Community Bee Keeping Project in Sampford Peverell
September 2019 Update
Read latest blog here
Bee Keeping has seen an enormous revival in the last few years – London is saturated with amateur beekeepers – and there is an upsurge in interest nationwide. However, many people who have been on Bee Keeping courses have baulked at the cost of setting up their own hives and also feel the work and responsibility is too much for them as individuals. The idea of a community project means that the cost is shared and no one person is totally responsible for caring for these fascinating insects that are so essential for pollinating fruit and flowers and provide us with a delicious by product which is honey.
On 12 January we held an Open Day in the village to encourage people to learn more about bees and to try to calm some fears about how dangerous bee swarms are – they’re not at all dangerous unless provoked! The Merriemeade pub was our host and allowed us to set up display boards with lots of information about the life cycle of bees, their importance to humans and the amount of work they have to do. We were also permitted to offer free tasters of honey cake and mead, the most ancient alcoholic drink in the world dating back some 20,000 – 40,000 years, made from fermented honey.
We were delighted with the response we got and signed up another group of interested souls to add to our original list.
Three members of the Sampford Peverell & District Sustainable Villages Group visited Bradninch Community Beekeepers in 2012 and had the principles and some realities of Community Beekeeping explained by one of their enthusiasts.
We were very fortunate that a local resident had kept bees many years ago and still had the hives which he was willing to donate to our cause. These were duly scrubbed and sterilised with a blow lamp and are ready to be installed on our chosen site.
Some members of the Sustainable Villages Group are currently receiving training in bee keeping and in a few months time will have had some hands-on experience and will be insured by the Devon and Somerset Bee Keepers Associations to start our Community apiary. We hope to establish a rota of ‘experienced’ bee keepers and invite other members of the project to come along and watch us work and, who knows, they may want to take the training course themselves.
There are many tasks to do with bee keeping that don’t involve dealing with bees themselves – frame making, hive cleaning, honey extraction, bottling, labelling, to name but a few, so everyone in the community can be involved.
Remember – We need bees and bees need us!
LETTER FROM OUR MP, IN SUPPORT
Dear Mrs. Mason,
Thank you for your email, which I read with interest.
I am very pleased to learn that your group is starting a Beekeeping Project.
The decline in bee numbers is deeply worrying, both from a biodiversity point
of view and because of the adverse effect it would have on commercial crops.
I have recently met with experts from Friends of the Earth to discuss ways of
reversing their decline and I will be asking the Chairman of the Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee to examine government policy towards
the wild bee population.
I would be very happy to support your bee project in any way I can and please
do keep me updated on your progress.
We now have a wonderful place for our apiary.
In a paddock, belonging to a local resident, about 50m from the canal, facing south, with farmland, hedges,
gardens, wild areas and canalside flora.
We also have the use of a 1950s brick shippon to store our equipment just a few yards from the hives.
BEE-ING BAD NEWS
The bad, wet year we had in 2012, followed by a long cold, wet winter has meant that overwintering bees have
suffered badly. Everyone we were hoping to get our new colonies from have lost colonies themselves or have
very weak, remaining colonies.
It will be some time before we will be able to source suitable bees for ourselves.
We must be patient while we put out feelers in all directions.
The extra time we have has allowed us to really think about our hives and we have decided to go for 2 National brood
boxes and supers because new nucs will most likely come on National frames.
We can save the Commercial brood boxes for possible swarms.
A working party laid slabs (kindly donated to us), cleaned out the shed, and built the bases for the hives.
Donated old hives and hive parts were moved into the shippon.
After a couple of weeks, we found out that sheep, that were grazing the paddock, had knocked over the bases.
Meanwhile equipment such as foundation,varroa floors, queen catchers, mouse guards, hive tools etc were ordered.
Vanessa at Buzz Beekeeping at Theale was very helpful and gave us 20% discount on clothing.
We then tried to count the frames that we needed to buy and decided to assemble a couple of hives; both to test our
knowledge/ignorance and to see which frames we needed.
Luckily Keith Ower, the Tiverton apiary manager came to our rescue. It seems we have Commercial and 2 older
National brood boxes, and 4 National supers. Luckily the external dimensions are exactly the same.
Keith was also kind enough to go through the rest of the donated hive parts, showing us which parts to discard,
which to repair and which to keep.
We now, with 2 little repairs, have 2 complete hives ready to go.
May 2013 A working party was formed to fence the area. Materials kindly donated. Thank you Michael for all your
advice, materials, tools and hard work.
