Weybridge Beekeepers Summer Meetings

I am pleased to be able to firm up the dates now for the summer meeting schedule, Covid issues allowing.  This year we have deliberately ensured that all three meetings are particularly relevant to those from this year’s and last year’s beginners courses.  I would stress that everyone is of course welcome and it would be great for the beginners to  meet some more of the division members.  Please put the dates in your diary and I hope as many of you as possible will attend.  The more bees you see the better you are able to understand what is normal behaviour as bees are often challenging in that they do not read the text books!
June 19th, 2.30pm
Preparing for the Flow. 
Geoff and Marion have kindly offered to host this meeting at their Painshill Apiary.
July 31st, 2.30pm
‘An Inspector Calls’. Our seasonal Bee Inspector, Stewart Westsmith, will inspect several hives, taking us through what they look for and how they look.  A masterclass in Bee Disease inspection but rather than ‘in theory’, this is the real practice.  Essential for all beginners and more experienced beekeepers alike.
We are very fortunate that Aslam has again offered to open his amazing garden(s) to us. For those who have been before you will remember what a wonderful location it is. Please contact us for his address or see the emailed newsletter.
August 21st, probably 4pm but time tbc 
Summer Social. Given the lockdown we have all endured for the last year or so we thought it would be a good idea for us all to meet up and catch up.  Hoping that the weather is good, Paul and Helen Bunclark have very kindly agreed to let us use their facility; most beginners will already be aware of it from the summer practicals they will have attended there this year.  The idea is to have a bring along BBQ. Closer to the time we will ask people to give us an indication if they are attending and the division will supply rolls, sausages, burgers with everyone invited to bring any special foods they want as well as salads and desserts.  
September 18th, 2.30pm
Preparing for Winter.
This meeting will be hosted at David Parker’s Fairoaks Airport apiary.  There is more than one way to prepare for winter so in addition to breaking into groups and going through some hives looking at stores, etc. David will take us through how he takes his bees through winter, his method of two national 8- frame boxes.  It is also hoped that one or two other beekeepers will talk about how they take bees through winter.  When to feed syrup, when to use fondant, what ratios of sugar to water for syrup, how much syrup to feed, can you over feed your bees?  All these and other questions will be addressed along with talking about winter chemical treatments and options for controlling Varroa.
David Parker  davidparker@polymathconsulting.com

Weybridge Town Business Group market on 26th June 2021 – volunteers wanted

Weybridge Town Business Group market on 26th June 2021 – volunteers wanted

We are once again taking a stall at the market on Monument Green (near Waitrose/Ship Inn).  It would be great to have some volunteers for this.  I will allocate shifts once I know how many people will be helping, but it is usually a couple of hours of chatting to the public and selling honey and candles.  We are looking to have a contactless card payment system for the day. Volunteers can bring honey to sell, which is usually very popular.  

Contact Jane Hunter on 01932 857427 or email weybridgebees.sec@gmail.com More information about the market can be found at:  www.allaboutweybridge.co.uk/weybridge-market

Jane Hunter

COLOSS (Prevention of honey bee COlony LOSSes)

COLOSS (Prevention of honey bee COlony LOSSes) is an international, non-profit association headquartered in Bern, Switzerland that is focussed on improving the well-being of bees at a global level.

We are composed of scientific professionals that include researchers, veterinarians, agriculture extension specialists and students. We understand that cooperation and open dialogue are key to better understanding the reasons why bee populations are threatened in today’s world. (Bold highlighting is mine. – Ed)

In the last decade, elevated losses of western honey bee colonies have been observed, mainly in Europe and North America, but the underlying causes still remain unclear. In 2008, European and USA honey bee experts formed a network “COLOSS” realising that efforts by individual countries to identify the drivers of losses were unlikely to succeed, given the current consensus that causes are complex and can be different between regions and between the years. Now more than 1000 scientists are working together in this network in specific working groups. This information was extracted from the COLOSS website.

A request from COLOSS for help in identifying the cause of honey bee losses

The epidemiological working group have developed a standardised questionnaire to identify the underlying causal factors of losses and provide beekeepers with sustainable management strategies.We now invite you to fill in the questionnaire for 2021 which you will find below.


