Your Autumn 2015 edition of Honey Press from HBKA
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Autumn 2015


Chairman's Report
HBKA Facebook page
Your Photos
Beekeeping Down Under
Beginners Sessions 2015
Last Apiary Session Sept 13th
Spotlight On Shaun Scrimgeour
Robert Furness Apiary 2015
Swarm: Continued
Hive Lending Scheme
Penrith Beekeepers Fundraiser

Chair’s Report September 2105

Wylam Apiary

It has been really great to see so many beginners attending the Sunday afternoon sessions at the Wylam Apairy. This suggests that in this part of the world people appreciate the importance of bees, specifically honey bees, and want to do something to keep them thriving and healthy. Without people like you this is not going to happen because the history of the honey bee goes far beyond the life of any individual.

A difficult season

This year with unseasonably cold weather it has been very difficult to help colonies develop at the speed and strength they require in order to survive, let alone produce any surplus honey. This has been highlighted nationally with starvation notices issued first in Scotland and then England.

The other related issue has been the number of hives where supersedure has occurred. This happens when swarming has taken place in a healthy strong hive and a new queen emerges, but then swarming occurs again and again until the hive is so depleted that it faces extinction. The reason for this behaviour is not clear but must be related to the stress that colonies have experienced this season. Late season requeening has helped some beekeepers to stabilise and rebuild their colonies

On the heather

Fortunately temperatures did improve in July and those beekeepers who have moved colonies to the heather have found that strong colonies have been working the heather well. It is unlikely to be such a good heather season as last year but it could double the crop for some beekeepers.

Those beekeepers who attended the heather meeting held on August the 23rd> will have seen for themselves how hard bees will work on the heather. That was certainly the case on that day and it is hoped that more beekeepers will go to the heather another year.

HBKA Facebook page

You may be aware that Hexham Beekeepers now has a Facebook page which your chair has joined. The way we communicate as a group is changing fast but we are aware that some members prefer to stay with what they know. Please let us know what you prefer.

BBKA Members Survey

You may have read in BBKA news that the BBKA has created a members survey which will be sent to local associations and available to members. I spoke to Alnwick Executive on this issue a couple of weeks ago. Do let me or other executive members know if you’d like an extra members meeting to look at the survey in detail when it comes out in the next few weeks. There may be some value in discussing the questions and the ideas that led to the construction of the survey in the form it has. It’s going to be available for a couple of months with a deadline at the beginning of December. Do please have your say.


We are piloting a Facebook Group to help Association members keep in touch about beekeeping topics.  Perhaps you have a spare queen to offer or want to know if someone has experience with a bit of equipment. You might have a great tip or want some advice about a problem. Whatever it is, hopefully this Facebook Group will help.


As an association we are new to Facebook and not experts in the subtleties of posting but we want to give it a go to see if it is valuable for our members.


You should be able to find it here

but you will need a Facebook account to access it

Handling brood frame
Bees lapping spilt nectar
Marked Queen
Sue Ewing In Full Flow
Your Photos

Thanks for all the photos sent into Honey Press.  These are by Chris Wren.

Clockwise From Top Left:  Handling Frames, Bees Lapping Spilt Nectar, Sue In Full Flow, A Marked Queen

