Category Archives: Review

Good times ahead

Synopsis : The season is approaching, but it’s not here yet. Don’t be misled by social media. Do your preparations for the good times ahead and the reinforcements, revisions, reversals and revelations.


Social media can be a bit of a curse for beekeepers – in particular new beekeepers – as we falteringly transition from winter to spring. Twitter is littered with pictures of bees foraging busily, lots of opened boxes and comments on the numbers of frames of brood. Some colonies are being united and supers are going on.


Unless you live in mid-Spain, you’re not missing out. Don’t even think of doing any of that nonsense.

These pictures are often posted by very experienced beekeepers running many, many hundreds of colonies. They know exactly what they’re doing. They have to start early to have colonies ready for top fruit pollination contracts, or boosted and bulging to properly exploit the oil seed rape. They’ve done this for years; they’re fast, efficient and have completed a risk/benefit analysis of financial gain vs. potential colony harm.

A frame from May … not February

This is the way experienced professionals manage livestock. It’s a world away from amateur beekeeping.

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New Year’s Resolutions

Synopsis : Often made, less often kept. How to improve your health, wealth and generosity … good habits for the season ahead, plus wildfires, bananas and XXXL beesuits. New Year’s Resolutions for beekeepers.


Historically, the Babylonians used the start of their New Year as an opportunity to clear old debts, return a kindness or right a wrong. In 2000 BCE 1 these New Year’s resolutions were retrospective, they did something measurable to ‘correct’ a past event.

At some point in the last 4000 years resolutions evolved to become prospective … and acquired increasingly religious connotations. The Romans made promises to their god Janus after whom the month of January is named. The change from a lunar calendar also shifted New Year, from the Babylonian springtime to its current location, shortly after all the mince pies are finished and the tree has shed the last of its needles onto the carpet.

Lots of people – perhaps 40-50% of the population 2 make New Year’s resolutions and almost as many fail to keep them. In many cases this failure seems predestined; asked at New Year whether there’s an expectation that a resolution will be kept, only ~50% say they expect to achieve their goal.

In practice, that’s ambitious.

When asked one year later only 12% had managed to keep the resolution.

‘Close, but no cigar’ 3.

These days the once predominantly religious resolutions have, for many, been replaced by ‘self promises’ that can be broadly categorised as health (e.g. lose weight, quit smoking, get healthier), finance/career (e.g. save money, reduce stress) or generosity (e.g. be helpful, donate to charity).

New Year’s Resolutions for beekeepers

And, in a blatantly-contrived way, some of these resolutions are also relevant to beekeeping.

Like everyone else, beekeepers are just as capable of not keeping their resolutions, despite the clear benefits of doing so.

So, in no particular order, let’s have a look at a few beekeeping resolutions tailored to our obsession but still recognisable as generic or popular New Year’s Resolutions.

Quit smoking

Most beekeepers are smokers, or at least use smokers.

Smoker still life

Smoker still life

In fact, the smoker is probably the most widely recognised tool of our trade. The smoke is used to calm the colony before inspections. It masks the alarm pheromones and so makes inspections a little easier. After smoking a colony and opening it up you will usually find a significant number of the bees gorging on open honey stores or nectar.

This probably accounts for the explanation that bees nesting in tree cavities have, over eons, evolved to respond to smoke from natural forest fires. This response includes gorging on stores so that the colony can abscond – a term used to describe the entire colony abandoning any brood and relocating – to set up home elsewhere.

This is almost certainly incorrect.

Abscond? What’s the point?

Firstly, bees exposed to wildfires do not abscond. Unfortunately they just get cooked, and almost certainly die from either heat or asphyxiation 🙁 . Or, if the nest survives the fire, they starve as there’s no forage in range. Secondly, if you assume it’s midseason and the queen is laying eggs like crazy, they probably cannot abscond as she will be too heavy to fly any distance.

What’s more, if you open a colony without using smoke there will still be bees gorging on honey stores … the disturbance alone is sufficient to make them do this.

Try it.

Mr Smoke-Too-Much

Just like the Monty Python character, you can smoke too much. If you do the bees get disorientated and distressed. On occasion I’ve had to smoke a colony heavily and it’s generally something to avoid (but they never abscond).

Many beekeepers probably rely on smoke rather more than they should. If you smoke a colony heavily at the hive entrance the bees will be driven up … to the exact region you want fewer bees when you manipulate the frames. A very gentle waft under the crownboard and the occasional very light puff to clear bees from the frame lugs should be sufficient.

There are alternatives to smoke. A plant mister with plain water works well for many colonies and is what I often use if I’m just inspecting nucs. There are also commercial smoke/smoker alternatives like Fabi-Spray or Apifuge.

One of the best ways to learn to use less smoke is to keep bees in a shed. If you are over-generous with the smoker you also end up getting ‘kippered’.



I leave the smoker outside the door and only retrieve it when initially opening a colony and very rarely during inspections.

Of course, the best way to need to use less smoke is to select for calm, stable bees when you are queen rearing.

So … perhaps don’t quit smoking, but as Bounder-of-Adventure suggested to Mr Smoke-Too-Much in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, ’better cut down a little’ 4.

Reducing stress

The Oxford English Dictionary has at least 13 definitions for the term stress; although many automatically think of tension or anxiety, biologists also use the term to mean:

Disturbed physiological function occurring in an organism or cell in response to conditions, events, or factors that are deleterious or threatening.

Bees subjected to adverse conditions – like long-distance transport, temperature extremes or disease – show evidence of stress which can be quantified in changes to the levels of molecular markers such as pheromone receptors and immune responses. This ability to respond is important, but it can be at the expense of normal physiological activity; e.g. more fighting pathogens or keeping warm than following waggle dancing foragers or feeding developing larvae.

Whilst I’m not aware of any studies of inspection-induced colony stress 5 I’ve no doubt it occurs … and that it’s at least transiently detrimental. The pheromone levels and gradients in the hive are disrupted, the brood nest is flooded with light, the location of bees in the nest are disturbed.

So, if you assume that that it is detrimental, try and minimise it. Only open the hive if needed, be gentle, use minimal smoke, be quick and calm and controlled … and try not to drop any frames 😉 .

The stressed beekeeper

The greater the disturbance you cause to the colony, the more defensive the bees become. They start pinging off your veil, burrowing into creases in your beesuit, stinging your gloves.

I love the smell of isoamyl acetate

You become aware of a feint but distinct whiff of ripe bananas … that’s the alarm pheromone produced from the Koschevnikov gland at the base of the sting.

Then things start going a bit Pete Tong.

Your stress levels rise, you use too much smoke, you try to work faster but consequently get clumsier, a bee gets inside your veil and you get even more stressed … and smoky … and clumsy … and stung.

If you are tense and anxious before even opening a hive the bees can probably sense it, and this may exacerbate things.

