Contents: Editorial; Beekeeping news; Bee press Obituary Joyce Jones; Research News; Articles: Bee sense and sensibility (part 2 of 5) Ian Rumsey. Observation hives John Yates. Microscopy for beginners Mathew Allen. The fight against varroa; Poem of the Month Oak tree; Recipe of the Month Honey pudding and skin care; Fact File Taqman; Historical Note The swarming season; Readers Letters: Jeremy Quinlan, Steve Symons, Leanna; Diary of events; Quote of the Month and more. Please wait while downloading 319KB.


Apis-UK Issue No.25 June 2004
Bromley Beekeepers display at St Christopher’s School Beckenham
Bromley Beekeepers display at St Christopher’s School Beckenham (June 2004)

EDITORIAL Back to top

I write this editorial on the longest day whilst watching a flock of bee eaters make one or two inroads into my newly purchased nucs. Several correspondents have commented to me on difficulties with nucs this year. Failure to prosper, queens unable to mate etc; the problems appear mainly to be due to the weather and indeed this has badly affected my operation. Instead of new nucs arriving in early May ready to take advantage of the wealth of Spring flowers, they have arrived in late June, ready to starve to death in the summer dearth. As they are small colonies, there may be enough for them to survive until the Autumn rains. The local beekeepers assure me that all will be well. We’ll see.

Cork harvest

My cork harvest took place with cork cutters starting work at 6 am and advancing at phenomenal speed, like a swarm of locusts over my land, closely followed by Gypsy and Crazy, the two mules and their driver who carry the cut cork from the hills to the waiting trucks. You may ask why I talk about cork in a bee magazine, but hives were made of cork in the old days and formed the basis of the local apicultural traditions of the area. These hives are still used by some of the old boys who try to sell them on retirement. They are inefficient and useless compared to modern hives but are objects of great beauty none the less. The rest of the cork is sold and the acorns from the cork oak form the basis of the local ham industry - Jamon de Jabugo. The most expensive ham in the world. The cork oak prunings provided valuable firewood and with this and pigs and honey, the smallholder survived and prospered. Some time ago I wrote an article for a UK beekeeping newsletter edited by Bob Ogden on these cork hives so if you want to know more I’ll ask the editor to send me a copy and reproduce it here. (Any chance of a copy Bob?). I am also pleased that the poem this month celebrates the oak tree.

I was always determined that one day I would write an issue of Apis-UK without mentioning GMOs or transgenic plants etc, but whenever I try this, up they pop demanding the attention of beekeepers who are naturally concerned by this confusing subject. GMOs are good. They are bad. They won’t make any difference. They will feed the world. They are an irrelevance because there are more efficient alternatives. They will destroy mankind, Frankenstein’s... and so it goes on. I have read cogent arguments supporting each of these statements and have written some myself and in this issue we bring both good and bad news on the subject thus further muddying the muddy waters in an attempt to bring clarity to the situation, or at least keep you up to date on the subject. Crop genes can spread rapidly despite containment it seems and in a truly excellent edition of Bee World (IBRA), we hear that so far, GMO pollen will not harm bees. (See ‘In the Press’ below).

Bee eater bird stamps

Earlier in the editorial I mentioned the beautiful bee eater birds, and some time ago an aquaintance, knowing my love hate relationship with these fascinating birds, was kind enough to send me a set of stamps from various countries depicting them. Phlately of course can be an absorbing sub hobby within beekeeping with many beekeepers involved in the interesting and extremely educational pastime of topical stamp collecting. In the August edition I intend to feature this aspect of beekeeping philately, so if anyone can share their knowledge on the subject with Apis-UK, please do.

In this issue, we bring you our usual mix of subjects which I know will be of interest to progressive beekeepers, and also a new section entitled ‘Quote of the month’. This isn’t a quote uttered this month but one by some eminent bee master or mistress of the past. It will be a true test of your overall beekeeping knowledge and all you have to do is decide who it is and what he or she was referring to, and write in with your answer. The answer will appear the following month with a short biography of the person and a fact file outlining our current knowledge of the subject being talked about.

There is an opportunity below (See News) to get involved in some original research, and it is open to all beekeepers. The NBU are launching a survey on viruses using the TaqMan analysis process (see Fact File), and they need your help. So don’t hang back and moan about the system not doing anything for you; get involved. It’s interesting and useful.

Elsewhere, we report on bee spies, sick males, rampant crop genes, and observation hives amongst other subjects and of course we hear some good advice from the past in the Historical Note. Varroa is of course mentioned with a summary of the use of thymol in olive oil, and the use of food grade mineral oil to combat the beast. And Pudding 2 hits the screen in the recipe section.

As usual it has been a nail bitingly close thing getting this issue out on time, but we hope that you enjoy it and come back for more. Remember that if there are any subjects related to beekeeping that you want dealt with, just let us know.

David Cramp. Editor. Cover Photograph by Robin Spon-smith Bromley BKA .

NEWS Back to top

The NBU are launching an investigation into the occurrence of viruses in honeybee colonies throughout England and Wales using a novel method for virus detection called TaqMan. They aim to survey honey bees from all around this large geographical area, and would like beekeepers to help by taking samples of adult bees, then sending them to the NBU.

What is the purpose?
There are really two aims to the experiment. The first is to use the technology to see if it is a valid method for virus detection. It has worked on pure viruses and on virus-infected bees, but we would like more data from real samples. The second aim is to try to determine which viruses are present in the British Isles. Initially, we will be looking for a small number of viruses, but eventually we would like to use this method to answer research-driven questions, but we need to establish that the method works first.

What is involved?
The procedure is very simple. You are provided with a small plastic bottle containing a small volume of 70% alcohol. All you need to do is scoop between 10-20 bees into the bottle, then send it to the NBU. There is also a short form to fill in.

Will I get to know the results?
The results for each beekeeper will be sent to them, so they know which viruses were present in the sample submitted. Any feedback will include which viruses were tested for and whether they present or not. However, due to the nature of the experiment, you may not receive the results for a few months, but you will be told what we find.

If there is a positive result, does this mean my bees might be subject to disease controls?
No. None of the viruses are currently notifiable, so there are no statutory controls. Your bees will only be tested for the viruses, not for any other disorders.

