Mid afternoon yesterday found me sitting on my favourite perch at the top of the meadow taking in the view across the valley and enjoying the Autumn sunshine. Feeling quite pleased with life and things in general, it has to be said. The allotment has received some TLC this last week and has responded well. I’ve finished harvesting my wax and cleaned out the extractor so that’s another job out of the way. The acid treatment of the supers etc. is all but finished as is the Apiguard treatment. So, as I said, a lot to be thankful for sitting here. Can’t help wishing my friend Charles was here to share it all with, his whole life revolved around his garden and the allotments and he loved hearing about the bees. I know how pleased he would have been to hear things were going so well.

I had decided to begin the day with a visit to the lakes. You may recall I bailiff for a local fishing club and as such, I try to look in on a more or less weekly basis. I seldom fish myself nowadays but I do enjoy a friendly chat with the fishermen. I never tire of hearing about the “one that got away” although from the number of times I’ve heard it, I could probably describe it in my sleep. Surprisingly, nobody on the water today, probably a bit too early. Though, it has to be said, I love having the water to myself on a morning like this. So still and quiet, hardly a ripple on the water apart from the occasional trout rising. Lots of crane flies about at the moment and they do get blown onto the water, that’s probably what’s interesting the trout. Still a few swallows about, dipping and diving over the water, they too look to be making the most of this late Autumn feast. Not much fun being a daddy-longlegs at this time of the year is it.

Time to tear myself away, a local farmer has expressed an interest in having some honey to sell alongside his eggs etc. So, next on the agenda is a visit to have a chat with him, and then, with that out of the way, it’s on to the meadow. We’ve enjoyed some beautiful weather this month but today must rank one of the best and I want to make the most of it. A quick look at the bees who took the trouble to totally ignore me, always a good sign I think, and then back up the meadow. There seems to be a sense of urgency about the apiary, maybe the bees are aware of the shortening days and cooler nights, I don’t know, but there is a noticable difference in their behavour. From somewhere, they’ve located a source of Hymalayan Balsam which they all look to be making the most of. You can tell when they’ve been on this as they all return with what looks like, a grey fingerprint on their back.

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                                    RETURNING FROM THE BALSAM

Not a very good pic. I’m afraid but you can just make out the bee in the center and the one below the bee carrying pollen with the grey “fingerprint”. Another plant which is exciting the bees at the moment is a large Michelmas Daisy in one of the flower beds.

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Sods law, when I approached the daisy it was alive with bees but by the time I had fiddled about getting my ‘phone into camera mode, there was only this one left.

Anyway, enough of Daisys and Balsam, I said at the beginning that I was sat on my favourite perch feeling quite pleased with life in general, and so I am. If the earlier events of the day weren’t enough, since returning to the meadow, I’ve made a start on the ekes for the new apiary. I dragged the workmate and tools out onto the grass under the apple tree so as to make the most of the sunshine and have got all the wood cut to length. At last I feel that I’ve started on the new apiary. In future it will be an object rather than just an idea. Just a case of getting it all assembled now, probably a job for tomorrow. So, yes I do feel quite pleased, just sitting here in the sunshine although, I suppose happy is the word which better describes the way I’m feeling right now. I ask you, surrounded by all this, who wouldn’t be. Can there be a better start to a month.

