Malcolm’s Topical Tips

Yet again this season has turned out to be like no other. As the bees were in condition I got a good spring honey crop, but what is so amazing is that they have continued to collect copious amounts of nectar even though the temperatures have been high and the soil dry. In the 14 years that I have been beekeeping I have never seen such a sustained and lengthy nectar flow. I do not really understand where the bees are going to collect such copious amounts of nectar, do you?

The problem for me is that I have just run out of equipment. I don’t have any supers left, I don’t have any super frames left and I certainly don’t have any wax foundation. In fact, I have been building foundationless frames and placing these between drawn out frames both in the brood boxes and the supers. This has worked fine but even though I am doing this brood boxes are nectar bound and the bees continually start to build comb above the crown board. Lesley has gable roofs and yesterday the bees had built comb up from the crown board right into the apex of the roof. As I refuse to spend any more on equipment I am left with no choice but to continue to extract as frequently as I can. The buckets are just stacking up! And I am exhausted!

Girls, Girls, Girls enough is enough : I Don’t Want any more honey!

In a usual year I am struggling to get the bees to cap the honey. However, this year I have whole supers where every single frame has been capped, even the outside frames which normally have very little honey or nectar in them. The bees are also drawing out further any super frames where I have left them space and some of those super frames are extremely heavy. In desperation I put some old stale wax and old frames on top of a colony - even that they have drawn out.

Helen suggested that I go and talk to the bees and ask them to take a holiday. I have done so. But you know what? They just seem to have ignored my suggestion and they are just continuing to collect. Hardly surprising as this is what bees are programmed to do when the conditions are right!

What are the consequences of all this? Well, if you don’t give the bees enough space and the brood box becomes nectar bound, eventually the cramped conditions will lead to them wanting to swarm again. Of course, we are not in prime swarming season but if there really is no space for them, bees may well swarm again. The other more concerning consequence of a brood box being nectar bound is that there won’t be enough space for the Queen to lay. August is a time when winter bees are being raised and if not enough winter bees are being raised then a colony could collapse later in the year because there are just not enough of the type of bee that will survive for five months and ensure the future survival of your colony next year. All very well to have thousands of summer bees (which live for only six weeks) but that counts for nothing unless you have a good number of winter bees with all those extra fat bodies and the capability of living for up to five months. Those are the bees (and they are physiologically different) that will be able to kick start the birth of a new generation next March.

My concern is that I still have a lot of supers on the hives. Once again, I have bought Apivar as my autumn treatment and I am conscious that that needs to go into the brood boxes soon. However, most of the colonies are extremely large and they are filling two or three supers and it is just not realistic for me to cramp them into a 14*12 brood box at the moment. I suspect that what I might do is pile up supers on certain hives so that I can treat those colonies that I really do want to survive this winter (those colonies headed by my most gentle and prolific queens). The remainder will probably have to be treated late August or early September. The one plus about Apivar is that it is not temperature dependent, unlike Apiguard or Api Life Var, so using it in September will kill the mites: I will just have to hope that enough winter bees will be being raised in September while my treatment is in place (ensuring healthy bees that are not infected with viruses ) to carry the colony through to next Spring. As I have said before nothing is straightforward in beekeeping.

So, what advice do I give you all?

Think about autumn treatments. Check the natural mite drop on your hives. Gauge when you are able to take supers away. Monitor the flow, just in case this incredible nectar flow suddenly dries up – after all there hasn’t been rain in certain parts for a very long time. Look closely for deformed wing virus as this is a sure indication that varroa really has taken hold. Observe the area around your hives and look out for crawlers. Perfect looking bees but bees that are unable to fly - that too is an indication that viruses are taking hold. Be aware that decisions you make now have a bearing on your colony’s survival. This is something that is so hard to explain to beginners, particularly when a colony at the moment seems so large and prosperous. But those of us who have been beekeeping for a very long time know that is no guarantee that the colony survives the winter. And in fact, large colonies may well have large numbers of varroa mites, which can put them particularly at risk if an Autumn treatment is not done.

Enjoy this exceptional year but be aware all this honey causes its own headache and management problems.

The positive is you will all have honey to enter into our honey show in November, won’t you?

Wild comb in the roof of a hive

One of the beginners nucs

Capped honey

Some massive super frames

Be careful not to leave wet super frames in a garage. This Video was in 2019. I wasn’t proud of myself!
Wasps not bees in this case

Remember - Enter into our honey show in November.

Malcolm Wilkie – 2nd August 2022

“Honey galore in sunny St Leonards” - by Malcolm Wilkie

Once again this season has been like no other. A very mild wet winter has meant that the bees have started building up really early and collecting a lot of nectar from spring flowers and trees : although we have had little rain so far the ground itself was moist and trees with their deep roots have been able to express nectar in great quantity.

