spacer_lge.gif (821 bytes)

Northern Lights

The Newsletter of the North Devon Branch of the British Beekeepers Association

APRIL 2005

IMPORTANT NOTICE !! Would all members (& would be members) please note that subs should have been paid by the end of March. If you haven’t yet paid please can you do so immediately.
Vice) Chairman’s Letter:

I’d like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the active members of North Devon Branch who have made this one of the best branches in the country. With all this energy and enthusiasm on offer we will become the best.

As always we continue attending shows and other events where we put on eye catching displays; our regular talks are well attended and on a wide range of subjects - this year, courses on skep making and wax handling were rapidly filled and, with increasing public interest in beekeeping there are two courses on basic beekeeping. But that’s not all. Throughout the winter months, in spite of rain, sleet, snow and freezing conditions, fifteen to twenty people have unfailingly turned out at the apiary on Tuesdays to knock down the old shed, put up the new quartermasters store, clear ground, plant, lay slabs, tend bonfires, plumb in the loo from the rainwater tank and build new hive stands. Oh! And drink tea, eat cake and chat. What an amazing team.

Don’t forget there’s an apiary open day on Sunday 10th April which will give you the opportunity to see the transformation. Here, a special mention must be made of the new hive stands made by Kevin Stach. They are made of powder coated steel with integral stainless steel varroa floors, monitoring trays and mouse guards – innovative, practical and they look great.

The next big project is to convert one of the sheds into a honey extraction and bottling unit to a professional standard. This will be funded by The 100+ Club organised by Kevin Stach. The stake is only 12 per person per year and offers excellent odds for monthly cash prizes. Join up while places are still available.

Remember that this is all on top of the regular routine work carried out by the committee members, branch secretary, treasurer et al.

Hope to see you on 10th April. Prepare to be amazed!!
Chris Tozer (Beryl is away)

From the Apiary:

After all the recent hard work building, making improvements and generally maintaining the apiary we finally had a day warm and sunny enough to fully inspect the bees. We currently have 11 hives plus a nuc and most are doing well. There was plenty of sealed & unsealed brood & eggs and bees were bringing in yellowy pollen which we suspect may have been from the crocus. One or two hives didn’t seem to be as active and queens weren’t evident but the bees were easy to handle and well tempered so we are keeping our fingers crossed and will inspect again very soon to see if there has been any change. The bees that were relocated over the cold period to the new hive stands seem to have adapted to their new home without problem. And so starts the beekeeping year…
Tony Wright (Rashid is away)

News_4_2005_a.jpg (27396 bytes)
News_4_2005_b.jpg (27874 bytes)
Microscopy Course:News_4_2005_d.jpg (21712 bytes)

The Editor said we had a space which amounted to 120 words to report on the microscopy course run by Brian Marchant at the Hallsannery field centre, Bideford. Some hope!

We were shown how to set up both compound and high powered microscopes. We had bees to examine, dissect, and mount on slides looking for some of the easier to recognise bee diseases.

Session two was about Palynology. Brian explained how different flowers are pollinated, and by which creatures. We went on through all the stages of panning the pollens, staining, mounting and then examining them at magnifications up to x1000. We looked for pollens in honey until I broke the centrifuge!

Brian’s relaxed way of teaching makes the subject both exciting and interesting. "Go for it" - it’s great and cheap (which reminds me I still haven’t paid).

Tony Wright

Microscopy Course (cont'd)

Subject to Members expressing an interest I propose to run a further one day course later in the year with the object of making up a series of anatomical slides whereby each participant goes home with their own set of micro-slides showing for example - proboscis, mandibles, cornea, ocelli, antennae, sting, paired legs, abdominal segments and paired wings.   Bees, previously softened and decalcified, will be provided leaving Members to dissect, mount, ring and label with as much help as they may need - to that end I am inclined to limit the class size to a maximum of six with provision for a repeat class if required. 

Note also that I have a number of microscopes available for loan to members.

Brian Marchant - Branch & County Microscopist  

Stoneleigh Convention:

Saturday 16th April

The BBKA Stoneleigh Bee Convention is now imminent. There are a few places left on the minibus if anyone is interested. Contact the editor (details at end of newsletter) or Kevin Stach - email:

Extreme Beekeeping:

New to the UK – extreme competitive beekeeping. A ‘sport’ that originated in New Zealand and has gone from strength to strength over the last 18 months. Mixed teams of 4 vie with each other to see who can fully inspect a complete hive whilst wearing as little as possible. Additional points are gained by team members liberally covering themselves in heavy sugar syrup or even honey if stocks allow. Points are lost if any of the team inadvertently cry out – this is known as an eek. There is talk of setting up a South West league and as usual North Devon Branch is in the forefront. So if any intrepid members are interested in trialing for the team full details are available at the end of the newsletter.

