‘The Cornish Bee’ – notes from a talk by Rodger Dewhurst, Gwenen Apiaries

By Emily Scott, CBKA member:

On August 12th I went to a ‘Bee Fayre’, which is an annual weekend event held at Enys Gardens in Penryn, Cornwall. It was a haven for bee fans, filled with stalls selling every bee themed product you can think of, from honey ice-cream, breads and cakes to soaps to cosmetics to beekeeping equipment.

There were also short talks… I’m a bit sad I couldn’t go on the Saturday too, as I missed an eclectic set of talks about making Truro bee friendly, the Help for Heroes bee project, Cornish cider, encouraging young people to become bee farmers and beekeeping in the Scottish borders (presumably from a beekeeper on holiday!).

Enys Gardens

Anyway, here’s my notes from Rodger Dewhurst’s talk. Rodger and his wife Carol run Gwenen Apiaries (Gwenen is the Cornish word for honey bee). Rodger started beekeeping all the way back when he was a twelve year old school boy, in the Lizard peninsula. He told us beekeeping was different back then, as there was more unimproved grassland around. Now more honey bees are imported and many more pests and diseases have been introduced.

Rodger’s beekeeping has changed over the years too. Nowadays he aims to breed Cornish dark bees, Apis Mellifera Mellifera. He has also mainly stopped using smoke and gloves.

He looks for a variety of characteristics in the colonies he breeds from – hygienic cleaning and grooming behaviours, including biting him! – which he takes as a sign that they will bite varroa too. Also good temper, good honey production and flying characteristics – ‘maritime bees’ that will fly in wet weather.

Another anti-varroa trait he looks for is what he calls the ‘geriatric shuffle/shiver dance’ – a motion in which the bees agitate their abdomen to dislodge varroa mites. On the monitoring boards under the hives he looks for dented varroa mite shells, a sign that the mites have dropped through after being bitten at by the bees.

Rodger’s breeding plan is to:

  • Identify best stocks
  • Build these up to strength, with plenty of healthy nurse bees
  • Get them to produce healthy drones (he sometimes treats for varroa so that the drones aren’t carrying viruses)
  • Grafts into pre-prepared cups smeared with royal jelly – about a 90% success rate
  • He squishes any that show signs of varroa poo in the cups
  • He puts the cells in ‘apidea’, special little hives for queen-rearing, containing a mugful of nurse bees which happily rear the queens. These go to mating apiaries in a few different Cornish locations.
  • Once the queens are mated, he will sometimes put multiple caged queens on top of a colony to see which virgin most of the bees prefer to cluster round. He makes a note of those as ‘Alpha’ queens to breed from.

Endearingly, apparently the best drones have “big hairy bums”, because the native Apis Mellifera Mellifera drones are larger. They also fly later in the year than other imported sub-species of Apis Mellifera.

Celebrity beekeeper John Chapple

The day finished with a Bumblebee Safari led by staff from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. It had been sunny up till the end of the day when the Safari started, at which point the Cornish mizzle began coming down.

That didn’t put the hardy bumblebees off though, and we found plenty of them enjoying a large lavender patch. It was good to see small children getting to stroke a male bumblebee and overcome their previous fears.

Have you been to a talk or event recently which you’d like to write about for the website? If so get in touch, we’d love to feature more posts by members. 

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Opportunity to get your bees DNA tested

Ever wondered whether your bees are Italian, Buckfast, Carniolan or near native? Researchers are offering Cornish beekeepers a unique opportunity to have their bees DNA tested, with the option of also taking part in a citizen science project.

Researchers at the University of Plymouth are aiming to take DNA samples and analyse colony characteristics of nearly 300 Cornish Bee hives. This is an opportunity to take part in one of the most detailed DNA testing and phenotypic surveys of bees ever conducted in England.

For more information please email Victoria Buswell: beesurvey@plymouth.ac.uk

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Bit of a Do 2018 – 22 September

An exciting opportunity to hear the best speakers on beekeeping right here in Cornwall!

Saturday 22 September 2018, 10:00-17:00 (Registration from 9.00)
Fal Building Truro College TR1 3XX
Tickets £12 in advance or £15 on the day. Complimentary refreshments all day – lunchtime pasties must be booked in advance.


Speakers: Dan Basterfield on honey bee dance language and reading bees, Chris Parks on skep beekeeping, Dr Peter Kennedy on Asian hornets, Anne Rowberry on using a demaree and Will Steynor on practical gadgets – see our Bit of a Do flyer to find out more about the speakers.

As well as the speakers, there will be trade stands, a gadget competition and local Bee Inspectors to answer all your questions. Our fantastic Traders and Stands include: Northern Bee Books, BB Wear, Bee Hive Supplies, Modern Beekeeping, BeeBay, Bee Craft, Bees Abroad.

How to book

Tickets and Pasties can be booked after 1st July from:
Heather Williams, Quillet Cottage, Leedstown, Cornwall TR27 6BP. Email heather@quillet.org.uk – please download the booking form and make payment to Heather.

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GDPR and BBKA membership procedures update

General Data Protection Rules (GDPR) and BBKA membership procedures – effective from 25 May 2018

All members are to be aware that the procedures for renewals and new membership will change on the 25 May 2018. BBKA have issued a warning letter outlining the proposed changes due to the new GDPR, this document is available here for members to peruse: GDPR BBKA Membership database update

Once firm details are known then group secretaries and members will be informed accordingly as to the new procedures. Change will undoubtedly cause confusion, be patient!

I am happy for members to liaise directly with myself.
Les Buckley
Treasurer/Membership

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