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Northern Lights

The Newsletter of the North Devon Branch of the British Beekeepers Association

MAY 2006

Chairman’s Notes:

Here is a cautionary tale.   Three weeks ago I visited one of my hives at an out apiary near Saltrens - lots of activity but rather light and weather was too cold for an inspection so I slipped in a frame feeder - nothing extraordinary.

Two weeks ago I inspected them and discovered no living bees and an inch thick layer of dead bees at the bottom, which had obviously been there for a while. There was plenty of food.  The bees I had noticed earlier had clearly been robbing the dead hive.

I was interested to discover why this had happened so invited Peter Auger to take a look.    What he spotted and I had missed was bee faeces the colour of propolis over the frames and wax.  He also noticed an unpleasant smell.  Diagnosis?  Nosema.   This is to be confirmed by our microscopist Brian Marchant who is examining a sample of the dead bees.

 The moral of the story is that this could all have been avoided if I had arranged for a bee sample to be taken and tested by Brian last August to diagnose nosema or any other treatable problem.   The Fumidil B could then have been administered in sugar syrup in plenty of time to be taken down by the bees before winter set in.

This preventive action must be more cost effective than losing a whole colony, destroying the frames and having to render down the comb.   I shan't make that mistake again.                                                                                 

Take care         Chris

Apiary Manager’s Report:

The apiary team have all been quietly beavering away catching up on the many jobs still outstanding, no doubt just wishing they could get on and work with the bees. Here we are lots of blossom on the trees and shrubs, dandelions everywhere and still not really warm enough forthe bees to work except maybe an hour in the middle of the day.News_5_2006_a.jpg (26700 bytes)

Despite this, the honey producing colonies seem to be building up gradually. The queen rearing team, and the education section are poised ready for the first hint of fine weather. Production of crown boards, clearing boards and nuc boxes has been suspended until a team can be set up to run the assembly line. The first stages of the alterations to the main meeting room have been completed, creating a great deal more space. Next we will be moving the kitchen area to the far end to eliminate the bottleneck as people come in. If anyone has any white plastic patio chairs they need to dispense with our need is greater than the recycling centre’s. The average number of members sharing the Horestone experience each week is now in excess of twenty five. We must be doing something right!


The Dumb Beekeeper’s Guide to Housel Positioning

Much discussion took place at the Apiary the other week on the Housel method of comb positioning. For those of you who missed it, and those of you who got rather lost (or bored) in the complex theoretical discussions that ensued (and I was one !!), here is the "Dumb Beekeepers Guide to Housel Positioning".

Whilst examining wild comb, a gent named Michael Housel made the observation that, in wild comb, bees position cells on opposite sides of the comb in a particular way, and that therefore in providing foundation for comb building, we beekeepers should copy that positioning.

This positioning all depends on the "Y" formation viewed at the bottom of each cell. To understand this fully, you will need to have a sheet of foundation in front of you (or drawn comb) – then all will be revealed.

On one side of the foundation, if you look at the bottom of the indentations that will form the new cells, the faint lines in the bottom of each cell will either show a "Y" pattern or an inverted "Y" pattern. Have a look at the figures below. Now turn the sheet around (sideways, don’t flip it up the other way) and you will see that, on the other side, the "Ys" are the opposite way up.

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It follows therefore that since the two sides of a single frame of foundation are basically different, then there might be a "right" and "wrong" way to stack frames together in the brood box.

Now when Housel (and others) examined wild comb, they found that the centre of the brood nest contained a single central comb with inverted Y cells on both sides. Then moving out from this central comb, each successive comb had an inverted Y side (Fig 1) facing the centre of the nest and an upright Y side (Fig 2) facing the outside of the nest. There were several suppositions as to the reason for this – too many to cover here, but suffice it to say that Housel believed that, if that is the way the bees wanted it, then beekeepers should follow suit. Obviously there is difficulty in reproducing the central comb, as no commercially produced foundation is made with inverted Y cells on both sides, but all other frames can be aligned with inverted Y cells facing inwards towards the central comb – as illustrated below.

News_5_2006_d.gif (7680 bytes)
spacer_lge.gif (821 bytes) This, in brief, is the Housel method of comb positioning. No truly scientific analysis of the benefits or otherwise of this approach has been undertaken and there are both supporters and critics of the technique.

My own view however is that it cannot do any harm, so why not give it a try. It takes little effort to mark each frame with a symbol showing which side is which, and then positioning them (with the exception of the centre comb) as shown here. Why not give it a go.

