The stove is stoked and roaring and the rain lashes the office window on another wild day. Unsurprisingly, the bees are not flying but they have been out most days in temperatures between 6-8 degrees Celsius this week. Connie and I monitor varroa levels as part of our weekly beekeeping routine and I resolve to improve my recording system and compile the data on a spreadsheet.
Connie asks if varroa are like ticks and lose their heads if pulled off a bee. We discuss how varroa live and affect honey bees. She spies my book on Asian hornet and wants to know all about them too. She’s fascinated by the deadly and dangerous animals and has me completely stymied guessing the blue-ringed octopus when we play a few rounds of the animal game. I later call her parents to explain how I tackled a potentially tricky question. I gave only a brief answer lacking detail, leaving the subject for her parents to cover later more fully when the time is right. I learn then that Connie thinks she doesn’t knows enough about bees yet to have her own, but amuses her family with detailed accounts of varroa and Asian hornet over dinner.
I take advantage of a willing volunteer to make up 180 frames over 2 days and I now have enough shallow boxes (supers) to cope with a potential bumper spring harvest from local oil seed rape crops. There are now enough deep brood frames for managing 10 colonies in the upcoming swarm season. I can’t make up these frames as efficiently and as quickly as Linton, but I’m not sitting back eating chocolates, yet. I keep the production line going and offer encouragement. I clear things in the bee shed and store frames in airtight boxes. I discover mislaid things, make an inventory of equipment and generally get ready for the new season.
I’m probably not alone in often changing my recording system for colony inspections. Our needs and priorities in colony management continually change. Managing 3-4 colonies requires a bit less planning and recording than managing 10 colonies does, and I need to up my game and make record keeping simpler and more efficient. Because I want to assess queens more carefully than I have done before, I must record more information that’s also easy to find. At the moment, I can easily read the colony histories but I need a system to compare them at a glance. Well kept records are really important tools when it comes to assessing apiaries, and colonies at individual levels, and they are personal/particular to individual beekeepers who have different goals because of their reasons for beekeeping and their geographical regions.
I come from a work background in nursing where concise accurate records are essential for patient safety, well being, and continuity of care. Part of these records are legal requirements. In my last job, which involved child protection work, my supervisor told me that if she had to go to court with a case she was always pleased if she had my records to work from. I’ve never forgotten my sister Mairi telling me about record keeping when I started nursing, or her story of a colleague who wrote screeds of irrelevant and misleading material back in the day. Her classic statement was, ” Mrs….. ate jelly and icecream for tea and vomited a trifle”. It’s fine in beekeeping to write what you like if you’re not expecting anyone else to manage your colonies in your absence based on reading your records, unless they are simple, straightforward and easy to fill in.
In beekeeping we have a legal obligation here in the UK to record treatments of any kind that we put into our hives. You can access medicine record templates here: https://www.nationalbeeunit.com/index.cfm?sectionid=110
What Do I want to know?
I’ve increased my colony numbers to 10 because of the local demand for honey but I still want to leave each colony with a shallow box of their own stores over winter. Taking off all the honey is not a goal. I want each colony to be healthy and disease resistant, and I want them to handle well on the comb and not rush about madly on the frames when I inspect them. I don’t want to have defensive bees that sting without provocation, and continually follow me away from the hive.
My plan is to rear queens from my best stock and I need to assess these qualities over at least 2 seasons to get a good picture. The main traits that I shall assess in my small set up are health/disease resistance, behaviour on the comb/temperament, and honey production.
With the help of a friend, I’ve set up a spreadsheet with 15 categories to record data at each inspection. These are: date; weather; type of hive, poly/wood; hive construction, single/double brood box etc; queen seen/ colour marked; queen cells; brood in all stages (BIAS); number of frames with brood; number of frames with pollen; number of frames with honey; behaviour on the comb 1-5; temperament 1-5; disease resistance, chalk brood etc, 1-5; supers; honey production; general comments. I’m going for a simple and basic assessment tool using a 1-5 score of the three main traits, and over a season record the averages. I will be happy to rear from queens whose colonies score 4-5 for each of these traits.
Brood In All Stages.
In a well balanced colony of honey bees roughly 50% are house bees and 50% are foragers. Inside the brood nest there are eggs which hatch after 3 days and become larvae, and this is true for workers, drones and queens. Drones and queens take 24 and 16 days respectively to emerge as adults. Workers are larvae for 6 days and pupae for 12 days and they emerge from their cells at 21 days from egg being laid. So, if you look at these figures you will see that there are twice as many worker larvae are there are eggs, and four times as many pupae as there are eggs. This equates to 12-15% eggs, 30-35% uncapped larvae and 50-60% capped pupae in a well balanced brood nest.
We make a rough estimate on inspection but recording number of brood frames tells us if the colony is building up well or not.
I’ve never had to requeen a colony because of defensive behaviour but I would if I had to because I live in a hamlet with people walking past the garden and apiary every day. Recording the weather is useful in this context of assessment since this can affect behaviour, as can a nectar dearth or robbing by wasps/other bees. I have had colonies that run all over the comb and are not pleasant to assess or handle, let alone teach a new beekeeper on.
Having listened to several presentations recently by leading scientists on natural varroa resistance in bees, I’m becoming more aware of the need to monitor varroa levels more closely and look for hygienic traits in my colonies. More about that in a future blog but I need to stop nursing poorly colonies along and requeen more often. I’ve been sentimental over the descendants of the wild colony rescued from the fallen tree by the River Nairn in 2016. Varroa levels have not been high over the past year but I see a couple of pupae at the front of the hive with deformed wing virus. They have not done well for 2 years having had CBPV (chronic bee paralysis virus). I will assess the colony at the first inspection and make a plan to requeen as soon as I can if the colony is viable.