Beekeeping shouldn’t be like this.

To reduce your stress you need to:

  • have confidence in your protective clothing – buy a good quality beesuit and wear additional layers underneath when needed
  • wear gloves that enable good dexterity – thin nitriles rather than welding gauntlets
  • take care to cover areas of weakness – cuffs, ankles etc. (the bees will find them)
  • requeen defensive colonies as soon as practical from better quality stock
  • learn to inspect the colony quickly and calmly by practising (don’t avoid conducting inspections)
  • and, if you’re frightened of the sting reaction, take antihistamines in advance of apiary visits

Beekeeping is supposed to be an enthralling and relaxing pastime. If it’s a stressful battle – for you or the bees – then something is wrong.

Improved health

This is a huge topic and needs more than a few hundred words – here are three examples of good practice:

  • many diseases are always present in the colony but only become a problem under certain conditions. Deformed wing virus (DWV) isn’t an issue until Varroa levels rise, chalkbrood often ‘disappears’ by mid-season as the colony strengthens. Weak colonies are often more susceptible to disease and/or more likely to show symptoms. It therefore makes sense to maintain strong colonies. Take account of environmental conditions; don’t split them too hard and feed if necessary. Wasps and robbing bees aren’t ‘diseases’ but strong colonies are also better able to defend themselves.
DWV symptoms

DWV symptoms

  • ignore much of the nonsense you read in some surveys of colony losses. The biggest problem most beekeepers face is the toxic combination of DWV and Varroa. I would be amazed if these accounted for <75% of all annual colony losses. Isolation starvation? Nope … the winter bees died faster due to high levels of DWV and the little cluster froze to death. Monitor your Varroa levels a few times during the season and look out for overt DWV symptoms – much of either and you might need to intervene. Yes, there are other things to look out for, but mites and viruses are the biggest problem.

Varroa incursions and introductions in NSW, Australia, 19 December 2022

  • beekeepers are responsible for spreading many pests and pathogens between hives and apiaries. If the global distribution of Varroa doesn’t convince you of this, then the map of Varroa presence in New South Wales should. Similar data exists for foulbroods, where the only reasonable explanation for the presence of the same strain miles apart is hive movements or contaminated equipment. Practise good biosecurity and remember, ‘when you move bees, you move disease’.

Save money

Some beekeepers already have a bit of a reputation in this area … ‘deep pockets, short arms’ as they say 6. Even more beekeepers, whilst not actively mean, enjoy making savings wherever possible – if you want evidence of this just watch the stampeding hordes descend on the trade show sales at beekeeping conventions.

There are lots of ways to save money, at least after the initial expenditure on a hive (or two), beesuit, smoker etc.

Here’s one I started earlier … a Morris board under construction

Brood boxes and supers are probably best purchased as they are difficult/expensive to make without good tools, woodworking expertise and a source of high quality wood. Buy new cedar (even second quality) or poly boxes and they’ll last longer than you will. However, floors, roofs, crownboards and most of the things I consider as the horizontal components of the hive can be easily and inexpensively constructed.

Switching partly or totally to foundationless frames will save you a small fortune over the years.

Honey, honey

Of course, rather than reducing your outgoings, the other way to ‘save’ money is to raise your income.

Is your honey priced correctly? Beefarmers are talking about a glut after the good 2022 season, but I know plenty of places selling excellent local honey for £9-13 a jar (227 g or 340 g). The days when the milkman used to distribute and sell my honey for £4 a pound are long gone 7.

Do your homework, use attractive jars, think about your labelling and remember that well produced local honey is a unique premium product and should be priced accordingly.

Not local honey, but it might well be priced correctly

A final piece of advice on saving money. Omitting or skimping on Varroa treatments is false economy. I use Apivar and Api-Bioxal and spend less per hive per year than the cost of one 340 g jar of honey 8. That’s a small price to pay 9 and is a cost I more than recoup from increased honey production or reduced overwinter losses.

Be more helpful

One of the best ways to learn is to teach.

If you’ve got a year or two of beekeeping experience why not volunteer to act as a mentor for beginners? By sharing the responsibility for an additional hive or two you will get more beekeeping experience than if you just manage your own. These additional colonies will make the distinction between ‘good’ bees and ‘poor’ bees much easier, particularly if they share a similar environment.

Checking grafted larvae

Mentoring and training … the best way to learn

The inevitable questions from your mentee will challenge your understanding of the bees;

  • Is this a queen cell or a play cup? What’s the difference between them anyway?
  • Does this queen look inbred? Is there another explanation for a pepper-pot brood pattern?
  • How do I cut out a queen cell overlaying a foundation wire?

As good as the training course was that I attended, and despite my attentiveness during my subsequent solo blunderings 10, I’ve learnt much more from mentoring since I started.

Try it, you won’t regret it. You already know more than you think you know, and – if you’re anything like me – you’re only just realising how much else there is to learn.

Donate more to charity

I am aware of two charities that promote beekeeping in communities, supporting sustainable beekeeping to combat poverty, build resilient livelihoods and benefit biodiversity” and who mentor and train in local beekeeping best practices, business skills, and protecting the environment” 11 :

Both do really valuable work, primarily in Africa, but in other countries as well.

You can donate directly or purchase anti-tamper labels for jars that also help promote the work of the charity to the purchaser/consumers of your honey. Gift Aid donations if you can.

Lose weight

No, no, no … I don’t think so.

This one is the exception.

Other than during the self-flagellation exercise that is honey extraction, in particular shifting full supers from hives to the the store and then to the extractor, I don’t think there are any circumstances when beekeepers want less weight.

  1. I want my supers to be bloated with honey and I want them stacked head high.
  2. Colonies going into winter should be stuffed with stores and correspondingly heavy.
  3. I want the heaviest swarms possible to conveniently make their way to my bait hives. Bring it on, the more the merrier. They’ll get established faster and may even yield a good crop of honey (see 1, above).

There may be things I’m overlooking and my basic politeness means I have no intention of discussing anything to do with XXXL beesuits.

Does my bum look big in this?

Bargain basement

NHBS 12 currently have a special offer (£13.99 rather than £23.99) on Thomas Seeley’s The Lives of Bees. Although I’m not a fan of his Darwinian Beekeeping ideas, the book is an outstanding account of the biology of free-living honey bees. It is not a book about beekeeping but it explains loads of things about their behaviour which will help you understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. 

The Apiarist in 2022

Synopsis : A review of the year on The Apiarist; top of the posts, weirdo searches, clickbait titles and coffee. Don’t expect anything erudite. Happy New Year!


And another year ends.

After 51 posts, ~160,000 words, 999 comments and ~62,000 spam ‘adverts’ for fake sunglasses, casinos, ivermectin 1 and goodness-only-knows-what (in Russian) later, this is the last post of the 2022.