For those who are interested, there is lots more information and analysis on the internet – as a starter, try the following links :

Kevin Tricker

Forthcoming Events

Branch Open Day at Horestone Apiary.    Sunday 14th May from 2pm.   The theme of the afternoon will be swarm prevention.   There will be a short talk in the meeting hut, followed by any questions about this important part of beekeeping.   The practical instruction will be adjusted to the discussion, and of course to the weather, and the state of the colonies.   It should be an interesting afternoon, helpful for the coming season.   Don't miss it !

County Show, Westpoint Exeter.   Thursday 18th to Saturday 20th May.   Great Show - we need your support before duuring and after.    contact Chris Utting.

Food & Hygiene   a certificated course run by Terry Clarke.   sunday 18th June.   A few places remain.   Contact Beryl.

One Day Microscopy Course, Hallsannery Centre, Bideford.    9:30am to 4pm.  Sat 13th May.   The theme of the course - form and function of the honey bee.   Will include setting up the microscope, whole body dissection, and slide preparation.   All equipment, including some microscopes, will be provided  - those of you with your own or Branch's scopes please bring them with you to avoid sharing and if you have dissecting instruments you are used to working with, bring them along as well.  Also, don't forget to bring a packed lunch (tea and coffee will be provided) a waste bottle (screw top honey jar containing a twist of kitchen towel will suffice) and at least half a dozen of your own freshly killed bees.   Course notes will be provided, but you may find a quick thumb through Dade, Snodgrass and/or Ch3 Winston's Biology of the Honey Bee advantageous.    Course fee is 12.75 and will be limited to 8 students.   The Centre is located 1 mile South of Bideford on the A386 Torrington Rd and the entrance is first right after the turn-off to Littleham.   NGR SS467245.   Phone or E-mail to reserve a place.

Brian Marchant

Testing for Adult Bee Disease

For those of you who missed the two 'Find your own Nosema' Saturdays, I am still providing this service as an adjunct to your Spring Inspection at 2.50 per sample for Branch Members, 10 per sample non-Members, notwithstanding CSL's current fee of 26.45 and BBKA Enterprises Ltd fee of 15.00 for the same service.

Brian Marchant

The Swarming Season is upon us

Our Branch has five swarm liaison officers :

Albert Cannon  Winkleigh/Dolton/Torrington area
Geoff Mitchell Brayford/South Molton/Umberleigh area
Kay Thomas   Barnstaple/Braunton/Croyde area
Chris Utting   Bideford/Instow/Clovelly/Woolsery area
Tony Wright   Ilfracombe/Lynton/Exmoor area

To date, we have a waiting list of 15 people - mostly beginners - who want a nucleus.   The Apiary sub-committee has decided that the cost will be 75 which will go towards Branch funds.   If you want your name added to the list, contact Tony Wright.

The plan is that swarms will be collected and taken to a quarantine apiary at Weare Gifford where they will be managed by Chris Utting.   The Branch Apiary will produce mated queens and the swarms will be re-queened and sold as re-queened nuclei.

Quince Honey Farm, North Devon & Torridge District Council Pest Control Officers and the Police will be advised of this service.

Brian's Microscope Corner

OPTICAL CENTRE OF LENS -   The geometric centre of a lens through which an incident ray passes without being deviated.
OPTICAL AXIS -   A line passing through the optical centre of lenses and spherical mirrors.

Stress In The Apiary

How now dear beekeepers? Ready to face another merry season with your precious bees? Another season, with no mistakes in it yet! My admiration was caught recently with a lecture given a few months ago by Maurice Field. It seemed so simple and wise - common sense in fact. It was all about how to reduce stress in the Apiary - no not necessarily your stress, but that suffered by the bees. I cannot tell you about all of it, but here is a condensed version. Seasoned beekeepers may avert their eyes here, they have their own wisdoms. The keeping of any livestock involves the keeper in the same considerations: adequate food and water, protection from the weather, from predators, and from mishandling (moi?). Any shortcomings here can show up as disease.


Too much shade and dampness often leads to chalkbrood, larvae being chilled as they are capped. Usually noticed in spring, when there are too few nurse bees to incubate, or else in nuclei, or colonies which have lost a swarm


Could occur in queen-rearing apiaries when colonies are queenless. A poor colony build-up can often be traced back to a preceding summer that has been cool and wet with a poor honey crop.


Can occur when a food source becomes scarce and the larvae are starved because EFB bacteria are competing for the same diminishing supply.


Varroa destructor, a major problem, acting as a vector for other bacteria and viruses, a constant irritant to individual bees.

Acarine/ tracheal mites: Again, poor summers mean workers are confined, but live longer, allowing more time for these mites to breed.



FORAGE: A radius of one mile around the hive covers an area of 2000 acres, and the likely radius of three miles covers 8000 acres. But the forage needs to be adequate all year. Pollen supplements should be given where early spring pollen is scarce. A poor foraging area means bees are struggling to maintain their colony, let alone provide a surplus for you. Don't overstock the area. If one colony requires four square miles, seven colonies - if their range is three miles from the hive - would be a maximum, if there are no other colonies in the area.. Beekeepers in towns are likely to have varied forage sources all year round.

