Tuesday 14 December 2010

Christmas Lunch - 2010

Our champions
Something had to give and I'm afraid it's been keeping this website up to date, much better the group flourishes so that's where I put my energies.

That said, I couldn't let Sunday's marvellous Christmas meal pass by without comment or putting it on record.

Lou's had one too many!
This was a joint meal between YABeeP and our swarmed colony, the Bristol group - just a shame the Bristol Queen couldn't make it on the day!

Boy's corner
I, and I'm sure everyone that went, especially want to thank Jo and John for both organising it, finding the venue, shopping, preparing the puds and punch and setting up and clearing on Sunday. You did a really great job guys and we all very much appreciate it. You'll already know from the atmosphere on the day (or should I say 'buzz' being a bee group)  that everyone had a really great time. When we started the bee groups we hoped to get folk interested in our way of looking after bees but we never realised  that we would also make such great and fun friends as well.

The wild bees survive
Quite a few of use, either before the meal or following, even went to see our adopted wild bees that are living out in the open in a wind tunnel. I'm very happy to report are still alive and well in the middle of Bristol - what fantastic news especially given the cold of the last few weeks - what can we learn from this?!!!

Again many thanks to Jo & David and everyone who came.

That's my Dad!

Our wild city bees - click on image to see full size

Friday 5 November 2010

The Importance of Managing Grassland for Bumble Bees

I have received the following flyer from Marc Carlton who many of you will remember from the excellent Bumble Bee Box Building day we ran last December.

These talks by Dr Pippa Raynor of the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust take place near Monmouth and, just over the river at Shirenewton, a village just outside Chepstow.  Too late to organise a YABeeP trip but if, like me, you wish to attend please make your own arrangements.

Monday 26 July 2010

Chop & Crop

Dear All,

Really sorry but both Naomi and I missed your last meeting (17th July 2010) having both thought it was a different weekend. Feel really apologetic because we were going to talk about our stressful 'chop and crop' TBH transfer and our huge gratitude to Robin and Ali who took time to visit us soon after and offered wonderfully positive support and made us both feel very much better!

Since then I have also transferred a nucleus of bees on standard frames into one of 'Nick's feral hives' in Devon and this was a piece of cake in comparison, which confirms why we had the particular difficulties we had with the first transfer.

Basically the first nucleus arrived on standard sized frames made of 4 x solid bars of wood, nailed securely with long small headed nails at each corner. The wires holding the foundation into the frame zig zagged across the foundation from side to side and were secured to the side bars of the frame - there were no attachments of this wire to either the top or bottom bars. The wooden bars were tougher to 'crop' and the heavy duty nails and their length meant we just couldn't get the frame peices apart easily. It was also more complicated because we had to cut the wires up each side of the comb as well as trying to separate the comb along these edges. As soon as the supporting bottom bar was detached the comb simply fell off the top bar, this happenend every time no matter how careful we tried to be. We did eventually manage to salvage a couple of frames by just shortening the side bars and putting the frame with these still attached into the TBH. The combs were well built out and full with either honey and/or brood and we weren't convinced that we could have successfully sewed them onto a top bar so we simply lodged them as straight as possible into the hive in the correct order and left the bees to it.

We were really 'traumatised' by the whole event. There was running honey everywhere, we smashed more bees than should have been necessary and also lost brood cells. There was honey literally pouring and then dripping out of the bottom of the hive for 3 whole days. The bees had only one entrance open and didn't appear to suffer from robbing but how this didn't happen i don't know!! We had trapped and kept the queen secure throughout the whole transfer so we assumed she should be ok after her release into the hive and within 2 days bees were coming and going with pollen so we hoped all was ok. Amazingly, within 4 days the bees had begun to build new comb along the empty top bars down towards the old slumped combs and quickly began emptying the damaged comb cells and transferring contents out of the hive or up into new stores (presumably). Now about 3 weeks later all seems as well as could be expected. The bees have joined some of the old brood comb to the new comb from the top bars and have then been able to eat under the old comb so it's no longer sitting on the base of the hive and/or against the side walls of the hive. They have have now built on 9 of the top bars and apart from the area of brace comb onto the original, the new combs are straight and appear seperate. We have managed to remove some empty original comb and wires which had been emptied and was no longer being used but are going to leave the 'mess' of brace comb to sort out in the autumn or next spring.

The second nucleus from 'Easybees' in Glos. arrived on the traditional frames of shaped soft wood with a split bottom bar. The frame was stapled together with lightweight staples and the wires zig zagged from top to bottom through the foundation and were only securely attached to the top bar. The combs were less well built out and not so full of honey and/or brood so probably not such good value but it did make the transfer easier. The bottom and side bars were simple to 'chop and crop' and pull apart, there were no wires to cut through as the 'bottom corner crops' fell outside the wired area (the feral boxes are wider at the base than the TBH) and the original top bars fitted neatly into the rebates of the hive. The comb remained intact and securely wired to the top bar and therefore transferred easily without any breakages. An easy and relatively painless transfer with only a small loss of comb and a few bees. They are apparently flying well to and fro but I haven't seen them since the transfer 10 days ago.

Hope this is helpful, we don't intend to buy further nuclei and it wasn't the way we really intended to start but for future reference, if nuclei are being considered, I would stringly encourage purchasers for TBHs to check in advance that the frames are wired from top to bottom and only secured with panel pins/ staples. I personally wouldn't attempt a transfer on side wired frames again!

