I can remember my Father saying that when I was very young. I try to avoid saying it but the thought is there in my head. If I try to analyse it I suppose it is harking back to a time
When I was young
when you were young; when the future stretched out in front of you; when eyes were bright and the sap was still rising.

For beekeepers it’s now Varroa, Nosema, Colony Collapse Disorder, Insecticides, Climate Change, imported foreign bees, Old age. The list of problems goes on and on. No wonder we get nostalgic for the good old days. Thatched cottages, hollyhocks, smoke curling up from the chimney and eating food when it was in Season. It’s a trap most of us ‘Old ‘uns’ drop into.

However, let’s take a step back to the beginning of the 20th. Century.

In Britain average life expectancy was about forty-eight now, in 2015, it is up to about
Outside Loo
eighty. That lovely thatched cottage had no running water, the water was hand pumped from a well in the garden (Imagine that on a cold February morning). The lavatory was a tiny shed at the bottom of the garden and when the tub was emptied it was often spread raw on the fields as fertiliser. Our bees were kept in straw hives or skeps and when harvesting the honey the hive was virtually destroyed.

What we ‘Old’ beekeepers have to remember is that for newcomers to beekeeping everything is quite normal. And let’s face it, beekeeping is a wonderful thing to be involved in. For me, whilst the honey is always welcome, I am more interested in finding out more about these fascinating creatures - discovering parallels and differences in the way human society and the bee colonies exist.

So I try to accept the problems and difficulties and simply welcome the privilege of being a beekeeper. BUT (There’s always a but isn’t there?) as my dear old Mother used to say “
Old age is the very Devil, it has nothing to recommend it whatsoever.”

Sadly I am now finding out she was one hundred percent right. It means the time has come when I shall have to cut down on my bee keeping. Old age is slowing me to the
Old Bill
extent that I am only just capable of keeping up with what is absolutely necessary to keep body and soul together. I have therefore decided to cut down on my beekeeping. I intend to get rid of the allotment I have used for many years, together with all the-work of keeping the place tidy and cultivated. No more digging, no more repairing fencing, no more looking after twenty or so stocks of bees. I shall cut down to a maximum of five at a tiny apiary much nearer home. Two hives to make some honey and three to allow me to continue breeding bees from local stocks. This will leave me with a lot of equipment that will be surplus to requirements. So if you live nearby and are interested, do get in touch with me. All I shall need now, is enough gear to help me raise a few queens, just for the thrill of doing it.

Finally, don’t forget what the Irish beekeeper said.

“The locally raised bees in your hives have been under the control of Mother Natures evolution for thousands of years, ever since the end of the Ice Age and doing fairly well with no humans here to interfere. Since mankind has taken over from Mother Nature we have been abusing her and defying her laws by importing bees and other life forms from far and wide Into conditions that evolution has no way of keeping up to speed with. Bringing with them parasites and disease the likes of which our local bees have never known and cannot combat. In our case the one that stands out is Varroa.

It is stupid, nonsensical selfish and greedy to import from far away places. The Best bees are bred from the bees in your own apiary”

“Breed from the best and Cull the rest.”

Young Bill

A footnote from Arthur (The one who tries to master the website and who remembers a younger Bill)

Being of a similar age, I can sympathise with much that Bill says. However, I shall still chivvy him to produce an occasional diary entry. There is so much knowledge and experience in that old head that it would be a shame not to trawl through his memory banks and share that information with others”



Many beekeepers are reporting Queens ‘Failing’. In simple terms this means that they are not functioning as expected. They are not producing sufficient eggs to keep up the numbers of workers
Egg Shortage
needed for a viable hive. Often Queens are being replaced after six months or less rather than the normal two years or so.

The natural reaction is to assume that the Queens are at fault in some way or other. Interestingly I
Cold Postman
just received an email from John Zamorski, our bee inspector, referring me to an article from the U.S. Department of Agriculture about new research which suggest failing Queens have being affected by changes in temperature whilst in transit by post.

Remember, this in in the USA where beekeepers regularly buy mated Queens which are sent to them by post. British hobby beekeepers also buy by post so this could affect them.
Really, we should rear the Queens ourselves. This is definitely the best method and the results will be far superior

If you have bought by post, then the article may be pertinent. We have added the link at the end of this diary entry so you can read it in full. It’s a log URL but should work if you click on it,

Whilst the change in temperatures during transit may be worth considering, what I have been suggesting for some time is that we should perhaps look towards inadequacies in the drones rather
Tired Drone
than the Queens. My suspicions are leaning towards chemicals and varroa treatments which might be seriously affecting the drones. I have started to research this idea to see if we can reduce the problem of losing queens almost as soon as they have really got into their stride laying worker eggs.

The first stage of my research has been to treat all hives that show two or more daily varroa drop
with Oxalic acid gas. The results from one hive that had such a drop gave a total drop over ten days, of 401mites on the floor insert with probably more to come. This gas treatment seems to carry on dropping mites for 10 to 15 days.

sugar sifter
There will be no drones about until Spring so the acid gas cannot harm them. When there are drones in the hive I intend treating with icing sugar at all inspections throughout the year. This means there will be no chemical treatments when drones are present. We will see if this has any effect at all. I will keep you informed



Queen New

A queen honey bee can live for three or even four years.

Drone New

A drone dies when it mates or when the season comes to an end and the hive no longer needs him. He is then thrown out of the hive and dies. The queen will produce more drones next year.


The worker whose labours are as important to the well being of the colony as any queen or drone, has a life span of no more than about six weeks during the Summer months. In Winter she can live as long as six months.

It is generally supposed that the worker is worn out by her labours. However, the queen labours in the summer months, producing her own body weight in eggs every twenty-four hours in order to replace the tremendous need for workers.

The drones also labour during this time. Whenever the weather is suitable for mating the drones are constantly flying and searching, from the moment he leaves the hive until he returns (if return he does!). So labouring is probably not the only cause of this discrepancy in life span.

