Malcolm’s Topical Tips

Nothing wrong with a bit of hyperbole now and again. Our Honey Queen, Helen Hadley has won a first for her lovely medium honey in an open class of 67 competitors at the National Honey Show in London. This class (class 5) is open to beekeepers from around the world and if you look carefully at the photo of Helen the range of honeys can be seen behind her. Not only that but one of our beginners (Victoria Chesterfield) was awarded a third for her ‘lovely’ light honey in the same class.

Amazing that the HWBKA should be classed first and third in such a huge World class. We surpassed ourselves.

Our Honey Queen

Now our dominance is not yet complete. Several of us entered the Sussex classes (which for many years have not attracted many entries). The honey Queen won a first for her soft set, Lesley Francis a second for her soft set, Rob Gore a second for his light honey and a second for class 252, which is a novice class. I got a VHC for my medium honey, John Miller a third for his medium honey and Lesley a highly commended for her medium honey. Kirsty Cable a second for her dark honey.  I got Lesley to enter cut comb honey and I did so myself. I have never made cut comb before! She got a first prize and I got the second prize. Thank you, Helen, for all your advice and guidance. On top of that Lesley entered her naturally crystallised honey and that won another first prize.

Class 5

The surprise is that as Lesley did so well in so many Sussex classes, she was awarded The Crawley Cup. This cup is awarded to the person in Sussex with enough points to be placed second overall in all the Sussex classes. She strongly believes this is in no small part due to the fact that the High Weald did so well in the Sussex classes that the usual contenders (the same names appear on the cups year after year) were denied points thus enabling her to win this prestigious cup. Thank you, therefore, all of you who entered and won prizes.

Leslie receiving The Crawley Cup

So how was all this achieved? Runny honey should have no Incipient granulation (sugar crystals beginning to form). Heat the honey either in a warming cabinet, an oven or in a Bain Marie on the hob. Lesley left her honey overnight in the oven at 45 degrees (an accurate Miele oven), Helen used a Bain Marie. She brings the water with the honey jars in it up to the boil and switches the heat off. She repeats this until the honey clears. I have a warming cabinet. I mistakenly left Alan Rough’s honey in the cabinet for 3 days at 43 degrees and the judges’ comments were very complimentary! It certainly cleared the honey. One of Victoria’s jars showed IG and in desperation I shoved it in the oven for half an hour. Not so hot that I couldn’t lift if out the oven with my bare hands, but I would have been unable to hold it for long. Sorry but I don’t have an accurate oven. That did the trick, though I thought I might have sunk her chances as the jar had already been labelled and the label looked somewhat grubbier after it had been in my oven. Sorry Victoria (giving me your honey to prepare is a bit like Russian roulette; you never quite know what is going to happen). Still, Victoria, third in the world isn’t bad!

Butchered comb!

The cut comb was a fiasco. Last year on Helen’s advice I had purchased some Manley frames and this year I bought thin wireless foundation. At extraction time these went into the freezer to stop granulation happening. A week before the show these were defrosted, and I butchered the frames. I made a template and cut round this only to find that my wretched square of comb did not weigh enough (minimum 200g). Lesley was the beneficiary of my experience and when she prepared her own a plastic ruler was used and a more generous piece cut out. That could have ended in tears as having left the piece of comb to drain overnight, her mother pops round, enters the kitchen, sees the cut comb and promptly prods it! Ban family members where honey preparation is taking place! Fortunately, no damage done this time. As I assumed, I might be disqualified for underweight cut comb I drizzled a little honey into my box to achieve the requisite weight. That could have backfired, but it didn’t!

A big personal thank you to Helen for her advice (cut comb, soft set honey) and also to Maggie Pratt for her talk on preparing honey for show.

Maggie Pratt with Leslie, Rob and Jo

Now we have our own honey show on the 23rd of November. It is your bees and not you that are being judged. This is the comment that Jo Gore made to me about making soft set honey: ‘you know, Malcolm, I thought that if you were able to make soft set honey then I would have no trouble making some too’. She’s right, none of the above is very difficult.

So, if you have any honey, enter it. It has not been an easy year and you should be proud. All beginners should bring along their own honey in whatever sized jar they have. We all taste them all and vote for our favourite. It’s good fun.