If you have photos of anything to do with Apiculture or bee keepers send them in for inclusion here.
Imagine your bees working all the year round, producing more honey than you can handle. You never open your hives if the temperature drops below 23C and there is no varroa to worry about.
That’s life as described by Australian beekeeper Heather Watson and her husband Stuart at the Hexham Beekeepers Association meeting in August.
Heather started beekeeping in the early 1990s, with 4 hives of European honey bees. Her apiary grew until she had 40 colonies, and with each Langstroth hive producing an average of 200 kilos  she did a roaring trade selling honey at markets. 
“European honey bees were introduced to Australia in 1822 and they’ve been incredibly successful because of the extensive native vegetation,” she said. “Once there were so many managed and feral colonies, that there was a colony every 2 or 3 kilometres in some regions.”
Today, the first question beekeepers ask each other is how many hives they have as a measure of how serious they are. Australia sells $90million worth of honey annually, making it one of the top 10 producers in the world. The biggest state producer is New South Wales, where Heather lives. Nationally, there are around 12,000 registered beekeepers with 520,000 hives.
“It is nomadic, with big operations moving hives up to 20 times a year, chasing honey and pollen alternatively. They travel at night in 30 tonne trucks with fork lifts. 
“Honey, beeswax, propolis, and pollen are sold and packaged bees are exported to California and the Northern Hemisphere for crop pollination.”
Much of the forage is from bushes or towering trees like the eucalypt varieties which grow up to 50 metres high. Not all trees flower annually so Heather has to be aware of both the year and month that different species will bloom. When all goes well, her bees fill a whole super every week.
Stuart helps out as her assistant, and sometimes there is so much honey it’s hard to keep up with extraction. Heather has cut her apiary down to 3 hives which is far more manageable.
She requeens annually, buying from certified breeders in Australia, and has brood all the year round so colonies expand very fast. If they need a boost in Spring, she feeds a pollen supplement. Sugar syrup is rarely used.
In England, wooden hives last for decades. In Australia, the combination of heat and termites means they rot surprisingly quickly so Heather constantly checks the condition of her stands, brood chambers and supers.
Australia is one of the few countries left that doesn’t have varroa, but instead beekeepers are waging war on a very nasty hive beetle from sub-Saharan Africa (known as small hive beetle in this country).
“Stuart said: “This can cause colony collapse within a week. It eats larvae, honey and wax, and defecates, spreading a yeast which makes the honey sour.
“It’s a huge problem, especially for commercial beekeepers, because we all have to clear and extract honey from supers within hours, instead of stockpiling and extracting when we have time.”   
There are various traps, but one of the most effective controls is moving colonies to mountain areas where the temperature drops below freezing, which kills the beetle.
Nosema, American Foul Brood, drought, and bush fires - far worse than these difficulties is an Australian plague which affects female beekeepers - sexism. Aussie blokes commonly remark to Heather, “You can’t possibly be a beekeeper. You’re a woman”. Perhaps as a consequence, there are relatively few women beekeepers in Australia. Suddenly, beekeeping Down Under doesn’t seem quite so attractive after all.
cc Sheilagh Matheson
August 2015

Beginners Sessions- 2015

We had lots of interest from new beekeepers about our beginners’ sessions and in total 37 people registered to attend one or more of the sessions. This number was obviously impossible to accommodate at any one time but with the fantastic help and commitment of a number of volunteer demonstrators we have managed to accommodate between 15 and 25 beginners at each session. Everyone who registered has been to at least one session and most to several more. I have had some lovely feedback from some of our attendees who feel that they have learned something useful at each session. We always finish our sessions with tea, coffee, biscuits and a chat so people get to know other new beekeepers in the area.

I’d very much like to thank Chris Wren, Ian Robinson, Neil Dawson, Philip Latham, Judith Stewart, Ann Howarth, Jilly Halliday and David Pearce for turning up and sharing their knowledge and demonstrating to our beginners. Without them the sessions could not go ahead. I’d also like to thank Jane Hughes, Dave Cowings and Clare Lindsay who have also supported sessions.

We have a few more sessions left with one extra added on 30th August. (Please note planned 20th September session has been cancelled).

All being well we will run beginners’ sessions again next year. I’d love to hear from anyone who would like to help out or demonstrate at sessions. You don’t need to be massively experienced. You just need some confidence in going through the bees and be able to point out what you can see and show this to our beginners. We can always pair you up with someone a bit more experienced till you get the hang of it.

Sue Ewing

Last Apiary Meet of the 2015 Season  - Sunday 13th September at 2pm

The final Apiary meeting of the 2015 season will be held at the Wylam apiary on Sunday 13th September at 2pm.  Our topic for this session will be ‘Preparing your Bees for the Winter’.  A must for beekeepers with their first winter coming up and a good refresher for those who have a bit more experience.

We will discuss and demonstrate:

Checking your colony status. 

Checking the health of your bees & how to examine combs for brood diseases.

Checking for varroa and appropriate treatments for the time of year. 

Size of colony & whether to merge or not.

Late Autumn forage.

Feeding to build up stores for the winter and over winter feeding.  

Protecting the colonies, entrances, mouseguards, wooden or mesh floors, insulation.

We hope to see you there, as always, tea & coffee will be provided after the session.  If you’d like to please bring a cake or similar and we can finish with a tea party!

Spotlight on Shaun Scrimgeour: an occasional series when HBKA Chair Philip Latham meets beekeepers at their apiary.

The first impression about Shaun is that he does everything on a large scale from the size of some of his hives to the numbers of bees inside many of them.

Shaun is a joiner by trade and that comes through clearly in both the  quality of hives he sells to beekeepers and the neat solutions he has created for his own hives whether its stacking nucs one on top of the other to create ready made nucs to which queens can be added early in the season.  or creating four mini nucs from one brood box. Everything works and fits smoothly with his equipment.  Unlike some of us, myself included, who will tend to create a bodged job especially when time’s pressing. There’s no bodging with Shaun.

