Over the winter months I thought I’d re-read my bee keeping books to see just how much I’d forgotten ……checking on that incipient senility problem I mentioned in my previous Chairman’s Chatter. (I am of course only joking and don’t mean to make light of a serious medical problem.)

When I read some of these books the first time around I was nearer the bottom of the steep learning curve of bee keeping and when new to a subject important points don’t always stick without having the all-important context.

Sure, enough I re-discovered many interesting things that had fallen out of the holes in my memory.

I was reminded of one thing I’d intended share when I saw Malcolm at the talk last week on Swarm Management, and now that spring finally seems to be on the way it is particularly apposite.

I recall well, when I started, the difficulty of remembering how to do an artificial swarm, which box went where, when and with which bees in …… a bit like the three-cup trick… confusing. And then as a new beekeeper I quite often had hives where I had not manged to find and mark the Queen early enough in the season and now I’m faced with a brood box heaving with bees, about to swarm and with almost no chance of now finding the Queen …. What to do? Sometimes in desperation I would simply split the brood box in two taking half the frames off into another box. It often worked but was clearly sub-optimal and I’m sure I probably lost casts.

In the Green Guide to Beekeeping which we provide to new members taking the course we give, I re-discovered during my revision what they refer to as a ‘Simple Swarm Control Method’ on p145. It may prove useful to new beekeeper’s (and maybe even not so new ones too) who find themselves in that self-same position …. burgeoning brood box, about to swarm and un-marked / illusive Queen.

Simple Swarm-control Method*

  • Wait until you see unsealed queen cells
  • Move the parent hive to a new permanent stand at least four feet away
  • Place a new brood box (or nucleus box) on the original stand
  • Select a comb with a good-sized, unsealed queen cell
  • Gently brush every single bee from this comb and destroy all the other queen cells
  • Put the selected comb into the new brood box; the flying bees will find their way back to this box but the old queen cannot be present as no bees were transferred
  • Add at least two frames of food stores (and pollen) plus one frame of sealed brood — brushing off all the bees first
  • Fill up the new hive with frames of drawn comb or foundation and reduce the entrance
  • Replace the frames removed from the old box with frames of foundation; this will both improve the ventilation of the hive and give the remaining bees something to do apart from thinking about swarming, although the reduction in population should quell the swarming urge
  • Divide the supers between the two hives
  • Feed both parts as necessary

It will take about three weeks before the new colony has a functioning queen and it is very vulnerable during this time. Keep a careful eye on things without disturbing it too much.

I hope you may find this helpful.

*I’m sure this contravenes copyright law but hope they will not object on the basis it is good publicity for their jolly good book.

“Spring is the time of plans and projects” - Leo Tolstoy

It has been a funny season so far and rather cold and wet with temperatures yo-yoing. There have been days when it has been difficult for the bees to get out and forage.

At the Association apiary we have opened up the colonies with the beginners group. In the largest colony a few drones were present and there was drone brood. In the general environment flowering plants have been held back by the cold, but this is about to change. Next week forecasters are predicting a hike in temperature. Make sure that once temperatures are 16° you take a good look at your bees and do the first thorough inspection. The bees are about to go crazy. They have been incarcerated in their hives and as soon as they can they will want to swarm. Find out what the little beggars are up to.

Lesley has seen fields of rape in full flower in Catsfield near Hastings. Near the Slab Castle apiary there is a field of rape coming into flower. Rape is like a bell weather signal; once it comes into flower it indicates that there is a lot of nectar in the environment. Once that is the case our charges are going to want to swarm.

If you have a large colony you will need to go in and check that there is space in the brood nest for the Queen to expand into. If you loved your bees too much last autumn, you may have to remove some stores. If you have a box full of bees then you will need to add a super, preferably of drawn comb. However, if they haven’t expanded into the whole brood box you may need to wait, otherwise the colony won’t become as big as you would like. You could always place two frames of foundation in the middle of your super so as to give the bees something to do if you do add super.

If the colony is really small, think about using a dummy board or even putting the colony into a poly nuc box. This sort of colony will certainly not make you spring honey. However if you get it right, you could get a Summer crop. As soon as temperatures go up they can expand rapidly.

Remember, it is one thing to get a colony through the winter. However, it is another thing to manage the colony so that they will make you honey. Getting a handle on swarming is how you will manage them in a way so as to get honey. It is so disappointing when you lose 3/4 of your bees over the hedge. I hope every single one of you has a plan in place.

