28 May 2013

A swarm in May

On Sunday afternoon I was busy frame making. Yes, I know new frames should have been made up during the winter, but thanks to the constant rain of the previous several months the bee shed had been surrounded by a sea of mud and a moat, so was well nigh inaccessible until recently. I'd put the my workmate outside the shed - it's nicer to be outside on a rare sunny day - and was tapping away with my tack hammer when I spotted some movement in an old conifer about thirty yards away.

Swarm in conifer
Just above head height, glinting in the sun, was a lovely swarm. This is the first swarm to land in the small apiary in many years. Perhaps it was attracted to our bees but it's more likely they were lured by the lingering scent from a now vacant (and recently blocked with insect-proof mesh) long-standing feral colony's site. How the bees chose this particular tree is a mystery, but I am grateful they clustered in such an easy-to-reach spot, so could be quickly removed and marched straight into their new home.

I'm fairly confident that this swarm didn't come from any of my colonies. They are in large boxes; still have plenty of space; I haven't yet seen any swarm cells - and these bees are the wrong colour. So it looks as if either a local beekeeper (there are quite a few) has lost a swarm or one of the local feral colonies (there are quite a few) ran out of either food or space and decided to seek a new place to live.

27 May 2013

BBKA Basic Assessment notes: On the day

On the day of the assessment it's very easy to be extremely nervous, to think you've forgotten everything - or believe never knew it in the first place. But those nerves will go, as soon as you're in front of the bees.

Make it easier for yourself
'Be prepared' well in advance, first by attending local classes, reading the study notes book or using online resources. It would be a good idea to make sure you have all the gear ready a couple of days beforehand, to be sure there is no last minute search for some gimp pins, a large matchbox or a tack hammer.

19 May 2013

Apple Blossom Time.

Our fruit trees are, at last, covered with blossom.

There is more blossom per per tree than I've ever seen on these trees, which we planted not long after we moved into this house. I'm not sure why, maybe it's because the ground has been so very wet for so long - it started raining late last Spring and didn't stop for more than a few days at a time until early this year.

It may be that the trees are trying to make up for last year's lost crop - we had apples, or thought we had, until September, but then they all vanished. Not exactly disappeared, but they all dropped off the trees. It was a strange thing because we had no fruit at all. No apples, no pears. Nothing! If we had been dependent on our own crops we would have been in trouble, because virtually all our vegetable crops failed too - either rotted in the ground or eaten by slugs.

16 May 2013

Basic Assessment notes - Part 5 : Disease and Pests

The last section of the syllabus is important, but these notes are brief - mainly because the information is readily available online at Beebase and it seems a bit pointless to paraphrase the experts.

If you are researching bee pests and diseases please follow the appropriate links and read more. Take your time to learn this subject, your bees deserve to be kept safe and healthy.

Beekeepers should, once they are sure the colony has a laying queen, inspect for brood irregularities and the condition of the bees they can see, rather than concentrating solely on the what is right. They should also be able to recognise symptoms of the most common diseases of adult bees.

15 May 2013

Blog stats and referrer spam

Wow! Looking at the stats, this new blog of mine really does seem to be getting a lot of hits.

But ... when something seems too good to be true it usually is. Most of the traffic is coming from Russia, and from just a couple of sites. Nothing wrong with Russia, and nothing wrong with Russian beekeepers, but I couldn't imagine how they might have found my blog so quickly, and why so many would want to read it when it's still so new.

Clicking on one of the links took me to a place where I could watch an animated video telling me how to lose weight. Do they think I need to? (Actually I don't, but that's beside the point.) It was a true Homer Simpson, "Duh!" moment. I had clicked a link I didn't recognise, something I haven't done for ages.

Basic Assessment notes - Part 4: Beekeeping

The Basic Assessment's syllabus is very broad. In fact it's massive. It is an introduction to every aspect of beekeeping except microscopy.

The later, much more challenging, modules cover only one knowledge area at a time and in much greater depth. The module exams are written papers, taken under exam conditions.

