BIBBA Monthly – December 2020

Welcome to the December BM Newsletter by Karl Colyer

As winter approaches, everything quietens down – except for the webinars!

As winter approaches, everything quietens down – except for the webinars!

The cooler and darker weather is firmly here now. I’m based in Cheshire and I’m not seeing any bees at the moment except for dead bees which are left on the chilly landing boards.  The one thing that is doing well is my To Do list for the winter.

As well as repairs and routine maintenance to my hives, I’m hoping to build some new hives as part of my optimistic and enthusiastic outlook to the coming year. Many of us were impacted but the stay-at-home policies and advice from government, employers and family. I’ve certainly spent more than my usual amount of time at home during 2020. It has given me a chance to think about how to improve my bees and beekeeping and to decide what equipment I prefer to use and which can be let go.

The NatBIP message is still spreading amongst beekeepers and the BIBBA and other webinars offer some golden tips to try next year. I’m a firm believer in every talk having something useful for me to take away – even it’s just confirmation that I seem to be doing something sensible anyway!

Stay safe please and stay clustered at home if you can.

Help needed please.

There are the occasional times when we need computerised drawings, either to illustrate a hive or technique for an article or booklet, or for dimensioned drawings. If you are able to help, please tell Karl.

BIBBA Webinars  - You can’t have too much of a good thing!

Thank you to everybody that has watched some or most of the webinars to date. I’ve lost count but I think it’s been 20 webinars so far. I was mindful that there was a webinar scheduled for the 8th December and then we would have a break.

Roger Patterson, however, had other ideas. It was broken to us gently with “another couple” of webinars being added to the list. He announced last week the dates, titles and speakers for another 41 webinars. As BIBBA members, you will get access to the recordings. We have also currently made the recordings available to non-members but this may change as our library increases.

In Roger’s own words……..

BIBBA webinars 2021 

As helpful teaching aids to beekeepers of all knowledge and ability levels, BIBBA has put together a programme of webinars for the early months of 2021. These are in 5 ability/knowledge levels as follows: -

  1. Prospective beekeepers. For those who are considering if beekeeping is for them, but want to know what is involved.
  2. “I’ve just started (or about to). I have a lot to Learn”, is for those who have just got their first bees or are about to, perhaps had no more than one summer and are experiencing their first winter.
  3. “Sound Foundations in Beekeeping”. It will be ideal for those who have recently started, but there will be material suitable for the more advanced.
  4. Intermediate/advanced level is intended to satisfy all experienced beekeepers and will appeal especially to the more progressive ones, but should also be relevant to those of lesser experience who wish to understand their bees more.
  5. Bee Improvement is appropriate to all beekeepers. The emphasis will be on using bees that will thrive and survive in the locality they are kept in.

The topics we have arranged are relevant to all beekeepers, but they are pitched at different levels, where perhaps the same topic may be addressed, but the speaker will assume the intermediate/advanced will know more of the theory, but will explain the basis in greater detail for the newer beekeeper.

It is expected that many beekeepers will view the webinars of all levels, as there may well be snippets in the elementary programme that more experienced beekeepers may not know and elements of the more advanced programme the less experienced will understand. For that reason, the whole programme has been assembled in a logical sequence.

All speakers are experienced beekeepers, who have been selected to speak from their own experience, not recycle from books. For that reason, there may be some differences throughout the programme compared to “standard” teaching.

It is hoped that not only will “ordinary” beekeepers watch the webinars, but also those involved in teaching and organising beekeeping at all levels. We have publicised widely, but in case the message hasn’t reached everywhere, please inform all beekeepers and your BKA about this webinar programme. It has been designed to help beekeepers understand their bees better and keep bees that are best suited to their locality, rather than using imports with their well-documented problems.

Visit BIBBA website bibba.com/webinars-four/

Beekeeping.events Beekeeping Events from around the UK delivered to your inbox

Editor’s Note: just the titles and dates are included below. See website for descriptions.

Prospective beekeepers (Saturday webinars)

Jan
30        Roger Patterson         “Beekeeping. What’s it all About?” 4pm

March
13        Roger Patterson          “Introduction to Beekeeping” Day  (9.30-5.00)

“I’ve just started (or about to). I have a lot to Learn”. All start at 4.00pm

Feb
13.       Roger Patterson          “I’ve got my bees (or about to). Now what?”
20.       Roger Patterson          “Learn the Basics”
27.       Roger Patterson          “My Second Colony”

March
20.       Roger Patterson          “Swarming and What Swarm Prevention and Control Methods are Trying to Achieve”
27.       Roger Patterson          “Some Simple Things You May Not Have Been Told”

April
3.         Roger Patterson          “Some Things I Need to Be Aware of”
10.       Roger Patterson          “Keeping a Colony Alive”
17.       Roger Patterson          “Are you confused? Your Questions Answered”
24.       Roger Patterson          “Are you still confused? More Questions Answered – if you need them”.

