Your March 2016 edition of HoneyPress
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Chair's Report
Link To BIBBA Humm
Skep Making - Sheilagh Matheson
Summer 2016 Programme
Beginners Sessions - Sue Ewing
Honey  Bee Research - Dorian Pritchard
Bee Photos - Jack Storey
Sue demonstrates frame making
Result from youngest frame makers
Wark Hall and framemaking
Last Year's Frame making session See below for the 2016 event

Chairs Report


How will our bees prosper?

The days are lengthening , no doubt about it, and winter has officially ended. I do hope that both you and  your bees have overwintered well, which seems to be the case generally as regards the bees. I think this year we will have a clearer idea of how the bees have coped with last season when we observe how well the queens are laying. It may be a few weeks before a full inspection on a warm sunny day will reveal a clearer picture. However in the meantime do make sure that your bees have sufficient stores. It’s very likely that there will be more cold spells and an expanding brood chamber with hatching brood will put a strain on food supplies.
The North of England Spring Convention Saturday   April 16th
All HBKA members should have received their invitation to the 59th North of England Spring Convention held at the Beacon Centre Newcastle on Saturday April 16th after the Easter break. Do check out the speakers which include our own Jilly Halliday and Nikki Black with the Colin Weightman memorial lecture given by Prof. Keith Delaplane from the University of Georgia. We would like to think we are giving you a similar quality that you might find at the BBKA spring convention at Harper Adams College ,on your door step.
The next steps: the BBKA members survey results
 Very shortly you will be receiving a copy of the results of the BBKA members survey which was held in the Autumn of 2015. Do have a look at the results which suggest there is a wish for change. You may not have filled in the survey but your comments are still vital. For example there are two main ways of creating change. One would be through every member being asked to vote for against the proposals outlined in the survey results. The second through propositions from area associations like Northumberland. We could of course seek your responses in the form of a local poll. Do let us have your views

BIBBA Hum Issue 5

 I’m surrounded by beekeepers busily clearing up after a course on skep making but I doggedly ignore everyone until I’ve tied in my bamboo and straw ends. I’ve been to the lecture and done the course and I desperately want something to show for my efforts.

Unfortunately, we have run out of time and my skep is only half-finished. Paul Hand, the course tutor claims to be the finest coiled straw skep maker in Britain, (although there isn’t much competition) so under no circumstances must anyone dare to suggest that I’ve been basket making and produced a wastepaper bin.

The craft of skep making is a million times more significant than that. As Paul said in his lecture at Cherryburn Museum the night before, archaeological remains in Lower Saxony show that skeps were made of spruce branches 2000 years ago. So our group of 13 beekeepers in Wall Village Hall is following a fine, ancient tradition.

Piled in one corner are lengths of wheat straw and coils of thin bamboo strips and Paul issues everyone with the one tool needed. It serves the same purpose as a massive needle but has no technical name so we call it a prodder, awl, poker or jabber thingy.

As we sit round prodding and jabbing and bending straw in uneven spirals, Paul talks…and talks. Skeps are the beehives our forefathers used before nationals and other modern hives were invented. You will have seen etchings and drawings of them, usually with an old codger wearing a round hat and veil and 3 or 4 bees flying around. Paul had some wonderful old skeps of various sizes, including one with little windows which I wanted so much I felt like nicking it but didn’t.  

When other teenagers were listening to the Stones and Hendrix in the Sixties, he was dreaming about making skeps. Eventually, the author of a book on skep making taught him and then there was no stopping him, even when he resorted to using bits of metal piping and the top of a Sainsbury’s 5 pint milk bottle.

He has used rushes, moorland grasses, dogswood, broom and heather, and he suggested that instead of weaving in smooth bamboo strips to hold it all together we could use bramble briars. No Thanks.

Paul keeps colonies in skeps alongside his national hives down in Shropshire, and he reckons the results are much the same. He pokes long, straight sticks through each skep to enable him to remove the comb for inspection then return it to the hive. You can make skep supers too. He says bees love the straw, and they seem less inclined to swarm.

