The site is designed to be a resource for members of the West Dorset Beekeepers’ Association (WDBKA) and for interested members of the general public.
Our Association draws its members from West Dorset, the area roughly west of Dorchester and the A37 (a smaller area than that covered by West Dorset District Council!)
What to do if you have a swarm of bees turn up in your garden? DON’T Panic! Find out more, and where to get help, by clicking on the “swarms” tab above.
Thinking about starting to keep bees?… again, contact us and we should be able to help, guide and support you in this exciting new venture. We usually run our popular course for beginners, which starts in early February, based at Netherbury Village Hall, and runs from 7-9.30pm for seven consecutive weeks. This is followed by four practical sessions in our own teaching apiary, where you can gain some experience in handling bees yourself, even before you acquire your own. The apiary meetings for beginners run fortnightly on Saturday afternoons in April and May.
Cost £60, including a non-refundable £10 deposit. Numbers are limited to 25.
Let us know if you’d like to visit us or find out further details about our course.
The WDBKA is affiliated to the BBKA – British Beekeeping Association. Their website provides a wealth of information and advice. All members of WDBKA will have been issued with a membership card for the BBKA which includes login details and a password to gain full access to the BBKA site.
All beekeepers are encouraged to register with BeeBase, the Fera National Bee Unit website. It is designed for beekeepers and supports Defra, WAG and Scotland’s Bee Health Programmes and the Healthy Bees Plan, which set out to protect and sustain our valuable national bee stocks.Their website provides a wide range of free information for beekeepers, to help keep their honey bees healthy and productive.
If you’ve read or heard about the pressures facing the honeybee – diseases, parasites, and so on – and would like to know what you can do to help, click here to download a list of Ten Things to do to Help Honey Bees. There’s guidance on everything from planting bee-friendly plants, through offering a home for a hive or two, to lobbying your MP to press for more support for research! If you’re interested in helping by planting bee-friendly trees, flowers or shrubs, click here to visit the comprehensive list published by the Royal Horticultural Society.
On Saturday 4th May Simon Jones, RBI for the South West, visited the WDBKA apiary to lead a disease inspection. He started the afternoon talking about the anticipated arrival of the Asian Hornet and asked all beekeepers to be especially vigilant.
Asian Hornet trap
Our apiary will become a sentinel apiary with a specially designed hornet trap. Simon also encouraged everyone to have a go at constructing their own trap, following guidance from the BeeBase website.
The meeting was well supported by 32 members who appreciated the opportunity to see Simon in action and answer various questions relating to the season so far. He stressed the importance of maintaining high standards of hygiene and controlling varroa levels to reduce susceptibility to viral infection.
Simon Jones addresses WDBKA members
The Langstroth hive, in which the predatory mites were introduced last month, has maintained an acceptable level of mite drop. The colony has continued to build up and a second super was added. The other two hives were relatively weak in comparison and Simon identified a variety of signs for concern. He carried out a test for EFB, which proved negative. He considered that there was evidence of viral damage and recommended that both hives are treated to reduce the high level of varroa. The apiary committee have decided to try the Mite Away Quick Strips which will be introduced next weekend.
Bill Brushett shares his idea for a home made frame for cut comb production
Bill Brushett also brought along a new idea to share with everyone. He had used a piece of correx plastic boarding to fashion a frame to encourage his bees to create fresh comb. In the brood box this could be used for drone trapping. Frames in the supers might help with the production of cut comb honey. We wait to hear the results of his trial.
The afternoon ended with a tasty spread of cakes and biscuits. Members will be pleased to hear that our gas bottle has been refilled so no one will need to go home thirsty after the next meeting – this will be held on Saturday 1st June.
We look forward to welcoming Mervyn Brown, our County President.
Members of WDBKA gathered at the apiary on Saturday 6th April for the first meeting of the season. Not surprisingly the weather was deemed too cold to open hives and inspect the colonies.
Hives were hefted to assess the weight of stores to keep the bees going whilst the cold snap continues. Varroa trays were also inspected and the Langstroth hive was selected to trial a new treatment for varroa.
