Introduction to beekeeping course, practical day

Early stage swarm cells at the bottom of a frame

Every Introduction to Beekeeping course concludes with a practical session at the apiary. In previous years, that session has been restricted to a hive inspection and the others topics discussed would have been covered in more detail in the classroom.


We already know there were things we could’ve done better (chairs would have helped!) but we’d welcome your honest feedback as it will help shape how we deliver the event in future.

We’d be very grateful if you’d take a few minutes to answer these questions:

Exotic pests and notifiable diseases

The importance of being registered on BeeBase

It’s very important for all of us to be registered on Beebase. This is so the National Bee Unit knows where all colonies are located so bee inspectors can monitor for the arrival of exotic pests. It also means they are able to control outbreaks of notifiable diseases (like Foulbrood) and advise us when there’s a threat in our locality.

Asian Hornet (Vespa Velutina); Smaller than the European Hornet with characteristic yellow legs Asian hornet

It’s the responsibility of all beekeepers to make sure their BeeBase record is correct and up-to-date. Registration is simple and can be done by visiting BeeBase.

What are the beekeeper’s responsibilities?

The arrival of exotic species here is considered a significant threat to UK beekeeping, particularly when added to the other pests and diseases we already manage. Early detection is essential to improve the chances of controlling and containing these invasive pests.

Beekeepers should prepare for the possible arrival of exotic pests like Asian Hornet, Tropilaelaps and Small Hive Beetle.

The small hive beetle is endemic to sub-Saharan Africa but has spread to many other places, including North America, Australia, and the Philippines. The small hive beetle is a destructive pest of honey bee colonies, causing damage to comb, stored honey, and pollen. If an infestation is sufficiently heavy, it causes bees to abandon their hive. Help save our bees!

To help with this, there’s a series of short learning modules on Beebase. These cannot be found on the main ‘public’ menu but within your own private account and to access them, you must first register, then log in to your account.  

They’re free, of excellent quality and from the most trusted of sources. The modules will make you aware of the main features of each pest and the possible risks, and help to make surveillance and monitoring for pests a routine part of your beekeeping programme. Beebase

Tropilaelaps mites are parasites of immature honey bees. Adult mites lay their eggs on honey bee larvae inside their brood cells. These hatch into mite larvae that feed on the haemolymph (blood) of developing bees, depriving them of essential nourishment required for growth. They can easily overwhelm a honey bee colony and could devastate UK honey bees.

How to build a frame

Most of us develop our own technique for building frames and even the least handy amongst us (I’m thinking about myself here) soon becomes proficient at the task and can build a set of frames quite quickly. This video by Meridian member Richard Skinner demonstrates how frames should be constructed according to the BBKA which is handy to know when you’re planning to take the basic assessment!

Help save our bees!

Varroa was imported to the UK and has devastated our bees. Help prevent the spread of other deadly pests.

Stop the importation of honey bees into Great Britain.

Please sign the petition and share the link petition

The petition is to ask the UK Government to ensure people don’t break the rules on the movement of bees. Unrestricted movement could allow Small Hive Beetle to arrive here and damage British bees even further.

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So far, the UK has managed to avoid the Small Hive Beetle which has devastated bee populations in parts of Europe and the United States.

Under new rules, honey bees colonies can no longer be imported to Great Britain. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs hopes the ban will prevent the spread of serious bee pests and diseases. ITV report

Because Northern Ireland remains part of the single market, bee imports from Europe are still allowed. In full knowledge of the risks, unscrupulous operators are importing bees via Northern Ireland for onward to transfer to England, Scotland and Wales just to make money. The British Beekeepers’ Association is asking that we sign a petition to get the loophole closed as soon as possible.

World bee day, 20 May

Bees fly from flower to flower, pollinating our crops, trees and plants as they go.

Most people know bees are under increasing threat from human activity but what can we do about it? It’s such a big problem.

Thursday 20 May is World Bee Day, designed to increase our awareness of these amazing pollinators and to show that we can do something about it!

What does the UN suggest we do?

