Nine of us were able to get together in Steeple Aston on 7th April for a lively kickoff meeting. Key points arising included:
- Demonstrations: We’d hoped to do an inspection, but it was too cold and damp to open our TBH’s so we did a pretend one on an eight-bar nucleus / bait hive. This at least let us discuss the tools, techniques, construction of a vertical feeder and use of spacers. Also shown was how to make a cheap wasp trap out of an old plastic bottle; a low tech honey extractor; bars reinforced with vertical posts to help stop comb snapping off; frozen bees (worker, drone, queen); sample empty comb on a bar; some books; how to prepare sticky paper for a varroa count.
- Discussions: many and varied, including how best to bait a hive; how thick (insulated) should a hive walls be. Gareth’s experience, and ability to put himself in a bee’s mind was very impressive. At one point I asked him where best to place our bait hive. “Where did you say that swarm settled?” “In that tree over there… … oh!”
- What is the group for? Gareth and I felt it should be quite focused on local (Oxfordshire) people who are really serious about natural beekeeing – actual beeks who have TBH’s / Warres, or are seriously considering trying them and want help starting on this path. If we get swamped by the merely curious, or non-locals, the group will bloat and choke on side issues. I suggested that if we make this site public, only actual TBH / Warre users, or intended users, should be members and so able to post here. Personally I don’t see its place as trying to convert conventional beeks to our low-intererence techniques as there are already groups and websites like Biobees which are focused on that. Helen pointed out that what she’d like most is someone to cover her when she’s away and her hive needs keeping an eye on or feeding. What are your feelings about the purpose of the group?
- A prototype of this group blogsite was shown to the group as a proposed way of sharing information, keeping in touch, and avoiding deluges of group emails (thanks to Lynne for setting it up!). After experimentation and testing, she’s set up one part of it as private so we can keep personal details shielded, and she’s configured it so only those invited to be members have site permission to initiate posts. Is this OK for you guys? Would you prefer it totally private to members? Totally open? As is? Please rant in the “comment” box below…
- Local swarming imminent: Sue spotted odd behaviour in her apiary yesterday and did a quick inspection, finding queen cells (indicating the colony was preparing to swarm within days). She did a pre-emptive split of the colony. Gareth pointed out that his open country locale is about 10 days behind her urban one (they are only about 10 miles apart).
- Good news about varroa: Gareth has modelled varroa populations and found that although they have the potential to increase in numbers exponentially, they die off pretyy quickly too; so their numbers can be kept under control at a constant low level in a colony if the bees eliminate just 1% to 2% extra mites a day (yes, just a tiny change in behaviour). This could be by improved grooming (“hygiene genes”), smaller cell size stressing the varroa, increased tendency to kill and chuck out infected brood etc. Gareth has put his money where his mouth is and stopped “helping” his colonies with chemical treatments for 2 years. He knows of other beekeepers who have not treated at all for several years whose colonies show no signs of varroa infestation and are healthy and fertile.
- Janet, who’s now on the OBKA committee as microscopist, tells us that OBKA is quite open minded towards alternative hive types (from what other natural beeks say, we seem lucky in our local BBKA branch) and she’s suggesting they get a TBH for their teaching apiary, which would be great!
- Sue offered to host the next meeting, date and details T.B.D. but probably mid May. She’ll show us her apiary (3 National hives and a Top Bar which may be populated by then).
- And, finally… I forgot we’d baked a cherry cake the night before. Sorry about that. By the way, it was delicious.