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Northern Lights

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



Chairman's Notes:

Dear Beekeepers,

It is a little bit strange to think that after all the events over the season, the busy times with the bees, the tremendous interaction and cooperation between our large bunch of beekeepers, the fun and the wrangling, the learning and the mistakes, the summer is over and that's about it folks.

Well, not quite. Your Apiary manager will no doubt bring you up to date with the state of the colonies, and the last few jobs to be done before we settle the bees down for the winter.  Meanwhile, our Tuesday afternoons will continue as usual. It is said that the autumn is when the beekeepers' year begins, any time and effort put into preparation for the next season will be well rewarded.

Our series of winter meetings at the Castle Centre has begun. It was great to see such a large and enthusiastic gathering for Alicia Normand's Talk on Wax Handling.  Evening classes for beginners will be starting towards the end of September, and another generation of students will be under way to strengthen our Branch even further.   So go for it friends, select the bee books you are going to read this winter, come to all the meetings, enjoy the scene.

And don't forget to send me your entries for our Honey Show as soon as you can!    Beryl

From the Apiary:

The Beekeeping year is now drawing to a close with all section leaders testing for diseases, treating these and the ever present mites, and ensuring the colonies are adequately provisioned and prepared for the winter. We hope that springtime finds us with hives that are bursting with bees ready to take advantage of any early

Whilst the bees may be resting we, the team will be busier than ever. We will be using this time gainfully to repair, refurbish and make new equipment. Hopefully we can get the proposed shop up and running ready for the new season so that members will no longer have to travel for, or pay delivery on consumables, hive parts, tools, protective clothing or wax.

May I, on behalf of this (and last) years students, offer a big vote of thanks to Chris Utting for his devotion to teaching the skills of beekeeping to all who attend his courses at Barnstaple college. For his ‘hands on’ sessions at Horestone, and more recently for organising and running the one day revision course for members taking their basic examinations. I think the fact that all six people got through speaks for itself, (thankfully I did the course on skep making).

Further, on behalf of all members of the branch can I say thanks to Chris for all the work he put in behind the scenes collecting, hiving, medicating, feeding, re-queening, and delivering the swarms to members who will now, thanks to him, have bees to look after next year. Not to mention the extra revenue generated for the branch.

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Chris, taking a sample of bees for the microscopist to examine.


Hive Repair & Assembly Course:

Sunday September 4th saw me rushing up the M5 for my first visit to the Horestone Apiary.  I do my beekeeping in Somerset but am also a member of North Devon and jumped at the chance to take part in the hive repairing course.News_10_2005_b.jpg (20837 bytes)

It all started a few months ago when I was preparing to start on my third beekeeping career, determined this time not to have a ramshackle collection of assorted, ill fitting hive parts, I bought new but in the flat.  Surely, even for me, it could not be that difficult to put a few boxes together?  I had very cleverly tracked down some Belarusian hive parts at a fraction of the price of the main suppliers and was eager to put them together.  Having struggled through various floors and roofs, assembling, taking apart, starting again, ending up with a product that looked well, decidedly ramshackle, I started on a brood box.  The most important bit I thought - got to get this right.  Well without any instructions at all, I did dry run after dry run, getting more and more anxious about how I was going to get this thing together with enough precision, the correct bee space and sufficient love and care to house my beloved bees, and in the time I had available.  Well the simple answer was that I couldn’t.   Practically in tears I abandoned the project, called a supplier and ordered made up boxes, next day delivery – so much for my clever ideas.  Then while struggling away with warped wax sheets, and fancy frame pin gadgets, I thought, "there has got to be an easier way and a course to give some tips for all this stuff would really be very handy".

News_10_2005_c.jpg (21438 bytes)So there we are rushing up to Horestone having called to book for the course as soon as it was announced, thinking that people like me would be fighting each other to get on it.   Well as it happened, there was only me and Chris Utting man enough to admit that we are not man enough in the hammer wielding department to do without a few pointers, but we were joined by a lovely bevy of ladies, most of whom seemed to be called Flower.    Although as I was referred to by that name as well maybe it is a North Devon term for apprentice carpenter or novice beekeeper.   Perhaps when you have a bit more experience you can call yourself a shrub?   Anyway it was a very jolly bunch, keen to expose Chris Utting’s hammer technique (although he acquitted himself with style) and hanging on teacher Tony Wright’s every word.(and his assistant Chris Tozer).   It really was a lovely situation in which to learn and I was, of course, hugely impressed by the whole set up there and the vibrant activity of North Devon Beekeepers. News_10_2005_d.jpg (10628 bytes)

We ran through the assembly of brood boxes and supers all being encouraged to knock in a nail here and there. We fitted in a roof or two, and each made our own frame feeder which we got to take home with us just like play school.  Tony even found time for a private frame assembly master class for me and a few thorny repair problems which people had brought in, including my Belarusian brood box!  Well I was very relieved to discover that it was quite a struggle even for Tony, he assembled and reassembled, knocked and sawed and eventually succeeded, he was true to his word when he said I won’t be beaten!

