East Midlands Bee Breeding Group

East Midlands Bee Breeding Group

East Midlands Bee Breeding Group

The East Midlands BIBBA group have, for many years, worked together in a bee breeding programme on the Derbyshire Nottinghamshire border.
In 2017 BIBBA East Midlands will meet at the Thrumpton Apiary throughout the season from mid Spring, at 2pm on a Sunday


Core purpose

We are clear that everything we do is focussed on breeding Apis mellifera mellifera queens of the best genetic stock and to make these queens available to our members to establish this bee in their own apiaries.

This was fully discussed and whilst there were varying views on whether achieving such an aim is possible, all agreed that this was the rationale for all we do and what makes this group distinct.

Breeding programme approach for new season

Locating new queens – there are new Apis mellifera mellifera queens sourced from Irish and Scottish stock within the membership. These queens are available to BIBBA East Midlands if the group decides they meet their selection requirements.

Nigel Collier – one Irish

Roger Mould – two Irish

Adee Brazener – two Scottish (and one Irish?)

Alan Wilkins – one Scottish

Queen selection for breeding – A full appraisal of our current apiary stock will be undertaken soon as weather and temperature permit. The criteria to be used for selection will be compiled then. All potential breeding queens will be morphometrically tested before a final decision is made.

Target number for queens and distribution policy – Whilst there is a demand for queens produced by the group for members insufficient were bred last year. The meeting discussed in detail the considerations that determine future distribution.

  • The restocking of the Thrumpton apiary takes precedent. The twenty 5 frame nucs are being constructed for that purpose to ensure greater survival of mated queens
  • It may be possible to produce Queen cells from Amm queens that can be handed to members to bring on and mate in their own apiaries; or be mated at the Thrumpton site. This need further thinking.
  • The Apideas and members mini nucs could also be used for member’s queens produced at the Thrumpton apiary. Queens produced at Thrumpton site could still be useful especially as the drones from these queens could help populate local drone gatherings. This procedure needs further consideration.
  • An email will be sent to each member to determine what is the need.
  • We will explore the possibility of each member taking their own nucleus boxes to the out apiary, under supervision. The precise way this process may happen is still to be decided. The purity on our drone colonies at the out apiary cannot be compromised.
  • It was agreed that a first step could be a workshop on how to construct a nucleus colony for this purpose that guaranteed no drones present. Only those attending the workshop could participate in the out-apiary arrangements
  • Issue do we need an out-apiary coordinator?

Yearly monitoring of performance – This is related to record keeping see below. There are many factors that influence the productivity of any breeding programme. After discussion, it was agreed that we should ensure that every nucleus and every colony must have a colony number and the progress of all colonies taken to out apiary should monitored using the A5 recording card. Providing this data is recorded then performance can be calculated.

Date guide for operations within the apiary – Once the breeding season starts Keith will construct a timetable of activity. Approximate start date – 3rd week in May

False swarm policy – It was agreed that all members needed to attend a rerun of the false swarm method devised last year in the form of a practical workshop at the apiary. The building of nucs from colonies is part of the process. Queen cells being removed could be offered to members for own use.

Out-apiary sites and their management

The out apiary needs a gate. Keith is currently contacting the Seven Trent water board to gain permission for its erection. This is a health and safety issue with the transportation of larger hive bodies to the site.

Action: Keith to contact board and to resolve issue within 4 weeks ready for start of season.

Hive stands for double nucs and apideas at the out apiary. Roger and Adam agreed to offer materials – bricks and wood for this purpose. To be resolved.

Maintenance of Thrumpton apiary – Grass cutting rota

The proposal to create a rota was passed; Adam, Dave, Jack and Tony volunteered to join the rota with all others present willing to lend a hand when necessary. Not all in the group are physically able to contribute to this task.

Action: AW to contact EP

Honey extraction policy

Honey sales are an important income for the group. The focus on recording actions and performance of all hives to give hard accurate data for assessment of future queens requires us to weigh super frames when collected from hives. This has been haphazard in the past as we do not have an agreed policy how to do this.

To avoid misunderstanding in the future the committee will draft an information sheet about the process and to determine % the collector receives. The constitution does refer to this and needs checking.

The meeting agreed that we all need to help this to happen in the future to aid collection of accurate records. There is a weighing meter at the apiary.

