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Northern Lights

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

MAY 2005

VERY IMPORTANT NOTICE !! Anyone who hasn’t paid their 2005 membership is no longer a member and isn’t covered by the BBKA insurance. If you haven’t paid and want to re-join the branch then contact Kevin Stach immediately on 01237 478631 or email:

Chairman’s Letter:

Dear Friends,

    Your Branch Committee members, together with the Apiary Team and assistants have all been working very hard over the past months, and are to be congratulated on the success of the improvements to the Apiary, the huts, the garden and our stock of equipment.

A very significant advance in the establishment of our new identity has been the setting up of a Branch Website,   and we owe much gratitude to the skill and willingness of Kevin Tricker and Marnie Quy. The website is all ours, so keep your contributions coming, but always aim for the very highest standards. Like it or not, we will be judged by a wide public.

Another important advance for your Branch, is a very different organisation of the Apiary at Horestone.  Tony Wright has taken over as Apiary Manager, assisted by Sue Tait. Tony has formed a group of four of our most experienced beekeepers to act as a united guide to apiary procedure. As you know, our apiary consists of four sections, i.e.   Teaching, Honey Production, Queen Rearing, and Experimental.  With close co-operation and leadership, we are determined to make this practice work, even if it means sacrificing some long-held beliefs for advantage to the whole.  At last, the bees are beginning to pick up their strength, so watch this space dear friends.   We can all only, "do our best always".   


From the Apiary:

Sue and I are working on acquiring all the diverse equipment, consumables and medications we will need for the rest of the year. Bear in mind the fact that the number of colonies will almost double (we hope). Our number one priority will be fitting out all the teams with their own equipment. The new practices of apiary hygiene will be instituted as soon as is practicable. The special lining boards for lining the honey processing room have been delivered, soon to be fitted so it will be ready for the honey crop.
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News_5_2005_c.jpg (24737 bytes) Looking for Drone Laying Queen
in Red 1
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We are gathering together the reports from our teachers and will be preparing the Horestone manual of best practice. Meanwhile work is progressing with the bees, spring testing is underway. Kay’s queen raising colony is looking very strong. Michael’s honey production team are working on a gradual build up in their colonies. Chris and Beryl are preparing the teaching colonies ready for "hands on training" for this years beekeeping students.

Sue and Tony

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Time for Tea
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Someone isn't paying Attention !

The Swarming Season Is Here Again!
Collecting Swarms Of Honeybees:

May, June and July are the months that our colonies may swarm.  We have six Swarm Liaison Officers available.  If you would like to be notified of a swarm for you to collect then get in touch with the people below so that details can be passed on to you.

South Molton Area
Judith Westcott
Ilfracombe Area
Michael Duncan
Dolton Area
George Lake
Braunton Area
Kay Thomas
South Torrington Area
Kevin Tricker
Bideford Area
Chris Utting

We are also collecting swarms that will be quarantined and re-queened to be sold on for branch funds to so these will have priority.

If you have a call for a swarm which is very high we have a member, Tim Potter of Ilfracombe who is training as a Tree Surgeon and also desperately wants some swarms to get him started.  He is prepared to go to great heights (literally) and has the training, experience and equipment to do so.

Disease Liaison Co-Ordinators Course:

As spotting disease is an important part of beekeeping we have organised a one day course, free of charge for our members. 

It is on Saturday 4th June at the North Devon College, Sticklepath Hill, Barnstaple - 9.45 for 10.00 start.  In the morning we cover the theory then we go to Horestone Apiary (bring a packed lunch) for the practical in the afternoon and should finish about 4.00 pm.  It will be led by National Bee Inspector, Richard Ball.

This course will not turn you into a disease expert but will provide the basics so that you can help the other members decide if there is a problem that needs to be looked at by our Seasonal Bee Inspector.  As Peter Auger covers such a large area this will make his job easier and provide a better service to our branch.

If you wish to attend the course phone Chris Utting on 01237 474 500.

Beeswax Handling Course:

On 9th April, some 8 members of the Branch took the long trek to the other side of Dartmoor to visit Jenny Buckle’s charming cottage near Ashburton, in order to learn the ins and outs of beeswax handling.

After a preliminary "taster" of coffee and rock cakes, the first item on the agenda was filtering clean wax and preparing wax moulds. The converted baked bean tins (the more discerning amongst us using Baxter’s soup tins) were soon simmering in saucepans of water, as we were introduced to the art of melting beeswax, and filtering out the impurities by pouring through squares of j-cloth, tied over the top of yet more tins.News_5_2005_d.jpg (24700 bytes)

Having chosen our preferred silicon moulds from the vast selection Jenny holds, and with Jenny’s words of advice ringing in our ears, we filled the assorted moulds with the molten wax – a steady hand being an essential requirement! More moulds were pressed into service, and the wax flowed freely. Then came the waiting for the wax to cool and eventually the unveiling of the first of the finished articles. The temptation to open the moulds too early was resisted – well nearly!! Jenny pointed out some of the minor faults, which would lose points in show judging, but on the whole the finished items looked impressive.

