Apiary meeting, Swanmore, 17 July 2021

Kirsten, Chris, Dawn, Barbro, Simon, Louise, John and Colin; some of the attendees at the apiary meeting. Saturday 17 July

Our planned 10 July apiary meeting was cancelled due to rain but rescheduled for the following Saturday. We’re sorry if you couldn’t make it at short notice but we knew the bees needed checking so we had to proceed. In the end, the weather was perfect but of course, attendance a bit lower than usual. We hope those who could attend found the meeting enjoyable; we certainly came across a few interesting situations!

Louise took the whole group through one of the association’s stronger colonies which is currently on double brood. I filmed part of the inspection on my phone and you can see the video here. Apologies for the rotten camera work and even worse editing; I’ll try to remember to stand in one place next time and not get carried away in conversation!

On the close-ups, if you can’t see what’s being referred to by Louise (for example, eggs) just pause the clip and study the still. On the eggs frame, you can see them just left of centre.

We also forgot to come back to how you can increase the drone population within your colony before deliberately culling them as part of a non-chemical programme of varroa control. If you would like further information on varroa control, please click here.

After going through the hive together, we split into smaller groups to inspect two more of the association colonies.

Louise’s group found their colony to be still only on seven frames but with a good laying pattern; four frames of capped brood, three with eggs and larvae. As has been typical for most local colonies this season, they also found only minimal stores but probably enough to get them through for now, particularly with the improving weather.

Howard’s group quickly found that we’d missed a swarm. The colony was in a standard National with one super 60% filled with nectar. Despite the swarm, the population was strong; the bees were still occupying nine of the eleven frames in the brood box.

Unfortunately, the brood box was light on stores (most of the frames were wall-to-wall capped brood) but there was plenty of stores in the super. The bees had simply run out of space, no wonder they’d swarmed!

We wanted to split the colony into a nuc; one frame contained seven sealed queen cells but the manipulation was made difficult because of the lack of stores on brood frames from the parent hive. This meant we had no food to add to the split to sustain them until their flyers emerged.

Ordinarily, we would have taken filled super frames from the parent hive but the available nuc didn’t accommodate a super in which to put them. Shucks!!

In the end, we transferred the frame with the seven sealed cells into the nuc. It also contained a small patch of capped brood and some pollen and nectar. We transferred another frame of drawn comb and a third frame with some brood and stores. We also shook in some extra bees from the parent colony. Finally, we replaced the frames we’d taken from the parent hive with frames of foundation from the nuc.

We’re reasonably confident that the nuc won’t issue a cast swarm due to its reduced population, meaning that the first queen to emerge will probably kill her rival sisters.

Back in the parent hive, we removed all the remaining sealed queen cells leaving only two unsealed but charged cells; we were very careful to check that they were charged (i.e. contained a larva and royal jelly) and that we didn’t damage them.

Judging by the presence of so much nectar in this and other hives, the bees are making the most of the better weather and are determined to make up for lost time!

Before a cup of tea and a chat, we quickly looked through another colony housed in a deep National (14”x12”) brood box. The main purpose of opening this hive was to compare deep National frames with standard National frames and to demonstrate the differences in weight and manoeuvrability.

Let’s hope this good weather continues and we look forward to seeing you at the next meeting at Ocknell Pond in August. For an update on the apiary’s progress since the last meeting, click here.

Lisa: a comedy of errors

Ten days ago, on Sunday 4 July, Howard and I answered a swarm call from Botley. When we arrived, we were pleased to discover a reasonably-sized swarm had obligingly settled conveniently close to the ground; ‘this is going to be a doodle’ we thought! It was an easy enough job to collect the bees; they’d settled on one of those electricity board switch cabinets you see on street corners and it was a simple matter to brush them into a cardboard box just before the rain started again.

It was already passed 7pm, so we decided to hive the bees immediately in a Standard National box. To prevent the possibility of the bees absconding the following day, we placed a queen excluder between the brood box and floor.

As it’s later in the season, our plan was to restrict the bees with a dummy board to five frames set warm way at the front of the box; less comb for the bees to draw out and space to keep warm!

When it came to closing the hive however, there was a large clump of bees including the impressive looking queen clustered on the back wall of the box. We decided therefore not to fit the dummy board immediately to make it easier for the clump of bees to access the frames.

Over next few days (in the brief intervals between rain storms) the hive seemed very active with plenty of pollen going in. All seemed well!

We didn’t get round to checking the bees again until today, ten days later, 14 July. We went in to remove the queen excluder and to belatedly fit the dummy board but when we lifted off the roof, we found the bees had decided not to utilise the frames of fresh, golden foundation we’d furnished them with but had crawled up through the vent in the crownboard and built a nest directly under the roof! How ungrateful!

Mistake number 1:

With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been better to have pushed the frames to the back of the box where the queen and other bees were clustered or to have fitted the hive with a full set of frames like we usually do!

All is not lost, we thought, we’ll cut the comb out of the roof and secure it into frames with elastic bands. Fixing natural comb into frames. So we hastily made up some frames without foundation, gathered together our equipment and set to work.

These turned out to be the nicest bees in the world; they didn’t once complain or become agitated throughout the entire operation!

