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December 2017 BBKA News highlights
As Bridget says on page 403, ‘we have arrived at the last month in the calendar year, but to honey bee colonies this is just another month in the annual cycle of the superorganism.’ You might be feeling the chill now, but your bees should be clustering within their hives and only rarely popping out on those warmer days for a cleansing flight. Towards the end of December, when queens have usually stopped laying and there is little or no brood, you might take the opportunity to treat for varroa infestations using oxalic acid. Bridget explains the two methods of oxalic acid application that are used: trickling and vapourisation in this, her last, ‘In the Apiary’ column for BBKA News. We will be sad to see her go from her regular spot and thank her for all her excellent advice, tips and guidance this year, and we look forward to her contributions to the main magazine in 2018.
Filipe Salbany also writes about his experiences with using oxalic acid in his article on page 418. After a serious loss of local colonies a few years ago, Filipe and his beekeeper colleagues decided to take a long hard look at the potential causes of colony demise, short-list those that could be influencing their colonies and then tackle each in a logical, strategic manner. One of the obvious candidates is varroa infestation and Filipe shares with us his treatment methods and results. Other challenges for beekeepers include wax moth invasion and slow developing colonies. These too, were faced head-on, and, to assist with colony monitoring during the winter when hives should not be opened, Filipe and his colleagues invested in the uWatch Cube. This provided them with information such as hive temperature and ‘visual’ bee activity, helped them in their decision-making and, ultimately, improved their colony outcomes.
Being able to see what was happening in her apiary might have helped one reader who sent a rather tricky question to Wally Shaw. Always up for a challenge Wally has put on his thinking cap to offer a potential solution to the strange appearance of hundreds of drones apparently attempting to invade the hives on some rare, hot, July days. Turn to page 423 and follow Wally’s logical thought progression to his conclusions.
Alongside routine monitoring of varroa mite levels, regular assessment of the health of our bees is part of good colony management and many of you will participate in ‘disease days’ at your apiary where you analyse a sample of your bees for acarine and nosema using microscopy. Many of you are interested in microscopy techniques for disease identification as well as for learning about bee anatomy and for pollen identification, and some will be planning to go on a microscopy course next year. If you are one of those contemplating taking a microscopy course next year you will want to read Graham Royle’s article on microscopy tools on page 407. Good, clean dissections enable us to gain a better understanding of the internal anatomy of the bee, so a good set of dissecting tools is essential. However, standard dissections equipment is usually too large to perform the delicate tissue manipulations that are needed for honey bees, so our ever-resourceful ‘Mr Fixit’ shows us how to make our own bespoke honey bee dissection kit and mounting stage. This could be a nice job to be getting on with during the winter months! Next month Graham will look at the tools and equipment you will need for making pollen slides, which, perhaps will help you identify the floral sources of forage that your bees are finding.
Flowers, of course, are the reproductive units of plants as well as being the focus of our bees’ interest, and Tony Harris tells us about some of the clever ways plants have devised to ensure they are pollinated. Continuing his Botany for Beekeepers series on page 409 Tony describes plant parts and flower structure that provide bees with important information about a plant’s pollination status. Flowers can be brightly coloured or wonderfully scented to entice bees to their nectaries. Some, such as the bee orchid, release a pheromone attractant, and our clever bees can learn which flowers are best to visit and when they are ‘open for business’ to deliver some lovely nectar.
Adult bees, as we know, can also learn landmarks so they return to their own hives - and they can count, but what about brood? Do you think brood can learn? This is a fascinating question that was posed long ago, but only recently has begun to be investigated more thoroughly. Curious Jürgen Tautz, of the University of Würzburg in Germany, has been delving into the literature and reveals the answer to this question on page 412. You will be amazed.
Other ‘little learners’ include some lovely young student beekeepers. Primary school children to be precise. Caroline Dilke and her teacher friend, Brigid Hillier, both experienced (adult) beekeepers, decided to offer to train children attending their local primary school, the art of beekeeping. Their offer was enthusiastically taken up and Caroline takes us through their journey to success on page 415. Teaching young people beekeeping in school clubs is one way to encourage young people to join our craft, and Sean Stephenson has given this subject much thought. On page 422 Sean outlines his idea for local associations to create dedicated young beekeepers sections. Sean submitted his carefully considered plan for entry to the 2017 National Honey Show essay class and was the winner with his essay titled ‘How to encourage young beekeepers’. The title for the 2018 competition is: ‘Why I Keep Bees’. Could you be inspired to write on this subject?
A ‘hot topic’ stimulating much discussion this month is the statement on 9 November, in the Guardian newspaper, from Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that, unless the evidence-base changes, the UK Government will support a continuation of the EU restrictions on the use of three neonicotinoids post-Brexit, and would be prepared to go even further. This statement was based upon updated advice from the Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP) and on data which have led The European Commission to now propose that the ban is extended to non-flowering crops. In response to these recent events the BBKA has published an updated position statement on neonicotinoid pesticides both on this website and on page 428 of BBKA News. Clearly, the vulnerability of pollinating insects is beginning to be recognised and, on page 421, John Feltwell reports on a public policy conference, held on 12 October, at which the delegates discussed the decline in pollinating insects in relation to boosting community partnerships and engagement nationwide. Although neonicotinoids did not take centre-stage at this conference, it addressed remedial measures that can be taken by people in general, councils and NGOs to assist pollinators.
As you know, the BBKA is holding its annual delegate meeting (ADM) on January 13 next year, and you will find the nominations and propositions to be considered at the meeting on page 413. Also in this issue we have two inspiring book reviews for you. The first is The Small Have Beetle. Now, although the small hive beetle is not found in the UK, it spreads fast once it gains a foothold and it has been found in Portugal and Italy - with five recent cases being reported in southern Italy up to June 2017. Once your hive has built up a large infestation, destruction by fire is apparently the course of action, so it is probably a good idea to learn as much as we can about this potential interloper. This book is rather academic, but will be of interest to some members, and, of course, there are also information leaflets from Defra and others on this subject. The second book to be reviewed is Mead and Honey Wines by Michael Badger. Mead-making is popular pastime for many beekeepers, and, at Christmas, mead tasting might well be a pretty popular pastime too! Both aspects are covered in this book, so a feast for the eyes and for the palate perhaps. For those who have not yet tasted mead (are there any such people?) you could surprise them with a Christmas gift of mead or perhaps honey gin or other artisan crafted honey drinks, as suggested by David Teasdale on page 426, and do not forget to visit the pollen basket for other bee-related Christmas gift inspiration.
And on that note - we would like to wish you all a very happy Christmas.