NHBKA April 2016 Newsletter

It seems like the calm before the swarm. The weather has been consistently cool until fairly recently, with ground frosts overnight and it’s not been possible to open up our bees. The bees have made good use of the few periods of reasonable weather and have been bringing in pollen for the growing colony. The weather has improved by several degrees over the last few days; this weekend will see temperatures up into the twenties. It’s likely that queen cells are developing in a lot of colonies, with the bees just waiting for a chance to leave.  Apparently workers can delay the emergence of virgin queens if necessary. With beekeepers being unable to look at the hives, and the bees keen to leave, it all adds up to the likelihood of swarms over the next week or so.  So it is perhaps appropriate that at the April meeting we would discuss swarm control methods.

Our last indoor meeting until the end of the season was different in several respects; it was on a Wednesday, it was in the fine main meeting room in the Mrs Howard Memorial Hall, and we had a number of visitors from outside North Herts (St Albans). Gary opened the meeting by welcoming our visitors, and taking orders for teas and coffees including a decaffeinated option. We’ll soon be requesting lattés and cappuccinos, and need our own barrista.

Gary reminded us of a couple of events at the end of May. The Healthy Bee Day, this year organised by SE Herts, is on Saturday 28th May. The venue is the Bayfordbury Campus of the University of Hertfordshire. It is a free event. If you would like to attend let me or Gary know. Although we have submitted our list of attendees, there may still be places available. The Herts County Show, this year organised by St. Albans, is on Saturday 28th May and Sunday, 29th May, with a setup day on Friday, 27th May. If you would like to volunteer, please contact Anne Harvey, tigerpaws14@btinternet.com. There will be an opportunity to sell honey (if you have any left!).

Gary described a new initiative being trialled in Hertfordshire called BeeConnected.  It alerts beekeepers to any spraying events in the vicinity of their colonies. Beekeepers and farmers are being asked to register on the Bee Connected Pesticide Notification website. The beekeepers enter the locations of their colonies. The farmers enter the location of pesticide spraying events that affect flowering plants used by bees for nectar; the website automatically alerts the beekeeper of those events in the vicinity of their colonies. No direct communication between the beekeeper and the farmer is necessary. If the trial is successful, it will be rolled out nationally next year. So register your colonies, and get your farmer friends to register too. The BeeConnected website is at www.beeconnected.org.uk

Chris Mercer was to give a presentation of several swarm control techniques but was unavoidably distracted by work commitments at a trade show in Telford so Gary gallantly stepped into the breach.

As an introduction to swarm control, Gary showed a clip from his favourite film, The Swarm, or How I started worrying and loathe the bees.  It stars many notable worthies, Michael Caine, Katherine Ross, Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, among others. A box office failure and considered by many to be one of the worst films ever made, it is listed among The 100 Worst Movies Ever Made in the Golden Raspberry movie guide. A must-see film! Unfortunately it reinforces people’s fear of swarming bees.

Swarms are part of the bees’ biology, and their way of multiplying, and maximises their chances of increasing their species.  The signs to look for in a colony that is preparing to swarm are

  • enough bees to swarm
  • lots of drones
  • enough stores; bees take 3 to 4 kg of honey for wax and food
  • early signs of queen production; queen cups being extended
  • lack of space
  • stringing bees; bees linked in chains
  • it’s that time, e.g. weather, forage, etc.

All bees exist as eggs for 3 days; queen larvae develop for a further 5 days before they are capped on Day 8 (or Swarm Day).  A primary swarm consists of about 70% of the flying bees, and is a mix of both adult and young flying bees, nurse bees and drones, together with the old queen. On Day 16 the virgin queen hatches. The first queen to emerge ‘pipes’ to any other queens that have yet to emerge, they respond with a ‘quacking’ sound. The newly emerged queen locates all her rivals and stings them through the queen cell wall. Beekeepers execute an artificial swarm that separates the old queen from the brood to fool the colony into thinking they have swarmed.

Gary described three common methods of swarm control, Pagden, Snelgrove and Demaree. In the Pagden method, the hives used are located next to each other, in the other two methods, the hives are arranged vertically, one on top of the other.

The Pagden method starts with the queen on a frame of brood, with no queen cells, being placed in a new brood box on the site of the original hive. The original hive with one good queen cell is moved away to one side of the parent site. The flying bees from this hive return to the original location now occupied by the old queen in the new brood body. On day 6 or day 7 the original colony is moved to the other side of the parent site, this further bleeds off more flying bees for the new brood colony with the old queen. The Pagden method bleeds the bees off horizontally back to the parent colony with the old queen.

The Snelgrove method drifts bees vertically back to the parent colony by opening and closing openings on a Snelgrove board in a particular sequence. The board is the same size as your brood box.  In the centre is a hole covered with fine wire mesh to maintain communication between the swarm and parent colonies. There is a rim running round the perimeter on both sides of the board. On three sides there are a small entrances top and bottom that can be operated independently.  Gary passed round a Snelgrove board that may have originated in Australia, the 6 entrance blocks hung from the board on lengths of string, rather like the corks on a bush hat.

