Recent Topical News Items

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

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

Malcolm Wilkie 22nd March 2018

Peter Halford has sent everyone a long-range weather forecast. What does this mean for you and your bees?

Currently a lot of colonies have begun to raise brood. This is a stressful time as older winter bees are having to produce brood food from their hypopharangeal  glands. It is a bit like asking grandmothers to suddenly produce milk! In human terms this would be a bloody miracle.

In order for brood food to be produced colonies need pollen and in quantity. You probably have seen pollen going into strong hives over the last week or two. If you have an inspection board you will see tiny wax cappings on it as the bees start eating the honey in order to keep the temperature up in the brood nest.

We forget, however, how important pollen also is for our colonies of bees. In 2013 we had a very wet, cold spring and over half the colonies in the UK died off in consequence. In the bee world it was Armageddon!

My concern is that we may be in for a similar scenario. We have cold weather arriving over Easter and if this continues into the month of April we could have a problem. Our charges need to get out of their hives and collect pollen and they are only going to do this if temperatures are at about 8°. Preferably we need temperatures of 14 degrees for optimal pollen collection.

If they are incarcerated in their hives due to a run of low temperature, then colonies can collapse. What should you do? You should buy a pollen patty and put it onto the hive. Normally one doesn’t have to do this but if for two or three weeks at this critical stage we get very low temperatures, then this is the solution. Keith put pollen patties on his hives in 2013 and they survived. Watch the weather carefully, please!

Malcolm Wilkie 22nd March 2018

an extract from the Thornes February 2018 newsletter

What do your bees need?

Your bees are very self-sufficient; they only need four things, and will only collect five things… The four things they need are water, propolis, nectar and pollen. Water they use during the summer to cool the hive and during the spring to dissolve old granulated honey, to clean and free up comb into which the Queen can lay and to expand the nest. Propolis is used to fill in cracks and crevices, and to line the inside of the cells prior to the Queen laying eggs. Propolis has antibiotic and anti-microbial properties and is used to clean and protect the nest. Nectar is collected in vast amounts and evaporated down to generate the honey the colony runs on. Honey gives the bees the carbohydrate energy they need to live, fly and make wax. Wax workers consume large amounts of honey, cluster to generate heat, and literally sweat wax from their abdomens. This wax gives them the building material for the nest. Finally pollen. The frame above has a wide strip of pollen, under the honey in the top corners, above the darker brood, giving target like appearance of rings to the nest. If the brood frames lack the pollen arc, or it’s not as thick as this one, I would suggest you give your bees a boost. Brood food is given to the larvae prior to being capped and is made from Honey and Pollen. The Pollen gives the bees protein that they need for growing more bees. The availability of water and pollen is very important to the wellbeing of the colony in early spring. You may consider giving your bees a protein supplement, such as Nektapoll, Apicandy Proteico or Feed Bee, all of these contain extra protein content and aid the spring build-up. A local water source will also aid your bees and reduce the early spring losses. Oh yes – the fifth thing, this is usually a result of weakened colonies… Robbing! The weak will usually be exploited by the strong; in this case the stores (honey) will be stolen by the stronger colonies. Keeping all your colonies at more or less equal strengths, helps to alleviate this behaviour.