Our Beekeeping Year – 2021

This page will take you through the experiences of some of our Oxfordshire beekeepers as this year - 2021 - progresses.

A sort of 'tales from the apiary'.

Training Apiary Transformation

A lot of work was done through August to improve the grounds of the training apiary at Woodstock.


In particular work was done on clearing up (and out) the grounds and store sheds, creating more space and creating wheelchair access to a hive.


And all not possible without members volunteering a few hours of their time.

Entrance path into the Training Apiary before.......

...and after; no more trip hazards!

Overgrown area behind the storage hut cleared.

Wheelchair access to a hive.

Beginners Course Honey Extraction day - Saturday 14th August 2021


When we planned the 2021 Beginners Course, under various and changing Covid rules and guidelines, we recognised that it was not going to be possible to run the honey extraction part of the programme. This needs to be indoors and with the Covid limitations in place we couldn't see how the session(s) could be held.


And then the rules changed. Our membership Secretary, Daniel McGinness had the idea of using a room at Marlborough School and arranging one long session when we could demonstrate how the extraction process works and, ahem, get all the honey out from the training apiary supers.

Skep making course 24 July 2021


Thanks to Andy Pedley, OBKA Training Apiary Manager, we ran a skep making course on 24th July 2021.


It was such fun, and such a success, that it deserves a page of it's own, here. Enjoy.


OBKA Apiary Day - 5th June 2021


Our first Apiary day in almost 2 years and our first social event for, oh, 18 months?


Under Covid rules 30 members of OBKA got together at the training apiary in Woodstock to undertake some maintenance works, get some training and have tea and cake!


The maintenance works was everything from painting the training shed (well just one end, not all of it!), making lots of frames (good experience for the beginners who were there) and giving a load of supers a coat of linseed oil.


For the training component we were especially lucky to have Margaret Murdin, past President of BBKA and an OBKA member, take some beginners through a hive inspection. And Mark Lynch, our Seasonal Bee Inspector, took the rest through a hive inspection with a focus on varroa and how to do an alcohol wash.


Once we left the apiary area at the end of the afternoon there was a magnificent display of cakes and tea and coffee. A perfect end to the day.

Thanks to the Committee for organising the Apiary day and especially to Andy Pedley, the OBKA Apiary manager.

A tour of the OBKA Training Apiary and Bee Garden



08 April - An (Seasonal Bee) Inspector Calls


We met Mark Lynch, the Seasonal Bee Inspector at the Associations Apiary at Woodstock, for the first "statutory" inspection for a couple of years. Mark is an Oxford Member, and has been SBI for several years. The inspection is officially for the presence of Notifiable Diseases, but Mark shares his wealth of expertise generously and it was a really useful opportunity to get an independent assessment of the colonies.


We'd had to defer the inspection as the weather was bad for the first appointment, and it was marginal for the second, but we decided to go ahead.


After a strong start, the colonies were struggling - three were so weak that they had already been combined into one (two spare queens went to members who's hives were queenless, so that was a win) and only one was in really good shape. Mark suggested buying some nuc's in to make up the losses and ensure the apiary was well stocked for the summer programme.


And the Trustees authorised the purchase, and as you 'll read below there were two successful sessions where Richard Stansfield, 4 members and I first prepared for the nuc's to arrive (getting equipment ready and sterilising floor, brood boxes, crownboards and roof), and then welcomed them bees in, and installed them in brood boxes.


So, forward plans are to continue maintaining the apiary site, preparing the rest of the equipment for use, there's a shopping list for order for a bee supplier, for new equipment, and - of course - now weekly inspections for swarm control - if things go well we'll be able to split one or more colony and then we'll have more stocks there to use for training.

Apiary support team - Installing a nuc at the Woodstock Training Apiary 24 April 2021


On a bright spring morning on 24th April 6 members (covid regulations permitting) met at the association apiary in Woodstock. These members among others had expressed an interest in supporting the work of the apiary. Richard the secretary, Andy apiary manager, Laura, Lee, Ric and myself. Our bee keeping experience ranging from several years to less than a year for Laura and myself to Lee, soon to be getting his first bees. This was the second meeting of the apiary team, another six members met on the preceding Thursday to undertake some preliminary work. This included cleaning some vacant over-wintered hives with a blowtorch, removing old discardable comb from frames and storing them and some tidying up around the site.


