New Forest apiary meeting, 21 August 2021

The heather this year is magnificent. This photo from Richard’s drone (not that kinda drone!) gives an idea of the available forage.

“Shall we go or is it best to cancel?” The now familiar pre-apiary meeting phone call. The weather for Ocknell Pond wasn’t looking good, but as we’d cancelled or postponed most of our meetings in 2021, we decided to risk it. “We can always sit in the tent and have a chat!” Members with children decided that was not a recipe for a fun day out and politely cancelled, and whilst sitting in traffic in the pouring rain, I had to agree, they’d probably made the right choice.

Thankfully, by the time we arrived, there was a pause in the rain, Phil and Richard had set up our new gazebo and the teas and coffee were flowing. “At least we can wander down and look at the apiary!” Said Louise stoically. So we did.

Base Camp Meridian: our new pop up gazebo

And when we got there, the Sun came out. So we went back to the car park and pulled on our suits. Here is a video showing part of the hive inspections.

In the end, we had a lovely day. Denise and Louise guided us through the hives, the bees were on their best behaviour and the heather this year is magnificent; a benefit perhaps of all that rain.

Louise explained how colonies are prepared for the Forest and we all enjoyed the bees and the beautiful surroundings.

I haven’t yet taken my hives to the heather because I worried about unnecessary disruption to the bees but Louise explained the benefit to them. Their foraging season is extended by the heather and even in years where there isn’t a bumper harvest, the bees are able to add good quality stores to see them through winter.

The Meridian apiary at Ocknell Pond

Thank you to Louise and Derek, Denise and Phil and Richard for setting up (and for the drone pictures). Here’s hoping those who have bees at the Pond are able to harvest some honey. I’m looking forward to trying the Forest next year!

Taking bees to the heather

Strong colonies with a prolifically-laying queen should be selected. Any honey on the hive should be removed for processing before colonies are moved to the Forest.

That said, sufficient stores should be retained in the hive to sustain the bees (if bad weather persists) until at least your next visit.

Heather honey is thixotropic (jelly-like) and cannot be spun out, therefore it’s presented on the comb. Preparing Honey.

To ensure comb is pristine and edible, supers are fitted with frames containing only strips of foundation (which the bees draw down into fresh comb) or unwired foundation. Louise recommends strips of foundation in most frames but with every third or forth frame containing a sheet of foundation. This is to prevent the bees building wavy comb which would be difficult to process.

Bee Gym

Louise fitted ‘bee gyms’ to her hives while we were there and is trying an adaptation to the original design. The device was developed on the principle that bees can be encouraged to groom themselves. For further information on the product, visit the company’s website.

Winter bees

Winter bees feeding on fondant

Winter bees get the colony from autumn through to spring. They are sometimes termed diutinus bees from the Latin for “long lived”. Winter bees are responsible for keeping the queen warm through winter and rearing a small amount of brood to keep the colony ticking over. Here’s an interesting article from the which explains them. Winter bees


Sacbrood is a viral infection of the brood and occurs when a diseased larva fails to pupate after being sealed in its cell. Fluid then accumulates between the body of the larva and the unshed skin, forming a sac. It is a relatively common disease and can often go unnoticed, affecting only a small percentage of the brood. It does not usually cause severe colony loss.

Infected larva turns from its usual pearly white to a pale yellow colour. The larva dies and begin to dry out, turning a dark brown to black colour, giving rise to the characteristic ‘Chinese slippers’ scales. The workers uncap and expose them, creating an uneven brood pattern with discoloured, sunken or perforated cappings scattered through the brood area.

The skin of the dead larva also changes into a tough plastic-like sac, which is filled with fluid giving the virus its name. The sac can be carefully removed by using a pair of tweezers.

Varroa vectors Sacbrood virus and will spread it when feeding off honey bee larvae.

Re-queening the colony can help to alleviate the symptoms of sacbrood and controlling Varroa mite populations will help to control the spread of the virus. Beebase

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