NBU Alert

Observations from beekeepers and Bee Inspectors across the UK suggest that some colonies of bees are becoming short of food.

Please monitor your colonies throughout the coming months and feed as required to ensure your bees do not starve. A standard full size British National colony needs between 20-25 kg of stores to successfully overwinter. If they need feeding at this time then fondant should be used. This should be placed above the brood nest so that the bees are able to access it easily.

For further information, please see the ‘Best Practice Guidance No. 7 – Feeding Bees Sugar’ on the following BeeBase Page: http://www.nationalbeeunit.com/index.cfm?pageid=167

It has also been observed that Varroa levels in some hives are starting to increase again. This may be due to a number of factors, but the exceptionally mild weather this autumn has encouraged some colonies to produce more brood than usual which has allowed an increase in mite reproduction.

Please monitor mite levels and treat accordingly.

For further information, please see the’ Managing Varroa’ Advisory leaflet on the following BeeBase Page: http://www.nationalbeeunit.com/index.cfm?pageid=167

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WBKA webinars during 2020

Free webinars from WBKA can be viewed here

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BIBBA Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association FREE webinars

The National Bee Improvement Programme (NatBIP)

BIBBA is launching NatBIP to encourage all beekeepers to produce hardy, docile and productive bees suited to their local environment.

For over 100 years there have been significant importations of honey bees and queens into the U.K. The reasons have varied from the “Isle of Wight Disease” and hard winters, such as 1962/63, to management reasons to suit beekeepers.

There is increasing concern by beekeepers, both new and experienced, to continual importations, which is backed by scientific evidence. These concerns include, but are not limited to:-

·         Bee health. Possible introduction of pests, diseases and pathogens.

·         Unsuitability to the locality. Possibly contributing to increased colony losses.

·         Drones interbreeding with existing queens. Weakening the quality of local stock.

A series of webinars have been planned in a logical progression to explain NatBIP, experience of importations, scientific evidence, teaching beekeepers and how beekeeping associations can help improve our population of bees for the benefit of everyone.

The webinars are free and attract a large number of attendees. Recordings of recent webinars are also available for viewing. More information is available at www.bibba.com

The provisional programme of webinars for NatBIP, all Tuesdays at 7.30pm is:-

1.    22nd Sept       “The National Bee Improvement Programme – Outline”                                          Jo Widdicombe

2.    29th Sept        “More details of the National Bee Improvement Programme and Participation”     Jo Widdicombe

3.    6th Oct            “Global pandemics, bee imports and native bees”                                                  Norman Carreck

4.    13th Oct          “My 50 years experiences of imported bees affecting local stock”                          Peter Jenkins

5.    20th Oct          “Resilient Honeybees”                                                                                             Grace McCormack

6.    27th Oct          “Where we are, how we got here and how we can move on…….”                         Roger Patterson

7.    3rd Nov           “Some Fresh Ideas for Teaching and Learning”                                                      Roger Patterson

8.    10th Nov         “Bees and queens for everyone”                                                                             Roger Patterson

9.    17th Nov         “Answering Your Questions”                                                                                   All Speakers

NatBIP provides us with the first ever chance to choose to be self-sufficient with our beekeeping, reducing the need for increasing importations that many beekeepers feel are harming our own honey bees.  It is hoped that as many beekeepers, groups and associations as possible will attend these webinars. Please publicise widely, as this important programme is appropriate to beekeepers, teachers and BKA officials.

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Some latest news and updates

I do hope that you are all coping with the current COVID-19 situation.

There are some messages that the committee wish to pass on:


The B&RBKA continues to operate and we request that any members who haven’t already done so please renew your annual subscriptions by completing the membership form and paying the relevant fees on line

Make a direct payment from your account to Brecknock and Radnor Beekeepers’ Association.

CAF Bank Ltd.  Account No: 00015439     Sort Code: 40-52-40

Make sure you include your full name as a reference so that we know who has paid.

Full details can be found at this link:


(This will open in a new tab)


All events planned for the lockdown period have been postponed; the Wern Cleanup on 4th April and the Beginners’ Course will not be taking place this year.

NBU recommendation to all beekeepers:

As beekeepers, please be aware of the following guidance when looking after your honey bees. Updates to this guidance will be provided where necessary. You should keep up to date with the latest guidance issued by the Government as it is subject to regular change.

COVID-19 and Beekeeping Update

If you have any queries please contact: HoneyBeeHealth@gov.wales

Fel ceidwaid gwenyn, cofiwch ddilyn y canllawiau canlynol wrth edrych ar ?l eich gwenyn mêl. Darperir diweddariadau i’r canllawiau hyn pan fo angen. Dylech gadw at y canllawiau diweddaraf gan y Llywodraeth sy’n cael eu newid yn rheolaidd.

