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Northern Lights

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

APRIL 2006

Chairman’s Notes:

As the beekeeping season starts with the coldest March in years, another related season comes into view - the show season!   The Branch Honey Show at the end of the year, the North Devon Agricultural Show, the County Show and all the smaller ones like Rosemoor  all need willing hands to put up and take down the displays, talk to the public and sell produce.   In return, the helpers receive free entry and time to look around at the rest of the show.

 If you can help in any way, please contact Chris Utting or me for more information.

 On a different subject, if you have any ideas about courses you would like to attend, talks you would like to hear or themes for the Apiary Open Days, please contact Tony Wright, Beryl Smailes or me.   This is your club and we want to respond to your interests.

 Please, please respond - we need your help and feedback,   I look forward to hearing from you. 

Take care                                    Chris Tozer

Apiary Managers Report:

At the moment all the teachers at the apiary are holding their breath, waiting both for the weather to improve and for the bees to be able to forage, without which the colonies cannot build up and replace the winter bees. If the weather patterns do not alter and improve greatly, the colonies could well be in crisis.

Despite several Tuesdays when the weather has been less than kind we have enjoyed a full house with in excess of twenty five stalwarts.

We really will have to consider extending the main meeting room by several feet to make more sitting down space.


New Soap Being Made In Appledore:

No, not a Devon version of Eastenders.

On a wet Tuesday morning, four intrepid members of North Devon Branch made the long trek to Appledore to visit the home of Maggie Curtis. Although a clay sculptress by trade (look at some of her amazing work on she has recently started making soap and other bathroom products, and had kindly offered to share some of her knowledge with us.

After the customary tea and cakes (delicious) we buckled down to the purpose of the visit by looking at some of the products she had made, and studying some of the many leaflets and recipes Maggie had downloaded off the Internet.   Maggie gave us some recipe sheets, all based on honey or beeswax, for us to take away. She then talked us through making bath bombs and then the "cold-process" method of making soap – which ironically involves heating the ingredients!!   After a rather lengthy question-and-answer session, we eventually moved in to the kitchen to experience the real thing.

The initial process involves the careful use of a rather nasty product – caustic soda (or Sodium Hydroxide to you technical types) a corrosive alkali which has to be mixed with water, giving off unpleasant fumes and heating rapidly to near boiling point.   Whilst that was cooling off, the oils and fats which form the other main ingredient were melted, and we stood around for a time waiting for the two pans to reach similar temperatures.  Finally, Maggie could not bear to listen to our questions any longer and mixed the contents of the two pans together.  Much whisking then ensued and we were able to see the mixture reach "trace" an all important step in soap making.    One final ingredient needed, the honey, and the final result was ……………..a black gooey mess!!!  The mixture had been too hot when the honey went in and it had burnt.

Maggie was mortified, but we assured her that it was a valuable demonstration of how things can go wrong when you are rushed.  Anyway, we had already seen some of her finished products, and they were perfect.  The fault was all ours for trying to hurry things along.

Time was now pressing, and we took our leave, but not until we had been shown around her clay workshop and admired some of her wonderful "commissions".

All in all, a fairly brief, but very interesting insight into soap-making, and our heartfelt thanks must go to Maggie for sharing her knowledge with us, and for providing us with delicious refreshments.   If anyone is interested in learning more, try looking at on the Internet.  This is the website of a shop for soap and candle-making supplies conveniently located in Torrington and it contains lots of useful information for budding soap makers.

Kevin Tricker

Food Hygiene Certificate Training Course:

Enclosed is an information flier and application form.  This is going to be a popular course judging by the response and members’ applications will be on a first come - first served basis.  It is at a bargain price of 20.00 with an accredited trainer coming up from Plymouth. Application forms with cheque made out to 'DBKA North Devon Branch' to Beryl Smailes please. 

Beeswax And Candles Course:

By popular request another one day course is being organised with Jenny Buckle at her beautiful thatched cottage in Ashburton.  Details later.

Microscopy For Beekeepers Course:

Brian Marchant has agreed to run another of his microscopy courses at Halsannery Field Centre for members who have already attended the basic course.   More details later.

Floral Biology By Kay Thomas:

There was a very good turnout last month to Kay's talk.  She confined her talk to the flower and explained the basic structure of different flowers and how they become pollinated and then fertilised.   The many variations of the structures and arrangements were explained.

Kay thenmoved on to describe the floral detail of many of the more common families of plants such as compositae and ranunculacea using her new skills with a PowerPoint presentation.

Chris Utting

Forthcoming events: 

Monday 10 April:   Talk by David Charles on "Going to the Heather"  Castle Centre 7.30pm.     Raffle & shared supper

Tuesday 18 April:   Show Sub Committee meeting  Horestone 4.30 

Friday 21 & Saturday 22 April:   Stoneleigh Beekeeping Convention

Tuesday 25 April:   Branch Committee meeting   Horestone  4.30

Brian’s Microscope Corner:

Nearest distance of distinct vision - The nearest distance to the eye at which an object can be placed so that it may be seen in sharp focus by the normal eye = 250mm

Numerical Aperture - Resolution of a microscope depends on two factors, the wavelength of the light employed and the numeric aperture of the objective lens, this latter is important because the resolving power depends on this quantity i.e. the resolving power is linear and a lens with an N.A. of 1.2 will resolve twice the detail of an objective with a N.A. of 0.6.  These quantitative values equate to the refractive index of the medium between the object and the lens, e.g. air, immersion oil or water, and the sine of half the intake angle of the lens.

Dear Beekeeper Friends:

Up on the hill, something is stirring.  Surely this cold cold spring will suddenly give way to warmth and to big bee action at the Apiary.

Congratulations to all involved in the work which has been accomplished over the winter. There is much to look forward to now, and we need members to consider how they are going to help with the running of our 2006 programme. For instance, how about phoning Chris Utting and offering to come on to the Shows sub-committee.  Or take a lead in organising the Apiary Meeting Hut spring clean. We need active leadership, and this means using your famous initiative.  Don't sit back and leave it all to a few over-busy people. Meanwhile, Chris has one or two super courses lined up for you. Make the most of them!      


Edited by Marnie Quy.     Email:     
All contributions welcome, copy by 19th of month for publication in following month’s newsletter.

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