Author Archives: Peter Coxon

You should be aware that this is shaping up to be a bad year for colony losses, seemingly due to very levels of varroa. No doubt the odd weather this year has had an influence.

There has been much correspondence on the HWBKA WhatsApp group about losses. Our own Honey Queen Helen Hadley posted she had lost 3 and now reckons it is 9 so far. John Miller has lost one …the only one he forgot to treat. As a result, I (PC) inspected my own colonies a couple of days ago and discovered to my dismay I have lost 7 out of 12 so far.

There had been some talk of absconding on WhatsApp and indeed some of my deceased colonies which were previously very strong had just a few 10’s of bees left and loads of untouched stores, which puzzled me.

I decided to contact the Regional Bee Inspector Dan Etheridge, sent him some notes and had very long and very interesting conversation with him. His first impression is that I experienced a 'varroa bomb' as Randy Oliver calls them. Apparently, he reckons we are having the worst year ever for varroa induced colony collapses especially in the south; quote ...’my phone has not stopped ringing since the Christmas break’. For those of you who have been very rigorous in your varroa treatments it may not be such a problem.

As some of you know I have for more than a decade now tried to practice a policy of minimum intervention in the hope that by not treating quite so vigorously and supporting strains unable to tolerate varroa we might expect natural selection to do what it should and establish a new equilibrium with more tolerant bees, plus there is much published literature that bees are adapting. It had been working out. After 10+ years with very few losses I suppose I had been lulled into a false sense of security. However, this time I have been caught out.    

Dan was at great pains to point out that he is not against 'natural beekeeping' in the slightest and indeed tried himself for many years.  However, he was also at great pains to point out, and this is the very important salutary lesson I will take away from this experience, that one must monitor varroa very regularly and accurately. At least once a month and preferably using the alcohol or sugar wash technique rather than relying on the sticky board which he has found unreliable, otherwise, given the right conditions the varroa numbers can explode ‘exponentially’. Had I done this more conscientiously I would not have been caught out as I have been. It's not necessary to treat with varroacides religiously, regularly, needlessly or prophylactically. But it is essential to treat when really needed.

So, I’ll be going out to treat my remaining 5 colonies with the vaporiser tomorrow, 3 times 5 days apart as I’ve missed the brood break …not there would have been one in this record-breaking warm winter.

The completely empty ‘Marie Celeste’ colonies you’ll see in the photograph, and which one might think have absconded are not so unusual apparently as in some colonies most of the ailing bees have the decency to do a Captain Oates and take themselves off to die elsewhere.

Malcolm has been in touch with many members and is finding that losses are mounting. Such losses are more typically seen in February / March … this not looking like a ‘normal’ year

So, the message is check your hives now, and if concerned, it might not be too late to rescue them with an Oxalic acid sublimation …using ApiBioxal the approved product of course!

Stores a plenty
No bees

Not a good start to the year!

Chair’s AGM Report 2021

This is essentially an overview of 2021 for the HWBKA picking out some of the highlights … and lowlights. More detail can be found in each of the committee members reports which you also have received.

Starting with the ‘lowlights’ we are obviously still being impacted by COVID although not as severely as in 2020 when almost everything stopped.

On more positive notes the Association continues strongly with 247 members, only one down on last year.

Finances are still strong with a healthy balance of ≈£21k although this would have been even greater had we been able to run the course last year in 2020. It is still our hope and intention to be able to fund an Apiary with a permanent Club House and we are slowly building funds to accomplish that.

Despite the BBKA increasing their charges last year, when we had to absorb the cost as we could not do anything about it until the following AGM, we have decided again to maintain our current level of subscriptions and absorb that cost increase once more. Most of your dues do go to the BBKA and for BDI as can see in Peter Halford’s and Rob’s reports. It was for this reason that we changed our rules and constitution to enable us to increase dues by whatever the BBKA impose should we need to, without having to wait for the following years AGM to pass a resolution or hold an EGM.