Assessing a beekeeper's knowledge for the Basic comprises a practical hive inspection followed by oral questions. Both should be completed within an hour - the examiner is expected to cover as much as they can, to make sure there are no serious knowledge gaps. So it's a fairly quick sweep through as much of the syllabus as possible, otherwise the examiner will end up running late which can prove stressful for candidates who are waiting for their assessment.

13 May 2013

Basic Assessment notes - Part 3 : Natural History of the Honeybee

I think it's important to remember that this syllabus is for the 'Basic Beekeeping' qualification - the first, and for some the last, beekeeping assessment they will take. The syllabus contains a lot - because beekeeping involves knowing a lot, but the basic care of a few colonies of bees doesn't require a depth of knowledge of every single aspect of beekeeping and bee biology. That knowledge can come later, as confidence and a need or desire to know more, develops.

I've underlined what I think are key words in each part of this section of the syllabus. This is because even the newest of beekeepers will probably have read books containing whole chapters describing any one of the topics listed below (- and as you're reading this blog you will have done a web search, and may have landed on this page long after reading piles of stuff elsewhere -) and there's a risk of wanting to regurgitate pages and pages of details. This is not necessary when preparing for the Basic.

11 May 2013

A Swarm ... of Honey Bees

Is this a swarm?
If you're reading this page because you have discovered what you think is a swarm of honey bees in a tree, on a post, a car bumper or the outside of a building, you need to be sure it is swarm of honey bees. Check first by doing an image search and/or visiting the BBKA site, which has several pictures of swarms.

Is this a colony of Honey Bees?
If you have bees living in a building, a tree or in the ground then they might not be honey bees.
  • Insects with yellow and black stripes and an almost hairless body, living in a papery-looking nest in a shed, an attic, or in a tree or hedge, are probably wasps or hornets (Vespa crabro - friendly giants).
  • If the bees you can see are large and very hairy, maybe thumbnail sized and living in a bird box or a hole in the ground, they are more likely to be bumble bees.
  • If there are only a few smallish bees, entering and leaving a pencil-sized entrance in a wall or a bank, they could be solitary bees - mason bees etc. (There are over 200 species of solitary bees in the British Isles).
  • If the bees are not bumble bees, and there are a lot of smallish (little fingernail sized) bees coming and going through a hole of about an inch diameter (2.5cm) in a tree, in brickwork, near a window frame, in a roof or a chimney and some of them (not all of them) are arriving at the nest entrance carrying something yellow or orange (pollen or propolis) on their back legs, they could be honey bees.
Bumble bees and solitary bees are unlikely to sting. They will build up small colonies during a season, but do not make large permanent nests. Towards the end of their season, which may be July or August, the colony raises a number of fertile queens. These are the individual bees that overwinter, on their own. These not-honey-bees are unlikely to return to the same nest site the following year.

If you are sure you have honey bees, and would like them collected or removed you can find contact details your nearest swarm collector via the BBKA site, and on Honey Bee Swarm Collectors UK.

Swarming is the honey bees' means of reproduction. Individual honey bees cannot go off and start a new colony on their own - they have to work together, have to stay together, and have to keep the queen healthy and safe from predators. Seeley calls a colony of bees a 'superorganism' - a single organism comprising many individuals, much the same principle as corals or sponges, with honeycomb being the framework of their home.

What is a swarm.
A swarm of honey bees contains a number of flying worker bees, drones, and a queen. She could be a newly-emerged, unmated, virgin queen or an older, mated queen.

8 May 2013

Basic Assessment notes - Part 2 : Equipment

This is the shortest section of the assessment syllabus, and the most straightforward to answer because as soon as you start buying or making equipment the words get drilled into your head.

There are, of course, variations in hive designs but the language used is always the same.

The Candidate will be:
2.1 able to name and explain the function of the principal parts of a modern beehive;
Top downwards :-
  • Roof ~ metal outer layer, often over wood frame, deep sided for weather protection, insulation to maintain stable temperatures. May have notches for ventilation.
  • Crown board ~ inner lid. May have a hole for feeding or inserting a gizmo for clearing honey supers. Keeps propolis away from the lid, and so stops it from getting stuck down.

