Malcolm’s Topical Tips

The Sun has got some warmth in it at last and the bees are coming out and looking for fresh pollen and nectar. I have seen them working camellias, hellebores and snowdrops. It is only flowers planted in some sunshine that are being worked.

If you have not already been busy preparing for the coming season, now would be a good time to start.

1) On a sunny morning check whether the bees are flying or if that is not possible then stick your ear to the side of the hive and listen for the gentle hum of the cluster. If you cannot hear anything, then gently tap the side of the hive and they will respond.
2) Make a plan for what you are going to do with your bees this coming season. If you are a beginner and have only one hive, then you will be going for increase. Make sure you have ordered a second hive and that you have sufficient frames and foundation to be able to do a split. Better to order all this now than to be caught out at the end of April. I will run a session on swarm control in early April. April 3rd at 7:30pm at the Cross in Hand pub.

(I am spelling out what I mean by the above so there can be no room for misunderstanding.

If you are doing an artificial swarm then you will need 11 frames and eleven pieces of foundation. When you do an artificial swarm the Old Queen is placed on a brood frame on the original site in a new box (new floor, new crown board and new roof). Have you purchased and built a new hive for this purpose? This new hive is filled with frames of foundation around the one brood frame where your old Queen is laying eggs.
You will also need a large rapid feeder. If you have not yet purchased one this will be necessary if you are going to make increase. You will have to feed them at least 8kg of sugar to get them to draw out your foundation. And this is best fed to them all in one go in the large rapid feeder. Just be prepared to avoid rushing out and buying everything at the last moment. When you leave everything to the last moment mistakes are made. And as the experienced know among you if a hive swarms and then casts, you can be left with so few bees that it may take you two years to get the colony back to being prosperous again! Any delay at swarming time can lead to disaster.)

On April 3rd I will also show you what to do if your bees want to swarm and you cannot find the Queen. It’s not as good as the Pagden method above but it should work.

3) If you have been keeping bees for several years you should have cleaned up all your spare brood boxes, floors, crown boards and roofs by now. You will have used a blowtorch to clean up any wooden equipment so as to ensure that no disease is spread to a new colony. If you use poly hives any spare equipment will have been cleaned with soda crystals and then a strong solution of bleach.

4) If you are Helen you will already have built frames for any increase that you are going to make but you will not have added the foundation as you will be waiting for early April. This is so that the wax does not turn brittle.

5) Now is the time where you could add some Neopoll above the crown board. If the weather keeps clement, the gathering of pollen will not be an issue. However if we have a long spell of wet weather, Neopoll can be a lifeline for your bees. It will certainly help them build up if they are a medium sized or strong colony. This will give you the best chance of gathering a spring honey crop.

6) There is now time to put order into your bee shed and check that wax moth has not done too much damage. Do it now because once the season starts you will just run out of time.

7) If you have a very small colony and are wringing your hands in despair, don’t. Bees are amazingly resilient and you will be surprised just how quickly they come back after a long winter. However some Neopoll might well help. But not too much! You don’t want it oozing all over the crown board and running down into the brood nest through the hole in the crown board.

If you haven’t treated against varroa in the autumn and were not brave enough to sublimate in the winter, then you need to think carefully what you are going to do. It may not be a huge problem but you will probably need to use something like varroa Med or hive alive every time you inspect in spring. If things are really desperate then in mid to late April you could use something like Apiguard. Difficult of course with a small unit because Apiguard will put the Queen off lay for about a month. Only you can make the judgement. And only you can put the inspection board in to see what the natural dead mite drop is.

Have a plan and if you haven’t a plan, make one. Order those bits of equipment now!

Malcolm Wilkie February 11th 2019

PS Hope you enjoy these videos taken today in St Leonards.

Christmas is nearly here and finally it is a quiet time in the apiary for the beekeeper. Autumn has been wet and like many of you I have wrapped my hives in a breathable roofing membrane. This keeps my wooden hives dry but lets out any moisture that the bees are producing.

Above is what Helen did for her bees at the end of October. You have to cut out a section so you don’t block up their entrance, of course. Keeping the bees dry really does make a difference as wet hives encourages fungal infections to grow on the bees and colonies will suffer. Even at this late stage this is something you could do on a dry day. I just fix the membrane on with drawing pins and crudely cut a section for the entrance.