100+ Club:

Membership of the 100+ Club is proving popular but we still need more people to join so that we can get started properly. Over 60 have already joined and so we need about another 35 members so that the draw can start. This is an opportunity to enter a draw with fantastic odds of winning up to 25 and helping to fund the work at the apiary at the same time. We need to raise these funds! So don’t be shy, contact Kevin Stack right now. This fantastic opportunity isn’t restricted to members so do your bit and ‘sell’ to family & friends as well. Contact Kevin on

You can also fill in the form with this newsletter or there is one to download on the website.    See end of newsletter for 100+ club membership numbers.

Website Launch:

We are now online. The North Devon Branch website is live. If anyone still hasn’t done so you can visit the site at

Comments would be welcome. Please either address your comments to The Editor or contact the webmaster Kevin Tricker on There is all sorts of information – even a copy of this newsletter! We expect to keep on expanding the site so any suggestions would be very useful.

Skep Making:News_4_2005_c.jpg (27437 bytes)

On Saturday 12th March fifteen people gathered at our apiary to learn skep making. Our teacher was Mick Male who gave good, concise instructions in an entertaining way and really didn’t seem to mind how often he had to repeat himself.

Having first made the necessary tools – needles & collars – in various shapes and sizes, we set about making the skeps from long straw. No-one thought it was going to be simple but in reality it turned out to be quite tricky. The level of concentration and determination on the faces of the apprentice skepists was just wonderful.

Everyone remained focused and as the layer of crushed and discarded straw grew deeper so did our skeps grow. Well, actually most of us ended up with something that looked like an oversized beer mat. We all went home with some homework – straw and rattan to finish off before the next lesson.   A most enjoyable day.     
Chris Tozer

Castle Centre Meeting Monday 14th March:

Honey’, that was the title of our Monday evening meeting at The Castle Centre. Perhaps it should have been entitled ‘honeys’ for there they all were spread out anonymously on the table as varied and subtle in their individual characteristics as any wines. This was truly a unique experience. We sniffed and we tasted, we considered bouquet, texture and aftertaste. Fifteen different honeys! Our noses and our taste buds tantalisingly travelled from the arid soils of the acacia and the eucalyptus to the temperate glades of the chestnut and the lime. Could we put the right name to the right pot? Not many of us, but we tried. It was great fun. Thank you Chris
Michael Duncan

Honey Show Champions!!

Would the winners of last year's honey show trophies please get them to Brian Marchant ASAP so that they can be engraved. Contact Brian to make arrangements.

DBKA President’s Day 2005:

President's Day this year was held in the prestigious Peter Chalk Centre on the rather down-at-heel Exeter campus; by 9.30, the ornate Buckfast Lecture Theatre was packed with a mass of unusually excited beekeepers high on Colombian coffee and free samples of a particularly potent mead offered by one of the exhibitors; ranks were swelled by a number of W.I. ladies who had wandered in, attracted by the mead and the bonhomie. As usual, genial Gen Sec Glyn Berrington warmed up the ranks with hilarious stories of his experiences with mites, beetles and drifting drones! By the time suave Chairman Bob Ogden entered, the members were in a state of high elation - chanting ancient rhymes that only beekeepers know. Singing and chanting rose to a crescendo as DBKA President , our very own Kay Thomas, took her place at the rostrum. Proceedings got under way swiftly as members, under Kay's baton, made a spirited rendering of the traditional " Land of Wax and Honey ". This was an emotional moment - not a dry eye in the house. The agenda items passed in a blur of emotion and goodwill; cheer upon cheer  as Officers were returned unopposed for the umpteenth time. Suddenly AOB had arrived and your representatives Chris and Mike took the floor in some trepidation. The atmosphere in the theatre was electric - akin to waiting for a swarm to settle; the proposal to change our title - dismissing 100 years of apicultural history - was made and the sudden silence was tangible - would we be dismissed as mavericks? As rebellious troublemakers? An intake of breath and a roar of applause, more cheering and wild shouts of support. A sudden thought took hold - should I seize this moment of euphoria and deliver a master stroke? No time to hesitate - I took the plunge: "The North Devon Branch is resolved to disassociate and reform as North Devon Beekeepers Association". But the serried ranks were on their feet - applauding, stamping their feet, delirious. "And we've put a legal restraint on our assets!" I cried; we were carried from the theatre shoulder high. Free at last!

Mike Canham

More later from Mike on the President’s Day/AGM.

A Somerset Bee Day:

The Somerset beekeepers held their annual day of beekeeping lectures on Saturday 19th February. This is always an enjoyable and interesting event, and great value for the 12 charge, which includes lunch and coffees. A fair-sized hall is invariably filled with cheerful beekeepers, many having driven a long way; all muffled up against the cold of the Bath & West show grounds at Shepton Mallet.