We are now at the first Saturday in the month and it’s Farmer’s market day. I awoke to the sound of rain lashing against the bedroom window at about six o’clock. We have to have our pitch up and running by eight-thirty so, plenty of time for the sun to show thought I as I did my best to return to the land of nod but, of course, sods law being what it is, that didn’t happen did it. Fortunately I had loaded the car the night before so I only got a little bit soaked getting all my gear set up. We can’t really grumble at the weather though, this September has been the driest on record for some years and I suppose some of us had forgotten what rain was like. Well, let me say, if I had forgotten, the next three hours certainly reminded me. But, as I asked myself, what harm’s a drop of rain going to do you, you’re not made of sugar are you, you’re the man, you’re the “bee man” aren’t you. And then as if to answer my question, the sun appeared and with it the shoppers of Midsomer Norton. I’d like to say that from that moment, I couldn’t hear myself speak above the sound of happy laughter and cash boxes being filled but that would be stretching the truth somewhat. It did raise the spirits as it always does and I think most of us departed feeling as though we’d had a pretty good morning. Nobody’s going to retire on the proceeds of a market stall but for me, and I’m sure I speak for most of the other stall holders, it’s not all about money. You have the chance to spend a few hours in the company of some very nice people and to join in with their friendly banter and dare I say, rivalry. It’s an oportunity to meet new people, people who want to sample your wares, and to hear their comments about your stall and your produce. I know this might sound corny, but for me, there’s almost a feeling of earthiness about it, everyone is offering for sale items which they have either grown, cooked or made themselves, and because of that, they are offering a part of themselves and they describe it with a passion. It is a reminder of days gone by when you had to barter or trade either with your labour or your own produce, it was your life and there was no other way. What I’m trying to say, if you haven’t already guessed, I’m really enjoying being a part of it, it was a big step for me, something I’d never contemplated, not even in my wildest dreams but I’m so glad I did. If you get the chance, give it a try, who knows, you might even end up with a stall next to Mendip Apiary’s, now there’s a thought.

I received the kit for the new apiary on Tuesday and spent the next couple of days putting it all together. I also finished the first of the ekes to convert the two spare brood boxes so, quite a good week. With two of the hives more or less finished, the new site is really starting to aquire an identity of it’s own. I’m starting to see the finished article standing in the corner of the little orchard, if it all looks half as good in reality, it will have been well worth the effort and I shall be well pleased. I wanted to give the brood box and the eke I’d made for it a good coating of Cuprinol before I put it all away and as usual, this began with the box receiving a good scraping to remove any old wax or propolis followed by the blow-lamp treatment. The weather was really good last week and to make the most of it, I did most of the work under the shade of one of the apple trees at the top of the meadow. It wasn’t until afterwards, while I was enjoying a spot of lunch that I noticed several bees on the table where I’d been working. They were very intent on whatever they were up to and took no notice of me as I got closer to take a look. I was glad that I did because what I saw really surprised me. They were scraping minute wax particles from the bed of the table and packing them into the pollen sacs on their back legs. As I said, they were totally oblivious to me and I was able to get within a few inches of them. Close enough to see them stand on their two back legs to pass the tiny specks of wax back along under their bodies and pack them away. A couple of times when one of them would manage to dislodge a larger piece a couple of the others would try to steal it from her. Quite fascinating. I wanted to share it with you and took a couple of pics. The quality isn’t very good but they might give you a taste of what was going on.

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 Apologies for the poor focus, as I said, I was only a few inches away from the action, a bit too close for my ‘phone’s camera to cope with.

I wanted to see how they were getting on with the Apiguard and it being a nice day, decided to take a quick look at a couple of them. I decided on one and three, they being two of the hives on extended brood and pleased to say, all seemed to be progressing nicely. The other reason I chose three was that it had the modified frame and I was keen to see whether the bees had accepted it. As you can see from the pic.,they had so in future I shall fit the cross wire to all my extended brood frames.

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                          CROSS WIRE TOTALLY ENCASED IN WAX

So, there we are, October has started off really well for us here at Mendip, let’s hope it continues.

Upgrading the format of whatever you’re involved with, you know, will invariably involve an element of cost. If you upgrade your mobile ‘phone or your lap-top, you expect it to cost you more. It is exactly the same here where I’m seeking to change from standard brood to 14 x 12″. In fact, if I had to purchase new brood boxes or custom made ekes, even though I’m sure in my mind that extended brood is the way forward, I doubt that I could justify the additional expense. I’m lucky here in that I’ve been able to convert my redundant standard brood boxes to extended at very little cost by making my own ekes. I haven’t bothered to cost them but I’d be surprised if they come to much more than five pounds each. The frames and foundation however, are another matter costing in the region of forty pounds per box. Then there’s all the standard brood frames that you are left with, lots of them filled with good comb, much too good to render down, but what to do with it. I mentioned this in conversation to a beekeeping friend who had enquired how my brood conversions were going, “pity there isn’t a way of modifying the frames as well as the boxes” I said. “I’m sure I’ve seen frame extensions somewhere” came the reply,”have a look in Thorne’s catalogue”. I did and of course, there are and I now have a couple of packs on order. The extension frames and foundation come in at less than half the cost of full size frames so, a valuable piece of advice. The benefits are so obvious, apart from the cost and being able to make use of the old frames, all the new hives will each have some drawn comb to start with. Stupid of me to think that no-one had already thought of it, ah well.

