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April 2017 BBKA News highlights

At last the weather is hotting up and, as Bridget Beattie says on page 115, as soon as the temperatures allow us to work in shirt sleeves we can open our hives and make our first full inspections of the year. Bridget strongly advises that we plan what we intend to do before undertaking any beekeeping operation as this will mean we are prepared for our visit and will carry out our intended tasks efficiently. She explains that the first thing you should do in these early visits is to find the queen or look for signs that she is present, check that the hive stores are sufficient, check that there is sufficient space for the queen to lay in and for those all-important stores, and check the health and disease status of the colony. Supers may be needed to increase space because overcrowding can trigger swarming and we are now entering the main ‘swarming period’, which, as Wally Shaw tells us on page 135, is between late April and early July, although swarms can issue as late as September. Wally describes the main queen cell types that we find in our hives and the reasons for each cell type being produced. Once we understand what cell type we have and, therefore, the probable reason for it being in our hives, we can take the most appropriate course of action.

Dinah Sweet, on page 119, describes some other triggers for swarm issue, as she says, is the bees’ natural method of colony reproduction. Dinah emphasises that you can help prevent swarming by following good beekeeping practices and she explains how you can use the bees’ natural impulse to swarm to help you increase your colony numbers.  With this in mind, Bridget Beattie, on page 125, describes how to set up and use ‘bait hives’, which act as lures for swarms and could help you keep your own swarms as well as collect passing swarms. Bait hives are a good way to nurture a swarm in a temporary home before transferring it to a more permanent location where it can build up sufficiently to overwinter.  

It has been possible to design bait hives rationally because researchers have identified certain characteristics of nests that bees find attractive. Tony Harris has been investigating how a colony knows when it is ‘time to go to the new home’, how a colony is guided to its new home and how the new nest site is selected on page 129. This is a fascinating area of study, which has revealed much about bee behaviour, that can help inform our beekeeping practices.

David Teasdale describes how to collect a swarm that is reported by a member of the public and, perhaps equally importantly, he tells us what not to do when collecting swarms. So, for a quick guide to collecting a swarm turn to page 122.

We are sad to have come to the last in the beekeeping equipment and gadgets series by Graham Royle this month. On page 133, Graham describes how he built and fitted out a bespoke bee shed for his ever-growing equipment, complete with ‘bee escapes’ in the windows. He seems to have thought of everything that we could need in a beekeeper’s perfect storage shed-come-workshop. Thank you Graham for some excellent advice during the series, which many readers have found very helpful.

Pam Hunter introduces a new BBKA assessment, designed for those small-scale beekeepers who have passed the Basic assessment. As Pam says on page 123, currently, the next assessment a beekeeper can take is the General Husbandry, but for this assessment a beekeeper must run at least three honey-producing colonies and a nucleus. Many beekeepers choose to manage fewer colonies, but would like to have the opportunity to take further assessments. In response to this demand, the BBKA has devised a new certificate: the Certificate in Honey Bee Health, which has emphasis on handling skills, health and hygiene. If you are interested in participating in further practical assessments after your Basic assessment, turn to page 123 and find out more. 

Also in this issue we have a set of research articles in the BBJ (volume 4). These articles detail various projects that have been funded or part-funded by the BBKA Research Fund, and they make interesting reading.

Finally, I must remind you to continue looking out for Asian hornets and their nests. Jason Learner from the APHA provided detailed descriptions of the insects and their nests as well as traps and baits that have been found to be useful in France in the March issue of BBKA News. So, if you need any reminders of these please do refer to page 93 in the March issue and maintain vigilance for these aggressive bee predators. Any suspected Asian hornet sightings should, of course, be reported to alertnonnative@ceh.ac.uk.