There was a full programme of lectures, so I can only really tell you about two of them. Firstly, Michael Badger and his talk on practical beekeeping tips. Michael is a past President of BBKA, and has been keeping bees since 1951, so I reckon he knows a thing or two about it.

Keep to one theme. By that I think he meant decide what you are going for, and keep to it. e.g. if honey is your aim, go for a strain of queen that produces good honey gatherers, and select queens with that in mind year after year.

Autumn is the start of the year, so invest then for a year ahead. In January or February, place your hand over the hole in the crown board. If you can feel the warmth, the queen has young brood in the brood box. In November, this warmth could mean Nosema.

Two books for reference: The World of the Honey Bee by Colin Butler, and The Biology of the Honeybee, by Mark Winston.

In summer, wear a sweat band across the forehead. Always keep plenty of drones. A good fuel for your smoker is dried rotten wood, especially willow. Have a Butler cage in your pocket whenever you are working, for holding a queen. Practise marking a queen first using drones. After about 30 drones, you will be quite good at it. For swarm catching, first get yourself a skep, and keep a swarm in it for 4 or 5 days. Bees will then always be happy in that skep. Drones on the wing mean swarms are likely.

Take a bucket half full of water with you, wash your gloves and hands regularly as you work through the hives. For cut comb, use an eke, that is a more shallow shallow box than a super. Fill this box with narrow frames to fit, but with no bottom bars, and no foundation. (Try a starter strip). Under this box lay some thick plastic, 17" square, over the box below, and the bees will not fix the comb to its top bars, the queen will not come up into the shallow box.

If you are dealing with a bad tempered colony and want to find the queen to replace her, get some wet tea towels, roll these up, and place one in the entrance of that hive and of all the hives nearby, completely blocking the entrances. The bees returning will stay on the wet towel, while you find the queen in peace

Next, Richard Ball's excellent advice on IPM. To be brief, what Richard is planning for this season, and believe me that's a good enough guide for you and me, is this:

Treat your bees in the spring with your chosen two methods. Use drone culling, Exomite, Apiguard, or the Apivar when it becomes licensed in this country. Every second year use the shook swarm method for clean comb, or make an artificial swarm.

Later in the autumn, when there is little or no brood, e.g. in early November, have some oxalic acid at suitable strength, in a measured syringe, and dribble 5mls into each seam between the brood frames. The oxalis solution will not harm the bees or the queen, is 97% effective, and it is cheap. It is essential to minimise the mite population before the winter. But take all precautions with the acid, and only use it once. Remember that treatments are always changing, as research continues.
Beryl Smailes

Barnstaple Twinning Association:

North Devon Beekeepers have been cordially invited to join the party of visitors organised by the BTA, to visit their opposite numbers in the town of Velzen, North Germany, on 14th - 19th July, 2005. The cost would be very low, as our visitors would be staying with the German people. Of course, our visitors would be expected to host the Germans for the return visit.

If any of our members would like further details, please contact Chris Utting on 01237 474500 or email:
Competition for Queen Bee!

The monarch butterfly, Alabama's official state insect since 1989, could be replaced by the queen honey bee. A bill, sponsored by Rep. Sue Schmitz, would end the monarch butterfly's reign as a symbol of Alabama and substitute the queen honey bee as the official state insect.

Don’t Forget: First 2005 Horestone Apiary Open Day on Sunday 10th April 2.00 on. Be there! Bring something to eat (cake etc) & share.
Brian’s Microscope Corner:

In the first of an ongoing series Brian Marchant gives his A to Z definitions of common microscopy terms which will come in useful for anyone using microscopes or attending one of Brian’s excellent courses.

ABERRATION - all lenses are subject to imaging faults due to their prismatic effect e.g. chromatic aberration results in coloured haloes obsurring the image and spherical aberration results in a blurred image when peripheral rays forming the image are bought to focus nearer the lens than axial rays. 

ACHROMATIC - most common type of microscope objective lens in which chromatic aberration is corrected for two colours and spherical aberration corrected for one colour. 

APOCHROMATIC - superior quality objectives where chromatic aberration is corrected for three colours and spherical aberration   corrected for two. 

BERTRAND LENS - incorporated in some microscopes. In association with the eye-lens it forms a telescope with which to view the back focal plane for purposes of setting up the microscope. 

BINOCULAR MICROSCOPE - term used to denote a compound microscope with two eye-pieces. Not to be confused with the stereoscopic or dissecting microscope which, by definition, has two eyepieces. 

CONDENSER - lens system beneath the stage of the microscope used both to illuminate the specimen and match the acceptance angle of the objective lens. 

