Shropshire Beekeepers' Association



Newsletter : March 2004


1.      Editorial

Already it is becoming clear that a major pre-occupation for this year is likely to be the imminent spread of pyrethroid resistant varroa mites across the County. Robin Hall, who first showed us how to test for them in our colonies at the AGM last October (see the September 2003 Newsletter for details) returned to the subject with his advice on Integrated Pest Management at our last meeting. The basic philosophy of this is that we should use a variety of approaches, both physical and chemical, alongside improving our general 'housekeeping' to keep on top of the mite and thus limit the amount of damage it can do. By doing this we might also slow the spread of the resistant mite and prolong the effectiveness of the pyrethroid based treatments (Apistan & Bayvarol). However, the development of resistance was not unexpected, given that varroa has been with us now for about twelve years and, like continental Europe, we must learn to live with it. A partial report of Robin's latest advice is given opposite. Over the next few months other aspects of IPM will be included in the Newsletter. There will also be occasional articles, like the one on the use of oxalic acid below for those who want to explore other options.


2.      Next Meeting

The meeting on March 10th will be given by Paul Cawthorne, who is an expert on GM crops. Attitudes towards GM crops vary widely with strong views being expressed both for and against their use. Some believe that the long-term effect of using GM products in foodstuffs has not been adequately researched and that they may produce serious problems in the future. Some object to the commercialisation of genetic strains designed to make farmers (particularly in the third world) reliant on particular suppliers. Some people support the introduction of these developments, seeing them just as more precise methods of doing what seed producers have always done. Yet others believe that the genetic modification of crops is the only way that we can hope to feed future generations and make poor countries self-sufficient.

Individuals beekeepers' opinions will depend on where they stand on these issues and on what they believe will affect their own interests. The BBKA is currently choosing not to express a view both because of this lack of consensus and because there is, as yet, no evidence about the effects on bees or honey of foraging GM crops. So we have much yet to learn and Paul Cawthorne is someone who can help make our ideas clearer. Bring your question to the meeting next Wednesday 7.30 p.m. at Radbrook College and be ready to enjoy a lively debate!


3.      February Meeting Report

The February meeting was given over to a timely review of a system of Integrated Pest Management to control varroa (and other threats to the well-being of bees). The speaker was Robin Hall, our Regional Bee Inspector, who began by reviewing the problem of the spread of pyrethroid resistant varroa mites. There is good evidence that the main cause of this happening is through beekeepers misusing the existing products (Bayvarol & Apistan) so we must follow the instructions that come with them if we are to slow down the spread of resistance.

We can also help delay resistance (or manage it more effectively) by combining a number of different methods of control during the course of the season. Some of these are physical rather than chemical. There is not space to summarise all Robin's advice here so what follows focuses on the first step - monitoring and managing natural mite infestation. Robin's first recommendation is that we stand or colonies on open mesh floors. The point of these is that typically around 20% of varroa mites will fall off their hosts. Open mesh floors mean that they fall right out of the hive and cannot climb back. He showed us a number of proprietary designs for various kinds of hive. [WBC hives pose particular problems but specially built floors can be obtained from David Pearce (phone: 01984 623851). No doubt other suppliers will have versions on display at the BBKA Stoneleigh Convention on April 24th.] Such a floor fitted with a drawer also allows mites to be collected and counted from time to time as part of our monitoring programme. The drawer should be lined with paper, preferably squared, which makes counting mites easier - and sticky, so as to hold the mites in place. After a week the drawer is removed, the number of mites counted and the total divided by 7 to give the daily mite drop.    N.B. Do not leave drawers in place as a matter of course. The debris they collect is a perfect breeding ground for waxmoth and other pests. The CSU's advice on action is given below.