This will enable us to compare your answers with those of other beekeepers. With your data we can estimate the relative risk of colony losses for beekeeper decisions such as Varroa treatment, migration of colonies and comb replacement. We also aim to identify differences in relative mortality risk between regions. This will enable follow up research projects in specific regions.

At your option your personal details may be recorded, however we undertake not to disclose them to any third party to protect your privacy.

Finally your help is much appreciated. Please can I ask you to promote this survey and the questionnaire link through this open letter to as many English beekeepers as you are able to do so. Feel free to share the link by email, word of mouth, newsletters or social media and to your local beekeeping organisations. In doing so you will be making a contribution to tackling the problem of colony losses and ensuring that English data is represented as an equal partner in the COLOSS European community.

Norman Carreck, Member of Coloss for England

Surrey Honey Show

The usual Honey Show that usually takes place annually in a marquee at the Surrey County Show in Guildford, will not take place again this year because of Covid restrictions. However, The Show Committee decided last week that there will be a Show. Full details will be available later on, but for now here is some advance information:

Date: 10-11 September 2021
Venue: Henfold Lane Apiary (home of the Reigate Division)
Classes: 21 classes, similar to 2019 schedule

Weybridge Beekeepers meeting Thursday 22nd April 2021

The views expressed in this article are personal and may not correspond with the views of other people present. I’m sorry this is long but I really had to do the evening justice.

It was a beautiful evening, the pubs were open, some Covid restrictions had been lifted meaning we could now sit in a garden with a friend enjoying a gin and tonic so why tune in to a Zoom meeting with Weybridge Beekeepers? My excuse is that my arm had been twisted (somebody has to write a report).

The first of four (yes four!!!) presenters was Jane Hunter who told us about her “Bees for Development” beekeeping safari in Trinidad and Tobago. Whilst I drooled over the images of sunny sandy beaches and tropical vegetation, Jane told us about beekeeping on the two islands. Trinidad, close to Venezuela, has bee stocks infiltrated by aggressive “Africanised” bees. Excitement mounted, would we hear of Jane and her colleagues being terrorised by these bees? It wasn’t to be. Gladstone, their beekeeping guide, kept the bees in order – maybe it was the long machete he used as a hive tool. Honey there is traditionally sold in rum bottles- it makes one look at recycling in a different light.

Tobago – more isolated – still has a population of native stingless bees from which extracted honey is used by the locals for medicinal purposes. Utrecht University is working with local beekeepers in a project to make manageable hives for these bees. This was a well presented, fascinating talk. You felt humbled by the simplicity of the beekeeping in a country where less is definitely more.

Next came Vanessa and Alan, alumni of the 2018 Beginners course. They talked about what had drawn them into beekeeping and the trials, tribulations and joys of their first 2 years. They have thrown themselves into most aspects of beekeeping whether it’s collecting swarms, constructing hives, making polish or extracting honey. We saw hives constructed by Alan and lovingly painted by Vanessa and heard about their passion for collecting and hiving swarms. Their acquisition of an out apiary on an allotment site and the conversion of their garage into an extracting room are the latest developments. The sheer enthusiasm for the craft, their description of how beekeeping changed family life and their love of the bees themselves reminded us hardened, cynical old hands that this is what beekeeping is really about. If the evening had finished there, we’d have left the meeting flushed with re-found enthusiasm for beekeeping – but no.

There was a short break – enough time for a stiff drink to fortify us for the “hardcore” beekeeping of the second half.

David Parker talked about “Running a 2 Queen Hive”. We all know that more than one queen can happily be on the go in a colony undergoing supersedure. David’s extensive researches (the Internet is a wonderful thing) showed that 2 queens definitely seem to be better than 1 and that a vertical hive system with a queen in brood boxes top and bottom separated by honey supers should give more honey and save apiary space at the same time. David is going to give this a whirl and run this system through the whole beekeeping season with 2 of his colonies (detailed instructions can be seen in the video detailed by Andrew below).