Skeps lost favour years ago, and were considered wasteful and destructive - in fact, Paul was a secret skep maker until he was “outed” at Shrewsbury Flower Show, where else? He survived the scandal and now there is a growing interest and appreciation of them.

Let’s face it, you can keep a colony in a skep, or just use it for collecting swarms, and it looks utterly charming. It’s pretty useful as a wastepaper bin as well. But don’t tell Paul I said that.

Sheilaghs Skep
What would bees do with a wastepaper basket anyway?  Sheilagh's Skep in progress

HBKA Summer Programme 2016

Wednesday 6th April – Last winter meet of the year at Tynedale Sports Club. Luke and Suzie Hutchinson of Northumberland Honey give a talk titled ‘Northumberland Honey - Queen rearing techniques and our experiences’.

Saturday 16th April – North of England Beekeepers Convention, The Beacon, Westgate Road, Newcastle.

Sunday 24th April - Beginners Frame Making Session, Wall Village Hall 2pm

Sunday 1st May – First apiary meet of the season –First inspections – Wylam

Sunday 15th May - First Beginners Session - Wylam

Sunday 22nd May - Beginners Session – Wylam

Monday 30th May – Northumberland County Show, Bywell

Sunday 5th June – Apiary meet – swarm control – Wylam

Sunday 10th July – Cherryburn Beefest, Mickley

Meetings at the apiary will start at 2pm unless otherwise stated.

We are hoping to organise some visits to different apiaries over the summer. Dates are still to be confirmed and further Beginners Sessions (See Below) will fit around these. Look out for the emails and check the website or our Facebook page for more details.

Beginners Sessions at the Apiary - 2016

In 2016 we again intend to hold some informal, basic, beginners’ sessions at the apiary. They will take place most Sunday afternoons at 2pm starting on Sunday 15th May.

You don’t need to have bees to attend just an interest in seeing what it’s all about. The sessions are open to Hexham members both beginners and those with some experience, who would like to see a range of different beekeeping skills and ways to deal with what you may find in your own hive when you open it. The things we will cover are briefly:- Bee & brood identification and health of the colony. Feeding - what to feed, how & when. Equipment. Swarm control and chemical and non-chemical control of varroa and other diseases.

The sessions will depend to some extent on weather and availability of demonstrators. Anyone wishing to attend should email me, at the address below, so that we know how many people are interested. Please check the website or our Facebook page for up to date details of the sessions.

Anyone who feels they would like to help at sessions (no need to be an expert) please contact me on the email address below.

Sue Ewing

Beginners Frame Making Session Sun 24th April at Wall Village Hall at 2pm

To get our Beginners’ Sessions off to a good start we have organised a frame making afternoon. We will also talk about preparing for the coming season.

Learn how to make frames and how to prepare your kit for the coming season. This is a practical session so please bring a small hammer, pliers, strong bladed knife and wooden chopping board (to protect the Village Hall tables). Don’t worry if you don’t have all these things just bring what you can, we will have a few spare.

All beginners and new members welcome, you don’t need to have bees, plus anyone who feels they need a bit of practice at frame making. Experienced frame makers welcome to help, instruct and make frames – we need lots for the coming season. Tea, coffee, biscuits and a good chat provided. You could also bring a cake if you feel so inclined.

If you would like to come along or want more details please email me at so I know how many people to expect.

A Remarkable Finding in Honey Bee Research


At the recent Hexham AGM we heard how the Association has been invited to contribute funds towards a major new research project. It is codenamed REViVe, for: “Rolling out the Evolution of resistance to Varroa and DWV” and its rationale and aims are outlined in the November issue of BeeCraft¹. DWV is deformed wing virus, the major lethal agent transmitted by varroa mites and the main cause of collapse of varroa-infested colonies. The initial research was summarised in the BBJ supplement of the September issue of “BBKA News”² and it derives from work involving Prof. Stephen Martin of the University of Salford, who presented the recent Rachel Lowther Memorial Lecture on the Asian hornet. That work was carried out on varroa-tolerant bees from the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha and also involved virologists at the Marine Biological Station in Plymouth, led by Dr Declan Schroeder.