If you have a WBC hive or a poly hive then this is not something you have to do (the outer skin of the WBC keeps the inner boxes dry and a poly hive sheds water, unlike wood which can retain moisture even if you have been careful and treated it with linseed oil).

All may be quiet with the bees (although these exceptionally mild temperatures are encouraging them out ) but there is still something you can do to help colonies. Bees often decide to take a brood break between mid-December and very early January. Because this is so this enables one to treat a colony with bad varroa with oxalic acid, either by the trickle method or by sublimating them. Please refer to my article last January if you are going to sublimate them, and make sure you have the right mask. By doing it now when there is no brood you will kill 96% of the mites. There is no real difference in efficacy between the two methods although if you are using the trickle method a Queen can only be treated once in her lifetime so write down in your records what you have done in case you are tempted to use this method again next year. With sublimation the number of times a Queen is treated does not seem to matter.

I have found boxes of bees that have been treated with either method have done really well and have romped away in the Spring. Keith would encourage you to monitor your natural dead mite drop for a week and then to go on bee base and use the varroa calculator as he does not like bees just being treated prophylactically. And he is absolutely right. Count the drop, do the calculation and then only treat if you need to.

If you decide on the trickle method it would be best to buy oxalic acid already mixed in to sugar syrup. Let the bee farmer get the correct concentration for you as otherwise you could kill your bees. The trickle method works because the bees pass the syrup containing the oxalic acid between themselves via trophallaxis. However some bees will get a higher dose as they will have come directly into contact with your syrup and so inevitably there will be some casualties. But for the greater good of the colony........

Finally an idea for a Christmas present. If you have been keeping bees for a year or two and have not read Bill Turnbull’s novel ‘The bad beekeepers club’ then you should ask to be given the novel for Christmas. It is hilarious. I suspect most of us will recognise aspects of our own beekeeping in what he recounts or even things we may have done ourselves. However on no account should it be given to the wife or husband of the beekeeper unless they have a good sense of humour!

Happy Christmas everyone and happy beekeeping.

Malcolm Wilkie 11th December 2018

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Bill Turnbull presents Lesley the Berry cup

Our own Lesley Francis has been awarded the Berry cup for two identical jars of her wonderful honey. This cup is awarded to a new Sussex beekeeper who has never won a first prize at the National honey show (novice class 252).

Several of our members entered Honey this year and we picked up several awards. In the Sussex gift class (248) Helen Hadley was awarded a second prize, Lesley a third prize and I was awarded a highly commended for our honeys. I was awarded a second for my soft set honey (class 245) although the credit for this should really go to Helen as she was the one who made it for me on the beginners’ extraction day. John Miller and Jo and Rob Gore (who were on the beginners course this year) entered class 5 as did Lesley, myself and Helen. This class is for two jars of liquid honey. Judges comments are given in this class only. There were over 60 entries and John was awarded fourth prize for his excellent presentation and lovely honey tasting of summer flowers. The judge said of his honey that it gleamed.

Is this not amazing for a beginner in our association? Of course now I am going to tell you how that was achieved. If you have read my article last year you will realise the shenanigans that goes in to present the honey as the judges require. And of course as John is a beginner I prepared his honey for show. His light honey was completely granulated (funny how some honeys granulate after only a month whereas others, like the Gores’s or Lesley’s, never seem to want to granulate) so I put it in my warming cabinet for four days. This did not have the desired effect (it had begun to melt but was streaky with granulation) and so on Tuesday night (the show was on Thursday) I decided radical measures were required. Wednesday was a committee meeting so Tuesday was my window. So the choice was microwave or oven. I opted for the oven and at 7pm put my gas oven on its lowest setting. My own honey was in the oven as was the Gores’s, as having done the torch test there was ‘incipient granulation’ and as we all know the judges consider this to be a disease!