The second Bristol Sustainable Bee Group meeting is this coming Saturday 31st July 11-1pm in Bishopston where everyone else will have a chance to see what a mess the transfer was and how amazingly the bees have coped!! All welcome from Bristol and Yatton and apologies again for missing the last Yatton meeting.

Best wishes

Jo and Naomi

Friday 11 June 2010

I've a problem what should I do?

As the so say 'leader' of our group I often get asked about issues and problems someone has with their bees despite the fact that I always start our meetings by explaining that I'm a relatively new beekeeper and am certainly no bee expert.

Happy bees
Luckily we now have a few far more experienced bee people in our group and are well connected to 'experts' to call on. We can also use the internet forums like Biobees (my personal favourite for sustainable beekeeping) to seek views and advice.

Using our group's resources will often give us a clear answer and strategy of what to do. However, sometime it's not so clear or we find that there is a wide range of, often differing, views and opinions. This is especially true when seeking views on internet forums where respondents can come from a wide range of different climate and cultural backgrounds or are at a different stage along their path to sustainable beekeeping - always bear this in mind when seeking forum opinions.

So many opinions, what do I do? 
When I'm in doubt about what to do with bees because of a wide range of conflicting opinions my own philosophy as a sustainable beekeeper is to first ask myself what would the bees do in the wild?  If I can answer this then I facilitate them to do just that.

If you can't answer that question then I would suggest that you leave them alone or at least choose the least interference option, they know far more about bees than we humans ever will so they are far better equipped to sort any situations out. I really believe that, athough our intentions may well be good, the more we interfere the worse we make it for them. This 'leave alone' principle can be very hard for us to do for, as humans, we cannot help but think we must help, we have answers - human nature makes it difficult to trust others, especially when the others are only insects, despite the fact that they have had 40 million years of evolution to learn the ropes! 
Exposed colony in Bristol center

Ask yourself what's the worst that can happen? 
It probably won't happen, but they could die off - but should we see this as a failure? I think not. We have to accept that in the wild, as in captivity, colonies do sometimes die out quite naturally; maybe this is nature saying that their genetics or some other aspect was not good enough - the survival of the fittest at work. I believe that the best lesson we can then learn is to accept this as nature being nature and doing what she knows best.

The alternative is to interfere ourselves and do what we think is right. They can still die off because what we did was either not correct or it added further stress to already stressed bees. If they die following our interference then their death certainly is our fault for interfering.

The Advantages of Sustainable Beekeeping
To me one of the advantages of sustainable beekeeping is that we don't have to heavily invest, both in time and money, in our craft with expensive hives, weekly inspections and all the beekeeping paraphernalia that goes with more conventional methods. After all, if you've invested heavily then you're under huge pressure to interfere to try and guarantee your 'crop' and recover some of your investment. It's far easier for us to sit back and see nature take control.

I hope this helps, please forgive the ramblings of an old man!

Robin - June 2010

Monday 24 May 2010

15-May-2010 Meeting Note

Yet another glorious day for our meeting - just as well as with at least 29 people, and I don't think everyone signed the contacts sheet, we'd have struggled to get everybody indoors! Yet again many thanks for those who brought biscuits and Joyce for the baking - yummy!!!
Our speakers in full flow
Yet again we were able to welcome some new members from both near and far.

Just as we were about to start we had a visitor from the next village to report a swarm so there was more even reason to keep the meeting short! We had already re-jigged the agenda as it was felt that to do a round-Robin of introductions would take far too long with the numbers present so instead members were asked to give an exceptions report on their colonies, additions, deaths, strange happenings, etc. - we'll probably stick to this format in future as a shorter business meeting allows more time for informal networking after.

Future events
None of interest were known - a quiet time on the sustainable beekeeping front, I guess everybody's busy chasing swarms.

Event Feedback
hTBH autopsy
Safe Land for Bees event - A brief report back was given on this successful day held in Bristol on 11th April. For those who would like to hear Barrie Trower talk on microwave communication he will be appearing in Glastonbury this summer. Similarly Carlo Montesanti's from The Global Bee Project will be talking at Cadbury Garden & Leisure. When dates are known I'll circulate them to members. As a result of this YABeeP we have now hooked up with The Global Bee Project as Carlo is interested in getting groups like ours established around the country and thinks we can assist - I'll be seeing him on Monday so can report back to the next meeting.

The Kingsdown/Cotham Bee Group Launch - YABeeP was invited to talk on bees at this launch and several members went. Nick Miller had suggested that if there was sufficient demand then he would extend the group from his Spanish style feral bee boxes to include those interested in top bar hive hives along the lines of YABeeP. It would be linked with the Bristol Slow Food. Nick is currently away in Spain but will hopefully arrange something when he returns.
Gareth starts with a hug
The Global Bee Project - Robin caught up with this Stroud based group that are doing tremendous things to promote bees. We have agreed to meet with Carlo Montesanti next week to discuss how we can support them particularly in spreading the word about setting up a network of local groups like YABeeP. Given their work YABeeP members are encouraged to join them, become Bee Guardians and post what you are individually doing on their website.

