May 2024 BIBBA Monthly


  • Queen Cell Punches - member offer
  • The "New" SICAMM
  • A World Famous Frame
  • Drone Congregations
Queen Rearing Made Easy: The Punched Cell Method

Queen Cell Punches

Raising queens using the Punched Cell method has been in use for over a century. The Punched Cell method does not separate the larva from its food, it is not moved from its original wax cell and it is not touched in any way during the whole process

For more information on the punched cell method,
this book by Roger Patterson is available
Queen Rearing Made Easy: The Punched Cell Method

One of our members is producing cell punch kits and has offered a discount to members.  Members: Login then return to this page for info

queen cell punch kit

BIBBA becomes a founding member of “New” SICAMM

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SICAMM is the acronym for Societas Internationalis pro Conservatione Apis Melliferae Melliferae, formed in 1994 for the protection of the European Dark Bee Apis mellifera mellifera. Until recently, it was a loosely structured organisation having few officials, with BIBBA members Dorian Pritchard as a past President and Philip Denwood, secretary. There was no bank account and no membership. It was a group of individuals, being a mixture of beekeepers and scientists, with loose connections to organisations across the dark bee range of Northern Europe. The main activity was a biennial conference that was held in various countries, including England (1998), Scotland (2009) and Wales (2014).

Since 1994, many things have changed, including communication, travel and a greater threat to the diminishing populations of dark bees. It was therefore suggested that a more formalised organisation would better support the interests of the dark bee, so the decision was taken to form a “New” SICAMM. The benefits of a formal organisation include instigating and supporting research, information sharing, lobbying and beekeeper education. Progress has been hampered for several reasons, including COVID and the issues concerning an international organisation, some countries being in the EU, some not.

An interim board was assembled and they have clearly done a lot of work to prepare for a formal organisation, for which they should be congratulated. A federation was proposed, basing membership mainly on subscriptions from member associations, also individuals. It can’t be easy dealing with so many different languages, cultures and organisations, but they have tried to satisfy everyone.

Potential member organisations vary considerably, some large, some very small, with less than 10 members, one being an offshoot of a rare breeds society, another, small-scale farmers. This poses obvious problems when formulating subscription categories.

Although SICAMM is mainly concerned with Amm, beekeepers in all areas throughout its natural range have similar problems, with the importation of non-native honey bees causing introgression, so there is support for locally adapted bees in areas where pure bees don’t exist. This makes SICAMM an exciting project that will be appropriate to BIBBA, as we have members in areas of high purity bees, others heavily mongrelised.

I understand there were over 50 organisations invited to join SICAMM, but as with anything new, there is caution. The Founding Assembly was held online on 16th March 2024. There were 11 founding member organisations, of which I’m pleased to say that BIBBA was one. The BIBBA Trustees had already agreed to join, appointing Roger Patterson and Emma Buckley as delegates. The interim board was elected, with two BIBBA members, Philip Denwood as secretary and Jo Widdicombe as treasurer. John Greenaway (NIHBS) was elected to the board and Mairi Knight of Plymouth University was elected Chair of the Scientific Board. The Native Irish Honey Bee Society (NIHBS) and Scottish Native Honey Bee Society (SNHBS) are also founder members, So Britain and Ireland are well represented at an early stage.

Roger Patterson

A World Famous Frame

In remembrance of Julius Hoffman, who was the inventor of the frame which carries his name

Throughout the world a frame is used which was developed by Julius Hoffman in the 1870's.

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Julius Hoffman was born on October 25th, 1839, in the small town of Grottkau, Silesia. The well-known German bee scientist Armbruster said: This is the most perfect and most useful distance control for comb frames anywhere in the world. This invention made it possible to give the frames the right distance without any other additional equipment. He not only invented the self-spacing frame, but he was also an expert beekeeper.

Not far from his birthplace Grottkau, lived Dr. J. Dzierzon. At the age of 13 he visited the master of beekeeping for the first time. This meeting with Dzierzon was a turning point in the life of Hoffman. Full of enthusiasm for beekeeping, he bought a bee colony with black and aggressive bees. The colony had an Italian queen introduced from Dzierzon and the colony became peaceful. From this date he never lived without bees till the end of his life. In 1862 Julius Hoffman left Germany and went to London in England. On the outside of his bedroom window, he had set up an Italian colony.

