Wye Natural Beekeepers meeting October 2019
We had a lively and informative meeting at The Bee Shop in Monmouth, with tea
and apple cake. Talk ranged widely so I’ll report only on the main discussions.
Thanks to everyone who came.
Stings and anaphylaxis
A cautionary tale to begin: a single sting on the face but one that caused
itching, tingling, weals, black-out and a blow to the head in consequence. This
points to the development of an anaphylactic reaction to bee stings and the
need for extreme caution around bees. Anaphylaxis usually progresses from mild
reactions to more extreme. (Though one person who had experienced this same
reaction once, had not reacted in the same way when stung again.) What to do?
First get an epipen prescription and be prepared to dial 999 and get to
hospital immediately you’re next stung. We discussed the options and came up
Give up bees. No. Not an option.
Bee sting-proof suits. The US version is UltraBreeeze, made from 3 layers of
fabric in which the stinger is unlikely to catch. The Welsh version is the
Sentinel Pro II from Old Castle Farm Hives, made of a ventilated fabric thicker
than the average stinger.
Bee venom immunotherapy. Available in Cardiff on the NHS and privately, but a
long course of weekly injections. You still have a 5% chance of reacting, but
with a bee suit and epipens you’re reducing your chances of a problem.
Get some friends to do all the bee-related work for you…. Move your hives to a
place where the bees fly up and away as they leave the nest. Once the new site
is prepared, we’ll put out a call for a small work party to go and help move
the hives. If it’s cold winter weather we can probably move them directly
(rather than away from the site and back again).
Nicola and Janet reported back from Apimondia, the biennial meeting of the
International Federation of Beekeeping Associations. This was in Montreal with
1000s of delegates and 100s of sessions – talks, displays and events.
The morning plenary on the final day of the conference was a talk by Tom Seeley
on Darwinian Beekeeping. The huge hall was packed - standing room only. The
message went out to beekeepers from (almost) every continent: stop treating and
allow resistant/ tolerant colonies to survive and adapt. I don’t think there’s
a ‘legal’ video of his talk available but if anyone finds one please post a
The session on the Future of Beekeeping acknowledged that the way forward must
be towards a cleaner environment and a more natural approach. Frame hive
beekeeping has lost its way. Much of our environment no longer provides
sufficient diverse and nutritious forage to sustain bee populations. For most
beekeepers in the UK the natural approach is accessible. It’s a harder battle
to win amongst commercial beekeepers: in the US and other countries bee farmers
may be running several thousand colonies. Here the key note speech was from
Kirk Webster, a bee farmer in Vermont whose colonies have been untreated since
2002, yet he still manages to sell 50 tonnes honey a year plus queens and
over-wintered nucs from his own breeding stock. He maintains there is still a
way forward for commercial bee farmers and cites others – even migratory
beekeepers – who are succeeding without treatment. For him, the main problem
(echoed by Leo Sharashkin when he came to teach here in Monmouth a couple of
weeks ago) is deforestation, destruction of habitat and a decline in local bee
Honey contamination: 46% of the honeys entered for the competitions were
rejected because of contamination. Unfortunately beekeepers, like farmers, are
still being told that prophylactic use of antibiotics and other treatments will
make their bees or animals stronger. Residues, of course, remain in the honey.
This year, the sophisticated testing techniques available showed more
beekeeper-introduced medicines and miticides – chloramphenicol, coumaphos, etc
- than had previously been detected. It’s interesting to note that our beloved
National Honey Show (NEXT WEEK! See below!) doesn’t bother with any of these
tests, being far more concerned about fingerprints on jars….
Feeding Bees: Time for a Rethink?
Ingo kindly gave a short summary of the excellent talk he gave at Gwent
Beekeepers in September. It was great to hear so much evidence on why honey is
best for bees and sugar is not. We hope Ingo will turn the talk into an article
for publication. Key points included:
Honey contains micro-nutrients including essential amino acids, vitamins,
enzymes, phenols, flavinoids, minerals, lipids, etc. Sugar contains none of
Honey has lower pH than sugar (honey pH3.2-4.5 cf sugar pH6)
Non-emergency feeding promotes brood-rearing ill-adapted to local flowering
Sugar adversely affects the bees’ protective gut microbacteria (lactobacilli,
Bees fed only on honey live longer
Joint meeting of OxNat Bees, Hampshire Nat Bees and Wye Nat Bees
Ingo and Monica went to the joint meeting at Gareth John’s house on a stormy
day in August. It was well-attended – about 34 participants. Gareth gave a
short talk about optimal nest conditions for bees, followed by a tour of his
apiary and a closer inspection of a Golden Hive. Gareth’s key points included:
The bee colony is an information-processing organism. Every time you change
something in a hive, you alter that information. Once the bees have moved in,
leave them alone.