Once the comb had been cut away however, a close examination revealed there was no brood or eggs, only a meagre quantity of pollen and nectar in otherwise empty comb. We concluded the queen had either not yet regained laying weight (unlikely after ten days) or was unmated.

Mistake number 2; leaving the queen excluder between the floor and brood box

If the queen is still a virgin, the excluder would have prevented her from getting out to mate in the days since the swarm was collected (ten days ago) and to make matters worse, in all the excitement, we’d forgotten to remove it again!

So we went back and took away the queen excluder and quite quickly, all seemed calm in the hive again!

Mistake number 3; not leaving the queen excluder between the floor and the brood box!

About a hour later, Howard watched the bees swarming out of the hive. All that disturbance had been too much for them and they decided to abscond. The fact she could fly is further evidence that the queen is probably still a virgin as she was clearly still at flying weight.

Very quickly, the swarm settled on a flexible young branch of an adjacent Poplar tree about four metres off the ground. It was already about 5pm and we decided the bees were unlikely to leave that day. We would try to retrieve the swarm after dinner.

The plan was to throw a weighted rope over the branch to pull it close enough to the ground to get the swarm into a box. In the end, it was necessary for Howard to go up a ladder a couple of metres while I pulled on the rope to bend the branch down. Howard managed to knock about half the bees into a cardboard box (which he then banged into the hive) but half the colony was still up in the tree!

The behaviour of the bees at the hive (Nasinoving and marching in) suggested the queen was probably in the brood box but we couldn’t be sure as there was still a worryingly large clump of bees in the tree.

My husband Rob offered to go up the ladder and saw off the branch. We thought he was somehow going to hold onto the cut branch (whilst balancing on the ladder and holding a large saw in his other hand!) and gently ease it to the ground but instead, it came crashing down in the adjacent field. The bees were immediately in the air of course and we thought all might be lost, but miracle of miracles, they returned in droves to the hive.

An hour later, all was calm again. The queen excluder has been temporarily re-fitted and will be removed again after two nights; let’s hope it’s not too late for her to get out and mate!

Practical day, 26 June 2021

Our introduction to beekeeping course concluded on Saturday 24 June with the practical element at the Swanmore apiary.

Fortunately, the weather was kind, the bees were on their best behaviour and everything went more or less according to plan.

Thank you as always to the Hammond family for generously allowing us to park at their house and to use their meadow. Association members descending en-masse is quite an imposition and we really are most grateful to them for putting up with us all!

Richard, Gela, Phil, Denise, Phil and Zara.

Due to the number of attendees, members were asked to park in the village and walk up to the apiary. Thank you to those who helped with this but we’re sure you didn’t mind, the stroll up the lanes really is quite pleasant!

Gela and Richard

After an introduction from Louise, participants were divided into small groups. Louise, Denise, Tony and Howard each took a group and were assisted by Phil. Ailia took these wonderful photographs and made sure we all stuck to the timetable.

Abbey and Michelle run through the mock hive with Louise

There was an introduction to swarm control with particular attention paid to the artificial swarm technique and making up a three frame nucleus. It’s a lot to take in, but those who tried the techniques demonstrated that they’d absorbed the information.

Should have brought my guitar; We look like the Von Trapps!

The feedback tells us some people are still not sure about swarm control. Take heart though, most people need time to understand these manipulations and usually, a few years of practice. So, if you feel you haven’t quite grasped it, don’t worry! That’s perfectly normal and they’ll always be plenty of help on hand from Meridian.

Debra’s excellent theoretical knowledge impressed our group; she’s clearly been doing her homework! Saturday was her first time with the bees and she seemed relaxed and soon got used to handling the frames.

Denise taking Gela and Richard through the mock hive

Then on to the highlight of the day; each group went through a hive and identified capped honey, nectar, pollen, capped brood, healthy larvae and eggs. This was the perfect opportunity to practise frame-turning for real and to get up close and personal with the bees. The weather was near perfect for beekeeping; warm enough to ensure our bees were in good humour and not too hot to be in a suit!

There was an opportunity to try frame building and to see how to collect a swarm and a chance to enjoy a cup of tea with some delicious freshly-baked cakes from Louise. It really was very nice to put faces to names and meet-up for the very first time or the first time in ages!

Joe and Abbey from Berry Wood School in Hedge End (two of our Schools’ members) impressed us with their knowledge of plants and insects. They also took to beekeeping like ducks to water.

Each group inspected a different hive to ensure the best tempered bees!

This is why Meridian is renowned across Hampshire for understated elegance and sartorial panache.

For many participants, this was their first contact with bees and although some were understandably nervous, all handled the frames with confidence and were calm around the hives.

Thank you to everyone who has so far submitted feedback. We scored either 4 or 5 out of 5 and we’re very grateful for all your kind remarks; we’ll use your feedback to inform how the course and practical elements are delivered in future and if you haven’t yet submitted your feedback you can do so here.

The format of the course this year and the practical day were a COVID necessity. Many of the topics discussed would normally have been covered in more detail in the classroom and future practical days may not be exactly the same format.

If the practical day whetted your appetite, remember we have a programme of apiary meetings. These provide an excellent opportunity to learn new techniques and to discuss beekeeping issues with other local beekeepers.

Ailia took plenty more pictures on the day and these can be viewed via the family album.

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.


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