Roe Valley Beekeepers Association

Club pages

2014/5 notes

The special speaker at the Feb  2014 meeting was our own migratory beekeeper Sam Millar, who has recently returned from a winter trip to New Zealand, where of course its summer and beekeeping is active. Sam gave an interesting illustrated talk on his visits with a bee inspector to various beekeepers, checking for disease etc. A particular problem now emerging in the New Zealand bee population is Varroa. Because many of the beekeepers there are managing large apiaries often with 150 or more hives, it isnt as easy to control varroa as it is with small scale hobby beekeeping. Sam indicated that untreated colonies can be completely decimated by varroa and its associated viral infections. Bees in common use are derived from the italian yellows and are placid and productive in the fertile new zealand volcanic soil. The hives in use are Langstrofs and it is common to see colonies occupying two brood boxes with five or six ‘supers’ which are also full size Langstrof brood chambers, and which are so heavy that it will take two people to lift full boxes. He described one friend who has 100 such colonies each of which produced $1000 honey last season. Sam described how his inspector friend regularly rescued two or three swarms a day, which he re-queened and sold on. Introduction of bred queens ensured that the new colony would have good behavioural characteristics. Because of the scale of beekeeping, inspections for swarming are not straightforward, and beekeepers instead rely on the introduction of new queens to maintain stability. With individual beekeepers holding up to 1000 hives, there is great potential to obtain stock derived from swarms.  Interestingly one of his beekeepers had paid $800 for a single queen. Productive strains are clearly important.

Sam showed pictures of the magnificent New Zealand Alps, and of the valleys where manuka could be seen in full bloom.


The speaker at the March meeting was William Blakely whose topic was “Queen Rearing”. He had delivered this presentation at the UBKA Conference at Greenmount the previous weekend to acclaim.  Leo had suggested some time ago that we at RoeValley might get such a programme up and running but work on the apiary over the past couple of years took priority.  William has been heading up the Dromore queen rearing programme which has been running now for two years.  His excellent presentation on their experiences was just what we need to get motivated.



New threat to honey bees from an exotic pest   The Small Hive Beetle (Aethina tumida)

On September 11th 2014, the Italian National Reference Centre for Beekeeping confirmed the first detection of the presence of Small Hive Beetle in South West Italy, in the port city Gioia Tauro.

The USA suffered tens of thousands of honey bee colony losses in the first few years after the Small Hive Beetle became established there. This pest presents another serious threat to honey bees on the island of Ireland that are still coping with the effects of the Varroa mite parasite and its associated viruses.

The Small Hive Beetle is a statutory notifiable pest of honey bee colonies across Europe. This beetle, which is indigenous to Africa, had entered the USA in 1998. Then in just a few years spread to Australia, Canada and The Carribean where it has proved that it can be a very serious pest of European honey bees and can also affect bumble bees.

The adult beetle lays up to 1000 eggs that hatch into larvae, which devour wax, honey and honey bee brood devastating affected colonies. After pupation in soil near the hive, the adults emerge and can fly up to 8 miles in any direction in search of another hive. The beetles can survive the winter by harbouring in honey bee colonies.

Safeguards are already in place to prevent the accidental introduction of Small Hive Beetle from imported fruit on which it can survive. For their part, beekeepers should avoid bee and bee equipment imports, as there is difficulty in detecting Small Hive Beetle in these items. Beekeepers are encouraged to propagate replacements from local stock in line with recent queen rearing programmes.

There is a now a serious risk of its accidental introduction into the UK and Republic of Ireland because there is significant trade in queens and bees from EU countries. This risk also extends to hive products such as beeswax and bulk honey. It is noted that while transfers from GB to NI are technically not classed as imports, purchasers have a duty to clarify the ultimate origins and health risks of such stock.

Ulster Beekeepers’ Association (UBKA) in common with the Institute of Northern Ireland Beekeepers, the Native Irish Honey Bee Society and the Federation of Irish Beekeeping Associations in Republic of Ireland represent beekeepers on the Island of Ireland. For many years these organisations have discouraged imports of bees into Ireland (both North and South) and they are now re-emphasising this policy to their members as a result of this increased level of threat.