The predatory mites are a species of stratiolaelaps mites which are native to the UK where they live in leaf litter.
The first sachets of predator mites are introduced into the Langstroth hive
They have been used in biological control in horticulture for over 15yrs but have only recently been trialled for use in controlling pests of livestock species. This species of stratiolaelaps is a non-specific predator which attacks the phoretic (adult) stages of the the Varroa mite. They provide an on-going reduction in varroa population through the season to maintain it below a level which would cause significant health problems in the colony. Each treatment consists of two paper sachets, each containing approx 500 mites, which are placed on the top bars in the hive at two monthly intervals. The bees chew through the paper and the mites spread through the colony.
It will be very interesting to monitor the health of the bees and the varroa levels in the hive over time.
On March 3rd members from across Dorset gathered to support the AGM of the Dorset Beekeepers Association.
Caroline Dilke has recorded the key points from the presentation by our guest speaker, Ged Marshall.
Ged Marshall, a commercial beekeeper since the 1980s, runs 200-400 hives and reaps about 10 tons of honey in a good year. Based in Buckinghamshire, he moves bees to Kent, Derbyshire and Northumber-land to follow crops such as borage and heather.
He buys in 1,000 queens annually from Denmark and selects for honey production, aiming for large, hard-working colonies. He also buys in Buckfast drones, to saturate the area with good genes. He gives his bees plenty of space – often with a spare super above the crown board – feeds heavily and breeds for slow swarmers.
With so many hives to care for, the main disease inspection is in late summer. When the drones are gone he introduces new queens, replaces old combs and feeds the colony. In early spring, again he feeds his bees (with candy such as Apifonda). The next inspection is in mid-March. “When the pussy willow is out and I hear the first cuckoo, I count my colonies: they’ve made it through the winter.”
In May comes the first disease inspection of the year, and a check for signs of supersedure, and to make sure the queen has space to lay. Ged now pulls out frames of brood from prolific hives to boost the mediocre ones – but not the weakest hives.
He emphasises that supers are to house bees, and the top one should be not more than half-full of bees to ensure there is enough space. He does little note-taking but scribbles on the boxes, numbering each hive’s supers from the bottom up.
Poor May weather may lead to feeding with fondant (not syrup, which would contaminate the hon-ey), even if there is a big crop out there. But if the bees have full supers of honey they stop working so hard, so Ged takes it off as soon as it is sealed. If a colony swarms, its honey goes on to another strong hive. He leaves half a super of honey on all summer to ensure against starving.
When moving hives he does not screen them or block entrances; the wind keeps them in, and if they have enough space they are fine. He finds field beans, though not a huge crop, are useful to plug the “June gap”.
At the end of May Ged stops doing swarm checks, but finds it is worth walking round on a sunny day following two weeks of rain and checking in the trees. He later transports all the swarms together to a new site, and subsequently changes the queens and finds he gets three strong nuclei from each four swarms. He also changes the queen in the parent hive.
He puts out spare equipment as bait hives – as high up as practicable — each with only two drawn frames and an empty frame between. If he catches a swarm, he fills it up with new foundation. He watch-es for scout bees at a bait hive: one of the colonies may be about to swarm.
When chasing heather honey, Ged chooses a sheltered spot and provides just one super on each hive. He says borage is a wonder crop with heavy honey flow, although it does tear the bees’ wings. He mixes in lime honey to improve the flavour of other honeys.
Ged’s no-nonsense approach gave us lots of practical ideas to try. For example, if he detects signs of swarming and there is a nectar flow, a quick fix is to add more supers. Also, he says that in the early days he hugely improved his stock by killing the worst 25% of queens each year.
Judy and Brian Godfrey created a great centre piece for the refreshments.
Following Ged’s talk we enjoyed a wonderful range of homemade sweet and savoury dishes before the AGM business element of the afternoon commenced.