Average Natural Mite Mortality per Day

January to March Under 2 : No Action 2 - 7 : Plan Control Over 7 : Consider Control
April to June 1 : No Action 2 - 7 : Light Control Over 7 : Severe Risk
July & August 1 : No Action 2 - 8 : Light Control Over 8 : Severe Risk
September to December Under 6 : No Action 6 - 8 : Light Control Over 8 : Severe Risk


4.      Oxalic Acid Sublimation by Eric McArthur

Many members will have seen the item on using an oxalic acid vapouriser in Beecraft (May 2003) The article below is edited from The Scottish Beekeeper (Feb 2004) by courtesy of BEES

Oxalic acid is now not just some obscure treatment substance against Varroa destructor. The mainland European beekeepers are now well committed to its use. The treatment has progressed from the highly effective but extremely labour intensive 'spray' method, to the less labour intensive but extremely effective 'trickle' method. However the present 'state of the art' method of treatment using oxalic acid is sublimation. The more sophisticated devices for this mode of treatment require the use of a 12 V car battery to power the sublimator. These devices are not cheap. However, beekeepers the world over are born innovators and given the germ of an idea, ultimately common sense prevails and the ideal design for every individual need appears. My own personal need is: cost effective, DIY friendly, effective in use and non-damaging to the bees and non-contaminating of hive produce. One article which caught my attention illustrated a simple design to sublimate oxalic acid crystals inside the hive, consisting of a 0.7 metre length of 16mm diameter copper water piping inserted into the entrance.

My instincts told me that this could be the way forward and I did some experimenting with the device by making one of my own. The simplicity of the design is remarkable in that it is merely a length of copper water piping closed at one end by being hammered flat with the end turned over twice (twice is important!). I loaded the device up as directed with 3g of oxalic acid crystals and sublimated them by heating the 'blind' end of the tube with a blow lamp for 3 minutes as directed. This was done outside the hive to prove that sublimation not only occurred but was seen to occur. I noticed that some of the gas condensed at the end of the tube, which was still relatively cold. This condensation would obviously affect the efficiency of the device since the full charge of the 3g treatment was obviously not going into the hive. So like other beekeeping innovators before me I 'innovated' with different lengths and finally plumped for the device shown below. This modified design is inserted at the top of the hive, through a hole bored in the hive roof. Factory made hive roofs have an air space above the internal rebate - the tube locates into this air space.

There is no need to bore holes willy-nilly in all your fine hive roofs, one or two roofs will do. It takes no time to make a couple of the sublimator devices either. By treating a minimum of two colonies together the first device is cool enough to handle by the time the second hive has been treated. The device is heated at the "blind" end for three minutes by a blow lamp. A good guide to the correct temperature is the discoloration of the heated end of the tube. Even if an 'Open Mesh Floor' is fitted to the hive the treatment is still effective since the gas falls through the bees and comb as it fills the brood chamber.

To do the job methodically merely replace the 'in situ hive' roof with the modified roof, have an empty super (only one!) above the brood box containing the bees. Load the device with the 3g of oxalic acid, tap the device to ensure the acid goes down to the "blind" end of the tube, push the device into the hole in the 'treatment' roof, heat the 'blind' end of the device for the prerequisite time and that's it!

A metal heat shield should be used to safeguard against charring the wood of the modified roof. The best and most elegant component is yet to come! Take a small block of wood, say 1 inches square and about 1 inches thick and drill a 16mm hole, 21mm deep into it. This hole when filled to the brim with oxalic acid crystals carries, by weight exactly 3g. Loading the device is a piece of cake! The treatment is around 98% effective and costs about 3p per hive. The bad news is that it is necessary to wear a mask to safeguard against inhaling any gas escaping from the hive body when using any form of sublimation. The good news is that the recommended mask (FFP 3-S/LU 0200 / EN 149) is relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain. Gloves and safety spectacles are also a must. The sublimation treatment can be carried out at any time when the ambient temperature is above 3C during the late autumn through to the late winter and can be repeated two or three times at 3-4 week intervals without harm to the bees. It is most effective when the colony brood level is lowest. This method may also be used on swarms (shook or natural!) prior to the queen laying in summer.


