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Northern Lights

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


A Review Of The Year 2005 - By The Year's Chairman Beryl Smailes:

This is an affectionate personal memory - nothing official

Oh Five! Shall we ever forget it? What a team, what a pace, what a kaleidoscope of pictures. I remember, I remember - and so do you, perhaps…..

Think of early early spring, with Horestone beginning to show its catkins and snowdrops. Floods on the road, mud all over the floor of the hut. But memories of this year are all about people. I can see Kevin Stach on top of the roof plastering his black bitumastic paint liberally over everything in reach, including (mainly) himself.

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Alan James & Kay Thomas
clearing ground at Horestone

Here is the team preparing to lay concrete for the new site of the honey-producing hives, pulling out scrub trees first.   Alan James clearing blackberry with Albert and George.  Peter Woollard methodically laying out the area which is now our bee garden.   Chris Tozer working his magic on the landscaping of the grounds,   Marnie Quy grubbing out mighty roots.   A little later I see Kevin Stach and Albert totally absorbed in the stores hut, making up Kevin's new stands for placing the hives, Tony Wright bringing in his concrete mixer,

Chris Tozer producing a massive water tank for our own badly-needed water supply. I can never think of our meeting hut without its teas, large quantities of hearty food for sustenance of the twenty or so members who regularly attended on Tuesday afternoons.

As the spring developed and the chiff - chaffs arrived, the classes which Chris and I had looked after all winter made their first visits into practical beekeeping. All the interesting fireworks of summer management got under way. I can see Michael with his group of newcomers holding forth like a benevolent Father Christmas, rescuing colonies which were in a desperate condition after the winter. Here is Kay Thomas, skillfully splitting one large colony into five nucs, all placed in a circle like a fairy ring. Eventually an exam day, and six candidates passing their Basic Assessment.

I can feel the weight of responsibilities for all the Shows which seemed to come thick and fast, the committee meetings I could not control until we stopped crowding into a talkative tight circle. And washing the floor of the hut, trying to get rid of the mice, cleaning out the back room - until Sue devised a rota for the Tuesday meetings. Then like a great tide come the courses, and what fun they all were, and how interesting and rewarding. Back comes Kevin Stack "waxing lyrical" about Jenny Buckle, Richard Ball and Peter Auger with their science course, the skeps, Brian Marchant carefully taking people through a microscope. Tony Wright and Chris Tozer on a rainy afternoon teaching the rudiments of good carpentry, the treasurer devising devilish clever ways of raising money.

It wasn't all fun, there were and still are some problems and difficulties, but that's only to be expected. Horestone Apiary, our vibrant Branch are going to survive and prosper, and with this year's enthusiasm, do some justice to all the beekeepers who have served the Branch over so many years.

Yes it was a golden year. Thanks for the memory

Beryl Smailes


From the Apiary – 2005 Roundup:

When looking back through this beekeeping year I feel proud and privileged to have played a part in Horestone’s latest revival. We started this spring with badly over wintered stocks which were in crisis. Fairly drastic measures were called for…

Departing from the usual system, we decided to appoint an apiary manager and assistant instead of an apiarist. This meant we could promote working in teams, having honey production, teaching, and queen rearing. The teams decided that this year we should concentrate on building up our bee stocks, not on honey production or the raising of nuclei for sale. With the colonies raised by Queen rearing, plus a swarm or two, not to mention the nuclei raised to strengthen the honey producing stocks ready for next year, we now have near twenty colonies over wintering.

Over this year Horestone has had a makeover. Our teams laid bases for new hive stands, a newly refurbished honey processing room, a clearing made for the apidea section and now a well stocked bee friendly garden with a freshly layered hedge.

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Last year’s students have had their ‘hands on’ sessions. We have enjoyed courses on skep making and woodworking all spending many enjoyable hours working together.

Thanks to Chris Utting the new students were able to buy colonies of bees through the apiary. All swarms collected this year were quarantined, medicated and re-queened, sometimes more than once. Due to circumstances beyond his control these were late being delivered. Some arrived complete with a super of honey.

Plans are already being drawn up for the rest of this year and the spring. Maintenance is a priority, with new projects, more courses and still more expansion of the apiary site. The new shop Bitz4Bees will soon expand and hopefully provide opportunities for new members to buy all they need to start this wonderful hobby.