Assuming this appears before midnight on the 30th I’ll have 2 managed to meet my self-imposed deadline of posting every Friday afternoon this year. This is my annual review of what happened on the website during the year, which were the most popular posts, where did visitors come from or go to etc.

Warmer days

Overall, the ~510 posts on the site were read ~20,000 more times than last year. This is a fractional increase over last year, despite the fact that readers increased by ~7.5%. I assume this might be due to the articles being longer (and therefore more self-contained 3 ), though there may be other reasons to do with changes I’ve made to the server that runs the site (and the accuracy with which I count ‘real’ visitors).

The first posts on The Apiarist – on Paynes poly nucs and clearer boards – were made in 2013, so this year marks the end of a decade of writing.

During the last year, what have visitors been reading?

Top of the Posts

Like all the best award ceremonies 4 I’ll go through the top 10 in reverse order.

The following posts, together with generic ‘landing’ pages like and account for about one third of all the posts read during the year. With the exception of the two indicated, all were published before 2022.

10 – Swarm prevention

Why colonies swarm and the mechanics of swarming … and some suggestions on how swarming can be delayed or prevented. The fact that the majority of more popular posts were on swarm control suggests this article might need rewriting 🙁 .

9 – Queen cells … quantity and quality

How many ’charged’ queen cells should you leave in a colony when applying swarm control – or after a colony has swarmed – to prevent the loss of (further) swarms. The answer, as you well know, is one.

8 – The nucleus method

My favoured swarm control method. Performed properly – which isn’t difficult – it is 100% effective in preventing swarming and uses a minimum of additional equipment. For the last 2-3 years this is the only method of swarm control I’ve used, and it has been totally successful. I don’t know why associations continue to promote Pagden’s artificial swarm when this approach is easier to both understand and apply … and uses less boxes.

7 – Pagden’s artificial swarm

As taught in many beekeeping associations. Usually accompanied with a Tommy Cooper-like commentary resembling the ’glass, bottle, bottle, glass’ sketch (YouTube) … but with less laughter (or applause). Interestingly, Pagden started as a skeppist and the original protocol he developed was for use after a colony had swarmed 5.

6 – Vertical splits and making increase

An alternative swarm control method that – like the nucleus method above – uses relatively little additional equipment. It can result in more lifting and the stack of boxes can be rather cumbersome and/or heavy. Very useful in an overcrowded apiary or if you plan to merge the colony back together and not make increase though 😉 .

5 – The ultimate hive stand? (2022)

I usually try and avoid the clickbait-type titles for posts … you know sort of thing; ’Beekeepers warned to avoid this common procedure’ or ’Make £50,000 a year from your bees’. Or the instantly memorable, but non-beekeeping You’re a single celled organism. Can you evolve into a duck? You’ll also not find posts on ’The 10 best hive tools’, or similar. I don’t own 10 different sorts of hive tools so am not qualified to make the comparison. However, I made an exception and included the superlative ultimate in this title, resulting in thousands of views since July (and a huge increase in advertising revenue 6 ). It’s also a pretty good hive stand.

4 – Demaree swarm control

Another eponymous swarm control method that is more popular with readers than it is with me. I prefer not to have drone brood emerging above a queen excluder and find it less reliable than the nucleus method (above). It’s also more difficult to manage midseason mite management (during a Demaree) should it be needed. Like the Pagden method, the current implementation differs from the original description by G.W. Demaree.

3 – Winter covers and colony survival (2022)

A surprise third place (to me at least) … and one that generated a lot of comments. Although the paper the post was based on left more unanswered questions than PMQ’s it was clearly of widespread interest and something I’ll return to in the future.

2 – Mad honey

I now live on the remote west coast of Scotland surrounded by rhododendron-infested oak and birch woodlands. The native bumble bees forage on the rhodos with abandon, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a honey bee on them. Which, considering the paresthesia-inducing grayanotoxin the nectar contains, is perhaps fortunate. However, a ’stoned’ Turkish bear cub 7 in mid-August triggered a tsunami of visits to this post, coupled with offers of – and requests for – honey.

1 – Queen cells … don’t panic

And the winner is … an article on what to do when you find queen cells during a routine colony inspection, including specific instructions on not panicking. This was also the most read post in 2020 and ’21. 50% of all visits to this site come from search engines (Google, Bing etc.), the majority of which ‘hide’ the search terms entered … I like to think many of the visits to this page come from a search for ’Aargh! Queen cells, I’m panicking!’

What does this ‘top ten’ tell me?

Seven of the top ten posts are about swarming, its prevention or control. This is not because the majority of the posts on this site are about swarm prevention or control. Instead I think that this is an aspect of beekeeping that many people – I assume particularly beginners – struggle with.

However, whilst swarming might result in the loss of a swarm 8, it rarely results in the loss of the complete colony.

It feels like a disaster, but isn’t.

Drone comb built under a super frame in a brood box

In contrast, poor management of Varroa will regularly result in the loss of the colony, but it’s not until the 14th most popular post this year that the first post on mite control appears.

I suspect this reflects a couple of things:

  • swarm control is needed during the summer months (May – July) when readership of this site is the highest. There are about 2-3 times the number of readers in June as December.
  • there’s something more ‘immediate’ about the need for swarm control, whereas many beekeepers think that miticide treatments – as long as they’re applied sometime – are less time-sensitive. I’m not at all convinced that this is correct; swarm control is clearly time-sensitive, but I’d argue that winter mite treatment with oxalic acid can be almost as time-critical.

And – since you asked – the least popular post was a 2017 article on the need (or otherwise) for midsummer colony inspections which attracted an underwhelming total of just 9 viewers 🙁 .

I think all this really tells me is that the search facility is used rather infrequently … and the indexing is not as good as it could be.

Where from and where to?

About 50% of readers reach the site from Google searches which account for ~90% of all the search engine traffic that leads here. I’ve stopped bothering looking through the search terms (other than for this annual post) as they’re generally a combination of obvious beekeeping terms (swarm, queenright, Varroa) and glaring typos (swam, denaree, fundationless).

However, now and again there are searches that could make for entertaining future posts:

  • how to calculate items in a jar 9
  • what colour are queen cells 10
  • コンタクトキラー 柔術 11
  • little drama 12
  • have flour water honey salt what can i make 13
  • profit per hive beekeeping 14

Readers leave the site via the outgoing links I embed in the posts. Of these, links to the equipment supplier E.H. Thorne’s were the most commonly clicked (perhaps I should ask for a lucrative sponsorship deal? 15 ), with Wikipedia a close second. I’m a big fan of Wikipedia, particularly for recent cultural references, and donate to support it.

Hives and a nuc

Thorne’s and Wikipedia were followed by the Welsh BKA (for articles by Wally Shaw), the National Bee Unit and Dave Cushman’s website (now maintained by Roger Patterson), though these three lagged well behind the first two.

