Recent Topical News Items

“Queenright or Queenless?” - by Malcolm Wilkie

A lot of Beekeepers have colonies at present that have been split or have swarmed. A new Queen takes at least three weeks to come into lay and this is a tense time for the beekeeper and for the bees. Many beginners assume they have no Queen and quite often go and purchase one needlessly from a beefarmer.

If you know that your box has swarmed, you will roughly know when this happened and so will know when you can start to look for eggs and young larvae i.e. three weeks after your Virgin has hatched.

A box that has swarmed or has been split and is raising a virgin, should initially be left well alone. You don't want to confuse a virgin returning from a mating flight. If she gets lost due to your 'fiddling', you will then have a Queenless colony. However once those three weeks have passed you do need to start to look.

If you see eggs and larvae, then all is well and you will then need to assess the brood pattern. However more often than not you will find no eggs or larvae. This does not mean that your colony is Queenless however. This is the moment when you need to carefully inspect the brood frames. Blow or smoke the bees out of the way.

A Queenright colony will be preparing a brood nest for their new Queen and everything is alright if you see an area of cells on a couple of frames that have been cleaned out and polished in readiness for the new Queen to start laying. There will probably be pollen above these cells and stores in the corner of the fames. In other words the bees are organising themselves and it is order that you will see within your hive. But if you do not see this order after three weeks and you can still see nectar chucked randomly into cells, then there may well be a problem and you should give them a frame of eggs from your other hive. If they raise Queen cells, then evidently they were Queenless. If they seal the brood without creating Queen cells, then you may have a virgin or you may have cussed bees who have decided they no longer want a Queen.

If you get into this scenario, and still after several weeks you can find nothing, then your only hope is to try and get hold of a failing old Queen from someone and come and ask me how to introduce her. She will have low pheromone levels and could possibly be accepted by your Queenless colony. Once the old lady starts laying it will then be possible to bump her off and introduce a Queen. A scenario to be avoided if at all possible as it is difficult to bring back a colony from the brink.

Reposted from June 2017

“Advice about looking after a nucleus of bees” - by Helen Hadley


They need to settle in a big hive.

Feed, small entrance. Check brood nest is not being filled with sugar syrup.

Basically they need to draw foundation and build to be strong enough to get through winter. Treat for varroa.

Beekeeping is a continuous learning process.

To become a good beekeeper you need to think like a bee.

There is often more than one choice to solve a problem.

Bees will always try and sort out your mistakes, they just want to survive.

Honey is the best winter food for the bees, if you don't think you have left them enough top up with sugar syrup.

Biggest mistake is taking too much honey. If your bees starve in winter that's pure miss management and cruel.

Beekeeping is a hobby for most of us, it should be a pleasure, so if your bees are aggressive you need to sort the problem out, not ignore it.


Helen Hadley 24th May 2018

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!)