Shropshire Beekeepers' Association



Newsletter September 2006



1. Editor's Notes

By now, I am sure, many of you will have taken off your season's honey and be well on with feeding and varroa treatment in preparation for the winter. As usual I am rather slower off the mark. My bees have access to some late-flowering plants in August that help to boost the harvest and, since I have also been away on holiday, my extraction will probably not begin until next week (i.e. early September). One priority will be to check for pyrethroid-resistant varroa. In the last Newsletter our acting RBI, Dave Sutton, noted that this problem is beginning to spread through the County. The 'Beltsville' Test is a straightforward way in which anyone can assess the state of play in his/her own apiary. This is the advice published by CSL/DEFRA :

  • Cut a 9mm x 25mm piece from an Apistan strip and staple to centre of a 75mm x 125mm index card. Place card in a honey jar with strip facing inwards.
  • Prepare a 2 - 3 mm light metal mesh cover for jar.
  • Shake bees from 1 - 2 combs of a colony into an upturned roof. Scoop cup of these (about 150) and place in jar.
  • Place a sugar cube in jar. Cover with mesh lid and store upturned in dark, at room temperature.
  • After 24 hours hit upturned jar with your palm over white paper three times. Count dislodged mites.
  • Place upturned jar in a freezer, until bees are dead (1 - 4 hrs). Count the remaining mites.
  • Calculate % mite kill. Less than 50% indicates you may have resistant mites.
The advice cautions that while this method gives an indication of resistance, further confirmatory tests are advisable but it is clearly a helpful screening test. If resistant mites are identified then Apistan or Bayverol should not be used. Apiguard, based on thymol, is an alternative treatment, though this does need an ambient temperature of around 15C to be effective. Some beekeepers use thymol crystals directly. The simplest way of doing this is to put a teaspoonful (c. 8 grams) of crystals onto an old honey tin lid or into a 'teabag' made from old tights on top of the queen excluder. A more sophisticated recipe for a thymol 'patty' is given below (item 5).


2. Next Meeting

Members are reminded that there will be no indoor meeting in September. However, there will be an extra Apiary meeting at Radbrook on Saturday 9th September at 2.30 p.m. The topic will be Autumn Management, with particular reference to anti-varroa treatments. Amongst other methods we hope to see a demonstration of the technique of oxalic acid evaporation, which appears to be a very effective approach when used correctly.

Indoor meetings will begin on 11th October with our AGM. Unfortunately we are having to find alternative accommodation for our indoor meetings. Radbrook College is being run-down in preparation for its merger with SCAT on London Road. At the time of writing, therefore, we cannot confirm where the AGM and future meetings will be held. However, this information will be posted in the next Newsletter and on the SBKA website as soon as it is known.


3. July Meeting Report

We met at Brian Goodwin's house at Crewe Green on a very hot day. Brian keeps about half-a-dozen hives in his garden though he has many more in out-apiaries. However the ones that were there provided us with more than enough to see and talk about during the afternoon. Topics raised included the advantages/disadvantages of different kinds of hive (the first we looked at was a Dadant); the merits of plastic frames; wired or slotted queen excluders; top or bottom bee-space; the reasons for 'bald-brood' (in this case wax-moth); varroa in uncapped drone brood; recognising newly laid eggs (they stand upright in the cell); assessing the age of the queen by her appearance; the use of water rather than smoke to calm the bees; signs of supersedure and the importance of having a sequence of suitable forage for good honey yields.

A highly informative afternoon concluded with a splendid tea provided by Mrs Goodwin during which further questions were raised to do with varroa treatments and how members deal with their own hive management problems.


4. The Shrewsbury Flower Show

A full report of the show will appear in the next Newsletter. In the mean time I would like to thank all those members who helped in any way with setting up, stewarding or taking down the beekeeping/honey section.
Ray Green (SBKA Chair)


5. Thymol Patties

This recipe for thymol 'patties' is taken from Hertfordshire BKA Newsletter: June 2006 (Courtesy 'BEES')


  • 500g of solid vegetable oil (e.g. 'Spry');
  • l kg caster sugar
  • 300g thymol.
(This mix will be enough for 16 hives).

