week later the name of ‘Captive Drones’ was approved. “ From the date of inception the association has not looked back and on the 15th May a hive of bees was obtained from Hohenfels."

Very shortly an apiary was established under the associations care. For this purpose the economic subscription of ten cigarettes or a bar of soap was duly approved for maintenance purposes. Thus the very generous loan from a true beekeeper, for the duration of the war, enabled the students to have practical and theoretical instruction. Meanwhile the periodical meetings provided opportunities for theoretical discussion and every possible aspect of the craft was considered. The interest was now increasing daily, enhanced no doubt by ‘the apiary on the hill’ and by the 14th July 1943 membership was well over the hundred mark. A week later the problem of winter-feeding was discussed and the members agreed to give up six ounces of sugar per man so that the bees might winter in comfort.

During the same period many demonstrative manipulations were made by the Chairman and Instructor and not a few were amazed that bees could be handled so easily. The warm weather brought a glut of operations wherein swarms were hived, Queens reared, hives inspected etc. The summer waned and winter approached with the examination of candidates for the B.B.K.A. Craftsman Certificate. These examinees may be termed as the ‘pioneers’ of such examinations. In the meantime, the executive was strengthened in October by Captain Mackay and Captain Crawford as Vice-Presidents. From this date despite inclement weather, studies carried on in preparation for the winter examination and on 15th January 1944 no fewer than 32 candidates presented themselves for the Craftsman Certificate and two for the Expert Certificate. At the same time the hives in the apiary were packed down for the winter, they gave an outward appearance of still life. “The Christmas vacation temporarily halted the associations activities until 16th February when more than twenty new members were welcomed and official notification of affiliation was received with the significant words ‘captive you may be but drones never’

Spurred on by these heartening words the Chairman commenced upon the prodigious task of individually examining over fifty suitable candidates for the Oral Section of Junior Craftsmanship. On the 28th March the association was gratified to learn that eight candidates were entitled to the designation ‘Craftsman’. So concluded a very successful years bee-keeping, due in no small measure to the Chairman’s initiative and resourcefulness, the Presidents never failing interest and the invaluable work of the B.R.C.S. and the Y.M.C.A.”

Richard Vincent, The National Ex-Prisoner of War Association Cornwall BKA courtesy of eBees


6.      A Victorian Beekeeper

Glyn Williams recently showed me a letter dated 30th August 1882 that contained the following lines:

……."I went to the 'Bee' show at Horfield and have ordered another Woodbury bar hive, a cheaper one. It seems we ought to have put a cloth over the first one we had in order to prevent the bees going into the roof. Everyone I spoke to seemed against destroying the bees and I have obtained a recipe for their winter food…….."
The writer was presumably using a hive without a crown board and at a time when the destruction of bees to recover the honey was still prevalent. Thomas White Woodbury, 1818–71 was a journalist before retiring to live on private means. After 1850, he devoted himself to the study of bees. He introduced Ligurian bees to Britain in 1859 and developed the "Woodbury hive", marketed by the London apiarian specialists George Neighbour & Sons which incorporated a movable frame around the bee space. As "A Devonshire Beekeeper" he was a regular contributor to the Cottage Gardener, Journal of Horticulture, Gardeners' Chronicle, and The Times. Does anyone know anything else about the Woodbury bar hive?


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