There is one cause that comes to mind, about which we see very little discussion and very few, if any, comments or articles.
This is the relationship between the honey bee and the flowers.It is where the bee depends on the flower for food and the flower depends on the bee for fertilisation. Symbiosis is the name for this relationship between bees and flowers. In common language it means you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. It is a virtual agreement between flowers and bees that was formed millions of years ago and is just about the most important thing to both bees and flowers and all so to all life on earth,
Bee & Flower
for without flowers there would be a dramatic shortage of plant life which feeds the majority of most life forms on earth, one way and another.

This symbiosis is vital for life on earth, and the relationship between bee and the flower is not simply distributing random pollen, it has to be the pollen of a specific plant species - the foraging bee most stick with one type of plant.

This relationship must be locked together most securely. My suggestion is that it has been locked and securely fixed by natural selection in the DNA of bees and flowers. Thus the flowering time of each particular flower of something like three or four weeks, has to be locked to the lifetime of the new forager bees, so we have bees who begin their foraging life working the flowers of a newly flowering plant and only visits that plant species and no others for the rest of its life time. When that plant dies then the foraging bees die as well, their job is done, their life time over.

When one plant ceases flowering, new plants will be coming into flower and new bees will be starting to forage. So we have new flowers needing the fertilisation of specific pollen of the the same species and new foraging bees that will work only on that group of plants and die when the plant stops producing pollen.

If my theory is correct, it all fits together and the short life span of a honey bee has an explanation. Of some sort!

This is complicated to explain but hopefully it will give you something to think about over the miserable months of New Year.
......................................................Thinking bee



I think I am just about up to date with my beekeeping. The hives are insulated and covered with heavy black, plastic bags topped with a deep insulated roof that almost covers the top brood box. That should at least keep them safe from the rain.

In my area, we have had the first real frost of Winter and I now intend to treat for varroa with the oxalic acid
sublimate method (I wont bore you with all the details but just Google ‘oxalic acid sublimate' - I got over 70,000 pages in half a minute!) I shall make a start in about ten days unless something goes seriously wrong with the weather. It has been pretty grim for most of the last season so I suppose anything can happen.

I seem to have varroa under control - well about as near as I can. Next spring I intend to seriously tackle nosema. Two of my stocks showed a high count this Autumn, so early next year, when there is not much brood would seem to be a good time to sort it out.

The problem of new Queens being superseded within a few days of them starting to lay still concerns me. It’s almost as though the bees know the Queen is not going to be satisfactory and take action. I have seen this happen for about three years and I don’t get any nearer solving the puzzle.

However, I have discovered I am not the only one with this problem and several Universities are now researching this phenomena. My thoughts
are that it could be a low sperm count in the drones that is the cause.
Perhaps we beekeepers do not give sufficient attention to our drones. They are often the last thing we think about and yet they are probably the mainstay of the evolutionary process of the bees - the very thing that makes bees what they are. Simply throwing chemicals at them is not necessarily a solution. We all spend time and money on finding out what the various chemicals do to our queens and workers but I don’t see the results of research on the effect it has on our drones.

We collectively seem to think “If its good for queens and workers, it will be good for the drones”. However, a little though will show that they have a very different function in the hive to all the other occupant, including the Queen, and a most important function it is. So more strength to the Universities that are making efforts into researching drones and the problems they face.

In the meantime I wonder about all the chemicals I have used in the hives. As a way forward I’m about to try
cutting down on chemicals, or even cutting them out altogether. I intend to gas the hives using the oxalic acid sublimation method. I shall make the effort when there are very few drones about. From then on I intend to use a dusting of icing sugar at every inspection to test for the presence of varroa and I live in the hope that the test itself will keep varroa down to manageable numbers.

It may be a long shot but I feel I must try something different. If I don't it seems as though I am going to continue to raise queens - to raise queens - to raise queens ad infinitum.

Ah well! nil desperandum or, as they say, K B O.

I don’t know that I really believe it but I will keep on insisting “Next season is sure to be the best yet”.

A Very Merry Christmas to you all, your friends and families.




Way back in May 1999 I found myself accepting the role of editor of Beetalk, the news sheet for Blackburn
Dusty Computer
Beekeepers Association. Arthur has just found a copy of the first issue in a dusty corner of his computer. In 1999 varroa had just reached our area but many of the articles in that first issue are still relevant today.

If you would like to take a look here it is:

However, back today. For beekeepers in the UK there is now nothing much we can do with our bees apart
from wait for Spring, then we shall discover which of our hives have survived and which have succumbed to the weather, lack of food, disease and any of the many other problems that beset the honey bees. Whatever happens we shall carry on. There will be the inevitable complaints and grumbles but, ever optimistic, we shall look forward to a better and more productive season.
Dear Diary

In the meantime we shall sit at our computers and discover how the rest of of the World is faring. No doubt Bill will try to plan a few diary pages for next year.

Whilst we wait for Spring, may we point you in the direction of a few bits and pieces that you may have missed or forgotten about.

The diary is where you can read what we have been doing and thinking over recent months and even years. There are links to various articles. For instance, an ‘Oldie’ but one that might amuse:

And to cheer you up for Christmas (or perhaps not!) how about:

There are lots of other items, new and old which you might have missed. They can be found by clicking on ‘Articles about Beekeeping’ on the side bar.

We may have a diary entry before December but just in case we hope you have a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas and that 2016 proves to live up to your expectations.

Bill & Arthur

.......................................Christmas 2


I don’t know about you but big numbers baffle me. I can imagine quite clearly what a hundred pound in ‘Fivers’ would look like if you put it on my dining table but a million pounds? Not only will I never own it but I can’t even imagine how much of my table it would cover.

Numbers get bigger and even more difficult to compr
Population Graph
ehend if you take even a cursory glance at evolution. It seems that our earliest recognisable ancestor, albeit a small four legged, rat like creature, arrived on the scene about thirteen million years ago. In 2006 a honey bee was found embedded in amber. Reckoned to be about eighty-million years old, scientists claim it is remarkably similar to the bees in your apiary. Just hang on to that thought for a moment. Our little friend the honey beet seems to have been well established eighty-million years ago and, as far as we can see, it had, by then, developed something like the modern community or hive we see today. It then carries on for another 70 million years or so before the first signs of humans appear.

