Malcolm’s Topical Tips – July

> Swarming is still going on and yet not all is bad as those of you with well managed colonies will have supers that are currently full of nectar as prosperous colonies take advantage of the nectar flow. In two days a good colony can fill a super with nectar.
>
> However what I want to talk about this month are nucleus colonies. What I mean by a nucleus is a quarter sized or half sized colony. I have 14*12 brood boxes and I have some 'colonies' on about 5 or 6 frames and with between two and four frames of brood. The reasons for small units like this can be multifarious; a bought in nucleus, a nucleus you have made up yourself,a box of bees that has been split (and has then swarmed despite precautions taken ). I cannot imagine that I am the only one who finds himself with a quarter or half sized colony.
>
> So what does one do? Beginners find themselves in this scenario and always ask what do I do about feeding. At least if they are actually asking the question, they have begun to understand that what they do now is going to determine whether the unit they have becomes big enough to then go on and survive the winter. What beginners do not grasp is that the small unit they have has a gargantuan task ahead of them; they need to draw out all the frames in their new hive and at the same time increase their numbers. This is a tall order for a small unit. It is young bees that draw out wax and there are not enough of them to do do it quickly. So what can one do to help them?
>
> The first thing to do is not to give them too many new frames to work on. Put one frame of foundation on the sunniest side of the box (bees need to generate a lot of heat to draw out wax). Put another on the other side of your colony and then add a dummy board. This helps keep in the warmth. The ideal dummy board is one made from cellotex (wall insulation material). And then you need to feed and feed and feed. A plastic frame feeder that is within the hive itself with a wooden float is good (the advantage of a frame feeder is that the bees usually clean it out completely and so it does not need to be washed) or otherwise a small contact feeder (plastic container with a small hole covered by gauze). The later gives a slow continual feed to the bees. You can add some hive clean to the syrup to prevent mould taking a hold. The feeder needs to be washed out and cleaned each time it is refilled because the syrup will go mouldy. In my experience with a small contact feeder it may take them about two weeks to empty it . With a nucleus this is all an uphill struggle. What you are aiming for is to reach that elusive tipping point when the colony is big enough to be healthy and prosperous. They will need a steady trickle of syrup to draw out your frames. If going away on holiday get a fellow beekeeper to come round and top up the feeder. Missing out at this early stage of the summer may have a bearing on what sort of colony you have next year and whether you get a honey crop or not and even whether they then survive the winter. Remember a small unit inside a big box finds it difficult to keep itself warm over the winter period.
>
> If the nucleus is already large, then you may have to be careful not to encourage swarming. You may need to feed, and then stop feeding and then feed again. It will have to be your own judgement. Generosity at this stage will give you a prosperous colony next year able to take advantage of the nectar flows that will occur.
> I hope that those of you with a small unit will now be able to develop a strategy for you bees. I helped a beginner a few years ago by giving him a tiny nucleus in May. I told Richard he could play with it as I just did not have the time to look after it. He was bonkers about having his first box of bees and he fed it and fed it. He had a lovely colony by the end of the year but it was hard work. I called his bees ' the Vivaldi bees' because that is what he played on his car radio to them when he initially took them home.
>
> Malcolm Wilkie July 2016

Leave a Reply