Like all beekeepers the lack of warmth this year has adversely affected his colonies. Nevertheless, despite this Shaun was able to show me some very impressive colonies, that, when conditions improve, are going to bring in a lot of pollen and nectar. So, if conditions on the heather are right, there’s still time for a late crop of honey from his many hives.

It was certainly surprising to be reminded by Shaun that he’s a relative late comer to beekeeping. He started only a few years ago, when having been inspired by a TV programme he enrolled on a short beekeeping course run by Kim and  Mark Pritchard. This got him started and now he gets many of his ideas from watching demonstrations on U tube. Shaun doesn’t seem to be hampered in developing his way of beekeeping by being a hostage to how it used to be done in the past. He’s prepared to try something and if it doesn’t work then adapt his methods. 

I got the clear impression that in a short space of time Shaun has come a long way with his beekeeping and he has already made a considerable contribution to beekeeping in Northumberland.

The Robert Furniss Apiary Report – 2015

Our main practical resource is our Apiary at Wylam. We keep a number of colonies at this site for the express purpose of teaching new and prospective beekeepers about our craft and welcoming them to the Hexham Beekeepers Association. We hold some of our summer monthly meetings at the apiary and this year we held a very successful meeting about swarm control in June. Indeed we even managed to demonstrate hiving a very convenient swarm! At the meeting we demonstrated a range of swarm control options such as queen removal, the Pagden method and using a Snelgrove board to manage the swarming impulse.

If you are reading this in early September we will also be holding the last outdoor meeting of the season on September 12th when we will discuss how to prepare bees for the winter.

We went into last winter with 8 colonies and 7 emerged unscathed in the spring with one of the smaller colonies not surviving. So we started the year with 7 colonies with 5 green queens (2014) and 2 red queens (2013) heading the colonies.

We had high hopes for raising lots of nucs and maybe even producing some honey to sell at the shows. However the weather this year has been particularly uncooperative with a long cold, windy spring, followed by an unseasonably cool, wet summer. We have had some nice days but always flanked by cold wet days, this has made for poor foraging and mating conditions and our bees, together with bees all over the region, have suffered. A few of the nucs we put up from the swarm control have failed, probably due to unmated queens and those that have survived have had to be fed some supplementary sugar solution to ensure their survival.

At the time of writing at the end of August, we have 10 queenright colonies but some are still small. We will assess all the colonies soon to see what will need to be united to ensure survival for the winter. In the meantime we are hoping for a good nectar flow from the balsam at the river to build our bees up for the winter. Hopefully to be followed by a late ivy flow and above all some warm, calm settled weather so our girls can get out to this bounty and fingers crossed for a good year in 2016.

Happy Beekeeping!

Sue Ewing

Swarm: Continued

This is a continuation of my story from the last edition of Honey Press.  If you read the last edition then skip a paragraph to miss out the recap.

For new readers, in early June I had made an attempt to collect a swarm of bees from my garden.  They were not mine and had chosen a tantalisingly awkward spot, attached to a trunk in a hedge, right down to the ground.  With a mix of my lack of preparedness and inexperience, I managed to lose them.  The last I saw, they were heading off across country, with me in hot pursuit, hoping that somehow I might capture them from wherever they settled and return them to my hurriedly converted Langstroth hive with some National brood frames inserted.  Of course they were none to keen to be seen in such a makeshift home and preferred to take their chances crossing the railway and the River Tyne.  I returned home, taking the time to warn nearby houses that they might find a swarm in a garden or barn and to contact me if it was troublesome.

To Resume:  A week later, we were expecting visitors, a ninety five year old and her son and planned to take them for lunch in the garden.  As the doorbell announced their arrival, I passed a window with a view of the garden and saw, exactly where it had been the week before, a swarm clinging to the hedge.  Clearly, a lunch alfresco was off the agenda, as was any idea I might have had about going out to collect it.  In fact nobody, except me relished the idea of venturing outside, or even sitting indoors with the windows open.  I kept making excuses to go and check on progress.  They seemed to be settling down and I hoped they would stay all afternoon until our guest departed.  Four hours later, the conversation and tea was still flowing, when I went to the window once more and found that the swarm had taken off again.  I had no idea whether it could have been the same one, or if they had been attracted to the same hedge trunk by the scent of other bees.  Once again I felt disappointed and deprived of my 'silver spoon'.