Tony Wright

What's New In Beekeeping 2005:

A year ago I was taking out the APIVAR strips from my 20 colonies.  They had been 'unofficially' recommended by Richard Ball and what's good enough for Richard...   APIVAR was not available in the UK and I had been on a trip with the Kent beekeepers to Grenoble in France.  I was able to get a supply for only 12 a packet - enough for four colonies.  The following Spring I still had eighteen strong colonies which was a satisfactory result.  APIVAR is still not locally available but can be ordered in bulk from a Belgian veterinary supplier at about 18.  I was offered packets at 30 recently but turned them down. I hope that APIVAR will be on the bulk purchase list for our new shop 'BITZ4BEES'.

Resistant Varroa continues to spread across Britain but there is another new treatment to add to your 'Integrated Pest Management' tool box - and it is even cheaper than APIVAR. You can purchase Oxalic Acid at 6% strength in sugar syrup in a one litre container for about 8.00 from Maisemore Apiaries plus 5.00 postage.  It is sufficient for about 50 treatments.  The use of Oxalic Acid is not new but the application by drizzling a teaspoonful (5 ml) along each occupied brood frame space using a simple plastic syringe is new.  This is applied when the colony is nearly broodless as the dear Varroa have nowhere to hide.  So apply in December, after a Shook Swarm, in a normal swarm or in an artificial swarm.  Research indicates that you should get about 97% effectiveness.

The pressure on DEFRA to change their plans to cut the National Bee Unit funding by 250,000 and de-regulate EFB, has been maintained.  There have been 'questions in the house', an Early Day Motion, national and regional TV, radio and press coverage and many letters to MPs.  There have been rumours that they may be wilting.  At last the official press statement has been issued saying that the cuts will not happen without further consultation with the BBKA.   

I have applied the recommended procedure of the 'Shook Swarm' to about twenty colonies with only one failure where the queen got herself trapped in the lower queen excluder and died.  I was impressed with the results as the colonies responded well.  They all reacted just like a swarm with lots of vigour in all departments.  The new foundation was pulled out quickly, the queen laid well and the colony gave me a reasonable crop.  The criticism is that it stresses the colony.  It may do - but not as much as disease!

The membership of BBKA over the last two years has shot up from 8,000 to 10,000.   I have had reports from other regions that classes have been swamped with students.   Our local Barnstaple class for beginners last winter was full with 15 students and Kay Thomas started a second class with another 11 students.  All the signs are that there is a national revival in the craft.

The Apimondia Conference in Dublin revealed some exciting information. Although the dreaded Small Hive Beetle has not yet arrived in the UK the German bee researchers have discovered a simple beetle trap.  A small plastic box that fits neatly in the bottom corner of a brood frame with a gap in the lid just big enough for SHB to squeeze through - but too big for the bees.  It then drowns itself in - guess what - cider vinegar!

Chris Utting

Nine Months and Counting:

By the time you read this, the North Devon Branch website ( will be nine months old and in that time, has been visited over 500 times by over 200 visitors. Whilst over 90% of those visitors have been from the UK, a significant number have been from abroad – surfers in Spain, US, Canada, Sweden, Belgium, Poland, Australia, Netherlands & India have all visited us.

Now that we have had some experience of the site, I am currently reviewing its content and am proposing to amend & extend the features. Suggestions which have been made include a photo gallery and a Q & A section, where members can raise beekeeping problems and get advice from other members. If any member has any further ideas or queries, or comments on the existing layout/content, I would be happy to hear from you. Please contact me via

Kevin Tricker

100+ Club Winners:
October 1st   Thea Stach
2nd  Judith Westcott
November 1st   Faye Powe
2nd  Michael Duncan
Live Entertainment at The AGM:

The format of the Branch AGM was reversed this year – instead of the usual business > indulgence> entertainment, we saved the business till the end (delayed gratification) and the evening at the Castle Centre opened with a talk by Dr Dhafer Behnam, currently in charge of the apiaries at Buckfast Abbey.

Dhafer Behnam originally practised as a medical doctor in Iraq but was heavily involved in beekeeping. He came to this country about 3 years ago and has been Apiarist at Buckfast for some two years.

His chosen topic was "Beekeeping from Baghdad to Buckfast" – though for our entertainment he focussed on his beekeeping in Baghdad. He sees beekeeping as the same pretty much the world over – the same principles apply, the same problems arise, only differing in the detail.