“Sound Foundations in Beekeeping”. All start at 7.30pm            

Feb
13.       Roger Patterson          “The Next step”
20.       Karl Colyer                   "Things I wish I'd known earlier"
27.       Roger Patterson          “Where are bees kept?”

March
6.         Bee Inspector (TBA)    “The Bee Inspection Service and how it works” 
13.       Pete Sutcliffe               “Beekeeping kit you don’t need”
20.       Roger Patterson          “Modest colony increase”
27.       Roger Patterson          “Observation. Interpret what you see”

April
3.         Roger Patterson          “Queen cells. Their recognition and uses”
10.       Roger Patterson          “Beekeeping. Challenge What you are told”
17.       Roger Patterson          “Some management techniques we all need”
24.       Roger Patterson          “Collecting, hiving and caring for swarms”

Intermediate/Advanced. All start at 5.30pm (Tuesday webinars)

Feb
9.         Roger Patterson          “The coming season. Are you prepared?”
16.       Clare Densley and Martin Hann    “Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey –Past and Present” 
23.       Lynfa Davies                “Honeybee behaviour – a look at the mechanisms bees use to manage their lives” 

March
2.         Lynne Ingram              “Comb honey – a natural hive product”
9.         Roger Patterson          “Dave Cushman. A man and his website”
16.         Lynfa Davies                “Drones – their role in the colony” 
23.       Tony Jefferson            “Heather Honey production”
30.       Pete Sutcliffe               “The hive as a processing centre”

Bee Improvement. All start at 7.30pm (Tuesday webinars)

Feb
9.         Jo Widdicombe           "The Basics of Bee Improvement”

16        Jo Widdicombe           "Bee Improvement – Playing your part"
23.       Roger Patterson          “Understanding queen rearing methods”

March
2.         Roger Patterson          “Bee Improvement. How I did it”
9.         Keith Pierce                 "Breeding and improving our native bee. A pragmatic approach, even if you are surrounded by non-native bees"
16.       Kevin Thorn                 “Working Together to Improve Local Stock”
23.       Roger Patterson          “BKAs – How they can help improve the nations bees”
30.       Jonathan Getty           “Raising queens and the use of mini nucs”

April
6.         Roger Patterson          “Bee Improvement in a Group – Some Ideas”
13.       John Chambers           "Four incompatible approaches to bee improvement"
20.       Tony Jefferson            “Never Waste a Queen Cell”
27.       Eoghan MacGiollacoda  “Bee Farming with native/near bees”

May
4.         Roger Patterson          “The teaching apiary. A brilliant resource”

Is this colony queenless? By Roger Patterson

Since the appearance about the turn of the 21st century of the problems most beekeepers now experience with queens, it is quite common for a colony to be unexpectedly queenless at any time of the year, when queens “disappear” for no apparent reason. This can be confusing to a beekeeper, especially if no emergency cells are built, as often happens. This is only one of several reasons why a colony can be queenless, other common ones are:-

  • A colony may have swarmed and the beekeeper doesn’t check to see if a queen is present, but removes all the queen cells, so they are hopelessly queenless.
  • A queen has emerged but not returned from her mating flight.

Until a few years ago, a queenless colony gave a distinctive noise, known as the “queenless roar” and often behaved in an agitated manner, which were reliable signs for a reasonably experienced beekeeper. It was so reliable it is in all the older books. For some reason these signs don’t always apply any more. I have been fooled in recent years, when I know a colony is queenless, yet the bees are calm and quiet and are going about their business as if they are queenright.

Experienced beekeepers are often contacted by beginners saying they have a queenless colony and ask for a queen. On asking why they think they have no queen, the usual responses are either they can’t find her or there are no eggs. There are reasons why queens go off lay, two common ones are if thymol varroa treatment is being administered and if the colony has a non-prolific queen of the native/near native type, that often go off lay in a nectar dearth or in the autumn. If the former, they usually resume laying after a couple of weeks break, if the latter, then a gentle feed usually brings them back into lay. Before possibly wasting a good queen, it is advisable to check first otherwise the introduced queen will die.

The usual advice if a colony is possibly queenless is to give it a comb with young larvae in from another colony, which is called a “test comb”. If the colony is queenless, they should build emergency cells, if queenright, they won’t. This is also no longer 100% reliable, though is still recommended and I wouldn’t disagree with it. Obviously if emergency cells are built, then you know the colony is queenless, but if none are built it’s no guarantee they are queenright and you may have to check regularly.

An old, but little used alternative to a test comb that I have used for many years and is very quick, is to place a caged fertile queen on the top bars of the brood frames in the suspect colony. If it is queenright the bees usually ignore it, if queenless, they will usually climb all over the cage in seconds. On many occasions I have seen bees scuttling over the frames in the same manner that a swarm does when being hived. A substitute is a cage with dead fertile queens in. When beekeeping I usually have a queen cage with 4-6 dead queens in it, that usually works very well, but one live queen is better. I have a small biscuit tin with things I always need like marking pens, scissors and queen cages in. I also keep the cage with dead queens in and as temporary storage for caged live queens.