Mix thymol with the sugar and then mix in the (melted) vegetable oil. Let it cool to form a paste and then scoop out about 4oz (110g) with a piece of grease-proof or wax paper. It should squash down to about 5" across and about 3/8" thick. Ideally, place it on a piece of plastic fly screen and cover with the paper. If you don't have screening put it on another bit of greaseproof paper. Place on top bars of the brood nest. The bees will only slowly get rid of it and two patties will often last all year. Put the first one on early in the Spring and the second in August. This recipe will help to keep varroa under control during the summer and applied in August will keep acarine under control during the winter. Make sure there is some in the hive all winter.


6. Improving Colony Survival Over Winter

I have often heard of beekeepers, some of them more experienced than me, suffering unexplained colony losses over winter despite adequate stores being present and I wonder whether queenlessness could have been the cause. On my last thorough examination, I always ensure that every stock has a viable queen. If not, I introduce one that I have raised, preferably by uniting with a queen-right nucleus, or by uniting two stocks.

It is not difficult to raise spare queens during the swarming season, bearing in mind you risk promoting swarmy bees and propagating undesirable traits unless the parent stock is chosen carefully. However, it is essential to ensure that stocks are queen-right over winter, and a queen possessing more desirable qualities can be substituted when available. When uniting, feeding both parties prior to uniting helps minimise conflict. I always lay the newspaper over a queen excluder if uniting two stocks in brood boxes so that I am certain that queen remains in the box containing the brood nest (generally the upper one). It is then easy to reverse the brood boxes and use a clearer board to move bees out the box that was queenless, without concern as to where the queen might have got to.

Hopefully the absence of a queen would have been noticed soon after the event, but if not, one of the seldom noted consequences of queenlessness is the filling of brood space with stores and the consequential limitation of space available for an introduced queen to lay. After bees are united, any good combs with stores can be moved up into the box containing the queen and brood. They will never move pollen once stored, so any congested combs should scrapped and salvaged for wax.

Feeding sugar syrup at the end of the season to replace harvested honey or to support colonies that have not gathered much honey is best carried out before temperatures fall too far as ambient warmth assists the bees evaporate excess water in the syrup. This ensures that these stores will be capped and so avoid carrying excess moisture into winter and also avoiding the bees having to expend more energy (and stores) evaporating water from nectar at lower ambient temperatures. The books say that I should be dissolving thymol in white spirit and adding this to the feed to reduce the likelihood of digestive problems, but due to laziness I have seldom done this, but I am certain that it would be a wise precaution to do so.

The books also say that the hive should be hefted to ensure that winter is approached with a mandatory 20 Kg of stores, but when I see statements like that, I think it likely that the writer probably read it in someone else's book and has repeated the advice unquestioningly. Without hefting or worrying, I keep giving sugar syrup until they decide they don't want any more (or possibly they have run out of room to store it). Starting early allows time to feed in this ad-lib manner without deteriorating weather interfering. It is a good idea to keep a record as to how much syrup each colony has taken, as the rate at which they take it down varies and some may become replete whilst others will require further feeding. I always feed towards dusk to reduce the risk of robbing.

If I were intending to leave a super of sealed honey on the bees over winter as well as feeding, I would temporarily remove the super, having cleared the bees down to the brood box and then feed. Hopefully this would tend to reduce the possibility of sugar contaminating the honey if it were subsequently extracted.

