Category Archives: Talks

Helensburgh & District BKA talk

DWV symptoms

DWV symptoms

I’m very pleased to be speaking on the 24th of November (this Thursday) to members of the Helensburgh and District BKA. The talk will be at the rather splendid looking Rhu Parish Church at 7.15pm. The title of the talk is “Bees, viruses and Varroa: the biology and control of deformed wing virus (DWV)”. I’ll discuss aspects of the biology of DWV, particularly relating to its transmission by Varroa, and will then explore potential ways in which bees could be ‘protected’ using either high-tech or low-tech approaches. If you’re attending please introduce yourself when we’re all having a cuppa at the end of the evening … don’t leave it too late though, I’ve got a 2 hour drive home afterwards.

Update

The drive from the east coast to Helensburgh was stunning, with a fantastic pink-tinged sunset lighting up the snow-covered hills around Crainlarich (Stuc a’ Chroin, Ben Vorlich and Ben Ledi). It was bitterly cold and clear.

Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorlich ...

Stuc a’ Chroin and Ben Vorlich …

There was a slight delay due to an absentee projector. During this we discussed oxalic acid-containing treatments for Varroa control and the problems caused by the lack of a ready-mixed preparation of Api-Bioxal. Once the projector arrived we were up and running and I covered viruses and Varroa, why we treat when we treat (or perhaps more correctly ‘when should we treat for maximum effect?’) and the influence of drifting and robbing on parasite and pathogen transmission between colonies. That’s quite a lot to get through in an hour … and I didn’t. The audience were rewarded for their patience with a well-earned cup of tea and a question and answer session.

The return trip was less visually pleasing other than a great view of a barn owl ghosting along the verges of the A977 near Rumbling Bridge. With thanks to Cameron Macallum and colleagues for their hospitality and a very enjoyable evening.

Seasonal changes

At the beginning of the season, after the wettest winter for 100+ years, I rebuilt the rickety scaffold-plank bridge I use to cross the burn to get to my apiary and bee shed. The herbage had been flattened by flooding and the general die-back of winter. Access was easy … if a bit squelchy.

Before ...

Before …

Seven months later the bridge, the burn, the shed and the apiary have all but disappeared behind the luxuriant growth of reeds and weeds. Over the burn is an extensive patch of waist high nettles and long tussocky grass. If there’s been any recent rain the herbage remains damp and my bee suit gets saturated … if for any reason I have to make repeated trips (such as removing full supers [in my dreams!]) the water runs down my legs and fills my boots. Lovely.

After ...

After …

Wildlife near the apiary

The overgrown little patch of woodland is a great spot for wildlife, with regular sightings of sparrowhawks jinking through trying to catch the small birds unawares. All of the regular woodland and parkland birds are present, with increasing numbers of mixed parties of finches now we’re into early autumn. There are great spotted and, much less frequently, green woodpeckers to be seen and the presence of the latter might mean I have to protect my hives in the winter (although I had no problems on this site last winter it never got really cold which is when the yaffles cause a problem). Buzzards wheel overhead – incessantly mewing now as the adults start to ignore their young and so force them to find their own territories. Until recently the air was filled with swallows and martins. There were so many of them I was concerned about losing queens on mating flights. However, it was the June weather that was the biggest handicap, and I think I only had one mating nuc in which the virgin queen simply disappeared.

Common spotted orchid

Common spotted orchid …

I’m hopeless at plant identification but think this is a Common Spotted Orchid. The area around the apiary has hundreds of these in late June/early July. There’s an interesting Citizen Science survey (https://www.orchidobservers.org/) on how climate change is affecting the flowering period of orchids and they have a comprehensive identification guide (16Mb PDF download … you have been warned), together with distribution maps. Finally, the damp grassland and the nearby burn mean there are loads of frogs to be seen … which probably also explains the near-universal presence of herons.

On a balmy summer afternoon – not completely unheard of this far North – the air is filled with the sound of bees going to and from the hives, making this an idyllic spot.

End of the season

I usually reckon that the end of September is the end of the bee season. Certainly this year – my first full season in Scotland – it is. Honey supers were taken off in late August/early September and there’s been almost no nectar coming in since the middle of August. The ivy has yet to start properly and there’s no balsam in range of my main apiaries. Colonies have been treated for Varroa – one repeatedly – and all have large blocks of fondant to keep them company for the next couple of weeks. All the hives are warm and watertight. There’s a few last-minute jobs to do … a final tidy of the bee shed, stacking supers and drawn brood comb out of reach of wax moths and acetic acid treatment where appropriate to sterilise comb.

Since the bees are safely tucked away for the winter I can now relax …

Cheers

Cheers

ICE ICE baby 

This post was written a week or two ago as I’m currently at ICE 2016, the International Congress of Entomology, talking about our work on DWV. The scope (and number of attendees … ~6000) of this conference is huge and includes at least 10 sessions covering bees. If the jet lag doesn’t finish me off I’ll take some comprehensive notes and report on some of the more interesting talks in the coming weeks. Normal service will be resumed by November.


Yaffle is an English folk name for the green woodpecker (Picus viridis) derived from its laughing call, which also probably explains the wonderful alternatives of laughing Betsey, yaffingale, yappingale and Jack Eikle. Hearing the yaffle call is supposed to be associated with the onset of rain, which probably accounts for the other names of rain-bird, weather cock and wet bird.

Ice ice baby is a hip hop song by Vanilla Ice from ’89/’90 … coincidentally it’s about South Florida, which is where the ICE 2016 conference is being held. I can’t stand hip hop 😉

Save the bees, save humanity

I’ve used this poster in talks a couple of times to make a distinction between colony collapse disorder (CCD) in the US and colony losses due to disease in the UK.

