Randy Oliver – Bees in California – Colony Buildup and Decline – Understanding Varroa – Breeding the Ideal Bee for Your Area
Randy Oliver owns and operates a small commercial beekeeping enterprise in the foothills of Grass Valley in Northern California. He and his two sons manage about 1000 colonies for migratory pollination, and produce queens, nucs, and honey. He has over 40 years of practical beekeeping experience, plus holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Biological Sciences. Randy researches, analyzes, and digests beekeeping information from all over the world in order to not only broaden his own depth of understanding and knowledge, but to develop practical solutions to many of today’s beekeeping problems, which he then shares with other beekeepers through his various articles in bee magazines, his speaking engagements worldwide, and on his website: www.ScientificBeekeeping.com
Presentation 1: “Randy Oliver–The Keeping of Bees in California”
Keeping bees commercially in the mountains of California is likely quite different than the beekeeping practiced by the attendees of this conference. With photos, Randy will describe his high-intensity beekeeping over the course of the year, and then answer questions about beekeeping in the United States.
Presentation 2: “Understanding Colony Buildup and Decline”
By acquiring a better understanding of the biology of bees, nutrition, parasites, and pathogens over the course of the season, and by learning to “read the combs,” the beekeeper can then make better informed management decisions adapted to his/her particular situation. Randy combines data and practical applications for beekeeping over the course of the year.
Presentation 3: “Understanding Varroa”
Our number one problem in beekeeping is the varroa/virus complex. Randy will describe how the problem started, model varroa population dynamics and management techniques, how beekeepers exacerbate the problem, and what our goals should be for the future.
Presentation 4: “A Biologist/Beekeeper’s Practical Perspective on Breeding the Ideal Bee for your Area”
Randy has bred bees adapted for his specific area, disease and parasite resistance, and business profitability for over 30 years. He will discuss both the biological considerations and practical aspects
I am a retired mathematics and physics teacher. I began beekeeping in the early 1970s when I was approached by a local farmer to rescue bees from a dangerous hollow tree that overhung the road between my house and his land. There followed a short intense period of study of beekeeping and carpentry to make a suitable home for my new tenants. Naively I assumed that the bees would be delivered to me. Unfortunately I had to cut down the tree and remove the bees myself.
With a background in science I set about experimenting with new charges. I learned a great deal of my beekeeping from my involvement with Galtee Bee Breeding Group. My beekeeping philosophy is quite simple – start with your own local bees, use natural selection (survival of the fittest, this has brought them to where they are) then progress with artificial selection, using comprehensive colony records.
Lecture Title: “The Drone – More to its life than we may think?”
Purpose of this talk is to create a greater appreciation of the life and some of the many beneficial/essential contributions of drones to our honey bee colonies.
What governs the number of drones in a colony? Is it the drone comb, the season, the forage or stores, etc? How do the numbers or ratios work out? How do relationships inside the hive affect drone numbers? Workers can only produce drone offspring if hopelessly queen less, but do they produce drones in a queenright colony?
I will explain a little on drone genetics and its consequences and sex determination in the honey bee and how diploid drones arise. I will outline the job description of drones and include some behavior particulars leading onto the mating event, the ultimate goal of all drones. I hope to demystify sex alleles and show very clearly how they work. We are well aware that our queens are polyandrous (promiscuous). I will demonstrate whether it is just the number of drones or the variety of drones with whom she mates is the more significant for the future development or survival of the colony.
: I qualified as a Master Beekeeper in 2014, winning the Wax Chandlers Award. I passed the Lectureship Examination at the Gormanston Summer School in 2015 becoming a Certified FIBKA Lecturer. I am a BBKA assessor for Basic and General Husbandry. I have been beekeeping with my wife Val, who is also a Master Beekeeper, for 17 years. We live in Monmouth and run some 30 colonies on three sites in Monmouthshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. I am now in my 10th year as trainer for Dean Forest BKA, which is a branch of Gloucestershire BKA. We run courses for the Basic Assessment, Microscopy and Module Examinations. Our aims are to improve our own and our members’ beekeeping practices, so that we have healthy bees and safe beekeepers in our area.
Lecture Title: “Mating Biology of Honey Bees”
I have no background in science but over the years, especially when studying for module examinations, I have become more interested in the scientific aspects of beekeeping. In this lecture I want to explore why honey bees have developed queen polyandry and drone monogamy as their preferred mating procedure, and in this aspect why are honey bees so different from other bees and eusocial insects? How do honey bees avoid inbreeding? Examine the rearing and sexual maturing of queens and drones. Illustrated with videos I demonstrate the mating process, and the timing and meeting at drone congregation areas. How do honey bees minimize the chance of virgin queens mating with their brothers, and how does the mating process work? My interest into this subject is strongly influenced by the papers and books of Gudrun & Nikolaus Koeniger.
