P1060996In January this year about 25 beekeepers were given a two day introduction to Bee Improvement, what it could achieve for the Isle of Man and how to go about it. For some (many?) of us, this was an eye-opening experience as Roger Patterson, vice Chairman of the Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association and Link Trustee for the Isle of Man on the British Beekeepers Association outlined his views.

After two days of fairly intense lecturing (with lots of pictures, luckily) and demonstrations of different types of equipment used in queen breeding four “volunteers” were selected, military style, to push the Manx Bee Improvement initiative forward.

Roger chose well; Keith, as chairman, is doggedly project focussed, gets on with the job

and expects results; Tony* and Breeshey, with differing levels of beekeeping experience are ever keen to learn more, and are technically proficient, whilst your scribe, the beekeeping newbie on the team, had some experience in website communications. And ex officio, the island’s official Bee Inspector, Harry was always around to lend a hand, or the benefit of his many years of experience to the team.

With the financial assistance of the Federation, we bought a shed, tidied up the existing training hives, with the farmer’s help increased the area and fenced the training apiary and acquired a host of new hives, stands, colonies, nucs, frames and foundation, most of it by way of gifts from other beekeepers!

And many volunteers put their shoulders to the wheel, with advice, foundation – and even decorating skills!

Cilla and Janet agreed to take over the hives at Ballaleece to further the hands-on training of this year’s beekeeping course cohort and then we prepared for the return of the mentor at the beginning of May.

Prior to Roger’s arrival, we dequeened a hive to ensure that the bees would be receptive to the first queencells we were about to graft and in due course, these cells were inserted into the queenless hive. And whilst this was ongoing, Roger visited eleven apiaries and inspected 54 hives to look for the best possible breeding stock. P1060943Beekeepers were welcome to join to watch him at work and when the weather turned, we all retired to the lecture theatre for more brainbashing with words and pictures.

A morning’s practical took place in Keith’s sunroom, where lots of keen students

learnt the rudiments of removing tiny larvae from brood cells and how to graft these into the waiting queen cups. For those who haven’t tried this the larvae are minute and a steady hand – and eye –  is needed!

And Roger returned again – for the third time this year – in early July, and visited another eleven apiaries to inspect countless more hives. As before, he took time out to meet with Environment Minister Richard Ronan and the Isle of Man Chief Vet, Stuart Jaques (who earlier this year had succeeded in his efforts to have the EU declare the IOM varroa free, and so entrench the Bee Importation Ban)  and at DEFA discussed, inter alia, bee DNA research facility possibilities.P1080308

Its worth mentioning that Roger visits the island and carries out this work for no financial remuneration. His reward is the hope of tracking down the indigenous Manx Bee (Apis Mellifera Mellifera), helping to develop the island’s bees and in so doing, producing healthy bees, tolerant of the weather, prolific, less aggressive whilst still being bounteous honey producers.

A noble cause indeed!

This project has long ways to go, but in the meantime, the Manx Bee Improvement Group would like to extend a bigthank you to all who have donated bees and equipment, to those who have given  their time and expertise and to the very many beekeepers around the island who have willingly welcomed Roger (and his camp followers!) into their apiaries and in many cases, their home for teas, coffees and cakes – your care, encouragement and support is very much appreciated.IMG_2135


*Unfortunately, through pressure of work Tony has had to step back; Thanks for your efforts so far, Tony, we hope you’ll be back once you’ve cleared your desk a bit, for we will miss your rare skills with the bees!


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