Robin on mentoring

Robin and his son Nat, having just closed-up the hives. Howbery Park, Wallingford, Oxon.

I was first introduced to beekeeping in 2013 by my employer, who wanted to build our business biodiversity and events opportunities. I took a basic beekeeping course and what began as a skill acquired for work purposes quickly became a passion. One that my whole family has become involved in.

I was thrown in at the deep end right from the start, looking after 13 hives in 5 apiaries spread across 5 counties. These hives belonged to clients, so I couldn’t afford to make rookie mistakes.

During this steep learning curve, I was lucky enough to be mentored (from a distance) by a veteran beekeeper. His learned advice, at the end of the phone, was invaluable to me as I developed my new skills.

Robin at work. Sounds like he has the dream job!

I realise now, 8 years later, that sometimes this is all a new beekeeper needs. Just the positivity of an experienced voice to push their confidence in the right direction. The opportunity to talk through concerns and ideas and the encouragement to commit to a course of action, rather than catastrophising on the multiple probabilities of failure. It is only in occasional circumstances that physical intervention is required by the mentor.

I joined Meridian BKA in April 2019, shortly after setting up my own personal hives (one in the New Forest and one at the Swanmore apiary). The association has given me the opportunity to meet with other local beekeepers and improve my own knowledge through contact with those with greater experience.

I had run educational beekeeping events for clients for a few years, so was happy to accept the opportunity to mentor for Meridian when they asked me. I thought it a privilege to support local people on their beekeeping journey but somewhat daunting. I was no longer telling a group of children and parents how many bees it took to make a teaspoon of honey, or educating them on the parts that make up a colony and hive.

I now had the responsibility to enthuse and guide novice beekeepers at an early stage of their new interest and put the knowledge and experience I had learned to the test. I could now advise on the fundamental need for bee health checks, record keeping, provisioning for winter and potentially technical manipulations of artificial swarming, swarm management and colony uniting.

The opportunity to mentor is a great learning experience on both sides. It allows you to confirm what you know 100% and pushes you to learn more about what you don’t.

Things I look out for when mentoring in the apiary –

* Has the trainee done any online research/basic beekeeping training? Do they have awareness of beekeeping ups and downs?

* Have they got the correct equipment to safely attend an apiary or open hive?

* Do they have any known allergic reaction to be aware of?

* Are they comfortable throughout the hive inspection? I feel this is hugely important for the first few encounters with 20,000+ buzzing sources of potential harm!

* Are they willing to handle the frames with bees and look up close at the cells?

* Are they calm and gentle when handling the bees?

I encourage them to identify what they know and ask about what they don’t. Everyone has a first day at something new. If I don’t know the answer, I defer and get back to them with the right one, rather than giving an inaccurate answer. If there is no right answer, I explain the options.

I thoroughly enjoy helping people.

What I enjoy about mentoring

I love seeing people enthused and inspired.

I hope to enable people to link what they are doing with their captive bees, in order to benefit other pollinators in their local natural environment.

Being asked questions makes me search for the right answers and improves my own knowledge.

Great sources of knowledge- (obviously!)  (a lifetime of encyclopaedic experience now taken on by BIBBA president – Roger Patterson)  

I would recommend becoming a mentor or ‘buddying’ to anyone with intermediate experience for all of the above reasons. 

Beekeeping is an infinite learning experience, much of which will come from gleaning knowledge from those around you.

To anyone looking to progress…

never be afraid to ask questions, question everything and learn as much as possible.

“The opportunity to mentor is a great learning experience on both sides.”


Common bee viruses and what you need to know

Here is a 35 minute presentation by Kirsty Stainton on the most commonly found bee viruses in the UK including Sacbrood, Chronic Bee Paralysis and Deformed Wing Virus. The talk shows how to identify these viruses and what to do if you find them.

Kirsty is a post-doctoral research scientist working at the Pirbright Institute. She worked at Fera from 2016 to 2020 where she performed research for the National Bee Unit that included molecular detection of the invasive pests Vespa velutina nigrithorax (Asian hornet) and Aethina tumida (Small hive beetle), molecular analysis of the Asian hornet diet and research into the use of antivirals to treat honey bees. Before working at Fera, Kirsty worked for 8 years on a bacterial endosymbiont called Wolbachia, and researched its ability to inhibit arboviruses in mosquitoes. These experiences have led to Kirsty’s current research project at Pirbright, investigating the potential ability for Wolbachia to inhibit honey bee viruses, such as DWV and CBPV.