After my study of Forestry and Nature Conservation I began beekeeping and started as a professional pollinating beekeeper. I worked for Wageningen University and Research Center for the bee research unit and for 8 years as Managing Director for the Dutch Beekeepers Association. I wrote the book “Beekeeping for Everyone” (in Dutch) and now I’m working on my second book, of course about bees and beekeeping. My wife and I have a professional apiary and sell products from the hive under the name La Reine (French for Queen), queens, nucs and provide pollination services.
Lecture Title: “Queen Rearing Simplified”
Queen rearing simplified is about rearing the best quality queens and is useful for small and medium sized apiaries. The method is based on standard equipment and standard frames, so no need for small mating hives, mini frames and specialized equipment. Therefore it’s easy to adopt to every apiary without extra costs and just a little extra effort and it gives you the best change to get the best queens.
The method is integrated in the normal beekeeping practice and integrates with swarm control, varroa control and harvesting honey.
I have used the method myself for many years with a lot of success and I taught it to many beekeepers in Holland.
Margaret has been keeping bees for about 12 years and is a practical beekeeper who learnt her skills as a member of the Ormskirk and Croston Branch of the Lancashire Association. She is a member of BIBBA and keeps bees that are well adapted to the local area. She currently has 20 colonies across 3 apiaries and is interested in the bees themselves rather than the production of honey.
Margaret is a Master Beekeeper and holds the National Diploma in Beekeeping. She enjoys teaching all levels of beekeeping and gives talks and workshops all over the UK. She holds a degree in biological sciences and was principal of a Further and Higher Education College before retirement.
Margaret is an examiner and assessor for the British Beekeepers Association and is currently Chair of the BBKA Trustees.
Lecture Title: “Bee Genetics Explained – Simply”
Genetics is a fascinating study whether of humans or insects but, of the two, the insects are far more interesting. Like us, female bees have two sets of chromosomes…..one set from the mother and one from the father. But male bees, the drones, are different…they have a single set. This is why we say that drones have no father! How does that work?
Because drones have only this one set we say they are haploid…well usually ……but not always. It’s for this reason that mutations (like white eyes) always show in drones but not in the female castes.
The genetics of bees can seem complicated, mainly because the words used are long, complicated and difficult to remember (and not really necessary). The concepts themselves are not that difficult and an understanding of them helps us to understand our bees and their behaviour.
This talk will seek to explain the genetics of honey bees in a straightforward way …in a way that is easily understood and useful to beekeepers.
Lecture Title: “Understanding the Queen – her physiology, characteristics and behaviour”
Many beekeepers spend a long time looking for a queen in a colony. They know she is important, but how much do they actually know about her? In simple terms the queen is the mother of the colony, but there is much more to it than that.
Although the egg of a queen and worker are identical, they become very different creatures depending on their diet in the larval stage, that only lasts a few days. This lecture will discuss these differences, not only physiologically, but characteristically and behaviourally.
Mike Saunders “A current attempt to recover Apis mellifera mellifera from mongrelised stocks in the Welsh Borders”
Professional engineer. Keeping bees since 2006. Helped two very experienced beekeepers for 2 years trying to improve bees by small-scale rearing of first-cross Carniolan queens. In 2009 switched to using “nearish-native” native bees, and since then has been studying the native bee and the science of bee breeding.
In 2010 started a local Group using selective breeding of the “nearish-native” local bees as the ways and means to the end of bee improvement. Since then has coordinated the Group’s breeding programme and its arduous task of learning about queen and drone-rearing, natural mating and instrumental insemination, colony assessment and bee morphometry and breeder evaluation and selection.
Lecture Title: “A current attempt to recover Apis mellifera mellifera from mongrelised stocks in the Welsh Borders”
Achieving sustained and demonstrable bee improvement in only a few years requires the use of selective breeding applied to bees which are nearly-enough from a single race, so that they breed true. In Britain, the native race Apis mellifera mellifera (A.m.m), is argued to be the best one to use, but it is hard to find in proven near-pure form except in a few parts of the Celtic fringe.
This talk describes an on-going attempt to use selective breeding to move locally-available mongrelized bees to “near-enough A.m.m” so that breeding for improvement is a practicable proposition. The emphasis is on the assessment and evaluation criteria for selecting breeding queens, including colony behaviour, bee morphometry, and if funding permits, affordable DNA testing.
Context is provided by outlining how the breeding for “near-enough A.m.m” is being conducted within the programme of breeding for improvement (i.e. colony productivity and ease of management).
Conference organisers note.
I became aware of what Mike Saunders was doing and I felt it was appropriate to include it in the conference programme, even though this approach is often not considered to be possible. In consultation with bee and genetic scientists he is developing a programme of bee improvement which it is hoped will be practicable for committed amateur beekeepers to use. It is hoped that the work will also be able to show that a new and more affordable DNA testing technique will help speed up the necessary task of recovering the native bee, and hence increase the rate at which mongrelised bees can be improved.