Looking at the stack of hive parts for the new apiary it occured to me that I’d forgotten to modify the floors. There are several manipulations, Cloake Board queen rearing etc., that call for the hive to be rotated through 180 degrees at the start of the operation and then at some stage to be turned back as before. I’ve always found this a pain especially if you have supers on at the time and what I’ve done here is to modify the floors to include an adjustable entrance at the rear of the floor. I also fit an alighting strip below the main entrance as I feel this makes life a little easier for the bees especially when you have mouse guards fitted.


                                                 ALIGHTING STRIPS

It also gives the juvenile bees somewhere to sample the outside world from before they have plucked up enough courage to take their maiden flight. My floor mod. consists simply of a 3 inch section cut out of the centre of the rear floor support.


                      3″ ADJUSTABLE OPENING, CUTS AT 45 DEGREES

Before this, another cross piece is fitted below the floor mesh screwed through the mesh to the floor support and it to this that the entrance block is hinged.


                                                SUPPORT CROSS-PIECE


                                 ADJUSTABLE ENTRANCE COMPLETED

Apart from supporting the rear floor support the additional cross piece closes the gap between the floor and the floor slide thereby discouraging the bees from taking up residence below the mesh floor. It takes about an hour per floor to complete the modifications, well worth the effort at this stage, I think, compared with struggling to rotate a full hive at a later date. Something else that I forgot to mention is that the Thorne’s budget floors come without an entrance block, so that was something else to attend to.

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I always modify my entrance blocks to include a second opening so it wasn’t a problem. It’s just a case of finding some square section wood to fit the opening, cutting it to length and cutting out your entrance slots.

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I always cut two entrances on adjacent planes, one about 6″ wide and the other about 2″. This way if you want to reduce your entrances for whatever reason, it’s just a matter of turning the block through 45 degrees.

The first ten days of this month have been pretty kind to us here at Mendip. As I said earlier, the Farmer’s market went fairly well and in addition, I now have some of my honey on sale with a local farming friend. We have had the odd spell of bad weather but I’ve been able to work on my new hive parts in the shelter of the garage while it’s been raining and move outside to make the most of the sunshine when the rain has stopped. Wednesday, as usual, found me at the meadow, the sun was shining and there was a stiff breeze blowing. Just the conditions I’d been waiting for as it was time to remove the Acetic acid treatment from the empty supers and a stiff breeze is just what you want to dispel the fumes. The way I go about it here is to place an empty eke on the ground first to act as a spacer then removing the crown boards, ekes etc.,as I dismantle the stack, I place the supers above the eke, each at an angle to the one below. Angling the supers this way allows an updraught through the stack purging the supers of acid fumes. Quite amazingly, the bees seem completely unbothered by the fumes which will still take your breath away if you stand downwind, and within seconds, are delving into the supers. There will invariably be some acid which has not evaporated so extreme care is still called for. This can be re-bottled for later use, I just mark the bottle to remind me that it has already been diluted. A couple of hours later, when I’m happy the acid fumes have  subsided I rebuild the stack, one super above the other. In the past I’ve over-wintered the treated supers in my shed but this year, because of all the additional hive parts that I’m holding for the new apiary site, I’m somewhat strapped for space. So, this year I’ve decided to leave the stacks of supers in the apiary where there is plenty of room for them on the stands between the hives. The decision was made easier by the fact that I now have three spare roofs at my disposal, or at least, until the Spring. Each stack  stands on a sealed crown board and is topped off with one of the new roofs. I am fortunate in that all my boxes are close fitting and I’m happy in my mind that the stacks will remain secure throughout the Winter.

