DEFRA’s news on varroa

Published on Wednesday 22 December 2010 at 9:30am

Bee and varroa mite

Scientists may be able to halt global honey bee losses by forcing the deadly Varroa mite, lethal in the freezing weather, to self destruct.

The blood-sucking Varroa is the biggest killer of honey bees world-wide, having developed resistance to beekeepers’ medication. It is particularly destructive in winter as depleted colonies do not have enough bees huddling together to keep warm.

See more at this DEFRA link.

Bees in Newcastle

Newcastle has been named the greenest city in Britain by topping the annual Forum for the Future Sustainable Cities Index for the second year running. The accolade rewards the strides the city council has taken to improve energy efficiency, recycling, waste management levels and increase the use of electric vehicles with nearly 600 charging points. Yet the headlines about Newcastle’s triumph focused on its bee strategy.  Bees help keep Newcastle at top of green city table said the Guardian.

I visited the North East last month at the invitation of the council-led bee steering group to witness a range of initiatives being implemented to make Newcastle the most bee-friendly city in the UK. The strategy was launched earlier this year following a motion put to the council by Cllr Doreen Huddar who was greatly concerned about the decline in bee populations. In just a few months, a group including allotment holders, beekeepers, council workers and university researchers have been able to do a number of things to help bees from planting more bee-friendly plants (getting rid of those useless double headed varieties) in munipical flower beds and reducing the use of residual herbicide in footpaths to changing the terms of reference on allotments to allow bee hives and working with a city farm to establish a central venue for beekeeper training. It has also provided 20 bumble bee homes for sites across the city, is working with the Northumberland Wildlife Trust and local beekeepers to get bee material and hives into schools, and has two council-sponsored hives. And there are also “Love our bees!” leaflets and posters in municipal buildings with tips for how residents can help bees.

More information about the strategy and a comprehensive list of bee-friendly plants are at

Further good news is that Nottingham and Bristol council are taking an interest in Newcastle’s approach, and the project leaders will be spreading the word next month at the EuroCities conference in Zaragoza, Spain.

I was certainly impressed at the speed with which Newcastle’s bee strategy was being driven through, the partners involved and the good will on all sides. Even a council director admitted that  he was surprised at its rapid progress.

“Councils are renowed for being slow and bureaucratic. This is the exception. They just got on with it,” he said proudly. “Within an hour of the first meeting staff were saying ‘crickey we’re growing the wrong flowers’”.

Special praise must go to Joe Timothy and Russell Nelson, two young council employees who as members of its innovation forum have led the project from the start. They knew nothing about bees, but are now known as the bee boys. But without an elected councillor none of this would have happened.  So let’s hope other councillors follow Doreen’s example and get their councils to act as bee champions.

Ready for winter

The bees are all ready for winter. Varroa treatment has finished and entrance blocks have been reduced in size. The bees have been out the last few days collecting pollen in between the heavy downpours. We have left each of our hives a super of honey to see them through the winter months ahead.

COLF update

The City of London Festival bees are in the middle of their Varroa treatment. The 2nd dose of Apiguard is on which will hopefully drive off the mites that would have taken up residence in the hives. Well that’s the plan.

They all seemed to have enough stores to see them through the winter but I’ll check on that later on in the year.

So on the whole it has been a successful project.

Taster course at Camley Street

We ran a half day beekeeping taster course at Camley Street this morning.  It was funded by the Co-operative Group and was for people who tried to get onto the summer course but were unsuccessful. It was intended to give some initial knowledge about beekeeping and was modelled on the 1 day beginners’ course we run in Battersea, south London. Around 20 people turned up and they all seemed to learn a lot.

Three hours isn’t long to give people a flavour or what beekeeping entails – but they went away knowing more about how a colony works, what’s in a hive, and the many things you need to consider when taking up beekeeping.

Ann, who comes along on a Tuesday night for the summer C0-op course we teach, popped in to give participants a first-hand account of what it’s like to be a new beekeeper. “You get very attached to your bees,” she told them. Do you talk to your bees? asked one. “Yes, she replied. “I even sing to them.”

Honey Harvest at Camley Street

The 20 new beekeepers sponsored by the Co-operative’s Plan Bee campaign and trained by Urban Bees Ltd have just reaped the rewards of the bees’ efforts over this summer by harvesting over 50 lbs of glorious honey.

Honey Harvest at LWT Camley Street
Honey Harvest at LWT Camley Street

Click on the picture to see the action.

London has 20 new beekeepers

Finally, the 20 trainees on the Co-op-funded beekeeping course at Camley Street Natural Park in King’s Cross are each the proud owner of a colony of honeybees.  

The hives had been lovely assembled as homework some weeks ago and were patiently waiting (along with the trainees) in gardens, backyards and allotments across the capital for their new occupants. There were no shortage of trainees willing to make the trip out to Surrey last week to pick up the 10,000 bee-strong colonies from the supplier I arranged to buy them from at the beginning of the summer. In the end, three people met me in hatchbacks and then distributed the bees in their respective areas of London.

After months of diligently attending the Tuesday night course to learn both the theory and the practical stuff  at the four hives on site, how did it feel to actually have bees at home? Were they prepared?

Esther said: ”I was so excited I nearly popped!”  when her bees arrived in darkness. Her partner carried  them onto the north London allotment  where they will live. “I love them already” she added.  The following evening she had a small welcoming ceremony for her bees with family and friends and a local beekeeper which included bee poems and thanks to the Co-op and myself for giving her this wonderful opportunity to keep bees.

Volker, whose bees ended their journey from Surrey on the back of his bike, are now happily located in a city farm in east London. He sums up many a new beekeepers’ sentiment when he says “Just a shame we’re not supposed to have a look for a week [after they have been transfered from the nuc box to the hive]“.

Not everyone remembered that the roof won’t go on the hive when you give your bees a welcome feed, unless an empty super box is added, so I sent out some reminder notes.

A week on and the sense of excitement, joy and wonder is still palpable.