Crowborough Horticultural Society

The Crowborough Horticultural Society are looking for someone to talk to them about bees on 23rd February 2021 at 7.30pm at the Crowborough Community Centre.  The subject could be anything you like in relation to bees as the topic is so important to any gardener.
Please contact me if you can help and would like more details.

Out-Apiary Offerred

We have a member offering to host two hives on his land in a protected garden area in the middle of two acres of wildflower meadows, just south of Dallington.  He can keep an eye on the hives but doesn't want to be ultimately responsible for them. He would also like to observe how they are kept by a skilled bee keeper.
Please contact me if you can help.

Honey Warming Cabinet

We have a member looking for someone willing to lend or hire out a Honey Warming Cabinet.
Please contact me if you can help.


We have a member looking to purchase about a kg of beeswax. They are in Groombridge and will collect.
Please contact me if you can help.

LINKS to news items:

Campaign launches to ban pesticides, transform agriculture and save bees, farmers and nature

26-Nov-19 – EU Today

Ohio University professor claims insect-like beings are living on Mars

19-Nov-19 – Daily Mail

Leaf blowers deadly to declining insects, Germans warned

16-Nov-19 – WicNews

Chilean honey shown to have beneficial health properties

15-Nov-19 – Speciality Food Magazine

Strange case of man in Indonesia who can summon bees by meditating

15-Nov-19 – OneNewsPage - Video

Call for end to routine pesticide use to avert insect catastrophe

13-Nov-19 – The Scotsman

Huge deadly Asian Hornet nest in the Channel Islands has been discovered

04-Nov-19 – The Scotsman

Christmas is nearly here and finally it is a quiet time in the apiary for the beekeeper. Autumn has been wet and like many of you I have wrapped my hives in a breathable roofing membrane. This keeps my wooden hives dry but lets out any moisture that the bees are producing.

Above is what Helen did for her bees at the end of October. You have to cut out a section so you don’t block up their entrance, of course. Keeping the bees dry really does make a difference as wet hives encourages fungal infections to grow on the bees and colonies will suffer. Even at this late stage this is something you could do on a dry day. I just fix the membrane on with drawing pins and crudely cut a section for the entrance.

If you have a WBC hive or a poly hive then this is not something you have to do (the outer skin of the WBC keeps the inner boxes dry and a poly hive sheds water, unlike wood which can retain moisture even if you have been careful and treated it with linseed oil).

All may be quiet with the bees (although these exceptionally mild temperatures are encouraging them out ) but there is still something you can do to help colonies. Bees often decide to take a brood break between mid-December and very early January. Because this is so this enables one to treat a colony with bad varroa with oxalic acid, either by the trickle method or by sublimating them. Please refer to my article last January if you are going to sublimate them, and make sure you have the right mask. By doing it now when there is no brood you will kill 96% of the mites. There is no real difference in efficacy between the two methods although if you are using the trickle method a Queen can only be treated once in her lifetime so write down in your records what you have done in case you are tempted to use this method again next year. With sublimation the number of times a Queen is treated does not seem to matter.

I have found boxes of bees that have been treated with either method have done really well and have romped away in the Spring. Keith would encourage you to monitor your natural dead mite drop for a week and then to go on bee base and use the varroa calculator as he does not like bees just being treated prophylactically. And he is absolutely right. Count the drop, do the calculation and then only treat if you need to.

If you decide on the trickle method it would be best to buy oxalic acid already mixed in to sugar syrup. Let the bee farmer get the correct concentration for you as otherwise you could kill your bees. The trickle method works because the bees pass the syrup containing the oxalic acid between themselves via trophallaxis. However some bees will get a higher dose as they will have come directly into contact with your syrup and so inevitably there will be some casualties. But for the greater good of the colony........

Colonies should be going into winter with 40lbs of stores. You can heft your hives using luggage scales if these are robust enough. If each side registers 20lbs or more, you will be fine. The hive should still be difficult to heft as it will be heavy. If this is not the case, feed fondant above the crown board as although this is not as good as their own honey it will keep them going. No syrup though as this will give them runny tummies and the bees will suffer.

Finally an idea for a Christmas present. If you have been keeping bees for a year or two and have not read Bill Turnbull’s novel ‘The bad beekeepers club’ then you should ask to be given the novel for Christmas. It is hilarious. I suspect most of us will recognise aspects of our own beekeeping in what he recounts or even things we may have done ourselves. However on no account should it be given to the wife or husband of the beekeeper unless they have a good sense of humour!

Happy Christmas everyone and happy beekeeping.

Malcolm Wilkie - 30th November 2019

Nothing wrong with a bit of hyperbole now and again. Our Honey Queen, Helen Hadley has won a first for her lovely medium honey in an open class of 67 competitors at the National Honey Show in London. This class (class 5) is open to beekeepers from around the world and if you look carefully at the photo of Helen the range of honeys can be seen behind her. Not only that but one of our beginners (Victoria Chesterfield) was awarded a third for her ‘lovely’ light honey in the same class.

Amazing that the HWBKA should be classed first and third in such a huge World class. We surpassed ourselves.

Our Honey Queen

Now our dominance is not yet complete. Several of us entered the Sussex classes (which for many years have not attracted many entries). The honey Queen won a first for her soft set, Lesley Francis a second for her soft set, Rob Gore a second for his light honey and a second for class 252, which is a novice class. I got a VHC for my medium honey, John Miller a third for his medium honey and Lesley a highly commended for her medium honey. Kirsty Cable a second for her dark honey.  I got Lesley to enter cut comb honey and I did so myself. I have never made cut comb before! She got a first prize and I got the second prize. Thank you, Helen, for all your advice and guidance. On top of that Lesley entered her naturally crystallised honey and that won another first prize.