Monthly Features
Monitoring for Varroa & Nosema
Nick Delaney gave a short talk on this subject. Nick has kindly let us have his notes which, as it is an important area which we wish to refer back to, has been posted separately here. Many thanks Nick.

Gareth also contributed by outlining his own essential oils Varroa treatment and a simplistic method for identifying when mite numbers become a problem which is posted here.

Inspecting a horizontal Top Bar Hive
Once the business proceedings had ended our guest, Gareth John, gave us a practical demonstration on this subject starting with an autopsy on a recently deceased horizontal Top Bar Hive (hTBH) which had been dwindling since the winter with no new bees, then moving on to inspect a living hive. Because of the large numbers the group split and Nick kindly took some of our number next door to inspect his hives. 

Wot's going on 'ere then?
The 'dead' hive still had around 20 bees in the colony and interestingly one of these turned out to be the queen - well spotted Ali! There was no disease or excessive varroa seen so it was surmised that she had not started laying post winter hence the colony die off. Luckily, Simon J had a queeenless hive so he took her hoping that a new strong colony would kick-start her into laying - keep us posted Simon.

An inspection of the live hTBH was carried out by Gareth John. The hive has central entrances and natureal wool carpeting as a cover over the top bars, below the roof. The warmth of the bees could be felt through the top bars once the carpet had been removed and this suggested that the colony had expanded leftwards from the hive's central entrance. The left hand followed board (which has provision for a jar feeder) was removed. The first two bars contained open stores of nectar/honey. Following this were 8 bars well filled with a mix of pollen, sealed and unsealed brood and eggs (which were pointed out to interested group members). Very little drone brood was present. No queen cells were found. Attachments between the sides of the combs and the hive wall were carefully cut using a sharp blade, cutting in an upwards direction before each bar was carefully lifted out. There was very little cross combing between the top bars.
YABeeP members all thank Gareth and his wife for travelling down from Oxfordshire to give us this excellent demonstration and pass on his considerable hTBH experience - we hope to see them at other meetings.

Other Business
Hive Building Workshop - 22nd May
Given we have now entered the busy period swarming period and the small numbers wanting to build it was agreed that this fixture would be dropped. Those wishing to build hives needing and needing help are to contact Robin and we will either arrange a couple of evenings or one to one sessions. A further workshop will probably be arranged for later in the year.

Bristol Group
Lazy queen goes to new home 
Given the growth of YABeeP and the numbers attending from Bristol it was felt that we need to do something to 'help along' a stand-alone Bristol group. Both Nick Miller's Kingsdown/Cotham group and Safe Land for Bees could be the catalyst plus we have been informed by Phil Chandler of Biobees that some who attended one of his recent hTBH courses also plan to start a group so we really need a YABeeP Bristol Champion to possibly arrange a meeting and help move this along. If anyone feels up for the challenge please contact Robin asap.

Raising Funds
Whilst YABeeP wishes to stay a free and open group without the ties of formal membership, committees and constitutions we do need to raise some funds to cover the increasing costs of swarm collection and a few other bits and pieces. 

A merry throng
Following some discussion it was agreed that with immediate effect we would charge members who receive bees via YABeeP as follows. £25 for a colony of honeybees (swarm or split) and £10 for a nest of bumbles. Swarm catchers acn also claim a mileage allowance of £0.50 per mile. 

Bumble bees
Members with empty bumble boxes wishing to have a rescued nest need to get their empty box, clearly marked with their name, to Robin. Bees will then be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis as we rescue nests - see Bumble Rescue Programme link.

Next Meeting
The next meeting is Saturday 19th June and this will end with a lunch time American BBQ so if you are saying for food please bring something to contribute - all YABeeP members and hanger's on are invited.

Thymol and Tea Tree String Varroa Treatment

by Gareth John

At our 15th May 2010 YABeeP meeting our guest speaker Gareth John explained the Thymol and Tea Tree String varroa treatment and inspection regime he has developed that is showing considerable success and iIt was agreed that he would share this with us.

This has been discussed on a thread on the Natural Beekeeping Network (Biobees) which you can read here. However, for those of you who don't use internet forums Gareth has produced the main recipe and methodology which is shown here. This also includes a simple way of calculating when mite drop levels become a problem:

Thymol and Tea Tree String Treatment
  • 10g of thymol crystals 
  • 10 drops of tea tree oil 
  • Olive oil, say 25 ml 
  • Sunflower oil, say 50 ml 
  • One or two pieces of bees wax (walnut sized) 
  • Two or three teaspoons of fine sugar (icing sugar) 
  • Thirty 50mm (2 inch) lengths undyed garden string (eg. hemp) 
The only things I measure accurately are the thymol and tea tree.

Gently warm the oil and beeswax until the beeswax just dissolves and then add the thymol crystals. Stir to dissolve these. (They smell strongly, so do not touch them with your hands.) Cool and add the tea tree (it will evaporate if the mix is too hot). Then add the sugar and stir. The mix will turn lumpy and sticky at this stage. The consistency should be that of soft butter. Place the pieces of string in the mix and coat them thoroughly. Use enough string to soak up all the mix.

This makes about enough to treat 3 hives once each with 10 strings apiece. Make up a fresh recipe for each treatment as I suspect that the thymol breaks down over time. The treatment is most effective when the bees are active and the weather warm. The dosage rate is about 1/4 that of commercially available thymol treatments and much more effective in my experience.