The programme is ongoing and during the presentation we will be brought right up to date with what might prove to be an exciting development.
After pestering a friend of the family for many years, who was an experienced beekeeper in the Nottinghamshire Beekeepers Association, he eventually helped me to start beekeeping by taking me with him to hive a swarm. This mentor turned out to be a keen member of BIBBA, so pointed me the right direction.
After five years of beekeeping, I started my own business in Derby called “The Honey Pot” (www.localhoney.co.uk) where I sold my honey and became a Thorne’s agent, supplying beekeeping equipment to the local beekeepers. My colonies slowly built up to the present number of about 40 plus. After 25 years, I recently moved to the Trent Business Centre, Long Eaton, which is closer to my home.
When I joined The Bee Farmers Association, it helped push things along at a more professional level, with good and a more suitable insurance, discounts, conferences and lectures, as well as the opportunity to meet up with friendly and experienced Bee Farmers.
Lecture Title: “Bee Farming with Native/Near Native Bees”
Here in Great Britain there are several ‘styles’ of beekeepers – beginners, hobbyists and ‘Bee Farmers’.
Bee Farmers are generally running many hives, possibly hundreds, on a commercial basis, so their motivation and methods are different to that of the hobbyist running a few hives and selling a few pots of honey at the gate. So where do their bees come from? Imported? Home bred? Mongrel swarms? Native (Apis mellifera mellifera – Amm) or Near Native. Probably a mixture of all of these and for different reasons.
But why don’t more opt for our native bee that has evolved over centuries to be productive in our unpredictable climate? Is it a question of resistance to change? Have some tried and failed?
Are there any successfully running Amm commercially? “Yes” is the answer, a number of them, with one of Britain’s largest Bee Farmers running them successfully for many years.
Could more professional apiarists find more rewards by using our native or near native bee? What are the risks and benefits? How would they compare with colonies headed by imported queens? Would it mean drastic changes to the methods of beekeeping, or might it be a simpler solution and more self sustaining?
This lecture will discuss the pros and cons of both systems and try and make sense of it all.
Jo has been a member of BIBBA for nearly 30 years and serves on the BIBBA Committee. He was a Bee Inspector for 5 years and now runs over 100 colonies in Cornwall. Author of the book, ‘The Principles of Bee Improvement’.
Lecture Title: “The Principles and Practice of Bee Improvement”
A practical approach to ‘Bee Improvement’ aimed at showing that the selection and refinement of local bees is a better long-term approach than the constant import of bees of other sub-species. The talk emphasizes that ‘Bee Improvement’ is relevant to all beekeepers and that rather than contributing to declining qualities in our bees we can all play an important role in reversing this trend, helping to raise the standards of bees in Britain and Ireland.
With a consuming interest in engineering and innovation since a young age, Huw obtained a First Class Honour’s degree in Electronic Engineering and PhD in Microwave Engineering. A keen beekeeper for over 15 years now, Huw has a passion for finding out what bees are doing while undisturbed. As a result, Huw is the managing director and co-founder of Arnia, a UK company that researches and develops remote hive monitoring equipment
Lecture Title: “Electronic monitoring as a tool for better beekeeping and queen breeding”
Arnia is unique in combining colony acoustics monitoring with other parameters such as brood temperature, humidity, hive weight and apiary weather conditions. The data collected offers a beekeeper/queen breeder a powerful tool to examine the colony and queen conditions without disturbing the bees. Weight data can be used to calculate the “adjusted production figure” (average harvested by each apiary minus the harvest of each hive) for each individual hive in order to avoid mistakes in qualifying strong lines due to apiary effect. Hive weight can be seen as a direct measure of a colony’s metabolism or energy requirements, which in turn shows how energy efficient a colony is.
With view to the current problems with queen health and performance, temperature profiles from the queen breeding nucs offer a clear explanation whether temperature gradient is responsible for the untimely emergence of queens.
Acoustics tell us about bee activity and its type, which is potentially a very useful measure for determining at which temperature different races of bees fly, thus giving an insight into adaptability of native and non native races.
Finally, the external conditions, which ultimately govern the bee activity, are integrated with all the measured parameters to put them into context.
Philip has been keeping bees in the Chiltern area since 1971, and was attracted to BIBBA by seeing the publications on display at the National Honey Show in 1972. He served on the BIBBA Committee for many years. After Beowulf Cooper’s death he collected his published and unpublished writings and from them compiled “The Honeybees of the British Isles”. He edited many issues of The Bee breeder in the 1980s and since 2003 has edited Bee Improvement and Conservation. He is also Secretary of SICAMM, the European dark bee association.
