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Report From The Chair.

From the Chair
Do you feel that this year has gone more quickly than ever or is it more to do with advancing years? I write this looking at an overcast sky when it looks as if the weather is firmly in the grip of low pressure systems from the Atlantic. 
Fortunately for those who were able to attend the members' meeting at Jane and Ivan Swaile's apiary, the forecast downpour didn't arrive until after the  meeting. 
It was a pleasure to watch and listen to Willie Robson going through Ivan's bees. Bees, which despite the threatening weather, for the most part behaved themselves. Two of the key messages were,  firstly, make sure bees on the heather don't starve, because a colony packed with bees needs to have plenty of stores. Ivan is taking his bees to the heather and was adding feed as Willie directed. The second message was the continuing failure of queens. Willie explained how nowadays he has to have  sufficient nucs available to replace failing queens in his colonies. 
After the apiary visit is was a further delight to see Jane and Ivan's garden which was open to visitors raising money for Tynedale Hospice at Home.
There is no doubt that queen failure is now an established trend which is a threat to bees and beekeeping. We don't know the causes yet, although we have our suspicions that environmental effects coupled with the impact of more powerful viruses are the main players. 
How to reverse this is a question that our national body the BBKA should be focusing on lobbying our Government and the EU for funds for further research.
Hives at the heather.  This year the flowers are better than last, so it's all looking good for those who made the journey with their bees.
A great use for wax.  This bowl won a first prize at Slaley.  The l;eaves are an integral part of the bowl.  Have you made anythiong like this from your wax?  Show us.
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Bee health
The comment by Philip Latham about queen failure is, as you know, only part of the story.  A survey by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) in 2016 showed that the failure of hives overwintering 2015-16 was 18.5%.  The vast majority of those surveyed (85%) were members of a beekeeping association in England and Wales, so it is no good thinking that this does not happen to our members.
There are lots of things we can do to give our bees the best chance of surviving, proper feeding, reducing disease through better hygeine, monitoring and tackling varroa, combining weak hives and selecting the right bee strain for our environment, etc.
HBKA can and does help members through education, support (bee buddies) and help with over wintering feeding (see below).
What more should we do?  Would a survey of our members good and bad fortune help us to identify the scale of the problem in our area?  Would people want to admit failures if it was of help to all of us to learn from these?  How many of us could be as honest as Clare Lindsay, below?  Do you have any ideas to share with us?  Let us know your thoughts and concerns.
For beginners and those who feel the need to refresh their skills from time to time, Sue Robinson organises the session in September on putting the hive to bed for winter.  Contact Sue on for more details, or look out for an email update.
Jane Hughes has ordered a supply of Fondant and Syrup, formulated for bees, which brings the price down for members.  The added bonus of this scheme is that you get a trip to Allendale thrown in for free.  If you've never visited, shame on you.  Jane is away until the 26th August and she says the the food is going like hot, er, syrup.  So contact her a bit smartish and provide your bees with food for a harsh winter.  Jane is on email:  mobile: 07795 114 104, or telephone 01434 618446
Prices are
Box of Fondabee fondant – 5 x 2.5kg £13.20  and Jerrycan Invertbee Syrup – 14kg £13.50
All of us can remember our beginnings as beekeepers and the sad but illuminating litany of errors.  If you have your own story to tell, email us here and you will be rewarded in digital print.


I love making frames. It’s an area of beekeeping in which, having learned from experience the consequences of putting the grooves on the outside, forgetting to put nails in the bottom bars and attempting to fix small strips of wax to the bottom edge of a Manley, I feel quite confident. I even brought transferable skills to the endeavour - I’d been an upholsterer in an earlier life so my hammering was quite well developed. So there I was at my third frame- making session and heard myself referred to as the Association’s ‘longest- standing beginner’. Hmmm. I thought about this on the way home and wondered.....

I’d read William Mayne’s A Swarm in May many years ago and it stayed with me as a wish to keep bees one day. I had responded to the mystery and charm of bees that Mayne captured in his story. Decades later, a move towards retirement and a new project to manage some land for biodiversity left me with time and space to make the wish a reality and I took the course at Kirkley Hall. By the end of the theoretical input I felt overwhelmed with information and very confused. Beekeeping remained mysterious and the idea of doing it had lost some of its charm. Fortunately the practical sessions translated some of that into a graspable possibility, though a lingering doubt about whether or not I could encompass all that was required stayed with me.

My next move, as recommended on the course, was to sign up to the HBKA, and through this I learned about the beginners’ sessions at the Wylam apiary. Slowly, frame by frame, some aspects of beekeeping began to make sense and with the patient generosity of the demonstrators, I began to believe that I might be able to do this. There were obstacles - being able to see eggs seemed pretty important. Look for things like grass seed, we’re told. Clearly my arms weren’t long enough, the angles were all wrong, the sun too bright or not bright enough, obviously there were no eggs to be seen - yet somehow the demonstrators always managed to see them. I thought maybe I could see something, maybe not and then - oh, I can see them, and they’re so small, much smaller than any grass seed I’ve seen. Maybe my arms are the right length after all - that’s a relief.