So, unless you are even more confused by big numbers than I am, you begin to get the picture. We have to use a bit of speculation but it seems the present form of the honey bee community has been more or less stable for 80 million years whist we have only been around for the last ten million years. In that time we have been sorting ourselves out - killing our own species by tens of million; reproducing at an astonishing rate (2.5 billion in 1950 and by 2075 expected to rise to over 9 billion); also producing monsters in the form of tyrants and dictators; spawning great thinkers, artists and musicians and acquiring vast amounts of knowledge about the World we live in.

We don’t seem to have reached anything like stability in the way the honey bee has but
farmer shouting
could it be we are dashing headlong towards hive like communities? Take communication. Two hundred years ago the best form of communication over distance would be shouting to a fellow worker at the other side of ‘Ten acre field’. We might have spoken to - I don’t know - perhaps a few hundred people in a life time, now we must be at least acquainted with thousands. In those days there was no television, no radio, no telephone, no computer - how on earth did we manage! I wonder how far the average worker would travel? Perhaps to the nearest town one or twice in a lifetime, nowadays most have travelled overseas

It is less than twenty years since the World Wide Web (www) was launched on the world but already we can communicate almost instantly with any part of the World. We have things like ‘Facebook’, ‘Twitter’, Weblogs (Just like this one). ‘Podcasts and all manner of other sites classified as ‘Social Networks’. It is possible to let the whole world know (Or at least all the people you are acquainted with) what you are doing at any moment of the night or day. It’s a bit like the bees waggle dance, transmitting information to all the members of your ‘community’. When my children were small I used to dream of owning The Encyclopaedia Britannica but it was financially way beyond me, now if you wanted a complete set you could probably buy one for a few pounds. Now I have more up to date information at my finger tips than in a hundred encyclopaedias. If I go onto the internet and ask for information about mellifera mellifera the computer will find me three quarters of a million pages containing inf
ormation about the subject in about a third of a second!

We have always been dependant on one another - families, tribes, nations - groups which have common aims and work as communities and bond together in one way or another. The strands which bind these groups together are sometimes difficult to see but the groups are clearly defined - Nations, Religious Groups and, in fiercely loyal groups like football supporters. The name of the team is invariably tied to a geographical location but at the highest level (Such as the Premier League) it is unlikely that many, if any, of the team will be local lads.

Now this is where I step out of my area of knowledge and into pure speculation. Suppose the bee hive has reached the point where the thousands of individual bees have a sort of collective intelligence which allows the hive to function efficiently and economically but precludes any possibility of original ideas or thoughts. All information about climatic conditions, food supplies or the allocation of labour does not come from a Director, Manager or even a Queen but comes from the entire hive rather an individual or group of individuals. The possibility of one particular bee having an original thought, or idea as to how to improve things, is out of the question.

If we human beings do follow this evolutionary path and arrive at a stage where everything is for the benefit of the community. We shall have no more wars, no crime, no leaders - just the ultimate in democracy where everyone makes the collective decisions. There would be no more Mozart, Shakespeare, Einstein, Rembrandt, Mother Teresa; no philosophers or religious leaders; no genocide or holocaust; no hatred, no money and no

...........................................Million Pounds



I have just about got my stocks of bees ready for Winter. The bees are no longer taking syrup
Ready for Winter2
down, so if I loose any from shortage of food there is nothing I can do about it. However, I do intend to feed some candy with pollen rom a commercial supplier. It’s a bit more expensive than straight forward sugar syrup but not dramatically so and the bees will need all the molly-coddling I can give them. They are not as well prepared for Winter as I would have liked, due to the dreadful weather we have had. The candy mixture will need to go on soon, possibly mid February but it all depends on the weather.

Carrying on with the shocking weather theme, 2015 is the worst year for honey production I can remember since 2000. Counting the number of stocks with which I started in Spring, the honey crop is no more than about 10lbs. per hive.

On top of that I made a point of telling the little devils NOT to work any heather they found, but did they listen?! NO! I have no idea where they found it but they did and put it on top of what bit of flower honey they had already
Not Listening

I was desperately trying to extract some flower honey but could only produce a few dribs and drabs. This was due to the thixotropic (jelly like) nature of the heather sitting on top of the flower honey. It was hardly worth the time and trouble of cleaning the machinery. The honey press had to be brought out and did give me some fine heather honey but at the cost of a lot of time and labour.

Next year if I can get a small team together, we might take our bees to the heather moors and
On the Heather
make a real effort to get some heather honey. It will be hard work but enjoyable and it never fails, there is always some result, even if it is only a matter of obtaining honey to feed the stocks for winter.

If you are in an area like ours, it may be worth heeding the gipsy’s warning - if there is heather within working distance of your hives, get the supers off before the heather starts flowering or you might well suffer the consequences and struggle as I did.

Everything will be better in 2016, next year is going to be a splendid one. Why not share my philosophy

“You should always be optimistic because you know darned well everything will go wrong”


Quote from ‘The Four Seasons’
The news letter of
The Irish Native honey Bee Society
“The best bees are the ones produced
from locally
improved stocks”



Whatever cure you try, there always seem to be side effects and that also applies to our bees.
Side Effects

It is August 14th and I’m receiving emails from the official bee inspectors reporting that bees are
Bee Begging
dying of starvation. I suppose it is down to the bad weather and lack of pollen in my part of the World. The amount of sugar fed to my bees throughout the year is staggering. It is a good thing the price has fallen. However, let’s continue with what was said in the last diary entry about the problems with the bees in my hive and in the hives of some beekeepers around me.

The weather so far this year has been very disappointing to say the least. I have not known
whether we are in Summer or Winter. However, I think the main problem is more deep seated then can be attributed to the weather.To put it bluntly when my bees (and probably yours too) are mating, I think they are firing blanks.

The problem seems to be that as soon as the new Queen has been mated and started to lay, the bees decide she has to go and Queen cells are built in order to replace her. That process will, in all, take a month. It seems possible that the same thing will happen again with the same stock, so now the hive is two months behind and that will be the end of honey production for the year if not the end of the stock all together.

This sort of thing has going on for some years now and steadily getting worse as the years go by. Talking to other beekeepers, many of them think they have been having similar problems.