Record keeping – collective responsibility for maintaining records

This was discussed in detail. It was agreed that everyone will endeavour to complete an A5 record card for every visit to a colony during the breeding season. It is suggested that hive inspection teams work in threes – two open and assess the colony, the third writes the record card.

We cannot make any judgement on queens without good records.

Morphometry – we will continue to carry out morphometry on apiary and member’s bees. A workshop will be arranged in April at the village hall during which the group’s and member’s bees can be checked with the intention of selecting queen rearing stock for the coming season.

Membership and linking with BIBBA national organisation

We currently have 21 members – it was agreed that we should investigate methods to assist in the communication with all members regularly about what’s happening once the breeding season has begun.

Action: secretaries to consider what method for maintaining records is best; and how communication distribution and receipt of emails can be solved

The focus this year will be the same as 2016 – ‘encouraging existing member involvement, building skills and approaching others to join’ who have the same ideals as ourselves. No membership drive is envisaged; any one approaching us through the national BIBBA website, or through other means is always welcome.

Links with BIBBA national – we will inform the national groups secretary of our work, with the potential in future years to exchange breeding queens and the different approaches employed by different groups. The East Midlands group has a long history and its worthwhile to ensure the link with the national organization is maintained. The national website section for East Midlands group has been recently updated and will be revised in time for the coming season.

East Midlands AGM Minutes

Thrumpton Village Hall, 26th February 2017 @ 7.30pm


The meeting started prompt at 7.30 pm and ended at 10pm. It was a well-attended and had a very full agenda.


Thirteen members present – Adrian (Adee) Brazener, Geoff Lovegrove, Frank Chambers, Dave Connolly, Tony Maggs, Nigel Collier, Janet Bates, Roger (Jack) Frost, John Stephens, Roger Mould, Keith Cosgrove, Adam O’Brien, Alan Wilkins

Apologies – Ed Pearson, John Cocker, Albert Knight, Martin Brown

Minutes of Last AGM

Passed as a true record and no matters arising


Chairperson – Adam O’Brien

Opened the meeting with a warm welcome for all – last year had been another step in developing the group and the bee breeding programme that now enables all to move on with the learning for the new season.

Secretaries – Alan Wilkins and Roger Mould

Key tasks included:

  • checking membership details, compilation of definitive membership list
  • contacting national BIBBA, attending national conference and changing website information on the group
  • contacting two other groups, Steve Rose in North Wales and Mike Saunders in Ludlow – potential meet ups during new season
  • Endeavouring to find a way of contacting all members to make all we do more inclusive

Apiary Manager – Keith Cosgrave

Queen rearing and mating – We had our best results ever with the early batches of queens raised in May and June. Mating success at the dams using the mini-nucs was excellent. Feeding before and after inserting the grafts helped in producing large queens. The storage of nucs for 5 days after making up was perfect using Roger Mould’s warehouse, which had a cool and even temperature. Nucs were in great condition when they reached the mating site. Marking the virgins before introduction to the nucs had no effect on mating success. July queen rearing was less successful with few cells finished and a poor mating rate at the mating site.

Drone supply at the mating apiary – We used Conner’s method and timetable for ensuring a good supply of drones and it worked perfectly. It consists of introducing drone comb into drone breeder colonies and subsequently making up a colony consisting of all the resulting ripe drone brood plus frames of worker brood and adhering bees. This colony is given a caged virgin so that it will look after the super abundant population of drones. The method gives a large population of sexually mature drones from many donor queens in one box. Good timing is crucial and the queen rearing starts 21 days after the drone eggs are laid.

Queen introduction – This was poor with many queens being rejected or being quickly superseded. There are many reasons for queens being rejected and it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason. I think it is a universal problem. Copies of Conner’s ideas on this subject were circulated. We are losing approximately 75% of mated queens on introduction or shortly afterwards due to supersedure.   All other aspects of our queen rearing programme good indeed so we need to get this last bit right in future.

Colonies going into spring – We have 14 colonies of which 6/9 are headed by queens bred from Irish or Scottish A. mellifera mellifera. The exact numbers will be confirmed after first spring full inspection.