Yesterday was Friday. Despite a gloomy start, the sun did make an appearance around mid morning and what followed was more remeniscent of a Summer’s day than that of late Autumn. This well suited my purpose as it was time to remove the second application of Apiguard. All bar two of the hives had upturned Adams feeders acting as ekes so it was a simple matter lift the feeders, remove the empty Apiguard trays and return the feeders right way up where they will double as crown boards. The other two hives had been fed using Ashforth feeders which are unsuitable for inverting so they had standard shallow ekes and crown boards on. All went well, the bees were most obliging and the operation proceeded without incident. I remove all the floor slides at this time checking for Varroa drop. Insignificant I’m pleased to say and the floor slides will remain out throughout the Winter. When I say proceeded without incident, that was until I got to hive seven which was one of the hives with an eke and crown board.

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                         SHALLOW EKE AND CROWN BOARD ON SEVEN

I should say at this point that all the hives opened so far were filled wall to wall with stores and that was what I expected to find in seven. Also, apart from a little propolis, all the feeders came away with a minimum of fuss. Imagine my surprise then at not being able to shift the eke or crown board on seven, at least, not before a struggle. Surely not that amount of propolis in such a short time. Remember, it was only two weeks since the first Apiguard trays had been removed and the second lot had gone on. Eventually by working my hive tool into the joints and combining that with a twisting motion I was able to partially free the crown board. The following pics. will show you why it had been so difficult.

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                                        UNDERSIDE OF CROWN BOARD

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                                                  FILLED WITH HONEYCOMB

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I gazed at what I saw in a mixture of wonder and disbelief, all of this in a fortnight. I don’t know about you but I’ve certainly never seen anything like this before. I think if the hive hadn’t been receiving treatment I would have cut a chunk out and eaten it there and then, so inviting did it look. I closed the hive back up leaving them to enjoy their hard earned treasures. Is all of this a sign of a very mild Autumn or a hard Winter ahead, I wonder.

The frame extensions arrived Friday so the box accompanied me to the meadow yesterday. I’d never seen these before in fact, I had no idea that they existed until a friend said he was sure he’d seen them somewhere. For anyone who like me has never come across them before, they are fairly basic really

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                        14×12″ EXTENSION KIT SEEN HERE WITH FOUNDATION

and are pretty much just the bottom three inches of a Hoffman frame with a couple plastic couplers with which to attach it to the brood frame. The whole thing takes only moments to assemble and attach to the frame.

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                                             THE FINISHED ARTICLE

One of the main drawbacks that I’ve encountered when changing a colony from standard brood to 14×12″ is persuading the queen and her followers to take up residence in the new box bearing in mind that at that point it will contain mainly foundation. If you move brood from the old box into the new, you then have the bother of moving it all back at some time unless you want to end up with a mish-mash of frames in your new box. Obviously, eventually she will start laying up the new box and you can then insert an excluder between the two but it does make the whole operation somewhat messy and very time consuming, and of course, you’re left with all those redundant frames. What I’m hoping is that I am able to fit these extensions directly onto frames full of bees and this is what I have in mind in order to achieve this. I plan to move the existing brood box complete with bees and on a floor to one side, and put the new box in it’s place. I will then catch and cage the queen, (with a bit of luck). With the extensions already made up and the couplers attached it should be a fairly simple matter to fix these, one at a time to the brood frames before placing them in the new box complete with bees. I’m hoping that if I take it steady and push the gimp pins which hold the couplers into the frames rather that hammer them in, the bees should hardly be aware of the disturbance. The rest of the bees can then be tipped in and the queen released. Anyway, that is the plan, I’ll let you know whether it works.