Whilst the remaining filled moulds were left to cool properly, the course moved on to wax cleaning and preparation. Jenny was joined for this by Jane Ducker, a fellow Newton Abbot Branch member and who had brought along some of her highly "personalised" cleaning and filtering equipment (made out of even bigger baked bean tins and twisted wire!). Jane started by explaining the basics of cleaning the wax, and the use of wax melters and filtering mediums (ladies tights seemed to be the favourite). She then produced a bag of the dirtiest, messiest beeswax I have ever seen (kindly donated by Chris Utting) which we were supposed to convert to show quality beeswax – well almost! Two vigorous stirring sessions in a bucket of cold rainwater produced an amazing amount of dirt and the washed wax was then deposited into a pair of lady’s tights (there was no lady in them at the time) before hanging out to dry in the garden.

News_5_2005_g.jpg (17899 bytes)Pleased with our exertions, we retired to the garden, where the weather was just about warm and sunny enough for us to sit out on the patio and consume Jenny’s excellent ploughman’s style lunch.

Back to the course after a quick tour of Jenny’s lovely garden, the tights were retrieved and the contents heated to melting point.  One of Jane’s home-made filters was pressed into service, and the resultant filtered wax was of amazing quality – considering how it had started.  A little water left in the wax spoiled the overall effect, but this was entirely due to shortness of time we had for drying the washed wax.  All in all a superb example of what could be achieved with basic equipment.

The final event of the afternoon consisted of candle making.   Jenny outlined the principles of selecting and preparing wicks, and then we were off! More silicon moulds were produced and wax carefully poured into the moulds.  Once again, the more impatient of us (don’t worry, Kevin, I won’t mention you) opened the moulds up too early, prompting a bendy outcome, but on the whole, successful exhibits were produced by all.

The day was rounded off with more refreshments, before the weary students, clutching their prized exhibits, bundled into their cars and headed home.

A big thank you to Jenny and Jean for their efforts – hope you can get the wax off the floor!

Fascinating subject, great company and superb food – what more could one ask.
Kevin Tricker

2004 - 2005 Winter Losses Survey:

Hearing anecdotal evidence of a poor winter following 2004’s poor summer, the vice chair of DBKA Brian Gant requested proper data in the form of a survey of a sample of the membership. Ably organised in North Devon by Mike Canham, a group of us set about contacting members to discover the number and reasons for colony losses. A lost colony figure of 27% was the result for our branch from reasons as diverse as late swarms, varroa, queenlessness and drone laying queens. By far the biggest problem was starvation due both to robbing and insufficient stores being available.

The full results for North Devon Branch are to be found on the website (Click here) and hopefully the same will soon be true of the results for the whole of Devon.    Having seen the final survey figures, it looks like we got off lightly with Plymouth, Tavistock and Torbay Branches losing 45%, 39% and 38% respectively. Average losses for the county were 30% with starvation and varroa neck and neck for top nasties! Marnie Quy

Bayside Beekeepers:

I visited this small band of friends at the end of March 2005. Friends they are, for in the manner of beekeepers everywhere, there is an immediate bond, an exchange of experience and sharing of news from whatever part of the globe you happen to come from.

The last time I had met Alan Teske was three years ago, and as my son and I drove up to his home on the outskirts of Brisbane, there were five or six beekeepers examining Allan's newest invention, a special trailer and lifting gear. The drive, the house with its swimming pool, exuberant flowering vines and bushes, Lorna his very nice wife, the table laid out for lunch by the pool, the barbecue ready to go, all very much the same. Temperature, about 29C. Gorgeous. I felt as if I had come home, yet Devon is nothing like Queensland.

Of course, there had been changes. Point Halloren is on the edge of Morton Bay, and a desirable area to develop. Much of the available land where the beekeepers have kept their apiaries for years has recently been built on. As Alan can no longer lift heavy boxes. He has produced a loading mechanism to lift hives, and the trailer for moving them. He keeps about 40 Langstroths at several apiaries in the area, and migrates them to the various Eucalypts, Tea Trees, Iron Bark, Alfalfa, Canola, Mangroves as they come into flower. He says that he expects to get big crops because he moves his hives to take advantage of the season. This year he has produced well over a ton of honey, all of it sold in advance in big drums. His friend Don Shield, who keeps over a thousand hives, uses the latest navigation aid to tell him exactly how far he has placed his hives from the particular crop he has migrated to, the extent of the source, and just where it is. He never seals up his hives when he is moving them, as it stresses the bees too much and gives them Chalk Brood. As long as he is moving, the bees stay in the hive, and even if he stops, very few are lost. Don is an expert on local botany, and together he and Alan are compiling a beautifully illustrated record of honey sources in the area.