Record keeping – The A5 printed inspection notes has worked reasonably well. I think they need revising though to make it clearer as to what needs recording and to give info on the queen’s mother and where the queen was mated. We should produce family trees for our queens so we can trace queens backwards and forwards. Family trees are easier to follow and interpret than stud books where you must cross reference and trace backwards and forwards through notes.

Treasurer – Keith Cosgrave

Full accounts for year presented – main details are:

Income – Honey sales – £930.00; Subs – £130.00. Total income £1060.00

Expenditure – meeting room, apiguard, creosote, candipoline, sugar, fondant, keys, gas and gas regulator, queen rearing equipment, drone foundation, brood frames, foundation, wood for crown boards, paint, solar extractor glass, replacement mower. Thornes sales purchases plus wood for double brood box conversions – 200 brood frames, 3 roofs, 20 brood bodies, 25 wire excluders, 20 sheets varroa mesh. Total expenditure       £1744.76

Expenditure over income £684.76. Brought forward from last AGM £775.55

Total assets       £90.99

Discussion focussed on the very low asset figure and the interim quorate meeting at apiary that authorised the spend for brood box conversions – this refurbishment of equipment has enabled the group to seamlessly move into the breeding programme with everything ready; projected honey sales and membership dues will create a new reserve as year progresses

Equipment Officer – Geoff Lovegrove

All equipment checked and an audit will be taken when shed is cleared as equipment is taken out and used. Main tasks have been:

  • Shed painted and solar extractor refurbished with frame and glass
  • New crown boards purchased/made
  • All frames cleaned and ready for foundation
  • All 20 mesh floors for the twin brood boxes are ready, complete with 2 entrance blocks each, 1 central divider and 2 crown boards. Not yet finished dummy boards. There will also be roofs available for all.
  • 10 brood boxes have been adapted so far, we need to adapt 10 more. We will assemble the new ones to exchange for the older ones in the apiary.  Jack has started to assemble the new ones and paint them, he’s also painted all the new mesh floors.
  • 25 new wire queen excluders made for the apiary. They should be painted for protection.
  • Have been trying to brand everything as we go along
  • Wax traded at Thornes for foundation

Action: hive stands need replacing – several methods were discussed. Geoff to consider and advise

Head Grounds Person – Ed Pearson

I am prepared to cut the grass at beginning and end of season when it needs a more powerful and rugged motor than the one we have in the shed. I do not have the time I used to have to come down on a Sunday and so I would appreciate a few volunteers and suggest that from May to end September I share the job with others. It’s a 1.5 hour job.

proposal – A ‘grass cutting rota’ would be useful. I will cut up to May and after September with my home-machine. If you wish to take names (emails) of volunteers I’ll arrange a rota to fit everyone’s availability with me as stand in for any ‘no-shows’. I hope that sounds a fair.

Election of Officers

Honorary president             – Albert Knight

Chairperson              – Adam O’Brien

Joint Secretaries      – Alan Wilkins (lead) and Roger Mould (support)

Apiary Manager        – Keith Cosgrave

Treasurer                   – Keith Cosgrave

Equipment Officer   – Geoff Lovegrove

Head Grounds Person – Ed Pearson

Proposal that all current officers be re-elected to same positions for 2017 by Roger Mould and seconded by Adam O’Brien was carried unanimously.

Part Two- Strategy 2017 – see separate post


Any Other Business

  • Update on lecture given by Roger Patterson on queen rearing. Agreed to consider asking Roger to run sessions with our group
  • Curry meet ups – Jack will continue to organize these successful social events
  • Defunct Bee Hause – Given to Keith, but unused, suggestion that this be placed on EBay

Action: Keith to liaise with Nigel

BIBBA EM Subscriptions for 2017

To be held at current rate of £10 per member

Meeting Dates

Next AGM – last Sunday of February – 27th February 2018

The group will now continue to meet every Sunday at 12.00 at the Thrumpton apiary until the clocks go forward on 26th March when they will revert to usual 2 o’clock summertime start 2pm onwards.

Our plans for 2016

1               Core purpose

We are clear that everything we do is focussed on breeding Apis mellifera mellifera queens of the best genetic stock and to make these queens available to our members to establish this bee in their own apiaries.

To achieve this we intend to do the following

2               Out apiary mating sites

During 2016 the new site will be established with new drone colonies. In February a schedule of tasks with approximate times will be drafted to enable all who wish to help with the complexities. It will be a collective effort. We will over the year try to locate one more site in that area.

