Recent Topical News Items

Beginners always ask when they should put a super onto a hive. One of the classic mistakes is to put it on too early, before all the frames in the brood box have been drawn out. People do this because they are greedy for honey and in their minds putting on a super means their bees will be making them honey.
Well of course in one way they are quite right because we all use a super placed above the brood box (with a queen excluder between) to get honey. However if you put a super on before all the frames in the brood box have been drawn, then you may find that the bees don’t draw out all the foundation that you have placed in the brood box.
Why is this? Try and look at it from the bees point of view. When building comb they always prefer to build upwards. From their point of view this is quite logical. Ideally what they want is a brood nest that looks like a rugby ball standing on one of its pointy ends. The heat from the brood below will help heat the brood above. However by putting them in a hive we don’t allow them to do this. We, the beekeeper, want them to produce a brood nest that looks like a rugby ball on its side. The bees oblige as long as you don’t give them a choice by putting on a super too early.
So when do I put my supers on? I need the bees to be covering every frame in the brood box bar one. Then I put my super of drawn comb onto the hive. As it is drawn comb I put the queen excluder on, but if the bees show no interest I might consider taking the queen excluder away for a few days. If you are a beginner you don’t have drawn comb so you are going to have to put a super with foundation on instead. We are in the month of May and all those young bees hatching are desperate, and I mean desperate, to make wax. As your super is foundation only, don’t put the queen excluder on. Then go back in three days and if a little of the wax is being drawn out, pop the excluder in at that stage.
So you are now going to ask me how you know when to put the next super on. This time it’s easy. If the bees start to put wax into the hole in the crown board and stick it to the roof, they are asking for more space. In fact you probably should have given them another super a bit earlier if this is happening. Or if you find hundreds of bees milling about on top of the crown board, then give them something to do by giving them another super. Bees that are not kept busy, swarm. You are warned.

Malcolm – 20th May 2018

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. The rest of this box is nothing but foundation. 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.
Below is a YouTube video about how to do an artificial swarm using the Pagden method. It is quite clear, but I disagree with putting the supers onto the box with the old queen. In my experience the bees need a huge nectar flow in order to draw out the foundation. If you put a super of drawn comb with honey on top of the old Queen, the bees don’t bother to draw out the foundation you have provided them unless you have a huge nectar flow and a humongous colony. So you can only guarantee your foundation being drawn out by putting a rapid feed on and feeding a lot of sugar to them.

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

Malcolm – 3rd May 2018

Dig out ALL Queen cells at your peril! - from Malcolm Wilkie

I am resending this article to all of you as over the next month you may be tempted to dig out Queen cells. Destroying Queen cells is not wrong in itself but make sure you know what you are doing. Be warned digging out all Queen cells may cause the collapse of your colony if the Queen has already left with a prime swarm, as there may be no more young larvae or eggs to make another Queen. Judy wrote this article for me. She has subsequently lost her bees. If this sort of thing happens to you, you may be better putting yourself on the swarm list early and getting a prime swarm in May. Then with new bees, start over again.

Judy called her article ‘Still alive’ . I have renamed it as I think it serves as a lesson to us all. NB ALL is written in capitals!

Here is the story of a really daft thing I did last summer and various attempts to rectify the situation. I had a lot of help from Malcolm and his fee was an article for the magazine!

I had a little bit of experience of beekeeping from being part of a group in Mayfield that jointly had a few hives five years ago. But the summers were poor and they didn't do very well, and then we lost the apiary site. I did Keith's beginners course in 2014 and learnt a lot but didn't get any bees that summer, so I started the next March by buying from Keith the bees that had been in the glass demonstration case the previous year. They were a lovely calm lot but not very busy. They produced one super of honey which they kept over the winter of 2015/2016.

Last year I kept them as 'a brood and a half' and when Helen Hadley came to look at them she helped me find the queen, which was a new one, so we marked her. All went well and I continued to see the queen, but inspections were taking me a long time as a novice with two boxes to look through. I kept seeing queen cups but nothing in them, and the bees had nearly filled two supers so I was making up frames for another and didn't get back to the hive for a period of nine days. Then I saw sealed queen cells and panicked!