There are contrary views as to whether the queen excluder should remain on over winter, I always remove it so that the cluster of bees can go into the super without the queen being left behind, I don't know whether this is another of those beekeeping myths, but it sounds sensible and it is not a problem to refit the excluder in springtime ensuring that the queen is then below the excluder. That is of course much easier to do if the queen is marked! Incidentally, I cannot recall ever finding the queen laying in the super when I refitting excluders in spring.
Robert Swallow


7. Streakers!

Not the sort that run naked across British football pitches, but the scouts that lead a swarm of bees to their new home. The scouts may already have located a suitable home, but mostly they will have turned their noses up at the conveniently placed empty hive you put for them. Generally speaking, the swarm will leave the nest, hang up in a low branch, and only then start looking for somewhere to go. The scouts will go off reconnoitring, perform their dances, more or less vigorously according to how good they think their discovery is. Eventually, there will be a consensus of opinion and the swarm will take off unerringly in the right direction. However, the site may be more than a mile away and only a tiny minority, perhaps 5%, of the bees know where it is. Not all the scouts visited that particular site and the dances took place on the surface of the ball of bees, so those further inside the cluster will not even have followed the dance, so how on earth does that tiny minority who knows guide the great majority that doesn't know?

Martin Lindauer followed and observed dozens of swarms. He noticed that some bees seem to fly faster than the others, shoot up to the top of the cloud of bees, let the others catch up, then repeat the manoeuvre, always in the direction the bees must follow. Lindauer was the first person to speculate that these little missiles were the old scouts turned guides and swarm leaders.

This would mean that the bees are being led by sight. The bees obviously notice the "missile" passing overhead to show them the way. The "streakers" may be flying 3 times as fast as the others. They do not need to work in groups, nor be numerous. They relay each other and there is always one ready to go up to the top of the cloud of bees. According to mathematical models, devised by Stefan Janson and Martin Middendorf of Leipzig University to simulate their behaviour, they even know how to make the swarm avoid obstacles in their path.

Is this visual guidance system infallible? Sometimes the swarm stops and settles, as if lost, tired or hesitant. The "streakers" can then be seen to rally them, repeating the dance but correcting it to take account of the distance already covered. "We told you there were 1200 metres to go, you've done 800, that leaves you another 400 to go!" Martin Lindauer even relates having seen a swarm which couldn't decide between two possible sites separate into two clouds then immediately regroup, come down and form a ball so that the competition and dances between the two parties of scouts could be replayed.

Because the bees have several choices it has also been suggested that the scouts might be keeping together by using a swarm pheromone, released by the Nasonov gland. Certainly this chemical signal is used when the bees arrive at the new nest, but it is less obvious that bees in flight could be guided by smell rather than sight, as the guides would need to be posted at the front of the cloud of bees. The existence of "streakers" crossing the swarm to show the way has been confirmed by other researchers, while models demonstrate that this minority could suffice to lead the swarm in the right direction.
(from The Apiarian 51: Sept. 2006 [Courtesy BEES])


8. BBKA Constitution Consultation Meeting: July 2006

The meeting was called as a series of regional consultative meetings about the new proposed constitution for the BBKA. It was held in the splendid new headquarters of the Manchester BKA in Heaton Park. About a dozen Association representatives were present together with Tim Lovett (BBKA Chairman), Martin Tovey (BBKA General Secretary), Mike Sheasby (member of the Constitution Working Party) and Martin Smith (BBKA Executive).

Tim Lovett outlined the reasons for the need for a revised constitution and noted the salient points of the latest version together with the timetable for consultation and the proposed arrangements for managing subscriptions.

On behalf of SBKA I raised the question as to whether the constitution should allow the trustees to have such wide powers to deal with the assets of the trust (i.e. to be able to dispose of everything except the National Bee Centre at Stoneleigh). Mike Sheasby explained that this was normal practice - in fact the wording of that particular clause is copied directly from the Charity Commission's (CC) own model constitution. Tim Lovett also observed that Trustees were so called because they had to be trusted with the proper handling of the Associations affairs and although vested with powers, they were accountable to the members at the ADM.

A further point that the SBKA Committee wanted to raise was that there was no separation of accountability between the trustees and the executive. We thought that the CC would be unhappy with this. The response was that this had again been discussed with the CC who advised that in much larger charities there could be two distinct bodies but that it would be cumbersome and probably unmanageable to structure the BBKA in this way. The CC is therefore comfortable with the executive and trustees being one and same.

Some points were raised by other representatives present and the meeting ended with an explanation of how Association Treasurers would manage payments to BBKA on behalf of their members, particularly in the first transitional year of the new structure. A useful and constructive evening.


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