At 8pm I had a look. IG was still present. At 9pm I had a look and IG was still present. The Gores’s honey looked clear as did my own but John’s was still cloudy. I removed all honeys except John’s from the oven.  I now ramped up the oven and looked at the 10 O’Clock news. At 10:30 PM I opened the oven for the third time and miraculously John’s granulated honey had decided to clear! It was really warm but I could remove it from the oven without any oven gloves. As I had done for all the other honeys I took the lid off. There was stickiness around the outside rim and around the inside rim as well. So I carefully took a clean J cloth and wetted it and then removed the honey as best I could. There were one or two tiny flecks of dirt in his honey so I got a sharp knife and carefully removed them. I then spooned our some honey as the jars were overfull. For the National honey show a jar needs to be full enough so that you can see no gap between the honey and the lid. It mustn’t  contain too much either because if the honey touches the metal lid it can taint the honey and give it a nasty flavour. If there is an air gap honey will often not be judged because they do not think you have put the right weight of honey into the jar. I then took a spoon and carefully cleared away all the cream and the bubbles that were on top of his honey. I placed a new lid onto the honey and went to bed.

The rest is history as he won his award. Both he and the Gores and Lesley got good comments although I was told my own needed to be presented better! Evidently I had not taken as much care over my own as I had with the everyone else’s honey.

Here is Lesley’s advice to you all.

When doing your extraction, make sure everything is as clean as it possibly can be. Judges tend not to like legs, thoraxes, heads, or other bits of bees! Extraneous material doesn’t improve your chance of winning.
Run your jars through the dishwasher before filling. Clean your hands before touching your jars.
If you have no warming cabinet, improvise!
A good, accurate, fan assisted oven works wonders!
Don’t let Malcolm’s grubby fingers wander over the jars!
Remove the cream and bubbles from the top of the honey.
Choose one of your most recent extractions as you want the aroma to be good.

Now we have our own honey show this coming Saturday afternoon. Many beekeepers have got honey this year. When you first start beekeeping it can be hard to actually get honey and if you are a recent beekeeper you should be proud if you managed your bees well enough to get honey. So bring it along. If you have never won a first prize then you can enter the novice class. We don’t ask for it to be presented in a pound jar. Even if you are a new beekeeper you can enter the other two classes if you have the honey (ed: If someone has entered the Novice class then they cannot enter any other honey class. They can enter the other 3 and then not the novice.) I have been asked to judge one of the categories (not the novice class as that is judged by everyone present tasting the honeys and then voting for their favourite one). I do not require your honey to be pristine and gleaming. Flavour is what matters and only your own bees have control over that. In a way it is not you that are being judged but your bees. I like dark, medium and light honeys so everyone stands a chance.

There is one proviso though. If there is extraneous material in the honey (and I know some might argue it is extra protein) I shall take a dim view. Last year there was one honey that I liked, and would have awarded a prize to, but the extraneous material present counted against it.  At least take off the lid and look at what is on the surface of your honey before bringing it to the show. The careful use of a tea spoon or knife can do wonders. That is as it should be because if you ever sell your honey to the public bad presentation like that will put them off buying your honey in the future.

There are classes for candles and Johannes no longer is with us so anyone with candles stands a good chance. The cut comb class is for the experts. If you are entering that class you have really arrived as a beekeeper.

I look forward to seeing as many of you as can possibly make it. Most of the afternoon is given over to tea and cake and a good social.

Sam and Amanda would like the form filled in with your entry to speed up the afternoon. However honey or products will be accepted on the day. You may just get a black look! But don’t tell them I told you!

Malcolm Wilkie - October 2018


N.B. Spoilage of honey can be through overheating. Prolonged exposure to heat causes enzymes to reduce and HMF to increase, affecting colour (darkens), aroma and flavour (too much heat toffee flavour). A storage temperature of 21-27°C will prevent granulation and deterioration but destroy enzymes and raise HMF levels. 60°C for 45 minutes can be used to retard crystallisation but 60°C for two hours causes noticeable degradation.

