Presentation by Dorset SBI, Kevin Pope

Presentation on Bee Health by Kevin Pope, Dorset Seasonal Bee Inspector 18th November, West Parley Memorial Hall

Paul Mann and Kevin Pope

When our Hon Secretary circulated details of Kevin’s talk, Peter assured the BADS-BKA membership we would know more about our bees’ health at the end of the evening than at the start. And he was right!

Kevin’s presentation, illustrated with extremely clear imagery, took us through his holistic approach to keeping bees healthy.

Kevin’s starting point is apiary excellence, including the importance of hive location. ‘Stressed bees’ said Kevin ‘are more susceptible to disease.’

Preparation for next season starts at the end of the current season, in fact, as soon as the honey has been removed. Kevin took his audience through varroa management planning and the pros and cons of the various treatment options from sugar dusting to thymol preparations. Kevin’s top tip is to give three rather than two thymol treatments to minimise the risk of varroa weakening colonies to the point they will fail due to their susceptibility to disease.

Kevin’s photographs clearly illustrated the tell-tale signs of nosema and the damage done by pests such as woodpeckers, mice and rats. Beekeepers Mike and Liz’s top tip is to cover woodpecker holes with Plasticine to deter yet further damage to the hive and colony.

Beekeepers must feed sugar solution to help colonies build up their winter stores and to only feed fondant if absolutely necessary. When winter turns into spring, pollen coming into the hive is a positive indication that all is well.

Kevin emphasised the importance of making up new frames in the winter downtime period so that they’re all ready to replace old frames during the first inspection of the spring. ‘There’s a definite correlation between new foundation and the amount of honey produced,’ advised Kevin.

There was consensus amongst members that super wax should be replaced every three years.

When Kevin visited the association at the High Mead Apiary over the summer, his advice was to do two or three inspections each year just of the brood. Kevin’s photos reminded us that healthy brood is pearly white, C-shaped and has clear segmentation. Vigorous, young queen bees are key to a colony’s success and Kevin recommended Danish queens for their good temper.

Throughout his talk and particularly on the issue of varroa treatment Kevin recommended that we should all regard our colonies as food-producing units and that we should take great care using chemicals inside the hive. A case in point are the new MAQ (Mite Away Quick) strips that beekeepers can use any time of the year, including the months when there is honey in the hive.

Kevin then turned to the subject of swarming and reminded BADS-BKA members that beekeepers have a responsibility to try and prevent swarming – it results in honey loss after all – and must deal with any swarms that do occur, particularly for colonies kept in town or suburban gardens in close proximity to neighbours.

In his role as Dorset Seasonal Bee Inspector, Kevin discovered 14 apiaries with EFB last season. To put this into context, last year, Kevin visited 230 apiaries and inspected 1400 hives last year, representing approx. 25% of Dorset’s some 5000 hives. In some cases, EFB is hard to detect as in periods of good weather colonies can out-feed EFB.

Kevin’s presentation took us through a comprehensive tour of diseases and conditions to look out for – AFB, chalk brood, sac brood and bald brood as well as poor and drone laying queens. The excellent photography that Kevin used made for clear identification of each problem.

And what should beekeepers in southern England be on the look out for next? Within the past fortnight, Sicilian beekeepers have found small hive beetle in 54 apiaries. Strong colonies can cope but for weaker colonies the damage is devastating. In our part of Dorset, close to both the airport and the ferryport, the threat of the Asian hornet is a real one. In some parts of France, beekeeping is no longer viable due to the Asian hornet.

Kevin closed his talk with a photograph taken on a fruit farm in Sichuan provence in China where man has killed all the pollinators and the work of the bees has to be done by farm labourers.

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