The month of April was very kind from the point of view of the weather and so it is perhaps unsurprising that large colonies have wanted to swarm early. A few years ago the main swarming season was towards the end of May but this certainly hasn’t been the case this year for my bees.

My problem is that colonies on which I did swarm control by taking the Queen out on the nucleus have now built up to such an extent that they themselves also now need a super. Lesley and I now have 22 units between us, and those numbers seem to be mushrooming! As soon as the sun comes out Les’s garden hums so loudly that one thinks there must be a swarm somewhere. As our neighbour said when he looked over the fence the other day, the activity of your bees is rather like the M25 as there seems to be so much traffic.

Perhaps unsurprisingly I have run out of supers and a lot of the supers that I have on hives are so full of honey that the bees have nowhere to place the ingress of nectar. So I urgently need to do a honey extraction in order to create some space, because my concern is that new Queens will have nowhere to lay in the brood box and so that will trigger another round of swarming and of course that is what I want to avoid at all costs.

All of us as beekeepers need to keep an eagle eye on the weather. We have now just had a good dump of rain, and more is expected next week. The consequence of that, given the elevated temperatures, is that we will have the most humongous nectar flow and brood boxes will become honey bound if we are not careful. So if your bees are in condition, add supers and think about removing frames of stores from the brood box and replacing them with foundation. This will keep the bees busy and create space for a new queen to start her brood nest.

Below are some pictures of Lesley’s garden. The supers are so heavy that it is difficult to lift them off the hive. We don’t think there is rape in the vicinity this year. However in my out apiary that may not be the case and if I am unlucky when I can do an extraction (which is not until next week) the honey may have granulated to such an extent that I won’t even be able to get it out of the frames. Jo Groom avoided this problem last week because she realised that the honey was granulating before her eyes. That’s the difficulty with rape honey because it will set overnight if you’re not careful. So it needs to be put into jars at the same time as you are extracting if at all possible. Otherwise you’re going to have to use a warming cabinet. At least (because she is on the ball) she has extracted the ripe honey from her frames and they can now be used again. If I am unlucky and the honey in my out apiary has set rock-hard in the frames I will not be able to extract it and all that drawn wax will be wasted!

Lesley and I have never had a spring crop like this one before. Honey galore! As long as I can actually get it out of the frames!

  • Video - Nuc boxes in a row as part of swarm control. This is only a part of the garden!
  • Image-1 - Swarm control!
  • Image-2 - The top part of the garden.
  • Image-3 - The bottom part of the garden.

Despite the number of hives, the bees let us mow and strim in the garden without bothering us. Some of those bees are from last year’s calm queen project.

Rape honey can be a blessing or a curse.

  • Image-4 - Jo Groom’s extraction from yesterday. Definitely rape - it granulates before your eyes.
  • Image-5 - Jo’s honey granulating as she is bottling up. It will be set within 12 hours.

Malcolm Wilkie (training officer) – 20th May 2022

You should be aware that this is shaping up to be a bad year for colony losses, seemingly due to very levels of varroa. No doubt the odd weather this year has had an influence.

There has been much correspondence on the HWBKA WhatsApp group about losses. Our own Honey Queen Helen Hadley posted she had lost 3 and now reckons it is 9 so far. John Miller has lost one …the only one he forgot to treat. As a result, I (PC) inspected my own colonies a couple of days ago and discovered to my dismay I have lost 7 out of 12 so far.

There had been some talk of absconding on WhatsApp and indeed some of my deceased colonies which were previously very strong had just a few 10’s of bees left and loads of untouched stores, which puzzled me.

I decided to contact the Regional Bee Inspector Dan Etheridge, sent him some notes and had very long and very interesting conversation with him. His first impression is that I experienced a 'varroa bomb' as Randy Oliver calls them. Apparently, he reckons we are having the worst year ever for varroa induced colony collapses especially in the south; quote ...’my phone has not stopped ringing since the Christmas break’. For those of you who have been very rigorous in your varroa treatments it may not be such a problem.

As some of you know I have for more than a decade now tried to practice a policy of minimum intervention in the hope that by not treating quite so vigorously and supporting strains unable to tolerate varroa we might expect natural selection to do what it should and establish a new equilibrium with more tolerant bees, plus there is much published literature that bees are adapting. It had been working out. After 10+ years with very few losses I suppose I had been lulled into a false sense of security. However, this time I have been caught out.    

