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February 2017 BBKA News highlights

January has been, at times, bitterly cold and rather wet across the UK, but, as Bridget Beattie reminds us on page 43, the day lengths are beginning to increase now and plants and animals will react to this and to any changes in temperature. Continuous cold weather will keep bees in their clusters, but if this is broken with warm spells they will take the opportunity to break cluster and pop out for cleansing flights, and potentially, the queen may continue to lay. Whatever the situation the bees are likely to be eating into their stores of honey and pollen, so February tends to be a particularly critical month especially for the weakest colonies, and those with a high varroa count. Bridget emphasises the need to check stores regularly and to feed fondant where necessary. She also lists some plants that can provide pollen at this time of year, which you may look out for or even plant for future use. In addition, Bridget suggests that this is a good time to fully familiarise yourself with each colony’s recent history; you will remind yourself of the condition it was in at the onset of winter and identify any colonies that looked vulnerable. You will have been preparing your equipment for the coming season and, if you can finalise this and prepare new record cards or your preferred recording system, you will be in good shape for what 2017 has to offer. 

One thing we can be certain of in 2017 is that swarms will issue. Swarm collection is a valuable task, but one that can be quite time-consuming. Graham Royle, as ever, has given much thought to this and come up with a rapid swarm collecting gadget, the ‘Swarm Buster’, which he describes on page 46. This home-made device makes swarm collecting a much less arduous operation, so if you find yourself inundated with swarm calls, it might be the answer to your prayers.

While we can be certain of swarm issue swelling bee numbers, we can also be certain that there will have been some colony losses during the winter. If this has happened to you, understandably, you will want to know the reason for your colony not surviving. Tony Harris, on page 51, helps us perform a ‘hive autopsy’ to identify some possible causes of winter colony losses so that we may learn to recognise some potential warning signs and learn from our losses.  Tony emphasises the importance of good husbandry, such as sterilising the ‘dead’ hives and keeping varroa mite numbers as low as possible. Learning from your colonies now will allow you to take steps to help avoid similar losses next year. 

Looking at your bees and identifying ‘what they are telling you’ was the topic for the 2016 National Honey Show essay class, which is sponsored each year by the BBKA. On page 57, Sue Carter from Buckinghamshire, the winner of the 2016 competition, describes what signs she looks for to identify what her bees are telling her. Sue’s essay emphasises the importance of taking time to watch your bees and learn to interpret their behaviour; there is so much to be gleaned about your colonies from simple observation. As she eloquently describes, Sue’s observations yield an enormous amount of important information about the day-to-day condition of her bees and their needs. Similarly, careful scientific observation can reveal some surprising facts about our bees, and answer some tricky questions. For example, Professor Jürgen Tautz and the HOBOS team at the University of Würzburg in Germany are aware that flowers of different nectar-producing plants will be open at different times of the day and this creates nectar sources in different places at different times. This led them to ask whether bees have a sufficiently good memory to be able to learn what flowers will be open and when, so the foragers could plan their day to obtain maximal forage. Applying scientific method to this question along with careful observation Prof Tautz and his team were able to provide an answer, which you can find out about on page 61.

As you will know, the International Meeting of Young Beekeepers (IMYB) is being hosted by England in July at Marlborough College and George Brown has been busy fundraising for this event (as well as others) as he explains on page 48. Ian and Ruth Homer have also secured considerable funding for the event from generous sponsors within the beekeeping community, as Ian describes on page 49. This is an important meeting for beekeepers in the UK and Ian explains that the annual selection day will be held next month, when three young beekeepers will be chosen as the English team. So, if you are a young beekeeper and interested in competing, or if you wish to volunteer to help or to contribute to the cultural sessions, turn to page 49 and see how to register your interest. Both Ruth and Ian Homer are available to provide guidance and further information.

If you have been taking BBKA examinations recently you will find the most recent results on page 63 and if you are keen to enhance your knowledge and skills in bee breeding, you may be interested in the new Certificate in Honey Bee Breeding that will be piloted this year in preparation for more general roll-out in 2018. Eligible candidates may volunteer to participate in the pilot scheme, so if you feel this is for you, all details are to be found on page 60.

Whether you are preparing for assessments, contemplating courses or generally getting ready for the season, have a good month - whatever the weather!