Behind the scenes

The site is self-hosted on a virtual machine in the cloud.

I’ve no idea what that means either 😉 .

Not this sort of cloud (at least, I don’t think so)

However I do know that it involves a reasonable amount of maintenance to ensure the site is secure, that the firewall lets bona fide visitors in whilst excluding ‘script kiddies’ and the majority of bots, and that software is kept updated to minimise vulnerabilities.

All this takes more time that I would like and, because of my limited abilities, a lot more time than it should.

However, it also gives me a bit more control over things. After a major site upgrade in September I now want to introduce a few more changes over the next few months.


The commenting system is, frankly, a bit primitive. It’s the one that comes packaged with the software that runs the site, but it lacks certain features I think would be beneficial. I’ve tested a number of alternatives and hope to switch to another system soon. It should make comment approvals (for me) easier and will facilitate better threaded comments, and ‘upvoting’ helpful comments. For the terminally shy it should also allow anonymous commenting, with certain provisos.

I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to comment on posts this season. These help clarify errors I’ve made, or suggest alternative interpretations or conclusions.

Social media

New posts to this site appear on Friday afternoons (at the moment … goodness knows what’ll happen in the future). They are automagically announced on Facebook and Twitter.

Social media

Or were … 🙁 .

This ‘free’ feature of the software that runs the site will very soon become a ‘premium’ feature for which they’ll try and charge me over £100 a year extra. It’s this sort of ‘feature creep’ (the wrong term, but I can’t think of the right one at the moment 16 ) that takes either time or money to fix.

I don’t have much of either.

Of the two, Facebook generates a bit more traffic. However, I’m not a Facebook user and I find it an abomination to use interactively. Therefore … if you rely on Facebook for new post announcements then please consider signing up for email announcements instead. The Facebook linking may well disappear altogether.

You might have noticed that Twitter is a little chaotic these days. Adverts and hate speech are increasing on a daily basis and it’s becoming a much less pleasant environment. I barely use it, and I get the impression that others are using it less. Follower numbers are all over the place and it’s less ‘fun’.

At the current rate Twitter may well go bankrupt before I decide to stop posting new post announcements there. In the meantime, those of you who have switched to Mastodon can find me at I will endeavour to make new post announcements to Mastadon and Instagram (the latter is a relatively new account, but is altogether better than either Facebook – who own it – or Twitter).


There isn’t one.

But I would like to replace the current email system (and possibly some of the social media stuff listed above) with an emailed newsletter. If so it will be ‘opt in’ and you’ll need to sign up separately for it.

Watch this space.


The ~160,000 words of beekeeping wisdom verbiage this year were generally written late at night, aided by an unhealthily large – but nevertheless deliciously invigorating – number of cappuccino’s and flat white’s. I think the latest I stopped was 3:15 am, a time unreachable without copious quantities of coffee.

I’m therefore very grateful to supporters who ’Bought me a coffee’ in 2022, and particularly grateful to those of you who are repeat supporters.


This support not only stops me slumping semi-conscious over the keyboard in the wee hours of the morning, snoring stentorianly, but also helps offset the costs of the server and the associated software needed to run the site 17.

Thank you 🙂 .

Even Buy Me a Coffee has suffered from ‘feature creep’ in 2022 and stopped taking Paypal payments. I know this caused some supporters a problem. If you’d like to support The Apiarist but want to use Paypal you can now do so via Ko-fi 18.

Praise and abuse

Someone presumably not on the supporters list is ‘RG’ 19 who posted a comment on April 1st:

Who are you??? What is your connection to the bee world.? Are you a credible writer and have the expertise to make statements about bees and bee able to back it up? Are you an expert bee person? Where do you get the information you post?

I receive a lot of similar sounding generic comments which usually contain links to other websites i.e. adverts of one form or another. I therefore assumed it was one of these or an ‘April Fool’, albeit not a particularly good one, and banned RG.

However, I also did a little research and discovered a beefarmer of the same (unusual) name in Iowa. I’ve no idea if it was one and the same person. Whether he was or wasn’t, he ensured the ban was permanent by sending me an even less polite follow-up email.

Fortunately, the majority of the communications I receive – in comments on individual posts, direct emails or accompanying coffee contributions – are very much more supportive and appreciative.

Thank you again for this support. It goes a long way to offsetting the few negative comments from RG and the like.

The Apiarist is retiring

Actually, The Apiarist has retired.

I always thought that 32 was too early to retire 20, but it’s going great so far 🙂 .

Whilst I still have bees on the east coast of Scotland, that’s unlikely to continue much beyond the start of the 2024 beekeeping season. I now live permanently on the remote west coast and have other plans and priorities.

These other plans and priorities (obviously) include a significant amount of beekeeping. However, not exclusively … assuming the weather is better than the shocker we had this year I’ll be doing more walking, cycling, sailing, canoeing, birdwatching, photography and (a lot more) lounging around looking at the view.

Laptop, binoculars, coffee … my summer ‘office’

I’ll also be doing more writing, though not more here.

Three thousand word posts are probably too long for the majority of readers. The average this year is about 3,100 words. The tens of thousands who read Queen cells … don’t panic – a mere 1500 words long – were probably looking for a quick answer.

I’ve found X … what must I do next?

They don’t have time to learn about why they’ve found X, what the colony was doing before X appeared, or what it would normally do next with X.

Despite the fact that knowing these things would almost certainly help them know exactly what to do when X appeared 😉 .

Conversely, 3,000 words is too few to do the really big and important topics in beekeeping justice.

Environmental competition, climate change, neonicotinoids, fake honey, treatment-free strategies and lots of the science would benefit from more in-depth coverage. Even some of the more ‘anecdoty’ (that isn’t a word, but should be … OED tells me that anecdotal would be better) posts would benefit from more space.

I’m looking at alternatives.

Coming next

If there are topics I’ve not covered, but should, then email me with suggestions. I’ve written almost 800,000 words on beekeeping since 2013 so do a quick search first to check it’s not already been covered.

I’m not keen to simply rehash stuff that’s already written. There are only so many ways that you can describe Pagden’s artificial swarm and it gets boring just shuffling the words into a slightly different order.

However, remember that I’ll only cover topics I feel qualified (and competent) to write about, so you won’t find much here about candlemaking or mead. I’ve done both, and although I might be qualified I’m a long way from competent.

But … I can’t promise I’ll write a post on any particular topic … at all, or any time soon 21. I need to know something about the topic and be interested in it. Both of these (particularly the first) are major limitations.

Much of the reward of writing these posts is furthering my own knowledge of the honey bee and beekeeping topics that fascinate me. That’s why I’ve written several posts recently on larval selection for queen rearing; it’s clear that the ways the bees do it and the way beekeepers do it are fundamentally different.

Is this relevant to beekeeping and queen rearing?