Then the HBKA established the Hive Loan Scheme. I cannot speak too highly of this. The scheme offered me a much needed stepping stone to keeping bees. I could have a go and if I didn’t take to it, I wouldn’t have wasted money on the outlay, I could back out without losing face, and I wouldn’t be on my own. I signed up. I arranged to buy a nucleus colony. I was about to become A Beginner.

Pause for modest drum roll.

I set up the hive in our garden, rather than at its planned destination, the theory being that I could spend time watching the bees from closer at hand. Yes, true, and I did. However at this stage I was still operating under some blissful illusion that à la William Mayne story, I would have a mystical connection to the bees and they to me and therefore would wish me no harm and therefore never sting me. Second pause for side-splitting laughter, knowing smirks and maybe just a tiny bit of identification. So my first sting was a rite of passage and very painful and punctured not only my skin but that cherished fantasy. I became a little more reluctant to do the gardening.

The first winter approached and the first of the challenges that face a beginner - Getting The Bees Through The Winter. I had heard that placing an empty brood box below the colony allowed the bees to cluster in that space for warmth - I liked the idea of them snuggling their way through the winter so that’s what I did. Unfortunately, I had heard no reference to, and didn’t think to ask, when to remove said box. When I first opened the hive in the Spring, they had already filled the empty box with wild comb. Help!!

Help of course duly arrived as it has continued to do in times of crisis and uncertainty. I have experienced laying workers, queens failing to mate well, swarming (for a long time ‘swarm control’ seemed to exist only in theory) and a complete absence of any spare honey. I decided in my own mind that as long as I hadn’t had a go at swarm control or tasted honey from my own hives, then a beginner I would remain. There was also another obstacle to my progress - I had failed time and again to spot a queen on my own. And I’m talking marked queens. Spotting a queen seemed to be the sine qua non of beekeeping and I had singularly failed to do so. Time and time again.

I’m talking three years here, and all this time I was listening to more and more information. Some of it I had heard before, some was new, and most of it fell into the ‘ask ten beekeepers, receive eleven replies’ category. I felt as if I was perpetually behind, permanently confused, and most of the time overwhelmed and without any clear sense of rhythm or pattern to what I was doing or attempting to do. I thought about giving up but my inner terrier decided otherwise.

The HBKA struck again - bee-buddying. That sounded like a good idea. I signed up. While waiting for the scheme to get under way, I approached someone keeping his bees near mine and we started. We began more as

joint bee-keeping, working through our hives together while sharing ideas about what was happening, what we might do, the state of the world, etc.. I noticed that I was less anxious - chatting was helping to dispel some of the tension, and then one day, while not particularly looking, I saw one of his marked queens. (Another modest drum roll would not go amiss.) And then, on the same day, I saw the other. (Not so modest drum roll.) The trick both times seemed to be not to look for the queen and she sort of materialised into my vision. Flushed with success we moved on to my hives and (thunderous tympani) I saw one of my unmarked queens. I caught her and marked her. The other remained elusive. However, something I had changed - I was no longer in the grip of that “I’ll never see a queen” belief that probably acts as an effective blinker. And I should probably mention that I had cataract surgery earlier this year. Trying to spot a queen bee through the optical equivalent of a net curtain might have proved a challenge too far. I have since spotted more queens, so it wasn’t an aberration.

Spotting queens has of course made swarm control - or rather undertaking the mechanics of swarm control - more possible. The bees, unsurprisingly, had other ideas about who was in control and one colony swarmed and my bee buddy experienced the same. And here’s an unexpected benefit of buddying - we helped catch each other’s swarms and then rehoused them in each other’s apiaries. Result!

I began to realise that I felt more up to date with my bee-keeping. I was beginning to anticipate what might happen next and what I might be able to do in response. I was more confidently knowledgeable about what a bee- keeping year looked like. I tidied all the notes and articles I had collected and sorted then into a file. I had a better sense of it all and more importantly for me, less afraid to ask questions and to ask for help.

So, it only remains for me to taste my own honey - and this year I have a super nearly full of the stuff. Yes, I still have to take it, however it seems to me that I can no longer shelter under the Beginner label. I texted my daughter about this, saying that moving to the next level felt a bit scary and maybe I could call myself an interginner. She pointed out that that looked as if I had an alcohol problem so I have chosen a different label. You heard it first here - I am proud to say that I am a begimediate bee-keeper. And I’ll probably be back at next year’s frame-making session.

Clare Lindsay


Several HBKA members took BBKA Basic Assessment this year.  All six passed with one being awarded Credit.  Congratulations all.

Robyn Franklin  Pass -
Pam Peart
  Credit -
Jola Weaver  Pass -
Martyn Farrer  Pass -
Jonathan Storey  Pass -
Neill Wylie  Pass -
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