We entered the exhilarating realms of “macho” beekeeping. Images (American bee farming of course) of not only vertical towers of boxes but vertical and horizontal splits combined (not sure where the space saving comes into that) were shown. The height of the stacks was staggering as honey supers mount up, but if you’ve got 2 burly cowboys in a pick -up with a winch to do your inspections lifting isn’t a problem is it? Replacing brood boxes and supers at head height every time would certainly be challenging but I’m sure David (and his back) is up to it; his courage in tackling this project is awesome and I really look forward to seeing his results in terms of honey yield advantage as compared to running hives separately in a future newsletter.

We finally limped into the home straight but stamina levels were flagging. How much more excitement could a jaded beekeeper take?

Geoff Cooper took us gently by the hand to encourage us to have a go at queen rearing. Geoff described the golden past when you could buy a replacement for your 4 years old, failing queen from a reputable supplier for £30 and they were good queens that lasted almost 5 years! Ah those were the days! This year, Thorne’s will sell you a queen (if they’ve got one) at £80!!!

Queen failure rates are increasing too. Many beekeepers report that queens are lasting only 1-2 years and that some are being superseded in their first year. (Maybe your £80 would be better spent on the Lottery.) With a potential import ban of foreign bees, bee smuggling will be a growth industry. As we speak, inflatable boats loaded with Slovenian, Greek and Italian bees may be stealthily crossing the Channel escaping the eagle eyes of our Border Force.

Geoff talked us through a little known (there’s probably a reason for that), Irish beekeeper’s method (instructions on pp. 12-13) where you cram a colony of bees in a single brood box to get them to prepare to swarm. Then you split up the queen cells into lots of nucs and hey presto – loads of new queens / colonies. Simples! If only….
Geoff and Marion Cooper who have zillions of years of beekeeping experience between them, will be trying this at their apiary. The method used by the Northern Ireland beekeeper originates from a beekeeper with non-prolific British native bees in an isolated part of Scotland, a very different environment from suburban Surrey. I’m not sure how easy this would work for a new back garden beekeeper managing prolific Surrey mongrels of an uncertain temperament.

In fairness to Geoff, he stressed that you really need to be on the ball with your handling skills, your observational skills and your understanding of bee behaviour, queen mating and development as well as knowledgeable in making up and running nucs. Not much of a skill base needed there then.

To think that these are things that all members have acquired and are proficient in after the average Beginners course is rather naïve. Is it no wonder that many hobby beekeepers’ eyes glaze over when experienced people stand up and talk with gusto of the multi-various methods of queen rearing?

Seriously, this is a BIG topic and deserves far more than a 20 minute slot at the arse end of an overlong evening. How do we, as an association, help our members get started in making simple increases of their stock without frightening them to death?

The answer? Tune in to Roger Patterson’s (BIBBA) webinars on how to improve our bees and raise queens. Starting at the most basic (how to choose and harvest swarm cells and how to fix them to a frame – yes that simple) to the more ambitious, Roger is not a man to make simple things complicated. These are well worth watching on the BIBBA You Tube channel and give lots of useful ideas on how to meet these challenges with a bit more confidence than we all have at the moment. I encourage every member to look at them.

Edwina Waddle

Many thanks for your very comprehesive report Edwina and your thoughts about the content of the meeting. I wholeheartedly agree with your admiration of Roger Patterson’s instructional talks, of which the lockdown has been the means of so many being conveniently available to us in recent weeks. We too have had a lot of pleasure from them. I hope that our student beekeepers have listened / will listen to some of them as well.

The talks given at our meeting have been put on YouTube as limited access videos. Only people with the links given below will be able to find and view these videos.

Jane Hunter’s talk ”Stingless bees in Trinidad and Tobago” https://youtu.be/4i0SPq1eIdo

David Parker’s talk ”Running a two-queen hive” https://youtu.be/QaTaTEYiUbo

Vanessa and Alan’s talk ”Experiences of novice beekeepers” https://youtu.be/7lctze7GVgY

Geoff Cooper’s talk ”Taking the sting out of queen rearing” https://youtu.be/qdGCsCW5AWQ

Andrew Halstead

The full details of the method Geoff described are included in this newsletter (p.14).