I encourage beekeepers to experiment, because it is a way of learning that is likely to be remembered, as well as perhaps giving different results than the books indicate. The accompanying photographs show what has happened at different times during 2020.

Fig 1. When in the apiary, I usually place a queen cage with dead queens (or live queen(s) if I have them) on a hive roof. If there is little or no interest, all colonies are usually queenright, but if it attracts attention, then there is usually at least one queenless colony. This shows a new empty cage (yellow) on the left that is largely ignored. The white cage on the right contains several dead fertile queens, showing there is a queenless colony somewhere.

Fig 1. When in the apiary, I usually place a queen cage with dead queens (or live queen(s) if I have them) on a hive roof. If there is little or no interest, all colonies are usually queenright, but if it attracts attention, then there is usually at least one queenless colony. This shows a new empty cage (yellow) on the left that is largely ignored. The white cage on the right contains several dead fertile queens, showing there is a queenless colony somewhere.

Fig 2. This is my biscuit tin with a caged fertile queen in. There is definitely a queenless colony somewhere close.

Fig 2. This is my biscuit tin with a caged fertile queen in. There is definitely a queenless colony somewhere close.

Fig 3. The two roller cages on the right contain recently emerged virgin queens. They are largly ignored. The cage on the left contains a fertile queen. This shows that a fertile queen is more attractive to a queenless colony than a virgin queen is.

Fig 3. The two roller cages on the right contain recently emerged virgin queens. They are largly ignored. The cage on the left contains a fertile queen. This shows that a fertile queen is more attractive to a queenless colony than a virgin queen is.

Fig. 4 Shows a new (empty) cage on the right that is ignored, dead fertile queens on the left with a bit of attention and one fertile queen in the middle with most attention. You can see the cage the bees preferred. If the centre cage was removed, I suspect the left hand cage would have more attention

Fig. 4 Shows a new (empty) cage on the right that is ignored, dead fertile queens on the left with a bit of attention and one live fertile queen in the middle with most attention. You can see the cage the bees preferred. If the centre cage was removed, I suspect the left hand cage would have more attention

I raise queens constantly during the summer, so I often have a live queen in a cage, but if not, I use the dead queens, that still works, but isn’t quite as effective. This can easily be done by the ordinary beekeeper that has two or more colonies. Simply take the queen out of one of the other colonies, and then return her. It is much quicker than using a test comb, especially in an out apiary.

Membership

As of 6th December, BIBBA has 757 members. This is new ground for BIBBA with around a 50% growth just in the last year. The webinars have had a profound effect on the awareness and support for BIBBA. The increase in numbers has also coincided with the launch of the NatBIP strategy. Thank you to all members, old and new, for helping BIBBA to do even more things for even more beekeepers.

As I’m sure you are all aware, BIBBA is run by a committee of Trustees and co-opted volunteers who give their time and talents for free to help BIBBA fulfil both its Aims and its aspirations. Last week, five more Trustees were co-opted to committee. Like all Trustees, they will be subject to re-election each year by members at the AGM. At the moment, we are planning to have the AGM as an online event towards the end of March 2021. The new Trustees (in alphabetical order) are:

Jonathan Brookhouse
Brian Holdcroft
Selwyn Runnett
Richard Senior
Robert Silver

Each of these has already made a very positive contribution to BIBBA and has helped BIBBA become what it is today.

Request for contributors for regular Facebook communications  By Liz Childerley and Stephen Barnes

BIBBA is looking to revitalise and increase the Facebook communications between BIBBA, its members and other people signed up to the page. To attract new sign-ups, we will be publishing the message to BIBBA members and Facebook group members alike:

GET INVOLVED
BIBBA has around 750 members currently and is continuing to grow. Our recent launch of online free-to-view webinars and our invitation for beekeepers to join our National Bee Improvement Programme (NatBIP) has proved to be a huge success.  Founded in 1964, by Beowulf Cooper & others, BIBBA offers support and guidance for those that are interested in the conservation, restoration, study, selection & improvement of the native & near-native honeybees of Britain & Ireland and the NatBIP is there to help as many beekeepers as possible become fully sustainable with their own beekeeping practices.

If you are a social media user, then make sure you come and join us on Facebook where you see us regularly post a mix of news, updates and helpful information.  Also, when the next beekeeping season is upon us and NatBIP supporters are taking their first steps to improve their stock - we will be with you all the way, offering guidance and encouraging you to share your experiences.

Book download

“The temperature of the honeybee cluster in winter”, written by E. Phillips in 1914 is a short but detailed book about the overwintering monitoring of a colony in a constant-temperature room. It contains an envious amount of detail for over 100 years ago.  The book can be downloaded here.