Our course for new beekeepers is well underway. A variety of topics are covered during the evening theory meetings, held at Netherbury Village Hall, delivered by a team of WDBKA members who are all experienced beekeepers. Students have already considered the merits of different hives, frames and foundation. Protective clothing and basic equipment, siting an apiary and colony composition, have also been covered. More recently Ken Bishop gave a practical demonstration on the creation of an artificial swarm as part of his input on swarm prevention and control.
Ken Bishop demonstrates how to make an artificial swarm. Remember to keep track of your queen bee!
Further sessions will cover bee health and diseases, feeding and overwintering, as well as how to harvest the honey. As the course progresses the students gather a number of handouts to help them to create a file of information as they build their knowledge and understanding.
The theory part of the course is followed by practical sessions in our apiary, where bee suits are available for loan. Close supervision enables prospective beekeepers to gain experience in handling bees as they consider establishing their own colonies.
Report of talk by Bill Summers on “Beekeeping with Zest”, at the United Reform Church, Bridport. Feb 2013
Bill and his technical sidekick Dave Durrant began by explaining that the concept of Zest (Zero Energy SusTainable) beekeeping began with a need to provide cheap, bamboo hives for the third world.
As far as UK beekeeping is concerned, Bill believes that our standard hives cause nosema by being typically cold and damp. His alternative, top-entrance hive has as its main aim improving bees’ health. It takes six minutes to assemble from concrete blocks, a damp-proof course, a lightweight Durablock or Supablock base and sides (to regulate warmth and save energy) and an insulated roof. This all costs much less than a conventional wooden hive and, he claims, gets away from the Victorian priority of making life easy for the beekeeper, and moves towards what the bees like. KP Plastics make the parts for a Zest hive, but as yet only about 100 are in use, 25 being the property of Bill and Dave.
The frames are open, divided vertically into three sections each the depth of a super, and appear very wobbly – but apparently the bees quickly brace them with wax, and build brood in the top sections and store honey in the bottom, furthest from the entrance.
Bill and Dave faced many questions from the audience of about 40. Chief among our concerns were varroa monitoring and control (there are no varroa boards; Bill doses all his bees with thymol), cleaning of a Zest hive (this is done in spring) and the need to warm the honey to extract it (Dave said provided gentle heat is used, the honey does not suffer). We also questioned the bees’ increased need to produce wax, since comb is not reused.
We all came away stimulated by this well-thought-out and thought-provoking talk, although as Bill said, probably we in the audience represented £250,000-worth of standard equipment so it would take a lot to persuade us to throw it all away. However, a halfway house can be achieved by surrounding a standard hive with the insulating blocks and converting it to a top entrance. Some of the ideas presented – such as warming the inside of a hive with a low-wattage heater – were decidedly wacky, and some of us were irritated by an over-emphasis on the “philosophy” of being open to new ideas. Bill also challenged what appears to be well-attested science, such as the role of bees’ waggle dance in communication. But his ideas were well worth hearing.
In one of our winter talks Richard Ball, retired NBI, delivered an informative lecture sharing his thoughts and experience regarding the importance of effective queen rearing for all beekeepers.
Richard began by urging us all to improve our stocks, for which good husbandry is the key. If we beekeepers each year selected our best colony and reared drones in it, and if we chose our worst colony and killed the queen, we would soon see an improvement. But we normally cannot control mating. Whatever we do affects our neighbours, and vice versa. The average beekeeper in England has only five colonies and does not want to bother with complicated techniques. But big beekeepers want young, strong queens early in the season:
The EU provides 6,000 imported queens every year, with another 6,000 coming from other countries. Richard is against importing queens and so is the BBKA. Insurance covers only American foul brood, small hive beetle and tropilaelaps; and some races of bees have several peaks of activity in a year (because of drought in summer) so are unsuitable in the UK. Pesticides have caused damage. Pyrethroids, Amitraz and Coumaphos are all used in varroa control, and in the US queens are not viable for more than six months. Is this a result of the chemicals, or varroa?
Richard himself has found queens now are failing earlier and having to be replaced. Apistan reduces drone sperm count – but in untreated bees the count drops even further. We do have more drone-laying queens, possibly exacerbated this year by wet weather.
