A couple of weeks ago we heard the most alarming news. European Foul Brood had emerged in our area!
This is a particularly nasty disease , ( here I quote Beebase) “EFB is caused by the bacterium Melissococcus plutonius. Larvae become infected by consuming contaminated food fed by the nurse bees. The bacteria multiply within the larval gut, competing with it for food. They remain in the gut and do not invade larval tissue; larvae that die from the disease do so because they have been starved of food. This normally occurs shortly before the cells are capped.” It mostly affects weak colonies, with stronger colonies resisting, or isolating & removing brood affected.
As we are members of the BBKA (British Bee Keepers Association) which comes under DEFRA – whose aim in the UK is to prevent disease & contagion in plants, crops & animals, we were contacted by our local association so they could check our colonies for any sign of the disease. It’s particularly serious as it’s contagious. Even though we’re small, rural urban beekeepers, it could affect larger beekeepers. Plus there may be ramifications for solitary and bumble bees which would be unconscionable.
Naturally we were nervous. What if our colonies had it? What would happen?
And also, we were doubly nervous as we both have yet to attend a beekeeping course.
Yes we have read EVERYTHING and keep up with all the forums ( which give lots of really helpful, and at times, unhelpful opinions) , plus we have a beekeeper mentor who we pester on a regular basis on all things beeky, and yes we have membership to the BBKA for the very reason that if there are any serious outbreaks of something dangerous we will be informed, but for one reason or another, neither of us have had any training yet. I kept on thinking, What if they think we’re stupid, or worse, negligent beekeepers.
Fortunately Caroline ( Who is the rep from DEFRA‘s Bee experts) , Eric, (Chairman of the Essex Beekeepers Association and Robin ( Secretary of the Essex Beekeepers Association) who came to visit us to do the inspection were completely lovely & put my fears to rest. And so I donned my Beekeeping suit & went to learn what I could .
Caroline is a wealth of bee information, from which direction to keep the brood box in , to what to look for in laying patterns from the queen, through to the best position to place hives so we can look at the brood easily via sunlight to exactly when nectar flow is on ( the time that bees make the most honey) in our area. We had a little hiccup when the back of the cedar hive came off as she was inspecting. A frame had been stuck to the edge & she levered it away… and the back wall popped off!! Apparently, as Eric explained, just screwing the hives together isn’t enough & a little glue is needed when constructing to keep them intact. OOPS!! (Nightmare!)
Caroline not only demonstrated what she was looking for with European foul brood, but also demonstrated the best way to search for small hive beetle, which whilst as yet has not reached our shores, is close by in Italy, and is another completely undesirable pest attacking honey bees. I have to confess I’m not 100% sure I remember everything she did to look for it, however, I do remember that small hive beetles burrow into the wooden frames & can be tricky to find.
We also had a little upset whereby the heavens opened & The Gardener had to scurry & get a large umbrella to shelter the bees (they don’t like their warm, cozy home being rained on inside.. much like we don’t!) . Fortunately we had a large sun umbrella lying around, which whilst not exactly waterproof, did the job. I had the proud job of strategically holding it whilst Caroline kept on with the inspection.
Fortunately, once the inspection was over, our bees were given the bill of clean health (hurrah!) !! and we were urged to remove the ‘supers’ that the bees build their excess honey comb in as soon as possible as they were all full up and ‘capped’ which means they are ready to be extracted without risk of excess water content which may cause fermentation (which is unwanted… unless making mead of course!)
Our fun task this weekend will be to do the extraction, then next week to treat the hives for varroa mites, another nasty bug which weakens colonies. Watch this space for how we do it & the adventures we have trying to keep our house and the honey clean!
NB. It’s been a funny summer, I’m advocating to keep a few extra supers for each hive back to feed back to the bees in case they have a dip in the normal late summer pollen & ivy nectar & to avoid having to feed colonies sugar syrup over winter to help them survive. We have 2 really strong, healthy, and lovely tempered colonies and I’d like to give them the best chance possible this winter.