  • Farmers in Iraq have large numbers of primitive hives – skeps or logs; the aficionados and hobbyists tend to use Langstroths.
  • Swarming in Iraq is less of a problem since the swarming "window" is a mere 15 days or so.
  • Genetic manipulation – seeking vigorous bees – he pursues through grafting; whereas Bro Adam tended to have large numbers of cells hatching at the same time, Dhafer prefers to have queens emerging in a steady stream – easier to deal with.
  • He described the aim of successful management – preventing swarming and maximising the honey crop – and used the "two queen" method
  • Varroa arrived in Iraq in ’86 and they had similar problems of resistance and colony collapse. High summer temperatures mean that thymol can vaporise so rapidly as to prove fatal to the bees; formic acid can be used but is believed to affect the fertility of the queens.
  • Other methods of varroa control included drone-culling and mesh floors.
  • Other pests include: wasps – very aggressive, can easily overwhelm a colony; wax-moth large and small are endemic; large flocks of migrating bee-eaters are voracious and can readily wipe out a colony.
  • At the height of summer, colonies can collapse in the intense heat; Dhafer acquired a number of commercial chillers to allow his colonies to chill out.
  • The foraging season in Iraq is almost continuous with only short "down-times" ; seasonal sources of forage include
  • February – apricot and plum
    March – various citrus crops
    May – white clover and eucalyptus
    July – alfalfa
    October to December – various palms.

A fascinating talk with sadly not enough opportunity for extended discussion; perhaps when Dr Behnam makes a return visit.

Mike Canham

The New Committee Members:
Chair: Chris Tozer
Vice Chair: David James
Treasurer: Kevin Stach
Secretary: Chris Utting
Apiary Manager: Tony Wright
Social Secretary: Beryl Smailes
Show Secretary: Liz Neal
Exam Ed Secretary: Chris Utting
Members: Albert Cannon
Kevin Tricker
Brian’s Microscope Corner:

JANSEN - Hans and Zacharius pioneered the invention of the microscope during the early 1600's.   These early instruments consisted of two lenses located in two sliding tubes, magnification and focus effected by moving the tubes in and out.  Only opaque objects could be examined i.e. the basis of today’s dissecting microscope.

Skittling Evening - The Plough, Bickington:

By popular demand our host Carol Hole will again be producing more food that we can possibly devour on Saturday December 10th.    We are starting our game of 'Killer' at 7.30 p.m.   5.00 per person including a buffet at 9.00 p.m.  Please book your place by phoning Chris Utting on 01234 474 500 before 3rd December.

STOP PRESS!!!! Breaking News…

DEFRA have given in to the requests by BBKA and the cuts to the NBU will no longer go ahead.  Also EFB will not be deregulated. For more information visit the BBKA website.

Eggesford Apple & Cider Weekend:

We had another successful weekend at the Eggesford Garden Centre in October. At  first the weather looked as though it might rain things off, but both afternoons turned out fine and we did a fair bit of trade. The stand looked neat without being gaudy and all of us that were doing the serving enjoyed ourselves. We were helped by a few toddies of cider from the Winkleigh Cider makers (just to keep the cold out). There were no enquires as to joining the DBKA but lots of interest in the bees and beekeeping. I asked a lady why she was buying a block of wax and she said that by mixing equal parts of beeswax and lard together the result was good for chapped hands. There is always something new to learn! I must make some up to keep in the shed for all the winter work at the apiary. I would like to thank all those helpers who gave me their support over the weekend and look forward to next year’s event.

Albert Cannon

So what do you think, Beryl ?

Should we tell this year's students about the tradition of washing the floor with sugar syrup ?

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Study Group For Module One 'Honeybee Management':

Some of our members are interested in forming a study group for the BBKA exam on 'Honeybee Management'.  This includes hive types, beespace, apiary selection and hygiene, the year's work, swarms, use of nuclei, robbing, drifting, clearing, moving hives etc.  Exam day is 19 March 2006 so there is plenty of time for a winter study group especially if you also work with a BBKA correspondence course tutor.  If you are interested get in touch with Chris Utting.

Branch Honey Show 2005 - Judgement Day:

When Beryl first asked me if I would be a Judging Steward at the Branch’s Honey Show in November, I did not really know what to expect. However she assured me that I would not require any honey judging expertise, nor would my taste and smell senses would be called into play – my role was to support and look after the Honey Judge – David Charles. On this basis I agreed, and duly turned up early Saturday morning at St John’s Garden Centre, equipped with the mandatory white coat (which in my case was my brother’s old umpiring coat) to start my duties.