Individually, we could help by;

  • planting a diverse range of native plants, which flower at different times of the year;
  • buying raw honey from local beekeepers;
  • buying products from sustainable agricultural practices;
  • avoiding pesticides, fungicides or herbicides in our gardens;
  • protecting wild bee colonies when possible;
  • sponsoring a hive;
  • making a bee water fountain by leaving a shallow water bowl outside;
  • raising awareness around us by sharing this information within our communities and networks; The decline of bees affects us all! Further reading.

As beekeepers or farmers by;

  • reducing, or changing the usage of pesticides;
  • diversifying crops as much as possible, and/or planting attractive crops around the field;
  • creating hedgerows or meadows
Meridian meadow creation day , April 2021

As governments and decision-makers by;

  • strengthening the participation of local communities in decision-making, in particular that of indigenous people, who know and respect ecosystems and biodiversity;
  • enforcing strategic measures, including monetary incentives to help change;
  • increasing collaboration between national and international organizations, organizations and academic and research networks to monitor and evaluate pollination services.

World bee day, further reading.

Meridian queen rearing programme 2022

Queen rearing survey

Several members have expressed an interest in working together to improve our stock and to have an accessible supply of good-quality local queens available for our members.

The aim of the proposed queen-rearing programme is to develop more healthy bees suited to our local conditions and which exhibit the characteristics most cherished by our members.

Most bee breeders and master beekeepers agree that it’s possible to selectively breed for up to four desirable characteristics. Please complete the short survey to tell us which characteristics you most value.

Even if you don’t wish to take part in the queen rearing programme, we would welcome your response as you may wish Meridian to supply your queens in the future.

Queen rearing survey

Varroa reporting in England

May’s edition of BBKA News contained a short article about Varroa becoming a reportable disease in England with effect from 21 April. There was some discussion about this at Monday’s fireside chat which prompted Meridian member David Smith to emailed Ian Campbell, news editor of BBKA News.

David asked why the ‘Varroa Reportable in England’ article was published without any explanation or advice as to what beekeepers should do. David was very concerned that the Secretary of State would soon become a very busy person as every beekeeper in the land would be bombarding him!

David has kindly forwarded the very prompt reply from Ian which is reproduce here for your information.



From: Ian Campbell
Date: 28 April 2021 at 10:23:52 BST
To: David Smith


Subject:Re: Varroa Reportable in England

Dear David,


Thank you for your interest in the item ‘Varroa Rorportable in England’. The stories in BBKA News are written some way in advance to meet the printing deadline of the magazine.

The announcement of this new measure became public extremely close to that deadline, having not been officially announced by the NBU or Defra at that point. The implementation date however was rather close on 21.4.21. The legislation is limited to a yes/no answer on varroa infestation, whilst the level is of interest to beekeepers it is the existence or not that is now required to be declared.


Therefore in consultation with others in the editorial team of BBKA News it was decided that the partial factual information available to inform beekeepers was better than none in the May edition. This is a common practice on rolling news stories where information becomes available in stages. Subsequent editions and other media outlets, including BBKA social media, would be able to follow up on the story. Indeed hopefully the June edition of BBKA will contain details of the tick box scheme now in place on BeeBase for reporting. A scheme for non BeeBase users is as yet to be announced.


I hope this answers your query,
Best wishes,
Ian Campbell,News Editor,BBKA News

Whole apiary shook swarm

Whole Apiary Shook Swarm Trial

Bee Disease Insurance Limited (BDI) is currently undertaking a two year whole apiary shook swarm trail in partnership with the National Bee Unit (NBU).

Bee inspectors will now offer to beekeepers who find European Foul Brood (EFB) in a colony the opportunity to have their entire apiary shook swarmed and the combs destroyed with BDI providing compensation for all the combs not just those on the infected hives.

BDI and the NBU are hopeful that this trial will show a reduction in the re-occurrence of EFB and therefore point to a better way of dealing with this destructive disease. Further details of the trail can be found on the BDI website. BDI

Asian hornet

Coming to a garden near you?

