BBKA Basic Assessment

The basic is a ‘one to one’ oral assessment

The basic assessment is designed to provide new beekeepers with a goal and to give them a measure of their achievement so far in the fundamental skills and knowledge of the craft.

To enter the basic, which is an oral assessment, a person must have at least one year’s experience of keeping bees.

The basic is the springboard from which to launch into more demanding assessments and a pass in the basic is a prerequisite for entry into all the other assessments.

Most of what you need to know will have been discussed at apiary meetings

To help beekeepers prepare for the basic assessment, Meridian runs an annual revision day organised and tutored by Louise. The one day session covers the whole syllabus which may look daunting on first glance but in fact, most people know more than they realise after keeping bees for a while.

The 2022 revision day was attended by Robin Sergi, Zara and Phil O’Connell, Fiona Hickley and James Savage.

Zara and Phil at an apiary meeting last year.

Catherine Pardoe generously hosted the event at her house and according to all accounts, provided endless tea and coffee, cooked a delicious quiche and made a beautiful salad and went above and beyond in every way to make the day a success! Thank you very much to Catherine.

From Catherine’s point of view, Louise was absolutely brilliant (as usual) and must have been exhausted after all that concentration and talking! Thank you from everyone to Louise, not just for Saturday’s revision day but for everything she does for us.

Attendees said what an useful event it had been; there was a lot of discussion about what their bees had done over the last year and Louise spent much of the day saying ‘ well your options might have been…….’

James Savage, seen here at a recent apiary meeting, said the revision day was very good!

With the proper preparation, the basic assessment is an enjoyable and instructive exercise which takes place at one of our teaching apiaries. The assessor will ask a few questions while you show them through a hive, pointing out what you see as you go.

Robin Sergi talking assessor James Donaldson through a hive inspection during his basic assessment at Swanmore in June 2022.

Some of the candidates at the 2022 assessment in Swanmore admitted feeling a bit nervous when they arrived but a cup of tea and chat with the assessor soon put them at ease.

Anthony Raymer making a brood frame; part of the practical assessment

As well as gauging your basic skills, the assessor will give you tips and information along the way. After they had completed their assessments all candidates said what an useful and enjoyable experience it had been.

One of the stand out learning moments for most people was being shown an easy method of collecting a sample of bees.

The assessor asks questions to test a basic knowledge of diseases and pests, the lifecycle of the honey bee and good apiary hygiene. You can read the full syllabus here.
This book is enjoyable and easy to read, has clear photography and illustrations and is the definitive text for the basic assessment.
It can be purchased from the BBKA shop

To find out more about the basic assessment, click here.

Telling the bees

Telling the bees is an age old tradition stemming from Europe in which bees would be told of important events in their keeper’s lives such as births, deaths and marriages.

Little is known about the origins of the tradition but some say it’s derived from Celtic mythology or even ancient Aegean notions about bees’ ability to bridge the natural world and the afterlife.

It was believed that if the keeper forgot to tell the bees, misfortune would follow; the bees might leave their hive or stop the production of honey or worse, they would die.

The custom of telling the bees is best recorded in England but it is known to have been practised in Wales, Ireland, France, Germany, The Low Countries, Switzerland and later, in the United States. One Lincolnshire account from the 19th century notes:

“At all weddings and funerals they give a piece of the wedding-cake or funeral biscuit to the bees, informing them at the same time of the name of the party married or dead.

If the bees do not know of the former, they become very irate, and sting everybody within their reach; and if they are ignorant of the latter they become sick, and many of them die.”

Death and funerals

Following a death in the household there were several ways in which bees were to be informed and therefore put into proper mourning.

The process is described in a 1901 work; A book of New England legends and folklore in prose and poetry:

…goodwife of the house to go and hang the stand of hives with black, the usual symbol of mourning, she at the same time softly humming some doleful tune to herself.

Samuel Adams Drake

One such ‘tune’ from Nottinghamshire had the wife saying “The master’s dead, but don’t you go; your mistress will be a good mistress to you.”

A similar song in Germany went “Little bee, our lord is dead; Leave me not in my distress.”