Research from Derek Mitchell demonstrates the relative thermal efficiency of
log hives, skeps and nationals – respectively 32x, 16x or 4x heat retention of
Research from Torben Schiffer is showing that propolis is activated in vapour
form in a nest held above 10’C. In thin-walled hives falling below that
temperature the propolis cannot maintain its health-giving effects.
Colonies in well-insulated log hives use 10x less energy than thin-walled
hives. Energy in bees is expressed in terms of honey use. Torben suggests a
thin-walled hive may need 50kg honey to maintain over winter compared to 5kg in
a thick-walled log hive. The difference is half a ton more nectar that the bees
need to collect.
The correspondingly lower honey collection times in insulated nests allow bees
more time to groom each other, care for their own health and maintain the
fabric of their nest.
Longevity of bees
Nicola pointed out that researchers are now recognising that doing research on
honey bees in standard (thin) frame hives in crowded apiaries is analagous to
researching optimal human health in hospitals. Current suggestions that bees in
well-insulated hives do not cluster so much in winter, spend more time grooming
and live longer during summer as well as winter, may be just a few of the
changes we need to make to our orthodox understanding of how bees live. Maybe
all bees should live a long time?
This is a popular topic on the beekeeping forums. It was taught as standard
practice in BBKA beginner courses in the early 90s. Why did they stop?
It’s relatively easy to insulate a top bar hive: stuff a gabled roof with warm
material such as sheeps wool, old jumpers, or roof insulation packed into old
pillowcases. Just make sure it stays dry. Most TBH designs can be
double-walled: nail or screw weatherboarding or pallet wood onto the outer
battens along the long sides to provide extra protection from wind and sun.
For Warre hives, some of the OxNatBees are trialling cork boards fixed to the
outsides. One beekeepers in London uses hot water tank lagging jackets pulled
over the hives, winter and summer. This has the benefit of maintaining a more
even temperature throughout the year. Others are still searching for the best
way of insulating that still allows the hive to be worked.
Frame hives can be given ekes stuffed with wool or wood chip if you staple a
canvas base to it (like a Warre quilt) and place it over the frames under the
crown board. In the 70s a beekeeping journal describes just this as Frank
Cheshire’s Chaff Box. However, you may need to use a deeper roof to come down
over the eke and prevent water seeping in.
It’s worth remembering the WBC hive. They’ve fallen out of fashion but
Broughton Carr was developing his hive only a few years before Abbe Warre, with
the same intention of designing a simple hive that was easily made and good for
bees. Born in Yorkshire, he was well aware of the need for insulation so his
double-walled hives could be stuffed with straw and other materials.
Events for your diary
Monday 21st October, 7.30pm
The Private Life of Bees, by Phil Savoie
Gwent Wildlife Trust talk at the Shire Hall Monmouth. Phil is a wildlife
photographer so lots of fabulous photos of bees
Thursday 24th-Saturday 26th October 2019
National Honey Show
Stalls, displays, lectures and BfD’s famous Bee Quiz Evening on Friday – not to
Keynote speaker this year is Ralph Buchler from Kirchhain Institute in Germany,
one of the leading researchers on honey bee health, natural varroa resistance
and local adaptation of honey bees.
Tuesday 5th November 2019, 7.00pm
Brigit Strawbridge Howard talks about Dancing with Bees
Shire Hall, Monmouth
Tuesday 17th December
Wye Natural Beekeepers Christmas meeting at Lower Wythal
All welcome! This will be a joint meeting with Bee Friendly Monmouthshire and
Bees for Development. I’ll send more details nearer the time.
Resources and references:
Rotten: Netflix series on food. Series 1 Episode 1 is about fake honey.
Kirk Webster on commercial beekeeping:
Various “authorities” have gone to some trouble to ensure the beekeeping public
that commercial beekeeping without treatments is “impossible”. My favorite
personal response to this is to say nothing and just continue making a living
from this “impossible” situation. But watching industrial agriculture proceed
relentlessly toward its goal of sterilizing, poisoning and depopulating as much
of the globe’s beautiful countryside as possible—under the ridiculous
smokescreen of: “The only way to feed the world”—makes it imperative that
anyone and everyone with an alternative success and feeling for the beauty and
harmony of Nature, speak out and do what they can in opposition. The absorption
of beekeeping into the industrial ag system has created what I call
“worry-intensive beekeeping”. The strange and toxic alignment of scientists and
universities seeking funding, and giant companies that own or control more and
more of the world’s land and food resources have created for farmers an endless
feedback loop of worry and advice. This is best exemplified by the use of
pesticides, the development of resistance on the part of the pest, and then the
supposed need for new pesticides. Sound familiar?
Successful organic farming and treatment-free beekeeping have a radically
different heart and mind from the industrial ag model. In place of the worry
you have attention—the constant watching of the small part of Nature that we
can comprehend; and the awareness that the larger part, which we cannot yet see
or measure, can assist us if we can just learn to co-operate with it somehow.
That’s all for now!