At the beginning of 2021 it was not at all certain we would be able to run the Beginner’s Course. It represents a major revenue for the Association both financially and in terms of new members. In anticipation of future difficulties, we setup an education sub-committee, an objective for which would be the generation of a comprehensive course manual, and this was completed during the bleak mid-winter and early spring.  Armed with this document we felt that in the worst case we might be able to run the course on a one-to-one basis or in much smaller groups depending on prevailing lockdown criteria at the time. This would of course require a greater number of tutors who may well need the manual for reference. In the event the first 2 classroom-based sessions were held on Zoom and the initial ‘in-the-field’ events one to one with the very much increased number of tutors in their own apiaries. Our tutors did sterling work, and we are very appreciative of their efforts on behalf of the beginners. This all worked well and then in July we recommenced group events. The manual will stand us in good stead for the future and all new beekeepers on the course get a copy to keep so they get our association’s view and are not too confused by all the sometimes-conflicting advice they might get in books and on-line

We held the Taster Day this year in June at my apiary and had a most enjoyable day with 11 participants, including Peter Halford and Talha Dinc who came long to help.

Following on from a laudable initiative from Malcolm 2 years earlier to encourage people through their Basic Assessment, we finally managed to hold the assessment, again in my apiary to better facilitate necessary teas, coffees, brandies etc. 5 people, 4 from HWBKA and one who came up from Hastings and Rother took part. Mike Cullen, a Master Beekeeper from Hastings took us through quite gently. My guilt at not doing it earlier in my beekeeping career finally got the better of me and I too took the test of ‘beekeeping manhood’.

In terms of other events held throughout year they have been quite severely curtailed. Committee Meetings have been held on Zoom as Peter Leswell has had to maintain a strict isolation regime. There were no country fayres we could attend. BeeBanter was off the menu until it re-commenced in the latter half of the year. Attendance at BeeBanters has been somewhat down compared to the past, no doubt because of people’s legitimate concerns over either getting infected or spreading infection. Last month Talha managed to organise a very successful wax workshop which Helen Hadley led, and Sandy Infield hosted in her spacious studio. On the 8th December he has organised our annual Christmas Dinner at the Middle House in Mayfield. We hope you will be able to attend.

Our Association Apiaries are in mostly good fettle, although it has been a tricky year for many beekeepers as indicated in Keith & Steve’s report about Slab Castle. We heard in Jonathan Coote’s Apiarist article about the winter losses. We had a warm February causing the colonies to build quickly and early, followed by a colder dry spell and then a colder wet spell and some colonies never really got up to speed. My own honey crop as with the Associations was less than half the usual.   

Nonetheless Slab Castle is going into the winter with 10 colonies and much work has been done over the year maintaining it and the equipment.

Our lease from WDC for the Horsted Green Apiary was increased to 12 colonies in exchange for which they wanted our assistance with promotion, and you may have seen articles in Ashdown Living Sussex Country Living. I took over from Steve running the Apiary mid-way through the year as the combination of running Slab Castle and Horsted with all the travel that entailed was getting too much. Steve was very largely responsible for setting up the splendid facilities at Horsted for which we owe him a debt of gratitude. There was a very successful queen rearing activity held at Horsted and led by Helen Hadley and Malcolm. We used a particularly vigorous colony of nice gentle bees and produced some 30 or so queens which were given out to various members. We plan to hold something similar next year with more emphasis on teaching the craft. We will also be raising 10 nucs of bees with the very generous assistance of John Miller, to supply future new beekeepers on the course. A small part we can play in reducing the need to import bees from abroad along with whatever plague they might bring in with them.

As mentioned above, it is an awful lot of work running the association apiaries and we hope next year to be able to enlist some permanent or semi-permanent assisting teams to help share the burden and perhaps as a teaching experience too for those less experienced, to learn from the likes of Steve and Keith. There will be a form sent out and at the AGM for those who would like to express interest.