Another method of telling the bees involved the male head of the household approaching the hive and knocking gently on it with the key to the family home until “the bees’ attention was thus secured” and then saying “in a low voice that such or such a person was dead.”

A description from the Carolina mountains in the United States says that “You knock on each hive, so, and say, ‘Lucy is dead.’ Bees could also be invited to the funeral.

In cases where the beekeeper had died, food and drink from the funeral would be left by the hive for the bees, including the funeral biscuits and wine.

The hive would be lifted a few inches and put down again at the same time as the coffin or it may be turned to face the funeral procession and draped with mourning cloth.

In the Pyrenees it was custom to bury a garment belonging to the deceased beekeeper under the bench where the bee-hives stood. It was not permitted to sell, give away or exchange the bees of the dead.

If the bees were not told of the death of the keeper, “serious calamity” would befall the family but also to any person who was to take over the hive.

One account from Norfolk tells of a family who bought a hive of bees at auction from a farmer who had recently died. Because the bees had not been “put into mourning for their late master”, they were “sickly, and not likely to thrive.”

However when the new owners tied a “piece of crepe” to a stick and attached it to the hive the bees recovered, an outcome attributed to their having been “put into mourning.”


Although the practice of telling the bees is most commonly associated with death, in some regions the bees are to be told of happy events in the family too, particularly weddings.

An article in the Dundee Courier from the 1950s describes the practice of inviting bees to the wedding. If a wedding occurred in the household, the hive might be decorated and a slice of wedding cake left for the bees.

In Germany, newly married couples going to their new home must first introduce themselves to the bees or “their married life will be unfortunate.”

A French tradition held that unless beehives were decorated with scarlet cloth at a wedding and the bees allowed to take part, they would go away.

The custom of ‘telling the bees’ has been described in many poems including one called Home Ballads:

Before them, under the garden wall,
Forward and back
Went, drearily singing, the chore-girl small,
Draping each hive with a shred of black.
Trembling, I listened; the summer sun
Had the chill of snow;
For I knew she was telling the bees of one
Gone on the journey we all must go!

John Greenleaf Whittier

In an episode of the TV drama Midsomer Murders (The Killings at Badger’s Drift, series 1 episode 1), a minor character remarks that a deceased character’s bees must be informed of her death or they will “just clear off”.

The curious custom of telling the bees strengthens the conviction that there exists a age old sympathy and relationship between bees and humans.

Wildflower verges

Stephen Barnes, chair of BBKA trustees has written to Area Associations and Branch Secretaries asking that we sign a petition urging the government to encourage local authorities to plant more wild flowers on roadside verges and other spaces in the public realm.

There are a number of advantages to wild flowers verges. Not least, they are nicer to look at than mowed grass but in the longer term, they save councils money and reduce the congestion caused by grass cutting. Most importantly of all, wild flower verges, roundabouts and meadows provide habitats for wildlife including pollinators.

Some enlightened councils are already investing in wildflower meadows as too is the Wildlife Trust.

Signing the petition is an opportunity to show support for this idea and to encourage councils to do the same.

Petition the Government


Bee Health Day 2022

Hampshire Beekeepers’ Association has release full details of the 2022 Bee Health Day which is being held at Sparsholt College, Winchester on 18 June 2022 from 08:45 to 17:00.

Attendees are limited to ninety so if you’d like to go, it’s a good idea to register early. HBKA has created an Eventbrite page for members to secure their place. Tickets are available now and will be issued on a first come first served basis.

Use the following link to access the HBKA Eventbrite page where further information is also available. Bee Health & Disease Day 2022 Tickets, Sat 18 Jun 2022 at 08:45 | Eventbrite

This event is only available to members of Hampshire Beekeepers’ Association.

Important notes

When booking members will be asked for their association details; in our case Meridian not their BBKA Number.

You will also be asked if you wish to have lunch at the Bites Cafe, which is located next to the Sainsbury Building where the event is being held.

For any questions please contact our secretary Richard Skinner.