Kirsty’s project is part-funded by Bee Disease Insurance Limited (BDI). BDI uses part of your premium to fund research into bee diseases, with £48,000 invested in this area in 2020. Details of all the projects being funded by BDI can be found on the research pages of their website.

Directions to Ocknell Pond

The easiest way to find your way is using What3Words:olive.months.galloped This will take you directly to the car park and picnic area.

Ocknell Pond can also be found using maps on most mobile devices.

The OS grid reference (for Satnav) is SU235117

Old school

From Southampton take the westbound M27 and leave at exit 1 for New Forest and Lyndhurst.

After just under half a mile, enter the roundabout and take the third exit (Lyndhurst Road) towards Brook and Branshaw

After just over a mile, keep left on Roger Penny Way

After a further one and a half miles, bear left on Janesmoor Plain Road.

After another 1.1 miles, turn right

Carry on for a further one and a half miles then turn left. You have arrived at the car park.

Swanmore apiary report – August 2021

Here are the latest reports from Swanmore on the progress of our apiary. As of 9 August, four of our five colonies are between queens following recent swarms and splits. Fingers crossed that all colonies will be queen-right by the end of the month so they can concentrate on their winter preparations!

Hive 5 (George’s)

Lets look at George’s hive (number 5) first, because it’s the start of the story for hive 1 too! Until Monday, the colony was on double brood and had four well-stocked supers.

When opened, multiple queen cells were found, most of them charged. Denise and Richard estimated the larvae inside were four or five days old; so a couple more days and a swarm would have gone. A very fortuitously-timed inspection!

Hive 5 (position 9)

Because of the colony’s strength (not to mention the weight of it on the stand) Denise and Richard decided to split the two brood boxes to create separate colonies. The upper brood box (including the queen) was moved to position 1 in the apiary.

One strong-looking queen cell was left in hive 5 but the bees may now raise further queen cells from eggs. If they do, these can be removed to prevent a secondary (cast) swarm so the hive will be checked again within seven days.

One full super of honey was removed from hive 5 and given to the new hive 1.

Hive 5 Update: 9 August

Richard working hive 5, 9 August

Since the last inspection, one week ago, the bees have been busy creating multiple queen cells to add to one left deliberately in the hive by the beekeepers. Most of these cells were on one frame.

There are three supers on the hive which between them were about 60% full. In the brood box, there was also one frame with capped honey on both sides.

We also found nearly three frames of capped brood but as expected, no unsealed brood or eggs were seen. We decided to use the frame with multiple cells to make-up a three frame nuc and we additionally transferred to the nuc, the frame of capped honey and another containing capped brood.

Finally, we shook in some extra bees for good measure and added another frame of drawn comb. The nuc has now been transferred to the West End apiary.

Back in Hive 5, we removed most of the queen cells on other frames leaving only two. We will now leave the bees alone until at the end of the month when hopefully, they’ll be queen right and can get in with their winter preparations.

Note, hive 5 needs five new frames of foundation which will be added within the next couple of days. This is to replace the frames taken for the nuc and some dirty comb.

Hive 1

Colony created on Monday 2 August. Brood box containing brood, stores and the laying queen removed from hive 5 (George’s) and placed on position 1 in the apiary.

It was noted that this is a very productive queen and she has been earmarked for the breeding programme next year provided we can get her through winter.

One full super was removed from hive 5 and placed on hive 1 to ensure new colony is adequately provisioned.

The box removed from hive 5 contained five frames of sealed brood. There were also seven queen cells (five of which were charged) and these were destroyed to remove the immediate possibility of swarming.

Hive one is made up of a new floor, queen excluder, crown board, new roof (all association equipment) but the brood box belongs to George.

Hive 1, position 1

This colony will be checked again within seven days in case the bees are still feeling swarmy and produce more queen cells.

Hive 1 Update: 9 August

Still plenty of capped brood in the newly created hive 1.

Although the population of Hive 1 wasn’t noticeably reduced (seven days after colony split), it was soon apparent a swarm had gone. The weather was changeable with occasional showers but the bees were perfectly calm throughout allowing for a thorough inspection. We checked through the frames three times but the queen (marked white) had gone. What a shame! There was no uncapped brood or eggs either.

It seems that the bees swarm preparations were too advanced to stop and they continued with their original plan despite last week’s manipulation. Based on the estimated age of the queen cells last week, the swarm probably issued on Tuesday or Wednesday.