Save the bees ...

Save the bees …

It’s a rather striking poster … although it carries the website address www.nrdc.com (which appears to belong to the National Realty and Development Corp.), the logo and the subject are much more likely to be associated with the Natural Resources Defense Council (www.nrdc.org). Whatever … the message is clear, without bees there will be pollination shortages for many important and valuable fruit and vegetable crops. The term CCD, a still incompletely understood phenomenon where hives are abandoned by workers, was first used in 2006 in the USA and similar types of colony losses have been reported in a number of European countries, though not in the UK. Prior to 2006 there were a range of other names given to apparently similar phenomena – spring dwindle, May disease, fall dwindle disease [PDF] etc.

The ‘Save humanity’ statement possibly refers to the the apocryphal quote attributed to Albert Einstein “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live” … though it’s highly unlikely Einstein ever actually said this. It’s also a rather questionable statement. Certainly honey bees provide important pollination services, but so do many other insects (and not just insects). There are certain crops for which honey bees are important – such as almonds – at least on the scale they grow them in California. However, on a visit-by-visit basis, honey bees can be relatively poor pollinators. For examples, solitary bees such as Osmia sp. are much more efficient pollinators of apples. The inefficiency of honey bees is more than compensated though by their numbers and our ability to move hives to crops that need pollinating.

So, if honey bees are so important, why does the picture above show a wasp?  😉

 

 

Somerset BKA lecture day

DWV symptoms

DWV symptoms

I’m delighted to be sharing the programme with Michael Palmer and Celia Davies at the Somerset BKA lecture day in Cheddar this Saturday (21st February ’15). I’ll be adding a small bit of science to the day and no doubt benefiting significantly from their wealth of beekeeping expertise. It should be a very enjoyable event.

Update – it was a very enjoyable event.  Aside from a few audio problems with a misbehaving microphone a packed hall enjoyed two talks by Celia Davies on Summer and Winter Bees and A World of Scents and a  further two from Michael Palmer on the Sustainable Apiary and Queen rearing.

If you’ve not heard Michael talk about the importance of overwintering nucs for sustainable beekeeping then you should either try and catch him on his current UK tour or watch him deliver the talk at the 2013 National Honey Show on YouTube. I think I’ve heard this talk three times and have learnt something new every time. The methods Michael uses directly address the problems (lack of early-season queens, overwintering losses etc.) I’ve previously outlined in a post on the impact of imported bees and queens on the quality of UK beekeeping in Supply and Demand.

All the talks – including the science of Varroa and deformed wing virus I presented – generated lots of questions and discussions. With thanks to Sharon Blake for the invitation and organisation of the day.

CABK Stratford Conference

Falcon Hotel

Falcon Hotel

I’m delighted to be speaking at the  CABK Stratford Conference (the Central Association of Beekeepers; Bringing Science to the Beekeeper) on Saturday and Sunday 22/23 November 2014. I’ll be discussing the identification of a virulent strain of deformed wing virus, characteristics of its transmission and potential ways it might be controlled in the future. The CABK website doesn’t yet appear to list other speakers, but the provisional programme I’ve seen lists Alison Haughton from Rothamsted, Ben Jones from FERA, Jochen Plugfelder from Bern and Bob Smith from Kent.

There should be ample time for discussions so please introduce yourself if you want to chat.

Update

Despite the best efforts of the Falcon Hotel (who appeared to have reserved far too few rooms for the registered delegates) the meeting was very enjoyable. The talks I heard were excellent, with ample time for discussion. In particular I enjoyed listening to Bob Smith who showed us the differences between DN5 frames from two of the major manufacturers … one made to British Standard sizes with the wrong beespace (Thorne’s), and the other with the correct beespace between the top bars, the rebated side bars and the wide bottom bars (National Bee Supplies if I remember correctly). Bob’s talk was the only beekeeping talk I’ve heard with psychedelic imagery and a guitar riff. Bob also demonstrated his enviable woodworking skills with an elegant little (mating nuc sized) observation hive. Jochen Plugfelder gave two fascinating presentations on improved formulations of formic acid for Varroa treatment and the chemistry of queen fighting, the latter supported by excellent video. Ben Jones discussed his studies on dietary influences on foragers and – in a commendably dedicated way – rushed off early to complete a time course experiment. Finally (although it was actually the first talk of the meeting in place of Alison Haughton) Robert Pickard presented a wide ranging overview of social and solitary bees and their mimics. The talk was actually so wide ranging that it was difficult to categorise it and was illustrated with a range of interesting slides.

 

Dr. Bodgit in Birmingham

I’m looking forward to speaking at Birmingham and District Beekeepers Association on Friday 31st October. My talk is titled “Dr. Bodgit goes beekeeping: make the stuff you can’t buy … that works better … with as little blood loss as possible“. It’s a gentle introduction to building some of your own equipment, saving a few bob and making things that work better than the equipment you can buy from the major suppliers. Aside from the financial benefits (e.g. DIY insulated crownboard for about £8, Thorne’s uninsulated polycarbonate quilt for nearly £20) there’s a lot of satisfaction to be gained from building your own equipment. Almost no specialised tools are required and certainly almost no power tools … all helping avoid blood loss.

Clearer boards

Clearer boards …

Update … Thanks to BDBKA for their hospitality on Friday evening. Considering the wealth of experience in the room I was pleased there were a few things that were new to them in the talk. I hope to hear of their success with Kewl floors and foundationless frames when I next visit.