Author Archives: Peter Halford

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.

Malcolm Wilkie - 23rd May 2019 (Resent from June 2017 and May 2018)

Above is a dead queen cell larva removed from one of my hives today. This was the only queen cell I had left in the colony so I will now have to find a queen cell or a virgin queen to bring this colony back from the brink.

This virus is black queen cell virus and only affects queen cells. Worker and drone larvae are not affected.

On the positive side at least I am on the ball and so with this colony I had gone in to check the cell and as it was still sealed (and that was a week after my calculations that it should have hatched), I opened it up and found this dead larva.

I know we tell beginners to leave everything well alone when a virgin is emerging (there is always a danger of squashing ‘her’ if one is unlucky). However, I only gently go into the hive and then go straight to the frame I marked with the drawing pin. Of course, if I have heard a virgin piping (yes, I always do listen) I don’t disturb. So, the positive is I know I need to do something.

We teach beginners about DWV (deformed wing virus). Varroasis (having let varroa get out of control) is a sad sight to behold with dead pupae half emerged from their cells with their tongues hanging out. Varroasis would be the consequence of ignoring DWV.

The worst to behold is chronic bee paralysis virus. This is even more upsetting as the bees all quiver and shake. Usually destruction is recommended although Helen Hadley and Peter Coxon have managed to successfully turn around a colony. But what you have to do is brutal.

There are also many other viruses and they are prevalent because varroa transfers viruses between bees, and so something that would naturally only ever be a background problem can suddenly get out of hand.

We all need to be aware of problems that occur and strive to keep healthy bees. Changing comb, treating against varroa if necessary, shook swarming, giving feed if suddenly there is a dearth of nectar in the environment, making sure in August that the bees emerging are in tip top shape to carry the colony through the winter and of course feeding properly in September.

There are also products which promote bee health such as Hive Alive and these also can be used and, in my experience, seem to boost the number of bees you get in a colony.

Malcolm Wilkie 19th May 2019

Here are a few ideas for anyone who has just started keeping bees or has only been keeping bees for one or two years. It will help you plan for the season ahead. Perhaps also a reminder for those of you who have kept bees for a longer time.


• Apiguard (a type of thymol gel) to treat colonies in August for varroa.
• An eke for each colony (to apply the Apiguard). If you are good with your hands you can make one yourself.
• Super frames and wax foundation (in the hope your bees will make you some honey). Make up the frames but don't add wax until you are ready. Keep the wax indoors in a dry but cool place but not near a heat source. Under a spare room bed is ideal.
• A contact feeder. Everyone should have one. This is the feeder with the fine mesh covering a central hole. To use you need to have an empty super placed on top of the crown board.
• 2 Queen clips. Make sure the spring works really well. If in doubt ask Helen or Keith.
• A spare hive tool. As brightly coloured as possible.

What would be good

• A polystyrene nucleus box. Contact Paynes beforehand so that they put it on their lorry. Specify size i.e. ordinary national, deep national, commercial, WBC. The owner of a nucleus box can get themselves out of so much trouble. Every new beekeeper should have one. They are not that expensive
• A plastic rapid feeder for each colony. Never buy wooden; they leak and that causes robbing. Make sure the feeder you are buying is the right size for your hives!

What I would be cautious about buying

• Bad quality equipment in the auction.
• A honey extractor in the auction that does not work. Why do they allow them to go into the sale?
• A colony of bees without a Queen. How can beekeepers allow a beginner to waste their money in this way?
• A colony of bees on the wrong sized frames for the hive type you have purchased. Only a strong colony can be shook swarmed.
• If you are thinking about buying bees at least check on the Internet what price a colony or nucleus usually is going for. Don't pay a lot more than you need to pay. Don't get carried away by the fact the bees are being auctioned.

As far as equipment to make increase is concerned, far better to wait until October and get the equipment at the national honey show, or wait until one of the autumn sales and buy the equipment at a fraction of the price at that moment (unless you have a strong colony and will have to divide it to stop swarming). But a nucleus box would get you out of this difficulty. Remember most beginners who manage to buy a whole colony at this time of year lose most of them in a swarm about a week after they have bought them. Your choice, but not having the possibility of dividing a colony will get you into trouble. Beginners you are warned.

Paynes 01273 843388
Ben and Maggi Pratt 01323 841249

And finally, some plants for the bees. Or just some plants. Keith always comes up with something quirky.

Malcolm Wilkie 15th May 2019