In all, four emergency cells were found which we reduced to two. There was a good level of stores both in the brood box and super, although the bees seem to be moving stores from the super to the brood box. We concluded this because there was plenty of very freshly capped honey is the brood box and a reduced amount in the supers.There was also capped brood on five frames.

The hive entrance was set to small because the beekeepers noticed the presence of wasps at the entrance.

Hive 2

By the time hive 2 was opened, the weather had turned (only 17 degrees and stormy) and the bees were getting agitated. Queen was seen (still marked blue) and there were eggs across two frames, along with two frames of larvae and five frames of wall-to wall brood. One brood frame was solid with stores including honey and pollen. An empty frame from the back of the box was moved to the front to provide more space for the queen to lay in.

Of the two supers on hive 2, one was full and the other only recently added.

It was noted that one brood frame needed replacing due to the age of the comb and potential for disease and pathogens. This frame was changed on 9 August.

Queen is a very good layer and may be another candidate for next year’s breeding programme.

Hive 4 (position 8)

Those present at the apiary meeting on 17 July will remember this hive had recently swarmed. One frame supporting seven impressive-looking sealed cells was transferred to a nuc and the remaining more-developed cells were removed leaving only two, less developed ones in the hive.

By removing the more developed cells, the bees are given more time to settle down which reduces the urge to issue secondary (cast) swarms.


Upon opening, Denise and Richard were lucky enough to witness a ‘tooting‘ queen which is a very rare privilege indeed. Tooting is a signal emitted by recently emerged virgin queens by pressing themselves against the comb and vibrating their flight muscles without moving their wings. It starts with one or two pulses of about one second’s duration followed by a number of short pulses of about a quarter of a second.

The emerged virgin is ‘tooting’ to announce her presence in the hive and is answered by the other mature virgins still confined in their queen cells. Those still confined, use another piping sound called quacking. “When several confined queens are present in the nest, a chorus of synchronized quacking follows each tooting” (Wenner 1962; Michelsen et al. 1986).

The role of these piping signals (which are used in the period after a primary swarm has issued) is to let everybody in the hive know what’s happening! Virgin queens meeting on the comb will fight to the death (and the first to emerge is sometimes allowed to kill her sisters in their cells) but a strong colony will keep virgins apart (and delay the emergence of those trapped in their cells) so that cast swarms can issue, each led by one of the virgin queens. For more information on the piping signals click here.

The inspection of the colony revealed that only one cell had hatched. The second cell was still sealed however the queen could be seen emerging and would have got out within the hour. The frame containing this cell was moved to Hive 3 (see below) to solve a queenless situation in that hive.

Otherwise the colony had plenty of stores and capped brood awaiting hatching. The hive will be checked in 14 days to confirm a laying queen. It was also noted that the hive stand needs repairing and this might be a job for the apiary day in September.

Hive 3

This National deep belonging to Howard was also inspected at the apiary meeting. It was in a sorry story indeed! The hive was moved from Botley in an emergency last month and had been queenless for sometime. It was due to be merged with another colony this week using the newspaper method.

Upon opening, Richard and Denise noticed erratic wax building over several frames, also the bees had removed foundation from other frames for use elsewhere. They noticed all the bees were older, some with torn wings and they attributed the erratic wax building to bees that had passed the age where they can produce wax effectively. Another contributory factor could have been the foundation used was dry and past its best.

Nevertheless, the bees were busy filling the frames with honey; some of it seemed older suggesting they don’t need it currently; no brood to feed! There was also lots of stored pollen.

The supers were generally empty but there was a small amount of freshly-stored nectar.

Denise and Richard remembered the hatching queen from hive 4 and transferred her to this hive on the frame of capped brood supporting her cell. The additional brood will give the colony a population boost. They both crossed their fingers, hoping that the queen still had sufficient time before fully emerging to be accepted by her new colony. Thank you both very much for your efforts!

A note was made that a standard size frame had been added to the deep brood box which will need replacing in time. The hive will be checked again in 14 days to confirm a laying queen and several brood frames will need replacing as the bees have filled all the laying space with honey and pollen.

Hive 6

This hive was created from the frames taken from hive 4 at the apiary meeting on 17 July. There were seven sealed cells on the frame at the time and a three frame nuc was created using a small patch of brood and stores. We knew the nuc was light on stores at the time of splitting (there were no brood frames with stores and the nuc did not accommodate a super) so so Louise transferred the bees to a full size hive a week later to facilitate feeding.

