Sunday, 13 August 2017

Front page news

I am pleased to say that the cover of the latest edition of BeeCraft has one of my photos.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Wild comb

I have always been one for taking photos so when I took up beekeeping five years ago it was natural to take photos of what I saw as I started learning.  Reading Rusty Burlew's latest blog post (if you haven't read it you really should) reminded me of my second visit to the Hexham Beekeepers' apiary in 2012 for a beginners' teaching session with Robert Furniss.  We looked at a hive on May 27th which had overwintered for some reason with an empty super as an eke below the roof.  The bees had taken advantage of the empty space, as they do, and filled it with comb.  This is the view from underneath as the comb was fixed to the roof.

It is beautiful to look at but completely disorganised and presents quite a problem.  You can see it includes brood comb and possibly queen cells as well.  2012 was a terrible summer for bees but a good time to start learning as we saw so many problems in a short time.  I learnt a lot of things and this wild comb was one thing I didn't forget. Another lesson was always carry a camera.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Rosebay willowherb

Rosebay willowherb (Chamaenerion angustifolium) is in full flower just now and is a common sight along roadside verges.  In the US it is known as fireweed because it colonises areas burnt by forest fires.  It is popular with all types of bees and both pollen and nectar are collected by honey bees.  Although the flowers are a vivid pink the pollen is blue. Honey bees mix the pollen with a little nectar to pack it tightly in their pollen baskets (corbiculae) so it looks a bit darker.

This is a leafcutter bee (Megachile sp.) which carries the pollen loose on a pollen brush (scopa) under its abdomen so it looks a lighter blue than on the honey bees.

Monday, 31 July 2017

An Inspector Calls*

I have just had my first visit from an inspector from the National Bee Unit as part of the Statuary Inspection Programme.  Although I registered with BeeBase (the NBU's website) as soon as I got my first bees in 21012 this is the first visit I have had and it was the first time another beekeeper has looked at my bees.  It was a coolish and fairly blustery day.  I told the inspector the story of the hives - they had all had MAQS treatment two weeks before so, apart from removing the strips a week ago, the hives hadn't really had a full inspection for three weeks.  After lighting the smoker and suiting up we were off, with me holding the smoker and the inspector doing the inspecting.  The first thing was to take a GPS reading to localise my apiary precisely in the BeeBase records. Some of my bees are fairly stroppy (as we found out) so we started with the gentlest bees.

The main purpose of the inspection is to look for exotic and serious diseases and pests, especially Tropilaelaps mites, small hive beetle and asian hornet, as well as European foul brood (EFB) and American foul brood (AFB), none of which we did find.  Apparently my apiary is relatively high priority for checking for exotics, being close to Newcastle Airport, although none of these problems is close by.  Tropilaelaps mites and small hive beetle are not (yet) found in the UK and although asian hornets were found in Gloucestershire last year they are not (yet) established here.  This map, from the BeeBase website, shows where inspections in 2017 have found AFB (red squares), EFB (yellow squares) or have been clear (green circles) so nothing has been found within 50 miles of here.

We did find signs of parasitic mite syndrome from varroa infestation in my largest colony, something I had known about and was the reason for recent MAQS treatment of all the hives.  Worryingly when the inspector pulled out two larvae for examination they both had live varroa mites on them, rather surprising as they had just been treated.  He reckons that hive needs follow up treatment with Apiguard.  It was very interesting to watch as both mites were pounced on by worker bees and carried off.  One other colony had signs of chalk brood and sac brood.  To show me how it is done the inspector kindly did an AFB test on a sac-brood-affected larva with a lateral flow device.  First he took a sample from the larva with a spatula.

After shaking with a reagent in the extraction bottle for 20 seconds two drops of fluid were pipetted into the device.

A pale blue dye spreads across the viewing window from left to right

and a deeper blue line appears at the control (C) point showing the device is working.  The absence of another blue line at test (T) shows the disease is not present.

So it was a very reassuring and worthwhile experience, one which I think is now to be repeated each year.  One other thing the inspector brought with him was an asian hornet!  Fortunately this Vespa velutina worker was pickled.  It came from the Gloucestershire nest last year and was bigger than I had expected.  I do hope it is the last one I ever see.

*An Inspector Calls is a play written by JB Priestly in 1945.

Saturday, 22 July 2017


This is Phacelia tanacetifolia, also known as blue tansy.  It is a native of the South Western USA but in this country it is mainly grown as a green manure - that is it is dug in to improve soil structure and fertility.  It also a wonderful flower for bees.

I have planted a bed of it in my kitchen garden, partly to improve the soil but mainly for the bees.  You can see they don't have far to travel.

Phacelia has wonderful navy blue pollen.

Bees value phacelia both for its nectar and its pollen and they behave differently depending on which they are collecting.  They seem to do one thing at a time.  If they are after pollen they climb through the tall stamens, rubbing themselves against the anthers.

If they are after nectar they are head down in the flowers.

Phacelia attracts other bees including bumblebees and solitary bees such as Hylaeus, the yellow-face bee.

This buff-tailed bumblebee had been collecting pollen elsewhere but couldn't resist the nectar.

The phacelia's flowers are nearly over now so I'll soon be digging it in.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Holding on tight

The recent swarm that spent 24 hours on the outside of its hive gave me the opportunity to take a few close up photos.  The bees that interested me most were those in the front rank, acting as anchors to take the weight of the bees behind them.  They stayed like that with no chance to eat or drink or change position, unlike the mobile bees behind them.

Monday, 17 July 2017

White clover pollen

Proof, if proof were needed, that white clover pollen is brown.  It is interesting that it also shows the yellow bits of stamen that I saw in pollen coming into the hive on the previous post.