Disease Inspections and Honey Harvests.

My essential tool kit for dedicated disease inspections.

Dr Chris Palgrave’s excellent article on European foulbrood in August’s BeeCraft was so timely. It coincided with the announcement by Scottish Government of American foulbrood being found and reported in the Edinburgh and St Andrews areas. As it happened, I was about to show some of my beekeeping friends how to do dedicated brood diseases inspections and I read up on Chris’s article the night before my first inspections with bee farmer friend Mac who runs over 70 colonies and has a quarantine apiary in an amazing location not too far from where I live.

I read several beekeeping journals every month and can’t store them all long-term otherwise the loft floor will collapse on our heads so I cut out the valuable articles and keep them in folders. Last year Chris wrote articles about American foulbrood and nosema so I have these filed in my bee health folder.

Getting Down to Business.

Best practice advises doing 2 disease inspections a year with one early in the season, and one around about now as it draws to a close. If you find yourself only doing one that’s way better than none at all.

I learned how to do brood diseases inspections on one of the National Diploma in Beekeeping two-day short courses. This course prepared the student for teaching others how inspect, and had the great advantage of being licensed to handle infected combs so we could learn first hand what the foulbroods look and smell like. Although I had to travel at great expense to the other end of the UK it was well worth it because there are not many high quality courses like this available in the UK, and I can now share the knowledge and skills with local beekeepers.

The key thing is knowing what normal is in the brood nest before looking for disease, so for new beekeepers first disease inspections are best carried out with an experienced mentor. Since you must look at every cell you need to clear the bees off the frames by shaking them into a space in the box and not over the frames that you will examine next. If you don’t shake the bees off there is no point in examining carefully each frame because you will miss important clues. You can watch how it is done by a former bee inspector in the video, but bear in mind he has probably left too many bees on some of the frames. Otherwise it is an excellent account of the process of dedicated disease inspections.

I was taught how to open suspicious looking cells and examine the contents using pointed forceps and I carry these in my toolkit and clean between hives, as I do my hive tools and nitrile- gloved hands, in washing soda solution.

Harvesting Honey.

This must be one of the most exciting jobs in beekeeping yet so unpredictable. Having had a poor oil seed rape honey harvest this year on account of the cold weather and lack of nectar secretion during most of the flowering period, the recent heat brought the lime trees into nectar production as never before. I’ve been here for 17 years living very close to stands of lime trees that have never before yielded enough nectar for our bees to produce pure lime honey till now.

Even the Ross rounds are filling up. These are a first too. I’ve made my own labels for them because I don’t the ready made ones that describe comb honey as being “distilled” by the bees. I like simplicity and avoiding possible confusion among my customers. I bought red tartan tape to seal the clear containers. But, cannot count the chickens….yet!

Torrential Rain.

Two days ago, the comparative heat wave ended with tremendous banging and crashing above as thunder and lightning threated to rip apart the sky. I was visiting a beekeeping friend a short distance away to help check his bees and show him how to do a sugar roll test when the sky suddenly darkened as I stepped out of the car. We retreated to his sitting room for a cup of tea and Mick had to shut the door to the conservatory so that we could hear ourselves speak as the rain hit the roof so loudly it sounded like a river in flood overhead. I’d not experienced such a storm since my year in Hong Kong where such events were common.

What was most remarkable was that suddenly it all stopped and the sun emerged briefly giving us enough time between downpours to inspect quickly several colonies and nuclei and get the sugar roll test done. The bees were perfectly behaved despite what our text books tell us about thundery days.

But several days on and it’s still raining and I wonder, will the bees scoff all that lime honey which was not capped last week?

Cynthia’s Harvest.

Two miles away in Nairn the bees have capped all the honey so it is easy to shake them off the frames to harvest because the frames are fat and shiny and the bees have nothing to cling on to. We hardly use the brush at all because a brisk shake and sudden stop, holding the frame lugs and sides, does the job. The frame lugs are sticky with propolis which is good for the bees. It’s a very hot day and everyone else is complaining but I’m cool in my ventilated jacket so I get the job of shaking frames. I’m rewarded later with afternoon tea and a slice of luxuriously rich chocolate and caramel cake.

Propolis in profusion.
A food grade airtight box keeps the product clean and safe.
Close up showing the mesh of Millerbees jacket.
Where’s Wally?

This is a time of year when you don’t want to leave supers exposed for too long as it encourges robbing by neighbours and other insects.

Woodmice Mature.

Mother woodmouse with 3 of her 4 little ones.

Mother woodmouse and her four offspring have moved to a new location and I’ve seen the now more mature and mobile youngsters leaping through the grass on the lawn which is to them a jungle. Here you can see that they were still fairly dependent on mother when this picture was taken, but much better clad in fur than when I first disturbed them accidentally a couple of weeks previously to take away the concrete slab for the new out apiary.

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5 thoughts on “Disease Inspections and Honey Harvests.”

  1. Thanks for this Ann – always full of sound advice which give me confidence. Is there a UK distributor for the MillerBees ventilated jacket?


    1. That’s good, Liz and thank you for commenting. As far as I know there is no UK distributer so I just sent off for it. It is fairly light to post. To me it was worth every penny because there are some (few) very hot sunnny days when the bees are calm and I have no problems opening up any of my colonies. Sunlight seems to calm bees. Otherwise I would be exhausted after opening just one colony and lifting heavy boxes wearing the ordinary bee suit. I always have smoke handy and a full bee suit and wellies nearby just in case, but on hot days I often wear the jacket over a dress and Keen sandals, which protect my toes. You can still order a lightweight beesuit from BBWear in Cornwall though they are stopping the range and are cutting to order from a narrow range of colours till stocks run out. These suits are a compromise and if your wear next to nothing under them on hot days it is much more comfortable. They are selling a new range of “breathable” bee suits also with protection against Asian hornet but I think that they are expensive and may only be popular where AH is a problem.

      1. Thank you Ann- really useful. Although the thought of a dress/sandals and bees has given me the jitters! LOL. I think I shall invest – it looks like a lifesaver…especially having just experienced beekeeping in 35+ degrees. It wasn’t pleasant, and exhaustion soon set in whilst in the standard bee kit.

        Thanks again

  2. Hi Ann, another fascinating and informative blog, thank you! Thanks also for the mention; it’s a joy to work with the BeeCraft team and I’m humbled that you have kept my articles. My first exposure to the foulbroods was also on a NDB weekend short course in East Devon! I had the great privilege of visiting the Scottish Bee Inspectorate a couple of years ago with the British Bee Veterinary Association. A great team, working closely with bee farmers and beekeeping associations, to cover a huge area. Interestingly, the (relatively) new Lead Bee Inspector for Scotland, Luis Molero, is also a veterinary surgeon with many years experience working in Animal Health at Defra/APHA.

    1. Hello Chris,
      Thank you for your positive comments on the blog. I agree about it being a joy to work with the BeeCraft team– a breath of fresh air. Please keep your articles coming. I’m just about to join the BBVA group as an associate. We are so lucky now to have more vets now who are also beekeepers supporting us in beekeeping.

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