Here is a hopelessly incomplete list of Tony’s Top Tips - at least the ones that are simple enough for me to explain!

1. Get a short handled hammer as it gives you more control over its head and more chance of hitting the nail straight.

2. Rub the head of the hammer with sand paper to help it stick to the nail.

3. Put the nails in diagonally and pointing inwards to give them greater purchase.

4. Nail sidebars from the inside.

5. Use a marking gauge to mark the space at the top of the brood box/super and use an assembled frame to check you are getting it right.

6. Only worry about making boxes square once you have glued and nailed them together.   Measure diagonally across the top of the box to check that it is square - the distance should be the same both ways (does not matter what the distance is as long as it is the same)   Then check this with a queen excluder, which you know is square because it has been machine produced. If the box is not square push a little on one side until it is.

7. Use galvanised nails and Fast Grab Waterproof Glue (soon to be available through the association) and use surgical gloves whenusing it.

8. When assembling frames; assemble everything first, put in the wax sheet and only then the nails. That way you know it is square, don’t get warped wax sheets and can work up to Tony’s rate of sixty frames an hour. But only if you throw out your pin pusher (Rampin) and your very expensive electric frame nailing gun that is supposed to "make frame assembly a pleasure", and use your short handled hammer.

A few more things I learned: Belarusian brood boxes, not such a good idea. Years of telling people to use surgical gloves when gluing but not doing it yourself will result in your hands turning into concrete and you being able to throw out all your hammers and just use your hands like Tony! Making copious notes on a course is tantamount to volunteering to write a report for the newsletter – I wondered why I was the only one!

It was a great day. When’s part two?

Patrick Moulsdale

Beeswax by Alicia Normand:

There was a very large turnout to see Alicia explain some of her secrets in the craft of handling wax.  She explained methods to select and clean the best wax from cappings and how the darker wax containing propolis from the brood frames can be used as dyed wax.  Methods of filtering were demonstrated using recycled tins and  different filter materials. How to prepare and clean the Pyrex bowl mould and release the set block utilising a hair dryer, Fairy liquid and a freezer.  The production of dipped or moulded candles and the different wicks to use to avoid runs.   How to make quality soap using lye or furniture polish and when to use furniture cream were explained. The fascinating world of cosmetics and the blending of various oils were discussed.  There were many questions from the fascinated audience.

Chris Utting

Apimondia in Dublin by Kevin Stach and Chris Utting:

Our next event in the winter program is an illustrated talk of the adventures and experiences of Kevin and Chris together with the 2,000 delegates (and a few more from North Devon) that attended the world beekeeping conference.   The Castle Centre on Tuesday 18th October at 7.30 p.m.  Bring and share some food. Be there!

Donated draw prizes are appreciated.

Rosemoor Bees & Honey Weekend:News_10_2005_e.jpg (24691 bytes)

Following hard on the heels of Rosemoor Family Weekend was their Plant Centres' Bees & Honey Weekend (13/14 Aug) when the shop was rearranged to form a lecture room with associated displays of honey and honey based products including samples of cookery.

On Saturday Fred Rice from Tiverton Branch gave two entertaining talks featuring the medicinal properties of honey and life within the hive whilst literally spoon feeding pollen to the audience!!   Sunday saw our Branch Member Catherine Norman giving two informative talks on bees and other pollinating insects illustrated by a wide variety of flowering plants and convincing her audience that wasps aren't that bad after all.  Needless to say the audiences were also subjected to a handful of micro-slides.

Brian Marchant

Buckfast Bee Day Saturday 29th October  10.00 to 4.30:

Due to popular demand Chris has organised a 24 seater coach to leave Gratton Way (the road by Sainsburys entrance) at 8.00 to pick up along the A377.  The tickets are 9.00 and we need a few to fill the coach - first come first served.

Phone Chris Utting on 01237 474 500 to reserve your seat.

Shop ‘till You Drop:

North Devon Branch are about to break new ground and provide members with a great shopping facility where they can buy beekeeping consumables, hive parts, clothing, tools and much more without having to wait for mail order and pay for postage or travel half way across the county to do it.  We have a manager, premises and will, with luck, be open for business from 1st November.  We hope to have a stock & price list available to be sent out with the next newsletter but in the meantime if anyone has any special requests then please call Tony Wright on 01271 865516. Watch this space.

Branch Honey Show:

Don’t forget the branch honey show is now only a month away. We need as many entries as possible to give those judges something to do!! There are honey classes for novices & experienced beekeepers alike. Even if you can’t spare any of your precious honey stocks there are also the cookery and artistic classes and this year we have an exhibition only class for those members who feel they don’t like to compete. So there is no excuse! Please don’t leave it until the last minute to enter as it causes a major headache for those of us that have to do the administration!

Click here for a look at the show schedule.

Quiz Question for October: Honey & Mead were known as what to the gods of Olympus?

September’s answer was A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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

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