Possibly … I don’t yet know enough.

A new beekeeping year

I’m writing this is the dying days of 2022, a year which will be notable (in the UK) for political chaos 22, the end of Covid 23 and climate change; we started with storms Eunice, Dudley and Franklin and ended it being the warmest year on record 24.

As I discuss in my talk on Planning for the season ahead, at a first approximation it’s reasonable to expect that next year will be much the same as this year, or the average of the last few years, at least when considering the weather.

You’ve therefore got a pretty good idea what to expect and when to expect it.

Now is the time to start making your preparations … and perhaps your resolutions for the season ahead.

Whatever 2023 brings, may your supers be heavy, your queens fecund, your bees well-tempered and your swarms … from someone else 😉

Happy New Year


And then there was calm

Synopsis : The rush and bustle of the first half of the season is over and things are calming down. Time to reflect on some aspects of the season so far, and the importance of keeping good hive records.


Over the past few seasons I’ve noticed that there is an inflexion point in the beekeeping season. It usually occurs a bit after the summer solstice, though the precise timing is variable. This is the time when I realise I’m no longer ’just keeping up’ (or sometimes ‘not keeping up’), but am instead finally ’in control’.

Perhaps those aren’t the correct terms?

It’s the point at which my beekeeping undergoes a significant change, from being ’reactive’ to something a whole lot more relaxing.

Late June and – both amazingly and reassuringly – I know what’s happening in those boxes

The variable timing of course reflects the behaviour of colonies in the preceding weeks; the early spring build up (Is it fast enough?), the – often startlingly rapid – mid-spring expansion and consequent swarm preparations, swarm control, queen mating (Has she? Hasn’t she?), the spring honey harvest and the need for additional feeding during the June gap.

All of which of course depends upon the weather and forage availability, explaining the variable timing.

And then, almost like a switch has been flicked – and with very little fanfare – the apiary feels a lot calmer.

There are no unexpected swarms hanging pendulously in nearby bushes, no real surprises when I open the hives, and no ’catch me if you can’ virgin queens scuttling about.

Instead, the bees are just getting on doing exactly what they should be doing and – significantly in terms of my reactive vs. passive beekeeping – exactly what I expect them to be doing.

It’s all downhill from here

As I left one of my Fife apiaries on Tuesday evening I realised that we’ve just passed the inflexion point this season.

All the colonies were doing pretty well. Laying queens were laying well, though not as fast as a month ago, foragers were starting to return with increasing amounts of summer nectar 1 and supers were beginning to fill.

Of course, not every hive is at exactly the same stage. A few are queenless, or contain unmated virgins. However, even these hives are behaving largely as expected.

Whilst it’s a bittersweet moment, it’s also reassuring to feel on top of things.

Bittersweet because it means the bulk of the beekeeping’ in my ‘beekeeping season’ is over.

Hive inspection frequency reduces from once a week to once a fortnight or even every three weeks. After all, the colonies are queenright, the new queen is laying well and they’ve got space for brood and stores … what could possibly go wrong?

A few things … but they’re much less likely to go wrong in the second half of the season to the first.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that there’s not still work to do.

The summer honey harvest will be busy, or at least I hope it will. It’s just starting to pick up, with the blackberry and (often not very dependable) lime.


That’s followed by the season’s most important activity – the preparation for winter and Varroa treatment. Without these I might not be a beekeeper next year.

However, none of these ‘second half’ functions are likely to produce any unwanted surprises – it should all be plain sailing.

The enjoyment of uncertainty

My move from the east coast to the west coast of Scotland has resulted in new challenges – more changeable weather, different forage availability – and I’ve still got a lot to learn here.

In contrast, despite the inevitable season-to-season variability, I feel reasonably confident with my east coast bees (I still have bees on both sides of the country). Only ‘reasonably’ because they can still produce the odd surprise.

However, with every additional year of beekeeping, I’m much less likely to be faced with a ”What the heck is this hive doing?” situation between now and late September than from April to June.

Nothing to see here … an old play cup in a queenright colony

The challenges are one of the things I really enjoy about beekeeping. It keeps me on my toes. Identifying the problems and (hopefully) solving them improves my beekeeping.

Even not solving them – and there have been plenty of those over the years – means I learn what not to do next time.

For some situations I’ve got a long mental list of what not to do … though little idea of what I should do.

No worries … perhaps I’ll learn next year 🙂 .

Weather dependence and queen mating

Three weeks ago I mentioned one of my queen rearing colonies had torn down all the developing queen cells, probably in response to the emergence of a virgin queen below the queen excluder. The box was set up with a Morris board, so was rendered queenless while starting the queen cells, and then queenright when finishing them.

One of the things this experience reinforced was the importance of continuing inspections on a queenright cell rearing colony.

Just because things all look OK above the queen excluder 2 doesn’t mean that it’s not all going Pete Tong in the brood box.

My records showed that I had checked the brood box on the 18th of May when I set up the Morris board. Grafts were added on the 25th and were capped on the 30th.

By the 1st of June they’d all been torn down 🙁 .

On finally checking the bottom box early on the 4th of June I found a virgin queen scurrying around.

Mea culpa.

The original queen had been clipped. The colony had presumably attempted to swarm around the time the virgin emerged – or perhaps a little earlier – and resulted in the loss of the clipped queen 3.

June rainfall, Ardnamurchan 2022

And then, as we segued into the second week of June, the weather took a turn for the worse.


I watched for pollen being collected by foragers on flying days. It’s often taken as a sign that the hive is queenright. However, good flying days have been few and far between. I’d also been away quite a bit and there’s not a huge amount of pollen about at this point in the season.

However, is it a way to discriminate between queenright and queenless colonies?

I’ve watched known queenless colonies that are still collecting pollen, though perhaps at a lower rate than one with a mated, laying queen.

Do you remember the recent discussion about queenless colonies ’Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.’ and preferentially drawing drone comb? Those drones will still need a protein-rich diet, so the colony – if it is to have has any chance of passing its genes on – will probably still collect pollen to feed the developing drones.

This particular colony was collecting pollen and was well behaved when I had a brief look on the 10th of June. My notes stated: ’Behaving queenright, but no eggs 🙁 .

On the 22nd of June, the next time the weather and my availability allowed a check, my notes were fractionally more upbeat: ‘No sign of Q or eggs, but no sign of laying workers either (let’s look on the bright side)’.

And then – on my next check – the 29th, there was a small patch of eggs, perhaps 2-3 inches in diameter 🙂 .

My notes this time were a bit shorter: ’Hu-bloody-rrah!’.

I also did some back-of-an envelope calculations which indicated that the egg used to rear the queen was probably laid on the 16th of May, and she was known to be laying 44 days later.

Flying days and mating days

I usually reckon – based upon published literature and accounts from much more experienced beekeepers – that a queen must mate within 4 weeks of emergence 4.