It is imperative to be vigilant to prevent its introduction because once established it will be almost impossible to eradicate Small Hive Beetle.

UBKA Health Officer: John Hill 07741222662   email :


The January 2015 meeting began with a presentation by Valentine Hodges on the 2015 UBKA conference which will be held on 20-21st March in Greenmount Campus. Valentine encouraged as many members as possible to attend and indicated the changes made to the format and the line-up of speakers.

Following this she went on to talk to the audience about small hive beetle which is a cause of concern to UBKA. The beetle is extremly destructive to bee colonies and has now spread into southern Italy. Because of the mobvement of agricultural produce, including garden centre plants in soil, as well as the potential for importation of queens, it is thought likely that this pest will advance towards our shores.

To round off her talks Valentine then went on to describe some of the creams, ointments, soaps and other products she makes using wax from her own hives,


The speaker for february was Michael Palmer from Vermont in the USA.   With a thousand nucleus colonies of various configurations to help support the seven hundred honey producing colonies, French Hill Apiaries produces, on average, some twelve hundred queens and thirty to forty tons of honey annually.  When not helping his crew manage the honey production colonies, or spending countless hours in the queen rearing apiaries, Mike travels the country teaching sustainable beekeeping to anyone who will listen.

Having struggled for many years to provide 600  hives of bees for apple orchards in Vermont, through usage of  package bees and queens from sellers in southern states and  as this proved to be unsustainable, due to the poor quality of the bees  and increasing prices, and after seeking for some time for other methods, he read many books including those written by Brother Adam, and discovered that the overwintering of nucleus hives in a modified nucleus box was the answer. Based on ideas of Brother Adam and other beekeepers this nucleus box ( a  standard brood box with centre division, four frames each side, two entrances and a queen in each division) was the answer. Such  nucleus hives could survive a temperature of -20 and could be used for many purposes,  ie. supplying  bees for cell building and weak colonies etc. This eliminated the need to purchase bees and greatly improved disease control.  He also utilises local timber including recovered timber to minimise equipment costs. The second part of his presentation was on queen rearing and covered breeding colonies, cell building colonies and mating nucs.  He explained how these operations could be carried out  by utilising the overwintered nucleus colonies.


The guest speaker for  the April club meeting wasThomas Ellis from Donegal Bees.  Thomas's main background is in the production of section honey using the traditional Irish CDB hive, the only change to which has occured in the past 120 years is a ventillated mesh floor and the availability of a crownboard.

Thomas described his beekeeping activities in the remote Glencolmcile area where because of the geography native Irish bees have not been supplanted, and where the diseases afflicting beekeepers elsewhere have not yet intruded. Even varroa is yet to make itself known. Beekeeping in this area remains firmly traditional and still embraces the CBD hive which has never been replaced by the National and other ubiqutous modern designs. Thomas points out the advantages of the CBD which makes it appropriate for the exposed cold north-west. The double walled construction provides additional insulation, and as honey is still produced in sections the hive structure can accomodate all the space needed (2 section boxes in the body and a third in the roof). Thomas indicated that the secret to filling section crates was to provide additional heat, and to avoid allowing choice. He uses a 21 section crate with additional insultation around the sides provided by old clothing or polystyrene. Bees are prevented from leaving the edges of the brood chamber to get to the outside of the section crate by the clever user of plastic spacers on his hoffman frames, blocking the space which would otherwise exist. To ensure the minimal of obstruction to upward migration of bees, instead of a queen excluder he simply uses a narrow strip of cardboard covering the middle four frames. This arrangement appears to stop the queen moving in to the section crates, but requires the workers to go into the outer frames thus filling the whole section crate.

Thomas permits natural swarming of his hives, and on capture of he swarm has a productive colony with no brood to feed, which when the late fuscia crop emerges will rapidly fill his section crates. He commented on the elegance of traditional beekeeping where nature works alongside his native bees, matching the nectar flow of his main crops with the natural emergence of his foraging workforce. He therefore doesnt need to worry about or indulge in early spring unnatural, forced build-up, nor on feeding in mid-season. His hives always face south in sheltered spots away from prevailing wind where possible.

