The story starts in spring 2019. It was queen rearing season and we had big plans to re-queen our most aggressive hive – Queen Bluebell.
Eventually after many failed attempts to rear a queen we succeeded, and the time arrived to give Bluebell, that angry tyrant, the chop. Now, Bluebell’s bees once climbed down into my boots to sting me on the feet so it’s safe to say I wasn’t too fond of her, but everyone deserves a second chance, so we introduced her to our laying worker hive.
She was found dead on the hive floor about a week later and we could not save the laying worker hive.
In 2020, we were put in a similar situation, with Bluebell’s part being played by her direct descendent, Queen Snowdrop. We began the season with bad news, as our best hive from last year had had its queen suddenly die sometime in mid-winter. This gave them enough time to go full laying worker. We replaced Snowdrop with a reared queen and she suffered the same fate as her predecessor. Having caught Snowdrop with two attendants (that was all we could gather) we placed her into the worker-laying hive using an introducing cage and sealed the entrance hole with fondant.
Three weeks passed and we entered the hive to conduct our autopsy. When we first saw inside the hive we did think that perhaps there were a handful more bees in there than the last time we checked, and surely enough, Snowdrop was living in the hive, with a retinue and all. The laying workers had been defeated, which is an impressive feat given that there tend to be hundreds of workers laying, running around thinking they are Queen. So even when outnumbered 300:1 she had fought them all and won. She is a warrior queen if there ever was one!
We added a frame filled with brood from another hive to give her numbers a boost and since then, Snowdrop has steadily repopulated and her bees have transformed a hive filled with moldy honey, dead brood and wax moth into a thriving and clean colony. One of the most amazing sights to see when we returned after just one week was comb that had been infested with moths a week earlier had been dutifully torn down by the bees, leaving the foundation ready to be rebuilt upon. Truly an amazing transformation!
Maybe Charlie’s hit on something? A more defensive queen maybe what’s needed to correct a worker-laying colony. It’s worth a try!
Honey bees contribute directly to local food production and make an important contribution, through pollination, to crop production and the wider environment. The Healthy Bees Plan 2030 sets out four key outcomes to help protect honey bees.
Defra and the Welsh Government have today (Tuesday 3 November) published the Healthy Bees Plan 2030 to protect and improve the health of honey bees in England and Wales.
The plan sets out four key outcomes for beekeepers, bee farmers, associations and government to work towards to help protect honey bees, which continue to face pressure from a variety of pests, diseases and environmental threats including the invasive non-native species Asian hornet.
The Healthy Bees Plan 2030 was developed in consultation with bee health stakeholders and is aimed at sustaining the health of honey bees and beekeeping in England and Wales over the next decade.
The plan sets out four key outcomes to help protect honey bees:
Effective biosecurity and good standards of husbandry, to minimise pest and disease risks and so improve the sustainability of honey bee populations.
Enhanced skills and production capability/capacity of beekeepers and bee farmers.
Sound science and evidence underpinning the actions taken to support bee health.
Increased opportunities for knowledge exchange and partnership working on honey bee health and wider pollinator needs. Launching the Healthy Bees Plan 2030, Pollinators Minister Rebecca Pow, said:
During the coronavirus pandemic we have seen an increased connection with the natural world, and the new Healthy Bees Plan provides a blueprint to look after the health of some of our most important insects – the bees – our unsung heroes.
Bee health stakeholders have had a key role in developing our plan, and we look forward to working together to help ensure our bees can survive and thrive for future generations.
Action to implement the plan will now be taken forward together in collaboration with beekeepers, bee farmers, associations and government.
Defra’s landmark Environment Bill and Agriculture Bill will enhance and protect our precious natural environment and diverse ecosystems and improve habitats for pollinators.
Thriving plants and wildlife are public goods identified in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and one of the six environmental outcomes the government has committed to delivering through the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme. Helping farmers to provide rich habitat for pollinators is one way in which ELM will help deliver the goals of the 25 Year Environment Plan and support farmers to produce world-class food in a sustainable way.