Lecture Title: “Towards a History of the Dark Bee in Britain”
There are two common misconceptions about honey bees and the dark bee Apis mellifera mellifera in particular in the British isles:
1) English Government circles (as distinct from Scottish) follow the belief that the honey bee was introduced to the British Isles by monks in Anglo-Saxon times. It is therefore not regarded as indigenous, and the dark bee is therefore not deemed worthy of legal protection as a subspecies. There is however abundant archaeological evidence of honey bees in Britain dating from as early as the bronze age (4000-3700 BC).
2) Many influential figures in British beekeeping, such as Brother Adam and Dr. Harry Riches, former president of the BBKA, have explicitly stated that the dark bee (along with colonies of other subspecies) was wiped out by the so-called “Isle of Wight Disease” in the early 20th century. Scientific investigation by Bailey and others has debunked the concept of this epidemic. Beowulf Cooper spoke to many beekeepers whose dark bees had survived this episode unscathed, and more recently morphometric and DNA analysis has conformed the existence not only of relatively pure A.m.m. bees but also the widespread existence of A.m.m. genes in the hybrid bee population.
Roger is a practical beekeeper who started beekeeping in West Sussex in 1963. He is heavily involved in the craft, being a demonstrator at his local BKA since the early 1970s and manager of their teaching apiary. He had a full term as BBKA Trustee, is currently a BIBBA Trustee and Vice President of Bee Diseases Insurance Ltd (BDI). He has experience of dealing with a fairly large number of colonies, in addition to running 130 of his own for about 15 years.
Roger is a prolific writer and speaker, where he passes on the knowledge gained from experience and observing bees, in the hope it helps beekeepers to keep their bees in an understanding and caring way. He presents the popular BIBBA “Bee Improvement for All (BIFA)” days.
Lecture Title: “The Patterson Unit”
This presentation was formerly called “A New Approach”, the “Patterson Unit” came about by accident, after it appeared on the events page of a BKA website when somebody forgot the title!
I devised his simple system as a way of addressing some of the problems that modern beekeepers face, such as diseases and the problems many have with queens. Although there is little new in beekeeping, it brings together several things that beekeepers may already do in isolation. It encourages beekeepers to treat their apiaries as a whole, not as individual hives, keeping honey production colonies fully productive.
A number of colonies, two to six works well, with four being ideal, are put into units, each having a support colony that provides anything needed, rather that interfering with productive colonies.
This system works well for all beekeepers, whatever the number of colonies they have. Once set up, there are many more benefits than those originally intended, making the whole beekeeping operation more flexible, without the need for equipment other than what is in most apiaries. Examples are given of some ways of dealing with common situations we all face in a season, such as comb changes, replacing queens and making up winter losses.
Jim Pearson is a member of the Wakefield and Pontefract branch of the Yorkshire BKA. He is a practical beekeeper who applies science where required and where he sees the relevance to his beekeeping. As a progressive beekeeper he is always trying to understand bees more and in doing so he has discovered that some of what has become standard information is not always correct.
A keen enthusiast of native and near native bees, he manages around 30 colonies with his brother Geoff, one apiary being in the foothills of the Pennines 800 ft above sea level.
Jim is a Master Beekeeper who is an assessor for BBKA Basic, General Husbandry and Microscopy assessments.
Lecture Title: “Myths, Legends and Lies”
The title best describes the content of this lecture. The longer you keep bees, the more your experience and observations cast doubt on some of the “standard information” that is commonplace in beekeeping, which may often be little more than simply the repeating of mistakes that have been repeated many times before.
Jim Pearson will give several examples of inaccuracies that he has discovered through experience, that has been gained by managing and closely observing a number of honey bee colonies.
Hopefully this lighthearted presentation may encourage the audience to question some of the mainstream thinking and perhaps discover the real truth for themselves by observation and experimentation. The results may improve their knowledge and help to develop their techniques.
Steve keeps around 40 colonies on high ground in North Wales with Snowdonia to the West and the Berwyn mountains to the East. He finds that for bees to thrive in his locality they have to be particularly well adapted. He thus heads a breeding group which selects for native traits that are typical of the local ecotype and makes use of his own queenright system and a mating apiary located in a semi-isolated valley. He is currently working with researchers at Bangor University to improve the techniques employed in the area for assessing colonies.
He is an active member of BIBBA, helping to coordinate the efforts of a number of BIBBA groups, mainly in North East Wales, and also teaches the intermediate beekeeping course for his local association. In recent years he has hosted BIBBA bee improvement courses at his home apiary.
Lecture Title: “My Approach to Bee Selection”
This presentation discusses the need for selective breeding and the advantages of the native honey bee Apis mellifera mellifera for the British climate, especially for more marginal districts. Desirable traits and selection procedures used locally are explained along with the breeding group structure on North East Wales. Currently selection techniques include various aspects of colony performance and traits supplemented by morphology assessments. The part played by beekeepers in past and ongoing studies by the School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography of Bangor University are also explained. These studies are conducted by M.Sc and Ph.D students and cover topics such as genetic purity of the bees of the locality, development of instrumentation for tracking bees in flight and assessments of various techniques, including morphometric and nuclear, for determining purity.