The Bayside Beekeepers are a small club, about 36 members strong. They meet regularly, have field days, teach their new members, combine with other clubs for special field days, and produce their own newsletter. I asked about bee disease. There is no Varroa. The nearest Varroa is at Port Moresby, New Guinea, with some around Sydney. There may be Varroa in Perth area, but they had not heard of any. Perth is thousands of miles away in Western Australia. While I was reeling at this news, trying to think back to beekeeping without Varroa, I was told that there is no Tracheal Mite, a little EFB, some Chalk Brood, rarely Sac Brood, and some AFB. Nosema is fairly common. Kashmire Bee Virus, Tropilaelaps were unknown to them. Most diseases he treats by re-queening, and destroying any affected combs. At the first sign of AFB, (very rare) Alan loads a pallet with equipment from the affected hive (having killed the bees) drives up to the newly established irradiation centre near Brisbane for the treatment (which is immediate and cheap) and home to put the equipment back into use the next day. The Centre is for food irradiation. He has had no return of the AFB.

There are only two Bee Inspectors for the whole of Queensland (which is vast), yet every beekeeper must be registered! There is no general bee insurance, every beekeeper must arrange that for himself, and no compensation for lost colonies, equipment etc

I explained about the Small Hive Beetle and handed round copies of the NBU book, together with a disc of Chris Utting's lecture. They seemed really grateful, because the SHB is on the other side of Brisbane. They were hoping their old enemy the Cane Toad would turn into a friend, and gobble up the SHB larvae as they leave the hive to enter the soil. I also distributed Beekeeping magazine, and Northern Lights. They gave me their newsletter Bee Informed, and said they like Brother Adam's book "Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey".

The bees they use are yellow, Italian strain (Apis ligustica). Lovely temperament. The Langstroth is used here universally, but Alan has depth supers, as they are easier to handle. He showed me two hives in the back garden, painted white with acrylic paint, with metal tray as floor, metal strap holding the hive secure tightened by a ratchet, gauze cover because of the heat, and metal roof. The top four corners of each box are chamfered, so that the hive tool just slips in easily without damage. He has been using double brood box for some years now, and has not had a swarm since adopting this system. There were three supers - almost filled - on each of these hives, and the colonies had been re-queened this autumn. We found and marked the new queens white, put some of the filled frames to the sides, and unfilled frames in the centre. Another extraction is imminent.

Allan raises all his own queens by the Jenter method, by far the most reliable as he gets almost 100% success. He re-queens after the queen's second season. This second season is a queen's best production. He is very particular about hygiene, showed me a stainless steel tray he had made, with grid to hold his four hive tools - also made by himself, j type. A little Methylated Spirit poured into the tray, he said, and burnt off with the tools lined up on the grid, quickly sterilises them. He was sorry to hear that I used wood shavings in the smoker. That smoke is too hot, he said. Just collect some dry cut grass - fairly long. Much cooler for the bees. Clipped onto the back of his smoker bellows was his queen marking pen, scissors for clipping, queen cage and catcher, and a very fine hat pin for piercing one hole in the plastic bag they use for feeding syrup.

We went into the honey room at the back of his double garage. It was not a very big room, rectangular, spotless, with all his equipment laid out in order of use. Steam heated uncapping knife with double handled blade, steam wax extractor, insulated honey warming tank, honey extractor, holding tanks. Three layers of fresh newspaper covered the floor. Allan and his friend can process tons of honey really quickly, and store it in big galvanised drums - like oil drums. All his crops are sold before he extracts. He does not use old brood comb, just cuts it out, wraps it up and disposes of it in the refuse, where it is buried that day. The wax from the cappings is exchanged for foundation, which he fits into the frames with just " gap below the top bar, so the foundation does not warp. He wires the foundation himself. If he saves the empty frames he uses a tool he adapted from a small saw. The blade had been cut off a few inches from the handle and shaped down to a hook so the wax in the grooves of the frame was easier and more comfortable to scrape out.  New frames he buys assembled to save time.

We hopped into his car and drove round to where he keeps six more hives, all set out in a semi circle, facing into a stand of Tea Trees, which I guess were 50 - 60 feet high, just coming into flower. To one side was a clump of banana trees, most with big bunches of green bananas. Birds love bananas, I learned. Beyond that was sugar cane, as far as I could see. Bees do visit the banana flowers but it is not a big crop. The sugar canes have a red flower, the sweet syrup is in the stem, but as it tastes unpleasant, like molasses of course, even the bees don't collect much of it.