L E Snelgrove first described his method in his 1934 book, “Swarming – It’s Control and Prevention”. Snelgrove introduced his specific design of board that makes use of entrances above and below the board to “bleed” bees from one box to another. The old queen is located in a new brood box on the original site, with the original colony above separated by the Snelgrove board. The colony undergoes 3 lots of depletion of flying bees (the initial return of flying bees to the main entrance followed by two manipulations sending bees below the board to the new brood box). By opening and closing the entrance blocks, you will ‘bleed’ bees from the original colony into the new brood box with the old queen. The colonies have the same pheromone because of the mesh connector, and if no increase is needed after the colony has been artificially swarmed, a double brood option is available or the colonies can be merged.

The Demaree method, first explained by George Demaree in 1884, splits the hive with the queen and flying bees in a new brood box below a queen excluder with any supers and the brood and nurse bees above. This alleviates overcrowding and prevents any swarming urge. After the brood above has emerged and having destroyed or removed any queen cells, the old “mother” top brood box can be taken away leaving a full strength colony behind.

It was mentioned at the meeting that a swarm had already emerged in St. Albans.

Talk by Sue Lang of Beds BKA, How do you win prizes at Honey Shows?
After the break, with all the various combinations of liquid refreshments being met by Anne Harvey, the meeting resumed with a presentation by Sue Lang from Bedfordshire Beekeepers, entitled ‘How do you win prizes at Honey Shows?’. Sue runs the Black Cat Farm Shop in the Roxton Garden Centre, has won several prizes at honey shows and is a honey show judge in Cambridgeshire and Buckinghamshire.

Sue began by asking ‘Why bother?’. Sue advocates that preparing for a honey show gives pride in the produce, pride in your skill as a beekeeper, and enables you to prepare products that people want to buy.

Sue’s big hint for any of the honey show products: read and follow the show rules and schedule (read these early!) and don’t leave the preparation until the night before. And advice from fellow judge, Martin Buckle: ‘To get the judge to look at your honey or other exhibit, it must have no obvious faults which would allow the judge to put it aside’. The judge doesn’t want you to fail, and the judgement is based on the entries, presented at the time with National Honey Show standards in mind.

The judge’s toolkit includes a white suit (honey is sticky!), a glass testing rod for liquid and set honey and also to check the viscosity, a refractometer to check the water content, a strong torch to see things that should not be present (put the jar on top of the torch!), a magnifying glass, grading glasses (to ensure entry is in the right class), a glass to taste mead and wine (at the end), scales and rulers, the honey show schedule for local rules, the National Honey Show rules and finally a note pad for comments.

There are various classes, runny honey, set honey, frames, beeswax, candles, mead, confectionery,

To prepare runny honey, heat to 45 degrees max, skim, filter (fine enough for pollen to go through, but traps debris), allow to settle (air bubbles from pouring rise to surface, leave 24 hours), pour into warm jars, put lids on immediately as this stops dust getting in (and don’t change lids for show!)

What are judges looking for:

  • Jars – matching jars (use manufactures marks), clean jars (no remnants of old labels), undamaged jars (no scratches), and the correct size (1lb squat).
  • Lids – should be clean, undamaged, not rusty, and the correct colour
  • Absence of air bubbles
  • Filled to fill level (not under or over)
  • Clarity
  • When opening lids – no hanging threads
  • Smell – pleasant and detectable – changing lids at the show allows dust to enter and the smell to dissipate
  • Surface clear of debris and air bubbles (these can be removed with cling film!)

The judges are not looking for the ‘wrong’ paper plate/plastic bag for beeswax/cake/fudge.

Sue took us through the judge’s criteria for set honey (naturally crystallized, not mobile), cut comb (no cracks on the surface), sections (bees don’t like filling these), and chunk honey (must reflect what bees do, so not upside down!)

In the Frames class, the frames should be in bee proof containers, with no visible pollen, and 99% of the surface should be covered with wax. There are two sections available, ‘suitable for extraction’ – completely liquid honey, and ‘show the work of the bees’ – some granulation. Most prizes in this class are won by novices as they have new foundation, and young bees that respond to a good nectar flow.

Sue also covered beeswax, candles, cakes, fudge, mead, and wine.

Sue gave us a very interesting and instructive presentation and it was a great help to have a judge’s perspective. Thanks Sue.

Day trip to Kew Gardens

A visit on Saturday, 2nd July is being organised for beekeepers and partners to The Hive sculpture by Wolfgang Buttress at Kew Gardens (http://www.wolfgangbuttress.com/the-hive-at-kew/). The sculpture achieved a Gold Medal at last year’s Expo in Milan. The cost of the trip which includes a coach trip there and back, and entry to Kew and the exhibit is £26. You will all receive an email invitation to register, and places are being allocated on a first come first served basis.

Association Badges

We have ordered twelve embroidered badges of the Association logo; some will be used for the training bee suits. We will publish further details for bee suits, fleeces and padded jackets sporting the embroidered logo in due course. The badges can be ordered on request and the cost is likely to be about £10.

Dates for your diary

  • Saturday, 28th May, Sunday, 29th May (setup up Friday, 27th May) – Herts County Show – volunteers please
  • Saturday, 28th May – Healthy Bee Day – there may still be places available
  • NHBKA BBQ –Hillbrow Apiary –Saturday, 6th August 2016
  • Next evening meeting –Wednesday, October 26th 2016 – Mrs Howard Memorial Hall.
  • November evening meeting –Tuesday, November 22nd 2016 – Mrs Howard Memorial Hall.


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