The Government’s Nature Recovery Network will restore 75% of protected sites as well as creating or restoring 500,000 hectares of additional wildlife-rich habitat.
The NBU maintains a voluntary database of active beekeepers called BeeBase. Beekeepers that are not registered with BeeBase are strongly encouraged to get in touch with the NBU online to register with BeeBase for free. Registration provides the beekeeper with a free visit from their local bee inspector and access to a wide range of information on their craft.
The National Bee Unit recommends two simple methods for counting varroa for the purpose of monitoring levels of mite infestation throughout the season. The simplest method is demonstrated in Denise’s video and has the advantages that it does not disturb the bees and gives an accurate indication of varroa levels even when there is a low level of infestation.
The only disadvantage of this method is that it takes several days to get a result. The monitoring board must be in place for a minimum of seven days. If you have a more urgent need to establish the level of infestation in a particular hive, you can use the drone uncapping method described in the Beebase fact sheet which is attached below.
The calculator informs your decision on what to do next. For example, if you undertake a count in the autumn and the calculator suggests that no treatment is needed for at least six months, you can leave your bees alone until spring when you may decide to undertake a non-chemical treatment such as shook swarm, queen trapping or drone brood removal. On the other hand, if the infestation level is high, you may decide to use a chemical treatment providing you have already taken off your honey harvest. Sugar dusting can be carried out throughout the year, during each hive inspection if necessary.
I had never really thought about becoming a beekeeper, but like many, I had become aware of the plight of pollinators through the media. It was only when my mum passed away in November with lung cancer that I started to think about creating a wildflower garden in her honour and as a place of remembrance for my dad who was diagnosed with the early onset of Alzheimer’s.
It wasn’t until the virus came at the start of the year and we were put into isolation that it really came about and we started planning the creation of the garden. I purchased 30,000 wildflower seeds from Groupon and with my partner Kurt, I started to dig over the small plot of land around the cherry tree at the side of the garden.
I started to think about how it would look and the idea of a beehive popped into my head as natural progression to the wildflower garden. So, without any real planning or research, I jumped in and purchased a Langstroth flow hive for £175 from China, which at the time probably wasn’t the best place to buy one!
It arrived a few weeks later. I put the hive together the same day and Kurt built a stand for it. It was placed in the flower garden facing south with the sun on it and a little shade from the cherry tree during the afternoon. We set to planting the seeds and creating a pathway through the flowers to the hive. Little did we know at that time what 30,000 seeds would look like!
I started watching YouTube videos about bees and thought, after looking at the price of bees, I could catch a swarm. I purchased Swarm (an attraction product) and placed some in the hive and waited.
Three weeks later, well into the swarm season, I felt disappointed that I hadn’t caught any, thinking it would be that easy! I was wrong. I decided purchasing some bees might be better as the summer was fast approaching. I found a package of Italian Buckfast, which based on my research, seemed to be the best choice for calm nature and honey production.
Once the bees were ordered, I waited and this time, set myself the task of learning everything I could about bees. I signed-up to an online course with beekeepers.org which proved to be very useful, watched hundreds of YouTube videos (to the point where my family would sigh each time I put one on) and I started to read beekeeping books; surprisingly finding one written by Haynes which I though was all car manuals!
I signed up to Beebase and started reading their information sheets. I even purchased an iPhone 11 so that I could produce videos for myself. I was totally committed to my new hobby!
Weeks passed and I finally received word that the bees were ready to collect from Kent, a two-hour drive from us. I was armed only with my gardening gloves and a small hat with veil as the remaining items I had purchased were delayed due to COVID restrictions.
We arrived at the location and this was the first time that I saw my bees! I was very excited and nervous at the same time. I loaded the box into the boot followed by a few bees that had been flying around.
As we travelled back, we noticed a bee rising from the boot and onto the back window, then another and another. Thankfully we were nearly home and when I opened the boot, I could see that the sugar tin had worked loose creating a gap where the bees had been escaping.