BEE-ING FRAME MAKING
We are getting very excited as we have sourced and are awaiting our bees.
We had a frame making workshop and were planning to do it at our apiary,
and put the hives together, but it rained so Derek kindly lent us his barn..
Hive assembly is this Friday.
The bees were ordered. 2 nucs (nucleii), each of which consists of a queen and 6 frames of stores, brood and bees. We are very pleased as they are Buckfast Queens bred for docility and all round wondrousness. So a working party of Chris, Kitty, Sarah, Richard, Tess and Lizzie scrubbed (with washing soda) and scorched (with a blow torch) the hive parts. The parts were assembled and 2 hives were left in readiness.Full of optimism we also left a nuc box out in case a swarm passed by. We left a frame of wax inside as an attractant.
The nucs arrived at 6.45am on June 29th!! Well done Christine and Kitty for being awake enough to receive them.
They need to be fed sugar water every day for 2 weeks. We are itching to open the hives and look inside to check them.
A meeting needs to be arranged to enable all the bee group opportunities to visit the hives with one of the members who has had training.
Watch this space.
BEE – ING GOOD AND BAD NEWS
Kitty, Tess and Richard visited the bees to have a quick look in the hives to make sure they have plenty of space. The weather has been so good that they must be finding plenty of stores. Lack of space encourages swarming activity.
We saw that the red hive still has plenty of space so continued feeding.
The green hive brood box was full so we put on a super (where they make and
store the honey) and decided not to top up the feeder but let them finish it.
We will open the hives and go through frame by frame, on Saturday, to check eggs, brood and stores.
However, we found bees with deformed wings on the floor near the entrance. This
indicates varroa is probably present. Treatment depends on the severity of it.
We put plastic bottoms lightly coated with oil and vaseline under the hive. Tomorrow we will count the number
of varroa mites.
More than 15 means one treatment, less means another.
July 13th was the first proper opening. We checked the varroa floors but found no mites so good news.
We went through both hives frame by frame and were reassured to find the Queen (marked with a red spot),
brood, capped brood, nectar, capped honey and pollen. See if you can spot them in the photos.
Both brood boxes were nearly full, so we left both hives with supers on. They now have plenty of space to
make honey and to expand into. Lack of space is a major cause of swarming.
We took out a frame with brood and stores from each hive. A green hive frame had a closed queen cell which
is a sign of overcrowding and possible swarming, so it was good to get that frame out, have somewhere to
put it and make space all at the same time. Being called Colony 3.
We put in a super frame (shorter). The bees will build drone cells along the bottom. Varroa prefer drone cells
and are attracted to them.
When that is full it can be pulled off and fed to chickens. A none invasive method of varroa control.
We dusted the hives with icing sugar. The bees groom each other and groom off any varroa mites present
along with the sugar. Another none invasive method of varroa control.
The 2 spare frames were put into a small nuc box in the hope of making a new colony.
Both hives looking very healthy. All seems as it should be.
The green super is getting very full so we are going to make up more super frames and put on a second
We checked the varroa floors (having put it in the day before and found 1 varroa mite). 15 is worry time so we
need to keep checking.
The 3rd colony was very busy. The queen cell was open but we didn’t see a queen. We need to look for new
brood to make sure she is there.
Green hive is thriving. One super is virtually full of honey and the other super is underway.
Red hive has a virtually full brood box and is making honey in 3 of the frames in the super.
Did we see uncapped brood in a few cells? If so, that means that the Queen is laying. Didn’t
see a Queen …… but then, would we if it was there? We are too inexperienced.
Baruk (friend of Kitty, and I suspect will be a friend and ally of us) who is an experienced
beekeeper came over to look at our bees for us. Red and Green felt fine – by hefting
ie lift and feel the weight.
He found a Queen in Colony 3!!!! Very exciting. Also eggs, so she is laying. We now need
to nurse the colony through to get it big enough to survive winter. We left feed for it.
There were a lot of wasps robbing it so we made the entrance smaller and later in the day
it was good to see guard bees chasing off the wasps.
August has been a big learning month for us.
We put another super on the green hive as the first one was becoming quite full.
The bees (especially the green hive) became quite aggressive when they were being inspected. Luckily they
had read the books and were doing exactlywhat they should this month ie attacking anything threatening
their winter stores.
We decided not to take any honey this year. There would not have been much as we got the colonies so late
and our main objective was to get 2 strong hives through the winter. So we took the queen excluders out to
allow the Queen access to the supers to lay more brood if she feels the need.