Time to go. I have given them our new website address, and I hope you will communicate with the Bayside Beekeepers if you would like to. I will supply addresses. We must keep in touch.


Brian’s Microscope Corner

DARK GROUND ILLUMINATION (sometimes known as patch stopping) - technique whereby transparent or unstained specimens are made to appear as bright objects on a black background.

DIFFRACTION - When a beam of light passes through an aperture, or past the edge of an opaque object, coloured bands are observed near the edges of the  beam   extending to form a geometrical shadow . This phenomenon is due to the wave nature of light.

DISPERSION - white (day) light is composed of 7 wavelengths which are separated, or dispersed, to produce a spectrum when white light is passed through a prism. This due to the fact that each wavelength is refracted through a different angle.

100+ Club:

Membership of the 100+ club has stalled at around 70 and in order to renew interest it was decided to hold a ‘half draw’ at the apiary on April 19th. Drawn by Albert Cannon in the presence of not just two but almost all of the committee the winners were:

20: Chris Canham
12 months membership of 100+ club: Rashid Maxwell

We really do need to get numbers up to 100, both to start the draw proper and because we desperately need the funds to start much needed work at the apiary. So can everyone make a special effort straight away and sell memberships to friends & family. In fact if every member of North Devon bought a single membership for themselves we would have enough to get started properly. Dig deep beekeepers!

Ten Ways to Recognise a Beekeeper:

1. They come home smelling like a camp fire, but they haven't been camping.

2. They stop and check wildflowers by the roadside just to see if they can recognise their bees, …………and they swear that they can tell the difference.

3. They examine all the honey labels and prices at the supermarket, but never buy any.

4. Their family and friends know exactly what they're going to get for Christmas.

5. They are called ‘the Bee Man’ or ‘the Bee Lady’ by a lot of people who don't know their name.

6. The windscreen of their vehicle is covered in little yellow dots.

7. They don't mow the lawn when the clover is in flower.

8. They go shopping at the local supermarket and buy nothing but 12 kgs of sugar.

9. In their gardens, they plant dandelions, rather than digging them up.

10. Their cars always have a few bees wandering around inside the back window.

Open Days and Garden Parties:

Elizabeth Reynolds, our branch librarian, has kindly offered to host the 12th June meeting in aid of Kay’s Tsunami Appeal. There will be a bring and buy plant stall and bric a brac stall. This means that the June apiary Open Day will now be on the 19th June. More details including directions etc will be in next month’s newsletter. May apiary open day is the 8th.

Logo Competition:

The logo competition has been extended for another month (in fact until the next committee meeting) because we haven’t yet had enough entries. To recap, entries should be in monochrome for easy reproduction and should be sent to the editor at the address at the end of the newsletter.


Now is the time to think about it. A few days of prep and you can have a go. With only 12 months of keeping bees under your belt (not literally of course), the door is open for you. Is it hard? NO! If 98% of people that go for it will get it then you have a good chance of success. It is a nice thing to have when you get it. Only takes about an hour. It’s the BBKA Basic Assessment. We don't use the 'Ex..' word as it puts some of us off. 'Phone Chris for a copy of the syllabus. We have organised a CRAMMER DAY to run through the basic bits

- Sunday 17th July 10.30 to 4.30 at Horestone Apiary - bring a packed lunch - no charge to paid up members.

With Assessment Day the following Sunday 24th.


Go on you know you want it!

Happy Skeppers:

News_5_2005_e.jpg (30607 bytes) Just to prove the skeppers got there in the end….the second part of Mick Male’s skep making course was on 23rd April.

A likely looking crew with some rather fetching straw bowls, but at least that's an advance on beer mats !

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Quiet please, genius at work !

Treasurers Notice:

Anyone who hasn’t yet paid their subscription for 2005 is now a lapsed member. Reminders will be going out in the next week but be aware that if your membership has lapsed your BBKA insurance won’t be valid in case of claim. If you rejoin then there may be a waiting period before the new insurance kicks in. Kevin

Contact Treasurer Kevin Stach on 01237 478631 or email:

Spotted in a medical magazine…

"Beekeepers in Bulgaria are marketing thistle honey as a natural & cheap alternative to Viagra.    Launched at the annual beekeepers fair in Sofia just before Christmas, the honey became an instant favourite among women hoping to boost their men’s performance over Yuletide.  Due to demand, the duration of the trade fair had to be extended."

Quiz question for May: Which brewery has a beer called Waggledance Honey Ale?

The answer to April’s question was Tori Amos who lives just down the road in Cornwall.

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

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