The presentation also touches on projects conducted jointly with other breeding groups located outside the area.
Pete Sutcliffe has been keeping bees for over thirty years now, having started out with two home-made WBCs inherited from his father. He now works in a beekeeping team with his wife: together they keep an average of 20 colonies on various sites in the Dane Valley in Cheshire.
Following his retirement, Pete put himself through the various BBKA examinations and eventually achieved the accolade of “Master Beekeeper”. He is still rather diffident about this title, as the bees seem to be the masters a lot of the time!
Pete was a member of the BBKA Examinations Board, a BBKA Trustee and chair of the BBKA’s Education and Husbandry Committee. He is a BBKA Correspondence Course Tutor, a Basic and General Husbandry Assessor, and he has set and marked Module examinations.
Pete has also been active within Cheshire BKA: having edited the Cheshire Beekeeper magazine for several years, and been Chair of his local Branch and County Archivist. He is currently leading a county-wide working group on selective queen-rearing.
Lecture Title: “The hive as a processing centre”
“A hive of activity” as the saying goes! To ensure the colony survives in a healthy state, honey bees collect everything they need from the surrounding area in the form of relatively simple, readily available, natural products. They then process these in sophisticated ways into such diverse items as building materials, miracle foods, antiseptic paints, and store them where necessary for future use. The abilities required for these processes have evolved over millennia to a level of amazing sophistication, but how do they do it?. This lecture will describe those processes in a way that helps beekeepers understand the requirements of their colonies better.
Paul Cross “Development of a miniature vibration energy harvester for battery-less tracking of honey bees”
Paul keeps 15 colonies on Anglesey and runs the Bangor University apiary which is used for teaching and research purposes. He is involved in supervising a diverse range of bee-related research projects, including the evaluation of bee-keeping as a poverty alleviating tool in Uganda and Tanzania, discrimination of honey bee races in North Wales (in conjunction with Steve Rose of BIBBA), identifying links between racial purity and disease resistance and finally two projects developing micro-electronic bee trackers.
Lecture Title: “Development of a miniature vibration energy harvester for battery-less tracking of honey bees”
The recent global decline in honey bee colonies has ignited efforts to better understand the spatial interaction of bees with their environment. To date, no technology exists to effectively track such things as foraging, queen and drone flight paths or enable the long-term evaluation of navigation loss of bees exposed to potentially harmful pesticides such as neonicotinoids. This is because the monitoring of bee movements requires effective radio-tracking in the field, which is currently constrained by transmitter size, battery life and a transmitter weight (>200 mg) which is heavier than a honey bee (~90 mg).
This study is developing a first self-sustained radio-tracking device that can be attached to the world’s most economically beneficial insect: the honey bee. A piezoelectric micro-generator that harvests electrical energy from the bee’s body vibrations will power radio-wave transmission from a miniaturized antenna attached to the bees’ thorax. This will eliminate the need for bulky battery-powered transmitters and provide an unlimited energy source over the insect’s lifetime with negligible hindrance to its flight capacity. The transmitted signal will be captured by an automated suite of drones (the electronic type!).
As a child I used to help my grandfather making up section crates and wiring and waxing frames. I started my real career as a beekeeper in 1983 and since then I qualified as a lecturer in 1989. I edited An Beachaire the Irish Beekeeper for 14 years retiring in 2012. I lecture at Gormanston Summer Course regularly and have also lectured and demonstrated in Scotland and England. I run roughly 50 colonies for run honey and rear about 30/50 queens every year. I am Secretary of North Tipperary BKA, having been chairman for 16 years and am currently chairman of Galtee Bee Breeders.
Lecture Title: “Beekeeping – If the bees wrote the book”
As beekeepers we have certain ideas in our head each year as to what we hope to achieve in our beekeeping. But how do the bees look at it? What do they hope to achieve? Our main object should be to give the bees as much help, and as little hindrance as possible. Many beekeepers unwittingly put obstacles in the way of the bees, but being as tough and resilient as they are, they manage to overcome almost everything the beekeeper can throw at them.
Oftentimes in beekeeping we do things without thinking them through. It is the way we were taught to do things and we do them without thinking. I want to look at beekeeping taking the bees perspective into consideration in so far as that is possible, given that we want to produce as much honey as we can. I will focus on some of my own practices through the beekeeping year.
Eoghan Mac Giolla Coda is a commercial beekeeper based on Ireland’s east coast. As a fourth-generation beekeeper, he learned his craft through helping his father with the famous Galtee black bees of Co. Tipperary.
After settling in Co. Louth, he embarked on his own beekeeping enterprise using local strains of native Irish honey bee. He is Education Officer for Co. Louth Beekeepers’ Association, helping organise classes for beginners and improvers and lecture programmes for all members, and he also lectures to other beekeeping associations around Ireland. He is involved with Co. Louth BKA’s native honey bee breeding programme and the maintenance of Co. Louth as a conservation area for the black bee. He serves on the national committee of the Native Irish Honey Bee Society, until recently serving as editor of The Four Seasons, the voice of the Irish black bee movement.
