Author Archives: Peter Coxon

'Brood boxes are meant for brood'

Now this statement might appear blindingly obvious but as a beekeeper it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the brood box is meant for brood. And I have just seen so many hives where there is no room for a queen to expand at all and the beekeeper just seems to be unaware of that fact.

We encourage beekeepers to inspect their colonies once a week during May and June which are the prime months for swarming. Each one of you should be asking themselves about whether a queen has enough space to lay eggs every time they go into a colony. Well it is all fine and well to ask yourself the question, but what are you in fact doing to give her enough space? Here are some ideas which might help.

  1. Is there some empty drawn comb that could be moved next to the brood nest?
  1. Is there a frame of pollen near the brood nest that could either be removed from the hive or moved next to the hive wall? Some beekeepers talk about a pollen barrier. The Queen finds it difficult to cross the pollen barrier and expand her brood nest, and you as a beekeeper can help by moving it out the way or removing it completely.

(If you find a pollen barrier in your hive it is easy to recognise; pollens of different colour covered by honey. The frame on which you find  the pollens looks sticky and is gummed up. This is because  the bees have made bee bread which is their way of storing the pollen and keeping it fresh. However what it is important to bear in mind about such a frame is that it is nigh impossible for a queen to put eggs into it. So do something about it.)

  1. Should you add a frame of fresh foundation? This should be placed next to the brood nest or if you have an extremely prosperous colony you can commit the  ultimate sin and split the brood nest with your frame of foundation. Only do this if they are really strong.
  1. Perhaps your scenario is very different. Perhaps you have split a colony and they are desperately trying to expand but just don't seem to be getting on very well. Are you using a dummy board, preferably made from cellotex? Just give them one frame of foundation to work on at a time. Put your cellotex dummy board next to that piece of foundation. And then I would also feed such a small colony. However don't make the mistake of feeding continually because they will just fill every frame with sugar syrup and then the Queen will have nowhere to lay. Remember a small colony does not have enough young bees to draw out much wax so this is going to have to be a gradual process. Often with a small unit what you would like them to do in one week is realistically going to take them two. If you can get your head around the fact that bees are programmed to take advantage of a nectar flow and so will collect your sugar syrup and stuff it anywhere they can, even putting the queen off lay, then you will have grasped that too much feeding in one go may be counter productive. It is also jolly stressful for a small unit that has not yet reached the tipping point needed to easily expand, if you are continually pouring sugar syrup all over them. For a colony that needs to expand, feed and then don't feed, and then feed again and then don't feed, and then feed once again. Work put in by you in June will pay dividends in September. The longer you neglect supporting a weak colony, the more difficult it will be for them to grow into the box you have provided for them. Of course if you have drawn comb, by all means use that but beginners don't usually have the luxury of drawn comb.

Space in the brood box is fundamental. Congestion in the brood box can lead to swarming. And as beginners are rapidly finding out once the bees have decided to swarm there is  nothing you can do about it except manage that swarming instinct. Just remember, please, a brood box is for brood.

Malcolm Wilkie 15th June

The swarming season is upon us

I have just checked some of my colonies at the slab castle apiary. This was during a session with the beginners. Of the six colonies that belong to me, two of them had queen cells. A good proportion of these were already sealed ( and yes I did check the box last Saturday with Helen and didn't pick up that they were making preparations to go). One box had swarmed, the other had been unable to do so as I had clipped the Queen and she is now lost.

If you have a large colony (for instance seven frames of brood in a 14 x 12 brood box) you might consider pre-empting the bees and splitting the colony before they make queen cells. I am assuming that you are already prepared with a spare hive and frames made up with fresh foundation. However this would be a disaster for a small unit, so only do this if your colony is strong.

The bees in the box of brood will make Queen cells. Go back after 3 days and choose a good open queen cell. Mark the frame this is on with a drawing pin. Go back in another three days and destroy all queen cells except the chosen one.

On the original site you will have the Queen on one frame of brood. This box  needs a rapid feeder on as they require a lot of sugar syrup to draw out the new brood nest.