The science depends on recognition that DWV occurs in several variants, of which the most important are Types A and B. Honey bee pupae infected with Type A develop into adults with underdeveloped abdomens, shrivelled wings and a shortened lifespan, that can lead to colony collapse, whereas infection with Type B does not have these unfortunate consequences.

The modest hero of this study is not a scientist, but a former heating engineer in Swindon named Ron Hoskins. Ron is a thoughtful and very persistent beekeeper and founder of Swindon Honeybee Conservation Group. You may have seen him and his bees last autumn with Chris Packham in a countryside programme, but I first got to know him a decade ago, as the BBKA Slide Librarian who every year provided me with material to illustrate my Beekeeping Beginners’ Course.

For Ron, the present story began in 1994, when he discovered his bees could keep their varroa under control, apparently having developed the ability to groom mites off one another’s bodies³. On that basis he began a programme of breeding which has continued ever since, and since 1994 he has never used chemical control. Instead he collects the dead, fallen mites, counts the proportion that show physical damage and propagates the most effectively resistant colonies.

In 2007 he made a second discovery, that many transparent bee pupal antennae, as well as many baby mites, had fallen into the varroa tray in one hive. This colony was demonstrating another means of varroa control, known as “anti-varroa hygienic behaviour”. This involves house bees uncapping infected brood cells, pulling out the pupae inside and at the same time ejecting the mites hiding within. During this process the pupae’s antennae become detached.

In 2012 a virologist became interested in why, even when some of Ron’s hives had developed a fairly hefty mite population, those colonies did not go down with DWV. He examined the level of infection of the mites with DWV-A and found it to be high. However, by contrast, the level of infection of their hosts, the bees, was very low, although the latter were loaded with DWV-B instead!

The first scientific report was published last October in the advance online publication of the highly prestigious journal “Nature”. 4 The gist of that interpretation is that Ron’s bees had somehow acquired a strong population of the non-lethal variant type B and that this is preventing entry of the lethal Type-A into the bodies of the bees. The phenomenon is known in other circumstances as “superinfection exclusion”, but the way it works is so far unexplained.

The theory the researchers will be investigating in the planned project is that differences in the pathogenicity of DWV types A and B relates to differing capacities of the two forms of the virus to enter certain critical cells in the bees’ bodies. The methods they will use to test this include microscopy with an interesting twist. This is to examine thin sections of bees’ tissues stained with a reagent that fluoresces when illuminated under ultraviolet light. The stain contains fluorescent antibodies directed against protein on the external surface of the viruses, so that their fluorescence then indicates the whereabouts of virus of either type in the bees’ bodies. The aim is to apply this test to tissues from bees infected with either DWV Type A, or Type B. and to see if the pattern of tissue infiltration is different.

Meanwhile, Ron is independently pursuing his own explanation. It will be interesting to see who gets there first!

The discovery of the apparent interaction between lethal and protective variants of the same virus suggests a powerful new way to protect varroa infested colonies. Those who do not yet have varroa-resistant bees owe Ron a sincere vote of thanks.

Dorian Pritchard


1. Smith, M. (2015) Bees, Viruses and Varroa . BeeCraft, 97 (11), p. 29.

2. Mordecai, G. J., Jones, I. M. and Schroeder, D. C. (2015) Implications of RNA virus quasispecies: determining the cellular and tissue tropism of deformed wing virus. British Bee Journal Supplement 2, p.10, in BBKA News” No. 222.

3. Hoskins, R. (2015) Honeybee Health. Swindon Honeybee Conservation Group “Really do have Varroa Hygienic Bees!”. The Beekeepers’ Quarterly”, 122, pp 26-28).

4. Mordecai, G. J. Bretell, L. E. Martin, S. J. Dixon, D. Jones, I. M. & Schroeder, D. C. (2015) “Superinfection exclusion and the long-term survival of honey bees in Varroa-infested colonies”. The ISME Journal doi: 10.1038/ismej.2015.186;



Photos of bees taken by Jack Storey.  These are just some of those on his Flikr page recording the first year of beekeeping in the family garden.
bees and mouseguard
Bee landing board
Copyright © 2016 Hexham Beekeepers Association, All rights reserved.

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