COVID-19 a Chadw Gwenyn

Os bydd gennych unrhyw ymholiadau cysylltwch: GwenynMelIach@llyw.cymru

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WBKA Education Information


2020 dates Word

General Husbandry training booking details

Hello and a happy new year to you and your members

Just a reminder that the closing date for applications to sit module exams on 21 March is 10 February.  This means that applications must reach me by this date so could I ask you to remind your members of the deadline please?

For ease of reference, I attach a copy of the module and higher practical assessment application form.  The dates and fees information on page 2 will be updated on the website shortly but, in the meantime, I attach a separate Word document with the updated information.

If any prospective candidates want further information, I will be more than happy to provide this direct and my contact details are on the attachment.

Lynfa Davies has asked me to mention the following events: –

NDB short course – Swarm Control – Swansea – 29 February – 1 March

Full details in the link below


These short courses are heavily subsidised for beekeepers in England & Wales and therefore represent excellent value.


General Husbandry preparation course – Gregynog Hall, Powys 14 & 15 March and 17 May

 There is limited space remaining on this course so anyone interested should get in touch with Lynfa to book – full details are attached.

Wishing you all a good beekeeping season in 2020 and hope to see you at one or more of the conventions.

Best wishes    Caroline

WBKA Exam Secretary

(Modules & Higher Practical Assessments)

07815 997192

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What Happens to Your Body When You Start Eating Honey Every Day

Sorry, it’s American. Pinch of salt may be needed.


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WBKA Spring Convention

WBKA Spring Convention flyer and discounted entry form :-

B&RBKA Beginners Course 2020


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Midwinter, no; mites, yes

From The Apiarist blog here :-     https://theapiarist.org/

Winter bees are the ones that are in your hives now 1.

They have a very different physiology to the midsummer foragers that fill your supers with nectar. Winter bees have low levels of juvenile hormone and high levels of vitellogenin. They are long-lived – up to 8 months – and they form an efficient thermoregulating cluster when the external temperature plummets.

Winter bees production

In the temperate northern hemisphere, winter bees are reared from late summer/early autumn onwards. The combination of reductions in the photoperiod (day length), temperature and forage availability triggers changes in brood and forager pheromones.

Together these induce the production of winter bees.

For more details see Overwintering honey bees: biology and management by Döke et al., (2010).

Day length reduces predictably as summer changes to autumn. In contrast, temperature and forage availability (which itself is influenced by temperature and rainfall … and day length) are much more variable (so less predictable).

All of which means that you cannot be sure when the winter bees are produced.

If there’s an “Indian summer“, with warm temperatures stretching into late October, the bees will be out working the ivy and rearing good amounts of brood late into the year. The busy foragers and high(er) levels of brood pheromone will then delay the production of winter bees.

Conversely, low temperatures and early frosts reduce foraging and brood production, so bringing forward winter bee production.

It’s an inexact science.

You cannot be sure when the winter bees will be produced, but you can be sure that they will be reared.

Protect your winter bees

And if they are being reared, you must protect them from Varroa and the viral payload it delivers to developing pupae. Most important of these viruses is deformed wing virus (DWV).

Worker bee with DWV symptoms

Aside from “doing what it says on the tin” i.e. causing wing deformities and other developmental defects in some brood, DWV also reduces the longevity of winter bees.

And that’s a problem.

If they die sooner than they should they cannot help in thermoregulating the winter cluster.

And that results in the cluster having to work harder to keep warm as it gets smaller … and smaller … and smaller …

Until it’s so small it cannot reach its food reserves (isolation starvation) or freezes to death 2.

So, to protect your winter bees, you need to treat with an appropriate miticide in late summer. This reduces the mite load in the hive by up to 95% and so gives the winter bees a very good chance of leading a long and happy life 😉

Time of treatment and mite numbers

I discussed this in excruciating detail in 2016 in a post titled When to treat?.

The figure above was taken from that post and is described more fully there. The arrow indicates when winter bees are produced and the variously coloured solid lines indicate mite numbers when treated in mid-July to mid-November.

The earlier you treat (indicated by the sudden drop in the mite count) the lower the peak mite numbers when the winter bees are being reared.

Note that the mite numbers indicated on the right hand vertical axis are not ‘real’ figures. They depend on the number present at the start of the year. In the figure above I “primed” the in silico modelled colony with just 20 mites. This will become very important in a few paragraphs.

Late season brood rearing

Compare the blue line (mid-August treatment) with the cyan line 3 (mid-October treatment) in the figure above.