Some links to Malcolm’s “Topical Tips” from previous years:

2018 Honey Show (includes some tips)

2017 Honey Show (includes a lot of preparation tips)

N.B. A word about heating honey

  • Enzymes
    Honey should not have been heated in such a way that the natural enzymes have been either destroyed or significantly inactivated (Enzymes start to break down at temperatures above 45°C).
    Heat to 50°C until liquid and clear (this can take from 1 to 3 days depending on the amount and type of honey)
  • Breakdown products
    The chemical composition of honey slowly changes over time. These changes are accelerated by heating.
    The most important breakdown product is hydroxymethylfurfural – HMF (formerly known as hydroxymethylfurfuraldehyde). Allowable limits in honey are 40 ppm (40 mg/kg).
Bertie Bear

There are two sessions organised by the HWBKA for our members. Both of interest to everybody.

The first session is on Thursday week (26th of September). Maggie Pratt has agreed to talk about preparing honey for showing. The session is useful because it teaches you how you should present your honey for a judge. Lessons learned by doing so will help you to present your own honey for sale. The session will also cover how to make soft set honey. This is something that every beekeeper in our association should know how to do. Out of a less than decent honey you can make a superb product.

Then on October 15th we have Mike Cullen talking about the BBKA exam system. His talk will centre around the basic assessment.

I suspect a lot of you will just think that this is not for them. How wrong you are! Once you have been a beekeeper for one or two years, it is very difficult to know how to progress any further. Sitting the basic (a purely practical exam) will help everyone of us to improve . You open a hive with an experienced well qualified beekeeper and have a chat about things like swarming or honey labelling.

This exam is for anyone who has kept bees for a full year and has extracted a honey crop. It is straightforward and not at all difficult. But it helps you to centre on what is important. In a sense it is more like a chat and an exam. And you always learn something!

 I am very keen that as many of you as possible sit this exam. So in the New Year Peter Halford and myself will run a session about the exam and then afterwards (for anyone interested) in people’s apiaries or at Slab Castle, small groups can take a mock exam.  You will then be able to sit the basic sometime in the summer.

This is not only for people who have done the beginners course but for anybody in the Association who keeps bees and has kept bees for a year or two. You will be a much better beekeeper in consequence. Come to the talk! He is a wonderful, experienced, competent and nice master beekeeper. And he has said that he will concentrate on the basic exam and what is required for that. You should all come and find out.

Sign up for both sessions by following the links below:

Malcolm Wilkie 18th Sep 2019

At present you have a window, but that window is fast disappearing

I am talking about feeding your bees. In August you will have done your autumn treatments if you discovered that there were a lot of varroa on your bees. Now once those treatments are finished, is the time when you should calculate the stores you have on your hive. In a 14 x 12 deep national brood frame, there can be 7 pounds of stores. But that is a brood frame crammed, stuffed, chockablock with honey. In an ordinary national brood frame, there can be 5 pounds of stores but it has to be a really full frame.

An ordinary colony needs 40lbs of stores in order to overwinter successfully. That is quite heavy and it should be difficult to lift the brood box because of the weight.

The problem for beginners is that they often don’t have a large, prosperous colony. They won’t have a 14 x 12 brood box crammed full of bees. They still need to feed, however. But there is one proviso. Be careful that you don’t feed so much that the bees stuff the brood nest with your sugar syrup and put the Queen off lay. A better strategy for those of you with only six or seven seams of bees is to feed some syrup every other day. This will mimic a natural nectar flow. But you had better get on with it now. The window of weather is fast disappearing and before you know it temperatures will be too low for the bees to be able to convert your sugar syrup into stores.

There is another benefit to feeding regularly at this time of year. Ivy has started to flower and ivy honey granulates rock hard in the comb. The Ivy honey will therefore be mixed with your syrup and will be much easier for the bees to access during winter.

But what about my super, I hear you cry? Remove it (if you are wanting the bees to have it over winter) store it , feed and then put it back on. That will guarantee that your sugar syrup is put directly into the brood box.

You may even decide to under super. This isn’t at all difficult as long as there are two of you. The advantage of under supering is that the bees will probably take the honey up into the brood nest, which is where you want it during the winter. If you leave the super above the brood nest that probably will be fine as long as the brood box contains sufficient stores. Have you been through and calculated? You will need to remove the queen excluder (ALL Queen excluders should be put in the shed!), and you will need to be vigilant. As soon as it warms up in March you will have to pop that queen excluder back in, making sure that your queen is downstairs and not upstairs.

If you need to do a winter treatment because of varroa, it is much better not to have a super on the bees. Margaret Mawson who runs colonies on 14 x 12 boxes never leaves a super on the bees. Why is this? It’s all about managing them and giving oneself options. So much easier if there isn’t a super because then if you need to treat you will be able to do so. You won’t, however,  if the super is on the hive, or if you do treat them any honey in that super will not be fit for human consumption. I myself never leave supers on the hives. I have 14 x 12 boxes and an additional super is a hell of a large volume for a colony. Our president, Peter Coxon, who does not treat his bees always leaves his super/s on his hives. He whips the supers off in March/April and extracts the honey. But he did have a problem this year because a lot of ivy honey wouldn’t come out of the combs. BUT he does not treat.