One week on and Christina, who was painting at the top of the garden came in to tell me that my bees were getting very agitated.  I went to look and found a very sparsely populated hive, with a crowd of them hanging off the front.  I closed up and decided to look at the hedge where the other swarms had been.  My escapees weren't there, but a lot of activity a few metres away in a higher section told me that there was definitely a swarm somewhere inside the densest part of the same hedge.  A brief search showed a swarm was hanging from the top branches, around three feet above head height.  It was much smaller and more accessible than the earlier two, so I prepared thoroughly before climbing on a pair of steps armed with box, hedge clippers and a soft brush.  It turns out that collecting a swarm is dead easy, if you have three arms.  Unforgiveable I know, but I hadn't prepared for this either.  However, it really wasn't very long before I had not only managed to get the majority of bees into the hive, but had provided an hour or so of entertainment for Christina.

I gave the swarm a feeder of sugar syrup and left it to settle for a few days.  There was plenty of activity around both hives and I began to feel confident that I had achieved something in capturing my first swarm.  After a while, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to investigate progress, to see if they were feeling at home and to check for a queen in both hives.  The vacated hive seemed to be fuller than it had been and I identified a new queen.  The swarm hive I opened and immediately caused them a problem.  With only three waxed frames in place, they had neither touched them, nor the feed and had made five separate wild combs attached to the crownboard.  As I lifted it, each collapsed sideways, like dominos, knocking the next along off the board.  The whole lot collapsed to the bottom of the hive and a pool of nectar flowed across the floor.  The bees were not pleased.  I tried to stand the dislodged comb upright against the hive sides and closed it back up, cursing myself for not having ordered new brood frames earlier.

A day later the bees showed their displeasure had not abated and I was back up a stepladder with clippers, etc.  Soon I had a more butchered hedge, but at least the bees were climbing back up the sloping plank, from the box into the hive.  Carefully removing the crownboard, I found a new piece of wild comb hanging beneath it.  This meant that my newly arrived and assembled frames would have to fit in around it, unless I was prepared to risk further bee riots.  I was not.

A month later and the vacated hive is packed with bees, some of which, I think may have returned from the new hive.  The swarm in the second hive has extended the wild comb down to the floor and I have not found the marked queen in either hive.  It is still small and as neither hive is well stocked with winter stores, I may have to continue feeding until next year.  I'm also considering whether to combine them once the queen/s have stopped laying.

Paul Mingard
The swarm in my hedge.  Getting at it required a bit of butchery of the foliage, but I was going to reshape it anyway.
They started walking up the slope into the makeshift hive leaving bits of hedge behind.
Finally the bees had climbed up into their new home, permanently I hoped.


When Judith Furness offered the association an annual donation in memory of Robert, we in the committee were keen to put the funds to good use.

This donation along with the Giftaid top-up on our membership fees (from HMRC) allowed us to consider offering hive equipment to new beekeepers who had not kept bees before. This would soften the high cost of start-up and reduce the barrier for many considering starting beekeeping

Hives are offered in June to a maximum of 5 applicants who fitted our criteria, i.e. never had bees before; are active HBKA members (demonstrated by attendance to apiary beginner meetings); and had recently completed a recognized basic beekeeping course. They also undertake to register their bees with Beebase.

The new beekeepers then have a whole season to get their bees and experience the joys and worries of beekeeping in the raw before deciding whether to hang on to the hive (and pay HBKA for the equipment) or to return all back to the Association

In our first year, 2014, we had three successful applicants. All three have now completed the season and have opted to keep their hives, which is greatly encouraging. One applicant wrote:

“I have hugely appreciated the scheme – it was probably the single most significant factor in getting me started as a beekeeper.”

Buoyed with this success, we have repeated the scheme this year and 4 applicants now have their hives (and hopefully bees) and are well on their way.

This year, we were also offered the opportunity to encourage a young beekeeper to start keeping bees. Robyn, a regular participant of the Beginner Sessions at the apiary this summer, did not fully fit our criteria for the hive scheme. Being still at school and reliant on her Mum to drive her around, getting to an evening course at Kirkley Hall, for example, was really not an option for her.

So the committee has decided to sponsor Robyn under a separate scheme – which we have called the Colin Weightman Hive Sponsorship Scheme, in memory of our late President. Under this scheme, Robyn has been given a hive and bees to manage at home. She will keep the bees for three years, during which time we will provide support, training and mentoring as required. In this way, we hope to support and encourage Robyn’s keenness to become a competent beekeeper. 

Copyright © 2015 Hexham Beekeepers Association, All rights reserved.

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