As usual, I turned to the internet for more information and I find some of the scientists appear to be
studying the problem and a couple of Universities are also investigating. There appear to be concerns that the chemicals we use to control varroa could be at least partially responsible. There are suggestions that stocks treated with hard chemicals can, and indeed do, have the sperm count of the drones cut by around 10%. So there is hope that we might be getting somewhere with the problem but there is along way to go.

If it ain’t one damned thing it’s another.

Rose Tinted
It’s perhaps just an old beekeeper looking back with rose tinted spectacles but I’m sure that when I started we didn’t have so many problems. But then again, the sun always seemed to shine when you were young and weeks lasted a week instead of whizzing by like minutes.



Like many local beekeepers I seem to have heavy swarming under control again. Although it
might be more correct to say, “I think that I have just about caught up with my bees”.Being wild insects they do what they want, when they want with no consideration for me at all. Everything they do is directly connected with their desires, the environment and the weather and nothing much more. I, however am controlled by time-‘the clock’; time to go to work; time to go to the wedding; to the meeting and all the other things in life. So although I know the bees have it in their heads to swarm, I must try to get something done to thwart their desire but this takes me again into TIME and weather, whereas the bees are able to do what they want or need to do at the drop of a hat. That is the main reason I, and you, loose swarms.

I always seem to be going on about British Black Bees, but it may be more accurate to say that what I am aiming for can be found in what I’m aiming to do. I think maybe the title British Black Bees was invented to make our bees sound a bit more glamorous than they really are. After all the bees I’m working with and the bees that I want are, one and the same.The bees best suited to my area and my apiary, are the bees that have lived here for years and years, or lived somewhere very near to my back yard.

When BIBBA was first formed it was named the Village Breeders Association. The name was
very soon changed to the British Isles Bee Breeders Association. I imagine the Village Bee Breeders Association sounded a bit twee, but to me village breeders is nearer to what they were attempting to do. Breeding from the best bees to be found in their particular area. After all they are the bees that have survived there for as long as anyone can remember and are therefore acclimatised to the place, the plants and the local weather.The big problem is due to the importation of bees from outside the ‘village’, even from just a few miles away. Those miles could mean an area with a different weather patterns, a different mini climate due to elevation or sheltering hills and a different range of food plants for the bees.

So my plan (and I suspect it should be yours) is to find the best bees among the ones we have in our own apiaries. That is selecting the best we have and getting rid of any that don’t match up to our aims.
Foreign Bee2

I would urge any beekeeper, no matter where you are, to resist the easy option when you need new stocks. Don’t import or buy ‘foreign’ bees. Find a local beekeeper or supplier who has bees born and bred in your area. It may be easier just to pick up the phone or go online and buy bees which may even be from another country but believe me, if you want good, strong bees that will survive in your apiary you cannot beat bees that ‘belong’.

So the game is to find the bees among those we have in our own apiaries. Selecting the best we have and getting rid of any that don’t come up to scratch.

I sometimes think it would be better to work the other way round and select the worst colonies
and get rid of them. It is probably easier to select the worst than selecting the best. We all can tell the bad colonies more easily. The ones that are bad tempered or just don't do as well as the others.

Selection is far more than I can deal with in this document, in fact it is a complicated subject, not rocket science, just complicated.

There is just one thing that has been causing me and many others a lot of bother, I think it is to
Queen Cell
do with the chemicals we use to keep the varroa in check I suspect they might interfere with the reproductive capacity of the drones, so the queens are not being fertilised properly. This in turn might make the bees raise queens that are of very poor quality. The result is that the queens no sooner start to lay than the bees start making cells to replace her. I find many queen cells that are small and don't look robust and therefore produce small queens. These are probably the ones that are superseded soon after they start to lay. The best queens are reared in cells as pictured here, large and heavily built. They produce large queens that don’t get superseded so quickly.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject



Weather is still bad here in East Lancashire. It is around 10ºc during the day
Lazy Wind
but with a very cold wind - the kind that is too lazy to go around so it goes straight through you. Consequentially my bees are struggling to forage, doing all they can in the wind but in the hive, out of the wind, brood rearing is going at a pace. The cold weather means I am missing regular inspections although I do my best, the bees still get into swarming condition without my knowledge. I visit the apiary and find a hive has swarmed, embarrassing for any experienced bee keeper.

Just the other day, someone rang me to say I had a swarm of bees flying round my apiary. I dropped everything and dashed up there, only to be told
Swarm Chasing
the bees had flown off towards the town centre, and although the person who rang me tried to follow them they could not keep up. I told them not to worry about it, no one could keep up with a flying swarm in a urban area and anyway, I was not too bothered, they are wild insects and if they don’t want to stay with me that is the way it has got to be. My main concern was that they might end up in a chimney or roof space and cause a lot of trouble. So that was the end of them, or so I thought.

About ten days later I got a call from the association’s swarm catcher for this area, he had been called to a swarm of bees near to my apiary and thought it
Load of Hay
might just be mine, because of the location, I guess they were, so they ended up back with me from half a mile away. I was not too much bothered when I thought I had lost them but, as they say, “A swarm in May is worth a load of hay” and I should at least get some honey from them.

That story leads me into how and why a bee keeper allows his bees to swarm. Apart from the fact that the best of us is likely to get swarms on occasions, I had been trying to determine whether a stock of bees were intending to swarm or to supersede the queen. The stock had only produced three queen cells in the middle of a comb and was not very strong. It had plenty of room in the brood box. So I thought I would see if they would supersede, unfortunately they didn’t and the bees swarmed.

A superseding inclined strain of bees, would be worth a hundred loads of hay, but how does a beekeeper recognise them? Certainly not with the swarm prevention measures we now use all over the world. Shook swarming and splits do quite the opposite. Using these methods can never identify whether the bees will supersede.I do believe there are bees that are so inclined but have never come across anyone who knew how to spot them. So how do we get superseding bees that will not swarm and cause mayhem in urban areas? Another thing - they would also have to be British Black Bees to suit me. I would be delighted to have bees that were less Hell bent to reproduce by swarming at the drop of a hat.

