The Mighty Pen

The author with a frame of honey

When Richelieu said, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” in Cardinal Richelieu (a play by Bulwer-Lytton in 1839) he was in a bit of a pickle. As a man of the cloth, he could not take up arms against his enemies, so he took up his pen. Having watched Kill Bill (1 and 2) last week, for about the 10th time, my money is on the sword. Especially if it’s a Hanzo sword wielded by Beatrix Kiddo, a.k.a Black Mamba.

I am blissfully ignorant of my enemies, if they even exist, so my sword arm has withered somewhat. I prefer a keyboard to a pen; it gets the job done and does not result in an illegible scrawl strewn with crossings out and inkblots.

New Editor

I have just taken on the role of editor of the Cheshire Beekeeper Newsletter, a magazine sent to over 600 members every two months. The former incumbent, Lesley Jacques, did an excellent job and has been very supportive as she passes the baton over to my fumbling flippers. One thing that has become immediately obvious is that there is far more to being the editor than just editing! I shall try to ensure that articles printed reflect the diversity of beekeepers across the county.

CBKA Newsletter
CBKA Newsletter

Arts + Science

When I was at primary school, the written word was very much my happy place. Reading and writing were what I did best, and mathematics was something to be endured rather than enjoyed. Then I went to secondary school and quickly flipped; I was all about science and maths. I’m not sure how that happened; perhaps it was the encouragement of parents who desperately wanted their eldest child to succeed financially. Arts are all very well, but the money was in the professions and engineering and technology.

So here I am, a walrus with a mighty pen and training in science, business and technology; a jack of all trades, and probably master of none. The phenomenal growth of the movie and gaming industries shows that there is very much a place for both arts and sciences. Science can be creative, maths can be beautiful and visual effects can’t happen without equations.


Perhaps the reason I love beekeeping is that it is stimulating to both hemispheres of my brain. Like many subjects, the closer you look, the further down the rabbit hole you can fall. You could spend a lifetime keeping bees and still have more to learn. It’s not a bad way to spend your days. It also gives practitioners plenty of room for differentiation and conflict; many a social media platform has hosted lengthy arguments about one part of beekeeping or another. The bees carry on regardless.

Late Forage

There is nothing particularly stunning to say about my beekeeping season to date. Seasons are all different, but if you respond to what you see rather than to the calendar, then things mostly work out. I am finding that our cold and wet July has hurt the honey crop, but August has been pretty good. I still have supers on hives in one apiary because they are behind the other two. Nectar is coming in; we are still a long way from winter. The favoured forage is currently Himalayan Balsam; a plant loved by bees but seemingly hated by people, judging from all of the uprooted plants I see laying beside paths on my dog walk.

Only way to be sure

My main concern about delaying the removal of honey into September is that I haven’t treated these production hives for varroa mites since last December. There is no point boosting the honey crop by delaying the harvest if it results in colonies becoming weakened by parasites so that they cannot make it through winter. One solution may be Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS) which can be applied safely while supers are on. Some people love them, and some say they kill queens, so it’s like most things in beekeeping. The only way to be sure is to try them and see. Maybe I will experiment next year.

Oxalic Acid

Randy Oliver has been working on trying to get approval from the powers that be in the USA to use oxalic acid dissolved in glycerin as a summer treatment for varroa. He has documented his experiments on his website and seems to have settled on a solution soaked into paper towels (what I call blue roll). In the UK, we use oxalic acid as a solution trickled onto bees or as a vapour using specialised equipment and protective gear. However, this works best when there is very little sealed brood in the hive, which generally means in mid-winter.

Extended-release oxalic acid would hopefully operate over several brood cycles, meaning it could work when sealed brood is present (e.g. in summer). Lyson/Abelo sell plastic strips which release oxalic acid, so that’s another possible way to go. These things behave differently at different temperatures. In California, it’s likely to be too hot in summer to safely use formic acid products (MAQS) whereas, in my area, it’s much cooler.

William Longgood

Finally, I’d like to mention a lovely book that I’ve been reading on and off when I get a moment. It’s called The Queen Must Die and other affairs of bees and men, by William Longgood. I think it’s a beautiful read, and there’s a review here.

What do you think?

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