Notes from the Abbey Bee Keeper

Bees have certainly been in the news. This week they are on the cover of Time magazine! The title reads, ‘A World without Bees. The price we’ll pay if we don’t figure out what’s killing the honey bee.’ One of the items that caught my eye was the mention of a Robobee. Apparently the Harvard School of Engineering have conducted the first successful flight of a life-sized robotic fly. The same group have received a large grant to build a network of autonomous artificial bees! And I hear there is a new film out called, ‘More than Honey’. I hope all the publicity leads to some action. Pesticides do seem to be a major contributor to the depletion of bees worldwide although an article in the Telegraph observes that … ‘Bees are not being killed off by pesticides, mites, exploitative husbandry, antibiotics, incest, climate change or loss of habitat, but by a perfect storm of all these factors”.

My bees continue to thrive. I took off a lovely lot of honey some time ago and I am hoping that they will gather in more stores which I will leave them for the winter. I also put on apiguard to treat for varroa.

MAKING NUCS with Galtee queens.

The ‘Galtee queens’ I ordered arrived a day earlier than I expected. The morning they arrived I went to my office as usual and there was a brown envelope on my desk with a few small holes in it. I opened the envelope carefully and welcomed the queens to their new home.

Each queen was in its own small, fIat plastic container with several workers in attendance. I wasn’t ready for them but had to drop everything and get two nucs ready to receive them. I had planned to make up the nucs the day before and leave them queenless overnight. But I had no time for that now. In hindsight, I probably had more time than I thought.

I went to my hives and selected the two from which I would take the frames to make up the nucs. The weather was thundery which was no help and I had taken off the honey three days previously. All this meant that the inhabitants were ready and waiting for me! They attacked with fury at this latest intrusion into their world. It is very unpleasant working with bees when they are in this aggressive humour – the best thing, and what I would normally do, is close them up and walk away. On this occasion I couldn’t do that. I had to complete the job.

I made up the first nuc and I was concerned that I hadn’t shaken in enough nurse bees (bees that had not already been out and orientated to that position). This turned out to be the case. The next hive was really angry too and made it almost impossible to remove the frames to make up the next nuc. I stuck at it… now they had discovered that I wasn’t wearing wellington boots and they could get at my ankles. They stung me relentlessly! But I could not move! I completed the task rapidly but never found the queen which is the key move in this work. Once you have the queen isolated you can remove frames of food and brood safely knowing that she is not on them.

I took the risk and put in two frames of brood and two of food and shook in as many bees as I could, hoping that the queen was not among them.

I kept the nucs in the same place. It may have been better to move them over three miles so that any flying bees would re-orientate. I introduced the queens leaving the container on top of the frames. She was locked in by some fondant. The bees in the nuc had soon eaten through this and released her.

A day or two later, I checked to see if the queens had been accepted. But now I recognized I had made another mistake. I had fed the nucs and wasps and bees from surrounding hives had got the smell of the food and started to rob the nucs. This was a recipe for disaster. One was already very weak from the onslaught and so I rescued the queen with some attendants and kept her in her original cage in my room over night. I then introduced her to another hive where the queen seemed to be failing or at least the incumbants had tried to replace her several times. She has settled in to this new home. I gave the second nuc to a friend who lives some distance away and this is doing well.


The bees have had a great summer and the wasps have benefited too! There are lots of them around this year which is good to see. They have a role to play in the great scheme of things!


One can’t be too careful when feeding bees. Don’t drop any liquid round the hives as this will alert wasps and other opportunist bees to start robbing. It is best to feed in the evening and to feed all colonies at the same time. If robbing starts it is almost impossible to stop!

IMPORTED BUMBLEBEES – thought to carry pathogens that pose a threat to native honeybees and bumblebees in the UK.

Between 40,000 and 50,000 bumblebee colonies are imported into England each year to assist with crop pollination.

For a study in the Journal of Applied Ecology, scientists bought 48 colonies from three producers in Europe. They found 77% had parasites that could infect native bees.

Prof William Hughes, of the University of Sussex, said importation of bumblebees had been “going on for decades”. “We couldn’t grow tomatoes in this country without these bumblebees,” he said. And with the decline in pollinating insects in recent years, food producers are increasingly reliant upon imported bees.

“Over a million colonies are imported globally – it’s a huge trade,” said Prof Hughes. “And a surprisingly large number of these are produced in factories, mainly in Eastern Europe.