Yes, I know the World is full of problems, but if we can fly to the moon can’t we slow down this natural impulse just a bit.

..................................Fly to Moon



The weather in my part of the world seems to be about normal
Sun & Showers
for the time of the year. Today within the space of about ten minutes we have had hail, rain, brilliant sunshine and then back to hail. Absolutely typical weather for April in the North West of the UK.

However, the weather seems to suit my bees, most of them are thriving. Could it be that at last I am getting the British black bee strain that I have been striving for? Four of my stocks are behaving just as the books say Black bees should, more importantly, what they are doing suits me just fine.

I have just finished reading a book by Beowulf A. Cooper “The Honeybees of the British isles” (ISBN 0-905369-06-8 ) It is a very good book by one of the first people in the group who started BIBBA.

This is what one reviewer wrote.
“Beowulf Cooper was one of the founding members of what is now the Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association (BIBBA). The fundamental drive behind this organisation is that the best honeybee for
Coper Book
the British Isles is the native dark bee (Apis Mellifera Mellifera) and that contrary to popular belief the native bee had not been wiped out by the so called “Isle of Wight disease” in the early twentieth century.

When Cooper died in 1982 he left behind a number of published leaflets and a vast collection of notes, this book was edited together posthumously from these by Philip Denwood.

While the main focus of this book is breeding native British bees much of the material is general in nature and can be appreciated by any bee keeper, not just breeders and BIBBA members.

Coopers love and enthusiasm for the subject is obvious from the writing and makes this book a joy to read as well as a valuable reference work.”

It is a very good read, a bit heavy going on the subject of drone assemblies and also on bee breeding, but breeding is a difficult subject and I found myself reading it over and over again to get my head anywhere near understanding it. It is a strange thing but, as far as I can remember, I have never seen this book before, yet I work my bees in just the same way as he does and I seem to go about rearing local queens and breeding as he does! Is it a case of great minds thinking alike or is there only one right way of doing it?

The answer is most likely that it was the very first book I ever read on Black bees and the message sunk in but the author and the book itself has completely gone out of my thick head.

The truth in his book is that the British black bee is all about us. We need to breed out all the foreign exotic stuff, then we will be back to the bee that can stand the environment and the situation we put them in. It will be difficult to do but it has been done by careful recording and using only the queens for breeding that show the signs of her workers and drones being British blackish bees.

I have bees in my apiary that I’m confident are around 80% BBs they are fairly quiet on the comb when worked, don’t sting and are a joy to work with. They are also doing well, having Wintered very well indeed.

There is a quote in Coopers book. That rings most true with me, ”The best bees are in your own apiary. If not, they are probably within a few miles of it’.




Another month over and I have no idea where it has gone. Looking back, I do have a few things I have done to keep the apiary up and running,
but nothing to account for the time that has passed by, I will just have to put it down to old age and the slowing down process.

Yesterday, more or less in desperation as time is pushing along, I set out to insert queen excluders between the two brood boxes that I use for the Winter months, six combs above six combs with plenty of dummy combs to make up the empty spaces. Making a vertical brood nest rather than a horizontal one means it is warmer for the bees. In about two weeks time I intend to put everything into single boxes and work with single brood boxes and supers throughout the Summer months. I don’t seem to get much honey if I work double brood boxes. So putting the queen excluders in place now will also allow me to check the amount of brood and which box the queen is in. The excuders will help me find her to make sure she is looking in good order.

The reason for the desperation was the weather, as ever, it never just seemed right to open the hives especially at this time of year in my cold
Cold & wet
and wet situation. However, the forecast said the day would improve, and improve it did, as I worked from hive to hive the weather got warmer and warmer. I got along fairly quickly with the job and found the hives fairly strong, though I did not take combs out to look at the brood.

It was surprising to find that all the slabs of Neopoll, (a German concoction of sugar fondant and pollen with a guarantee that the pollen is from stocks that have no disease!!) had all been used up in all the hives. I only gave it to them the second week in February. The bees seem to prefer this stuff to there own honey as none of the hives were short of stores. So the hives have all been given another great glob of fondant obtained from the local baker.

I find myself in the same frame of mind as I was as a new beekeeper many years ago. Excited with the prospects of opening up the hives to find out just how they are after the long Winter. I know that all the stocks are alright! but just how “Alright” is “Alright”. Just as soon as the weather warms up a bit I intend to find out, and the thoughts of it just keeps me going.

I’m sure I’m going to have a wonderful year of beekeeping in front of me and I genuinely hope the same applies to you all. Look after the bees and the bees will look after you, in more ways than one.

......................................Busy Bees



Here we are in March and it doesn’t seem ten minutes since we were eating Christmas dinner.

The weather was quite warm yesterday. the my bees were flying to clear them selves and I reckon they have only been able to do that three or for time this year, due to the adverse weather we've had.It hasn’t been too bad but bad enough to keep the bees a home and inside the hive.

I was more than happy to see the bees were orienteering, making sure they know where home is. That’s a good indication that there are lots of new bees about, the Queens have been quietly doing their stuff during all the cold weather and it looks as though there are a goodly amount of bees in the hives.

Right now is the time of year that the bees need plenty of food, up till now they will have been satisfied with keeping warm and raising a few new workers, but now the Queens are building up the stocks, laying as many eggs as can be kept warm and fed, with the new grubs consuming a great deal of food as they grow at a tremendous pace.

I have given each hive a 1kg block of Neopoll, a German concoction of sugar fondant and pollen. It is
a bit expensive but not a great deal more than fondant alone. This will be the second season I have used it and I think it is worthwhile. All the hives feel heavy and don’t appear to be in need of food so the fondant probably won’t be necessary, but I feel so much happier.

Some beekeepers living in a warmer climate might be feeding syrup by now, but where I am 7000ft above sea level in the moorlands of North West Lancashire in the UK I don't think it is worth the risk. However, I’m hopefully looking for a few warm sunny days before the end of March so I can open the hives and have a look at what is going on. “Hope springs eternal” !

I have been and gone and done it again! Some people (like me) just do not learn. Having tried getting rid of varroa with the oxalic acid vaporiser, that I wrote about in the January in the diary headed “Happy New Year”.