I would like to be involved. What do I do now?
All you need to do is notify the NBU that you would like to take part in the experiment. Just send an e-mail to stating your name, address and NBU identification number (if known). You will be sent a sampling bottle (or more if requested), a form and full instructions. If you have any questions, just contact us at the same address.

So what is TaqMan? The process is described in our short Fact File.

In similar research (see above), the Complutense University of Madrid is carrying out studies into the characterisation of the principle viruses affecting Apis mellifera. They too regard the PCR diagnostic technique (See fact file) as being the most suitable for this type of study as they regard it as rapid, specific and sensitive. They hope to develop and refine the technique for the diagnosis of bee viruses. Raquel martin of the veterinary faculty of the university stated that in 2003, they identified an iridovirus which had formerly only been identified in Apis cerana and which coincided with a high death rate in some colonies and which they attributed to this virus.

The faculty is also carrying out research into the immune responses of bees to disease and whether the effects observed in the immune system of bees are similar to those which have been described in other insects. (Trans by Ruth Christie).

Did you know that certain bee species send out spies to eavesdrop on their neighbours before invading their territory and stealing their food resource. US and Brazilian scientists studied the interactions between two species of Brazilin stingless bees; Trigona spinipes an agressive bee, and Melipona rufiventris. They show that bees are adept at the art of espionage, sniffing out chemical markers left by rival species and seizing the source for themselves. Having found the source, they will then summon reinforcements which arrive to chase off or kill their rivals. They manage this within ten minutes of the reinforcements arriving. The Trigona bees are so aggressive that they will even attack and drive off Africanised (killer) bees and birds. The researchers noted that when they were taking over food sources from the melipona bees, Trigona spinipes would use a range of forms of aggression, from threats, to intense grappling, to decapitation. The aim of the study which was reported in the June 16 Journal of Proceedings of the Royal Society, was to find out if bees of one species would or could follow the scent markers of other bee species. They found that the more placid melipona bees preferred to follow their own markers and avoided those of aggressive species, whereas T. spinipes preferred to follow the markers of M. rufventris and then drive it off the food source.

The IBRA web pages are being expanded and developed and you will have no doubt seen the new IBRA Online Bookshop. The next stage of the development will be to move the online journals, Bee World and the JAR from to the IBRA web site. This should be accomplished by July. The director points out however that the contract with Ingenta finishes in June so there may be a short interruption in the service.. Initially only the most recent journals will be available as it will take some time to transfer all the back issues. The IBRA web pages are available at

The European Commission has recently published Regulation (EC) 546/2004 24 March to modify annexes I, II and III of the regulations which establish minimum residue levels of veterinary medicines in foods of animal origin, with the aim of including oxalic acid. No MRL was indicated but of course it now allows the use of oxalic acid in the regulations. Determination of MRLs is an expensive business costing about 100,000 euros or 70,000 pounds sterling. The work was pushed by the European working group on integrated control of varroa which itself has no funds. It therefore invited/cajoled/persuaded member countries to contribute an amount relative to the number of beehives in the country. Austria , Belgium , Denmark , Finland , France , Germany , Italy , Holland and Sweden united to finance the project whilst the UK , Spain , Greece , Luxemburg and Portugal did not respond to requests for finance, and according to the working group, they couldn’t find anyone to contact in Ireland .

(Strange this, because all of these countries have members on the working group. A future Fact File will deal with the subject of MRLs. Ed).

Following an attack on four 13 year old boys by thousands of bees in the USA last week, a pest controller was able to remove 150 llb of honey from a wild hive. The nest was contained in a wooden spool used for cable wire. The bees were driven off the boys by a neighbour using a garden hose.

In an article entitled 'Unbeelievable' the June 14th issue of the Daily Mail details a new book by the food writer Hattie Ellis on the life of the honey bee colony. Most beekeepers will know of the facts about bees contained in this book but it is interesting all the same and of course will inform non beekeepers of the ways of the bee. I was attracted to beekeeping in this way, after I had read a book by Karl Von Frisch. Hattie Ellis's book is called 'Sweetness & Light: The Mysterious History Of The Honey Bee and will be published by Sceptre on July 5.

Dr. Patti Elzen, Research Entomologist at the USDA Weslaco, TX Honey Bee Research Lab, passed away unexpectedly on June 5, 2004 . A memorial service was held on June 10. Dr. Elzen was involved in a wide variety of research projects ranging from Small Hive Beetle, AFB, Varroa and other pests, all from a sustainable agriculture and IPM perspective. Her work in Florida , with James Baxter and others on Small Hive Beetle led to most of the current knowledge U.S. beekeepers have on this newest pest. Dr. Elzen received her BS at University of Florida at Gainsville; her Masters at Texas A&M and her PhD at LSU. She had been at the Bee Lab since 1996. Kim Flottum
I didn't know this scientist but I have heard of her. It is always sad when someone dedicated to our craft and science passes on and I hope that her good work is continued in the USA . Ed.

For those who don't already know, Professor Len Heath died in January. His full obituary can be read in Bee World or other bee keeping magazines, but I remember Professor Heath as one of the finest lecturers I have ever had the privilege of listening to. He gave us several lectures on Chalk brood disease whilst I was studying at the Bee Research Unit at Cardiff . He was a globally acknowledged expert at his subject and was able to impart his knowledge effortlessly and interestingly and I'm sure must have been an inspiration to many hundreds of biology students. I once asked him how one became an eminent professor and someone who was asked by universities all over the world to give talks. He replied, "That's easy. You just choose something obscure that no one else is interested in, study it to the nth degree and there you are. A professor." I was very sad to hear of his death. Ed.