Class 5

The surprise is that as Lesley did so well in so many Sussex classes, she was awarded The Crawley Cup. This cup is awarded to the person in Sussex with enough points to be placed second overall in all the Sussex classes. She strongly believes this is in no small part due to the fact that the High Weald did so well in the Sussex classes that the usual contenders (the same names appear on the cups year after year) were denied points thus enabling her to win this prestigious cup. Thank you, therefore, all of you who entered and won prizes.

Leslie receiving The Crawley Cup

So how was all this achieved? Runny honey should have no Incipient granulation (sugar crystals beginning to form). Heat the honey either in a warming cabinet, an oven or in a Bain Marie on the hob. Lesley left her honey overnight in the oven at 45 degrees (an accurate Miele oven), Helen used a Bain Marie. She brings the water with the honey jars in it up to the boil and switches the heat off. She repeats this until the honey clears. I have a warming cabinet. I mistakenly left Alan Rough’s honey in the cabinet for 3 days at 43 degrees and the judges’ comments were very complimentary! It certainly cleared the honey. One of Victoria’s jars showed IG and in desperation I shoved it in the oven for half an hour. Not so hot that I couldn’t lift if out the oven with my bare hands, but I would have been unable to hold it for long. Sorry but I don’t have an accurate oven. That did the trick, though I thought I might have sunk her chances as the jar had already been labelled and the label looked somewhat grubbier after it had been in my oven. Sorry Victoria (giving me your honey to prepare is a bit like Russian roulette; you never quite know what is going to happen). Still, Victoria, third in the world isn’t bad!

Butchered comb!

The cut comb was a fiasco. Last year on Helen’s advice I had purchased some Manley frames and this year I bought thin wireless foundation. At extraction time these went into the freezer to stop granulation happening. A week before the show these were defrosted, and I butchered the frames. I made a template and cut round this only to find that my wretched square of comb did not weigh enough (minimum 200g). Lesley was the beneficiary of my experience and when she prepared her own a plastic ruler was used and a more generous piece cut out. That could have ended in tears as having left the piece of comb to drain overnight, her mother pops round, enters the kitchen, sees the cut comb and promptly prods it! Ban family members where honey preparation is taking place! Fortunately, no damage done this time. As I assumed, I might be disqualified for underweight cut comb I drizzled a little honey into my box to achieve the requisite weight. That could have backfired, but it didn’t!

A big personal thank you to Helen for her advice (cut comb, soft set honey) and also to Maggie Pratt for her talk on preparing honey for show.

Maggie Pratt with Leslie, Rob and Jo

Now we have our own honey show on the 23rd of November. It is your bees and not you that are being judged. This is the comment that Jo Gore made to me about making soft set honey: ‘you know, Malcolm, I thought that if you were able to make soft set honey then I would have no trouble making some too’. She’s right, none of the above is very difficult.

So, if you have any honey, enter it. It has not been an easy year and you should be proud. All beginners should bring along their own honey in whatever sized jar they have. We all taste them all and vote for our favourite. It’s good fun.

Some links to Malcolm’s “Topical Tips” from previous years:

2018 Honey Show (includes some tips)

2017 Honey Show (includes a lot of preparation tips)

N.B. A word about heating honey

  • Enzymes
    Honey should not have been heated in such a way that the natural enzymes have been either destroyed or significantly inactivated (Enzymes start to break down at temperatures above 45°C).
    Heat to 50°C until liquid and clear (this can take from 1 to 3 days depending on the amount and type of honey)
  • Breakdown products
    The chemical composition of honey slowly changes over time. These changes are accelerated by heating.
    The most important breakdown product is hydroxymethylfurfural – HMF (formerly known as hydroxymethylfurfuraldehyde). Allowable limits in honey are 40 ppm (40 mg/kg).
Bertie Bear

There are two sessions organised by the HWBKA for our members. Both of interest to everybody.

The first session is on Thursday week (26th of September). Maggie Pratt has agreed to talk about preparing honey for showing. The session is useful because it teaches you how you should present your honey for a judge. Lessons learned by doing so will help you to present your own honey for sale. The session will also cover how to make soft set honey. This is something that every beekeeper in our association should know how to do. Out of a less than decent honey you can make a superb product.

Then on October 15th we have Mike Cullen talking about the BBKA exam system. His talk will centre around the basic assessment.

I suspect a lot of you will just think that this is not for them. How wrong you are! Once you have been a beekeeper for one or two years, it is very difficult to know how to progress any further. Sitting the basic (a purely practical exam) will help everyone of us to improve . You open a hive with an experienced well qualified beekeeper and have a chat about things like swarming or honey labelling.

This exam is for anyone who has kept bees for a full year and has extracted a honey crop. It is straightforward and not at all difficult. But it helps you to centre on what is important. In a sense it is more like a chat and an exam. And you always learn something!

 I am very keen that as many of you as possible sit this exam. So in the New Year Peter Halford and myself will run a session about the exam and then afterwards (for anyone interested) in people’s apiaries or at Slab Castle, small groups can take a mock exam.  You will then be able to sit the basic sometime in the summer.

This is not only for people who have done the beginners course but for anybody in the Association who keeps bees and has kept bees for a year or two. You will be a much better beekeeper in consequence. Come to the talk! He is a wonderful, experienced, competent and nice master beekeeper. And he has said that he will concentrate on the basic exam and what is required for that. You should all come and find out.

Sign up for both sessions by following the links below:

Malcolm Wilkie 18th Sep 2019