This has been an exceptional year for honey. Those who have managed their colonies correctly will have had honey to extract.
Once the honey has been extracted from your supers one is left with the problem of getting the bees to clean up the mess you have created.
Firstly it is advisable for supers to go back on the colonies that evening. The later, the better. This is to cut down on the possibility of robbing.
Secondly how should you put the supers back onto your hive? You will still have your crown boards with porter bee escapes in place on your hives. With your hive tool, remove the escapes. Then simply place the wet supers that belong to that hive back on top of the crown board. If you are lucky you may be able to do this without any smoke. However personally I still light  the smoker.
Leave the supers on the hive for two or three days and then remove them if they have been cleaned out. These can be stored in your bee shed once they have been sprayed with Certan against wax moth.
Sometimes a colony doesn’t play ball. They start to chuck nectar back into the supers that have been removed. So you need to do something. Place an empty super on top of your crown board, place another crown board on top of the empty super, place your supers that you want cleared out on top of that crown board, then replace another crown board on top of all those supers and then finally replace the roof. In other words you never can have too many crown boards!
Oh, I hear you say, I will just leave the supers for the bees. Mistake! If you are keeping your bees on 14*12 frames you shouldn’t really leave them a super. That brood box is big enough for them to over winter. In fact giving them an extra super will create a much bigger volume and colder environment for them during the winter months. WBC owners don’t have to worry about this of course because of the double skin provided by the lifts and poly hive owners also will probably get away with creating a larger volume. For me the ideal as an owner of wooden hives is to have them in the 14*12 brood box with the outside frames filled with honey. Of course bees will survive given a bigger volume as long as there are loads of them and the hive is situated in a nice warm winter site. However if this is not the case they may struggle, and you may find yourself at the beginning of next year with bees that have survived but have developed fungal infections or that simply do not survive.
So what am I going to do with that super of honey that I haven’t extracted?
Two options. Certan and store in your shed. Or try and get the bees to rob it out and place the honey in the brood box.
You can get them to rob it out by following the advice given above for clearing wet supers. i.e. you need loads of crown boards. I will do this with some supers in early September once the temperatures have started to fall.
Below is a picture of what happens if you don’t use Certan. Once again advice is, do as I say, don’t do as I do! There is a good reason, of course, why I have a picture!!!


Malcolm Wilkie 16th August 2018

“I have messed up, I don’t have a queen and my colony is doomed”
Reply from an experienced beekeeper: “are you absolutely sure?”
Newbee: “Yes I am absolutely sure”
Experienced beekeeper (thinking to themselves) “Here we go again, yet another one who thinks they don’t have a queen”

I suspect most of you will have noticed that there is no let up with the nectar flow. Today I saw my honeybees working a huge eucalyptus tree that was in flower. Incredible what is in the environment when you start looking.

I have gone and helped a number of people including newbees who have gone into their brood boxes and just found the whole brood box clogged up with stores. They have concluded that they have no Queen, particularly if it is a new queen that they have not yet seen in lay.

Before going out and buying a queen they need to think logically about the situation. We have for the last couple of months had the most exceptional nectar flow and the bees, programmed to collect nectar, have done so daily. Some colonies have put off the Queen laying eggs in order to take advantage of these exceptional conditions. Other colonies, where splits have been done, have not bothered to get the new queen to do her job. They have been far busier taking advantage of the exceptional conditions in the environment.

Now here’s the rub. Owners of that colony panic. The thing is the bees aren’t panicking, it is the beekeeper! They examine their bees and conclude that there is no Queen. However if the colony is calm (and it does not have to be super calm) it is highly likely that there really is a queen after all. No evidence of eggs or brood is not necessarily a sign of a queenless colony. This is particularly the case if there are a lot of bees. When we artificially create a big colony by letting them have only one queen cell the bees are not really motivated to put their queen into lay. They know and she knows that they are big enough to survive the winter.

However you should be concerned if there is no brood at this stage of the year, even if the bees don’t seem to be so. This is because the bees that are hatching during August and September will ensure the survival of your colony next year. So you need to make sure that your queen comes back into lay. How are you going to do this? Well the first thing that you must do is create space in the brood box for your queen to lay eggs! Go through and remove the outer frames of stores. Put them in your extractor and spin out the honey. Then, replace them into the brood box in a central position. This will artificially create the necessary space for your queen to start doing her job. If your Queen has started to lay but the brood box is chogged up with too many frames of stores then these spun out combs can be placed next to the brood nest.

In addition if you have a new queen who seems reluctant to come into lay it is always a good idea to give her a frame of eggs or young larvae as this will often kick start her into laying. If you do this one week, the likelihood is that the next week she will be on that frame adding eggs around the edge of the brood nest. You can then stop panicking!

Just remember the bees know better than we do but you can help the situation by doing what I have suggested above.

Malcolm Wilkie 3rd August 2018