3               Pure breed queens

Our existing 5 colonies with pure bred Amm queens will be the source of our future drone colonies. To this we will add queens located in Scotland and Northern Ireland to bring the best queens available into our apiary. These will be the source of new virgins to be taken to the out apiary. These will populate hives at the Thrumpton site and others will be handed on to members involved in the development of this process across 2016.

4               Building competences and understanding

Our group is very inclusive and welcomes all who wish to support our core purpose. Our intention is to run informal training workshops to ensure those who wish to become involved have opportunities to develop their skills to take part. Currently a queen rearing workshop is planned for mid April. A morphometry workshop will be arranged. Other sessions related to manipulation of the bees, record keeping, tasks for managing the two sites and taking nucleases to the out apiary will happen alongside those activities as the year unfolds.

5               Analysing the quality of our bees

To do this we will be keeping appropriate records and refer to morphometrical data to guide our practice. We will review the pilot system to ensure that relevant data is kept as colony records and queen records.

6               Other possibilities

6.1 Artificial insemination – The group possesses equipment and two members have been trained. We are considering the feasibility on introducing this dimension to our programme in 2016. No decision has been made yet.

6.2 Building the member base – we do not want to be distracted by a membership drive this year. We want to consolidate the members we already have. Once these new practices have been established and the quality and number of queens available improved, then the membership will naturally expand as other bee keepers begin to understand why and what we are doing.

The following notes are based on conversations held at the apiary on Sundays, journeys to our out apiary and meetings at the village hall. We now have a clear sense of purpose for next year. Understanding this requires some consideration of what has been achieved in 2015.

Looking back on our achievements in 2015

1               Improving our bees

Our main aim in 2015 was to increase the number and quality of our colonies. We now have 15 very healthy and viable colonies. All set for getting through the winter ready for supporting our breeding programme for next year.

2               Re-establishing the out apiary at the Dams

Our old isolated mating site in the Derbyshire Peak District was a success in the past and we decided to resurrect it to use rather than, or in addition to, the Yorkshire site used in recent years. The Derbyshire site is nearer and available throughout the season to produce more queens. More members can now be involved in this breeding work. The Thrumpton site is not sufficiently isolated to produce controlled matings as at least three other nearby apiaries are providing out crossed drones to local congregation areas. Various groups of members have been servicing the site with two drone colonies; nuclei have been placed there and 3 of the 5 mated queens that returned survived and are now in full stocks.

In November 2015 we identified a further site within 2 miles of our existing site and access has been negotiated with the land owner. We can now saturate that geographical location with our drones to populate local drone congregations.

3               Locating new queens to improve the genetic balance of our future queens.

Two members have bought in queens from Amm breeders in the United Kingdom and made this stock available for the BIBBA group. This has accelerated our ability to establish drone stock for next year. Five colonies will be the focus on our efforts.

4               Consolidating BIBBA group membership – building our competencies and maintaining an apiary to be proud of

There are 25 members and a core set are making considerable effort to keep equipment in good order, keep the apiary site tidy and keeping the grass cut. The apiary is a magical place and we all appreciate the opportunity to meet there to share our bee keeping experiences and understandings.

4               Record keeping

We have improved our way of recording our management of each colony and the tracking queens. We designed a composite form derived from designs from BIBBA, BBKA and others sources. We now have a pilot system that is beginning to work.

5               Morphometry

Building our competences with the morphometry analysis of our own bees, Thrumpton and individual member’s colonies. A workshop was run that established an approach that we will continue to develop.

A problem that has long been with us, has been to find a mating site that gives reasonable isolation. We have used sites several hundred miles from our base. These include Spurn Point on the East Coast, and the Elan Valley in Wales.

Albert Knight examining a frame of native bees
The restriction on movement of bees when varroa arrived put an end to such travelling, and over the last few years our stocks have become more hybridised. The spread of varroa throughout England and Wales has meant there are now no restrictions on movement. During the winter of 1997 it was suggested we set up a mating site in a remote valley in Derbyshire, and at the same time offer queens mated there free of charge to the beekeepers nearest to the site. This was an attempt to carry out a mono-straining exercise similar to the one in Tipperary by Micheál MacGiolla Coda, where approximately 1,600 square miles have been mono-strained with his gentle black Galtee bees. These are Apis mellifera mellifera bees, the Dark European honeybee.