Mobile: 078 1264 2970

Apiary meeting, 21 May

Meridian members gathered at Swanmore today for our second apiary meeting of the season. The weather and bees were both kind for which we were grateful; we had several new members in attendance including Eileen, Jane, Kate, Pete, Patrick, Rachael and Jake.

In all, three hives were opened including Robin’s colony housed on twenty-two frames in two standard National boxes which is what Beekeepers call ‘double brood’. Thank you to Robin for allowing us to go through your hive.

Becky showing her group through one of the Association hives.

Thank you too, to Lisa and Becky for showing their group through two of the Association’s hives. Both colonies were occupying nine frames and are building up steadily. The queens were seen in both colonies, as well as brood at all stages. Honey, nectar and pollen were also identified and some of our newbies saw eggs for the very first time.

Healthy “pearly-white” larvae clearly segmented, lying in the characteristic ‘C’ shape in a pool of brood food. Eggs can be seen on the right-hand side.
Everybody was able to practise handling and turning a frame. Zoom in on Lucy’s face for an interesting close up of flying bees!

Thank you very much to Simon for demonstrating the ‘sugar roll’ technique of varroa counting. We were all perplexed by the apparent lack of varroa detected by the exercise. Only one varroa was found.

We also took out the monitoring boards from the Association colonies and despite a healthy drop of pollen, wax and other debris, only one varroa was detected on one of the boards. Could this be right?

As usual, the meeting concluded with tea and biscuits and the chance to chat bees and life!

Becky’s group watching a worker emerge from her cell.

Thank you to Becky and Lisa for leading their group and to Chris and Nicky for their support and to the Hammond’s for their usual hospitality.

Thank you also to those of you who parked elsewhere for keeping the Hammond’s driveway clear.

Denise: Spring update, West End apiary

I am pleased to say that both Meridian colonies at West End apiary survived the winter and as soon as the weather warmed up, in March, we were eager to open the hives and evaluate their progress.

The West End apiary is developing steadily

It was noted that there was brood and eggs present but the bees were only using 6 frames in each colony.

Spring is a good time to give bees new clean foundation. Various research suggests new clean foundation invigorates the bees and reduces the likelihood of any potential diseases, that the winter bees may be harbouring in old comb, from developing to critical levels.

There are two main popular choices for replacing old comb,

I was reluctant to carry out a shook swarm as there were too few bees and I didn’t want to lose all the young brood which, if allowed to develop, would boost the hive numbers. Therefore, a Bailey comb change seemed the way to go.

On 26th March, Stage One commenced by placing a clean brood box with clean frames, complete with foundation, on to the top of the existing brood box, matching the number of frames used by the bees and placing a dummy board each side. A feeder of 1:1 syrup was placed on the top of the crown board and the hive was left for a week.

After seven days the new brood box was checked, the Queen was found and moved into the upper box onto a frame with a few eggs and larvae. A Queen excluding Bailey board (with an entrance eke) was placed between the old and new brood boxes and the original entrance was blocked.

At this point the weather changed and became very cold, which gave me sleepless nights worrying that I may have killed the Queen. Research suggests that should the bees have a choice to save the brood or the Queen, due to extreme temperatures, they will save the brood.

It was an anxious time waiting for the weather to warm up sufficiently to open up the hive again to see what had happened.

Three weeks later, I opened both hives to find to my relief that both queens were happily laying lovely brood in the fresh foundation. Some capped brood were still in the lower old brood box and I decided to remove these frames and complete the comb change early.

  • The whole hive was moved to one side and a clean floor put on the stand
  • The top clean brood box with the queen and new frames of foundation was placed on to the floor.
  • The Bailey board was removed
  • The hive reassembled with the syrup feeder on top of the crown board until it was empty.
The hive inspection at the 24 April apiary meeting demonstrates the successful outcome of the comb change.

Happy days!

The other Meridian colony, 24 April

Practical day, 8 May

On Sunday 8 May, Louise and Denise hosted the second of the practical sessions; the culmination our most recent introduction to beekeeping course.

There were eight new beekeepers present; Jane Dunham, Rachel Cole, David Bence, Tom Wells, David Redman, Paul and Alex Whitfield and Eileen Mansfield.