I was very pleased with this device as it looked as though it worked very well and did not harm the bees in any way. I decided to modify all my own designed open floors to accommodate the vaporising device, to keep the gas in the hive for the necessary time and ensuring the vapour was in the right place instead of relying on blocking thing up with rags etc.

When it came to doing the actual job, sealing the floor turned out to be rather more of a task than I had first thought. Also some of these floors must be ten years old or more and standing out in the rain all that time has taken its toll. A lot of new timber had to be used to make things sound. I can just about see the end of the job in the future but it was a lot more work than I had bargained for.

This is me, the clever one, who keep telling beekeepers not to change their way of successful beekeeping, without first being certain the new way is a far better way of doing things.

It brought to mind the saying “Physician, heal thyself”

Lancastrians will know what I mean when I say “Onny road oop’ (Any road up) or more simply, ‘However’. Spring is just around the corner and we are all going to have the best beekeeping year yet and we will look back on the wisdom of those word at the end of the year!


It’s Winter time. In fact where I am it has just
started to snow, not much just about five or six centimetres but it’s a bad time of year for most bee keepers. We don’t know what is going on in the hives the bees are just not moving or showing themselves, causing consternation in most of us.

It is no use opening up the hive to look at what is going on, doing that would not be good for the clustered colony and in any case there is absolutely nothing you can do to help them, other than feeding with fondant. So check to see if the weight of the hive is light, indicating a lack of food in the box.

You can feed them without opening the hive, just lift the cover board put the food on top of the combs directly over the nest, slip an eke in to stop the cover board siting on top of the food and leaving a large gap all round the edge. If you haven’t got an eke then just put the food over the feed hole,and live in hope the bees can reach it, they probably will.

I have been looking at an article on how the bees are faithful to the flowers that they get nectar
Bee and Flower
from. Not going hither and thither but sticking to the one variety of flower thus carrying the pollen from one flower to another of the same kind and assisting in their fertilisation.It is called symbiosis (you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours). Thinking about this clever arrangement, it looks to me to be a brilliant work of nature making the needs of the flower and that of the bees coincide. It’s a wonderful world!

Consider the following.The life of a worker bee in Summer time is only about five or six weeks, drones live for months and queens live for years. Why does the worker only get a short life? It must have an evolutionary necessity for the wellbeing of the bee species. Most of the workers life time is spent working in the hive leaving something like a week or ten days to go out foraging, about the same time that a plant would take to flower. When the plant gives up flowering the bee gives up its life and a new bee replaces it and will be available to start foraging on a plant that is just coming into flower. The short life will also help immensely with keeping the colony disease
free as it is the workers that do all the dirty work cleaning the hive removing all the detritus using its mouth part to do it. Yes, getting rid of the worker soon will have the necessary effect of reducing a great many of the diseases that are attempting to invade the hive. There must be a thousand and one reasons for a short life for the worker bee and this is just one.

This seems to be getting a bit too deep! So I will
leave you to think about it.

By the way, if you think the title at the top of the page rings a bell, there is an old a song called ‘I’ve got a motter
(sic)’, which starts “I’ve got a motter, always merry and bright . . . . . .”



It is another New Year and everything is planned
and sorted out for the coming season. As the title of this little website suggests, I shall continue with my stated aim of creating a pocket of British Black bees in my local area. I have made some progress but, of course, the first requirement is keeping my apiary healthy.

I know just what I have to do and how I am going to do it. I am looking forward and full of the joys of Spring . . . . at least I think I am!

However it is oxalic acid time again. So I have treated my hives, but with a difference!

Last year a man in East Lancashire BeeKeepers sent me details of how he bought and used a
Varrox Vaporiser to administer oxalic acid. The devise is on sale at around £100 or thereabout and it heats the acid crystals set into the bottom of the hive to approximately 300 and vaporises the crystals in to a gas.

There is a two and a half minute demonstration video online at
which is worth a look

His idea was to persuade the local Beekeepers Association to buy one, or even two, of the devices and hire them out to members. However, nothing came of it as the Varrox is very expensive and is only used once a year and also needs a fairly hefty 12volt battery to provide the energy that will cost another £30 /£50.

I thought it was a good idea and I also read an article in a recent issue of BBK newsletter by Professor Retnick who had overseen a test on the instrument and found it superior to the trickle method. He seemed to infer that it had improving effects on the bees other than just ridding them of the varroa mites.

Being a bit of a DIY beekeeper, I made a device to vaporise the crystals and take them from a solid to a gas without going through the melting and liquid stage. Using an old blow lamp as the energy source, it seemed to work just fine and knocked the varroa down to a satisfactory extent. It was a bit slower than the trickle method but worked over a much longer period. In fact there was very little drop over the first 24 hours. but the next day there was a heavy drop and the substantial drop continued over a week. After which I got fed up of counting.

The bees showed no sign of damage, but I would think the uncapped brood was damaged or probably killed. This is a small sacrifice and one that I am prepared to accept, there cannot be a lot of uncapped brood at this time of year.

The down side for the real thing is the cost of the Varrox applicator and Battery. The up side is there is no opening of the hive exposing bees and brood to the harsh environment at this time of year, and the aggravation of having sugar syrup poured over them. It remains to be seen if there is any general improvement to the colony . I live in hopes as ever.

................................................................Burning hive copy



The plain mans’ guide to
the man in the white suit
who wears a veil

Working the bees


S ausage dog
I am not a beekeeper but having been involved with Blackburn Beekeeping Association for about ten years and having that old beekeeper, Bill Ainsworth, as a lifelong friend, I have absorbed an awful lot about bees andbeekeeping. More than that, I have learned a lot about beekeepers. It is dangerous to generalise about any race or group of people but there are certain characteristics which begin to stand out when you observe them both close up and from a distance. For instance, Germans eat sausage and win football matches; Japanese shout banzai and eat raw fish; the French have a tower something like Blackpool tower and eat frogs legs. I suppose foreigners see us wearing bowler hats, having an upper lip which looks as though it has been starched and eating roast beef three times a day.