Egg laying will be slowing up this month but may continue with the good weather so the more bees to get
through the winter the better.
Colony 3 continued to be attacked unmercifully by the wasps as we were having to feed them with sugar water.
Kitty moved it to combine with her small, new colony at Hockworthy to give both a better chance but the wasps
are attacking there too. They have all read the books too, and everything is at it should be! Unfortunately. weaker
hives do get attacked by wasps and may succumb.
Varroa treatment was put in this week. We decided to use Apigard which takes 4 weeks.
Due to our lack of experience, we got it in a bit late. The bees appreciate feeding with syrup but this must stop
at the end of September for reasons too complicated to go into here. We will have about 10 days only
to feed after treatment and the hives cannot be opened while treatment is happening. Luckily we are not taking
any honey so won’t have depleted their stores. We will need to think hard though about winter feeding.
Maybe next year, if we are taking honey, we will have to get it off earlier, to feed earlier to give time for varroa
treatment too. Or use a different treatment eg Apistan as feeding can take place during treatment.
So, no more inspections except 2nd dose of Apigard and visual from the outside.
We went to change the Apigard Varroa treatment this evening.
It was a beautiful sunny early evening and the bees were very active coming back with white Balsam pollen all over them.
There was one wasp/bee fight and a few wasps having a wary and hopeful look.
We changed the treatment. They had got rid of most of it which is the plan. Glad they read the instructions. They dislike
the smell so take the treatment out through the hive so dispersing it which kills the Varroa mite.
The active ingredient in Apigard is Thymol which is made from Thyme.
They have to have 2x2week treatments. Then they need feeding. As we are leaving them their own honey, this is not so
critical but it is usual to finish feeding by the end of September.
This is because they are fed sugar water which needs to be stored and made into a version of honey.
Honey,I didn’t know till recently, is nectar that is put in cells. The bees then flap their wings like mad, evaporating water,
until there is only 18% water content.
They become less active after the end of September so if they are given feed too late, then they do not have time to
evaporate the water. The feed will then ferment and cause the bees to have dysentery. Bees do not defecate in the hive
normally but if they do then this compromises the hive hygiene.
The entrances to the hive should be reduced during feeding to stop robbers. The Red hive has been done.
Richard and Tess will try to do the Green hive entrance this week. We will take a selection of tools as apparently the bees
have stuck it up!
Feeding has stopped and the bees are closed up for the winter. Winter bees are essentially the same as summer bees but have changes to enable them to live the whole winter in a different state to summer bees who only live for 3 weeks.
We are pretty sure that they have enough stores to last the winter. Will put on mouseguards on the entrances and netting on the outside, to stop woodpeckers getting, in very soon.
Email from Christine
In view of the forecast gales and lashing rain Graham and I went up in the lovely sunshine and roped the hives down plus
we heaved a concrete block on top of each hive.
Amazingly the bees were very, very active bringing in loads of pollen. The larger hive had masses of bees hanging round
the doorway, getting in the way of the workers I suspect, and loads under the shelter of the brood box – waiting their turn,
waiting for instructions or just keeping out of the way so they didn’t have to work???
Do you think they suspect the weather is going to be bad?
Put mouse guards on both hives to stop mice getting in to steal the stores.
Bedraggled bees were returning to the Green hive with pollen; and guards came out to defend the entrance while
I was fiddling about.
The red hive was quieter with the odd bee returning home.
Will think about wire nets sometime to stop woodpeckers raiding when their food gets scarcer.
Disappointment and not such good news.
When we went to give the bees another varroa precautionary treatment – oxalic acid – we found lots of dead bees around
the outside of the green hive. (Bees are very tidy and hygienic and remove all detritus).
We put in varroa trays – brightly coloured yellow trays – at the bottom of the hive and left them a week. At the end of the
week we took them out to see the varroa drop (number of dead varroa mite) and found large numbers.
This is surprising as we checked for varroa in July and found none; and treated for Varroa with Apigard, in September, as
We treated the hives and put the trays back in. At the end of another week, we looked at the trays again and again there
were a lot of mites (see photo). Is this because the treatment killed them? Or a continuation of more varroa?
We don’t know but we can do no more.
When treating, we could see viable sized colonies of bees in each hive, so we are hopeful that they will get through the
Rich and I checked the varroa floors again this morning. It was a sunny period and the bees in the red hive were flying
but all was ominously quiet in the green (previously stronger) hive – just an odd bee poking its head out. One flying.
There were no dead bees on the floor outside the hive.