Joyce is on the left

Joyce Jones, the veil designer and maker died after a long illness on Thursday 17th June 2004. She will be remembered fondly throughout the world by the many beekeepers who wear the Joyce Jones Bee Jacket. All at the Quarterly and Apis-UK extend our condolences to Philip and his family who are to continue the production of the veils. Picture shows Joyce is on the left in happier times at Stoneleigh. J. J Burbidge

Norman Carreck of Rothamsted Research is asking for volunteers to survey their gardens and countryside looking for bumble bee nests during the remainder of June or the first week in July. It should only take an hour or so. All information is on our website:

The NBU has recently confirmed a new outbreak of pyrethroid resista varroa near Sandwich in Kent - the first found in the South East Region. This arose as a result of routine surveillance for pyrethroid resistance by CSL bee inspectors. Field testing initially found signs of resistance in a single apiary where unusually large numbers of varroa mites were present despite recent treatment with pyrethroid strips. The presence of resistance was confirmed by subsequent testing of mites from the same apiary at the NBU laboratory. Following this discovery bee inspectors have carried out further tests in the same area and these have revealed the presence of resistance in two further apiaries. There is no known link between the affected apiaries and outbreaks of resistance in the South West or elsewhere.

So far resistance surveillance elsewhere in Kent has shown normal susceptibility of varroa to pyrethroids. However, we will be carrying out further resistance testing over the next few months to attempt to establish the scale of the new outbreak. This development makes it essential that beekeepers in or near to the affected area should now start to look for signs of resistance in their own colonies. Further details on resistance testing and management are available from the National Bee Unit website: or from Alan Byham, South East Regional Bee Inspector Tel: 01737 230846 Email: a.byham @ If you have any questions or comments please feel free to get in touch. James Morton National Bee Inspector, Central Science Laboratory - National Bee Unit Tel/fax: 020 8571 6450 Mobile: 07719 924 418 E-mail: j.morton @


In a piece of research published last month in the Proceedings Biological Sciences of the Royal Society, two US scientists at the University of Washington and the University of Illinoise have proposed a new model for behavioural development among social insects such as bees. This 'sick male' theory may affect such behaviours as the division of labour between males and females and the relative isolation of experienced by males in many insect societies.

The researchers looked at the hymenoptera which have a highly complicated societies and an unusual genetic make up. Most beekeepers will know that the females, like most animals including humans are diploid and have two sets of chromosomes, one from each parent. Drones however are haploid having only one set of chromosomes.

Diseases and infections are powerful and ongoing forces in natural selection say the researchers, and natural selection should favour individuals that possess forms of genes or alleles that make them more resistant to infection. They give the example of different forms of a blood gene in humans that can provide resistance to malaria. People with two different alleles for this gene are more resistant.

Because they are haploid though, hymenopteran males can't have alternate forms of any gene thus having no genetic variability.

This say the scientists put them at a higher susceptibility to disease.

They further suggest that this vulnerability has shaped certain behaviours in social insect colonies with division of labour being a prime example. Females vastly outnumber males and do most of the work. Males do little or no work, don't forage for food or building materials and do little which would expose them to pathogens.

The sick male theory proposes that female biased societies and differences in male and female behaviour may be responses to higher risks of infection in males.

Inbreeding in certain plants is prevented by a process called self incompatibility in which pollination fails if the pollen is identified as its own by the pistil. There has always been a gap in our knowledge about how this process works, but now, a research team in the USA has identified a gene of petunias that controls pollen function in self incompatibility. Ten years ago, the same team identified the gene controlling the self incompatibility function of the pistil, but the male component turned out to be much more elusive.

It is unlikely that farmers will stop planting crops containing genes from other organisms and with this certainty in mind, researchers have started to develop strategies that trap these genes in order to reduce the risk that they will spread to their wild relatives. A new investigation by scientists at the university of Wisconsin-Madison and the university of Minnesota-St Paul shows that these containment strategies can fail.

There are various strategies employed for preventing 'transgene escape' but the scientists have shown that for each strategy there is in fact a possibility of escape and the question really is not whether transgene escape will occur but how long it will take, and this question formed the basis of the research. A mathematical model has been developed based on factors controlling gene flow from crop plants to wild relatives and these factors include the rate of transgene leakage, the rate of pollen flow, the size of the wild population and the effects of the transgene under wild conditions.

Findings from the model show that even when the average time taken for escape is as long as 100 growing seasons, it can occur much sooner regardless of the containment strategy. Also, the situation is worsened when the transgenic crop is planted out on more than 1 field (which is likely). It could be on 100 fields thus hugely increasing the risk of escape.

One of the key messages in of the research paper published in the March issue of Ecology Letters, is that scientists will have to develop containment strategies with the smallest possible leakage rate to minimise risks and that researchers should evaluate the true effectiveness of gene containment strategies on specific crops.

Any method used to reduce the amount of pesticides used on plants is good news for beekeepers and research now shows that plants themselves may be showing us that natural predators can be an effective method. Physically damaged plants or chewed plants produce a volatile chemical that may serve as a primer to prepare nearby plants to defend them against insect attack. These first chemicals released are green leafy volatiles (GLV) with the scent of new mown grass, or crushed leaves. These are highly volatile and appear immediately so they are good candidates to prepare other plants to defend themselves.

Studying maize plants, researchers have found that exposure to GLV primed the maize defences to respond more strongly against subsequent attack by herbivorous insects by increasing jasmonic acid biosynthesis and volatile organic compounds (VOC). Jasmonic acid is a plant hormone that turns on plant defences including VOCs which are chemicals that attract parasites and predators of the attacking insect. They say that the GLV acts like a vaccine, preparing the plant's defence mechanism but not winding it up to full strength. If the plant is not subsequently attacked then it does not waste energy producing defences. If however it is attacked the response is more rapid and stronger. This response is to produce VOCs that attract predators of the attacking plant and it has been shown in maize plants that a damaged plant will produce GLVs, but then if the damaged part is rubbed with caterpillar spit (beet army worm - a pest of maize), an enhanced response attracting wasps and other predators occurs.

Using these naturally produced chemicals may have potential for more natural pest control in crops which would be of great benefit to bee keepers and of course to soil health.

The full report on this interesting research can be found in the January edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Many beekeepers have been worried about whether bees collecting pollen or honey from GM plants would themselves come to any harm, in particular the possibility that antibiotic resistance genes in GM plants may move to bacteria in the environment with serious consequences for control of bacterial diseases of humans and animals including bees. Well here at least is some good news. In an excellent article in Bee World, (IBRA), the author, Louise Malone, concludes that evidence available so far shows that none of the GM plants currently commercially available have significant impacts on honey bee health. Regulators in many countries are aware of the importance of honey bees and will continue to demand information on potential impacts on these insects before new GM plant varieties are released.