7 May 2013

Basic Assessment notes - Part 1 : Manipulation of a Honeybee Colony

The first section covers what any beekeeper will know once they've inspected their own colonies a few times. It's straightforward stuff, and should be almost automatic but it does look an awful lot now it's written down - and this is only a fifth of the syllabus.

Please remember that these are my notes, there might be too much information for your needs, or maybe not enough - follow the links if you want to read more on other sites.

The Candidate will be aware of:
1.1 the care needed when handling a colony of honeybees; 
Calmly and without any sudden movements.
Careful handling of frames and replacing of lid etc to minimise crushing.

6 May 2013

Asian Hornet

In April DEFRA updated its' warning about the "Early Detection of the Asian Hornet" (Vespa velutina). Updates and warnings will only be sent to beekeepers who have registered with Beebase as well as, presumably, to local beekeeping organisations which may, or may not, pass on information to their members.

This voracious predator of honey bees is, apparently, now in Normandy and is likely to arrive in Britain before too long.

It's important to take time make sure you can identify it, and make absolutely sure that what you have seen, or caught, is not the native hornet (Vespa crabro) which isn't as much of a problem for our bees - because they have evolved to deal with it and, generally, our hive entrances are too small for it to be able to get into the hive. One recommendation, to prevent the Asian hornet entering our hives, is to reduce the entrance to 5.5mm height.

Traps can be made. They don't look much, but experience in France has proved them to be adequate. The idea is to trap queens coming out of hibernation in early Spring. This French site (written in English) has recent photographs of the Asian Hornet, diagrams of a trap, and a link to a French-based forum.

There is more information on the BBKA website and the Non-native Species Secretariat.

If you suspect you have caught one of these hornets you should put the insect in your freezer and send a photograph to:- alert_nonnative@ceh.ac.uk They will tell you what to do next.


BBKA Basic Assessment syllabus 2013 2014 2015 2016

This is the syllabus for BBKA Basic Assessment Syllabus (2013*), taken from the BBKA website.

The BBKA website will, of course, be updated to contain later versions of this syllabus -  

* There have been significant changes to the syllabus for 2016, as follows :-
A pass in the Basic Assessment is a prerequisite for entry into all other assessments.
1. Conditions of Entry
1.1 The Candidate shall have managed at least one colony of bees for a minimum of 12 months. 
1.2 The entry form and fee shall have been received by the Local Examination Secretary, or the Secretary of the BBKA Examinations Board.
2. The Assessment
2.1 An Assessor, approved by the Board, is required to conduct the Assessment at any suitable apiary. Normally only the Assessor and Candidate shall be present at the Assessment. The Board may wish a trainee Assessor or member of the Board to be present as an observer. 
2.2 The Assessment shall consist of four parts and the Candidate must achieve the pass mark in all four parts individually in order to pass the Assessment as a whole. The pass mark is 50% in each part. A credit will be awarded if the total mark is 75% or greater. The parts are: 
2.2.1 Manipulation and Equipment. Practical Assessment of the Candidate’s ability to handle bees and beekeeping equipment and the ability to interpret what is observed. 
2.2.2 Oral questioning and Assessment of the Candidate’s knowledge of Natural History and Beekeeping. 
2.2.3 Oral questioning on Swarming, Swarm Control and effects. 
2.2.4 Oral questioning on Diseases, Pests and Poisoning, 
2.3 Scientific names, although useful and show a greater depth of knowledge, are not required.
The length of the Assessment should not normally exceed one hour.

*there has been no change to the syllabus for 2015 but from 2015 the Basic Assessment will be graded as follows:
The exam board has decided to implement the ADM proposition to grant a credit if the candidate gets more than 75% in the 'Basic. The pass is 50% and the large majority pass so at least there will be some idea of the candidates abilities.
At first glance the syllabus looks too big, too complicated, and too full of difficult and scary stuff - stuff that will take ages to learn or revise. In reality there's nothing new because the syllabus comprises only what any beekeeper will (should) know after they've kept bees for a complete year - but few beekeepers realise how much they know, because they've never seen it all written down in one place.