Shook Swarms

I usually do shook swarms on all my hives each year. This year I invited the students on the beginners course to join me; 5 took up the offer so I split them into two sessions to ensure we complied with the Covid rules. I decided to do just one hive in each session. The process went well but I always think it a waste of the brood removed to destroy it so I made up two nucs with the brood shaking a couple of combs into the nucs to provide enough bees to keep the brood from getting chilled. Then I fed the colonies with 4 pints of food to encourage them to draw the new comb. The benefit of a shook swarm is to remove a large load of varroa and removes any disease spores from the hive. Unfortunately the following day the weather turned cold and remained like that for two weeks. As a result they have not expanded as they usually do but they are on new comb and have drawn and started laying in five of the frames.

Meanwhile the two nucs produced several queen cells which I reduced to two in each box. The brood has all hatched and there is now a period of another 2 weeks before the new queen has mated and started to lay. This gives a queenless period to help reduce the varroa load in the nuc. I am now removing the old empty frames and replacing them with drawn comb. One queen has been given to a past student whose hive had become queenless and the remaining bees united back to the parent colony. I decided not to shook swarm the other two colonies but change all combs gradually over the coming season. These two colonies have performed much better than the shook swarmed colonies which is the reverse of past trends on my hives.

Michael Main

Thanks for this report Michael. There are several important beekeeping points you have covered which will be helpful to many of our members, especially our new students. I am delighted that you do not just scrap the sealed brood which is common practice for many.

Weybridge Winter Meeting, Whats’s going wrong with our queens? A talk by Roger Patterson Wednesday 10th March (virtual)

I received this report from Anne, prefaced by the following:

‘The queen we’ve got are failing, we don’t know why, there is little point replacing them as the new ones might be duds as well. If I can’t get them through the winter because the queen fails, what exactly am I supposed to do?’

Having experienced a range of queen problems over the last few years – missing queens, queens stopping laying, quenelles hives refusing to make queen cells from test frames, I was interested to hear Roger’s views.

Roger introduced himself as a ‘practical beekeeper’ not a scientist, and has been keeping bees for over 54 years. During this time he has seen extreme changes in queen longevity. He saw the golden age of queens prior to 1990, when queen rearing, and life expectancy was relatively easy and they lasted several years and superseded naturally. Now due to many causes successful queen rearing is proving increasingly problematic.

He accepted that the problems could happen naturally, but the levels of failure were not natural.

In the past queens typically lived 3-5 years: swarmed 0-3 times in their life time and were superseded naturally at the end of a season (July – September). Queen failure used to be in spring.

Now queen cells are not always resulting in laying queens, young queens are being superseded and queens are failing or disappearing.

These cannot all be the fault of the weather or birds taking queens on mating flights.

Roger went on to describe new queens with deformed wings (not the result of Deformed Wing Virus) which means they could not fly to mate, so could not raise new workers, queens who laid drones peppered in amongst worker cells, queens being superseded almost as soon as their first brood was sealed and those that suddenly stopped laying. Queen cells are increasingly being found on stores frames are taking longer to emerge. Swarms are often failing, or have virgin queens.

The reasons may be many, including varroa or the treatment we are giving them; research is needed.

Roger encouraged us to do full inspections all the time to be alert to queen cells anywhere in the colony, to keep good records and to look for eggs at every inspection. He encouraged running extra colonies so a spare queen was available and to raise double the number of queens you need to cover failures. he did not recommend re-queening every year, as you could not guarantee that the new queen would be any better than the old one.

Roger warmly recommended making use of his books and of Dave Cushman’s website, which Roger now maintains and updates.

The talk was followed by questions and answers and the complete meeting can be seen in full (details below).

Thank you to Roger for the talk, Marion for arranging it and the techno wizards behind the scenes for thematic that is Zoom.

Anne Miller

Thank you Anne for this report.

Her emails ends like this:

‘I’m off to find a new hobby …’, but it’s good to report that she’s not.