THE BEE PRESS Back to top

Beecraft June 2004 Volume 86 Number 6
Claire Waring Editor.

The following is its contents list: Controlling European foul brood Chris Barker, Mike Brown and Ruth Waite, PhD; The beekeeping year: June Pam Gregory, MSc, NDB; BBKA Stoneleigh 2004; The black pimpernel Karen Guthrie; Beekeeping and back injuries Chris Wansbury; The Honey Regulations 2003 Peter Martin; Small and perfectly formed (part 2) Celia Davis, NDB; Memories of smokers J Withrington; In the Apiary: having fun with bees (part 5); Setting up an Association website Linda Carey; Letters to the Editor; Around the colony; The 'B' Kids; Classified advertisements; Calendar. Cover Picture: Michael Young's smoker carved from ice with a chainsaw at the BBKA Spring Convention (photo: Steven Turner)

Bee Craft June 2004 Bees for Development Journal June 2004

One years subscription (four issues) UK£20 or download only subscription UK£18 which includes back issues. June 2004 No.71 issue has the following contents: Inside information; Silent spring in Northern Europe; 7th AAA Conference; Readers letters; Notice Board; Zoom in on Syria; News from Namibia; News around the World; Project news from ICIMOD; Book Shelf; Look and Learn Ahead. Cover picture © Bees for Development. The Chon Family and The University of the Philippines, Los Banos' Bee Program's display explaining the value of bees at the AAA Conference held in February. and now in Spanish URL:

The latest issue of Bee World is a Must Read for beekeepers. This second edition in the new A4 glossy format, it includes several articles of great interest. With the NBU carrying out the virus survey, taqman probes to the fore and Madrid University also looking at this subject, the guest editorial written by Brenda Ball of Rothamsted sums up in an article entitled 'The trouble with Viruses'. It informs us of viral survival strategies, how they work, what they are, where they are going and how they affect us as beekeepers. (The article also confirmed in my mind that the plural of virus is viruses. I was never sure of that. Ed).
Bee World

Varroa and its spread and affects in New Zealand are detailed and the potential effects of GM crops on honey bee health are written up in an extremely interesting article. Also, Why is France banning certain pesticides? Read why in this issue which to my mind is truly excellent. The new more reader friendly format has certainly changed Bee World and I'm sure should be on the reading list of all beekeepers.

ARTICLES Back to top


The first reference I have found to observation hives occurs in Samuel Pepys's Diary in 1665 which states, "After dinner to Mr. Evelyn's; he being abroad, we walked in his garden, and a lovely noble ground hath he indeed. And among other rarities, a hive of bees, so as being hived in glass, you may see the bees making their honey and combs mighty pleasantly". Maraldi had an observation at the French Royal Observatory as early as 1687 and Huber's leaf hive (so called because the frames were hinged down one edge and opened like a book) appears about a century later. Herrod-Hempsall, who was paranoid about all things British, claimed that the first observation hive was made by an Englishman, Robert Boyle, in 1688. Here he might well have been not quite accurate, as he always claimed he was, noting the date of the entry in Pepys's Diary! From the middle 1800s observation hives were extremely fashionable with the gentry and hive makers, such as Nutt and Neighbour, produced very ornate designs.

It will be clear from the above that observation hives have been around for a long time yet have received little attention in the classical bee literature. The best dissertation that I have found is contained in "Beekeeping New and Old described by pen and camera" by Herrod-Hempsall where he even gives detailed plans.

Types of observation hive
The objective of all observation hives is to be able to study the working bees without undue disturbance to the colony and with minimum risk to the observer. To do this, invariably glass is used to form part of the hive, which is generally located in a room of a building with an entrance tube to the outside allowing the bees to fly in a normal manner. Many types of hive have been modified embodying glass panels in the sides, bottom and as crown boards, but such modifications are of very limited use for observation purposes. Generally, in such cases only the ends of the frames are visible in two planes and the face of the 2 outside combs in the other plane. For this reason modern observation hives are now only 1 frame in width and 1 or 2 frames high. It will be this type that I address in the following paragraphs in connection with setting up such a hive and managing it throughout a season. Great care is needed in the construction and the specification for such a hive is very stringent as follows:

a) The internal dimension between the glass facing panels must be the width of the comb (2 ( 7/16 inches) plus a bee space (5/16 inch) on either side, ie. between the face of the comb and the inside glass surface. It should be noted that for some purposes there are advantages in making one side with a gap of two bee spaces (5/8 inch) thereby encouraging the bees to build comb in this area.

b) Provision must be made to suspend the frames(s) in the hive on knife edge supports to make them easy to remove at a later date while ensuring that the bee space requirement is observed adjacent to the side bars of the frames. If two frames are used the distance between the top bar of the lower frame and the bottom bars of the upper frame must also be a bee space.

c) There must be a bee space above the top bar of the upper frame.

d) There is advantage in leaving a space of 2 or 3 inches at the bottom below the lower frame to allow debris to be examined and to make provision for the entrance. Also, it is advantageous to have the bottom made of stainless steel mesh to allow debris (and mites) to fall through into a removable drawer for detailed examination, rather like the drawer of a pollen trap.

e) The construction is generally in wood with glass panels on each side. In this day and age the panels are best in double glazed units which can be purchased very cheaply from the double glazing merchants (ie. those panels made up to an incorrect size).

f) Whatever opening arrangement is designed for stocking the hive with bees and frames it must be closed finally with screws put in with a screwdriver. The reason is obvious; someone somewhere will open it while stocked with bees unless it is securely closed preventing it being opened except by using hand tools. Please note schools, shows, etc. where the general public have access.

g) Provision must be made for an entrance that can be closed for transportation and capable of having an entrance tube attached. Again it must be made secure with a 'jubilee clip' firmly fixed with a screwdriver. The entrance is best located at the bottom of the hive through the centre swivel if the hive is a rotatable one or at the bottom of one of the sides if it is a fixed arrangement. The bottom entrance makes it easier for the bees to remove debris and dead bees.