To apply, move the top bars apart enough to push a piece of string down between each leaving a short length of the string just proud of the bar. When the bars are closed up, these little tails will be visible so you will know which bars are 'stringed' and which not. The string, being sticky, will catch on the face of the comb. That's fine. Do this for each of the brood bars .

Over time the bees will chew at the string and throw bits out of the hive entrance or push chewed pieces through the mesh floor. Such research as I have seen suggests that thymol does not persist in the combs but, to be sure, I do not apply the treatment when a honey flow is in progress if I intend to harvest the honey and I remove any remaining strings.

Mite Counts
Sticky boards can be cut from the sides of plastic milk containers or similar and smeared with vaseline. They do not have to cover the whole hive floor, just a good portion of the brood area. Leave the boards on for 2 or 3 days and then count the mites.

Calculate the daily drop. The monitoring regime that I use is to count at intervals through the season. For example count for a 7 day period in mid March, then again for 7 days in mid April. This will give a baseline idea of the mite load following the winter. Then count for two or three days once a month thereafter through to October or November.

Calculating problem drop rates
Daily mite fall will gradually increase through the season, from 2 or 3 a day in March and April, peaking in September or October at maybe 10 a day, before falling away sharply in October or November. As a rule of thumb, the daily natural fall will be roughly the same as the number of the month in the year - so March 3, April 4 etc. What you are looking for is a sudden and dramatic increase in natural mite fall. What I typically see is daily fall in single figures for quite a while followed by a count that is in the high teens, or 20's or 30's or even higher. (My record so far is 4 a day followed by 80 a day 3 weeks later!). It's that spike that says the mites are reproducing faster than the bees can control their numbers. That is the time to apply the treatment! If no spike occurs, the bees are coping.

During treatment the mite fall can reach a daily figure into the low 100's, which then falls off and should return to something approaching single figures, although this is not always the case. For example, the level may stabilise somewhere in the teens. That's fine as long as the count remains at that level and does not start to spike again. If the numbers do not fall, or seem to be spiking again, I apply a second string treatment. Typically I find a round of treatment in the spring holds things under control until somewhere after the honey flow when a second round of treatment is sometimes needed. Bees that have originated from feral stock are likely to show a better tolerance of varroa mites than those from hives that have been routinely treated. The aim of the regime described here is not to eradicate the mites, or even to reduce their numbers to very low levels. It is to help the bees when things gets beyond them but, otherwise, to leave them to manage things in their own way.
Gareth, the author of this treatment regime, has this year decided that he will no longer use thymol in his hives explaining:
"Over several seasons I experienced considerable problems with queen failures - hives had great difficulty getting queens mated and, when they did, often superseded them in a few weeks. It would have been easy to say 'oh, it's those nasty neonicotinoids' but, at the same time, I became aware of anecdotal suggestions that thymol might be implicated. A research paper was then published showing that thymol activates the same genes in honeybees as certain toxins and 'hard' varroa treatments. Whilst none of this proves low doses of thymol to be definitely harmful, my inclination was to keep it out of my hives to see if this improved matters. My queen mating success this year has been the best I have seen for a long time, around 80%, I'd say. Of course, this might have nothing to do with thymol - other factors might be responsible - but for the time being I am continuing to pursue a non-treatment, let the bees find the way, regime."
To see the source and subsequent discussion follow this thread on the Natural Beekeeping Network.

Sunday 23 May 2010

Monitoring for Varroa & Nosema

by Nick Delaney

Notes from a talk by Nick Delaney given at our 15th May 2010 meeting:

A. Varroa Destructor
Follow this link for images of varroa  destructor.


  • Varroa is an external parasitic mite, distributed particularly in Asia (origin site), the US, the UK and continental Europe.
  • Varroa infestation provides a context for significant weakening of a colony through infection, disease and shortened lifespan.
  • Varroa control is therefore viewed as a primary aim of much beekeeping activity, although methodologies vary greatly.

Photo © Wikipedia
Adult females are reddish brown in colour, have eight legs and a flattened ovoid body of 1 – 2 mm in diameter. They attack both brood and adult bees, sucking blood and leaving open wounds, which weakens the bees and spreads disease/infection.

Adult males are about half the size of females and yellowish in colour. They only attack sealed brood.
Mites have a preference for drone brood, probably because the pupation period is longer.

As noted above, the feeding habits of the mite results in parasitic weakening of the host and, most importantly, cross-contamination of disease. The major disease indicators of varroa infestation include deformed wing virus, acute bee paralysis virus and slow paralysis virus.

Bees can tolerate varroa at low levels and are believed to have co-existed with the mite for decades in Asia, where hive mite populations do not increase exponentially throughout the season as is the case in Europe.
However, once a critical mite population threshold is reached hives will be affected by a combination of:

  • Decreased adult bee weight
  • Decreased adult bee lifespan
  • Virus spread
  • Deformed wings
  • Reduction in drone numbers
  • Increase in drone infertility

Photograph © Wikipedia
It is probable that a fatal mite threshold is reached in European (mellifera) honeybees because the pupation period of the European honeybee is two to three days longer than that of the Asian (cerana) honeybee. In Asia, therefore varroa mites, which breed in capped brood, only have time to produce one offspring. In Europe between 5 and 6 offspring are produced on average.

