Eleven members converged on Steeple Aston, joined by a couple of conventional beeks who live nearby and wanted to know more about natural beekeeping. This led to a lively meeting with many parallel conversations.
Neonicotinoids: We did have one semi-organised discussion. Quentin Given, a representative from Friends of the Earth, visited to meet our members in David Cameron’s constituency. FoE are campaigning to ban neonics and one way to do this is through beekeepers. Those in his constituency can meet their M.P. directly. FoE are also working with OBKA on this – when lobbying, the more lines of communication, the better.
Colony health: last year was unusually wet, so bees didn’t build up as well as usual, and the winter was exceptionally severe. As a result there have been a lot of colony losses, some of us have no bees left. Almost all the weak colonies (ones from small casts which never got a chance to build up numbers and stores, or ones that got robbed) have died, but surprisingly also some coonies thought to be strong as they entered winter. The situation is similar for conventional beeks and OBKA have just sent out a warning about hive thefts (near Banbury) – surviving colonies are particularly valuable.
Hive inspection: It was quite windy and a little chilly, so we didn’t open a hive – too much risk of chilling brood and killing the colony, though we did look through the side window. Some less experienced users queried the need for the hanging wasp traps, which provoked colourful descriptions from those who’d suffered raids. “Hundreds of wasps at once, slicing up the bees in mid air.” The bees were flying and gathering pollen, but you can see from the photo there was no need for protective gear as these bees aren’t defensive, because they aren’t interfered with often.
We examined an empty modified TBH, with a partly built eke, which raised a few wry comments as this extra compartment makes it rather tall – “you’re building a Warre!”. The eke was begun when I realised how tricky it is to feed struggling colonies in a TBH in cold weather without chilling them. Gino suggested that simply having a more steeply angled roof gave enough room for a top feeder above bars, though the eke is also intended for use like a super (i.e. another layer of bars above the brood area, simplifying honey harvesting). I want to test the assertion that TBH’s give a poor honey yield – I suspect this is more due to the fact that natural beekeepers simply choose not to harvest much. It’s also got a hinged mesh floor to simplify access if I drop another tool in or a comb collapses; multiple small entrances, to make it more defensible; and will have some temperature sensors built in, particularly to monitor the temperature the bees keep their brood at, to test the theory that they will keep it above the temperature varroa can breed at.
To help them do this the hive is sealable below the mesh and extra insulation has been added to walls and the top bars have been thickened. There was some discussion about simpler ways to achieve the same results, and whether they were necessary. But I am pretty sure a major reason our other hive survived the harsh winter is because it too had extra insulation.
British Black Bees are already being raised by Kevin. It turns out that new member Jay will also be raising these at Brookes University in Oxford, in a Warre. Apis mellifera mellifera is the original native bee of the UK, but was thought extinct until rediscovered in remote areas recently.
A collapsible swarm catcher was shown. This is formed from a telescopic pole (designed for washing windows etc – £5 from B&Q) and a water cooler bottle with the end cut off. More details on request. Essentially a bucket on a pole, it allows you to collect swarms up trees without climbing. Placed under a swarm hanging from a branch, it is given a quick shake, the swarm falls into the “bucket” and can then be poured into a hive. It was generally agreed a valid alternative use was on Harry’s head.
Next meeting will be at Shadiya’s in about 6 weeks’ time.