Malcolm’s Topical Tips

'Brood boxes are meant for brood'

Now this statement might appear blindingly obvious but as a beekeeper it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the brood box is meant for brood. And I have just seen so many hives where there is no room for a queen to expand at all and the beekeeper just seems to be unaware of that fact.

We encourage beekeepers to inspect their colonies once a week during May and June which are the prime months for swarming. Each one of you should be asking themselves about whether a queen has enough space to lay eggs every time they go into a colony. Well it is all fine and well to ask yourself the question, but what are you in fact doing to give her enough space? Here are some ideas which might help.

  1. Is there some empty drawn comb that could be moved next to the brood nest?
  1. Is there a frame of pollen near the brood nest that could either be removed from the hive or moved next to the hive wall? Some beekeepers talk about a pollen barrier. The Queen finds it difficult to cross the pollen barrier and expand her brood nest, and you as a beekeeper can help by moving it out the way or removing it completely.

(If you find a pollen barrier in your hive it is easy to recognise; pollens of different colour covered by honey. The frame on which you find  the pollens looks sticky and is gummed up. This is because  the bees have made bee bread which is their way of storing the pollen and keeping it fresh. However what it is important to bear in mind about such a frame is that it is nigh impossible for a queen to put eggs into it. So do something about it.)

  1. Should you add a frame of fresh foundation? This should be placed next to the brood nest or if you have an extremely prosperous colony you can commit the  ultimate sin and split the brood nest with your frame of foundation. Only do this if they are really strong.
  1. Perhaps your scenario is very different. Perhaps you have split a colony and they are desperately trying to expand but just don't seem to be getting on very well. Are you using a dummy board, preferably made from cellotex? Just give them one frame of foundation to work on at a time. Put your cellotex dummy board next to that piece of foundation. And then I would also feed such a small colony. However don't make the mistake of feeding continually because they will just fill every frame with sugar syrup and then the Queen will have nowhere to lay. Remember a small colony does not have enough young bees to draw out much wax so this is going to have to be a gradual process. Often with a small unit what you would like them to do in one week is realistically going to take them two. If you can get your head around the fact that bees are programmed to take advantage of a nectar flow and so will collect your sugar syrup and stuff it anywhere they can, even putting the queen off lay, then you will have grasped that too much feeding in one go may be counter productive. It is also jolly stressful for a small unit that has not yet reached the tipping point needed to easily expand, if you are continually pouring sugar syrup all over them. For a colony that needs to expand, feed and then don't feed, and then feed again and then don't feed, and then feed once again. Work put in by you in June will pay dividends in September. The longer you neglect supporting a weak colony, the more difficult it will be for them to grow into the box you have provided for them. Of course if you have drawn comb, by all means use that but beginners don't usually have the luxury of drawn comb.

Space in the brood box is fundamental. Congestion in the brood box can lead to swarming. And as beginners are rapidly finding out once the bees have decided to swarm there is  nothing you can do about it except manage that swarming instinct. Just remember, please, a brood box is for brood.

Malcolm Wilkie 15th June

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