h) The entrance tube requires to be no less than 1 inch inside diameter in clear polythene so that the inside can be observed. If condensation in this entrance tube is a problem small holes can be drilled along its length on the underside; if it is installed correctly with a downward slope from the hive this should not be necessary.

i) Good ventilation is essential and the best start is with the mesh floor. A mesh top will suffice providing adequate through ventilation. It is a good precaution to be able to blank off some of the ventilation vents as required by the population of the hive and the ambient temperature.

j) Provision must be made for feeding the little colony and an inbuilt mini Ashforth feeder is well worth incorporating at the top of the hive. Again please note the requirement for making it tamper-proof against idle fingers either at school or elsewhere. The feeder makes provision for feeding syrup but we believe provision should be made also for feeding pollen patties (see later).

k) In a permanent installation an arrangement should be incorporated at the outer end of the entrance tube to prevent driving rain from entering the tube. An arrangement rather like a 'Dorade Ventilator' used on boats is ideal, letting in the air and keeping out the water. The downward slope of a few degrees ensures that rain does not flow back into the hive.

l) The only other item, which is optional, is a piece of queen excluder between the two frames. We believe this to be an unnecessary complication and can be omitted as it serves no purpose from an educational or scientific point of view.

The only other type of observation hive is the single frame with no entrance whereby the bees are kept enclosed. It can only be used for a few hours and in our opinion is very unsatisfactory. It puts the bees under considerable stress and its use should be discouraged. I have seen many, particularly at shows, often in direct sunlight with the bees panicking to get out. In such a condition it serves no purpose as the bees are not behaving naturally. At the very minimum, provision should be made to cool the bees with water as the more they panic the higher the temperature rises.

Setting up an observation hive
It is imperative that any observation hive is stocked with bees which are free of disease. If this simple requirement is not observed failure will ensue. There is sufficient stress on a little colony being forced to exist under very abnormal nesting conditions without having to cope with any disease problem as well.

Any frames for the observation hive must be of the best with uniform thickness of comb otherwise they are likely to come into contact with the inside glass. Brood combs which have been thickened at the top with an arch of honey are unsatisfactory. The best comb is produced by a good nucleus hive.

If the observation hive is to be of any use it must have the 'right' number of bees. Clearly if there are too many and the hive is overcrowded then an observer is not going to see what is going on easily and clearly. If there are too few bees, eg. to incubate the brood, then the colony will fail eventually. So what is the 'right' number? Consider a BS frame (c.14 (8 inches). If it is well covered with bees there will be c.1,500 bees on it, 750 on each side. If we have two of these frames then 3,000 bees are required. In any balanced colony about 2/3 of the bees are house bees and the remaining 1/3 are foragers. Initially it is wise to stock the observation hive with young bees (ie. house bees) to ensure that any brood does not become chilled and that it is incubated properly at the correct temperature. There is little information about stocking observation hives and what little there is tends to be inaccurate.

The location of the observation hive needs consideration and how close this is to where the original colony was sited. Ideally the distance between the two should be 2 miles or more. If the distance is to be less than the normal flying distance of the bees then additional bees will be required to make up for the losses. With the best will in the world it is never possible to get rid of all the old foraging bees.

It is best to stock the observation hive away from its final location. Take a frame of emerging brood from a good tempered disease free colony, lightly shaking it in order to drop off the flying bees leaving the young bees on the frame. Another frame of sealed stores and pollen plus young bees (shake off the old ones) will be required. When this is in placed in the observation hive with the brood frame lowermost, another two frames of young bees should be shaken in to augment those on the two selected frames. Again these should be lightly shaken first to get rid of the old foraging bees. It goes with out saying that a young queen properly marked will complete the stocking process.

Care must be taken siting the observation hive, cognizance being given to the following points:

a) The entrance must be away from footpaths, public highways and in an area not frequented by the general public. Ideally the entrance should be in an unfrequented area such as a flower bed and be at a height of at least 2m (6 feet), above the heads of any passer-by. The ideal cannot always be achieved and compromise will often be necessary.

b) It should be located in a position where sunlight cannot fall directly on to the hive; a north facing wall is always best. Direct sunlight is extremely hazardous to bees under glass and could spell the destruction of the colony.

c) It should be provided with polystyrene sheet covers while it is not in use, about half inch thick is adequate. These will not only exclude the light but provide good insulation thereby lowering heat losses.

d) One person must be allocated the responsibility for monitoring its progress and for feeding whenever necessary. Note that any feeding should be with a syrup strength of 50:50 or 1 kg sugar to 1 litre water so that the bees can metabolise it with minimum processing. Most observation hives of this type will require virtually continual feeding.

e) The installation must be secure and safe; by its very shape the observation hive is an unstable object with a high centre of gravity and requires to be bolted down firmly so that nothing can be moved accidentally.

Initially the hive will have no flying bees and will need feeding. When it has reached the stage where it becomes balanced and has its own foragers it will then be just a matter of monitoring its progress and feeding as required. Our own experience indicates that once young brood is evident pollen foraging will start and the bees are able to cope with the little colony's requirements. Dawn and I maintained an observation hive in the City of Plymouth Museum for many years and found that it always needed supplementing with pollen. There was insufficient forage at some times of the year in the concrete jungle.

Management throughout the season
Providing the queen is young and prolific the small colony may be expected to become congested in a good season, if left to its own devices and will require attention by removing brood and/or bees. This will mean taking the hive out of commission for an hour while it is removed to the outdoors (after the entrance to the room is blocked) to relieve the colony accordingly.

Continual feeding will ensure many of the cells are filled and capped; these liquid stores will prevent the queen laying in them, thus preventing the over crowding situation postulated above. With care and attention it is possible to keep the colony at just the right strength throughout the whole active season but a bit of experience is required to achieve this state of affairs.

We mentioned earlier the need for pollen and in some circumstances it may be necessary to augment a meagre natural supply collected by the foraging bees. The observation hive we had in the natural history section of Plymouth Museum had a special honey jar screwed to it which could be removed and filled with pollen patty (or pollen substitute) at times when no pollen was being collected and stored in the hive.

Management throughout an active season is not complicated but it does require a sound knowledge of honeybee-behaviour within the hive. We learnt this lesson by monitoring the management of the Museum observation hive which was being undertaken by one of the Museum staff; we eventually had to do it ourselves.

