Shropshire Beekeepers' Association



Newsletter : March 2007


1.      Editor's Notes

The variable weather continues apace and, one imagines, must be bewildering to the bees. Mine have been fed and on sunny days are still making an appearance, but none of us can be complacent since disaster can strike without warning. Last month Graham Roberson reported losing colonies suddenly and several other members have had similar experiences (see item 4 below). It is no consolation to read that in America many commercial beekeepers are suffering devastating losses, with no apparent explanation as yet. Reports say that:

“losses now run to tens, if not hundreds of thousands of colonies. The situation is so bad that some people are now expressing doubts about the industry’s ability to recover, which is bad news not only for beekeeping, but also for crops - notably the 680,000 acres of almond orchards in California, which produce a crop worth $2.5 billion and require 1.3 million colonies for pollination.”
(Stratford-on-Avon BKA News, courtesy BEES)

On a related topic, no-one has yet replied to Graham’s appeal for suggestions as to what might have happened to his bees and how best to go on from here. Brian Goodwin’s talk, reported under item 2, has some practical advice for the latter question. Perhaps other members might be able to add to this next month?


2.      Recent Meetings

(a) January Meeting Report (continued)

In the first part of his talk, reported last month, Brian Goodwin focused on the need to give bees plenty of room from early in the season, so as to reduce the pressure to swarm. However, despite our best endeavours, bees will sooner or later, decide that they need to expand further and will begin their preparations. Observation of the entrance to the hive from the middle of April onwards may give warning. If the bees are busy then probably all is well. However, if they are hanging about the entrance then a check inside is needed. If your bees are on a ‘brood & a half’ that is quickly done by checking the bottom of the upper chamber, as described last month. Look for queen ‘cups’, which look like acorn cups, and note if fresh wax has been added to any of them. Drawn out queen cells with an egg or larva mean that you can then make use of the bees’ swarming instinct to create a new nucleus.

To do this, first remove any supers and put them to one side. Next find the queen* and cage her safely (e.g. in a matchbox) and then transfer the following items from the brood box to a nucleus box:

  1. a comb with at least one occupied queen cell
  2. 2 more combs with sealed or emerging brood
  3. a comb of pollen & liquid honey
Also select a comb covered with plenty of nurse bees and brush them into the nucleus box as well. Finally return the queen to her original colony, which should now be made back full strength with fresh comb and the supers replaced. The nucleus box can be placed elsewhere in the apiary. Within two weeks a new queen should have emerged but should be left undisturbed for a further three weeks to give time for her to mate and come into lay. Meanwhile the original colony will now have plenty of room in the brood chamber to work on its new comb. All being well their swarming instinct should have abated.
[* Advice for finding the queen will be included in next month’s edition. Ed.]

(b) February Meeting Report

The meeting began with a general discussion, led by Brian Goodwin, of the various methods used by members to keep their bees healthy. Robert Swallow then talked about his experience using a vapouriser to apply oxalic acid as a varroa control. He showed us a table summarising his findings on the effect of successive doses on mite drop. The process is clearly very effective but not without some danger to the bees. Robert has since sent a note of his further observations and reflections on this topic:

"Following the short presentation that I gave at the monthly meeting in February on my experiences of carrying out multiple sublimations of oxalic acid, concern has been expressed as to the wisdom in carrying out the procedure more than once. Like many methods in beekeeping, the individual beekeeper must consider the risks as well as the potential rewards. The vapouriser that I used came from a company in Canada with specific instructions to give one or two treatments to a swarm (which has no brood) or up to four treatments to a full colony in December/January (the period of minimum brood). However, such poisonous chemicals cannot be used without some risk to existing brood, adult bees and even the queen. Another factor to consider is that some colonies will have come to the turn of the year in better condition than others and it may be that weaker colonies will succumb to just one oxalic acid treatment. It is also probable that many colonies will have expired by January without any treatment at all.

Having lost two of my own colonies (out of sixteen), I can now balance those losses against fourteen surviving colonies that appear Varroa free. It could be that surviving mites have all entered cells as the colonies that I have examined so far all have quite substantial patches of sealed brood. A few of them have produced one dead mite when checked over a lengthy period and I would be prepared to believe that these may be the product of housekeeping activities where a mite corpse is being cleaned out of a cell being prepared for laying in the same way that I also see chalk brood husks that have fallen through the mesh floor. I am now looking forward to a season without undue concern about mite levels and am hoping that I may be able to better enjoy my beekeeping by only having to regularly monitor mite levels and perhaps on occasions, cull drone brood. I will also be keeping an accurate record of the drops. It is imperative that mite levels are monitored regularly and records kept in order to receive advance warning of increasing mite populations. The sample trays will encourage wax moth if left under the mesh floors for too long, three days should be sufficient. It is more accurate to carry out the check over more than one day and calculate the average daily drop from this, referring to the latest issue of the DEFRA brochure on Managing Varroa to find out the levels at which action is required at the particular time of year. The following table shows the mite drop counts following repeated oxalic acid treatments:

    Colony - Date21.1228.1201.0104.0107.0110.0113.0115.0117.0127.0130.0131.0103.0213.02
2 -3102831120331012
16 -57438134230287120
8 -148671211140031100
14 -92320110221000
3 -1601261130020010
1 -1383127110201010
15 -2651321340020000
5 -24830109322010020
9 -92291031501126130
11 -221638331130020
13 -175612020100010

Notes:       Each colony was exposed to 2 grams of oxalic acid vapour on the 18th December, followed by further treatments of 1 gram on the 28th December, 15th/17th January & 27th January.


3.      Next Meeting

The next indoor meeting will be on Wednesday 14th March at Shirehall, beginning at 7.30 p.m. At the time of writing the speaker and topic have yet to be published. but will be posted on this website when known.


4.      Stolen Hives

The following report has been circulating among Newsletter Editors. It clearly refers to a matter that all of us will be concerned about. If anyone has information about this or any similar crime it would be useful to know about it

Dear Members,
A member of the Chesterfield and District BKA has had some hives stolen from an out apiary around the Darley Dale area just north of Matlock. According to an eyewitness one man in a white shirt was seen trying to load one of the hives into an orange transit van. Unfortunately for him the hive came apart and he was last seen running down the road after the van waving his arms about trying to fend off the bees. It is hoped he got severely stung. We suspect there were two people involved, this person and the driver of the van who was trying to pull away from the scene of the crime. We believe the thieves were not necessarily beekeepers but opportunists, because a knowledgeable beekeeper would not be moving hives during the winter and also this person was not wearing a veil or any protective equipment. We are asking all members to be vigilant and keep an eye open for this van and report anything suspicious around your apiary site and the apiary sites of any other of our fellow members. Be suspicious if anyone contacts you out of the blue and tries to sell you colonies......... It is important these people are found because hive rustling is bad news for us all.


5.      A Warning from our RBI

Just for your interest, a colleague reports a case of AFB that can almost definitely be linked to feeding supermarket "foreign" honey to a short-term observation hive at a show as an expedient measure. When the combs were returned to the colonies from which they came the disease was introduced into the apiary.
Dave Sutton



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