The Asian hornet is a dangerous, non-native species which has the potential to wreak havoc in the UK. It hails from Southeast Asia and could never have arrived here naturally. Natural History Museum

It is already well-established in France (and across continental Europe) and has caused immense damage to local ecosystems. It is also a significant risk the human population. Evidence indicates it would cause similar destruction in the UK if it became established here.

The main concern for UK authorities is that the Asian hornet is a significant predator of bees. In France, it has consumed large numbers of the European honey bee and many lesser-known solitary and social bees. RSPB, Asian hornet

This short video from the BBC provides a very good summary

There has also been a number of reports indicating aggressive behaviour from Asian hornets, particularly where their nests have been disturbed and this is where the direct risk to humans lies.

The UK Government (the Department of the environment, food and rural affairs) and nature conservation organisations, including the British Beekeepers Association are concerned about the impact of Asian hornets on bees as these pollinating species are essential to a well-functioning ecosystem.

The first sighting of an Asian Hornet in the UK was in 2016. Since then, there has been twenty confirmed sightings and ten nests have been destroyed. The last confirmed sighting was in 2021 in Ascot, Berkshire where the nest was located and destroyed. UK Government

Learning from the dreadful experiences of our European neighbours, the UK response has been decisive and well organised. Whenever a sighting is confirmed, the National Bee Unit, supported by local volunteer beekeepers, locates and destroys the nest preventing the onward spread of this harmful pest.

What can I do about it?

There are three simple things all of us can do to help prevent the spread of the Asian hornet.

  • Learn how to identify it
  • Be aware
  • Know how to report it

1. How to identify the Asian Hornet

It’s important not to confuse the Asian Hornet with the beneficial native European hornet (Vespa crabro) which is the largest eusocial wasp native to Europe. The European hornet has a yellow head with a reddish brown thorax (the middle bit) and it’s abdomen has yellow and black stripes like it’s smaller cousin, the common wasp. It also has reddish-brown legs. Know your hornets

Although it may look a bit scary at 3.3cm long, the European hornet is the gardeners’ friend. It pollinates plants and preys on pests like black fly and aphids. What’s more, its much less likely to sting you than the common wasp. Don’t be put off by it’s deep droning buzz which some people find intimidating!

The Asian Hornet is smaller than our native hornet, typically (2.5cm long). It is almost entirely dark especially when viewed from above and has one noticeably orange segment near the bottom of its back. It’s most characteristic feature is it’s bright yellow legs which are very different to the dark legs of the European hornet.

Compare and contrast

The European hornet has a yellow and black stripy abdomen (a bit like a wasp) and reddish brown legs. The Asian hornet has a darker body and a characteristic orange fourth segment near the stinger. Notice the yellow legs! Perhaps the easiest way to identify it.





2. Be aware

You don’t need to hide out with a pair of binoculars and a compendium of entomology but next time you’re in the garden with a cup of tea or gin and tonic, why not really study the bees, wasps and buzzy things you see there?

I’m certain when you do, you’ll be amazed by the beauty of the little creatures working around you and you’ll notice their fascinating behaviours too.

When we take the time to watch them, it’s easier to appreciate what they do for us and caring for them becomes second nature.

And should you happen to see a hornet, remember, she’s more scared of you than you are of her. Take time to watch her. Check out her black and yellow stripes and reddish-brown legs and hopefully, confirm in your own mind, that she’s a Vespa crabro. (European hornet)

3. Reporting an Asian hornet

The most important thing is to be prepared. With any luck, you’ll never need to report a sighting but it’s best be ready just in case.

If you are unlucky enough to see one, here’s what to do:

There’s an app called Asian hornet watch which can be downloaded free of charge to any iPhone or android handset. You’ll probably never need it and it’ll sit on your phone gathering dust but, it’s there just in case.

Or, there’s a web form you can use to report a sighting. It can be accessed by clicking here. Form or email (with a photograph) mailto:alertnonnative@ceh.ac.uk

Or, you can ring your local volunteer Asian hornet co-ordinator. To find one near you, click here Asian hornet coordinator

If you think you’ve identified an Asian hornet, it’s important you take a photograph to confirm your sighting. A confirmed sighting will invariably lead to an extensive response involving multiple human and other resources. The National Bee Unit and volunteers can only respond if the sighting is confirmed by a photograph.