With the beginners we are having a session on Saturday at the bee shed making up equipment. If you need assistance and advice with making up equipment, then you could always come along.

Remember being prepared (having enough equipment) and knowing what you’re going to do about swarming makes all the difference. Just reacting to the ensuing chaos is not an option! Please, please be prepared.

Malcolm Wilkie 9th April 2018

Bee Space
When you first start beekeeping you are told about the importance of bee space. The concept of bee space was discovered by the Reverend Langstroth. He worked out that bees always left 8mm (or a little bit more – approx. = 3/8in) between the combs in their nests so that two bees could work back to back. This enabled him to build a box/hive into which he could put movable frames. The importance of movable frames was to allow beekeepers to split open the brood nest without killing the bees. Langstroth’s discovery was a huge step forward in beekeeping and allows a modern beekeeper to manage his bees.
Of course in theory it is not difficult to understand 8mm. However, in practice people forget about bee space. Where is bee space important?
Firstly it is important when building a flatpack hive. You have to follow the unhelpful instructions sent to you and you need to decide whether you are going to have a brood box with either top bee space or bottom bee space. And of course once you have decided what bee space you are going to go for, you need to make sure that any supers you construct also have the same space either at the top or at the bottom, depending on what you’ve decided. If you don’t do this, the bees will propalise together any boxes with the wrong spaces and you will have a devils own job to split the boxes one from the other. You will find that if you have got two boxes with different bee spaces (I speak from experience) the frames in the bottom box will be stuck to the frames in the top box when you split the two boxes apart. When this happens the frames below will lift out as you lift the top box off the hive. And this will really piss off the bees! It also means that you are much more likely to kill bees accidentally as you are going to roll them and squash them. Your charges have a enough work trying to deal with all the viruses endemic within any hive, and if you then are crushing and squashing bees, you unwittingly spread viruses around your colony because, as you know, bees are very clean creatures and they will try and remove any squashed corpse and will suck up the contents of the crushed corpse in order to clean up the beekeeper’s mess. In other words, do make sure that you build your brood box and your supers with the same bee space.
Secondly beginners also forget about bee space when replacing the queen excluder. This only applies to the metal slotted Queen excluders. If you look at one of these carefully, you will notice which side the bee space is. So if your hive has top bee space, then you need to place your queen excluder with the bee space uppermost. On the other hand if you have bottom bee space and your frames fit flush with the top of your brood box, then you need to place the excluder with the bee space downwards. If you don’t do this, then the bees stick the metal slots to the top of the frames. And why wouldn’t they? They know about bee space, it’s just that their owner hasn’t yet learnt. Bees respect bee space and so must you.
Beginners should remember that bees stick everything in sight. They stick each frame to the next frame, they stick the top of the frames to the edge of the crown board (notice how your crown board has a lip of wood surrounding the edge both at the top and the bottom which gives you bee space), they stick a feeding bucket to the crown board, they stick the outside edge of your super to the top edge of the brood box. In fact they stick everything!!! This is the reason I hate plastic or thin metal Queen excluders because the bees stick these down to the top of the frames and these then ping off as you remove them. Bees may have bad eyesight but they are very very very sensitive to movement. And pinging Queen excluders definitely pisses them off! Remember if you do try and not piss your bees off, the experience of looking through your bees will be a much more pleasurable experience.
Now thirdly and most importantly for a beginner. Perhaps they have been lucky enough to get a swarm. They have managed to successfully hive that swarm. However in their excitement they have forgotten about bee space. Woe betide any beginner who doesn’t sit up and pay attention to what I’m about to say. You must, and I repeat you must, place all frames into the brood box. That means that once you have knocked your bees into the hive into the space created by removing five or six frames, you have to gently put back the frames that are missing. And you absolutely must make sure that the frames are tightly sitting one next to the other. Use Hoffman self-spacing frames for ease as the bee space has been worked out for you.
What could the consequences be of leaving frames out of your box? If you leave a gap, the bees will no doubt build wild comb which you will then have to dig out. And of course it is highly likely that the bees will build wild comb in the gap because they abhor a space and so they will ignore your nice fresh wax foundation until that space has been filled. The beekeeper in cleaning up this mess will probably, in all likelihood, kill the Queen. She is probably laying eggs in that wild comb, and as you remove it, you will kill her. And that probably will be the demise of your nice new colony!
Learning to keep bees equates in difficulty to learning how to drive. There is a lot to learn and bee space is fundamental.
Malcolm Wilkie 27th March 2018