Bee Health Day

Went down to a Bee Health Day held at Roots & Shoots (a wildlife garden and base for the London Beekeepers’ Association) in Kennington, south London, today. It’s run each year by the London bee inspectors to give beekeepers information on looking after their bees well and included workshops on Varroa control, Swarm control, Apiary & hive hygiene and an apiary session on shook swarming, making up a nuc, open mesh floors and drone brood culling. Amazingly, it’s completely free so is well worth going down for.

I learnt so much that I’m pretty tired out now, my brain must be hurting from all the new information it’s squished in! Here are some very brief notes I took which in no way reflect everything the inspectors covered…

Alan Byham, the SE Regional Inspector, started the day off with a talk on ‘Simple beekeeping’. He asked how many of us were new beekeepers who had been keeping bees less than three years. Out of the many people who turned up (maybe 90ish?) most of us were new beekeepers, while some people had yet to get bees. Here are some of Alan’s tips for us:

  • Get a decent hive stand. Don’t have your brood frames so low down that you have to bend over to inspect them; they should be level with your hands. (Not much of a problem for someone like me at 5″2!)
  • Alan burns whatever he can get his hands on in his smoker, though he dislikes the smell of cardboard. He said the trick of keeping a smoker going is to really get it burning first – no quickly whipping the lid on once it’s alight – and once it’s really burning up put a lot of fuel on top. He uses a lot of rotten wood.
  • Water spray is an option rather than smoking; it’s effect is not as long lasting but is good on a colony without much in the way of stores, which will become irritable if smoked.
  • Use a dummy board in your brood boxes to avoid rolling the bees up and squashing them while inspecting
  • During swarm season only lightly smoke the bees, as if you smoke heavily and the bees are running everywhere you’ll struggle to find your queen. Have a queen cage in your pocket or an empty nucleus nearby. If you come across the queen, either put her in the queen cage or put the frame she’s on in the spare nucleus. This is in case you find queen cells and have to carry out swarm prevention measures like splitting the colony. When putting her in a cage pick her up by her wings or thorax, not her delicate abdomen.
  • A colony will go through ten pounds of stores in a week. If you have a week of bad weather and the colony can’t leave the hive, it will starve if it doesn’t have those ten pounds of stores. So you need to feed if you feel they don’t have sufficient stores to get them through the week.
We then went on to have a swarm control workshop (during which we learned we may have done things wrong on Saturday and the inspector thought we should check the old hive for queen cells!). After that Caroline Washington demonstrated how to make up a nucleus. Here’s a photo of Caroline in action:

Unfortunately she found a number of bees suffering from deformed wing virus, which is associated with varroa. Believe it or not, one of the poor bees below was alive and rocking back and forwards pulling its proboscis between its legs, a sign of distress. All the bees on this saucer had tiny or non-existent shredded looking wings.

Another of the inspectors demonstrated the Beebase website to us, which is run by the National Bee Unit. It contains all sorts of free information on good beekeeping techniques and disease prevention methods. It’s great and they’re about to introduce a login area where beekeepers can record their bee inspections privately.

The Disease Incidence and Reports page is quite interesting, it gives live information about the location of confirmed cases of European Foul brood (EFB), American Foul brood (AFB) and Varroa in England and Wales. So far this year only one London colony in Croydon has been diagnosed with EFB, but in general London is quite a high EFB area, with about 3-4% of the colonies inspected having EFB. The Varroa Calculator is also useful for working out whether you need to take action about your mite count and what treatments you can do.

Think I’ll write up the rest of my notes later, time to have some tasty food now!

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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5 Responses to Bee Health Day

    • Emily Heath says:

      We were also shown a way of using a dummy board to keep a colony warm. If you have a nucleus or a full size hive in which the colony is small and only across a few frames, you can put a dummy board a few frames in, enclosing the brood, because it helps keep them warm. The dummy board effectively makes the hive smaller. As the colony expands you move the dummy board along.

      Interesting that you use sugar syrup, sounds worth trying. I’m lucky with my hives at the moment as they’re very gentle bees that barely need any smoking at all. The main reason we smoke them is to get them to go down into the hive and avoid getting squashed when we’re putting the crown board on, not to stop them stinging us.


      • Phillip says:

        Ooops. Looks like my code for the video was off in my last comment. There must be a missing code. Sorry about that.

        “The dummy board effectively makes the hive smaller. As the colony expands you move the dummy board along. ”

        You have me convinced. That’s a great idea. I’ll do that with my two nucs this year.

        As for using sugar spray instead of smoke, sometimes I forget the spray bottle and plough ahead regardless. So far, except for in the fall when the nectar sources run dry, our bees have been extremely docile. Someday I’ll have the courage to open a hive and not wear any protective clothing. Someday.


        • Emily Heath says:

          Those bee inspectors really do have some great ideas. They told us one of the most common problems they see is beekeepers keeping colonies in too big a space, having colonies in a full size hive when really they could fit in half a nuc.

          Glad your bees are nice too. Not sure I’ll ever get brave enough to get rid of the suit! It’s the thought of getting stung in the eyes…


          • Phillip says:

            “Not sure I’ll ever get brave enough to get rid of the suit! It’s the thought of getting stung in the eyes…”

            Yeah, good point. If I ever go without a veil, I’ll have to wear swimming goggles.

            I wore my full suit all last summer and cooked in the sun every time. So far this year I’ve only worn my gloves, hat and veil (with a thick long-sleeved shirt and my pant legs tucked in). I hope to avoid the suit for the rest of the summer if I can.

            “…the most common problems they see is beekeepers keeping colonies in too big a space, having colonies in a full size hive when really they could fit in half a nuc.”

            I can understand this. I’ve met some novice beekeepers online who are eager to expand their hives and want to add new boxes as soon as they can. But the word I get from experienced beekeepers is to crowd the bees as much as possible before allowing them to expand.


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