The Varroa floor in the green hive had about 50 dead mites; so still a high count and the red one had approximately 25
We have taken the Varroa floors out now as there is little we can do and were worried it would inhibit ventilation. We
had a very quick peak to see if the fondant was still there; and there was in both hives. Hopefully, that means that
they have enough to eat.
Are the dead mites there because the treatment is working?
Or are they still present and dying is part of the natural life cycle?
We don’t know. It is very disappointing because the green hive was very strong and we have done all we are supposed
to have done. However, as we were constantly being told on the course – the bees haven’t read the books!
We must be aware that the green hive may not get through the winter. Fingers crossed everyone.
We have just had this email from Baruch who is a semi professional beekeeper and a very friendly, and knowledgeable
friend to the group:
“It is interesting that the mites keep falling down from both hives – it may be that they have died soon after the treatment,
but are taking time to be dislodged and find their way down. I would keep the boards in place simply to see the trend,
and expect the numbers to decrease to zero in the next month. If the boards are dry, then the ventilation is fine. The
debris falling onto the boards testifies to the activity above, and you can learn from it how many frames are occupied.
Don’t worry about the green hive, it will be fine as long as it doesn’t run
out of supplies. Varroa and starvation are the main issues in the winter.”
Rosalie, Tess and Richard cleaned Dinah’s hive bits by scraping, blowtorching in nooks and crannies and washing with
dilute washing soda.
They scrubbed up a treat.
We decided to take them over to the apiary and check the fondant. There was still enough there.
It was a sunny day and there were a few bees flying from the red hive.
While we were poking around, the bees in the red hive came out to check what we were up to.
We took home 3 supers to clean while we still had the gear out. So everything we are likely to need will be handy and
The order from Thorne’s sale has arrived – 6 more flat packed supers and frames for them. So we will need a session
making it all up sometime.
Maybe an hour after the meeting later in the month?
We also put in the varroa floors and will go back to count the drop in a week.
Christine, Rosalie, Lesley and myself went to visit our bees to do the first quick check of the year. As the weather was sunny
and the temperature above 14C which is a good temperature to open a hive, we felt confident that we wouldn’t chill them. Our
aim was just to check the Queen was there and in good condition and to move the Queen excluderdown to a position just
above the brood box so that she can’t lay in the supers. We knew however that when we looked she could possibly be in
anyone of the 3 boxes (in the green hive) so we needed to progress withcaution. Knowing we had quite a high varroa count
during the winter, this was our first chance to see how the colony was thriving.
When we arrived there were a lot of bees flying to both hives and lots of pollen going in so all looked encouraging. We opened
the smaller red hive first and were delighted to see a strong cluster of bees and quickly went through it and found our queen
in the brood box and placed the queen excluder on. The bigger green colony with 2 supers on it took longer to check. We
found our queen in the middle super and gently encouraged her down to the brood box. In the brood box we saw unsealed
larvae so we are sure she was laying and a strong colony. There seemed to still be lots of stores for the bees so we left the
supers on for any brood that had been laid there to develop and for the bees to use the stores. Excellent news. We now need
to make sure the Queen has enough room to lay and for the colony to expand. A great start to our year.
A very successful afternoon was had. 9 of us made supers, brood frames and super frames, planting bee friendly plants, drinking
tea and generally enjoying the sunshine.
We wanted to check that the brood boxes had enough room to expand (to discourage swarming) and that there was brood in
the green hive which there was. Although it was sunny and warm we did this at great speed and will leave them along for a few
The varroa floor in the red hive only had 1 or 2 mites which was good; but the green one had about 15, although it is a few
weeks since the floor was put in.
The floors were cleaned and put back in and will be checked next weekend or thereabouts.
We had to treat the Green hive with Apigard, in early April, as the varroa looked to being a problem.
Since then the hives have gone from strength to strength doing everything that they should.
Today they were very active, bringing in pollen and no doubt nectar, and are producing lots of honey.
There is an oilseed rape field nearby and honey made from that crystallises very quickly, so as soon as the flowers are over we
will need to take off the honey. More news about that will follow as and when it happens.
Those who were able to went to the apiary to create false (or assisted) swarms yesterday.
At this time of the year bees get this urge to swarm..
The hive gets crowded as there’s loads of pollen and nectar coming in, the queen is laying like mad and space is getting
limited. So they think, well, we need to leave to start a new hive and we’ll take the queen withus. So off they go probably never
to be seen again; leaving all the brood and some nurse bees to start the hive up again.