Your honey crop is placed above the brood nest where your bees are making Queen cells. As long as you only leave one Queen cell (remember you have to go back twice) your honey crop won't fly off over the hedge. This box should be ok to handle because the bees are younger, the foragers returning to the old queen on the original site. This box should continue gathering honey as for a month there will be no brood and they will have nothing else to do but collect honey for you.

I hope this email arrives in time for you to be able to take pre-emptive action if it is required.

Malcolm Wilkie 16th April 2017


Can you love your bees too much?

There is a buzz of excitement in my apiaries at the moment as the bees are flying out and bringing back pollen in quantity. We all breathe a sigh of relief when we see pollen going into the hive in quantity, as that indicates that the Queen has survived the winter and the colony is beginning to expand.

Mouse guards should be removed as this knocks the pollen off the bees legs as they struggle to get into the hive. If you have undersupered you now need to go back to the traditional configuration and put a queen excluder between the brood box and the super above that brood box. You might also use the opportunity for giving hive a fresh floor. Or if you have a blowtorch you can quickly clean up the floor while the brood box is sitting on the upturned roof before putting the hive back together with the traditional configuration.Do this away from the hive as bees don't like being blowtorched. Any wrapping that has been used to keep the hive dry over winter can also now be removed so that the sun plays directly onto the wood. If you are like me you will already have given them a pollen pattie last month in the hope that that will kick start the brood early. Each one of my 13 hives has wolfed down a whole pattie. The reason for putting neopoll on  is that you want a really strong colony next month when the nectar flow begins. I haven't tried any stimulative feeding to get more bees for the coming nectar flow but that may be a consideration for you. However, don't try it with too small a colony as that will stress them out and they just won't be able to process the sugar syrup.This is the one time when a light syrup can be used.

Another scenario for you may be one where you have been overgenerous in feeding last autumn. This means the brood box contains frames of stores which the bees have not even started to eat. If you have  'overloved ' your bees in this way they probably even have a super full of sugar syrup which they haven't touched. The consequence of this could be that there is no room for the Queen to lay. And that means that you won't have a colony big enough to collect the spring nectar flow and you will be denying yourself a spring honey crop. So what do you do? I have talked to Helen and this is her suggestion.

You have two options: a soft option and a hard option. The soft option is to place your super that is full of sugar syrup directly on top of the brood box without a queen excluder. All of the frames are stuffed full of sugar syrup so you need to remove one or two frames and replace them with foundation. This should be directly above the brood nest ( you can discover where the brood nest is by putting an inspection board in the previous day and seeing where the bees are working). You will also be able to feel the heat rising up from the brood nest. What happens in this scenario is that if the queen needs space, the bees will go up, draw out the comb, and she will then lay in the super on those two frames.

The hard option is to put your inspection board in, see where the brood nest is, and then go into your hive and place a frame of foundation next to the brood nest. You will then have to remove one of the frames of stores from the outside and shuffle along all the other frames. However you are not, and I stress not disturbing the brood nest. In this scenario if the bees want more space for the Queen to lay, they will draw out a frame of foundation and put eggs and larvae into that. Keith and Helen seem to differ about whether a frame of foundation will be drawn out at this time of year. I trust Helen on this one as she is far more generous in feeding and has had to rectify this situation in the past.

So you need to ask yourself the question, did I over love my bees too much last autumn. Did I, by overfeeding them, cause myself a problem now (i.e. no space for the Queen to lay) which is going to affect my honey crop this spring?Have I too many frames of stores in the brood box, the unintended consequence of that being that I am preventing the colony building up as rapidly as they should. And then I won't have the  number of foragers that I should to collect a spring honey crop! Only you can know if you have loved your bees too much.
Malcolm Wilkie 16/03/2017

Hello . . . Just to introduce myself as the 2017 season’s incoming Secretary having taken on the mantle from John Preston (very big boots to fill!).

