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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.

I have done some videos to explain the next stages of the Queen rearing process. There were 8 Queen cells and I managed to harvest 7 of them. Ideally, I would have liked the cells to have been riper and going brown at the tips. Bees raising Queen cells in a large box start them at different times so these Queen cells will all be at different stages of their development.

With the second round of Queen rearing the Queen cells should all be roughly about the same age as the bees in this hive will have no other choice but to make Queens on the frame of brood taken from the hive next door. As the frame of brood and eggs was placed in this big colony on the 10th of May the Queen cells should be hatching on the 21st if 2-day old larvae were used by the bees to make Queens. These Queen cells will be going brown at the tip if about to hatch. Any that are not like this will probably hatch two or three days later as the bees will have started them on larvae that hatched a day or two after the frame of brood was placed in the hive.

As I say on the videos I would not attempt this whole process, which is quite invasive, unless I had help at this stage with the harvesting of Queen cells. There is quite a bit of skill in loading up the apidea mating hives correctly and I have chosen to do this on the same day as the harvesting of Queen cells ; mainly because I have an out apiary and it is easier to do everything at the same time.

So, the process starts with the apidea mating hives. If you are interested only in the Queen rearing process you can skip this section but it is all part of the process and unless you can use these mini mating hives correctly, it will be difficult to get a mated Queen.

Cut up foundation and add strips to the frames in the mating hive. I use wax from a beeswax candle to secure the strip to the plastic frame. Place fondant in the feeder of the mating hive. Make sure the hole for the introduction of the Queen cell is aligned with the frames so you can actually introduce your Queen cell. Once you have harvested your bees and then want to introduce your Queen cell it won’t be possible to dismantle the apidea with bees inside in order to readjust the frames.

Photo 1:              Frames incorrectly aligned for the introduction of a Queen cell

Photo 2:              Frames correctly aligned for the introduction of a Queen cell.

Photo 3:              A makeshift repair on an apidea so a flap covers the hole - this prevents the bees climbing out while you are trying to introduce your Queen cell.

Photo 4:              as above

Photo 5:              The front door closed. If you try and harvest young bees and the door is open, they just walk out!

Photo 6:              The front door open. It would be a mistake to leave this open when loading up the apidea

Photo 7:              Making up the frames for the apidea

Photo 8:              as above

Photo 9:              as above

Photo 10:            as above

Photo 11:            as above

Photo 12:            as above

Photo 13:            A cheap mating hive. I have made a flap. In this photo the lid is incorrectly aligned

Photo 14:            In this photo the lid is correctly aligned

Photo 15:            Squares of tin foil cut up so a small hole is revealed - the tip of the Queen cell will protrude through this hole.

Photo 16:            as above

For harvesting young bees I use a large garden trug, a sprayer with water in it and a cup to measure out 300ml of bees. Too few bees and you are wasting your time as the virgin wont go out and mate, too many and the bees consider the mating hive too small and depart with your new virgin Queen to pastures new.

Familiarise yourself with how the apidea fits together. It is loaded up with young bees upside down and you see me doing this on the video. Choose if possible a frame of young bees which will be found on a frame of young larvae as these are the bees feeding the larvae. Be careful though as this may also be the frame where your Queen could be laying eggs. Best if at all possible to place the Queen in a clip

Photo 17:            Queen in a Queen clip

Photo 18:            Frame suitable to harvest young bees from as larvae can be seen

On the particular day these videos were taken there had been a huge nectar flow and so the young bees when shaken into the trug became covered in nectar. This actually made them easier to harvest as they could not easily fly up.

Top tips for loading up apideas

Make sure you know how to close up the floor quickly : cheap mating hives unlike apideas have floors that are more difficult to close so practise without bees first if you are using one of these

Make sure the hole in the lid aligns up properly with the alignment of the frames below

Make sure the front entrance is in the closed position

Use only fondant. You are turning this mating hive upside down and if you use syrup it will go everywhere and probably drown your bees!

Harvest young bees from a frame where you can see larvae. Young bees will live longer and they will have a Herculean task ahead of them to draw out the frames for your new virgin Queen.

Use a large garden trug and a sprayer. If the bees are slightly wet that is good as they will use that moisture to help eat the fondant. Don’t drench them however!

Once you have harvested your cupful of bees, align the mating hives up in a row near the Queen rearing colony as you will be adding cells one at a time to these mating hives.

If you are interested in the process, now look at the following videos taken by Lesley of me harvesting young bees

1 Photo:              A frame with larvae thus guaranteeing the harvesting of young bees

2 Video:               Young bees being harvested

3 Photo:              Apideas upside down ready to be loaded with young bees

4 Photo:              as above

5 Video:               Young bees being added to two apideas

6 Photo:              Queen in a Queen clip so she is not accidentally added to the apidea

7 Video:               Young bees not being used are returned to the hive

The harvesting of Queen cells

For my set up I used an empty 14x12 brood box to decant frames into as I searched for the Queen cells that the bees had made for me. I try and be as gentle as possible. I use a sharp Stanley knife to cut out the cells and I protect the cells with foil. I don’t harvest young bees from this colony as I feel the whole procedure is invasive enough for this particular colony.