CORRECTION COLLAR - graduated scale on the barrel of some microscopes which adjusts the internal lenses thereby correcting  spherical aberration due to varying thickness of cover slips. 

COVER SLIP - circular or square glass slips used to enclose the specimen and for making permanent mounts.  Their thickness is determined by the objective lens and is shown on the lens barrel.  Slips are commonly  designated by a number e.g. No 1 is 0.17mm thick.


As in past years, the Day was held in the Peter Chalk Conference Centre on the Exeter University campus; proceedings began fairly promptly at 10.00 when our President Kay Thomas opened the meeting , sadly with disappointing news. Kay had invited Ruth Waite, a principal scientist at the National Bee Unit, to give the keynote address but Dr Waite and a succession of her colleagues had withdrawn.  As it turned out, our RBI Richard Ball gallantly stepped in at late notice and gave us his usual cogent and down to earth views on the future of the NBU and beekeeping and honeybee health - a pretty gloomy picture on all counts:

  • by 2008 the proposed NBU budget cut will effectively reduce the RBI/SBI service by 50%.
  • beekeepers will have to be more self-reliant in fighting disease
  • AFB has declined to 0.5% of colonies but EFB is rising rapidly
  • Exotic pests ( eg Tropilaeps, Aethina tumida et al ) pose increasing threats
  • Varroa losses could soar leading to loss of beekeepers, honey, pollination
  • some hopeful signs – an electronic diagnostic system ("taqman") giving rapid disease diagnosis
  • research into biological controls eg Varroa mites destroyed by specific funguses
  • imminent EU legislation may result in vets being the sole source of bee health medicaments
  • concerns over the use of oxytetracycline (OTC) and residues in honey
  • the effectiveness of the shook swarm technique – anti-varroa, anti-EFB and often good for honey yields
  • vital importance of using an integrated programme – different techniques as the season progresses
  • there is no fixed IPM menu – new elements and techniques being developed
  • organic acids e.g. 4.5% oxalic acid in syrup effective against varroa dribbled over broodless frames.

A packed theatre of 40 odd members then moved on to the AGM agenda:

> General Secretary’s Report: there was some discussion of the final paragraph (Complaint, p63, Beekeeping March 2005 )

> Treasurer’s Accounts – retiring Treasurer David Milford urged DBKA and Branches to spend more of their growing cash assets ( preferably on much needed education and training – MC)

> the Officers proposed for 2005/6 were elected en bloc; new President – Dr Mick Street

> the Downing Bowl for services to Devon beekeeping went to Jane Ducker

> Northern Branch is now North Devon Branch

> no more DBKA honey jar labels will be purchased

Kay Thomas closed the meeting thanking members and others for their support;

Kay announced a considerable sum raised in aid of Sri Lankan beekeepers.

After lunch, a sadly depleted audience gathered to hear a talk by Dr Dhafer Behnam, an Iraqi scientist and beekeeper formerly of Baghdad and now in charge of the Buckfast Apiary. He talked mainly about beekeeping in pre-invasion Iraq; although his English is not fluent, with the aid of PowerPoint, two screens and a mobile he gave a graphic account of the highs and lows of beekeeping in Baghdad.

The day ended with questions and a blessing at 15.20.
Mike Canham


Somerset BKA would like to invite you to the SBKA 2005 Special Lectures.

Date: Monday 18 April 2005 at 7.30pm
Venue: The Theatre at Hazlegrove School, Sparkford, Somerset (off the A303)
Speaker: Michael Mac Giolla Coda, Galtee Bee Breeders Group, Ireland
Lecture Title: Development of a Bee Improvement Group. Additional for 2005

Date: Friday 15 July 2005 at 7.30pm
Venue: The Theatre at Hazlegrove School, Sparkford, Somerset (off the A303)
Speaker: Robert Brewer from USA.
Lecture Title: To be confirmed.

There will be no charge for these evening lectures, hence there is no need to book tickets for these event.  With no tickets SBKA will not know who is coming to the lectures, so if there is a cancellation as there was in 2004, it is difficult to inform everyone. You may like to check with Sharon Blake or Caroline Butter, prior to the event, that there have been no changes. Please park in the first car park you come to when you arrive at the school.

Quiz Question for April: Which popular singer’s most recent album is called ‘The Beekeeper’?

The answer to the March question was… Boddingtons!

Extreme Beekeeping: Anyone interested in joining the new team should pay more attention to the date. Oh, and maybe you need to get out a bit more! April Fool. You may also presume that the first report by Mike Canham on The DBKA President’s Day was another! Or not…
Edited by Marnie Quy.     Email:     
All contributions welcome, copy by 19th of month for publication in following month’s newsletter.

Home | Current Newsletter | Back Issues