It looks like this one just met that deadline.

June temperatures, Ardnamurchan 2022

We had good weather in the first few days of June, but the middle fortnight was cold and/or wet, with the temperature rarely exceeding 14°C.

Assuming the queen emerged on the last day of May she probably probably went on her orientation flights in the good weather at the beginning of June.

As an aside, I’m not sure of the weather-dependence for queen orientation flights. For workers – based upon hive entrance activity – it’s pretty clear that they preferentially go on these flights on warmer days. However, if queens restricted themselves to good weather – particularly in more northerly climates – they might limit their chances of making successful mating flights. Perhaps queens go on orientation flights even if the weather is sub-optimal, so that they’re ready 5 when there’s a suitable ‘weather window’ for mating flights?

Anyway, back to this queen … I doubt she went on her mating flights in early June because there were no eggs in the colony when I checked on the 10th or the 22nd. My eyesight isn’t perfect, but I looked very carefully. There were definitely ‘polished cells’, but no eggs.

The temperature reached a balmy 19.4°C on the 24th of June (a day with only 7mm of rain!) and she was laying a few days later.

Being able to relate queen age with the weather helps determine whether she may have missed her chance to mate successfully. This is important in terms of the development of laying workers, or the colony management to avoid this.

The extremes of the season

For those readers living in areas where the weather is a lot more dependable this might not be something you ever think about.

Queens just get mated.

No pacing backwards and forwards in the apiary like an expectant father 6 waiting for the good news.

Lucky you.

But, there are times when this weather dependence might be relevant. Early or late in the season it’s likely that the weather will be wetter, windier and cooler. At those times you also need to think about the availability of sufficient (and sufficient quality – they decline later in the season) drones for queen mating.

Queen rearing – or queen replacement of a colony that goes queenless – might be successful, but is it likely to be dependably successful?

On the west cost of Scotland this enforces a ‘little and often’ regime to my queen rearing. Rather than using lots of resources to produce a dozen or two at a time I do them in small batches. Some batches fail – grafts don’t ‘take’, colonies abandon cells, queens fail to get mated – but others succeed.

Little and often – mini nucs (some balanced on an unoccupied – and now unneeded – bait hive)

I’ve got a batch of mini-nucs out in the garden now, and will probably try one or two more batches before the season draws to a close.

Our most dependable (and these things are all relative 🙂 ) pollen and nectar is the heather which is still a fortnight or so away. If that coincides with good weather then there’s a good chance for some late season queen rearing.

Global warming

But don’t forget global warming. This affects all beekeepers whether living in the balmy south or the frozen north. Global warming, and more specifically climate change, is leading to more weather extremes.

Extreme weather is becoming more frequent

Warmer, wetter and windier is the likely forecast. The first of these might help your queen mating, but torrential rain or gale force winds will not.

And that’s before you consider the impact on the forage your bees rely upon … which I’ll deal with another time.

More misbehaving queens

The conditions for queen rearing on the east coast of Scotland are far more dependable. I’ve been busily requeening colonies, making up nucs and clipping and marking mated queens for the last couple of months.

Most of this has all been very straightforward. All of it forms part of the ’reactive’ part of the season I referred to above.

If a colony makes swarm preparation I make up a nuc with the old queen and leave the queenless colony for a week. I then destroy all the emergency queen cells and add a mature queen cell or a frame of eggs/larvae – in either case derived from a colony with better genetics.

In due course the new queen emerges, gets mated and starts laying. I then mark and clip her.

This time last year I discussed a queen that fainted when I picked her up to clip her. That queen recovered, I clipped and marked her the following week without incident and she is still going strong.

Although I’d never seen it before, It turned out that several readers had experienced the same thing, so it’s clearly not that rare an event.

Pining for the fjords? 7

One of my good colonies – #38 in the bee shed – started to make swarm preparations in the third week of May. I removed the old queen to a nuc, left the colony for a further week and then reduced the queen cells, leaving just one which subsequently emerged on the 2nd of June (I also ‘donated’ one spare queen cell to a neighbouring hive that was also making swarm preparations).

Colony #38 wasn’t checked again until the 20th 8 when I found a good looking mated, laying queen.

I gently picked her up by the wings.

She didn’t feint 🙂 .

She died 🙁 .

That is an ex-queen

At least, I’m pretty sure she died.

She curled up into a foetal position and showed no movement for 15 minutes. There might have been a slight twitching of an antenna, but the regular expansion and contraction of the abdomen during breathing was not visible. I wasn’t even certain her antennae moved.

I had other hives to inspect so I popped her into a JzBz queen cage and left her with the colony whilst I got on with things.

When I returned – an hour or so later – she was still looking like an ex-queen.

I had little choice but to leave her lying on a piece of paper underneath the queen excluder 9. She was quickly surrounded by a group of workers.

Mourning or moving?

I closed the hive up, crossed my fingers 10 and went off to another apiary.

Like mother, like daughter

The following week the colony was indisputably queenless.

Their behaviour was less good and – a much more definite sign – they had produced a number of emergency queen cells from eggs the queen had laid. I knocked all the queen cells back and united colony #38 with another hive.

Uniting colony #38 with another after the queen ‘popped her clogs’

One week later they were successfully united.

Only later, when comparing my notes with last season, did I realise that the queen that died was a daughter of the queen that fainted last year. I wonder whether the ‘dropping dead’ is just a more extreme version of the fainting I had previously observed?

This implies it might be an inherited characteristic (as at least one of the comments to the fainting post last year suggested).

For clarity I should add that I’m certain that I didn’t directly harm the queen when I picked her up. She was walking around very calmly on the frame. I waited until she was walking towards me, bending at the ‘waist’ (either to inspect a cell, or crossing a defect in the comb) so pushing her wings away from the abdomen. I held her gently by both wings and immediately dropped her into my twist and mark cage.

No fumbling, no squeezing, no messing.

I’ve done this a lot and it was a ‘textbook example’.

Except she never moved again 🙁 .

And like sister?

If, as seems possible, this is an inherited characteristic it will be interesting to see whether the neighbouring colony I donated the spare queen cell (from colony #38) to also shows the same undesirable phenotype 11.

Not so much ‘playing dead’ and ‘being dead’ when handled.

The original fainting queen is currently heading a full colony in another apiary. I’ve had no cause to handle her since last June. She didn’t faint the second time I picked her up (for marking) but I might see how she reacts next time I’m in the apiary.

If she faints again, and particularly if the sister queen reared this season faints (or worse 🙁 ), I’ll simply unite the colony with another.

Firstly, it will be getting a bit late in the season for dependable queen mating and, secondly, it’s clearly an inherited genetic trait that I do not want to deal with in the future.