After greeting David and taking him for a quick cup of coffee – fortunately I had met him before so he wasn’t a total stranger – we got down to the serious business of judging the honey. David was an old hand at this, and he used a set procedure which had obviously been refined over a number of years. Firstly he laid out the tools of his trade - glass rods for tasting (with 2 glasses of water to clean them between tastings), graduation glasses for checking the colour, scales, dry cloths, magnifying glass and a copy of the rules. News_12_2005_d.jpg (28765 bytes)
Chris Tozer & Beryl Smailes setting up

He then started by visually examining each jar in turn, looking for conformity with the rules (correct colour, labelling, jar size etc.) as well as the absence of dirt & debris, granulation and general cleanliness of the honey. It was surprising how many entries could be eliminated at this stage.

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The new stand, with some of the entries

Then came the more difficult job of judging the honey itself and this was where my role became more involved. After selecting, at random, one jar from each of the pair submitted in each entry, I frantically unscrewed lids, passed David clean rods for tasting, whilst taking dirty ones and rinsing them in the water - all the time keeping an eagle eye on the jars and lids to see that we did not get them mixed up. David went along the surviving entries, tasting each one and checking the viscosity by eye

Having established an initial "order of merit" in this way, he then went over the top five jars again. Then, I had the job of checking that the top 3 entries were all from different entrants, without letting David know the identity of the entrants. Having confirmed that, David checked the second of the pair of jars that had been submitted to ensure that both were of equal quality. If all was fine, we were able to write down the results and move on to the next class.

And so, in this way, we progressed through the classes – all 19 of them. By the time we had finished the last class, some 2 and a half hours had passed and we were both quite weary and glad to have finished.

It was an interesting experience and gave me a great insight into what makes winning entries. It also demonstrated how difficult a job the judge has. When faced with two or three entries of excellent quality and taste, it is very difficult to decide which one should be awarded first prize – especially when honey tasting is inevitably subjective. Now I understand why places can be won or lost on the smallest detail, such as smeared jars or a dented lid. After all, when faced with 2 apparent equals, something has to be used to differentiate between them!

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Let sales commence !

My thanks to David Charles for explaining so much and allowing me to compare the taste of some of the entries, and to Beryl for letting me have the opportunity to become involved. As to my favourite entry – well it has to be the mead class. Goodness, it was difficult to award the first prize - we needed several samples from each bottle before David could come to a decision – and, by then, we’d both forgotten what we were supposed to be doing!!!

Kevin Tricker

Honey Show 2005 - Prize Winners

1 T Wright F Vanstone Horestone Apiary
2 F Vanstone J Mummery P Auger
3 F Vanstone
4 No Award
5 No Award
6 J Mummery K Thomas
7 No Entry
8 K Thomas J Mummery C Tozer
9 J Mummery C Tozer F Vanstone
10 J Mummery T Wright Horestone Apiary
11 K Tricker No Award L Baker
12 C Tozer L Baker
13 J Mummery K Thomas C Tozer
14 J Mummery C Tozer P Auger
15 K Thomas K Tricker C Tozer
16 T Potter B Smailes C Utting
17 C Utting T Potter T Wright
18 J Mummery
19 J Mummery
20 B Smailes C Tozer K Tricker
21 J Morris B Smailes K Thomas
22 K Thomas No Award A James
23 B Smailes K Thomas J Morris
24 J Morris No Award J Mummery/B Smailes (joint)


BRANCH TROPHY  for Branch member gaining most points in classes 1 - 10 (honey) to
J. Mummery

YEO JENNE TROPHY  for overall winner of classes 18 & 19 (mead) to J. Mummery

CROYDE CUP  for winner of class 1 (light run honey) to T. Wright

HUSTWAITE PLATE  for most points in cookery classes to B. Smailes

BERNARD PRITCHARD TROPHY  Novices class 11 (1 jar run honey) to K. Tricker

CHRIS UTTING CUP  Novices - most points classes 14 & 15 (wax classes) to C. Tozer

BERYL ROSE BOWL Show Trophy for most points overall to J. Mummery

WEAVER TROPHY  for best exhibit in classes 13 - 15 (wax) to J. Mummery

THE BLUE RIBBON  for best entry in the Show to J. Mummery for his entry in class 10: 3 jars of honey labelled as for sale

Note from Show Secretary: There is as yet no trophy for the photography. Any benefactor wishing to donate a trophy might consider this class.

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

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