At our meeting on Saturday Andy gave a brief introduction to the site pointing out that in the distant past there had been an agricultural training facility here, now occupied by the school which had included bee husbandry and though not related to those distant times we were continuing this tradition in the school grounds. Following this Andy demonstrated his Heath-Robinson solar extractor. Being an advocate of rehash and recycle he was understandably proud of this efficient piece of kit made from old window frames and metal panels. As they say “The proof is in the pudding” and on opening the lid a large clod of bright yellow wax sat in the receptacle at the bottom of the extractor. In operation the kit is loaded with several discarded frames and once the temperature exceeds 65C the wax melts, falls out of the frames onto the hot inclined metal panel behind and slithers down to the plastic receptacle at the bottom.
With an emphasis on hands-on training for the newer members, we then proceeded to practice some bee keeping basics including lighting the smoker and keeping it alight, and some of the theories on why bees respond the way they do to smoke were explained. Use of the conventional and “J”hive tool and making frames and inserting the wax.


Then came the main purpose of our meeting. Richard had brought along having collected that morning, three, six framed over-wintered nucs to populate three vacant hives following some winter losses.


As we transferred the frames instruction was given on recognizing the components of the frame: nectar, sealed honey, Pollen, eggs, larva, emerging bees, young bees, sealed worker brood, sealed drone brood, worker bees and drones. We also saw some charged and uncharged play cups. Not over smoking and gentleness of movement was emphasised in order to prevent the bees from getting angry and indeed they remained docile throughout. We also discussed not breaking up the brood body but keeping it together at this stage and surrounded it front and back with foundation as well as the hot and cold orientation of the frames. We practised picking up and marking drones and the use of the crown of thorns in preparation for marking queens. Explanation of the reason for clipping the queen’s wings was given (though we did not clip these queens) - A clipped queen generally swarms a few days later than an unclipped queen, potentially giving a few extra days between inspections. Furthermore when a prime swarm leaves the hive with a clipped queen they will either cluster with the queen a short distance from the hive or return without the queen to the hive.


We ended the morning in the apiary garden and all agreed what a lovely oasis the gardening group had created. A rustic pathway leading to a bench added to the attraction of this woodland glade, surrounded with herbaceous perennials, shrubs and spring bulbs coming into flower.


This was a stimulating and enjoyable training session which should help prepare the apiary to deliver future courses and instruction. Anyone wishing to join the team should email Andy or Richard.


Thanks to them and all who helped

Martyn Butt

Woodstock Teaching Apiary inspection 22nd March


Spring is arriving at the Association’s apiary and the bees are responding nicely. Martyn and I were able to do a thorough inspection of all the colonies on Sunday 22 March. We found that although several colonies had died, and three were so weak they needed to be united, there were several decent colonies that will build up well in the next few weeks. We will use these to make splits to build up the number of colonies to our usual level.


A nice frame with the queen - marked in blue - in the middle. There is another bee with a blue dot that I practised on.

Capped drone cells in the centre and zoom in and you'll see cells with eggs in them

The best colony in the apiary. Will do well in the spring and summer; we'll certainly need to split it for swarm control

Another view of the strong colony.

The aim is to provide sufficient, strong colonies for our training programme. There will be sufficient for the Beginners Course and there may be enough to run a queen raising course. We already have “Jenter” equipment and some mini-nucs, so if there’s a desire for a course, and someone to lead it, it is feasible.


Once the colonies are on an even keel, we ‘ll be doing some frame exchanges (probably Baily this year, as it’s gentler on the bees) and manage swarming. I aim to try / demonstrate four different methods – Pagden, Snelgrove, Horsley and Demaree, taking photos and writing them up into the Members Area of the OBKA website. Hopefully we’ll have both a honey crop and some spare colonies to sell to members, and no swarms!


This year, we are offering hands-on training in return for helping out at the apiary. From 29th March, we can have up to six people at the apiary. We need to comply with COVID regulations and our local working instruction. At each session, I like to spend around one hour doing a bit of ‘grunt’ work (for example making frames) plus one hour doing some weather appropriate bee keeping. In the next month or so, the work will be to prepare for the frame exchange and other odd jobs, but later it will be actual working on the hives. The "deal" for helping out is that, in a two hour session, you get practical experience of working in an apiary and an hour beekeeping mentoring doing whatever is needed, subject to weather of course.