It is this hyperbolic increase in mite population throughout the brood season in
Europe which creates the critical infestation threshold and typically overcomes
a colony during the cold season due to a fatal weakening of the winter bees.

Due to the destructive nature of varroa infestation it is essential to monitor mite population throughout the season and take action if levels breach a safe threshold.

The standard monitoring methodology is to count mites falling to the floor of a hive using a sticky board, preferably in conjunction with a mesh varroa floor.

The sticky board is left on the hive floor, ideally for seven days, and the number of varroa stuck to the board is then divided by the number of days the board has been in place.

This calculation gives an average daily mite count which is then multiplied by a season-dependant constant to provide an estimate of mite numbers in the hive. In the UK, typical seasonal multipliers are as follows:

  • May to August 30 times average daily mite drop
  • September to October 100 times average daily mite drop
  • Rest of year 400 times average daily mite drop

Thus, if one counts 28 mites on a sticky board left in place for 7 days during May, this gives an average daily drop rate of 4 which, using the May to August multiplier estimates the mite population to be 120. The same drop rate in March would suggest a mite population of 1,600.

The National Bee Unit (NBU) recommends mite control intervention when the estimate infestation level based on such a calculation exceeds 1,000 mites (although the old MAFF guidance was 2,500 mites, so some leeway).

There is little disagreement about any of the above discussion. Where practices begin to diverge is in the treatment used to bring mite levels down and/or maintain them below a critical level. Possible treatments fall into 4 broad categories:

1. Hard chemicals
Varroa has traditionally been treated with Apistan (fluvalinate) or Bayvarol (flumethrin) which was initially successful in radically reducing mite populations.

However, eventually the blanket application of these chemicals meant that mites were effectively selected for resistance and these treatments are no longer effective.

The use of chemicals is also likely to contaminate honey.

Whilst new chemical treatments are being developed and, notably in China and the US, illegal chemicals are widely used inevitably such practices will simply create further resistant strains of mites.

Current guidance even in forward thinking traditional environments such as the NBU is therefore to avoid hard chemical treatments.

2. Soft chemicals
There have been attempts to develop chemical treatments which are not systemic and which will not therefore build up resistance. A key group of such treatments are naturally occurring acids such as formic (fumigant) and oxylic (liquid) acid.

Whilst effective in controlling varroa, dosage is extremely difficult to control and both acids are harmful to bees in the wrong dose.

Even at the right dose, the acids appear to shorten bees’ lifespan and whilst a colony can cope with this during the summer, a shortening of the lifespan of winter bees can cause colony collapse.

3. Natural
(a) Powder dusting
Usually powdered sugar, dusted over bees and combs, which results in a 30% drop of phoretic mites in first hour after treatment. Also thought to stimulate grooming which can improve mite fall.

Whilst this simple mechanical treatment undoubtedly reduces the number of mites in the short term, the 30% efficacy rate means that frequent and repeated treatments would be necessary to control a hive suffering true
hyperbolic mite population growth.

This treatment also does not attack the breeding and juvenile mites still in capped brood at the time of treatment.

This treatment is probably therefore only suitable to maintain mite populations in colonies which already display signs of natural mite resistance.

(b) Essential oils/plant extracts
There are a number of products based on essential oils and plant extracts, predominantly thymol, which have been used with varying degrees of reported success.

Whilst a natural extract, bees dislike the smell of thymol and may be disturbed by its use. It will also taint honey if used before harvesting.

For an essential oil recipe and methodology visit this link.

(c) Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
IPM is an attempt to bring together various methods of pest control that, in combination, contain mite levels more effectively than any single treatment.

The following combination of activities would be in line with a generally ‘natural’ approach, and should be successful without the need to resort to chemicals.

  • Free cell size
  • Powder dusting
  • Drone trapping in traditional hives or culling in horizontal Top Bar Hives
  • Interruption of brood cycle through hive splits
  • Varroa floors
  • Essential oils

(d) Behavioural breeding
This isn’t really a treatment but it is probably the long-term solution to the varroa problem.

In nature, parasites co-evolve with their hosts. There is no advantage to the varroa in destroying its host colony, quite the contrary, and it is likely therefore that over time it would evolve to moderate it population growth in European bee colonies. Bees also would naturally select for mite-resistant traits.

The blanket use of hard chemicals when varroa first appeared in managed European bee apiaries means that such co-evolution has not yet properly begun. However, some European bee strains, notably Russian, have a natural resistance to varroa built from a propensity to groom aggressively to remove mites from adult bees, and to detect the mites in capped brood and eject the infested pupae from the hive.

Several projects are now underway to breed from these strains and in time it is likely that naturally resistant bees will be made available to commercial beekeepers and hobbyists.

In the meantime we should all monitor our own colonies and, where possible, actively look to split and expand our more robust populations.

B. Nosema
Follow this link for images of Nosema

A common, host specific unicellular parasite of the class microsporidian, which affects all insects. Nosema apis is the species which affects the European honeybee.

Under a microscope the parasite looks like a grain of rice. It develops and multiplies in the cells of the epithelium in the mid-gut of adult bees and is mainly transmitted through the transfer of spores when young bees clean up faecal material on contaminated comb.