Top tips for harvesting cells

  • Try and avoid long elongated Queen cells
  • Cut deep around a chosen Queen cell : you have to dig into other brood to properly harvest these emergency  cells.
  • Use smoke to clear the bees away from the cell you are working on
  • Some emergency cells can look small but they contain large Queens as the cell goes back into the frame.
  • Try and be organised and systematic. I struggle with this and you see me replace back into the hive a frame with a Queen cell which I then later have to go and pull out again.
  • Work gently and slowly
  • Have everything you need within easy reach
  • Work as a team

Now look at all the videos below.

1 Video:               Explanation of what I am going to do

2 Video:               Searching for  Queen cells by decanting the frames into another empty brood box

3 Video:               Queen cells being harvested from a frame

4 Video:               Harvesting a long thin Queen cell from the frame and a shorter one at the bottom of the frame. Foil is used to protect the cell

5 Video:               2 cells being harvested

6 Video:               A frame of brood and eggs from another colony being added. Reassembling the hive ; bees had been shaken off all the frames to ensure no Queen cells had been missed

I advise you to only attempt something so invasive to the bees if you have the help of at least one other person. The last video shows the bees all over the hive after frames have been shaken. These manipulations are not for the faint hearted. Everyone says they would like to do Queen rearing but it is an invasive process. I do it as I want several Queens from one particular colony.  My out apiary is on a ridge and windy (you can hear that) and often any new Queens don’t get well mated so I like to have options. If mated from our garden in St Leonard’s the Queens are usually gentle and prolific. There is nothing to stop you taking some of the lessons from the text and photos and videos below and harvesting a couple of Queen cells from your own hives when doing swarm control. Bees harvested from the same colony as the one from which the Queen cell comes, do not need the cell protected although using tin foil does help to easily wedge the cell into the mating hive and so I would recommend using a square of tin foil for that reason alone.

As with anything in beekeeping adapt what I have done for your own purposes. If you manage to get your head round what is required to make spare Queens, it will improve your beekeeping and understanding. And if you have raised a Queen yourself from a deliberate choice you have made, that feels good. However, once you have got your mated Queen then there is the further challenge of how to introduce her to a nucleus of bees as these small mating hives are only a staging post. They are to get a Queen mated and cannot be used to grow into a colony. My next email will look at the success of the mating hives - whether the Queen cells hatched and how successful the Queens were in getting mated.

For those interested in raising queens this is how I do it. Helen Hadley taught me, and I have read a lot of books. However, this is what works for me.

I am on 14*12 brood boxes. I build up a colony I like by adding a second brood box. I lift a frame of brood and stores into the top brood box and add a piece of foundation and a dummy board to help prevent the brood getting chilled. I place foundation below into the brood nest to make up for the frames I have lifted into the top box. The bees quickly draw out the frames of foundation particularly in the top box as there is heat rising from the brood in the bottom box. The next week I start adding frames of foundation to the top box. I may raise another frame of brood to encourage expansion. This process goes on for several weeks until I have two 14*12 brood boxes rammed with bees. I often have to give them a super as well to give them space.

Then when I feel it is the right moment, I find the queen and place her in a clip. I raise into the top box as much brood as I can and make sure there are eggs on which emergency queen cells can be made. Important that there are stores and,  if possible, a pollen bank.

I then turn the bottom brood box and entrance 180 degrees, so the entrance faces the woodland edge which all my hives back onto. I add a solid crown board. I add an eke with the entrance facing outwards in the same direction as the original entrance. I place an inspection board over where the original entrance would have been in order to prevent the bees going underneath the box. This encourages them to walk up and find the new top entrance. If I have a super I remove the queen excluder to encourage all these bees to collect me Spring honey.

After three days I go back and remove any sealed queen cell as it will probably have been made from a three-day old larva. I add a pollen pattie as shown me by Helen or any extra fondant/ food I have got. If there are cells in places too difficult to be harvested, I may remove them.

After 9 days (possibly 10 days) I go back and harvest cells.  My calculation is that there will be queens made from two-day old larvae. In a queenless box two-day old larvae are converted into emergency queens and sealed three days later. Then in 8 days’ time those cells will hatch. If I go in on day 9 then the queen cells will be ready to harvest and will no doubt hatch two or three days later.

This year I may harvest them all and put them in apideas. I will then do a second round of queen rearing using eggs from another hive or a frame of eggs taken from the queen in the bottom box. This will also mean these bees collect me more honey.

Once this second round of queen cells is complete, I will divide up the hive and make up nucs which will be taken to another apiary for the queens to get mated. One of these nucs will be used to requeen the original colony as the original queen will have produced a lot of brood and won’t make a strong colony going into winter.

Watch these videos. I have tried to be clear, but the process is complex, and I forget to mention certain things. However perhaps with the above written explanation plus the long videos showing the set up you will be able to work out how it is done.

Most of the queen cells from the first round I intend to harvest and put in apideas. Those from the second round will be used to make up nucs or add again to any apideas that destroyed the queen cell they were given.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Malcolm Wilkie – May 2024

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