Eoghan currently manages over 150 colonies and rears native queens for his own use and that of local beekeepers. He has won the World Class competition at the London Honey Show in 2014 and 2015 with the famous bell heather honey of the Cooley Mountains of North Louth.
Lecture Title: “Producing Honey Under Difficult Conditions”
Climatic conditions mean that beekeeping can be difficult on the northwestern margins of Europe. Although the Gulf Stream ensures that winters are generally mild, summer conditions are often cool and damp. The European dark bee, Apis mellifera mellifera, has evolved to cope with these conditions.
Scale hive data and honey yields reveal that the Irish variant of the dark bee provides good yields even in poor summers. Due to its conservative brood-rearing nature, the native Irish honey bee is able to respond rapidly to unpredictable and intermittent honey flows and is very thrifty with regard to stored honey. Other characteristics of the native bee that play key roles in honey production are flying behavior, temperament, longevity, swarming, disease resistance and over-wintering. To optimise honey production, it is important for the beekeeper to consider such management factors as swarm prevention and control, bee health, hive records, colony evaluation and breeding.
I took up beekeeping in 2000 after becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of modern agriculture on wild populations of pollinators. I started with WBC hives, but quickly became interested in more natural beekeeping systems, designing and building a number of variations of the top bar hive and experimenting with low-interference protocols. I worked at Buckfast Abbey for a year to broaden my experience and took courses to improve my lab skills. In 2007 I published The Barefoot Beekeeper, which critiqued ‘modern’ beekeeping and suggested alternatives. Since then, I have published another three books, mostly concerned with what I now call “balanced beekeeping”. My current project is to help to re-establish thriving populations of our native black bees. Web site – biobees.com
Lecture Title: “Balanced Beekeeping: Top Bars, Eco Floors and Black Bees”
I will talk about my experiences with top bar hives on the fringes of Dartmoor, including such innovations as the eco-floor and the periscope entrance, and how they may be used to benefit our native black bees.
With your help, I will attempt to address the following questions:
- How can we create the most beneficial conditions for our bees, without having to climb trees?
- What are the advantages of top bar hives for bees and beekeeper?
- What is the point of balance between the bees’ needs and ours, as beekeepers?
- Do native and near native bees best suit balanced beekeeping?
- Should we be “re-wilding” our black bees? If so, how should we go about it?
I have been beekeeping now for over 25 years, selectively rearing queens of our Dark Native Irish Bee, Apis mellifera mellifera. My selection program is based on the ability of my bees to over-winter strongly, together with disease resistance, docility, productivity, colour and more.
My home and main mating apiary is just on the outskirts of Dublin city, with the bees foraging over the extensive area of the Phoenix Park and the Liffey Valley, including the gardens of suburban Castleknock.
My queens are naturally open mated, but I have been flooding the vicinity of my apiary with drones from my own native dark bees. Each year I over winter more colonies of bees than I need, keeping only the best and requeening those that do not come up to my criteria.
Lecture Title: “Apideas. Their operation and maintenance”
To be able to keep ahead of your beekeeping problems, each beekeeper should ideally operate a percentage of mini mating nucs, according to the amount of honey producing hives that they keep. The aim is to always have a surplus of spare queens, to stay ahead of the needs of the bees. It should help you to fix most of the beekeeping problems that will arise during your beekeeping year and help to increase productivity.
Because of their small size, Apideas are prone to certain problems. Over the years I have greatly improved my success rate in getting queens mated and introduced into full hives. This presentation will tell you how I do it.
Trisha keeps around 40 colonies of locally-adapted bees on six apiaries in the Welsh Marches, breeding her own queens selectively. Some apiaries are close to ling heather, others to OSR, thus minimising the stress to man and bees of moving hives while giving a selection of honeys. With her partner Paul, Camlad Apiaries is run as a small, sustainable business supplying health food shops, delicatessens, village shops, and the most northerly castle in the UK.
Trisha is a BBKA Master Beekeeper, Project Manager with Bees Abroad (UK NGO), trustee of BIBBA, county Bee Recorder for Montgomeryshire, and member of both Shropshire Beekeeping Association and the Welsh Beekeepers Association.
A firm advocate of accessible continuing education and capacity building for all beekeepers, Trisha runs the BBKA Facebook group with a membership of 4300 and gives time and assistance with social media for other beekeeping charities. She is also the only beekeeper who is a Basic assessor for both the BBKA and the WBKA, and the BBKA Basic Assessment in Modern African Beekeeping and an active member of the WBKA Learning and Development committee.
Trisha finds her MSc in sustainable architecture and renewables and passion for photography both highly relevant to her NGO work mainly in Ghana at this time.