Reduces the lifespan of infected bees, increasing winter mortality and causing poor spring build up.
There are no specific symptoms but the disease is linked with dysentery and virus diseases indicated by bees crawling outside the hive.

Infected colonies can appear to recover during summer when bees defecate away from the hive and infected bees die without transmitting the disease.

However, the spores persist on contaminated comb and often trigger a more severe infection the following winter.

Due to the lack of direct symptoms there is no specific monitoring programme but where bees display any of the linked indicators noted above a simple diagnosis test should be performed.

Kill 30 to 35 bees and mash the bodies in a pestle and mortar with a few drops of water. Observe a drop of the resulting soup under a x400 microscope to identify the distinctive rice-shaped spores per the photo above (the NBU will do this test for you).

The only effective treatment for nosema apis is Fumidil © B, an antibiotic fed to the bees through treated syrup.

It is difficult to use correctly, and combs will also need fumigating with acetic acid or replacing using a shook swarm technique as the spores persist in the comb even if reduced in the bee population.

by Nick Delaney
May 2010

Bumblebee Rescue Programme

Being interested in all species of bee YABeeP will often attend calls as part of our swarm collection duties where the householder has a problem with bumble bees. Most beekeeping groups don't do this as bumbles don't produce honey in sufficient quantity or of a taste acceptable to the human pallet. 

Moving the humble bumble
Buff tail - Photo © Wikipedia
Bumbles nests are quite small building up to only a maximum size of around 200 bees in high summer - compare this to the 50,000 plus bees in a summer honeybee colony. The bumble is an annual species where the nest dies out each autumn and only the newly hatched queens, around 10 - 15 of them, survive the winter. These new queens leave the nest and hibernate in the ground ready to start a new nest afresh next year while all the males and female workers die off. Another good reason to leave your garden tidying to spring when the hibernating bumbles have safely emerged.

Typical bumble rescue box
When on a bumble call-out we always try to educate the caller to try and persuade them to keep and enjoy the bees, in the knowledge that they won't sting and will be gone come the winter. Please note I said that they don't sting - bumbles can sting, but they won't unless their nest is attacked or you violently antagonise them by flailing your arms around in an attempt to knock a curious bee away. In fact bumbles are probably the most passive stinging insect and will just fly around a person who takes up camp in immediately front of their nest. Most of the 250 species of bee in the UK don't have stings, it's only the bumbles and honeybees that do. The best advice if a bee, or wasp for that matter, flys around you is to stand still and ignore it. It has no interest in attacking you but is just checking you out to see whether you are a source of pollen or nectar. Once it has finished checking it will fly off.

Photo © Wikipedia
Sometimes, however, the householder  for their own personal reasons will be too worried and insist that the nest goes - what a shame that our modern excessively health and safety concious society means that folk are brought up to fear these charming gentle creatures that are responsible for so much of the pollination of our crops and flowers. Did you know that commercial glass house and polly-tunnel growers import bumble nests to pollinate their crops and kill the bees when the job's done - what a crazy world!

A nest of Red tail bumbles in a rescue box
Provided the bumbles are readily accessible YABeeP will remove them and relocate into a safe location, usually our member's gardens. The main species we get called to around North Somerset are ground nesting Buff-tailed, White-tailed and Red-tailed which prefer to nest in old mouse nests - these are easily relocated by placing them in a purpose built bumble box and moving them to their new location. Amazingly they immediately learn where their new home is and come and go quite happily. The other less common species we sometime have to move is the Common Carder which lives in the open in plant mass and is far harder to relocate successfully.

Examples of bees moved

May 2010 - Milton Buff Tails
One of the calls we attended in mid-May 2010 was to a garden in Milton where, following advice seen on a CBBC programme, they had successfully attracted a Buff-tailed bumble queen to nest in a very small nest box which they had hung on the wall. Unfortunately, the box was too small to contain a full nest of Buff-tail's and they had nowhere in their small garden to re-site them into a bigger box so we relocated them.
23 May 2010 - Milton bumbles moved into their new home

The original nest box now inside the new one.
As the nest outgrows the smaller box it
can expand into the larger box which has
 a perspex viewing window on top
Returning Buff-tail bumble (Bombus terrestris) forager lands at entrance

May 2011 - Clifton Tree Bumble Bees (Bombus Hypnorum).
The owners of a house in Clifton were having extensive building work done, so rang YABeeP. The Bristol Museum's Etymologist had confirmed that these were rare so the owner asked that they be moved. Jo and Ali were happy to oblige.

Tree Bumble Bees are quite rare at the moment, having colonised Britain in 2001. It is suggested that they prefer to live in holes in trees. However, this colony decided upon a disused, rather large wasps' nest in a loft in Clifton. Link (scroll down to 'Rarer Bumble Bees' section). They are now safe and rehoused at Ali's.

Bombus Hypnorum, the Tree Bumble bee
taken residence in old wasps' nest.

At a guess, they started nest-making at the bottom of an old
 wasps' nest and the weight of their honey cells made the bottom break off.

They made their nest from the roof insulation!
There is a lot of nest unseen under this little lot.

Boxed and ready for relocation.
Bye bye Bristol, hello Yatton.

For more information on this species see the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website.

See also YABeeP's main Bumblebee page.

