Author Archives: Peter Coxon

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 - http://hwbka.org.uk/2018-beginners-course-testimonials/. 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.

 I recently became Chairman of the High Weald Beekeeper’s Association, at the AGM Iast November (2017) in fact, and this is by way of a brief introduction. I do put this elevation purely down to deafness and incipient senility, such that when Helen, my predecessor, asked for volunteers to take a step forward, I must have been thinking about something else at the time, when everyone else took several steps backwards.

For those of you who don’t know me already, I took up beekeeping about 7 years ago, after an apiary visit with our very good friend Rosemarie Riley, where I was charmed by these fascinating little miracles of nature, the bees, and it was then I got the ‘bug’ …….a lame joke you’ve all heard far too often I’m sure. Shortly thereafter I bought some bees, did Keith’s most excellent course, struggled through my first two seasons of hot springs and cold wet summers but haven’t looked back since.

I was not only charmed by the bees, in fact, but also quite taken by the rather special folk who take care of bees, and, ever a soft touch for a good cause, I gradually became involved in the work of the committee. These are the special folk who try to take care of the people who try to take care of the bees, by laying on courses, taster days, offering expert help and advice 24/7, social occasions, collecting swarms, and by managing this website—all a considerable amount of work and a huge commitment. Talking of which, this website was the first task I picked up on behalf on the committee. Since then I have become involved in various other activities the committee support on behalf of the membership. Talking of which again, the membership, through the good auspices of the committee,  has grown considerably over the years such that the HWBKA are now the largest of the divisions within the Sussex Beekeeping Association.

We have a comprehensive range of activities planned again for this year, the beginners’ course, taster days, improvers’ group events, Bee Banter—our monthly support group in the pub, the summer barbeque, the honey show, talks, candle-making workshop, local fairs and fetes, our newsletter—The Apiarist and, no doubt, others which may come to light as the year proceeds. Please keep checking the events calendar on this website for times, dates and venues.

One new significant activity this year will be the drive to get a new permanent Association Apiary, with, hopefully a club house with appropriate facilities for storage, extraction and so on. Several possible locations have been identified and visited and fund raising to equip it has commenced in earnest. This will improve life for all concerned with organising events, rather than having to book halls and rely on the generosity of members to host events such as apiary visits etc.

We would welcome any suggestions for other events you would like to see, or any offers of assistance with those already arranged.

We wish all our members and friends a happy successful beekeeping year.

Peter Coxon

SBKA AGM and Spring Symposium
Saturday 3rd March 2018 at Broadoak Village Hall, Broadoak, TN21 8SS
see flyer for details


HWBKA AGM and Honey Show
Saturday 18th November 2017 at Five Ashes Village Hall, Five Ashes, TN20 6JA – doors open 1:30pm - AGM 2:00pm - Honey Show 3:00pm

Agenda:

Honey Show Schedule:

Entry Form:

SBKA Autumn Convention on Saturday, November 25th 2017 at Uckfield Civic Centre

see link

"Making good use of your beeswax" - Fri 9, Sat 10 and Sun 11 Feb 2018
Wisborough Green Division - West Sussex Beekeepers’ Association
see attached WSBA - Wax Day Booking 2018

Honey Extractor for Sale
4 frame, stainless steel, manually operated, tangential extractor
For more details please contact Deborah Wheeler deborah_wheeler@btinternet.com

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Breaking news: member of the High Weald Beekeeping Association wins first prize for their honey at the National Honey Show