Not too much to comment on this week, it’s getting to that time of year when everything in the apiary starts to close down. The weather took a turn for the worst this week so it was just as well that there is not much remaining to be done around the meadow. I decided to extract the last couple of supers I’d been holding on to. They hadn’t seemed worth extracting at the time as they had come to light after I had finished my last extractions and they weren’t completely filled. I had decided at the time to hold on to them and give them to any of the colonies that needed help. The fact that all of the hives are, as we speak, full to overflowing combined with the fact that my own honey reserves  are dwindling at a far faster pace than I had anticipated, decided me to give the extractor another airing. The fact that it was the second day in a row that it had poured with rain helped the decision making process and although it only produced slightly less than twenty pounds, it was a worthwhile exercise as it took my mind off the rain for a couple of hours and I now have a spare tub of honey at my disposal.

I did manage a short visit to the meadow on all but a couple of days and spent the best part of a morning fitting brood frames with the new extensions. The kit for the new apiary site is nearing completion, the main problem now being, where to store it all. It’s good to see it all coming together and I’m sure we’ll sort out the storage. With my candle making talk just around the corner I’ve spent a bit of time preparing for it and one of the things I’ve tried for the first time is some floating candles, these are in the form of water lillies. I was quite pleased with the outcome and thought I’d share it with you.

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                                          AN UNUSUAL TABLE CENTREPIECE

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                                                          IN CLOSE-UP

These are so simple to make, I’ve cut mine out with a serated pastry cutter. The leaves are then warmed with a hair drier and molded over an upturned saucer. Simple but effective I think. Why not have a go, it passes a rainy couple of hours.

With the end of the month fast approaching, as I stated previously, things have really quietened down at the apiary. I have continued to visit the meadow on all but the wettest days and although the mood about the place seems a lot less hectic, the bees are still returning with copious amounts of pollen and although not so obvious, nectar I shouldn’t wonder. Although large numbers appear to be returning “empty handed” as it were, I can’t imagine that this is really the case as they still seem to be going about their business with a sense ot purpose so I’m convinced that they are returning with something. Although, if it is nectar, goodness knows where they’re getting it from as the ivy has by now dried up and the meadow seems devoid of anything flowering. I know the bees are still busilly searching for whatever they can find to bolster their winter stores as when earlier in the week as I was searching for something in the bee-shed, I happened to move a couple of frames, within seconds there were bees in attendance. What an incredible sense of smell these tiny creatures must posess.

Last Wednesday found me once again at the meadow, there was nothing to do at the apiary so I turned my attention to the allotment. There is still a little digging to be done which I want finished before the Winter frosts kick in and I wondered if this might be the day to get it out of the way. As soon as I set foot off the path it was quite obvious that it was still far too wet for any digging, so what to do. I had performed my usual bailiffing duties on Monday and had noted that there were several fish moving, probably to Daddies I thought at the time. Now, with the nearest of our club waters situated on the farm adjacent to our meadow, and no more than a few hundred yards away as the crow flies, it seemed only logical, with the sun still shining and me with little else to do, that another visit was called for.

Half an hour later found me driving along the farm track which leads to the lake. I had managed to dig out my tackle from the back of the shed where it had managed  to ensconse itself behind a pile of hive equipment and boxes of honey jars. From memory, this was only the second time this year that I was visiting the lake to actually fish and I was feeling quite excited as I tackled up in the car park. Nobody else on the lake today so if I had forgotten how to cast a fly, or hooked into the bull-rushes, it would be my secret. The lake looked really inviting with the weak Winter sun glinting off it’s gently rippling surface.

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                                            WHAT AN INVITING SIGHT

From where I stood I could already see one or two fish rising. If you can’t catch a fish today m’son, I told myself, you should give those rods away and take up needlework. I made my way along the bank to a spot where there appeared to be one or two fish rising. I didn’t fish straight away, I always like to wait a while, especially when I have the water to myself as I did today, just to soak up the atmosphere. I always feel a part of something really special when I stand at the water’s edge on a day like this, everything moves at such a leasurely pace, the coots and ducks going about their business, searching out small shrimps and other duck delicacies below the surface, totally oblivious to me. Then a trout rises noisily to my right, the splash quite easily heard re-focussing my thoughts.