Lecture Title: “(The) Status Quo: Rocking all over the Hive ”
What makes a big box of stinging insects such a highly successful and adaptable superorganism?
A foray into many of the factors involved, including some of those conspiring to upset the equilibrium.
Dorian Pritchard is a retired university lecturer in medical genetics. He has a PhD in genetics, is author of “Foundations of Developmental Genetics” and first author of “Medical Genetics At A Glance”. He has run 4 – 20 national hives in Northumberland since 1979 and was inspired to concentrate on the native Dark Bee, A. m. mellifera, after comparing the performance and honey quality of local and foreign bees side by side in a rape field. He has been prominent for many years at local, national and international levels of beekeeping, serving as Conservation Officer of BIBBA and for 10 years as President of SICAMM, the international association for conservation of the Dark Bee. He has taught some 300 beginners in his classes at Kirkley Hall Agricultural College. His publications in the beekeeping press reflect his deep concerns for native honey bee conservation and his success in selecting Varroa resistant, near-native bees.
Lecture Title: “Selective breeding without inbreeding; where’s the happy medium?”
Genetic improvement of bees is best achieved by the co-assembly of the favourable genetic attributes of related stocks into one or more superior lines. Breeding from the best can achieve this, but this strategy and the use of “multi-breeder queens” also accumulates recessive alleles, some of which are harmful. In the single-copy, “heterozygous” state recessives are unexpressed in females, but when “homozygous” (i.e. present as two identical copies), they can cause serious detriment. In honey bees a particular problem arises from homozygosity of alleles of the sex-determining gene, which causes fertilized eggs to develop as abnormal “diploid drones”. These are eliminated by the house bees soon after emergence, leaving empty wax cells within sheets of sealed worker brood, causing a constant drain on the productivity of the queen and serious colony under-performance. Inbreeding exacerbates reduction in the range of sex alleles and increase in the number of diploid drones; eventually colonies die and the population goes extinct. The frequency of empty brood cells can however be used to estimate the number of sex alleles in the population, predict its long term viability and assess the advisability of extending the genome by outbreeding.
Clive started beekeeping in the 1960s, and has managed colonies in 11 counties. He was employed at the National Beekeeping Unit in the 1980s, supervising disease inspection officers. He has worked in a UK beefarming enterprise (2000+ colonies), raising 1000 queens annually. Clive’s first beekeeping exam was in 1970, whilst a committee member of the Village Bee Breeders Association (now BIBBA). He gained the National Diploma in Beekeeping in 1976. For 15 years he was the County Beekeeping Lecture in Essex. He was the British delegate to Apimondia for 16 years. Within the BBKA and NDB Clive has been a board member and is still an examiner. Clive has travelled widely to study beekeeping (30+ countries). He is the author of several books and papers. Currently he is running 100+ colonies for honey, pollination and the sale of queens and nuclei whilst undertaking overseas extension work in the winter.
Lecture Title: “BIBBA in the Isle of Man 40+ years ago”
In the 1970s I was the group’s secretary of the Village Bee Breeders Association (now BIBBA). In 1972 the committee met at Beo’s (Beowulf Cooper) house at Whitegates (Thulston, Derby), where he proposed that we should organize a conference/workshop on the Isle of Man.
Beo had visited the Island previously and discovered a drone congregation (DC). The investigation of the DC was to be the main focus of the week’s activities. Other activities were planned and a prodigious line up of speakers were booked, including the eminent Professor Ruttner from Frankfurt University. Professor Ruttner, at that time, was the world expert on drone congregations (DCs).
I will be illustrating and describing the groups work in making and assembling mini-nukes and setting up a mating apiary on the Calf of Man. I will also reveal the groups experiences with the DC area above the Port St. Mary Golf course. The drone comets that formed to chase our queen sent aloft, tethered to a couple of helium balloons, remains one of the highpoints of my beekeeping career. Our efforts culminated in watching a queen being pursued and mated at head height. …much to the indifference of my five year old son.
Nick was in a ‘former life’ a Royal Marines Officer for 32 years. Nick first started keeping bees in the early 90’s having between 2 and 5 colonies for many years. For most of that time he bred his own queens, quickly realising that there had to be a better way rather than importing queens.
Nick chaired the Tavistock Branch of the Devon BKA for a few years and was also the Branch apiary manager.
In 2009, whilst still in Devon, he joined BipCo (Bee Improvement Programme for Cornwall), which was under the Chairmanship of Jo Widdicombe. At this time Nick became very interested in bee improvement, realising that he had in fact been doing the same, with his own bees for a number of years.
In 2011 Nick retired from the Royal Marines and became a full time beekeeper. He now runs about 30 colonies, and helps with the management of a number of BipCo mating apiaries. He is also Chairman of BipCo and one of the Directors of B4, (Bring Back Black Bees), which is a community interest company looking at conserving the remnant populations of Amm in Cornwall.