Hive 6, position 10

Denise and Richard found no activity at the front of the hive which initially led them to believe the hive was empty but on opening, they found brace comb in the roof (which was removed) and a viable population.

Most of the bees would not be old enough to have commence their foraging duties and any flyers that were transferred on the 17 July would have likely returned to the parent colony.

There was no sealed brood or eggs but they saw the remnants of two (of the seven) queen cells which had been mostly dismantled. The bees were grumpy (another sign of not being queenright) and stung Richard multiple times on both hands. He was last seen running down Mayhill Road in a South-easterly direction and if anyone sees him please let us know as we’re concerned for his welfare!

The empty feeder (and eke) was removed for cleaning. The hive will be checked again in seven days for signs of a mated queen. Eggs can be added from another colony if necessary.

Asian Hornet Week 2022

The Asian hornet is slightly smaller than our native European hornet which is beneficial to our environment. The Asian hornet appears almost entirely dark (especially when viewed from above) and has these characteristic yellow legs. It’s important to know the difference between the Asian hornet and our European one.

This year’s Asian Hornet week is 5-11 September. It’s in autumn when Asian hornets pick-off honeybees at hive entrances and when beekeepers put out their traps.

Autumn is typically when nests are revealed as a result of leaf fall from trees and this is the last chance we will have to prevent the emergence of new Asian hornet queens.

The purpose of Asian Hornet Week is to increase public awareness around this invasive species with the aim of encouraging people to learn how to identify it, remain vigilant for its presence and to report it if seen.

If the Asian Hornet becomes established in the UK it would wreck havoc on our eco-system and devastate our already beleaguered bee populations. It also poses a significant risk to the human population.

Beekeepers and members of the public are being asked to do three simple things:

  1. Learn how to identify the Asian Hornet; it’s important not to confuse it with our beneficial native hornet.
  2. Remain vigilant
  3. Report it if seen

Please click here to find out how to identify the Asian Hornet (Vespa Veluntina) and learn what to do if you see one. Asian hornet

In addition, Beekeepers are being asked to:

  1. Monitor their apiaries (It’s vital beekeepers can identify the Asian hornet)
  2. Consider joining the Asian Hornet Team

Monitoring your apiary

In Autumn, when wasps and hornets lose their usual sources of floral nectar, honeybee hives become very attractive to them. The BBKA is asking beekeepers to put aside an hour a day during Asian Hornet Week to watch for hornets ‘hawking’ at the entrances of their hives.

Asian hornet (Vespa Veluntina) ‘hawking’ at the hive entrance.

You can also make monitoring traps to place in your apiary and the National Bee Unit has produced some helpful resources to show how to do this. There is a downloadable leaflet or if you prefer, an instructional video in the best ‘here’s one I did earlier‘ tradition of Blue Peter!

Asian Hornet Team

The BBKA is asking every association to create a team to assist with local requests for help in identifying Asian Hornets. The idea is to have a network of local volunteers so that individuals will not be asked to travel vast distances.

Being a member of the team is not currently an onerous responsibility and with any luck, you will not be called upon at all but the aim of the team is to:

  • form a network of local people confident in identifying the Asian Hornet
  • know how to report a suspected hornet
  • distribute literature in their area about the Asian hornet.
  • know how to set-up traps and advise the public about monitoring them
  • establish monitoring traps in their area or as directed by bee inspectors

The National Bee Unit may call upon the Asian Hornet Team if a confirmed siting results in a mobilisation to locate and destroy the nest. Last year, when an Asian hornet was discovered in Gosport, we were placed on ‘stand-by’ but in the end, were not required. Additional insurance is provided for team members and there is a quick multiple choice test to take. Test

If you would be happy to be part of the Asian Hornet team, please let Howard know by email;

West End apiary

Denise and grandson Atlas

Our apiary and meadow at West End is doing better now. Progress earlier in the season was hampered by the wet May and June; a story sadly reflected in the beekeeping of many this year. The colonies were inspected on Wednesday (28 July) by Denise and Richard, ably assisted by one of our younger beekeepers, Denise and Phil’s grandson Atlas and then again on 4 August. Here is an update from Richard.

28 July

The previous inspection of Hive 3 revealed a couple of charged queen cups and by yesterday, one of them had been sealed. Judging by the timings, Denise and Richard expect she’ll hatch on Thursday.   