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                                        A TROUT RISES TO MY RIGHT

Many’s the time I have left the water without getting my line wet, content just to be a part of what’s unfolding around me, I am reminded of the roe dear that joined me at the water’s edge to take a drink on one occasion and the grass snake that entered the water beside me to swim to the other side, but not today, today was meant for fishing.  Another fish rises to my left but to what I ask myself, the daddy-longlegs of a couple of days ago seem to have disappeared.

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                                 ANOTHER FISH RISES, BUT TO WHAT

Now, to my way of thinking, a rising fish is a feeding fish, and a feeding fish is a catchable fish. As I don’t have a clue what they are feeding on, as there doesn’t appear to be any fly on the water at all, so possibly sub-surface nymphs or the like, I decide to go with a floating daddy pattern in the hope that I can jog their memory of a few days ago.

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I won’t bore you any further other than to say that on this occasion, my casting was up to scratch and my fly selection did the trick. This had been a couple of hours well spent I decided as I drove back along the track. For me, there’s something quite theraputic about fly fishing, the feeling of being with one with nature, the eager anticipation when your fly lands on the water and the heart stopping moment of the take if and when it comes. Whether I actually fish or not, whether it rains or the sun keeps shining, I always leave the water with a spring in my step. It’s as though that couple of hours, just being alone with my thoughts somehow recharges my batteries. If you get the chance, do give it a try. If nothing else you’ll have had a couple of hours in the fresh air, away from your mobile ‘phone and your lap-top and who knows, you may even remind your fingers and thumbs that there is life away from the keypad.

Tuesday the 28th and hard to believe that there are only three days left before we plunge headlong into November and all that she holds. This morning the sun is cracking the pavements, and the bees are taking full advantage of it. I have a couple of supers in the shed which were late getting their Acetic acid and I was keen to give the frames an airing so, before taking my walk down to the bees I turned the supers through 45 degrees and opened the shed doors as wide as they would go. As I said, it was a lovely day so I was in no hurry to leave the bees, also I wanted to clear as many of the acid fumes from the shed as possible. I was thinking of the people living in the north of Scotland who have had five inches of rain in the last forty-eight hours as I made my way back up the meadow but I suppose it means that we’ve still got it to come, but for the moment, I was counting my blessings. With the shed still some ten yards away I could see that I had unwanted company.

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                                   BEES DRAWN TO THE EMPTY SUPERS

There must have been upwards of thirty bees flying in and around the shed. Undeterred by the foul smell, they had flown a full fifty or more yards across the meadow to get at whatever honey there was remaining in the supers. As I remarked earlier, what a remarkable sense of smell these tiny creatures must posess. Deciding that discretion was, in this case, the better part of valour, I closed the shed doors and left them to it.

Before signing off, I want to mention our AGM meeting which was on Friday last. Nothing worthy of a mention there I hear you say and as AGM’s go, you’re probably right. This one though, was different. At this meeting we had a guest speaker. Again, nothing new in that I hear you comment. Probably much like you, I’ve listened to many guest speakers in my time, some good, some very good, and some b*****y awful and just a few where I’ve struggled to stay awake. I can honestly say never have I heard anyone speak like our guest did last Friday. The subject was Bumble Bees and Solitary Bees and I have to say that I approached the meeting with mixed feelings, it was a subject that had never really aroused any great feelings in me and I suppose that I had resigned myself to another hour of at best, trying to appear interested or at worst, trying to stay awake. Our guest was Brigit Strawbridge from Shaftsbury and I have to say that from the moment she started speaking until she sat down some two hours later I and everyone else in the room listened absolutely spellbound. I have never heard anyone speak with such enthusiasm and genuine passion. She spoke with a certain knowledge that underlined that passion. It was infectious, I was genuinely sorry when her talk came to an end and couldn’t believe how quickly the previous two hours had flown by. The spontanious applause that greeted the conclusion of her talk was a certain indication of just how much everybody had enjoyed the evening. It was as much as I could do to stop myself from cheering out loud. I know that I’ll never look at a Bumble or Solitary Bee in quite the same way again. Remember the name, Brigit Strawbridge. If ever you get the oportunity to attend one of her talks, grab it with both hands. I know that if you do, then like me and all the others at that meeting, you’ll never look at a Bumble Bee in quite the same way again.