Uses for an observation hive
As the observation hive is basically a small nucleus it is unlikely to contain drones. Only queen and worker bees are likely to be present. While at most public demonstrations there will be an interest in the queen, from an educational and scientific point of view the activity of the workers is much more interesting.

Places where observation hives are likely to be of interest are:

a) Educational establishments such as schools and universities.

b) At honey shows and events organised by beekeeping organisations where the public are admitted.

c) As permanent displays in the natural history sections of museums.

d) In premises where honey is sold. This is only used as a marketing gimmick to get the honey sales moving initially.

e) On a limited scale for lectures and talks about bees; this is usually the sealed one frame aid mentioned earlier. Not recommended because of stress to the bees.

f) At country craft exhibitions.

g) For research purposes, for example at Rothamsted.

h) Perhaps there are others I have omitted?

In general, members of the public just see a mass of bees and that is the end of the story unless they have some previous knowledge of the honeybee or there is an 'expert' there to explain what is happening in the hive. This is an area which needs careful consideration as I have listened to some of these so called experts talking codswallop to people who know no better. Always have a knowledgeable well educated beekeeper to answer questions and to explain the workings of an observation hive.

In a museum it is a good idea to have some well prepared leaflets available for the public to take away. The ones we had for Plymouth were based on a question and answer format, the questions being those which were most often asked.

Undoubtedly the major use is for education and research purposes, all the others remain subsidiary to this main use. In schools they can be used as a teaching aid and are far better than a school apiary, which is unsatisfactory for young children from a safety point of view. In Devon we positively discourage children in apiaries unless accompanied by their parents, who must take responsibility for their safety. We will list a few activities which can be studied with an observation in a school, activities which can apply to most, if not all, age groups:

Wax making and comb building including cell capping.
Use of wax comb when built such as brood nest, pollen storage and nectar/honey storage.
Egg laying by the queen.
Development of larvae and pupae; the cells can be marked on the glass with felt-tipped pens.
Duties of the worker bee which are legion.
Foraging activity through the entrance tube; timing out and in and the type of foragers.
Activity with respect to weather conditions and its parameters (temperature, wind speed, sunshine, etc.).

It will be clear that projects involving the above can be made as simple or as complicated as one may wish depending on the age group concerned.

For scientific work there is usually a research project involved and special requirements for the observation hive.

Other points of interest
It is possible to maintain an observation hive on a year to year basis allowing the little colony to over winter in its unusual surroundings. It can only do this without clustering because there will not be space for the bees to form a proper cluster. There are two approaches. The first is to supply the observation hive with heat by the use of heating coils either under or round the hive. The second, which is much better, is to keep the hive in a heated room about 65(F (18(C). During the inactive season the bees do not cluster but remain quiescent, patrolling slowly and consuming stores also slowly. These were the conditions in the Plymouth Museum where bees have been kept under these conditions for a number of years. Slowly, during the course of the winter, bees die off (see a graph of the annual colony population cycle) and the stores reduce. The colony is fed during the late summer like any other colony so that it is completely honey bound as it goes into winter. The hive is taken out of service once a year in March/April to clean and disinfect the hive before it is replaced for another year. It was even treated with a Bayvarol strip for Varroosis by inserting a strip through a slot made especially for the purpose.

In permanent installations due regard has to be taken of vandalism, an unfortunate feature of today's society. I apologise for 'banging on' so much about the Plymouth Museum but it has been very valuable experience and vandalism is no exception. One would have thought, as we did, that a hive well and safely installed inside the museum would be safe with patrolling attendants during opening hours. This proved not to be so. It was vandalised on two occasions by someone killing off the bees, we believe, with something from an aerosol spray. The first time the colony was decimated completely, we think by spraying the toxin through the ventilators. We modified the ventilators so that this could not happen again. It did but our modification prevented major damage and the colony suffered a loss of bees only. In the first case the police failed to find the culprits (they did not have a lot to go on) and NBU/MAFF failed to identify the toxin which would have helped the police. It takes some believing but they lost the sample we provided. So they said! There has been evidence of physical damage but because it is installed so securely this has not been a problem; had the installation been indifferent there could have been trouble.

Ian Rumsey

It would perhaps be appropriate at this stage to say a few words regarding the strain of bee to be used in this future series of experiments.

All colonies have originated from swarms collected locally, some having issued from known feral colonies.

Interested in the amount of hybridization of each swarm, John E.Dews and Eric Milner's book "Breeding Better Bees" was consulted to obtain a better understanding of the possible mix of A.m.mellifera, A.m.ligustica,/carnica, present in each swarm.

Morphometric identification was only undertaken using forewing samples and measurement of wing veins to establish the Cubital Index and Discoidal Shift.

Scattergrams and Histograms were produced and a comparison made between those of the Dark Bee, A.m.mellifera and A.m.ligustica/carnica as depicted in "Breeding Better Bees"

An example of such a comparison for Hive 15 is shown below.

Scattergrams and Histograms

The initial experiment regarding the compass alignment of natural comb was conducted in Hives 7-3, 8-3, and 13-3. Scattergrams and Histograms for these colonies are depicted below.

Scattergrams and Histograms

It is clear that each hive has displayed a unique ‘Wing Print’ signature in this respect and any conformity in colony behaviour observed in forthcoming experiments may be considered to be independent of the breed of bee.

(To be continued next month)

In this article, we have managed to get Matt Allen to talk about bees for a change, or at least various bits of bee in a discourse on bee structure.


At one stage the Open University had an overstock of student dissecting microscopes which they were selling off at a bargain price – I think it was £25 plus vat. The microscopes are very basic models, but in a field where you talk £6,000 as the starting price for a modest machine, this was a bargain indeed. So I purchased and I must say that my student microscope has earned its keep over and over again.

I recall this because I was talking to two groups of overseas colleagues whose first languages were not English, describing some of the activities of different kinds of bees. I try in cases like this to be demonstrative, to ease any language difficulties, so there I was, making a fool of myself as usual, acting out the recruitment dances of foragers and the grooming behaviour of honeybees flying home covered in pollen. This latter one is too quick to follow with the naked eye, but it involves a sequence of leg motions, which ends up with the pollen being removed from the body of the bee, ending up in those coloured ‘pantaloons’ which we see being carried into the hive (and bluff to unsuspecting onlookers, ‘Oh yes, indeed, that one there – do you see her? – she’s been foraging on privet for sure.’ Fibber.)