It doesn’t really matter how gentle, productive or prolific the bees are if the queen cannot cope with being (gently but routinely) handled. It doesn’t happen often, but the risk of ending up with a corpse when I manhandle her into a Cupkit cage, or have to repeat the marking, makes some aspects of beekeeping impractical.

Nicot Cupkit queen rearing system

But look on the bright side … it will be a very easy phenotype to detect and select against 😉 .

Hive records

If there is a take home message from these two anecdotes it’s that good hive records are both useful and important. They help with planning the season ahead and avoiding real problem areas of colony management.

I use a (now propolis encrusted) digital voice recorder (and spreadsheet) when inspecting multiple hives

Far better to know that the queen is almost certainly too old to mate than continue to hope (in vain) that it’ll work out. If you are certain – within a day or two – of her emergence date you can intervene proactively (e.g. by uniting the colony, or supplementing it with open brood) to delay or prevent the inevitable development of laying workers.

By also watching the weather you can also work out when she should have been able to get out and mate.

Similarly, by keeping a pedigree (which sounds fancy, but needn’t be) of your queens, you can avoid selecting for undesirable traits. These fainting/dying queens might be unusual, but there are other behaviours that might also be avoidable.

The original queen in colony #38 might have been a ‘one off’, but if her daughters also behave similarly then I should avoid using them to rear more.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “To lose one fainting queen may be regarded as unfortunate, to lose two looks like carelessness poor record keeping”.


Scores on the doors

Conveniently, this final post of the year will be published on the final day of the year. This is an appropriate time to look back over the what’s happened here on The Apiarist … a sort of behind the scenes view of the posts that were popular, the posts that were unloved and the creative writing process that converts a title and a topic on a Tuesday to a perfectly honed essay garbled jumble of words on a Friday.

Precisely because the final post of the year appears on the last day of the year, any stats I mention below will exclude this post. Should 15,000 people read this post late on New Year’s Eve 1 then this page would also make it into the ‘Top of the Posts’ lists.

Hives in the snow

And, in between some of the numbers and comments below there’s likely to be a smattering of beekeeping advice or unanswered questions, just to keep you on your toes.

So … without further ado.

Read all about it

Page views, visitor numbers, those registered for email notifications etc. are all higher this year than last, by ~30%.

Going up … page views and visitor numbers graph since time began

New posts appear on Friday afternoon around 3 pm 2 and tend to get the most views on Friday evening and over the weekend, tailing off through the remainder of the week.

Some posts are then rarely read again. Others go from strength to strength, attracting readers in successive months and years. This longevity depends upon a combination of subject matter and ‘fit’ with current search engine algorithms.

Regular as clockwork

Inevitably, the popular posts are often those on ‘how to’ subjects. Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering this is a beekeeping site, the top posts of the year were all on either swarm control or Varroa management.

Top of the posts

These were the most read posts of the year. Tellingly, only the one in bold first appeared this year:

  1. Queen cells … don’t panic! – a title designed to attract the beginner who, having discovered their first queen cells, is now busy panicking.
  2. The nucleus method – my favoured method of swarm control. Almost idiot proof, this explains why it’s my favoured method of swarm control.
  3. Demaree swarm control – a little bit of history and another swarm control method. What’s not to like?
  4. When to treat – a post that first appeared almost 5 years ago. Most of the relevant information is now included in other posts, or summarised in the more recent – and therefore recommended – Rational Varroa control.
  5. Vertical splits and making increase – another ageing post that, by combining swarm control, making increase, requeening and running out of equipment, has something for everyone. I think this could do with updating and deconvoluting.
  6. Swarm control and elusive queens – a useful method for those who struggle to find queens. More important still is that, for beginners, if they understand WHY it works then they’re well on their way to becoming a beekeeper.
  7. Honey pricing – higher, higher! There’s loads of cheap ‘honey’ flooding the market. You are not competing with it. You have a premium product. Do NOT sell your honey cheaply.
  8. Swarm prevention – something that should have been read before items 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 in this list … but possibly wasn’t considering it was read fewer times 🙁 3
  9. Pagden’s artificial swarm – the most popular method used by beekeeping associations to completely confuse beginners (see the nucleus method above for an alternative).
  10. Oxalic acid (Api Bioxal) preparation – which is currently the most read post, proving conclusively to me that many more beekeepers need to read Rational Varroa control because many colonies will now be rearing brood (see the photo below).

Together, these 10 posts counted for about 20% of the total traffic this year. The remainder were smeared over the other 448 posts that have appeared since early 2013. 

Biscuit-coloured crumbs on the Varroa tray = brood rearing. 23rd December 2021, Ardnamurchan, Scotland

If you’ve got some spare time, show some love for Seasonal changes which only received a single visitor this year. The late September 2016 post contains a nice picture of an orchid and a bottle of honey beer.

Search and ye shall find

The majority of visitors arrive either in response to the weekly emails announcing new posts 4 or from search engine searches. The latter are nominally a valuable resource, so are not disclosed to those of us who actually write the stuff in the first place (unless we pay Google).

However, the 0.5% of searches that come from other search engines turn up a few interesting terms (my selection from hundreds, and in no particular order):

  • cbpv winter – not usually associated together as this is a virus (chronic bee paralysis virus) that usually damages very strong, crowded hives in the middle of the season.
  • diy Kenyan beehive – not something I’ve ever discussed 5 or know anything about 6.
  • how much income from beekeeping – just a bit less than not enough, but fractionally more than SFA.
  • pointers to successful queen introduction (2006) bickerstaffes honey – a really rather specific search. I wonder whether this site was any help?
  • bee hive in old norse – see ‘diy Kenyan beehives’ above, the same sentiments apply.
  • Как сделать станок для натягивания проволоки на рамки для ульев чертежи – that’s easy … you need one of these.
  • maldives beekeeper – I have one photo on the site from the Maldives which I suspect resulted in this ‘hit’. I hope the reader wasn’t disappointed 7.
  • does a virus make bees angry – actually not such a daft question. There’s a Japanese strain of Deformed wing virus called Kakugo which is supposed to cause aggression. Kakugo means readiness or preparedness.

And, of crsuoe, there wree hrdudens of saehrces wtih snlpileg errors. Mabye smoe brepkeeees olny serach for initofrmaon atfer benig stnug rltedepaey on tiehr fenirgs? 8

Some of the spelling errors were so gross that the resulting word was barely recognisable.

There were also about 8 different spellings for ‘apiarist’ … not bad for an 8 letter word 😉


Fifty two posts have appeared in 2021, each averaging 2,675 words. This is an increase of about 8% over the 2020 figures 9. In total, excluding the ~1200 comments, that’s about 139,000 words.

Tolstoy’s War and Peace … more words, more characters, less bees

For comparison, this is a bit under 25% the length of War and Peace.