Saturday 22 May 2010

Honeybee Cut-out

As part of YABeeP's swarm collecting duties Ali and I performed a 'cut-out' of bees from a window hip roof of a property in a nearby village yesterday. These were wild bees that had been living there for a year. The whole operation and surrounding story is detailed below - click on any image to enlarge it.

The story starts in June last year (2009) when, as part of our swarm collection duties, I had been called to a property in the next village. The owner had bees coming & going from the hip roof  of a downstairs window. At the time I was able to confirm that it was a established colony of honeybees, however, I was unable to remove them as this would call for the dismantling of part of the roof and a builder would be needed to make good. I gave the usual explanation about the honeybee life-cycle and advised that, in my opinion, the bees would probably not be a problem for the householder. However, there was also a wasp nest in the same roof which were clearly a concern to the owner. We left it that I would be happy to attempt a 'cut-out' once she had spoken to her builder and had agreed to their costings to repair the roof.
Bees entrance under top corner of tiles
Like most amateur beekeeping groups, YABeeP normally just collects swarms which by their nature reside in the open. Once a swarm has moved in to its new home it ceases to be a swarm and becomes a colony. Removal of a colony is a far trickier business and an established colony requires a lot of time and care if one is to preserve the bees.

In the event the builder didn't manage to speak to me until the autumn when it was clearly too late in the year for a cut out to have the chance to rebuild their colony and survive the winter.

First peep at the prize
Move forward one year and, just as we were settling down for last week's monthly YABeeP meeting, the owner arrived reporting that a swarm had issued from her roof colony, darkened her sky's and alarmed both her and her neighbour. A wild swarm, what an exciting prospect for us so we agreed to attend as soon as the meeting ended. It is worth mentioning here that as a sustainable bee group we particularly appreciate wild or feral bees as they managed to survive without being subjected to the chemicals, additives and butchery that many conventional beekeepers practice. 
Does my bum look big in this?
As soon as the meeting ended a small party of YABeePers went a-swarm-hunting – a bit like Morris dancing but with bees, not bells! Unfortunately, the swarm had high-tailed away and could not be found but arrangements were made to meet up with the owner's builder to discuss the cut-out to remove the bees. 

As subsequently arranged Ali & I attended yesterday morning, planning to avoid the full heat of the sun as the weather had turned hot. We  arrived with ladders, bee vac, swarm boxes, comb boxes, buckets, and all the paraphernalia necessary for collecting an established colony of bees. We were exhausted before we even started just carrying in all the equipment and setting up!
Healthy and strong despite earlier swarm
The exercise started with the removal of the mortar sealing the top tiles which entailed multiple hard blows with a hammer to break the rock hard line of sealing mortar. All this bashing on their roof meant the bees knew full well that something was up so sent their guard bees out to greet us. 
Once a few tiles were removed we established that the comb was attached to the rather old and disintegrating roofing felt which was now now sagging under the weight of a years worth of very laden and sticky honeycomb. With the assistance from a very brave and willing Jenny, the household gardener who I loaned a beekeeper's suit to, 3 of us attempted to cut out the felt trying to rescue at least some of the brood comb.  It may have been the hot weather weakening the comb though more likely it was the weight of honey combined with a weak and flexing felt but we totally failed in rescuing any so it ended up as a damage limitation exercise removing slabs of oozing comb a piece at a time without crushing bees, especially the queen who we needed to preserve to keep the colony viable - what a sticky exercise ending up with cardboard sheets of rescued comb littering the floor! 
Given that this colony had only swarmed a few days earlier there was a mass of bees remaining and a loads of honey, it was a truly healthy colony. Their health is all the more surprising given that last summer the owner had called a pest company to poison the massive wasp nest which was just inches away from the honeybees - see photo. This just goes to prove that bees left alone and not interfered with by the beekeeper can and do make really strong colonies. They know what they are doing, just give them the space and allow them to do it; as with many things in nature man really does not know best! What a nonsense that some, more ignorant, beekeepers are calling for wild swarms to be destroyed – and yet they they still wonder why the bees are having problems!!!
After a while we had managed to remove all the comb and, for the most part, had left the bees undamaged – although there were a couple of hundred honey-drenched bees on the ground wondering what had hit them. With some improvisation we rigged up a Warré box above the void of bees hoping that the bees and queen would move up into it so that we could return at dusk and remove the bees and hive them up in a members hive – in effect they would have made a wild bee shook swarm. 
With honey everywhere it was time to clean up ourselves and all the equipment used – boy does the sticky stuff get everywhere! Then, in the full heat of the day, we had to remove all the imported equipment all the way back to the car. Arrangements were made to call back at dusk and, if successful, remove the bees. There was a nagging fear that the bees might ignore the box we had so helpfully provided for them and just move further into the roof space, though we had a contingency plan should this happen to return the following and and vacuum them up in out YABeeP patent bee vac.
Warré box in situ
We managed the whole exercise with just a couple of stings each taken through our gloves – so much for Ali's kevlar protection! I had one exciting moment when we were clearing up when a bee flew into my ear canal. The sound and tickling makes it very frightening and I probably acted like a total woose but I had experienced the same thing last year when I also took a sting when trying to extract the bee so, with Ali's caring demeanour (she laughed her socks off really), we waited and allowed it to reverse out and fly off with no harm done to either of us – phew!.
The story develops
Just inches from poisoned wasp nest!
Later that afternoon I received a further call from the owner reporting that a swarm had been found in a neighbour's garden. Could this be last Saturday's swarm, that would be 5 days outside so not likely but just in case I got there asap to retrieve the prize. In the event I got arrived just too late – they had been there half an hour beforehand but the swarm had just left with just a few stragglers remaining on the rose bush. Scout bees had been seen earlier nosing around two spots on the nearby house and upon investigation we found them at the second spot still in the process of 'moving in' to a rainwater drain that entered a really substantial porch roof-space. Cursing that I'd just missed this swarm I advised the owner of their options then left. 