The Apiarist is going out quarterly ‘jam packed’ thanks to the sterling work of Paul with his expertise in DTP

AHAT - fortunately there has been very little activity on the Asian Hornet front, due in no small part to the continuing vigilance of beekeepers nationwide and of course FERA.

The website continues to support our activities and membership very well. The advent of booking forms for events and the eR2 system making life much easier for our Membership Secretary Peter …although it is still a great deal of work he does behind the scenes to keep our Association running smoothly.

SBKA has been quiet and similarly impacted by CV-19 and holding meetings on Zoom. There was no Bee Market this year but the Autumn Convention which was a hybrid live /Zoom meeting had some interesting talks particularly from the folks at Buckfast Abbey.

Having overstayed my statutory three term year as Chair by one year in extremis to get through the COVID crisis this has been my last year …honest!

It’s been fun, an honour and a privilege. I will still be around, however, looking after the little darlings at our Horsted Apiary.

Chair's Report 2019 - 2020

Another year, another AGM. 2019 has been my second and penultimate year as Chairman of the High Weald Beekeepers’ Association.

As ever, I’m indebted to our dedicated Committee and membership who selflessly give of their time and energy in support of bees, beekeeping, and your Association.

Most of you will have seen my Chairman’s report sent out before the AGM, but just to recap a little:

In summary the AGM and Honey Show went well again with a good attendance.

The association continues strongly with membership now over 200.

Finances are very strong with our current bank balance just shy of £20k. Dues remain unchanged for 2019/20, but it is proposed they be increased for 20/21 by £2.00, and we are still one of the lowest cost divisions in the area. This will help us improve facilities for the membership and to build a fighting fund to support future plans for a new apiary.

The training programmes have been very successful again, providing 19 new beekeepers. We held a Taster Day again which was a great success. In addition, we are about to commence a programme of training for the BBKA Basic Assessment.

Although the popularity of apiary visits has been waning for many years now, there has been a very full programme of other activities and themed visits including the usual shows such as the Honey Market at Heathfield School, the Crowborough Fair and Langton Green Fair etc. generating revenue for beekeepers and the Association, and more importantly generating interest in bees and beekeeping.

The association apiary at Slab Castle is in splendid fettle and now has much needed new equipment including new National Hives, a BeeHaus, new suits and a new 6 frame radial extractor for the use of the membership. Steve Davies is now gearing up to support our new apiary at Horsted Green Park.

The website continues to provide useful support for our activities and membership, and the addition of booking forms for events such as talks etc. greatly facilitates our organisation of events. Emails are now sent out via the BDI eR2 system rather than using BCC. This had previously resulted in some email getting blocked by email systems thinking they were spam.

The newly re-vamped Apiarist provides a valuable communication channel for those who aren’t cyber surfers. It is going out quarterly, with many interesting articles

We have an AHAT (Asian Hornet Action Team). Having now seen these beasties in action during our French liaison meeting in Normandy this year, it’s just as well too. There have been some very interesting talks this year about Asian Hornets, from Bob Hogg, a Jersey beekeeper, and most recently from Kay Wreford our RBI at the SBKA Autumn Convention. Suffice to say it behoves us all to be on our toes and contact Helen Searle our AHAT coordinator immediately should we see any suspicious sightings.

The HWBKA had dramatic success at the National Honey Show this year with numerous prizes.

You may recall reading in the last edition of the Apiarist, about our travails over our new apiary site at the Uckfield SANG (Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace) site, now known as Horsted Green Park. The good news is that things are proceeding, and we plan to put bees up there in the spring. The prospect of having our own building there is most probably still a long way off although we will have use of the WDC barn there.  Hence, we will continue the search for other more central locations where it is more likely we’ll be able to put up a building. The surprise event for me was that the committee had decided to present me with a present for my efforts in this enterprise, ‘The Book of Honey’ by Eva Crane ….and very good it is too .. thankyou!

All the above, and more, was reported on at the AGM using the usual PowerPoint presentation.