This was truly an excellent meeting. It was far from yet another repeat of the ‘same old stuff’, and as Anne writes above, it was all from Roger’s own observations and personal experience. The attendance was disappointing. Do consider listening to it on the link shown if you were not there. Andrew has sent this note:

I have put Roger Patterson’s talk on ”Queen failure” on You Tube as an unlisted video, or rather two videos, that can be accessed through the links below. The jinx on recording Weybridge division talks struck again. With Matthew Ingram’s talk in February, the ‘record’ button was not turned on until about half way through the talk. Matthew very kindly repeated the missing part for us.

About three quarters of the way through Roger’s talk, I noticed that the light that shows recording is taking place had gone off – don’t know why. I was able to restart in less than a minute so very little was lost.

Roger Patterson’s Queen failure talk Part 1

Roger Patterson’s Queen failure talk Part 2

Andrew Halstead

Weybridge Winter Meeting (virtual) Thursday 11th February

Matthew Ingram talking about his beekeeping experiences in Australia and England

This was really a most refreshing, and ‘different’ talk by a very unusual young man. He told us that he was 24 years old.

Matthew started his beekeeping with two old hives and gave us the impression that these were pretty grotty. He joined his local Association and was given a swarm, then later three more hives and his beekeeping took off. So far he has built up to 120 colonies in apiaries at several sites and housed in hives mostly made by him. He was able to renovate some old disused dairy buildings, and has equipped them for his own extracting, bottling and other beekeeping purposes. He later extended their use for him to extract and bottle other local beekeepers’ honey.

Matthew went to University and obtained a qualification in accountancy. Then, while his fellow students were enthusiastically exploring the relevant employment field, he could only think of pursuing his great ambition – to make a career in beekeeping.
He then arranged to gain beekeeping experience with a bee farmer in Australia, and the main part of his talk dealt with that time – and what an impressive time it was. In this report it is not easy to convey the feel of his talk and the incredible work load undertaken by the bee farmers over there. I would very strongly encourage you to watch the recording of this. Matthew was a full member of the working staff and took part in all of their activities in many apiaries.

In air temperatures of 40ºC, water had to be taken to the bees regularly, and two tons of pollen had to be collected and supplied, mainly to the many nucs to (the trees do not supply a significant quantity of pollen). They raised 300 queens a week, by grafting. The bee farmers run about 2500 colonies each, and travel about 1000 miles a week in the course of their migratory beekeeping. Although Carniolan queens are used there is not much swarming. The hives they use are all deep Langstroth (for both brood and super) so about 80lb to lift when the supers are full!! Major sources of forage are the Eucalyptus and Macadamia trees.

As with beekeeping everwhere, there are plenty of problems. These include giant centipedes (20 cm long), iguanas, snakes, scorpions, kangaroos, red back spiders, cockroaches and more. Then there are bush fires which can necessitate the rapid removal of entire apiaries to another site.

AFB is very common and can be found in most colonies. No control is attempted apart from dealing with it in nucleus colonies where it is found to be necessary for their survival. Otherwise infected boxes are stacked in the bee yard (in the open!) and then taken for irradiation. The honey is extracted from AFB colonies with the rest. EFB is also widespread but is not seen as an issue. Antibiotics and an unlicenced cockroach killer are used routinely. The Small Hive Beetle is common and the ‘slimed out‘ boxes produce an unimaginable smell. The beekeepers do not wear protective gloves.

Matthew’s talk was delivered in a relaxed way at a leisurely pace and was nicely illustrated with slides, again at a pace that we could take in (many other presenters could well follow his example).

It has to be said that we were not left with a good impression of bee farming practices in Australia. The attitudes towards the bees ring very much of those that we hear prevail in parts of the USA.

As I said, Matthew is an unusual young man and I hope this report has given you some idea of his capabilities and achievements – and isn’t it great to hear such an accomplished YOUNG beekeeper? He has spurned the opportunity to become one of the people who are commonly said to run the world (with vast incomes) to be a bee farmer who we all know are not so likely to reach the wealthy class level despite a huge work load, physical and mental.