In 1866 Hoffman left England and emigrated to the USA In the centre of Brooklyn he found a flat, and employment in the piano and organ industry. This was quite profitable because his profession was organ constructor. During the following four years he enlarged his number of hives to 36 colonies of bees. But he ascertained bees were not suitable for overcrowded towns. He had a lot of trouble and difficulties with the neighbours and authorities. Therefore, he decided to move to the countryside.

The price of honey was good and the risk little to star'. a bee business. In the following spring he moved to Rockland, about 56km away from New York. In autumn of the same year, he already possessed 65 bee colonies. But this place was not ideal, and he decided to look for another and better area. In 1873 he settled in Fort Plain, N.Y., and in only a few years his apiary had grown to 400 bee colonies. Thus, he could sell 50 to 100 bee colonies every spring. At the same time many known beekeepers in different parts of the New York state had to contend with big winter losses of bee colonies.

During this time all the bee journals were filled with articles about new management practices, Hoffman had the chance to capitalise on this because of his colonies. Since then, he was regularly consulted by other beekeepers. His nectar plants were studied and his ways of beekeeping management. Much of his management techniques were taken over by other beekeepers.

His main claim to fame, however, was the self-spacing frame. At the beginning this type of frame was only used for the brood chambers in Langstroth hives. Later it found application in narrow frames like Farrar-frames and for honey supers. Today the Hoffman-frame is used for nearly all sizes of frame all over the world (still not accepted, however, in much of Britain).

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Hoffman wanted to have more and more honey from Buckwheat. Therefore, he once again sold his premises in 1884. Four miles east from Canajoharie he bought 75 acres of land. On this place he built a lot of buildings to live and to run his beekeeping operation. Now he was wintering 700 bee colonies. During the following spring he always sold about 200 colonies. The whole enterprise with one helper in six apiaries. Both his daughters helped to harvest and extract the honey and prepare the comb honey for marketing. During all the years Hoffman produced comb honey almost exclusively.

Only in the latter years did he tum to the production of extracted honey. Like the frame he invented in 1874, his whole beekeeping business was well thought out and aimed at economy and efficiency. He studied German bee literature and later translated this for publishing in American papers. Besides his work on bee colonies, he travelled the immediate area where he repaired and tuned pianos and organs. On 3rd May 1907 this esteemed beekeeper died in Canajoharie.


By Klaus Nowottnick

Drone Congregations

Taken from Spring 2006 Bee Improvement magazine

My first introduction to drone assemblies (in fact. I did not know it was an assembly) was in 1944 when I had been keeping bees for a year, I heard this unusual sound overhead. Which many of you will have heard at some time, but, in fact, I must have witnessed bees in congregation areas before then. Since then, I have studied them more deeply and therefore I want to put forward some ideas which may not be common knowledge. There are two distinct types of drone assemblies known to me. My first illustration shows the local assembly. These are generally not far away from the apiary. This type of assembly I prefer to call the "bubble assembly". It occurs in a bubble of warm air which generally forms during a sunny period of the day, or when a brief gap in the clouds permits sunshine for a few minutes. The bubble of warm air then forms in a place which is well sheltered from the winds.

Bubble assembly site at Snitterfield, Warwickshire. A bubble of warm air forms between the buildings and the trees even on cool days as long as the sun is shining.
Bubble assembly site at Snitterfield, Warwickshire. A bubble of warm air forms between the buildings and the trees even on cool days as long as the sun is shining.

The shelter may be a building, a hedge or some trees. The bubble can also form near a hill or a rise, even in a valley. During the period of radiation from the sun the air moving more slowly over the ground is warmed by this or by the buildings around it. Here the drones fly up and down in the bubble of warm air at times when it is not warm enough beyond this spot for the second kind of drone assembly to occur. Thanks to a small pocket digital thermometer I have been able to measure temperatures in such places where in the past I had observed drone comets and have known queens to get mated close to an apiary. It is a small pocket digital thermometer with a very fine thermo-couple attached. This thermo-couple may be carried aloft by a balloon. However, I have only been using it this year for the first time. In the past I used a small pocket mercury thermometer. All my measurements have given me a clear idea as to why drones are where they are: namely in warm air.

