On 3rd May, six of us from ONBG (Ann, Paul, Peter, Linda, Mandy, and Sarah) visited the Hampshire Natural Bees group at the kind invitation of John Haverson, to forge relationships and cross-pollinate ideas.
The venue was Sturts Farm, a wonderful 90 acre biodynamic farm which made for an idyllic setting on a sunny Spring day. Our generous host was Michael Phillips.
We had a great time talking bees, and were able to see occupied skeps, a Sun Hive, and an empty Warré, among other things like countless chickens, calves and good company.
Our group has been running 2 years, has 28 members, and up to now typical meetings have averaged ~8-10 people. The Hampshire group, organised by John Haverson, has been running 5 years, has ~50 members, and there were 20+ beekeepers at this event (26 including us). They have grown to a point that they find email unwieldy as an organisational tool, and are trying a web-based forum for communication, but this doesn’t suit some members; there’s no ideal solution.
Most of the Hampshire group present use Warrés. I only counted 3 people using TBH’s.
Sturts Farm uses mainly skeps, of the Luneberg type (entrance near top). They also have a Sun Hive and a presently unoccupied Warré.
The event started with an extensive question & answer & discussion session where the more experienced, (or, in my own case, opinionated) beeks answered and debated points raised by others. One of the most interesting points was John Haverson’s observation on survival rates of swarms when placed in natural beekeepers’ hives (i.e. no chemical treatments for varroa). He finds that swarms taken near the centre of Andover, his local town, tend to die whereas swarms taken from feral colonies / out of town, tend to live. This may well indicate that feral swarms have evolved better varroa resistance on their own.
There was an interesting tale of hives sited next to a busy road that were made very aggressive by lorries rumbling by; when moved, they rapidly calmed down. We were told about false swarms, where a swarm forms and hangs round in a clump for a few hours, then goes back into the hive; presumably due to unsuitable weather, dodgy queen etc. The hive will usually swarm properly soon. My favourite tale involved someone who made a log hive and asked at the end of the season: “now how do I get some honey out?!”
Other nuggets of information: varroa can jump across a bee space (quarter of an inch), which has implications for how far below mesh floors to position boards; because Warrés are warmer than nationals, honey – even oil seed rape – stays liquid until harvested (but get it out of the comb within a couple of days or it will go solid); if you want to melt wax, but lack a solar wax melter, sometimes a really hot greenhouse will work.
John Haverson displayed a simple adapter box he had made to permit a standard National sized nucleus box to be placed on top of a Warré hive, so the bees can gradually migrate downwards (this takes maybe a year until the adapter box and nuc can be removed):
We also got to look at the occupied skeps and Sun Hive . No one bothered with protection as no hives were opened (tricky with skeps!).
After talking and eating as much of their food as we could, the Oxfordshire robber-bees headed back north, still talking about bees.
Many thanks to Mandy’s husband James who drove us there and back, and put up with endless hours of chatter about bees. Also a huge thank you to the Hampshire group and Michael Phillips for being such welcoming hosts.
We hope to arrange a return match soon.