I removed all four in the top 'half' box, thinking there would be more below in the main brood box and that I could choose one to keep from there. But, alas, I found no more. Neither did I see the queen... Nor any eggs or small larvae... Oh no! What had I done? Had she left already and I'd destroyed her provision for the future of the colony? I was hot and bothered and I'd had the nest open a long time and I got stung through my suit, which had never happened before with this lot.
I reflected that there had been some clumping above the crown board, but there were still so many bees as I started the inspection that I didn't suspect they had already swarmed.

Dismayed I asked Helen for advice and she suggested I go back in a few days to look for evidence of emergency queen cells. I did so but found none. The bees were very agitated so I didn't inspect the whole nest; I looked through the whole of the top box and half of the frames in the brood box below. No emergency cells. Just angry bees.

At Bee Banter I sought advice again and the consensus was that they were probably queenless thanks to my clumsy efforts, and that I should buy a queen from the LASI project at the University of Sussex. But then Malcolm emailed to say that he had ordered a queen from there himself and I could buy her from him, and even better he would come and help me introduce her! It was now the end of July and 8 days since I had broken off the queen cells. That day she came in the post we went to the hive in light drizzle. We placed the little plastic cage she came in on top of some brood frames and waited to see how my bees would respond. At first they ignored her. We watched to see that they weren't going to sting her, but that didn't happen. After a few minutes they seemed quite interested so we broke the tab at the end of the cage revealing sugar paste which the workers would eat their way through to release the new queen into the hive. We left the cage hanging between two frames in the brood box. The bees were less aggressive than on my last two visits. Was that Malcolm's calming influence?! Or the drizzle? Or did they still have their old queen after all?

The new one was a virgin queen so wasn't to be disturbed for three weeks. During that three weeks I took my first ever crop of honey - 30 lbs, plus another whole box I intended to return to the bees after their varroa treatment.

At the appointed time I inspected the whole of the brood nest and could find no eggs or larvae. The bees were still working hard, with lots of stored pollen and nectar. I asked a previous mentor from Mayfield to come with me a week later and he confirmed that there was no brood in the nest. My normally good-tempered bees must have committed regicide. It was by now the end of August.
Malcolm came to the rescue again with a spare nucleus of his own which he had made up with one of the hygienic queen offspring. One Tuesday night in September I collected a polynuc box from him and placed it on top of my hive roof with the entrance facing the same direction. This had to be done after dark.

A few days later, on the Saturday, Malcolm joined me to do a tricky manipulation. We first removed the supers to a location about 100 yards distant. Then we carried the whole of my brood nest (both boxes together) to the same place. There were bees left behind on the floor so that had to be brought as well. Then all were dusted liberally with sifted icing sugar, and the bees were shaken off the frames. The icing sugar was to slow the bees down. Some of my frames of stores were selected to go with Malcolm's frames of brood. There was a slight complication in that our sizes don't match so when we built up the new nest, which we did on the original site, we had to start with the super box at the bottom with stores at the sides but a gap in the middle for his 12x14" frames to hang down into, then on top my national brood box with more stores at the sides and the frames of brood with the laying queen in the middle. All the flying bees were making their way back and there was great confusion.

After tidying away all the spare boxes and frames we went back to take a look at the reassembled hive. The front of it was covered with bees. Many were visibly dusted with icing sugar so were my originals. We saw no fighting - not that I know hat bees fighting looks like! They were fanning, which apparently was a good sign.

The new combination colony were then fed with syrup for a week and after that I was instructed to put back on top all the boxes of frames that needed cleaning up of both icing sugar and stores. The configuration was crown board, empty super, another crown board and then the boxes that needed cleaning. At first I had not added a closed crown board under the roof, but when I went back next day with wasp traps I saw what could have been robbing or perhaps my own bees going in at the top of the hive rather than the entrance. Adding another crown board did seem to sort out this problem and thereafter there was less activity around the top of the stack.