At the election that followed this part of the agenda several changes to the committee were made. Our constitution dictates that certain roles rotate every 3 years and some other long-standing committee members also finally decided they needed a break. So, it’s with regret, appreciation and deep gratitude we say  farewell but not goodbye to Brian Hopper as President, Rosie Riley as Events Secretary, Amanda Savage as committee member and Sam Bowles as Apiarist editor, and hello to Peter Leswell (President – see elsewhere for Peter’s hello statement for those who don’t know him that well),  Fiona Henniker our new Hon. Sec., Rob Gore our new Hon. Treasurer, Paul Lindstrom our new Apiarist editor and Talha Dinc as committee member. Steve remains on the committee and Peter Halford continues as Membership secretary – see below:-

Committee RolePreviouslyNow
President (3 years)Brian Hopper (X)Peter Leswell
Chairman (3 years)Peter CoxonPeter Coxon
Hon. Sec. (3 years)Peter Halford  (X)Fiona Henniker
Hon.Treas. (3 years)Steve Adams  (X)Rob Gore
Apiarist EditorSam Bowles (X)Paul Lindstrom
Apiary ManagerKeith ObbardKeith Obbard
Assistant A.M.Steve DaviesSteve Davies
Events Sec.Rosie Riley (X)Helen Searle
Membership Sec.Peter HalfordPeter Halford
Train. & Ed. MgrMalcolm WilkieMalcolm Wilkie
MembersAmanda Savage (X)Steve Adams
Helen SearleTalha Dinc

Rather unusually we also had an invited talk from a local MP Huw Merriman who gave us a very interesting insight into the All-Party Group on Bees & Pollinators. It was edifying to learn a little more about the power of lobbying and how it works in our parliamentary system.

Finally, we had the customary prize giving from the Honey Show

Peter Coxon –

Chair – HWBKA

Happy New Year one and all!
2018 ….. now but a distant memory was my first year as Chairman of the High Weald Beekeepers’ Association and I’m relieved to report that I have not presided over too many calamities…so far. Despite my initial reservations about accepting such a role amongst such an august body as our committee, I must say that it has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. How could it be otherwise with such an agreeable, committed and knowledgeable collection of individuals who selflessly give of their time and energy in support of bees, bee-keeping, and your association.
It was a case of ‘in at the deep end’, as shortly after our own AGM last year we were charged with hosting the SBKA (Sussex Beekeepers’ Association – of which we are a division) AGM at the end of March, providing talks and nourishment. You may recall that the weather was particularly foul last March and I was obliged to stand in for our speaker from Arnia who literally could not get here from Cumbria. I have had Arnia hive monitoring equipment for some years now, so the task was not too onerous. It was very much the 21st century theme we intended as another member of our association Edward Hutt gave a very good talk about Flow Hives as the folks from Australia couldn’t come either (….because of the weather?... maybe not), and Rosie and team despite the weather provided the most excellent catering. The HWBKA did very well and we were highly commended.
The Association goes from strength to strength with membership just shy of 200 now.
Finances are very strong with our current balance >£15k under Steve’s stewardship. This has been bolstered this year by a grant from Wealden DC ably negotiated by Debby Park. Consequently, dues will remain unchanged for 2019/20…. one of the lowest in the area. It is probably worth pointing out that very little of our income actually comes from membership dues, approximately £500 in fact. The dues go almost entirely to the BBKA and BDI. Most of our income is generated by our own activities, such as the training courses, honey and plant sales at various events, wax workshops etc. none of which would be possible without the dedication of the committee and other helpers. We are now trying to build a fighting fund to support future plans for a new permanent apiary.
The training programmes have been very successful again - courtesy of Malcolm providing 17 new beekeepers  as fresh blood. We have for the first time added to the website the glowing references we received from the participants which may be read here - We also held a Taster Day again which was a great success.
Popularity of apiary visits has been waning for many years now, but other social events such as BeeBanter still serve our community well, and there has been a full year of other activities too, organised by Rosie Riley.
The association apiary at Slab Castle is in rather splendid fettle courtesy of Keith and a new member Steve Davies who has put in a tremendous amount of work. However, we have shut down the Great Danegate site at Eridge due to the retirement of Norman Beresford the apiary manager
Various shows were attended such as the Honey Market at Heathfield School, the Crowborough Fair, Langton Green Fair, and Weald in the Field generating revenue for beekeepers and the Association, and more importantly generating interest in bees and beekeeping
The website continues to support our activities and membership well and is now maintained more conscientiously by our very conscientious secretary Peter Halford.
At the AGM last year, we acquired 3 new members on the committee, Sam Bowles who has served many times before on the committee and will be taking over the Apiarist magazine, Steve Davies who as mentioned above has been assisting Keith at the association apiary, and Helen Searle who will be assisting Rosie with events.
The challenge going forward will be to secure a more permanent apiary site where it is worth investing in permanent facilities such as a club house etc. – challenging. A plea for land was sent out far and wide earlier last year with limited success. 4 sites were visited – mostly deemed unsuitable on grounds of access, safety or lack of permanence. One private site is in abeyance
Our hopes are now pinned on the either the Uckfield or Crowborough SANG (Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space) courtesy of WDC again – and despite initial slow progress things are now looking more encouraging.