I walked with the box slowly so not to lose the stragglers and placed the box at the side of the hive as I had read that the bees needed time to get used to their new environment. Several hours later around 4 pm (which again I had read, was a good time to introduce the bees to the new hive as they would be less likely to leave) I set about pouring the bees from the package into the hive. It was truly amazing and something I will not forget; it was like a stream of water pouring into the hive.
I had read that with the weather being warm I could place the queen on the floor of the hive without fear of her freezing, so I broke the plastic seal to the sugar, placed the cage on the floor of the hive, replaced the plastic foundation frames that I had purchased from Bee Equipment and closed up my hive.
My suit and equipment had still not arrived but I had to know, so I put on my gardening gloves and I was ready to have the question answered. I opened the hive and I was surprised at how calm and relaxed they seemed… at least I hadn’t been attacked yet! I removed a couple of frames and to my delight, saw fresh comb being built and on the bottom of the hive was the queen out of her cage and being attended to. I added some Fondabee and pollen patties to the hive having read that they would need a little help in the early weeks.
I then set about trying to find a club or association that could help me. I felt confident, but I also knew that there was so much I didn’t know and I was now responsible for these little creatures, all 1001 of them and growing. I spoke to a friend who recommended Meridian Beekeepers who were an amazing help from the start.
The COVID virus has brought challenges, like not being able to attend any courses or personal instruction. It’s now been close to six months and I have completed several inspections and have been amazed by the bees and the building of their colony. Like all new beekeepers, I’ve had my panic moments. My first panic came during a hot night when the bees were outside of the hive…I thought that’s it, they are not happy and they are leaving. As I turned to my videos and the internet again, I was pleased to find out that it was just too hot in the hive for them. Panic was over.
As we move into winter and I get my bees ready, I can honestly say that I’m back in that anxious mode. Have I done enough? Will they survive? What will I do in those months as I can’t look at them nearly as often?
Although this all came about from the loss of my mother, these little creatures have been a godsend to us during what is a difficult time. I know that each time I work with my bees she is watching and smiling…even dad has started to enjoy the garden again.
I am looking forward to learning all I can from my mentors Phil and Denise and attending the association’s classes next year. In the meantime, I intend to learn all I can and hopefully one day become a Master Beekeeper.
Being furloughed from work presented the ideal opportunity to start keeping bees – something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time, but I had no idea where to start. A neighbour, a Meridian member, kindly offered to teach me the intricacies of the art.
A paced and measured experience followed – beginning in the Spring, up until the current day. I even achieved my first colony!
Like lots, the bug was well and truly caught, and the desire to increase and diversify built. This was coupled with the offer to keep some bees in a natural woodland – an offer too good to be missed. More bees were needed!
A natural bee keeper in Surrey had developed a severe reaction to bee stings, and while on holiday, her empty equipment had been colonized by a swarm – I was later to find out this was some three years previously, and not on a more recent excursion, as I’d initially believed.
My mentor was on holiday but the bees were not to be missed! Having read-up thoroughly and persuaded a friend with a truck to provide transportation, the bees were safely moved in the depth of night and deposited in the woods, to be further assessed the next morning.
The ‘challenges’ then began.
On inspection the following morning, the area surrounding the hive was awash with honey. But why? All the rules had been followed. The hive had been handled with the upmost care, securely strapped in the truck, driven at a gentle speed and the owner although a natural bee keeper, had assured me on this occasion she’d placed frames in the hive on discovering the swarm. What had gone wrong?
I had to admit I was out of my depth, and although my pride was at risk, the welfare of the bees was paramount. A hurried email and pictures to Louise and Howard resulted and ‘Bee Rescue’ in the form of Louise and Lisa dispatched! (Imagine Baywatch with Smokers!)
When opened, the hive was full of brace comb, and although some frames were present in the brood box, these were old and broken. There was no queen excluder under the two supers, so in essence, I’d picked up a huge brood box now dripping with honey!