They believe the cells are a supercedure situation; anyway, the bees have plenty of space, so they weren’t concerned about swarming.

The resident queen is marked red, so the next inspection will reveal if the supercedure theory is correct.

The bees have also added plenty of stores during the recently-improved weather.

Hive 2 wasn’t opened. It’s developing well and was recently moved from a nuc into a standard National. It was decided not to disturb the bees to let them build up.

One benefit of all that wet weather; the meadow is still coming on nicely! All that hard work in April seems to have paid off!

4 August

Denise, Zara and Richard attended West End Apiary on Tuesday to inspect the remaining two hives.

The first to be inspected was Hive 2, recently transferred from a nuc into a standard National Hive. The queen (cell) was donated to the association by the extremely generous and good looking Richard Skinner (his words, not mine) from his Italian Queen Ashley.

The colony is expanding well and at a surprising rate; they were only transferred just under two weeks ago from the nuc and are now covering 8/9 frames. 

The bees have started their winter preparation, backfilling the brood box with stores instead of brood. A super had already been added which and is showing some signs of being used but not to the maximum as yet. It was decided however to leave it on as there is still plenty of blackberry and other forage available. It was noted that the bees were bringing pollen identified as Ragwort. There is certainly plenty of that around the apiary.

Denise and Zara checking hive 3
Not sure how to caption this one. Perhaps you might like to study it reflectively for a moment?

Hive 3

Unfortunately, Hive 3 isn’t doing so well. It appears that the second of the donated queens (again, introduced as a cell) was either killed by the original queen (marked red and previously believed not to be present) or the new queen didn’t mate well. The laying pattern is sporadic and the colony is not thriving. The bees seem to be taking matters into their own hands and have produced two nice-looking, sealed queen cells. It was decided to leave alone and monitor the hive closely over the next couple of weeks. There was no concern around swarming due to the low colony population and the queen cells are believed to be supercedure in nature. The cells are expected to hatch soon.

Denise; not too happy with what she found!

It’s hoped now that the red queen will be replaced by a white queen (War of the Roses?) and she will successfully mate.

The other thing to report on with this hive, is that for the past four weeks there has been signs of Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) which may indicate a high level of Varroa, (Varroa, an overview) which has highlighted to us the importance of note-taking for comparison from week on week. A Varroa monitoring board has been inserted and if necessary, the super will be removed and the hive treated. A high Varroa population could be a factor in the hive’s reluctance to expand.

This is definitely my favourite photo!

Wednesday 11 August

New hive 1

After making a split on 3 August, George’s hive (number 5) at Swanmore produced multiple queen cells which by Monday 10th August were all sealed.

Making up a nuc using resources from Hive 5 at Swanmore, Monday 10 August.

The nuc was created using five frames, including one of stores, one brood (which included most of the queen cells) and a frame of drawn comb.

Transferring the nuc to West End.

This nuc was transferred to West End apiary with the aim of increasing the number of association teaching colonies there.

As it’s late in the season, it’s unlikely we’ll transfer this colony to a full size hive this year. It will be better over-wintering in a nuc as that means less space for the bees to keep warm.

However, as this nuc does not accommodate a super, we’ll transfer the colony into one that does in the next couple of days. Hopefully that will allow the bees to add some winter stores.

Monday 16 August 2021

The meadow continues to surprise! Here’s some pictures from today.

Denise took out the inspection tray from Hive 3 today. It was previously reported the colony was showing signs of Deformed Wing Virus which usually points to a high varroa load. Denise counted over 109 varroa on this board today (which is indeed very high) and has started a second Apivar treatment as a result. If you are able to enlarge this image, you can clearly see the dark, crab-like varroa. Note how Denise draws a grid onto the monitoring board to make counting easier. We’ll keep you posted on how the colony responds.

Louise went to West End this morning to remove a queen cell from the nuc we transferred from Swanmore last week; see note above. As she was doing it, a queen hatched out in her hand, which Louise skilfully managed to contain!

The new queen is bound for the hive belonging to new member Ritchie as the swarm we collected for him earlier in the season had gone queenless. The virgin Louise installed in Ritchie’s hive today is our last-ditch attempt to get his colony on track this year! Let’s hope for fine weather and a successful mating.

Denise also added a super containing drawn comb to the nuc as planned. Drawn comb was needed as it probably too late in the season for the bees to draw out comb. We plan to over-winter the bees in the nuc and a super with drawn comb should allow them to add some winter stores. No queen in the nuc yet.

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.