Talking the talk

As well as writing too much (it has been said that) I talk too much. During 2021 I’ve given 25 talks to beekeeping associations stretching from Cornwall to Inverness 10. Audiences have ranged from about 15 to 350 and I’m very grateful to all the BKA’s who hosted me and coordinated the Q&A sessions.

Particular thanks to the associations that managed to send me the Zoom link for my presentation before the talk was supposed to start 😉 .

Although the talks were all ‘virtual’ it was good to see some old friends and to make new contacts.

Spam, spam, spam

Of the ~1200 comments I mentioned above, many are from me. I try to respond to every comment, irrespective of whether they are corrections (for which many thanks), additional insights (thanks again) or further questions 11.

Running a website, even a relatively low traffic one such as this, means you receive a lot of spam. ‘A lot’ means usually between 200 and 800 comments or emails a day. To avoid the comments section getting tainted with adverts for fake sunglasses or dodgy prescription drugs 12 I manually ‘approve’ every comment that appears.


This isn’t as onerous as it sounds. I run spam filters that trap the vast majority of the unwanted spam.

This filtering is not 100% accurate … if you previously posted a comment and it never appeared then it may have fallen foul of these filters. Next time avoid mentioning that you were wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses when you inspected the colony 😉

It’s a rather sad indictment of the internet that I sometimes receive the same amount of spam in one day as I receive in valid comments in one year 🙁

You’ve got mail

The comments and questions – whether to posts or talks – are often very interesting. After all, I may have delivered the same talk three times in the last month, but the questions will always be different. I’ve touched on this previously in Questions & Answers.

Some questions are direct, relevant and on-topic. These are usually easy to understand and answer, though they may not be easy to answer correctly.

But there two other types of question:

  • Rambling, incoherent and vague … almost always lacking some essential information, like location. These often start with a detailed description of the last three colony inspections and end with something about Nosema or polycarbonate crownboards. There may not even be a question mark …
  • Direct – verging on blunt – and totally off-topic. It’s not unusual to prepare 2,500 carefully crafted 13 words on rational Varroa control to then receive the question ”What is the recipe for thick syrup?”.

In addition to comments/questions to posts and talks I receive a lot of email. If you emailed me this year and I failed to answer promptly then it’s probably because there were 50 other unanswered emails I’d yet to wade through.

With the volume becoming unmanageable I’ve started ignoring the very terse emails requesting a quick response (because the sender is ‘busy’ and wants the answer before they leave for the apiary/office/school run/anger management class) like “What is the recipe for thick syrup”.

The few who send adverts for their quack solutions to Varroa (often vaguely disguised as informed questions) or abuse – you’d be surprised, I was – are both ignored and blocked.

Life is too short …

New topics and old chestnuts

Beekeeping is a fantastically diverse activity 14. From the single hive owner to huge commercial operations, from the hive-monitoring techno-geeks to the leave-alone organic types, from honey to venom … there really is something for everyone.

It’s therefore no surprise that there is never a shortage of topics to cover. This is particularly true when you also include some of the wonderful 15 science of honey bees.

Web of Science publications on “honey bees” since 1997

I’ve covered some beekeeping topics exhaustively and get little satisfaction from re-writing the same thing differently 16. However, these are the topics that often attract the most readers – presumably many of whom are new beekeepers.

I’m not too fussed about the reader numbers, but if I’m going to go to the trouble of writing something I do want it to be read 17.

I’m currently wondering about how to achieve a balance between what might be considered the ‘basics’ and some of the more advanced – and to me (after a lot of beekeeping) much more interesting – topics.

And I’m always happy to consider new topics if you think I’ve missed something 18.

The writing process

I usually accumulate ideas on long car journeys, while walking in the hills, out on the loch or during interminable meetings. They might start as little more than a title and a reference, or a sentence of text.

Seeking inspiration for new articles for The Apiarist

I rarely have anything actually written by the weekend before the post appears, though I will usually have decided on the topic.

This post is being written on a Tuesday, but late – often very late – on a Thursday is more typical.

Two to four hours is usually sufficient for most posts, though additional time is needed if there are custom figures or graphs.

It’s very useful to then leave the draft for a few hours after ‘finishing’ it.

I usually abandon the keyboard by 2 am on Friday and look again first thing the following morning. Typos are caught, my awful punctuation is largely fixed and some of the more garbled sentences are rewritten in English 19.

And then I press ‘Submit’.

Flat white, cappuccino, ristretto, latte macchiato and affogato

And all of those activities – the thinking, the writing and the proof-reading – are fuelled by a delicious and fulfilling combination of strong coffee and pizza.

I’d therefore like to again thank the supporters who have ‘Bought Me a Coffee’ during 2021. In particular I’d like to acknowledge the repeat supporters. In addition to facilitating my nocturnal writing marathons, this support has also enabled moving the site to a more powerful (and properly backed up and appreciably more expensive) server.

Thank you

The future

I’m looking forward to the year ahead for many reasons. I expect 20 to have a lot more time for my bees and beekeeping. In the meantime, I’ll probably write about some of my immediate plans in the next week or two.

Winter-flowering gorse, December 2021

The size and complexity of this website – hundreds of posts and thousands of images – is starting to make it both difficult and time-consuming to maintain. It’s a dynamic site, the pages being generated on the fly when your web browser requests them. There’s a significant performance cost to retaining these dynamic features, and the underlying software is bloated and a target for hackers.

I’m therefore considering alternatives that make my life a little easier and your browsing experience a little faster. One way to achieve this is to use what is termed a static site. Anyone who has looked up details of my online talks (which has ~16 images and ~2500 words, so broadly comparable to a Friday post) will have used one of these. This technology is becoming increasingly common for blogs. I still need to resolve how to retain the comments/discussion features.

I’m also keen to explore some more expansive topics.

Even ~2500 (or more) words is insufficient to do some subjects justice; the impact of honey bees/beekeeping on solitary bees and other pollinators, neonicotinoids, fake honey, the prospects for Varroa-resistant bees, more advanced methods of queen rearing etc.

Real honey … not the product of unspecified EU and non-EU countries

How do I tackle these?

Should I write less and not explore the subject fully?

Write in instalments?

Or just not bother?

What do you think?

And while you ponder that and some of the other points raised above I’m going to enjoy the last few hours of 2021 and close by wishing all readers of, and contributors to, this site the Very Best for 2022.

May your supers be heavy, your queens fecund, your bees well-tempered and your swarms … from someone else 😉

Happy New Year


The phrase [the] Scores on the doors originated from the panel show The Generation Game hosted by Larry Grayson between 1978 and 1982. However, it was subsequently appropriated to indicate the public display of food hygiene ratings.

If you arrived here from @Twitter then you might be wondering what omphaloskepsis is. It means navel-gazing as an aid to meditation. Readers with a classical education will recognise its derivation from the Ancient Greek for navel and contemplation. Scrabble players will be disappointed it doesn’t contain more high scoring consonants.