5.      The Honey Regulations 2003

Last month's Newsletter contained information from Thorne's about the requirements for honey labelling under the new regulations. However, there are other aspects of the regulations that anyone selling honey (other than so-called Bakers' Honey) should be aware of. Two relate to the chemical composition of the honey. First, the hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) content must not exceed 40mg/kg. This component is related to the condition of the honey. Provided that it has been handled carefully this limit is very unlikely to be breached. However, any honey that has been overheated or its taste degraded in some other way (e.g. through fermentation) must be classified as Bakers' Honey. Most beekeepers customarily make sure that their honey never falls into that category. The other factor is the water content. The maximum permitted limit is now 20% (23% for heather honey). Here again, under all normal handling this limit is extremely unlikely to be breached by the hobbyist beekeeper.

A regulation that is less clear is to do with "filtered honey." The Guidance notes issued with the new regulations say that: 'Filtered honey is defined as "honey obtained by removing foreign inorganic or organic matters in such as way as to result in the significant removal of pollen"'. Normal straining or filtering to remove unwanted matter is acceptable. However, where fine filters are used such that a significant amount of pollen is removed e.g., where honey is finely filtered to improve the shelf-life and clarity, the product will need to be described as "filtered honey" and not simply "honey". Unfortunately, "significant" is not defined within the regulations or directive. In cases of dispute the onus would therefore be on the supplier to provide evidence and demonstrate the amount of pollen removed. Ultimately it would be for the courts to decide.

A further point is that the use of a county name on the jar requires that all the honey must have come from that county. Anyone who practices migratory beekeeping or has apiaries in more than one county must bear this in mind.


6.      In My Apiary

Steve Watkins : A Baptism of Fire!

In many things I have been the sort of lad to break the box open and plug it in before reading the instructions. I have a tendency, as my friends will testify, to get immersed in something before realising that I cannot swim. For me, knowledge is always preceded by enthusiasm and involvement and Beekeeping was no different.

As I read Peter's article last month, it seems that a great many of us appear to be infected with the "Bee Fever" by someone else. In my case it was a very dear friend of mine, Tony Herber Davies. He is a SBKA member living in Wellington and it was through his passion for bees that I got hooked, although, as you will read, it was not a particularly sweet introduction to Honey Bees.

My wife and I had been invited over for a meal and over coffee chat turned to Tony's interest in Bees. "Would you like to come and have a look at the bees?" He said. I was, in fact, quite excited by the idea and although it was getting late, now seemed the best time to do it. It soon became apparent that Tony's equipment had not much capacity to cater for two but unperturbed we hatched a plan and got suited up. When I say suited up I mean a ragged blue cotton boiler suit fitted with press-studs, half of which seemed not to function. We remedied this by applying parcel tape up the front and round the cuffs of some old gardening gloves. The upside is that the veil seemed good. "That should do it" Tony said and there I was, ready for anything. Before Tony removed the lid he blew the smoke around and told me that if it got a bit much and I felt nervous I should not flap around but just walk away and they would leave me alone. Then the lid was off and I was peering into a hive full of bees for the very first time. It did not take very long before I had identified a worker bee or rather she had identified me. By the third and fourth sting I was getting more than a little nervous. As instructed I walked away but the bees, contrary to the Beekeeper's understanding, continued their assault. Tony had not a bee on him and yet I was being 'clobbered'. The tape and cotton had by now parted company and the bees were disappearing into my suit like revellers pouring into a night club. I tried hard to concentrate whilst the Bees tried harder to distract me with their sharp end. Then finally, it was time to retreat.

I would not recommend that route of introduction to anyone but somehow, for me, it was perfect. I had got over any initial fear and I was now unafraid of a sting or two (dozen)! Although I was sore and more than a little jumpy when de-robing, I had seen something wonderful - the working hive and the beekeeper handling his bees. I had been somewhere wonderful and I could not wait to visit again. I wanted to understand what went on inside that hive. I wanted to know bees, my own bees. Before long I was on the look-out for a swarm, again with very little knowledge but I knew I wanted to be a beekeeper!

Thanks Tony.


7.      Member's Queries

These queries have come in recently from a new member. Can we have some answers please.

a) What is the coarse "dust" that appears outside of the hive entrance?
b) If you get queen cells, does that mean that the hive has already swarmed? Or is it when they're capped,
    or when they've hatched; or something else?
c) If all honey crystallises, why might ours still be liquid some 8 months later?


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