We wish him every success in his chosen career, and are sure that we will hear a lot more of him in the future.

Geoff Cooper

Here are links to Matthew’s talk, in two parts:

Part 1   https://youtu.be/kt75MANe7bg
Part 2   https://youtu.be/lbRsq9janlY

Asian honeybees ‘defend hives from hornets with faeces’

The following are quotations from an article which can be read in full via link: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-55255290

Researchers have found that honeybees in Vietnam collect and smear animal faeces around their nests to prevent deadly raids by giant hornets.
The bees used chicken poo, buffalo dung and even human urine to defend their hives.

The scientists behind the study, said the research was sparked when a Vietnamese beekeeper told them that the mysterious dark spots they had spotted at hive entrances was excrement.

“We thought that’d be crazy because bees don’t collect dung,” lead author Heather Mattila told AFP news agency.

But the study confirmed that the poo was indeed a defence being deployed by the bees, specifically against giant hornets.

Dr Mattila, a biology professor at Wellesley College in the US state of Massachusetts, said it adds to “an already impressive list of defences they have to prevent these hornets from destroying their colonies”.

It seems surprising that (as far as I know) this is the first that we have heard of this apparently important defence mechanism.

BBKA Module Exams update

BBKA Module exams: some important information from the BBKA for new candidates

I know you have been wondering what is going to happen with the Module Exams next year.  We are currently in the second wave of Covid and another National lockdown.  The experts are not able to say when things might improve but the main body of opinion is that this may not be until a vaccine is available.   The Exam Board took the hard decision to cancel all exams and assessments in 2019. 

Unfortunately we have no way of knowing what the situation will be next March so the Exam Board has been looking at an alternative solution.  Even before Covid-19 the board had been considering the use of online facilities to aid with the delivery of exams.  For various reasons, not least suitability and cost, this was not a priority, but events as well as the rapid development of the online invigilation service have opened opportunities for us to consider an invigilation system which will allow candidates to sit the exam in their own home. 

The education sector as a whole has had to embrace this technology and it particularly suits our geographically spread cohort. We recognise that we will have candidates who do not have the confidence or computer skills for online exams and we will continue, when possible, to offer the handwritten option albeit at a reduced number of venues.The Board has investigated a number of companies and found the one to offer a suitable service for our needs is called Inspera.  Extensive research and trials by the Board resulted in the decision to offer the Module exams online in the Spring.  This decision and the financial support needed has been approved by the Trustees. In order to do this successfully, a number of changes will be needed in this first year.  I will summarise the main factors and hopefully answer your most immediate questions.

·         The exam papers will not change, they will have the same layout and type of questions

·         Only online module exams will be available in the Spring 2021.  We hope to offer some hand written opportunities in the Autumn but this will depend on the Covid situation.

·         We will be sending you the list of transferred module exam entries for your Area and asking you to contact your candidates to find out if they wish to take online modules. If they do not feel able to cope online, their entry will be transferred to November 2021.

·         Candidates will be allowed to sit a maximum of 2 modules

·         The closing dates for new entries will be January 31st 2021  to allow more time for setting up and training.

·         The date for the exams will move to 24th/25th April 2021 – probably 24th April but at this stage we are not ruling out two days. Again this is to allow more time for the preparation.

·         Candidates and invigilators will receive training on the system and computer access will be checked beforehand.

·         Invigilators for the online modules will be arranged centrally. Please let us know if you are interested in being considered.

We will be keeping you up to date on developments.
Val and Nicky


I was horrified to learn a few minutes ago (2nd December) that old, dark brood comb is being offered for sale on ebay at £15 per frame. It is intended for use as a lure in bait hives.

All beekeepers, especially new beginners, must make themselves and other beekeepers aware of this threat which at the very least could start a huge wave of foul bood in the UK, plus goodness knows what else from the undesirable disease-causing matter that could be present in old combs; such combs should be destroyed.

Read about this for yourselves on the ebay link below:


Thanks to David Parker for bringing this to our attention – perhaps the most important thing that he or anyone else has ever sent.

Geoff Cooper
Editor – Newsletter