This may seem rather familiar to those who attended the AGM … apologies! but it is really for those who couldn’t.

Over the winter months I thought I’d re-read my bee keeping books to see just how much I’d forgotten ……checking on that incipient senility problem I mentioned in my previous Chairman’s Chatter. (I am of course only joking and don’t mean to make light of a serious medical problem.)

When I read some of these books the first time around I was nearer the bottom of the steep learning curve of bee keeping and when new to a subject important points don’t always stick without having the all-important context.

Sure, enough I re-discovered many interesting things that had fallen out of the holes in my memory.

I was reminded of one thing I’d intended share when I saw Malcolm at the talk last week on Swarm Management, and now that spring finally seems to be on the way it is particularly apposite.

I recall well, when I started, the difficulty of remembering how to do an artificial swarm, which box went where, when and with which bees in …… a bit like the three-cup trick… confusing. And then as a new beekeeper I quite often had hives where I had not manged to find and mark the Queen early enough in the season and now I’m faced with a brood box heaving with bees, about to swarm and with almost no chance of now finding the Queen …. What to do? Sometimes in desperation I would simply split the brood box in two taking half the frames off into another box. It often worked but was clearly sub-optimal and I’m sure I probably lost casts.

In the Green Guide to Beekeeping which we provide to new members taking the course we give, I re-discovered during my revision what they refer to as a ‘Simple Swarm Control Method’ on p145. It may prove useful to new beekeeper’s (and maybe even not so new ones too) who find themselves in that self-same position …. burgeoning brood box, about to swarm and un-marked / illusive Queen.

Simple Swarm-control Method*

  • Wait until you see unsealed queen cells
  • Move the parent hive to a new permanent stand at least four feet away
  • Place a new brood box (or nucleus box) on the original stand
  • Select a comb with a good-sized, unsealed queen cell
  • Gently brush every single bee from this comb and destroy all the other queen cells
  • Put the selected comb into the new brood box; the flying bees will find their way back to this box but the old queen cannot be present as no bees were transferred
  • Add at least two frames of food stores (and pollen) plus one frame of sealed brood — brushing off all the bees first
  • Fill up the new hive with frames of drawn comb or foundation and reduce the entrance
  • Replace the frames removed from the old box with frames of foundation; this will both improve the ventilation of the hive and give the remaining bees something to do apart from thinking about swarming, although the reduction in population should quell the swarming urge
  • Divide the supers between the two hives
  • Feed both parts as necessary

It will take about three weeks before the new colony has a functioning queen and it is very vulnerable during this time. Keep a careful eye on things without disturbing it too much.

I hope you may find this helpful.

*I’m sure this contravenes copyright law but hope they will not object on the basis it is good publicity for their jolly good book.