Nick has recently taken over the role as BIBBA Groups’ Secretary.
Lecture Title: “Bee Improvement in Cornwall, Achievements and Aspirations”
There are a number of Bee Improvement groups within Cornwall, and these will be discussed during Nick’s presentation. The groups being BipCo, CBIBBG the Cornwall Bee Improvement and Bee Breeding Group, and B4 (Bring Back Black Bees). Their principle aims are the same and for that reason, Nick saw it as very important that there is a regular free and frank exchange of ideas between the 3 groups, so that there is no re-invention of the wheel. Nick will discuss each of the groups in turn, but will focus in the main on BipCo and B4.
Nick will look back at the selection criteria used by BipCo to improve our bees, he will discuss the Group’s aspirations as well as the frustrations!
Nick will talk about B4 in more detail and in particular what he terms the ‘Top-down’ approach, where he has sought to influence a variety of decision makers in Cornwall and the South West, about the plight of the native bee and what they can do to help. B4 has also embarked on a campaign to inform the public about the native honey bee, Nick will discuss this.
As well as a look back, Nick will also discuss some of the Groups’ aspirations for the next 5 to 10 years. This will not only consolidate on gains made, but also to expand the network of Bee Improvement Groups from Cornwall, into Devon and beyond.
Irene Power comes from a well-known and successful beekeeping family. She has had many successes in honey shows in Ireland and London. Irene is a member of South Tipperary Beekeepers Association & former Secretary of the Clonmel Honey Show (Largest Honey Show in Ireland).
Irene provides beginners courses, Intermediate & Senior Study Groups in county Limerick and helps with outdoor demonstrations in South Tipperary. She is a very practical beekeeper who maintains 15 – 20 colonies, with keen interests in honey bee health and queen rearing & honey production.
Lecture Title: “Beekeeping and a full time job”
The age of beekeepers in recent years has lowered, with many in full time employment, possibly with young families and other interests that have a demand on leisure time. This talk will cover the topic of how to manage up to 20 hives, on top of showing honey & educating others, at the same time as holding up a busy full time job.
The amount of work involved with limited time requires extra planning, organisation and management methods to suit. You often get one opportunity to complete tasks in the apiary, as you may not be available tomorrow or 2/3/5 days time that some manipulations demand.
I will also talk about how I have brought my passion into my work environment and created a link between my hobby & my full time job in a technology company. Also, this lecture will touch on how Bees can teach business about organisational management & productivity.
Group Presentation & Discussion “Bee improvement and bee breeding groups – some experiences and ideas”
Three representatives from existing bee breeding and bee improvement groups, operating in different areas, under different conditions, will each give a short presentation on their own group. They will tell us about their history, how they have progressed and how they may have dealt with problems or opportunities. An open discussion will follow, which should cover the various aspects of forming and running groups, in the hope it encourages attendees to discover the benefits of beekeepers working together to improve the bees in their own locality.
Bee improvement is much easier to achieve when a number of individuals have the same aims. Groups should be set up to suit the beekeepers involved, which could be a small number of individuals working together, as part of a BKA or a whole BKA. There are many possibilities, varying from very loose arrangements to a more formal approach. See how others do it, see how groups can help each other or find out how you can form one.
This session has been included in the programme because BIBBA intends to expand the network of bee breeding and bee improvement groups, as a way of helping beekeepers with a small number of colonies to improve their bees in a meaningful way.
BIBBA has a list of groups, with a Groups’ Secretary who can offer help, advice and encouragement where needed.
Galtee Bee Breeding Group (GBBG). Ireland. Jim Ryan. Inspired by the work of BIBBA, GBBG was established in the Galtee/Vee Valley in 1991 to study and improve local Irish strains of native honey bees.
GBBG could be described as the fore runner of the Native Irish Honey Bee Society (NIHBS ), which covers the whole of the island of Ireland and is presently very active in furthering the principles of GBBG, BIBBA and SICAMM in each of the thirty-two counties of Ireland.
The Bee Improvement Programme for Cornwall (BipCo). Nick Bentham-Green. BipCo was formed in 2009 to improve local strains of native or near-native bees.
A number of criteria have been applied during the selection of queens, these being Appearance, followed by morphometry and in some cases DNA analysis; Good temper; Low tendency to swarm; Good brood pattern and healthy brood; Good honey production (in all weathers!).
BipCo has at all times been working closely with other bee improvement groups in Cornwall and is now looking at setting up mirror organisations in both Devon and Somerset.
Manx Bee Improvement Group (MBIG). Johnny Kipps.
The MBIG was formed as a sub-committee of the IoM Beekeepers Federation in early 2015 after a BIBBA “BIFA” day, led by Roger Patterson.
The MBIG have begun to breed from colonies showing native or near native traits, prioritising docile temperament and dark appearance, with the aim of greatly increasing the number of colonies with these desirable traits throughout the island.