Many beekeepers must have observed drones flying up and down in suitable bubble assembly places. They did not call them bubble assemblies, but here they witnessed drone comets. They observed queens and drones copulating, sometimes sitting in twigs or even in the grass before they separated again, and the queen flew back to the hive. This appears to be a very common occurrence of mating’s in rather cool, yet fairly bright weather. It may not occur with every strain of bees; I have only experience of the bees which I have worked myself, or those of other beekeepers who told me about their observations. The year 1981 has been one with many dull days for us in Britain. Many beekeepers in our English Midlands who keep Italian bees complained that their queens failed to mate. But in the same district, even in the same apiaries, many beekeepers had it satisfactory mating with queens of the mellifera type - the one you call the black bee.

At such cool times the black drones were flying freely. while the Italian drones were coming out of the hive and were going straight back in again because it was too cold for them. I regard this as normal behaviour during cloudy and dull weather on "fairly warm" days, and by that, I mean any day with temperatures just a little above l0°C. During a gap in the clouds in the middle of the day solar radiation is able to warm some bees, but not others.

I am not sure if this is due to differential heat absorption because of the dark pigmentation or whether it is related to other biological factors in these bees. My colleagues in the Department of Environmental Physics at the University of Nottingham have placed worker and drone bees under various conditions of artificial radiation, both light radiation and heat radiation. They found that dark pigmentation is a great help to keep bees warm even in cool weather.

I will now turn to the other kind of drone assemblies which I call the "vortex assembly" of which there are many kinds, all of which are based on the same effect. One I call the "pass vortex assembly"; hill walkers among you will understand the term "pass". At the point where two valley systems are meeting between two mountain ranges, we can find pass assemblies.

Here the sun warms the ground on both sides. The ground in turn warms the air immediately above it and this air tries to rise. Cold layers of air prevent a vertical rise and so a gentle air movement flows over the ground, crossing the contours of the land until it meets the rising air stream flowing upwards from the other valley system. The two air streams collide in the pass.

Pass assembly site, Crask of Aigas, Inverness-shire. Warmed air streams up on both sides of the pass creating a vortex.
Pass assembly site, Crask of Aigas, Inverness-shire. Warmed air streams up on both sides of the pass creating a vortex.

In a pass we have mountains on each side and the ground below. Here therefore the only way for the air streams to move is upwards and here the energy of motion of the two opposing air masses will create a vortex which will twist its way into the sky. Heat energy provided by the sun drives the system. About twenty years ago on Port Erin golf course in the Isle of Man, I came across such a pass vortex assembly for the first time. So, we held our 1973 BIBBA Conference in Port Erin because it was the only place where I knew of a good hotel within 200 yards of a vortex assembly.

The pass assembly here differed slightly in principle. On an island, in this instance on the southern tip of an island, the air over the land mass warms up after a few hours of sunshine. This rises and draws after itself fresh, cool, and damp air from the sea. On an island such as the Isle of Man there is therefore an onshore wind during the day and all night an offshore breeze blows out to sea as the land cools rapidly.

Relief map of the southern tip fo the Isle of Man. The assembly site at the golf course is on the saddle between Port Erin & Port St. Mary
Relief map of the southern tip fo the Isle of Man. The assembly site at the golf course is on the saddle between Port Erin & Port St. Mary

The situation can be seen as one looks north across the golf course which is about 40m above sea level. The valley beyond is Fleshwick Valley. The hills on each side are about 250m high and beyond the pass the ground drops again to the sea about 2km away. On a warm day with continuous sunshine a southerly breeze blows up from Fleshwick Bay; it also blows from Port Erin Bay in the southwest and another wind comes up from Port St. Mary's Bay in the south-east. This provides a triangular effect and as the winds presumably have different strengths and come from different directions, the vortex forms, whirling upwards with its centre somewhere over the golf course by Aaron's ruin. I do not know why the vortex rises asymmetrically, but once it has started, it builds up to greater velocity and greater height because of the energy provided by the heat of the sun. I like to think of it as a screw screwing its way into the sky when the cool air layer above the ground is not easily penetrated by the small masses of warm air underneath it. So really, we have a combination of an island assembly and a pass assembly.