I lost track of where the hairs are on each particular leg, and was immediately taken back to a beekeeping exam I sat years ago. This was a practical exam, quite hard work. I’d worked my way through the botany and disease sections, made a complete chump of myself at the mead judging, and was faced with the anatomy, where I had to identify under the microscope the legs of various bees. The problem here is that the diagrams in the text book look nothing like the actual thing which has been squashed, twisted, distorted onto the slide. The clues you are looking for are these; only the workers have special apparatus for manipulating pollen, ie rows of hairs, individual spikes, pollen extruders on the knees of the hind legs; a little gadget for grooming the antennae, and so forth; neither the drone nor the queen have these mechanisms, and you differentiate those on shape and size. Then, curses, as if that wasn’t bad enough, you had to remember the names of all those tiny bits of feet, which seem to go on and on. My mind goes blank at this stage....

Another wacky thing about legs – apparently they contain an organ, ‘ear’ is probably not the right word, which detects vibrations. Remember an insect is built inside out, according to our rules. So the leg is hard on the outside, filled with, for want of a better word, blood. Across the interior of one part of the leg is a nerve fibre which picks up vibrations transmitted through the structure of the leg. Sing to them as you approach with hive tool and smoker in hand – it may make all the difference...

When I sat down to write, I was intending to talk about the microscope master Antoni van Leeuwenhoek who was producing results which astonished Europe in the mid 1600’s, but that will have to wait. The editor is waiting for this bit so the presses can roll, and I’m late again!


Thymol Applications
In a previous issue of Apis-UK we reported on the use of thymol to combat varroa as part of an integrated control strategy.

Research in Spain showed that a thymol/olive oil mix soaked onto florist sponge worked well. Since then however two correspondents have noted that this system did not work well. It is worth therefore reiterating the conditions required for the method to work effectively and to this end contacted Cordoba University and others to assess the situation.

1. The correct mix is 1.5Kg of oil to 1Kg of thymol.

2. The sponge size should be 9 X 5 X 0.8cm.

3. With this amount, 125 sponges can be made. Each sponge is broken in two and placed between the two end frames of brood. One piece towards the entrance, the other away from the entrance.

4. Use 1 sponge (broken in two) in hives with a minimum of 8 frames of bees. Repeat after 8 to 12 days. With heavy infestations, a third dose may be required.

5. Use the method in the Spring with minimum temperatures of 20C and maximum of 30C.

The scientists stress that for the best results, beekeepers should ensure that colonies should be lightly or moderately infested. Really heavy infestations do not respond as well to this treatment. The colonies should be strong with at least 8 frames of bees and there should be a young queen. They have found that colonies with controlled queens are much more able to progress than those with old uncontrolled queens.

Overdosing or using the treatment in excessive heat can cause bees to become aggressive and to exit the hive, clinging in large numbers to the alighting board and on the front of the hive. It may even cause abandonment of the hive.

Scientists now suggest that thymol be used in the Spring and Summer (bearing in mind temperatures), and organic acids such as oxalic acid in Autumn and Winter. For non organic operations thymol can be alternated with other treatments such as Apistan.

The use of Food Grade Mineral Oil
The use of food grade mineral oil as a treatment for varroa has received much press recently especially in the USA . One of the main protagonists, Dr Pedro P Rodriguez of the USA has carried out much research on this method over several years and has developed several systems for the application of this product.

New changes to his development have greatly improved the method and it is well worth beekeepers investigating his methods which are explained in great detail at The site gives full research results together with precise methods and formulae for what appears to be an easy, cheap and successful method of varroa control.


Back to oak trees again for this month’s poem.

The oak is on their hills; the topmost tree

Bears the rich acorn, and the trunk the bee.

Ancient Greece


In this section we bring you each month a recipe to cure and one to eat, both based on products from the hive. If readers know of any of the more unusual recipes, do email us. This month, both recipes are simple but effective.

Our food recipe for this month is as promised another Victorian honey pudding. Now that the longest day has passed and winter is almost upon us, more and more of us will be craving these comforting feasts together with the hot chocolate and brandy. So here is Honey Pudding 2.

You will need:

2 dessert spoons of honey.
6 oz of honey.
A pinch of salt.
1 teaspoon of baking powder.
3 oz of butter or margerine.
2 oz of sugar.
1 egg.
Milk to mix.

Grease a 1.5 pint 3/4 litre pudding basin and put 1 dessert spoon of honey in the bottom. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Rub in the butter and add the sugar. Beat together the egg and 1 dessert spoon of honey and stir into the dry ingredients with enough milk to make a dropping consistency. Put the pudding mixture into the basin, cover with a piece of greased paper and steam for 2 hours.

Skin Care
Firstly we detail an unguent which is extremely efficient in dealing with those irritating rough areas of skin on your arms and other areas of the body.

You will need:

50g of bitter almonds.
30g of iris root.
30g of starch.
4 egg yokes.
200g of alcohol.
20 drops of rose essence.
500g of honey.

Make a paste of the almonds. To do this you should first throw them in boiling water to remove the thin covering film on them.
When they are dry, make the paste.
Crush the iris roots and mix well with the starch.
Mix in with the almond paste and add the egg yolks.
Add the alcohol and place over a medium heat to warm the mixture.
At the last minute add the honey and rose essence and mix well.

Rose essence is expensive. Jasmine essence which is cheaper may be substituted. Both are a relaxant and are said to relieve stress.

FACT FILE Back to top

In this short fact file we take a look at Taqman, a novel method of detecting viruses in honey bees. The NBU is currently launching an investigation into the occurrence of viruses in honey bee colonies throughout England and Wales and to do this will be using the TaqMan technique. It is thought that the technique has enormous potential for future work both in the UK and abroad. Previously, any surveys with respect to the occurrence of bee viruses in colonies have been dependent upon antisera. Thus comparison of data has been dependent upon the specificity of the antisera generated in different laboratories. This is of importance because there are often multiple viral infections in bees. Other restrictions hamper researchers using previous techniques. Surveys have not always been able to detect innaprent infections and sample sizes are limited thus not always providing conclusive results. TaqMan technology which is not new in itself can overcome these limitations and can be applied to the detection of honey bee diseases. So for the scientists out there, here is a short explanation of the process.