The Prize
Job done
Ali and I returned as promised that at dusk to hopefully remove the bees from the original site only to find that they'd totally absconded; not in the box or the rest of the roof space. Disappointing for us not to get those bees given all that hard work we'd put in but the owner was happy that they'd gone at last and at least we have helped contribute to the local feral population.

Post script
We'll never know for certain but piecing together all the evidence it is highly likely that the swarm I just missed earlier that evening was probably the absconded bees from our cut-out. It's surprising that they found their new abode so quickly but then they knew the area and, after all, had just exchanged one roof space for another. So much for the recession, these bees had bucked the economic trend and moved up market!

I just marvel at how healthy these wild bees were and only hope that their new landlords accept them and allow them to stay and they can then throw off swarms which we will happily collect in the future.

22nd May 2010

Friday 14 May 2010

Bumble bees going cheap! Or should that be buzz?

Our 1st swarm of 2010
A message to all YABeeP members:

Whoopee, the swarm season has started for us!

As you know we already operate a honeybee swarm waiting list.

However, if you built a bumblebee box which didn't attract any bees this spring so is currently vacant and you still want some tenants then bring it along to tomorrow's meeting - please write your name clearly on or under the box in weatherproof ink. The calls have started and Ali and I have already been to 3 bumble calls this week - she is now the proud mum of a nest of buff tails.

YABeeP's bumble recovery service!

We will then use your box on any future calls when we recover bumbles which you can then place in your garden and enjoy - again they'll be offered on a first come first served basis.


Sunday 2 May 2010

Bees of Yatton

[Note: This YABeeP webpage records the bees seen in and around the local area. Started in April 2010 the development of this page is very much a 'work in progress' - species will be added as members photograph, research and record them - please be patient.]

Bees are classified in the family Aculeata, part of the order Hymenoptera and are listed below according to their 3 general groupings - Solitary bees, Bumble bees and Honeybees. We have decided to also include other species of interest either because they mimic the bees (e.g. Bombylius major, a parasite of the solitary bee) or because they evolved from a similar species - e.g. wasps.      Click on any photo to enlarge it.

A. Solitary Bees
There are over 200 species of Solitary bee in the UK and are generally grouped as ground nesting, cavity nesting and parasytic bees.

Species: Hairy-footed flower bee - Anthophora plumipes
Description: Active from March to late May. Flys with a darting movement - moving quickly then hovering. The male can be easily confused with a bumble bee although the female is all black with orange-yellow hind legs. The male is similar to Bombylius major, although the latter only has 2 wings being a fly which mimics a bee.
Female Anthophora plumipes entering nest in the mortar of Yatton church. Note orange hairs on hind tibia

Link to BWARS pictures

Genus: Mining bee - Andrena
Description: There are over 60 species of the Andrena mining bee in the UK. Mostly active April to early June. The female tunnels into ground to make nest in soil, often unnoticed in the grass of our gardens though they can have volcano like mounds surrounding the holes which are glued by a substance the bee excretes.  The tunnel can be up to 12" deep with many branches where the female stores pollen & nectar and lays eggs in individual cells. The eggs do not hatch until the following spring.  Some species share a common entrance but build separate branching chambers below. Whilst they do posess a sting it cannot puncture human skin so is harmless to children. 
Pictures - Species probably Andrena nitida or Andrena haemorrhoa nesting in lawn in Yatton during May
 B. Bumble Bees
There are around 20 species of bumble bee in the UK.

C. Honeybees
Apis meliffera
There is only one species of honeybee in the UK known as Apis Meliffera - our native bee being from the race European Honeybee or Black bee. However, because of the commercial interest attached to honeybees different races of Apis Meliffera have been moved around the world by beekeepers in search of a 'better', ie more commercially productive, bee - a practive YABeeP strongly disagrees with. These races have all interbred and the true native British bee, which had over the millenia adapted to our  environment and climate, is only found in a couple of pockets. The honeybee you see in your garden will be a mixture of several races of bee.

Species: European honeybee - Apis meliffera
Apis meliffera with full pollen baskets
Description: A true social bee common in the area and active year round though the colony goes into winter cluster so is rarely seen flying over the cold winter periods.

D. Bee mimics and others
Species: The Common Bee-fly - Bombylinus major

The Common Bee-fly (Bombylinus major)
hovering to feed on Myosotis (Fotget-me-not)
Description: This fly which mimics a bee acts like a cuckoo and flicks her eggs near to the entrance of solitary bee nest sites. The larvae are brood parasites of these bees esp. Andrena species.

Adults feed on nectar, using their long proboscises whilst hovering beside a flower. Aubretia is one common garden plant frequently visited.

Note: All photographs on this page are originals © YABeeP