The hive was dismantled with the upmost care. Louise decided to leave the old brood box as was, and create a new brood box above. This was filled with some drawn comb which we brought with us and lots of disintegrating brood comb from one of the supers which we pressed into frames.
While challenging (and sticky), our production line worked. Louise selected sections of brood, Lisa transported it and I eased it into empty frames, with numerous elastic bands to secure. The bees were pretty patient with us all told – while busy and excited, they didn’t display any amount of aggression.
A crown board with an empty super went on top of that and all the remaining comb with honey was placed there for the bees to retrieve. Another crown board was added, which we smeared with all the remaining honey from our tools and the table we’d been working on. Finally, the roof went on, the entrance restricted and a huge sigh of relief went out.
On inspection with Howard, a couple of days later, we were greeted with positive behaviours. One of Louise’s major concerns was that the queen had perished in the move and subsequent collapse. But the bees were frantically busy, with lots of pollen being collected. We left the bees well alone to do what they do best. As a new beekeeper, I’m desperate to know what’s going on inside – but the biggest lesson I’ve learnt so far in this journey, is that bees like to be left alone. So my curiosity will have to wait until the Spring!
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. It can be serious if not treated quickly.
If someone has symptoms of anaphylaxis, you should:
call 999 for an ambulance immediately – mention that you think the person has anaphylaxis. Write down the map reference of your apiary (perhaps on a hive stand) in case you ever need to direct an ambulance
remove any trigger if possible – for example, carefully remove any wasp or bee sting stuck in the skin
lie the person down flat – unless they’re unconscious, pregnant or having breathing difficulties
use an adrenaline auto-injector if the person has one – but make sure you know how to use it correctly first
give another injection after 5-15 minutes if the symptoms don’t improve and a second auto-injector is available
Partner and Associate members do not benefit from public liability insurance or receive BBKA News. For further details of the BBKA classes and benefits of membership please go to https://www.bbka.org.uk/classes-and-benefits
Bee Disease Insurance
The minimum payable by each Member Association to BDI Ltd as a condition of membership is a subscription of £2 per annum for each of its beekeeping members. This subscription includes insurance cover for up to three honey bee colonies. Note BBKA Partner Members are not required to make any BDI payment, but the Full Member is responsible for insuring all colonies owned by themselves and their Partner Member.
Associate Members, Junior Members and Friends are typically not insured as they do not usually keep bees independently or they are insured via another association.
Beekeepers under the age of 16 years are unable to take out insurance policies and any policy has to be arranged by a parent or guardian. Bees kept by Junior Members whose parents do not keep bees can have insurance taken out on their behalf with BDI.
In such circumstances the paper or eReturn receipt should show the Junior members name in the usual way, but the first line of the address should be replaced by the Parent/Guardian’s name, followed by the address on the remaining lines.
Beekeeping members are obliged to pay premiums for any extra colonies they own.
The additional premiums are shown below:
Up to 5 colonies (including the basic three) an additional £2.00
Up to 10 colonies (including the basic three) an additional £5.25
Up to 15 colonies (including the basic three) an additional £7.75
Up to 20 colonies (including the basic three) an additional £9.50
Up to 25 colonies (including the basic three) an additional £11.10
Up to 30 colonies (including the basic three) an additional £13.60
Up to 35 colonies (including the basic three) an additional £16.10
Up to 39 colonies (including the basic three) an additional £18.10
Mor for more than 40 colonies, please contact the membership secretary firstname.lastname@example.org who will obtain a quotation for you from Bee Disease Insurance Limited
BDI premiums are paid each calendar year. Insurance cover becomes effective from the moment the member’s association receives his or her membership subscription and additional premiums.
Where such payment is made after 31st March, cover will not commence until 40 days have elapsed from the payment of the subscription and premium. This is known as the 40-day rule. This is to prevent members starting or increasing cover during the active season when they may have already discovered the presence of disease.