Firstly, a big thank you to Michael Main for hosting this event in his lovely garden, and for allowing us to disturb his bees, hopefully they have recovered from being manipulated backward and forward simply for our amusement and benefit. Also, well done to Michael, who is obviously a bit of a Grand Master Tetrus Ninja, for his parking attendant prowess; who knew he could get 7 cars and a motorbike on this drive, if the scaffolding hadn’t been there, I think it might have been 8.
The sunny warm weather helped ensure it was a good turnout, with over 30 attendees ensuring that there were people with experience ranging from beginner to expert, so if there were to be lots of interesting questions, there would hopefully be as many knowledgeable answers.
As with all carefully planned events, the schedule was immediately thrown into disarray as a call had been received asking for a swarm to be collected, so as an added bonus to the afternoon’s planned events David Parker and six interested volunteers set off immediately to collect the swarm.
While this was happening the two master classes got underway, one on looking for EFB and AFB during inspections, and the other looking at swarm control using the Pagden Method.
Geoff and Alan demonstrated a hive inspection with a view to looking for EFB, European Foul Brood and American Foul Brood (AFB). For the beginners watching it was an excellent opportunity to see experienced beekeepers handle bees and carry out an inspection. They were shown brood in all stages, worker versus drone brood, pollen, stores, queen cups or worse queen cells, and of course identifying and looking after the queen. A pretty comprehensive A to Z of hive inspections. Predictably, and happily, no EFB or AFB was identified, but for beginners who may not have bees, this was an extremely valuable and interesting experience.
Meantime, Michael was demonstrating a swarm control technique called the Pagden Method. This method involves the complete separation of the queen and flying bees in a hive on the original site, from the eggs, brood, nurse bees and queen cells in a second hive newly set up beside the original one. The situation at the end of the manipulation would be two hives both eventually with laying queens, and you could either use these to increase your number of colonies or remove the old queen and reunite all of the bees to maintain a
Michael made this look easy, mainly because he could find the queen, had the necessary additional hive parts and also had the room to do this. I may not be able to do this yet, because I can never find the queen and may lack hive parts and space, but should I manage to conquer these issues, I now feel I have the strong colony. knowledge to try it myself .
This also led on to a discussion about what to do with a hive with a laying worker, and a demonstration of the use of a Snelgrove Board (£24 on Ebay, £43 from Thornes, or test your carpentry skills and DIY) to move flying bees between separated colonies. With a multitude of doors front, back and sideways as well as up and down, it became obvious that a practical demonstration was far easier than trying to describe it.
With impeccable timing, just as these two sessions were drawing to a close, the swarm catchers returned and we went straight into a very unusual session about removing and hiving a wild colony.
Michael had recovered to his garden a 5ft length of a tree trunk, which came down on an island in the Thames at Sunbury, which contained a feral colony. Goodness knows how he managed to get it from the island to his garden, using only a sack barrow and his car, but let’s just say that Hollywood are interested in the movie rights.
The plan was to remove the colony and house it in a hive. With surgeon like precision, the tree trunk had been chain sawed to allow a large section of trunk to be removed leaving the comb and the bees intact. The fact that this had been accomplished so successfully, and without anybody losing a finger, means we are calling this part of the process a roaring success!
David then removed sections of comb and attached them to frames using either elastic bands or wire. He said it was important that the comb was kept the right way up, because, and I didn’t realise this, the comb is built slightly facing upward so if it was slightly facing downward, it would be ignored by the bees, and the honey would drip out. David successfully moved the comb into the Nuc box and later saw bees coming and going from it, so the queen was successfully transferred although not seen.
The last demonstration was Michael showing how to change old comb for new using the Shook Swarm technique. This is important because old comb cells may become too small to raise decent sized bees as after repeated use they contain shed larval and pupal skins, the old comb may hold disease, and also by replacing it and the brood within, you can significantly reduce your varroa count.
Michael explained that he would often give the old comb to smaller colonies to build up their numbers rather than destroy good brood. In Michael’s method of Shook Swarm he had identified the queen and moved her with a frame of brood into the new box, he also added some partially drawn comb, this was to ensure that there would be no gap in laying.
If/when we do this, we will also add a couple of frames of brood with eggs, but for a different reason. We can never find the queen, so by having comb with eggs in the hive if the queen is in some way damaged during our ‘Shooking of the Swarm’, hopefully we can get some emergency queen cells raised by those bees not too dazed, confused and upset by the process.
This demonstration ended just as the temperature began to drop, and everyone retired to the seating area for a drink and a nibble and a very pleasant chat. For me this was another extremely enjoyable afternoon in which I learned new stuff, was reminded of things I forgot I knew, and all in the company of a very pleasant group of folk.
Many thanks, David, for this comprehensive and interesting report and for the pictures you sent with it – we have used some of these and also some kindly sent in by Anne Miller and Elaine Svard (Paul’s wife). It was great to read of your enjoyment of the meeting. We are looking forward to your future reports and other David Ramsay contributions to the newsletter.