Thomas then demonstrated the hives he manufactures and his section boxes and how he makes up sections


The May meeting was an opportunity to do the annual spring clean of the apiary and to check on the progress of our apiary colonies.

Dave’s photos show members tackling a variety of different jobs at the apiary. The hut was creosoted, the roof cleared, ground weeds cleared, hives sterilised by torching and frames made up.


The annual BBQ was held in the lovely garden of Walworth House on a fine evening in July. There was an excellent turn-out of members and friends and as usual the senior members did an excellent job of keeping the food coming. After a chat and stroll through the particularly beautiful walled garden, the customary raffle in aid of our charitable appeal was undertaken. Thanks to Dave who remembered to bring his camera.



Reverend Samuel John Millar B.A. (T.C.D.), M.A. (T.C.D.)   

1938 – 2015 


The passing of the Reverend Sam, as he was affectionately known, has deprived the Irish beekeeping world of a respected and much-loved figure.  He was the Education Officer of the Roe Valley Beekeepers’ Association, and the panel discussions at their monthly meetings benefited greatly from his expertise.  We were always sure of a comprehensive and reasoned answer when the Reverend Sam responded to a question.


He was a staunch supporter of the Ulster Beekeepers’ Association, serving on its Education Sub-Committee.  The increasing number of people wishing to take up beekeeping in recent years in Northern Ireland had to be matched by provision of education, and Sam played a leading role in meeting that demand. He was recognized for this work as Beekeeper of the Year in 2012


The Reverend Sam was born in Ahoghill, Co. Antrim, and after secondary education at Ballymena Technical College worked in T.G. Alexander & Son’s draper’s shop in Ballymena.  However, he felt called to the Church, and after studying at Magee, Trinity and the Assembly’s (now Union) Theological College, Belfast, he was ordained in 1967.  He was appointed Assistant at Sinclair Seamen’s Church, Belfast, and in 1970 became Minister at Clough & Seaforde, Co. Down.


It was at Clough that he took his first steps in beekeeping under the guidance of the Reverend (later Dean) Hutchinson, of Tyrella Parish Church.  In 1974 he became Minister of a Church Extension charge at Hazelbank Coleraine, and was most successful in building this up into a thriving Presbyterian Congregation; he was highly regarded for this work.

He retired in 2003 to live in Garvagh, Co. Londonderry, although he maintained strong and active links with his calling, and was Chaplain to Coleraine Harbour Commissioners.


He threw himself into the study and teaching of the craft of beekeeping.  He himself held the Senior and Lecturer Certificates of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations.  Many aspiring beekeepers benefited from his Preliminary Courses, and many went on to study for the Intermediate exams under his guidance.  He was part of the team that delivered the Preliminary Course at the FIBKA Summer School at Gormanston each year.  He was an enthusiast for the Native Irish Black bee and did much to conserve and promote it.


Every winter he visited his daughter Judith in New Zealand for several weeks, and there built up a circle of beekeeping friends, extending his knowledge and expertise.  Each year on his return he would report on his experiences.  He also studied beekeeping in Israel and worked hard for the Zomba beekeeping project in Malawi.


Sam was a keen and expert fly fisherman, and often travelled to Scotland, Donegal, Tipperary and other favourite spots further afield.


His wife Della predeceased him.  She was very active both in his congregation and in the Presbyterian Women’s Association nationally.  He leaves a brother, Tommy, a daughter, Judith, of Christchurch, New Zealand, and a son Sam, who has two children, in England


His kindness, gentle manner, enthusiasm and expertise will be sorely missed.


To his family, his beekeeping friends from all over Ireland and beyond extend their deepest sympathy.





The final meeting of the year was addressed by John Hill, who talked members through the recognition and management of foul brood.

There have been a number of outbreaks of EFB in Northern Ireland this year, the second year in succession, and members were urged to be vigilant and to seek assistance if they were concerned about possible infection. Although the management of EFB can be performed by shook swarm, John has suggested that to avoid it getting a foothold in your apiary, burning al la AFB would be appropriate.

He went on to discuss the AFB outbreaks and the need for early detection.

After some lively debate, Valenting Hodges described the programme for the UBKA spring conference.

Members were treated to an early Christmas spread thanks to Will & Sandra.

Next meeting will be the AGM in January