Beginning beekeepers, and the rest of us, can’t do much better than follow the late Ted Hooper’s advice on the 5 main things to look for when opening a colony for inspection. If you want to remember them for an exam you can write this acronym on your hive tool: FEDSS. It means that you must always know if the colony has food stores to last till the next inspection. Is the queen present, and can you see eggs? Is there any sign of disease? Is there enough space for the bees to store nectar and for the queen to lay in? Are there any signs of swarming e.g. queen cells?
I’ve had several copies of Ted Hooper’s book, Guide to Bees and Honey, over the years; it’s always the one that I give away, or lend to someone and never get back again because it is one the most useful books for people starting out. One of the key things is not to disturb colonies unless you have good reasons for opening the hive because every time you do the colony metabolic rate increases and it takes them a while to settle down. Sometimes if the hive is opened too long robbing by wasps and other bees takes place, especially during a nectar dearth. Besides, if you want a honey harvest you need to let bees get on and make it.
I love this quote by R.O.B Manley, the father of bee farming in the UK, from one of his books, Honey Farming. “Probably one of the chief reasons why the enthusiastic beginner rarely gets honey is that he cannot let the bees alone. He is always disturbing them and looking to see how they are getting on. It is much as if one dug up a plant every day to see how its roots were progressing”.
Northern Bee Books.
Most beekeepers here have heard of Northern Bee Books and seen their stand at conferences from London to Belfast and places between. They are a family run book selling and publishing business and popular with beekeepers because they will post books to any part of the world. My good friend Jackie visits family in Texas and always meets up with beekeepers there. Last time, a beekeeper was singing the praises of Northern Bee Books for sourcing and sending over an out-of-print book. So, whether you live in Ulaan Batar or the heart of Texas this company will serve you.
I hand over to Jonathan Burbidge with a big warm welcome. With respect and admiration, he traces the history of the company and how his father started up.
Jerry Burbidge has always been an avid collector of bee books, but it was only later in life that he set up Northern Bee Books in 1976. Northern Bee Books (NBB) acted as a company name for which he could trade under and sell his wonderful collection of secondhand bee books at trade shows, often with his supportive father in tow.
The Growth of a Hobby.
Over the decades Northern Bee Books has grown – and to no surprise, so has Jerry’s book collection! NBB no longer operates as a one-man band, but instead this family business employs a small team of beekeeping enthusiasts who all strive to promote access to beekeeping knowledge and learning.
NBB now distribute and publish an enormous range of new – https://www.northernbeebooks.co.uk/ and second hand – https://www.ebay.co.uk/str/northernbeebooks2017 bee books online, providing worldwide access to a vast array of beekeeping literature with simply a click. NBB’s global reach has earned them a reputation for being able to satisfy nearly any bee book demand, helped enormously by Jerry’s wealth of knowledge and their huge literary resource. Jerry’s passion for the subject is infectious and he likes to chat directly to any customer who may have a bee book query, so that he can fully grasp the level of experience at which the customer is approaching the craft, in order to find the perfect book. Simply put, if you want a bee book then head to NBB. When Jerry’s not fulfilling the 7 day week NBB duties, he’s avidly reading on the subject or else scouting authors and new talent within the beekeeping world through the general lens of; ‘could you write a book on that?’
Recently NBB have teamed up with The International Bee Research Association on a collaborative venture to jointly publish seminal works such as the long awaited 2020 reprint of Eva Crane’s, ‘HONEY: A Comprehensive Survey’ – https://www.northernbeebooks.co.uk/products/honey-a-comprehensive-survey-eva-crane/
National Honey Show Award.
Pre-covid, Jerry continued to attend the beekeeping tradeshows that he enjoyed so dearly in the early days of Northern Bee Books. In 2017 he was awarded ‘A Certificate of Appreciation’ for more than 40 years of support for The National Honey Show.
NBB also publish beekeeping magazines. The Beekeepers Quarterly Magazine – https://www.northernbeebooks.co.uk/products/the-beekeepers-quarterly/ was set up by Jerry and the editor John Phipps in the 80’s. It started off life as a modestly printed black and white beekeeping journal entitled, ‘The Beekeepers Annual Supplement No.1’. They subsequently produced another annual and as the demand grew, Jerry and John decided they could afford to produce a magazine in colour and to start publishing 4 times a year. John’s talent as editor has seen BKQ draw in a strong team of correspondents from all over the world: Australia, Brittany, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, England, Italy, Lithuania, Nepal, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Serbia, Russia, Ukraine, USA, Sweden.
The Beekeepers Quarterly March 2021 No. 143
Primarily what sets the BKQ apart from other beekeeping magazines is it’s global reach and international team reporting on all aspects of the craft… and on it’s 143rd edition, it’s still going strong!
Natural Bee Husbandry.
Natural Bee Husbandry Magazine is NBB’s other quarterly magazine, edited by John Phipps – https://www.northernbeebooks.co.uk/products/natural-bee-husbandry-magazine/ The perfect read for any beekeeper who perhaps prefer their bees to be kept in hives more suited to the bees’ needs with minimal interference rather than for the beekeeper’s ease of management. This magazine is targeted mainly towards natural beekeepers who also refrain from using chemicals for the control of pests and diseases and strive to create an environment in their apiaries and gardens which will give the bees at least some year-round forage.
Jerry’s enthusiasm for the craft is a joy to be around and his beekeeping stories are endlessly fascinating, having rubbed shoulders with the likes of Brother Adam and Eva Crane back in the day. Yet his progressive approach to publishing and continuous (some may say obsessive) dedication to the craft by pushing new talent to the forefront, is something to be thankful for – he truly is an asset to the beekeeping world.
Thank you, Jonathan.