TaqMan indicates the probe used to detect specific sequences of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) products by employing the 5’-->3’ exonuclease activity of Taq DNA polymerase. It could also be called a Fluorogenic 5’ nuclease assay. The probe itself consists of a site specific sequence labelled with a fluorescent reporter dye and a fluorescent quencher dye. The TaqMan assay offers a sensitive method to determine the presence or absence of specific sequences. Therefore this technique is especially useful in diagnostic applications such as the screening of samples for the presence of or incorporation of favourable traits and the detection of pathogens and diseases. The assay allows high sample throughput because no gel electrophoresis is required for detection.

The analytical procedure is as follows:
Extraction of DNA.
Amplification of DNA fragments by PCR.
Determination of the florescent spectra of the PCR samples.

The main requirements are:

A thermocycler and a spectrophotometer. The advantages of the TaqMan assay is that low quantities of template DNA are required; no gel electrophoresis is required; It is quick and easy to assay; it is a closed tube assy which prevents erratic results due to post PCR contamination, and it is amenable to automation. A typical system would consist of a PCR based assay integrated with laser scanning technology to excite fluorescent dyes in the specially designed Taqman probes for the real time detection of PCR. Complicated stuff, but this is what the NBU scientists will be involved in using your sample bees. The survey will be of benefit to all beekeepers and hopefully will be well supported. (See also the News section of this issue).


In this, the swarming season, let us hear from an old bee master on how to attract swarms. Nowadays, research tells us that old comb, and a variety of other substances attracts swarms to empty hives, but in the old days the bee men still knew a trick or two.

And remember that their aim was different. This is how they increased their stocks, often having killed off the old bees.

'In swarming time, season the Hives that you are minded to use, thus: rub them down with sweet herbs, such as the Bees love, as thyme, baulm, savory, marjoram, fennel, hysop, mallows, bean-top &c. And when the swarm is settled, take a branch of the tree whereupon it is, and wipe it clean, and then wet the inside of your hive with a little honey mead, or salt and water, or small beer. And thus the Hives are to be prepared and dressed.' Sir J. More. 1707.

LETTERS Back to top

Dear David,
I have an adapted Maculloch garden vac but with very full supers there was so little space between the combs, it just didn't clear the bees.  Does anyone have suggestions about nozzle size, air flow volumes, etc, etc? Jeremy Quinlan

Dear Editor,
On the 4/5 Sept 04 the fourth Soil Association Organic Food Festival will take place at the Bristol Harbourside. With over 170 stalls selling to the public and trade and 20,000 customers at last year's event this is the biggest show of its kind in Europe. New for 2004 is a Wild Harvest Pavillion to showcase the best produce that is naturally produced but difficult or impossible to organically certify. We have traders booked in to sell fish, wild mushrooms, game and would really like to feature a honey producer. If you would be interested in receiving more details about this major commercial opportunity please contact us for a booking form / information pack. Best regards Steve Symons. Creativity Events, 33 Beechmount Drive , Weston super Mare , BS24 9EY Tel: 10934 813 407

Dear David,
I wonder whether you could tell me where I can buy stingless bee honey (Mexican, Brazillian, Venezuelan, Guatelamaren etc) in the UK? Many thanks Leanna

If anyone out there has any info on this please let me know and I will pass it on. Ed.

Dear David,
We are attempting to update the following for the next Beekeepers Annual 2005:
Editors of local beekeeping association (or county BKA ) newsletters
Colleges or counties that offer beekeeping courses.
We will of course be writing to individuals. If you have information which you feel should be in the next issue of the Annual contact Jerry Burbidge of Northern Bee Books. Email:
2004 Annuals available from the URL:


Event organisers are welcome to forward dates and details of their events to the editor (by e-mail) for incorporation on this page.

Bee Keeping Courses 2004 at Hartpury College for beginners, intermediate and advanced download full 2004 listing in PDF Beekeeping courses at Hartpury College

Friday, Saturday and Sunday 16th, 17th, 18th July, 2004 (entries close 9th July) - Kent County Bees and Honey Show, organised by the Kent Bee-Keepers’ Association in conjunction with Dover, Medway and Thanet Beekeepers’ Associations at the Kent County Showground Detling, Maidstone. Judges: Honey Mr. M. Duffin, Cakes & Wax Mrs. E.Duffin, Schools Mr. & Mrs. L.Gordon-Sales. Entries Secretary: Mrs.M.Hill, Old Whittington, Old Wives Lees, Canterbury, CT4 8BH Tel: 01227 730477. Show Supervisor: Michael Wall 020-8302-7355. Chief Steward: Sally Hardy 07802763048. Download show schedules and entry forms from

6-10 September 2004 - 8th IBRA Conference on tropical Bees: management and diversity. Ribeiro Preto, Brazil.

Monday 13th September 2004 - Conwy Honey Fair, High Street, Conwy, North Wales.  9am til 4pm. Ancient street fair, founded by King Edward 1st more than 700 years ago. Stall space is free of charge. Honey stalls, home produce, crafts, plant stalls welcome. More than a tonne of local honey is sold by lunchtime. Now organised by Conwy BKA.  Contact secretary for details: Peter McFadden, tel 01492 650851, email:

21st, 22nd and 23rd October 2004 - The National Honey Show, RAF Museum, Hendon, North London. More details soon from

16th April 2005 BBKA Spring Convention and Exhibition

Editor: David Cramp Submissions contact the Editor
Web Editor: Steven Turner
E-mail addresses are not hyper linked to prevent harvesting for spamming purposes. We recommend you cut & paste to your e-mail client if required.


Here is a chance for you to show your deep knowledge of beekeeping. There are no prizes but if you do know the answer then write in and let us know.

Who said this and about what?

"What is it that governs here, that issues orders, foresees the future....?"

Whoever it was, we will bring you a short biography of the person in the next edition and use the subject as our Fact File.

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