WATER: The average colony requirement is 1/4 pint daily, but in times of heat and drought more like a litre daily. Provide a water source.

PROTECTION FROM THE WEATHER: We know that dampness kills bees more quickly than cold, don't site hives under trees or in damp shady places. See that there is free air drainage. If bees have difficulty in maintaining broodnest temperatures of 35C, stress is likely, but a belt of trees or bushes can protect from cold winds. An ESE aspect is best.

PROTECTION FROM PREDATORS: Out apiaries cannot be monitored daily so fence off your hives against deer (difficult perhaps) or farm stock, for woodpeckers use bird netting draped over the hive and pegged close to the ground.

COLONIES: Raise these off the ground. Bees love to nest high, but we can compromise. Have the level of top bars of the hive between the beekeeper's knees and waist. Use darker colours for your hives, this makes them less conspicuous, and improves the solar heat gain in cooler months.

COLOUR HIVE ENTRANCES: Field paints a 1" strip of colour directly above the hive entrance; he currently favours blue, black, yellow and silver. These colours reduce the likelihood of drifting.

OPEN HIVES ONLY WHEN NECESSARY - when there is something to do. A weekly routine inspection of ten minutes in the active season will not disturb the colony too much. Working each hive smoothly and purposefully, without bumping will also help minimize stress.

MAINTAIN ADEQUATE FOOD IN THE HIVE: Generally, the bees' consumption of stores from October to February has been estimated to be about 5kg, during March about 6kg, and during April about 9kg. It is important not to make the bees stressed through shortage of food in the spring when stores may be dwindling, or at other times when a large population is confined because of inclement weather. A minimum of 5kg of food (about two BS brood frames full) should be in the hive at all times.

MOVE BEES AT NIGHT: Darkness causes less stress. Secure the bees inside the hive at dusk with a strip of foam rubber in the entrance, taped. Have a bee-proof mesh over or under the hive, strap securely. Keep a water spray at hand in case of over-heating. A spray at intervals will help keep the bees calm.

SUPER EARLY: Overcrowding stresses bees. They should be able to move up away from the brood combs. Leave a super over a queen excluder on a National hive going into the winter, so the workers can gain access to the space as soon as they need it in the spring.

By following these methods beekeepers can make stress-related problems less likely. Prevention is definitely better than treatment. And the Best of British Luck!

Beryl Smailes

Community of Beekeepers Ltd. / 'Bitz4Bees'

Appeal for volunteers and solicitation for additional ordinary shares - oh, and a competition !

 The 'Bitz4Bees shop', after delays caused by the new government regulator, is now formally registered as a private limited company rather than a community interest company (CIC).  Following several formal meetings and registration at Companies House, the election of the initial board of directors has taken place.  These are :  Tony Wright (chairman), Dave Morris (MD), Dave James (sec. and acting treasurer ), Kevin Stach and Chris Tozer.  Chris acts as non-exec. director representing the interests of the ND Branch.

 The company is structured as if it were a CIC viz. essentially as a not-for-profit company, and it is hoped to re-register it as such in due course.   It is formally the Community of Beekeepers Ltd. trading as 'Bitz4Bees'.    The whole aim is to help beekeepers with their needs - hive parts, foundation, tools, miticides etc.  This is NOT simply a Thorne's or similar agency arrangement.  Most any supply you need is at least 10 % lower than elsewhere, and hives are in fact around half as much and of superior quality (in fact some customers awaiting bees have them displayed indoors as they are as smart as fine furniture !).  'HiveClean' for varroa treatment is also now available, the first in the UK.  But how can you help, too ? 

 a/  By volunteering to help us make up frame feeders, crown boards, nucleus boxes and the like.  In this way, your labours help keep our prices at the lowest - and it's good fun, too!  Training included free!

 b/  By subscribing for some ordinary shares.  The current preferential shareholders have already put their money where their mouth is, but we need another 2,000 or so subscribed as ordinary shares for more working capital.  Each share is 1 and the Offer closes 31 May '06.  Please see the separate coloured sheet ('CoB Share Offer'). We already have some 350 subscribed as I write this, and the Offer is open to all, not just NDB members.

 c/  By submitting a suitable design for a logo for the Company.  The winner will receive a 25 CoB voucher to spend and 25 of free shares!  Closing date:  May 31, paper or electronic form acceptable.

 For a/ to c/ please contact me as below.

 Dave James

01769 561 002  or  

Edited by Marnie Quy.     Email:     
All contributions welcome, copy by 19th of month for publication in following month’s newsletter.

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