With our first two seasons at this new site now over, we can look back on the efforts and the results with some satisfaction. Over a hundred queens raised the first year and 70 the second year, and successfully mated and distributed. Most of those raised the first year went to beekeepers in the locality of the mating site, and some have been used to requeen some of the group apiary stocks. We sold some of the second year’s queens, and we plan to raise larger numbers in future years.

The one aspect that has disappointed us has been the losses on introduction of queens we have given to beekeepers nearest to our mating site, losses being about 40%. Of the 20 queens we used to re-queen stocks in the group apiary, we lost 3 on introduction.

The work involved has been considerable, for us it is a round trip of 100 miles to the site, and 150 if we have to go to the group apiary first. With visits at least weekly, and sometimes twice weekly, the mileage had shot up to well over 1,000 miles during the season.

We use Apidea mini-nucs, and these are mounted on a stake with a crossbar on which the mini-nuc rests. A thick band of rubber cut from a car inner tube straps the nuc to the stake. The mini-nucs are sited so as to give the bees something to help them orient on to the site, such as a bush or small tree. This reduces losses due to queens returning to the wrong nuc. In normal weather conditions we expect queens to be mated and laying within two weeks. Planning based on this presumption, means having more queen cells ready to put in the same mini-nucs two weeks after the queens have been on site. So a mated queen is removed and a ripe queen cell due to hatch within 24 hours is put in the nuc.

Themostatically controlled cell transporter box, Photo... Albert Knight
Transporting ripe queen cells 75 miles from our apiary to the mating site poses problems regarding keeping them at hive temperature. This has been solved by the use of a thermostatically controlled heater unit run off the cigar lighter in the car. The unit housed in a box fitted out with polystyrene blocks that have holes made to hold the queen cells. A digital thermometer on the lid giving the temperature reading.

Record keeping is a vital part of queen rearing and distribution of queens. Not least among the problems in this, is in actually getting information on the queens afterwards. Notes on introduction, colony behaviour and performance with the new queens are the basics of what are required to allow meaningful assessment to be made. We know from past experience that many beekeepers just don’t observe their colonies with a view to recording what they see, and it is difficult to see where you’re going if you are not looking. We live in hope.

During the course of our work with the beekeepers of the area, we have met and made new beekeeping friends. Among these we are fortunate in having Dr. Francis Ratnieks, who at that time headed a research laboratory at Sheffield University on social insects. His particular interest is honeybees, and he spent some years in America where he got his degree at Cornell University, and where he was involved in the practical side of beekeeping, running 200 colonies in New York state, so in addition to his academic attributes, he also a very practical beekeeper. We have found him to be most helpful, and he has not been slow to offer help in our breeding work. He introduced us to some American plastic foundation that is much thicker, and with deeper indentations than normal wax foundation. We are fitting all our Apidea mini-nucs with it this winter, ready to use it next season. This he has cut up to size for cementing into the plastic frames of the mini-nucs, and having made up a sample I am impressed with its strength. At the end of each season, all that will be required is to scrape the wax comb off, back to the plastic foundation.

In his laboratory at Sheffield Dr. Ratnieks has set up a DNA testing facility, and one of our members (Angus Stokes) who was studying under Dr. Ratnieks for his PhD and carried out DNA work on larvae from the queens we are raising, and the drone larvae of the colonies we are using at the mating site. This gave valuable information on the purity of mating there.

We had planned to make a video of the work involved in this project, but the work seemed to push the video making into a lower priority. However some footage has been done showing the grafting, and quite a lot on the management of the nucs on site among some really wonderful scenery. We plan to add to this next season, showing work on making up mini-nucs, fitting the plastic foundation, finding queens in colonies, introducing queens, and the recording methods used in the breeding programme.

In our craft, the norm is for beekeepers to work alone with their bees. In this project, where the planning and practical work is shared with others, one has the feeling we are participating in something really worthwhile and of real value to beekeeping in the area, that we are doing rather than talking. The enthusiasm of everyone involved in this project has been excellent, and I know I am not alone in looking forward to the next beekeeping season with keen anticipation.

Albert Knight