The sun shone, the bees were on their best behaviour and Denise and Louise enjoyed being back as a group post lockdown.

During the hive inspections, a queen was spotted, eggs, pearly whites, drones , young bees and bees emerging were all seen. There was also plenty of pollen coming in and dancing going on.

The differences between nectar, uncapped honey, capped brood and capped honey were demonstrated and during the inspection, some drone larvae was disturbed which provided an opportunity to observe varroa feeding on the larvae.

Wax moth trails were spotted in another hive, the frame was tapped revealing the moth’s larva which was flicked from the hive to become bird food!

Louise and Denise were delighted by the calm approach displayed by all the new beekeepers and the competence with which they handled the frames and their hive tools.

Thanks to Robin for allowing the use of his hive and as always, to John and Sarah for use of the apiary.

Denise adds that all the students did very well and that she and Louise were impressed that they had remembered how to lift and turn a frame!

We hope that everybody enjoyed the day and that it is just the start of a long and rewarding beekeeping journey.

Asian hornet talk

Post event notes and suggested way forward

From: Louise Evans, 22 March 2022

To: Meridian members

Subject: Asian hornet briefing

Dear all,

Thank you to those who attended the briefing on the Asian Hornet. Together, with the education of members and spring queen trapping (with traps adapted to prevent the slaughter of other beneficial species) we can make a very good effort to prevent this species establishing itself here.

With concerted effort, it will be one less hazard for beekeeping and reserve public funds for better purposes.

Our thanks go to Andrew Durham for all his research and the presentation. I am much amused that his risk assessment shows that his colonies are some of the least at risk. Mine, sadly are close to the Hamble estuary!

Meridian members

Our thanks go to Simon Fitzjohn who has been prototyping the museliere for us to copy and adapting wasp traps we already had for members to trial. Simon has produced several variants of the trap so that we can assess what works best.

The traps were distributed to Meridian members at the Practical day on 23 April.

Remember: attractant for Asian hornet traps is pressed apple juice and/or fermented cappings or honey from the solar extractor – with a mechanism (ie: mesh) to stop other insects drowning in the liquid and an escape.

From: Andrew Durham

Subject: Asian Hornet Briefing 20th March – Notes for Website

Dear All,

I have decided that to save time (and help your members with the detail) to produce a pdf of the whole of the Integrated defence in the Apiary section and send it to you for posting on your website as a resource for your members.


Apiary meeting, West End, 24 April

It was a beautiful day for an apiary meeting; warm enough to keep our bees happy but cool enough to be comfortable in a bee suit. These two short videos give a flavour of the day. Denise led us through the Meridian colonies, both of which were looking good. Denise had successfully completed Bailey comb changes on both colonies just eleven days prior and the bees had responded by drawing out beautiful (surprisingly yellow) fresh comb.

They had also built up strongly since the completion of the comb changes on 13 April and there was plenty of brood at all stages in both colonies too. All the boxes had been refurbished recently and the bees were given new foundation so everything in both hives was pristine and new. The bees were joy to behold and displayed a temperament to match.

The West End apiary is developing well and will be a great asset to the Association going forward.

Preparation day

Chris, Denise and Bryan get stuck into the frames!

Sunday 3 April began with sunshine, coffee and bee chat. Chris, Denise, Phil, Louise, Richard and Bryn gathered at Richard’s home in West End to clean kit and prepare equipment for the forth-coming season.

Rendering wax

Chris Jordan had kindly bequeathed his equipment to Meridian. Louise attended the funeral and Richard collected the kit from the family.

The team scraped and flamed supers and boxes; cut out old wax, cleaned up lots of frames in the burco boiler, rendered wax, all the time sharing bee-keeping anecdotes, plans and tales.

Frames were cleaned up in the Burco boiler which can be borrowed by Meridian members.

Thanks to Chris Jordan we have additional hives for West End and another suit for beginners.

Richard kept us well furnished with tea and coffee. Fourteen other people had said they could come and help, so unfortunately we didn’t get as many frames made up as we would have liked and our work took all day but it was enjoyable nevertheless.

Maybe next time you might join us for an hour? We’d be delighted to see you.