Two weeks after our manipulation I opened the nest to take a look. What disappointment! Once again I could see no young brood. There were three frames with sealed brood and next to them only stores. No eggs. No larvae. The bees were getting very agitated and I didn't look at every frame. My smoker had gone out and I gave up the search in disappointment. It was the end of September by now. I'm afraid my hive got none of the love and care that it had had the previous year. A mouse guard, yes, but no woodpecker-proofing, no varroa treatment or feeding and the stores of honey didn't go back on either. I thought the colony was done for and would die out over winter.

In early spring I kept hearing woodpeckers around and my heart would sink. I went to check that the hive was intact but saw no signs of life. Then one sunny Sunday I went over to take another look and saw bees flying, bringing pollen into the hive. I was overjoyed!

The next time I went with a super of empty frames and as I was preparing to open the hive I heard a shout, 'hello', and Malcolm happened to have come to take a look at that very moment with another friend. Inside there was lots of activity. Outside there was lots of rejoicing. The bees had somehow survived and thrived despite me!

Judy Harland (with much to learn!)

The wonder of bees - by Malcolm Wilkie

Conditions are now right for a colony to rapidly expand. It is easy to get caught out because growth is exponential when temperatures jump. Why is this? It is simply that there is moisture in the ground and blossom trees are in full bloom exuding nectar in abundance. This is particularly so the higher the temperatures climb.

So what does your Queen do? She starts pumping out up to 2,000 eggs a day. Do the calculation yourself! In a week you have 14,000 larvae and in three weeks 42,000 larvae/young bees. Prime conditions for swarming and the propagation of that colony’s genes. Those of you who book a week’s holiday at this time of year lose their bees because what looked like a small colony suddenly transforms itself. It is almost as if they knew you were going away, and they hatched a plan to counter the plan you had made for them.

We can do some things to hold back swarming. Removing a frame of stores and placing a frame of foundation next to the brood nest. They will draw that out and it will keep the young bees busy making wax. Not to be done, however, if you have a small unit.

Once the bees are covering nearly all the frames in the brood box add a super. Initially perhaps without the Queen excluder. But make sure you put it in once you see nectar in the super frames.

Don’t put all drawn comb into the super. Give them some foundation to work on. Place above the brood nest which is the warmest spot.

If you have not already marked your Queen, do so now. Perhaps bring out your spare floor, brood box and roof and have it in the apiary ready for the inevitable. If you are going to take out a nucleus, put the box in your apiary and read up about making up a nucleus. Be warned it needs lots of young bees as a lot will go back to the original box. Make sure you understand how to get young bees 🐝 into your nucleus hive. That is where most people go wrong. Also make sure the nucleus is nowhere near your original hive, otherwise the bees will sense where the Queen is and all try and go into the nucleus box. And that could be disastrous.

Finally have a plan of action (the Pagden method is my favoured option).  Never, never, never dig out queen cells until you know where the queen is. If you have sealed queen cells in all probability ‘She’ has gone with over half the bees. That is the time when you can start to choose a Queen cell BUT not before. By thoughtlessly destroying all Queen cells before ascertaining  whether the Queen has gone or not, you risk rendering a colony queenless (sometimes the biggest pest to honeybees can be the beekeeper themselves, particularly the ignorant ones). You may think that it is impossible that the Queen has gone when confronted with so many bees but just do the calculation above and accept that you have cocked up for this year.

Regrettably your honey crop has flown off over the hedge!

There is a lot of variability between colonies and some will be building up on the huge nectar flow we have at the moment. I have colonies with just one frame of brood, which I have had to place in nucleus boxes. They are under special measures and have been fed. On the other hand I have one colony with 9 frames of wall to wall brood. I gave them a super and in three days they had filled it with nectar.

One piece of advice - look for frames clogged with granulated ivy honey. The bees have uncapped the honey but are finding it difficult to get out of the frames. It almost looks as if the bees have put fondant into the frames.  Move this sort of frame to the outside of the box and try and put one with empty drawn comb next to the brood nest. That will create room for the Queen to lay.

Happy swarming season everybody. I went through all my boxes yesterday and marked every single queen. Let’s hope this is the year I get completely on top of swarming. I doubt it, but there is always hope and I relish the challenge!

Malcolm - 20th April 2018

“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