Finally I want you all to look at this video.

One of our members has already been informed by the Yalding Association that there are Asian hornets in Ashford. In order to cope with this exotic pest we will all need to keep large colonies. I don’t think I have very many large colonies myself and all of us are going to have to decide what we need to do to ensure that our colonies are large, prosperous and capable of coping with the harassment from this very nasty hornet.

This Asian hornet was caught by Kate Lawes in Normandy during our visit to French beekeepers there. Forgive my enthusiasm, but I was delighted that we had actually seen one and seen it hawking. Apparently if there are five Hornets hawking outside the hive, then the bees no longer go out and forage, and no longer collect pollen, and that is why colonies collapse. I’m sorry but I cannot feel sorry for this Asian hornet. Asian Hornets are going to prove a headache for us all and I suspect many of you may even give up beekeeping.

Malcolm Wilkie 11th September 2019

Just a reminder to everyone in the Association that there is the National honey show at the end of October which is held at Sandown Park racecourse in London.

There are a program of lectures and workshops and all you need to do is google “the National honey show“ to find out what is on offer. Bookings for workshops start on the 1st of September and you need to be quick if you want to get the workshop that you would like to do. If you are interested in soap making Sarah Rob has a workshop called pampering potions but you definitely need to book that one up on the 1st of September. There looks to be a good workshop by Phil McAnespie on swarm control and that will get booked up very quickly.

Apart from the lectures and workshops there is the trade Hall. Helen and I buy our jars for the next season, frames that we will be able to make up and there are just thousands of other items that can be picked up at reasonable prices. For instance I bought a really good 6 frame mating hive   with a division board allowing me to raise two queens. I purchased a sheriff bee suit and that was specially adapted for me as I have extremely short legs! Measurements were taken at the show.

Beginners who come on Saturday have a program of lectures specially for them and these are held by master Beekeepers and are always useful.

If you are only intending to go for one day, then Friday is probably the best day before all the best bargains have disappeared.

I am hoping to be able to enter some of my honey. If you are thinking of doing so, then perhaps read some of my past articles about preparing honey for showing. If you are busy and cannot get up to the show then lectures are recorded and you will be able to listen to them at home on your computer or iPad. But you won’t get those bargains, of course.

Malcolm Wilkie Aug 20th 2019

At this time of year this is the question that I am most frequently asked by beginners and by more experienced beekeepers. If you follow these topical tips that I try and send out regularly, you will realise that there is often no one straightforward answer. It all depends on how you manage your bees.

Leaving a super of honey or taking the supers away from the bees all depends on how you wish to manage your charges. And I would argue it all depends on what the level of varroa is in your colonies and how many bees you have got in those colonies. If you have done as the BBKA recommends you will already have extracted your honey, and you will have left an inspection board in for one full week in order to calculate the natural mite drop in your colony. If your colony is a medium-size one or a small one, then you will have taken back the super/s after one day once the bees have licked out the honey left over from your extraction. This is an easy scenario because if you need to treat for varroa then there will be no supers on the hive and you can use a thymol product like Apiguard together with an eke and that will clean up the bees ready to go into winter.

If you have a super full of honey and your varroa drop is still high then you can always take that super away from the bees, treat, and then put the super back on them. This will have the added advantage of encouraging them to put any nectar they collected this time of the year into the brood box, which is where you want it. However, be careful how that is stored because wasps and local honeybees can move into your garage or bee shed if they find that honey! The difficult situation comes when you have an extremely large colony with three or four supers on them. Removing all those supers and crowding the bees into the brood box may not be a very intelligent idea. Crowding bees at any time of the year can encourage swarming!

A large populous colony will no doubt have varroa and that can be building up at this time of year. They may still be collecting nectar and making honey and some people will still be able to do an extraction in early September. The catch 22 is that a lot of the treatments against varroa mite only properly work when the temperatures are high enough. And so, this treatment should be carried out now in August. And those treatments cannot be used if there are supers on the hive.

It is because I often experience the above scenario that I do not often treat in August but sublimate with oxalic acid in December. I know our French counter parts would argue that that is not good because it is the winter bees being made at the moment that are the ones that are going to carry the colony through the winter. However, I make one proviso. That is that if I find a huge mite drop at this time of year and distressingly see that there are a lot of deformed wings, then I will make sure that I treat. That is a good tip for you all – look now for DWV on your bees. If you see it, alarm bells should be ringing. And if alarm bells are ringing, do something.

Malcolm Wilkie 17th August 2019