The mid-October treatment really hammers the mite number down and they remain low until the end of the year 4.

The reason the mite numbers remain low after a mid-October treatment is that there is little or no brood being reared in the colony during this period.

Mites need brood, and specifically sealed brood, to reproduce on.

In the absence of brood the mites ‘colony surf‘, riding around as phoretic mites on nurse bees (or any bees if there aren’t the nurse bees they prefer).

And that late season brood rearing is the reason the end-of-year mite number for the colony treated in mid-August (the blue line) remains significantly higher.

Mites that survive the miticide in August simply carry on with their sordid little destructive lives, infesting the ample brood available (which could even include some highly mite-attractive and productive drone brood) and reproducing busily.

So, the earlier you treat, the more mites remain in the hive at the end of the year.

Weird, but true.

Early season brood rearing

The winter bees don’t ‘just’ get the colony through the winter.

As the day length increases and the temperature rises the colony starts rearing brood again. Depending upon your latitude it might never stop, but the rate at which it rears brood certainly increases in early spring.

Or, more correctly, in mid- to late-winter.

And it’s the winter bees that do this brood rearing. As Grozinger and colleagues state “Once brood rearing re-initiates in late winter/early spring, the division of labor resumes among overwintered worker bees.”

Some winter bees revert to nurse bee activity, to rear the next generation of bees.

And this is another reason why strong colonies overwinter better … not because they (also) survive the cold better 5, but because there are more bees available to take on these brood rearing activities.

Strong, healthy colonies build up better in early spring.

Colonies that are weak in spring and stagger through the first few months of the year, never getting close to swarming, are of little use for honey production, more likely to get robbed out and may not build up enough for the following winter.

Midwinter mite treatments

Which brings us back to the need for miticide treatment in midwinter.

The BEEHAVE modelled colony shown in the graph above was ‘primed’ at the beginning of the season with 20 mites. These reproduced and generated almost 800 mites over the next 10-11 months.

What do you think would happen if you start the year with 200 mites, rather than 20?

Like the 200 remaining at the year end when you treat in mid-August?

Lots of mites … probably approaching 8000 … that’s almost as many mites as bees by the end of the season.

So, one reason to treat in the middle of winter is to reduce mite levels later in the season. The smaller the number you start with, the less you have later.

Vapour leaks out ...

But at the beginning of the season these elevated levels of mites could cause problems. High levels of mites and low levels of brood is not a good mix.

There’s the potential for those tiny patches of brood to become mite-infested very early in the season … this helps the mites but hinders the bees.

Logically, the more mites present at the start of brood rearing, the more likely it is that colony build up will be retarded.

So that’s two reasons to treat with miticides – usually an oxalic-acid containing treatment – in midwinter.

Midwinter? Or earlier?

When does the colony start brood rearing again in earnest?

This is important as the ‘midwinter’ treatment should be timed for a period before this when the colony is broodless. This is to ensure that all the mites are phoretic and ‘easy to reach’ with a well-timed dribble of Api-Bioxal.

In studies over 30 years ago Seeley and Visscher demonstrated that colonies have to start brood rearing in midwinter to build up enough to have the opportunity to swarm in late spring. These were colonies in cold climates, but the conditions – and season length – aren’t dramatically different to much of the UK.

Low temperatures regularly extend into January or February. The temperature is also variable year on year. It therefore seems (to me) that the most likely trigger for new brood rearing is increasing day length 6.

The apiary in winter ...

I therefore assume that colonies may well be rearing brood very soon after the winter solstice.

I’m also aware that my colonies are almost always broodless earlier in the winter … or even what is still technically late autumn.

This is from experience of both direct (opening hives) or indirect (fresh brood mappings on the Varroa tray) observation.

Hence the “Midwinter, no” title of this post.

Don’t delay

I therefore treat with a dribbled or vaporised oxalic acid-containing miticide in late November or early December. In 2016 and 2017 it was the first week in December. Last year it was a week  later because we had heavy snow.

This year it was today … the 28th of November. With another apiary destined for treatment this weekend.

If colonies are broodless there is nothing to be gained by delaying treatment until later in the winter.

Most beekeepers treat between Christmas and New Year. It’s convenient. They’re probably on holiday and it is a good excuse to escape the family/mince pies/rubbish on the TV (delete as appropriate).

But it might be too late … don’t delay.

If colonies are broodless treat them now.

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Bee Disco

Following on from Lynfa’s talk about Bee communication here is a little snippet I found about bee dances :-

Bee Dances

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Beekeeper’s mead mission

Monmouthshire beekeeper makes mead


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