Those of you who read my topical tips will be aware that in 2016 Helen Hadley and I took honey up to the National honey show and exhibited our honey there for the very first time. We also took up honey from other members of our association ; in 2016 Helen Searle managed to get a second prize for her lovely Ashdown Forest honey and Helen Hadley managed to get a highly commended for one of her honeys. One of the benefits of showing honey at this level was we were able to ask one of the judges what we should have done to have produced a better entry.
This year I had been as disorganised as usual as I was relying on our chairman, Helen Hadley, to remind me about the National honey show. I had meant to send out an email to everyone at the beginning of September to remind them about the National honey show. When I eventually got online to check about entries I had missed the deadline. However it was possible to make a late entry if one was prepared to pay a fee of £10, which I did. It seemed to me to be important that someone from the Association was entering some of the classes at least.
Armed with the knowledge Helen and I had gleaned last year I decided I would enter class five and several of the other Sussex classes. Class 5 is for honeys from all over the world and the judge tastes and comments on every single entry. This is helpful if you are unsure what it is you should be doing to improve your entry. I had decided to enter runny honey but knew that I would have to use a warming cabinet as my honey in my two buckets had granulated and set hard. I phoned Helen and asked to borrow her warming cabinet. She made this herself and the heat comes from two electric light bulbs.
I took the warming cabinet down to Lesley’s in Saint Leonards and we put my bucket of set honey into the warming cabinet on the Friday night. On the Monday evening we had a look at it and about a quarter of it had started to melt. The rest of the bucket was still fairly solid, so I put it back into the warming cabinet saying to Lesley that I would have to deal with it the next weekend and could she check if it started to melt. The next weekend came and it was still in a fairly solid state. Radical measures were therefore called for. So we took a Pyrex dish and spooned quantities of the honey into that, and then gently microwaved the honey. This made it soft enough (it was still granulated) to put into the settling tank. We were therefore able to get it into jars. Jars, of course, that had been checked for any imperfections. The result certainly wasn’t runny and the granulation was fairly coarse , so I assumed that my entries were going to be a complete fiasco. After all it isn’t very sensible to enter coarsely  granulated honey under the runny honey category! You can imagine the discussion between Lesley and myself: this honey is not runny honey, the granulation is coarse, your honey is cloudy, there are bubbles in the honey, there are fingerprints on the jars and on the lids, have you removed the scum on the top of the honey with clingfilm, is the jar full enough or perhaps is it too full. This is so stressful, why are we bothering to enter the National honey show at all ? However Helen had gone to such trouble last year to get members of the Association to enter, so I felt I really had to at least make the effort of taking my honey up to the show. And at least I had also entered Lesley’s honey so there were going to be at least two members showing their honey in London.
My nine jars and Lesley’s seven jars were put into cardboard boxes and placed into the boot of my car to go back to Crowborough. The warming cabinet also went back to Crowborough as I was unsure when Helen was going to want it next. Once back home in Crowborough I placed the jars on one of the kitchen surfaces and looked despairingly at what we had managed to produce. I thought to myself, to help with this malarkey, I am going to do something really radical. So I placed my nine jars into the warming cabinet and placed them really near the one electric light bulb that was still working. After all by this stage I had nothing to lose. And I went off to work. When I returned that evening the jars were really really warm and the honey had completely cleared. As I said to Lesley over the phone, it now looks like ‘urine’. I knew that this was not going to be sufficient to meet the requirements of the Judge as we had been clearly told that there should be no gap between the honey and the bottom of the lid. This is because this is the only way a judge can guarantee that the right amount of honey has been put into the jar. I could see gaps, so I needed to do something. I opened a jar only to see scum ( a Swedish friend calls this scum the cream as he says it contains more pollen) on the top of my nice runny but warm honey. Of course, I thought to myself, my honey was granulated when it went into the settling tank so any bubbles could not rise to the surface and it was only now that it had been warmed up that the air bubbles had risen to the surface.
So now I also had another problem because I knew that the scum would mark down the honey. This was Tuesday night and I was taking the honey up early on the Thursday morning. So I took a teaspoon and labouriously skimmed off the scum and bubbles and carefully tried to clean the inside edge of the glass. A nightmare! I was sweating by the time I had finished and cursed my rashness in ever having entered the National honey show. Was this going to be a case of hubris before the disastrous nemesis of the actual show? It certainly felt like it! Why is it that I get myself into such scrapes, I muttered to myself?
Now that I had spooned out honey from the top of the jars, they were now even emptier than they had been before. So I carefully spooned three or four teaspoonfuls of honey from one of the jars into the other jars to make sure there was no air gap.  I put an extra jar of coarsely granulated honey into the warming cabinet so that I could have the full number of entries. And the next morning repeated the removal of the bubbles from that extra jar and spooned in some more honey  to top up that jar  to the correct level. I did wonder whether I should put Lesley‘s jars into the warming cabinet but by this stage so much time has been spent titivating my own entries that I just did not have the energy.
The die was cast and the next morning I took the entries up to the National honey show, arriving in Esher at 8:30 in the morning. Judging takes place on Thursday and you know the result sometime during the afternoon. I was most interested by class five because the judge comments on your presentation and on your honey. I took the list and searched for my name among the 48 entries. It took me about 30 seconds to realise that in fact my name was at the top of the list and I had won first prize. It made me inwardly laugh! This particular judge seems to have favoured flavour above everything else because my presentation of the honey was only classed as good and there were several other entries where the presentation was excellent. However the taste was, according to her, beautiful. A lot relies on the tastebuds of an individual judge because I had the same honey entered in several Sussex classes and the honey was not even classed. I did, though, get very highly commended in one of the Sussex classes and, to my satisfaction, beat Harold Cloutt.
Now we have our own honey show on 18 November and it is a much simpler affair. Below are the categories for honey:

  1. CLEAR HONEY    - 1 Jar.   Plain, no labels
  2. SET HONEY         - 1 Jar.   Plain, no labels
  3. CUT COMB         - 1 piece.             Plain pot, no labels
  4. NOVICE CLASS   - 1 Jar of Clear or Set Honey.       Plain, no labels

Novice class is for beekeepers who have never won a 1st or 2nd in a Honey Show.
The Vera Becvar Honey Cup will be presented to the Honey judged to be the overall winner from classes 1, 2 & 3.  To be kept for one year.
If you have honey (congratulations), you should enter. It really is a triumph if you get honey, and it hasn’t been an easy year. If your honey has granulated you can warm it up to get runny honey and that means you will be able to enter one jar of clear honey and one jar of set honey. If you have incipient granulation, a minute or even less in the microwave will get rid of the cloudiness. Or if you prefer, you can warm the honey up carefully in a saucepan surrounded by warm water. Jean Greer does it all completely on taste but smudgy jars and lids and cloudy honey will, I am sure, count against you.
Stuart and Colleen’s husband, Bob, said last year that they were going to enter a honey cake so I have found a recipe that I think may win against them. And of course we no longer have Johannes so anyone who makes candles stands a good chance of winning a prize. Remember also that you can enter the novice class if you have never won a first or second prize in the honey show. We are not even asking for it to be in pound jars. We will be tasting all honeys entered in the novice class. It was such fun last year and I hope you will all enjoy it this year too. Presentation of honey is fairly much like my handling of bees, you never quite know what is going to happen. Look forward to seeing you all!
If in previous years you have been put off by the fact that this is also the AGM, don’t worry. Reports are emailed out to you beforehand and the business of the club only lasts a very short time. This honey show is more like a social event and there is plenty of time to have tea and eat cake.

Malcolm Wilkie - Prize winner!
Malcolm Wilkie - Prize winner!

Malcolm Wilkie 30th October 2017