It would be good to see other hive types being demonstrated in our apiary. One thought, which is supported by our trustees, is to make a Kenyan Top Bar Hive. The carpentry is simple (any carpenters out there?) and it would be a great learning opportunity. We could also make a Solar Wax Extractor, so this can process surplus wax at the apiary. Again these are simple to make.


If any members are interested in helping see the Members Area for details on how to contact Andy.


Andy Pedley
Acting Apiary Manager

15th March


Once the beekeeping season gets underway, time seems to fly by, especially when you have several colonies to look after. Part of the art of beekeeping is staying ahead of the of the jobs you need to do: if you need to play catch-up the labours of love quickly morph into labours of Hercules!



With this in my mind and a cold sunny day on offer, it’s time to get ahead. Last year did not turn out as expected and for the first time I did not manage to get all my supers back onto the bees to clean up, so I have stored some wet and some dry (wet super: super not give back to the bees to clean up after extraction). The wet supers were stored in a column on a stand but with a mesh screen on the bottom to stop moths and vermin getting in and a roof on the top. However, on inspection the supers at the bottom stored better than the ones at the top - not enough ventilation (my fault!) The top super had some mould on the pollen which I should have removed before storage or extraction. With the super on the table on newspaper I pulled out the frames and scraped out the affected cells down to the mid rib. I have national beehives, and the Queen uses most of the cells in the brood box to lay in and the pollen tends to end up in the first super so I try to keep that super as the first on each year. There has been some wax moth present mainly due to the pollen being present, (wax moth are not keen on just wet supers.)

Mouldy pollen in an overwintered super frame

Mouldy pollen cut out to re-use the frame

To deal with wax moth, I placed the super into a bin bag and when the wife is not about put into the freezer for a couple of days. This should kill off any remaining eggs/larvae. Once out of the freezer I will put them onto the hive as a welcome top up feed for the bees. Then leave them above the crown board ready for use.


The varroa board that I had put in earlier can give you more information than just how many dead varroa you can count. It can give an indication of the size and position of the brood nest, where the bees are opening capped honey cells and if they are producing wax to use. You can see if pollen is going in and even detect disease- the cleaned out mummified remains of dead larvae indicate chalk brood.


It’s not a good idea to put the varroa board in and just leave it in, as this will defeat the object of a mesh floor. Instead place the board in for a set number of days and then check the varroa count, remove and clean off the detritus into container ready to burn clean and put the board away for a few weeks. The only time I leave my boards in is when we are going to get a week or so of artic weather.

15 February- a break from the biting cold.

Just a few weeks ago, I visited my apiaries to put a block of fondant on the hives that felt light on winter stores. I think it was for my own peace of mind more than for the bees. So far all was looking well, with no colonies lost yet. It is early days, as most losses occur nearer to spring. With stores reducing and brood increasing the last thing you/the bees want is a long, mild spell followed by a period of freezing temperatures, which is quite a common occurrence in our erratic climate.

HOWEVER, there were good signs today at my home apiary. After the very cold last couple of weeks, the hive entrances were rammed with bees, as those trying to get out met the bees trying to enter, everyone apparently keen to get outside after their cold-induced lockdown! Many winter bees could be seen orientating in front of the hives. These overwintered bees face the hive checking its position then start flying in what looks like larger and higher circles as they locate their hive according physical landmarks and the position of the sun. The bees on their second trip or more left the alighting board like a jet on a runway with their location and destination known. Interestingly, the bees returning to the 2 poly nucs I have overwintered seemed to be bringing more pollen than the bees in the wooden hives. It will be interesting to see how the brood nest compares when temperatures permit. All of this activity carried on for several hours with the outside temperature gauge reading 14C. Note to new beekeepers: DO NOT be tempted to do an inspection and disturb your colonies in February/March, tempting though it may be and even if temperatures remain consistently high for a week or more. April will be here soon enough!

During all this activity the bees have managed a cleansing flight and tried to restock their larder with whatever they could find. Many bees were bringing in pollen, the orange/yellow of early spring flowers like snowdrop and a lot of pale grey pollen from hazel catkins. Spring cleaning has begun, too. Dead bees were being wrestled out and flown a few meters (if the bees could manage it,) or just dropped on the ground, the patio showing their efforts. Over the next few weeks I plan to just keep a eye on them and check the varroa board I have put in to make sure the winter treatment was successful.

David Lord