In reality beekeepers seem to be a totally mixed bunch. They can be young or old, male or female and live in anything from a thatched cottage to a mansion. However, my carefully researched studies (I have talked to a couple of beekeepers on the telephone and been to two meetings of the association) seem to show certain common characteristics. I will, however, with apologies to the many charming lady beekeepers, restrict my observations to the men.

First and foremost they are barmy. Who in their right mind would spend
hundreds of pounds a year to get regularly stung, devote hours of their time each week taking care of thousands of bad tempered little insects which might at the end of the year, if the beekeeper is lucky, produce a few jars of honey and which will, in all probability, decide to swarm and clear off to pastures new.


Beekeepers are also closely related to the squirrel family, having a tendency to hoard things in strange places. The beekeeper’s ‘Hidey hole’, usually described as ‘The shed’, soon fills up with discarded bee suits, parts of hives, abandoned and unusable galvanised iron honey extractors, broken smokers, lumps of congealed beeswax, experimental tools for lifting hives which never actually worked and various bits of wood which might come in handy - sometime.

There are also four old double glazing units which he acquired five or six years ago and which he intends to use in making a solar wax extractor, as soon as he gets ‘A round tuit’. The snag is, they take up so much room that he can no longer get to the three old children’s bikes from which he is going to build a hive mover - he can still just see the faded piece of cornflake box
pinned on the back wall of the shed where he drew the design. The best part of which is the title “The patent lightweight bee hive transporter Mark 111’.

Three months ago he rescued an old pine cupboard from a skip outside a near neighbours house which, if he can get to his tool box, he will cut up to make supers and frames for the two extra hives he intends to build. Unfortunately, the broken pine cupboard now completely blocks the door of the shed which means the really useful stuff has to be secreted about the house. Hive tools in the cutlery drawer, hive frames at the back of the airing cupboard and three hundred empty honey jars for this year’s crop of honey behind the suitcases on top of the wardrobe in the spare bedroom. Yes, three hundred - beekeepers are also optimists. As one beekeeper said “You have to be optimistic because you know very well that it will all end in tears”

They usually have somewhat strained relationships with their female partners - and no wonder, instead of fixing the dripping tap in the bathroom,
Angry Wife
taking her to the supermarket or out for afternoon tea in the country, they spend hours at the apiary messing about with “Those damned bees”. It has been suggested that the unfortunate spouse also has the added risk of developing sever allergic reaction to bee stings. The beesuit and other clothes worn by the beekeeper are dropped, in typical male fashion, on the kitchen floor for the ‘Old lady’ to launder and clean. These clothes have been stung repeatedly by angry bees and are impregnated with bee venom which she absorbs by breathing, rather than the more direct inoculation received by the husband.

Then there is honey extraction day. This should really be done in a shed or at least a room dedicated to an extremely messy operation but the beekeeper takes over the kitchen. Being a man, he forgets to put down any protection for the newly cleaned floor and by the time he has extracted forty pounds of honey there is at least another four pounds on the floor, kitchen units, door handles, window catches, tea towels, lights switches, electric sockets, the tea caddy, the fridge door and by some strange process the light fitting in the centre of the ceiling.

Like most hobbyists, the beekeeper is a bit eccentric - in fact ‘Nutty’ is probably a better description. He tends to get involved with folklore and adopt a quasi rural accent when talking about his bees. The conversation will be liberally laced with jargon - queen excluders; eke (That’s a ‘Something’, not the noise a mouse makes); brood box; smoker; nucleus; shook swarm, Nosema, CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) and other arcane phrases.

Whilst he may have a fairly scientific approach to the bees and beekeeping
Hay Fever
he will also be steeped in bee folklore which will range from old wive’s tales to bits and pieces he picked up from web sites created by people just as nutty as himself. According to the bits he has read he will believe that bee stings can either cause or cure arthritis. He knows that if he eats the residue left after extracting his honey this will make him live longer, even though the residue will contain bee dropping, propolis, wax, bits of dead bee and rust from the honey extractor. He will tell anyone with a runny nose that eating local honey will prevent and cure Hayfever and that if he lets his anger get the better of him and shouts at his wife, the bees will also be bad tempered.

Talking to bees
He will talk to his bees (When there are no humans near enough to hear him) telling them about local news and what is happening in the family. If he takes over a deceased beekeepers bees he will tap on the roof of the hive and explain he is now the new master. There is then a commotion within the hive as the bees accept the news and he will attach a black ribbon to the roof of the hive as a mourning symbol.

He can talk learnedly about the life of the bee, making candles from
Beekeeper's dance
beeswax, the history of beekeeping as far back as the pyramids, when the bees are likely to swarm, how to find the queen and tell you how the worker bees are directed to the best supplies of nectar by the ‘Bee Dance’.

(By the way, if you see a beekeeper leaping around his hives, waving his arms in the air and uttering hoarse cries, this is not the bee dance, it simply means he has a rip in his bee suit and the bees have got to bare bits of flesh.

Meanness is not normally a trait of the beekeeper, he probably
Eb Scrooge
gives away as much honey as he sells. However, there is a miserly streak which shows itself in the ‘Make do and mend’ approach to his beehives. He will spend a small fortune on wood working tools so he can convert the aforementioned pine cupboard into frames, despite the fact he can buy frames commercially for about a pound each. He will eagerly collect empty, used honey jars and laboriously clean and sterilise them - although he can buy them new and ready for use for about twenty pence.


All in all I suppose he is like any other hobbyist, spending more than he should on his hobby and devoting too much time on beekeeping when he might otherwise be doing useful things like watching his favourite soap on TV, drinking beer in the pub, crying when his football team loses or spoiling a good walk by playing golf.

Cranky, barmy, stingy, odd ball but in my experience, a thoughtful man with a love and understanding of nature. He marvels at the wonder of the beehive and its organisation. You may see him standing, apparently motionless by a flower bed as he watches his bees gathering nectar from the flowers in his garden. He is an entertaining companion and an overall decent bloke.

I suppose it is something to do with him being a link to what us ‘old ‘uns’ see as the good old days.

