Here are synopses of the talks that I currently offer.
There is a trade-off between the breadth of coverage of a topic and the amount of detail I can reasonably include. For example, a talk on Preparing for Winter will inevitably contain much less detail on why the timing of Varroa control is so critical than my talk on Rational Varroa control, because I also have to discuss woodpeckers, feeding and hefting the hive etc.. If you want to know why it’s not possible to schedule your Varroa treatments using the calendar you need the detailed talk.
In my experience talks are best appreciated when they ‘fit’ with the expectations of the audience and the beekeeping season - for example, talks on Varroa control in autumn, talks on DIY in winter and talks on bait hives or queen rearing in early spring.
Rational Varroa control
Varroa remains the greatest threat to bees and beekeeping. The mite, and the viruses it transmits, are responsible for most overwintering colony losses. To avoid these mite levels must be minimised. This presentation discusses some of the science behind why Varroa and viruses are a threat to our bees before moving on to practical beekeeping considerations including how and when to control Varroa in your hives. Many beekeepers treat at the wrong time of the season, or use the wrong treatment, for maximal effect. In addition to a late summer and midwinter treatment (which should be all that are needed for successful Varroa management) the opportunities to treat in the middle of the season, the importance of managing Varroa in swarms and the strategic, landscape-scale, management of Varroa are also discussed.
This talk covers theoretical and practical aspects of swarms and bait hives. Starting with a brief overview of honey bee colony reproduction I then cover the role of scout bees in identifying a new nest site, the process of swarming, bivouacking and then relocation to the chosen location. After a brief digression into capturing swarms I then discuss setting up bait hives, the choice of box, its location and contents. This covers both scientific studies and how these findings can best be applied to practical beekeeping. Discussion of the contents of the bait hive necessitates another digression into using foundationless frames, which offer particular benefits for bait hives. The talk closes with a discussion of what you can expect to observe when scout bees find and favour your bait hive, and the things you need to do having attracted a swarm – these include moving it somewhere else and managing the Varroa that also arrive with the swarm.
Queenright queen rearing
Queen rearing gives both tremendous satisfaction and independence to beekeepers. Loss of a swarm or a queen, or the need to make increase are easily solved if you rear your own queens. Beekeepers can easily rear queens of comparable quality to most commercially raised queens with a little effort. This talk is aimed at beekeepers with a year or two of experience who are interested in rearing a small number of queens each year. It is a gentle introduction to the subject and describes an effective and economical approach that employs methods that can be readily scaled as needs and experience increase. The talk covers the importance of the quality of the starting material – the larvae and drones – and the necessity for good record keeping. It moves on to cover the practicalities of grafting larvae (much easier than most beekeepers realise), cell raising and getting queens mated from nucleus colonies. The talk does not try and cover the myriad of different queen rearing strategies, but instead focuses on methods achievable by beekeepers with as few as 1-3 colonies and limited additional specialist equipment. At the end of the talk there will be a brief overview of teaching practical queen rearing in a beekeeping association – using the same methods, but distributing grafted larvae for cell raising and queen mating.
DIY for beekeepers
This talk covers topics as diverse as recycled For Sale signs, the number of jars of honey it takes to pay for a Toyota Hilux (and how to move hives slightly more economically), foundationless frames and wasp-resistant hive entrances. It is an entertaining look at some of the things that either aren’t available commercially, or that can be built at home both better and cheaper. None of the items discussed require any specialist, expensive (or even power) tools . . . though a pizza cutter will come in useful. Several of the items described have won prizes in beekeeping shows (for readers of The Apiarist, unfortunately not for me). This is the ideal talk for late autumn or early winter when beekeepers have a little more time on their hands … it is intended to convince you that the bees don’t need fancy woodwork, and to inspire you to build something yourself.
In the same way that bee hives provide shelter for the bees, bee sheds or shelters protect the beekeeper and the hives from the elements. Although often seen in continental Europe they are rarely used in the UK. They provide significant advantages in areas with poor weather or for beekeepers who must visit their hives on particular days – for example, due to commitments during the working week that necesitate all inspections are conducted on rainy weekends. My experience with bee sheds has evolved over 6+ years using them to house colonies for scientific research. The talk covers the advantages and disadvantages bee sheds offer and provides advice on what works well (and on some of the failures learnt the hard way!). If the weather forecast says “mainly dry” you know it’s likely to rain, probably as you don your beesuit. This isn’t a problem if you house your bees in a shed.
Preparing for winter
Winter is the season when more colonies succumb – to disease, starvation, queen failures or natural disaster – than any other time of the year. In the UK, annual overwintering colony losses are regularly as high as 20-30%. Proper preparation for winter, a process that starts in August, is essential if losses are to be minimised. This talk covers the essential components of that preparation; the features of the bees themselves that aid successful overwintering, the preparation and protection of the hive, feeding the colony in the autumn, and midwinter checks. The second half of the talk focuses on Varroa management in autumn and winter, stressing the key aspects of a rational approach to controlling the mite and the viruses it transmits.
Preparing for the season ahead
We know what’s coming in the season ahead, but we’re not quite sure when it will happen. The goal of this talk is to make beekeepers a little more proactive and a bit less reactive. The bees will do whatever they want (as usual!) but with a little preparation the relatively short season can feel a bit less frantic. I cover record keeping, equipment needs, feeding, Varroa management and queen rearing. Inevitably, because of the breadth of topics covered, each gets less attention than it would in a dedicated talk. However, focusing on some of these subjects before the season starts should allow beekeepers to think, plan and prepare for events when they (inevitably) happen.