A sign of this is making queen cells because they want to leave a queen larvae behind for the new hive. We have seen the hives making these queen cells or cups ready for larvae.
False swarms pre-empt this.
We took the queen out and put her in a new hive with some bees and put that hive in the same position as her old hive. Flying
bees will smell her pheromones and fly to her. As it’s in the same position, they will know little difference except now they have
The old hive is moved to a new position and has all the brood and stores for new bees. It has nurse bees (which cannot fly yet)
and they will develop one of the worker larvae into a queen by giving the larvae Royal Jelly.
So now (hopefully, fingers crossed etc) we will have 2 colonies where we had one. We will know if all worked well in about 4 weeks.
We did it to the other hive too.
So we now have 4 hives.
After putting foundation in the langsthrop brood frames (which are, in fact. MD frames), at Baruch’s, Tess and I went to put them
in the Langsthrop hive. We were excited to open it up and see the cluster. We quickly put in frames where there was space for
them without disturbing the cluster. We’ll need to go and sort them out properly when they are more settled.
The queenless red and green hives were quiet but there were a fair few dead ones on the floor by the green hive.
The new hive (now with a blue map pin, so called the blue hive???) was active with bees all over it and some dead on the floor.
The Langsthrop also had dead ones on the floor outside.
Baruch recommends not opening the blue and Langstrop till the weekend 24th Mayand the the red and green till weekend
7th June (which gives the queen a chance to develop, fly, mate and start laying), which upsets the rota.
Maybe the people whose turn it is will let the rest of us know when theyare going, as we all might be interested to see what’s
Baruch says that he will help us identify the queen.
Well June was a very exciting month for us. The 4 hives are expanding and new queens are marked. We have also had honey!!!!!! There is an oilseed rape field nearby and oilseed rape honey needs extracting asap as it crystallises in the frames quickly. So Baruch let us use his shed/workshop and equipment to extract and we got 4.9kg in the first batch which the 6 who have been looking after the bees shared informally. A week later we extracted 11.4kg which we put in 1 lb jars. They are being sold to paid up members for £2.50 and any left to the public at £4.50! We look forward to extracting more towards the end of the summer.
Baruch came to look at the blue hive yesterday. He confirmed our thoughts that there is no Queen and that the eggs and larvae are drones laid by laying workers. The only capped cells are drone cells. The workers have worked out that there is no Queen, so are laying eggs, but because they are not fertile, the eggs turn into drones. The flying bees would have been the previous Queen’s brood and will be reaching the end of their natural lives. There would be no replacements.
There were 4 options.
1. To leave it to die out on it’s own.
2. To requeen, but the laying workers would kill her, so we would need to get rid of all the non flying workers first. It is getting a bit late in the season to build up another viable colony to get through the winter.
3. To empty the hive and put it away for the winter. The flying bees would be accepted in the other 3 hives, thus strengthening those hives. (If they bought presents of nectar or pollen).
4 To do 3. but leave a brood box out with a couple of honey frames in, which would probably get
robbed by wasps or bees but which might attract a swarm. It is a bit late for swarms but there are some about.
Unfortunately, now, there is drone brood in the honey supers so we can’t extract it, so it is to be cut out as honeycomb where possible. Our chickens will peck out the old brood, and then the wax is to be melted down and will be sold.
Well. That was a long day. We arrived at the hives at 9.30am, to steal the bees stores.
We brushed the bees off each frame in the supers, put them in an empty super, covered them to stop the bees going back on them, loaded them in the car and took them over to Baruch’s. We think we need clearers for next year. About 6 supers in all. We then uncapped each frame and spun them all to get off the honey and put it in the settling tanks. Was that all? About 4/5
hours to do. Then the supers had to be replaced on the hives for the bees to clean up after us.
In return, one ungrateful bee somehow got through the protective clothes, climbed up inside Richard’s nose and stung him!
Tess,Rosalie and Richard didn’t feel safe to remove their protective suits as the bees invaded the shed, and wouldn’t leave us
alone. We drove homein our suits. Arriving home about 6pm
Special thanks to Baruch for allowing us to use his room and equipment. We are so grateful for that and his expertise. His
gracious tolerance has allowed us to grow in confidence and to be able to extract around 80 pounds of honey today.
Extracted honey today 113lbs! Left remnants to settle.
Baruch wanted his settling tank back so Tess and I bottled the rest. Another 13lbs. So 116lbs in total.
The beekeepers year starts and ends in August so on this successful note, I will finish this diary but will post updates when there is anything special to report. If you want to know more, please use contacts on Home page.