Pure nostalgia, I know but he reminds us of hay fields, cows with horns, farmers who were farmers rather than business men, when shopkeepers served you rather than just taking your money. A time when we ate food that was in season rather than having strawberries and new potatoes all the year round; when ‘Townies’ were visitors to the countryside rather than tourists. I know - you are right, times change and things improve - or at least move on. As far as I am concerned I just hope our beekeeper continues to keep bees because he enjoys the bees and not for the cash he earns from the honey. In the modern World it seems very important that there are still people who do something for love rather than reward.


We would just like to wish everyone out there a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful and honey filled New Year.

..........................................Rain dear



We are now well into Winter and there should be very little or nothing to do. Already you will
Bear with words
have sorted out all the gear and stowed it away ready for Spring - you have, haven’t you ! So let me give you a task and something to think about for a few weeks.

It applies to all of us, beginners and old-handsl. We all need to make plans as to how we are going to control swarming when it starts in the Summer months. And start it will if you keep more than two or three stocks.

Swarming is something we should think about with pleasure for without the bees desire to swarm we would not have any bees to keep. So don’t look at swarming with some sort of
Swarm Dodging
horror, make plans to deal with it right now.

I would suggest that if you do not possess of a fool proof system, that is well tried and suits you just fine, then take a good look round and choose a system that you think will suit you and your situation.One that is simple and is within your capacity, both as regards the equipment you have, and the spare time you have, at the right time. Be sure you have the strength to hump things about.

There are hundreds of systems, so ask other beekeepers, search the internet and read all you can. Once you choose, make certain you know the system inside out. Going into the job all togged up but not being absolutely confident in every detail of what you are about to do and being without a plan B if things are not exactly as you thought, is no way to succeed.

It can be very difficult to clearly write down all steps you must take - swapping boxes, changing queen excluders etc. So if you are unsure draw it out on a sheet of paper, make yourself a
Flow Chart
flowchart or use some empty boxes to go through the system, until you know it backwards, it is surprising how things can become quite clear this way.

You must know with absolute certainty what you are about to do before going to the bees.

Practice makes perfect. Get it right and happiness and lots of honey is the result. Get it wrong and you will feel like a fool and possibly ruin the stock.

This is something that really does need a lot of thought and no matter what new system is offered to you, plan it all out until you are sure you have it right. There, that’s something to look forward to and plan during the Winter months.

.........................Merry Christmas



Arthur has been pestering me about a new diary entry. “Write about what’s happening in your apiary” He said. So, just to keep him quiet, here goes.

“I went up to the apiary this morning. Everything was tidy and secure. It was raining
AGAIN so I came home”.

There, let’s hope that will shut him up!

Seriously, there isn’t a lot to write about. For beekeepers in my part of the world it is a time to relax
and keep up to date on what’s happening in the world of beekeeping. Whilst doing just that and browsing through all sorts of bits and pieces I discovered this article which is I found very informative.

It is well worth while reading. You will need to follow this advice starting March next year, so have a good read and then read it again.

If you click on this link dummy board it will take you to the page which I have included in our ‘Articles about beekeeping’ pages.

Thanks to David Aldersey of Bournemouth and Dorset South Beekeepers Association for permission to use this.

Incidentally, for the first time in many months I looked through some of those pages. There really is some good stuff in there. When you have half an hour to spare, have a trawl through - you might find things of real value. You can find them all by clicking here ‘Articles about beekeeping’


This Year Last Year
It is constantly said that the beekeeping year starts in September of the previous year. I thoroughly agree with this. Right now is the time to work out just were you want to be next year.

In two months time you will have a chance to move the hives around to make a more sensible arrangement in the apiary. Put the best hive, with the best breeder Queen, in the best place, and use it to breed new and better bees next year.

It is most important to get all your equipment sterilised and in good order. There is nothing worse than finding the item of gear you need right now at the bottom of a pile of stuff in a
Old Hives
disgusting state and probably not useable. That’s when you realise you should have had it sorted out weeks ago.

The weather this late Summer and early Autumn has been wonderful for getting the bees in good form for Winter. We just have to make certain they have the necessary food to get them through the next six months and that the hives are weather proof, secure and sound. if, for any reason, you have not been able to do this, now is the time to get cracking and get the ‘Secure and sound bit’ done right now. You will have to depend on feeding with fondant in January and get them through Winter.

I have just inherited the most beautiful apiary. It is in a lovely piece of woodland in a smallish,
Beekeeper friends
well protected, valley and it could prove to be most useful. There is a considerable amount of work to be done and I probably shouldn’t have taken it but I simply couldn’t resist it.  I’m living in hope that I will get some support from my friends, I have already got four or five offering to help. Bless them.

My idea is to establish four or five hives with the best local bees I can find. The intention being to produce drones and to use the place as a mating station, getting virgin queens mated by taking the nuclei to our drones, the hope being that we shall improve stocks throughout the area. It is a daunting task to be taking on, I’ve done this sort of thing before, without much success. But the older you get the dafter you get. We will just have to see how we get on.

Don’t forget the Oxalic acid treatment against varroa around Christmas time when the brood will be at about it’s lowest number.




Who's that

(Another from Arthur whilst we wait for Bill to be inspired)

I can remember an old family conundrum which, as a child, I found difficult to sort out. A man was looking at a photograph and said “Brothers and sisters have I none but that man’s father is my father’s son” who was in the photograph? (Go on! Work it out. If you struggle I have put the answer at the bottom)

I was reminded of the conundrum when I read in a beekeeping journal

“The honey bee drone has a grandfather but no father”

Bee Relaxing

Not having much knowledge of biology I had to phone my friend Bill to sort me out. It turned into a half hour discussion on genetics - most fascinating. However, we haven’t room for the whole half hour so here is a condensed version.

“Drones develop from unfertilised eggs, and so only have 1 set of chromosomes (16), those of their mother. Technically drones do not have a father, only a grandfather. Neither do they have sons, only grandsons.”

The following bit is added by Bill:

“The drone is by nature a clone of its mother, receiving her set of chromosomes. The clone becomes a drone by nurture. The way in which it becomes a drone rather than another queen is down to how it is raised by the bee workers

(The answer: He’s looking at a photograph of his son)