A true island assembly forms where the air is coming off the sea from all directions, but here we have only the tip of an island. That is the south-eastern tip of the Isle of Man. Because of the junction of three valley systems, this spot also shows some of the pass assembly characteristics. On the second day of our Conference a group of beekeepers threw stones into the air in the hope of getting drones to follow them on their way to the ground. A day or two later we obtained some meteorological balloons, and we imprisoned two newly emerged queens as well as queen cells in hair curler cages and sent them aloft with the balloons. Then we walked up and down and across the golf course in order to find the area where drones would be attracted to our lures by the pheromones of the queens and the cells. From the behaviour of the balloons, it became apparent that, while the air in the vortex was rising, a current of air, presumably cooler, was drawn down at the periphery to replace any air pulled into the vortex. Such air movements could be studied more easily by means of smoke generators or smoke bombs, but these are rather expensive.

Pic 4

We discovered that when we used two meteorological balloons, they often twisted around each other within the vortex. To overcome the problem, we attached two further (toy) balloons to the other two. This stopped the twirling motion, and the system was then fairly well balanced. Drones could be seen flying towards the balloons rather than the queens and on this occasion, we had tethered our queen with a nylon thread around her waist - between thorax and abdomen. A comet of drones was seen to be following her. These events were recorded on film using a telephoto lens. The vortex screwing its way into the sky is repeatedly cut in two by cross-winds. We were in a fairly exposed place near the sea and cross-winds can whip away some of the aroma of pheromones. Drones could be seen flying one way, still keeping tightly together and following a "bubble" sweet with the pheromone, while the queen and another cluster of drones is somewhere else. It can be quite a strong wind which is severing the vortex, and drones will stay with it. One by one they gradually lose the scent and will break away from the small bubble; they are blown off the pheromone trail.

Pic 5

The drone comet was seen at various stages. When we wound the balloons in, we were surprised to see drones following them to the ground from 30-50 metres up in the sky. This particular point was on the side of a small hill on the golf course and we noticed drones flying up from Port St.Mary, about 2 miles away along one particular point.

Here it is possible to attract drones; but aside from this line you cannot do so. When one can hear drones flying overhead one may therefore be in the "eye" of the drone assembly or one may be in the centre of one which slopes obliquely upwards, depending on the velocity or direction of any cross-winds. On the other hand, one may be standing under the "bee-line" between the apiary and

the drone congregation area. One delegate touched the queen and then he sent the balloon aloft again. When he wiped his forehead, he transferred some of the pheromone and the drones assembled on his forehead. The eye of the drone assembly was in fact 150 to 200 metres further up the hill side. A photograph was taken of a drone and queen paired while still on the line and this we were able to observe on a number of occasions at the Conference.

(This is the end of all available tape recordings of the lecture. We were unable to trace any further recordings. We had hoped that Beowulf Cooper himself could edit the lecture and expand it where needed. His unexpected death on 4th February 1982 interrupted that work ...) My own memory recalls two important points out of the rest of the lecture. Beowulf Cooper mentioned another cause for a vortex arising in a totally flat area. In this case the break-through of the weak layers of warmed air at floor level occurs at a focal point. This point may be a solitary tree or a building. When its sides are warmed by the sun the thin air layers along the sides can easily rise vertically and create a chimney effect which draws finally all warm air layers from all sides into its base. A drone assembly may form above the tree or building. Mr Cooper also showed us how we can study the vortex effect in a very simple and inexpensive way.

Pic 6

Soap bubbles, as we know them from childhood days, are full of warm air, our breath, and can rise or drift easily. As they are light and large, they follow the winds with very little drag. It is a pity that they lose water through evaporation from their large surfaces so rapidly and live for a short time only.

From my own experiences as a boy on the island of Langeoog - an East-Frisian island, I would like to add the following. We should not look for true island vortices over the islands in this chain. The influence of the masses of warm air rising over the mainland of Northern Germany is so overwhelming that, during daytime, the onshore winds will not allow the formation of an island vortex. The strong sea-breeze sweeps across the tops of dunes and will only permit bubble assemblies between the dunes and in the larger valleys between them. (Bernhard Mobus).

Drone mating with tethered queen, held by George Sommerville.
Drone mating with tethered queen, held by George Sommerville.
Beowulf Cooper with anemometer/weather vane and soap bubbles, testing at drone assembly near 
Stranraer, Wigtownshire.
August 1975
Beowulf Cooper with anemometer/weather vane and soap bubbles, testing at drone assembly near Stranraer, Wigtownshire. August 1975