Although fairly new to beekeeping following early retirement in 2012, you might have come across me on the 2015 beginners course, or in 2016 as one of the swarm coordinators/collectors or maybe at Bee Banter in Mayfield.

If you are already a member of the High Weald Beekeepers, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or ideas regarding the association. The committee has meetings every couple of months or so and I would be pleased to raise any relevant issues on your behalf.

If you have any general questions regarding beekeeping please let me know and, if I am not able to answer it myself, I can pass it on to a relevant member of the association. We have a huge wealth of knowledge within the organisation.

I continue to be one of this year’s swarm coordinators along with Jen Moore and am looking forward to whatever this season throws at us!

Best regards  . . . Peter Halford

If you are at all passionate about your bees you will have noticed that they now think that spring is here. Temperatures are now regularly above 8°C and the bees are flying out and collecting pollen. These pollen loads are in big round balls and in quantity which indicates that they are now raising brood. If you lift the roof off your hive the bees will come and take a look at you; they are active.

Unlike me, of course, you have cleaned up all your equipment, ordered frames for the new season and have put in place a plan for each hive according to the records that you have been keeping last year. It isn't a bad idea to put your inspection board in for a week now just to check that the varroa drop is non existent. If you have a count as low as five in one week at this time of year, you are going to have a problem this season.! Don't think that this is a low count for the month of February!!!!! Remember the brood rearing season has only just started so the count should be really really low or non-existent at this stage.

You need to assess what type of colony you have. Have you got a small colony that is struggling, or a medium-size colony or a humongous colony? Strategies for the next season will depend on your answer to the above question. What can you do now? February and March is the key cross over period for honeybees. Beekeepers who have been too greedy in taking honey from their charges may have caused a problem now. This is because the bees can run out of honey at this time of year. They are raising the temperature in the brood nest to 37°C and in order to do this they are consuming huge quantities of their stores. Did you leave your bees enough honey so that they could kickstart the colony back into life at this time of year?

Those who are organised among us will have regularly hefted their hives over the winter. They will be able to calculate what the state of play is and whether their bees have sufficient stores until a true nectar flow begins with the warmer weather. Those of you who are less organised can still lift your hive to ascertain how light it is. If it is light, feed fondant above the crown board. I personally have also given every hive a Neopoll pollen pattie. I rolled this out like the pastry and placed it underneath the crown board on top of the frames. On certain hives once this has been consumed I will have to put more candy (yes I was one of the more disorganised among you).

How does one decide on the strategy for the coming season? A humongous colony will need to be carefully managed and on this sort of colony a shook swarm would be entirely appropriate. You will be able to clean them up by doing a shook swarm and at the same time cut down on any varroa problem. This sort of colony will give you a honey crop later in the season and,of course, by doing a shook swarm you will prevent this sort of colony from swarming. On Thursday, 9 March Keith and I will show you how to do this. A small colony on dirty comb cannot be treated in the same way. Admit it, lots of you have a colony of this sort. Even if they are a medium-size colony you probably have not been changing the combs and they are filthy. There will be a build up of minor brood diseases and you are not letting the colony function at an optimum level because of the way you are handling them. A Bailey comb change is the answer. One places a fresh brood box above the old brood box. One places a queen excluder between the two boxes. One raises the Queen on a frame into the top box above the excluder and one places foundation next to that frame. Insolation dummy boards need to be used. And one feeds. Come and see how it is done on Thursday, 9 March. In this scenario you may get a small honey crop later in the season but you will have a fantastic colony in 2018. There will be fresh frames in your box and the bees will thank you.

A strategy must include some sort of swarm management. On 6 April Keith and I will talk you through once again how to manage the swarming season. This is a must if you are a new beekeeper or if you want to remind yourself of everything that you have to bear in mind when dividing a box of bees. I will also try and show you how to bank an old Queen as an insurance policy by using an Apidea.

I look forward to seeing everyone on 9 March and 6 April. Remember you have to let Rosemarie know. She may change the venue if lots if you say you are coming.

Malcolm Wilkie 22nd February 2017