Why not raise our own queens? We can all keep accurate records of temperament, honey yield, strength of colonies, disinclination to swarm, and resistance to cold weather and disease. Then “drone” and “queen” colonies can be selected. In selecting for queens, choose strong, well-yielding, non-swarming and varroa-tolerant stock. For drones, look for temperament. Get drone foundation drawn out in a strong colony and place it in the colony of choice, having brought varroa to a minimum.
In a well-managed colony, varroa becomes a problem only at the very end of summer, when the winter bees are born. If left uncontrolled, viruses will kill the bees in the spring. Another problem is nosema, now present in 40% of colonies. It interacts disastrously with both varroa and neonicotinoids.
So the key is to minimise varroa in winter, use bait combs in summer, beware of mite invasion from neighbours, take the honey off in August, and use an approved varroacide. Richard monitors mites every day at this time of year and treats colonies that have a drop of six or more a day.
In queen-rearing, we use two colonies, the breeder and the rearer. The rearer must be a strong colony (if it’s a swarmer, kill the queen) with lots of young brood. As for the breeder, you need to pick a very young larva (one-and-a-half-days old or young-er). Drones take 37 days to mate, from the egg, while queens take only 20 days. Bear that in mind when matching queens to drones. When grafting, a special pen comes in useful (and good eyesight), but you can just take off a nucleus, to persuade the bees to grow queen cells. Take an artificial swarm to split a colony – Pagden is the simplest way.
Richard described other methods of queen-rearing, saying the Miller method is good if you want just a few queen cells. But he reiterated the basic principles: rear drones from the best colonies; re-queen non-achieving colonies.
Our large Marquee will be in the same place as last year, which is super as we are hosting the Dorset County Honey Show in conjunction with ours which is a first for us so lots of entries please!!
We have 2 Judges this year anticipating lots of entries so please do not disappoint
Melplash entries close the 15th August; schedules and entry forms are available from the Show office 23 South Street Bridport– the entry forms and schedule are on their website www.melplashshow.co.uk, – Carole has some copies as well—you can also enter on line which is so much easier
It has been a terrible year for our bees , hopefully you will have some honey for showing, making honey cakes for show and for selling. Please make an effort as we need over 100 entries to be able to award the Blue Ribbon. I want to see some of the new members having a go – there are special novice classes.
As always, we shall be selling home-made cakes for our funds, and any contributions will be gratefully received; the cost of ingredients will be refunded. I have recipes for honey cakes and cookies if required.
Set-up will be on Tuesday 21st from 6:00pm onwards, and on Wednesday 22nd from 10:00am onward as always, many hands will make light work especially on the Tuesday. So if you would like to come down please do.
The marquee will be open on the Wednesday evening and Thursday at 7:00am for exhibitors to stage their show exhibits before 0815hrs please— judging will commence prompt at 8:30am. We will be demonstrating flying bees, as well as showing the Observation Hive, which is always very popular.
Bee Equipment – ABeeC Agents for Maisemore Apiaries—Rose Cottage Dinnington, Hinton St George.Somerset TA17 8SX Tel 01460-52959 Fax 01460 53129
They will be coming, so if you wish to order any Maisemore equipment, they may be able to bring it with them for you to collect – order early to avoid disappointment.
Candle Rolling — Honey Cosmetics — Children’s Corner— Plants for bees
To all members, including new members (especially!) and friends – why not come along and see what fun we all have on show day. If you would like to be a helper on the day for hour or so please contact me and I will put you on a rota.
Only exhibitors will be permitted to sell their honey and honey products on show day with the understanding that honey and honey products from the West Dorset Beekeeping Association Apiary are sold first.
In spring 2011 Carole Brown and Ken Bishop were “volunteered” to take part in a short film about beekeeping for the Guardian website. The opportunity came about when a friend of David Smith was talking with the filmmaker, Edwin Hasler of Soft City Films, about bees and the enthusiasm and dedication of beekeepers. Inspired by the idea he approached the Guardian and was commissioned to make this short film that now appears on the Guardian website.