You may be worried about getting close enough to take a photo but please be assured, a single Asian hornet is unlikely to hurt you. A whole colony near where you live however, is a different matter. That’s likely to be, well, a bit of a hornet’s nest!

If you see an Asian hornet, please report it! It’s in your interests and in the interests of everyone else.


Louise

My best and worse colonies in 2020

I run between thirteen and twenty colonies, including Nucs, in five locations including my garden. Six locations if you count the New Forest where I take my largest and smallest colonies for heather honey (my favourite) or to fill the brood box with quality winter stores.

In most years this is more cost effective than making sugar syrup, though some years I have to both buy a Forest licence and sugar feed. One can’t win them all!

Taking bees to heather

The best

COVID 19 was a running theme this year, affecting my beekeeping in unexpected ways. Two of my biggest colonies are in a new location; a field next to a usually, reasonably quiet lane. With the exception of weekends, I can open the colonies with little likelihood of disturbing anyone. This year, from 07.30 to 21.00 there has been a constant flow of families walking, cycling, riding. All wanting the person in the bee suit to explain what’s going on!

January was the sixth warmest on record since 1884 – but like February and March, very wet making it difficult for me and the bees to get out for days at a time. The bees were flying well on 16 March with plenty of pollen going in. I got them on clean floors, brood boxes, queen excluders and crown boards on 1st April.

Early April was the hottest on record, and all my big colonies wanted to do was swarm! The constant flow of people in the Lane, albeit 50 yards away on the other side of a hedge, I found stressful when I was trying to manipulate such big colonies. They were on 10 frames of brood in mid April – with charged queen cells!

I divided the colony three ways. making two full colonies and one nuc but I still lost a swarm from one of the full colonies! I obviously missed a queen cell.

The original colony had four supers on by mid May and the queen was still laying well. The Nuc didn’t achieve a good laying queen, so I amalgamated with the split.

After May being the warmest and sunniest since 1929 the first two weeks of June were cold, with storm Christian coming in on 19 June. The lime yields in warm weather years the first two weeks of June for me- this is about 50% of my honey crop. By the end of June we had temperatures of 33 degrees. When I was spinning I found that the colony had managed a super of lime honey.

I added a super frame into the brood box on 20 June to do a drone cull, also adding a varroa board which I removed for counting 7 days later. The Beebase website advised that no action was required for nine months. On 13 July, I removed the drone frame – most of it capped- and did a full inspection.

On 2nd July, the colony went to the forest in unexpectedly cold and windy weather but still produced a full super of surplus heather honey for me. By early January, there was still so much heather honey in the brood box and in the super left on for the bees, that I could barely heft the hive.

By mid-January, they were bringing in a good amount of pollen, so fingers crossed. Large colonies will always produce more surplus honey than two small colonies. They achieved 80lbs of honey- very good for a colony which had been divided! And the split produced 35lbs.

The worst

I had a phone call from a member asking for a Nuc in late May. I took three frames and plenty of nurse bees from a colony that had produced well in 2018 and 2019 with a reliable calm queen.

The site is on the other side of Botley with afternoon sun and opposite an avenue of lime trees. By 11 July, they had produced a queen and drawn five frames of comb and there was eggs and larvae. ‘Good!’ I thought. ‘I’ll arrange to deliver them.’ I’ll just leave them another two weeks to ensure there is capped brood and a good amount of stores.

End of July arrives; there was a supercedure cell and the queen was laying poorly. I checked for varroa and carried on feeding.

By mid September, they were still only on 5 frames. Varroa didn’t seem to be a particular problem and the bees looked healthy. The new queen didn’t seem much better than the one they superceded. Certainly not good enough to pass on. In November, they hadn’t attempted to use the fondant. They were still flying on 16 January but I couldn’t see pollen going in. Still too early to open them up but I am itching to check!