Dan was at great pains to point out that he is not against 'natural beekeeping' in the slightest and indeed tried himself for many years.  However, he was also at great pains to point out, and this is the very important salutary lesson I will take away from this experience, that one must monitor varroa very regularly and accurately. At least once a month and preferably using the alcohol or sugar wash technique rather than relying on the sticky board which he has found unreliable, otherwise, given the right conditions the varroa numbers can explode ‘exponentially’. Had I done this more conscientiously I would not have been caught out as I have been. It's not necessary to treat with varroacides religiously, regularly, needlessly or prophylactically. But it is essential to treat when really needed.

So, I’ll be going out to treat my remaining 5 colonies with the vaporiser tomorrow, 3 times 5 days apart as I’ve missed the brood break …not there would have been one in this record-breaking warm winter.

The completely empty ‘Marie Celeste’ colonies you’ll see in the photograph, and which one might think have absconded are not so unusual apparently as in some colonies most of the ailing bees have the decency to do a Captain Oates and take themselves off to die elsewhere.

Malcolm has been in touch with many members and is finding that losses are mounting. Such losses are more typically seen in February / March … this not looking like a ‘normal’ year

So, the message is check your hives now, and if concerned, it might not be too late to rescue them with an Oxalic acid sublimation …using ApiBioxal the approved product of course!

Stores a plenty
No bees

Not a good start to the year!

“Taking the queen out on a nucleus” - by Malcolm Wilkie

 I have been asked by one of my beginners last year how to take the queen out on a nucleus. This is one of the safest ways of keeping your old queen and is the method I teach beginners on our beginners course as the Pagden method can seem somewhat difficult if you have not experienced swarming before.

This is the method I use if I am making up a nucleus that is staying in my own apiary. The method is slightly different if you are taking the nucleus to another site more than 3 miles away.

  1. Place your queen in a queen clip
  2. Take 2 frames of sealed brood with no eggs or grubs if possible (this is important as it ensures that the nucleus will romp away as the young bees will not initially have to feed larvae and this brood will hatch in the next week)  but with the bees attached. Remove any queen cells from these frames, so pat the bees out the way and dig out any queen cells you find on these two frames. They are really good at hiding them as they will be prosperous and there could be as many as 60,000 bees densely covering the frames in your colony
  3. add 2 frames of stores with bees attached
  4. Some additional candy just in case the weather is bad for foraging. Put this in a top feeder if you have it. If no candy you can feed syrup BUT only after a couple days otherwise you will set up a robbing scenario. You want to prevent old foragers going back to the parent hive and telling them that there is a free lunch in your nuc box. AND if you add syrup immediately the Older bees WILL return to the parent hive and tell those bees where there IS a free lunch. So, feed only after two days.
  5. Now most important of all. Numpties forget to do this and create a really small unit. Please please remember a lot of bees will bleed back to the parent hive so your nucleus may look strong as you are making it up but won’t be a day later) SO...
    Shake 2 further frames of bees into the NUC from frames of open, not sealed brood (very important). This makes sure that the NUC gets some of the youngest bees whose job is to feed grubs as this will become their task in the build-up of the new colony. These young bees have not done an orientation flight so you know they will stay with the nucleus. These frames that you shake must not be the frames containing your chosen queen cells because you do not want to damage your chosen queen cell. Shaking queen cells will not necessarily kill them if they are about to hatch BUT it may do so. You have been warned!
  6. add 2 frames of foundation or one frame of drawn comb and 1 frame of foundation.
  7. Add your old queen
  8. Move the nucleus at least 6ft away from the parent hive (the unit with the queen cells). If you place it too close to the hive, you will have a mess as the foragers will sense where the queen is and pile into the nuc causing congestion

The above is the first part of what you need to do. You will then need to deal with the parent hive and the queen cells, choosing one or two cells that should not be shaken or inverted in any way. Drawing pins to mark the top of the frames with chosen queen cells are mandatory! These should be added before you begin the manipulation described above. Otherwise you risk shaking the frame with the chosen cell and you risk killing your chosen queen cell.

However, the nuc will build up quickly and after a couple of weeks may need to be hived. So you will need more equipment. At the very least you will need another brood box because once your virgin has come into lay you can kill your old queen and place the bees and brood in a brood box on top of the parent hive (containing your new Queen) using newspaper to combine the colonies. You will need to remove the supers to do this manipulation as brood must be on top of brood otherwise the manipulation does not work properly. Then a week later you can rearrange all the frames and give them back the supers and remove your brood box and any excess frames.

I am afraid nothing is ever simple!

 Malcolm Wilkie - 27th March 2020

“Preparing for Swarm Control” - by Malcolm Wilkie

Here is an email I sent to one of our members asking about swarm control and what to do with your bees at the moment.

The first port of call is to go back over my topical tips. Select menu on our website. Press Malcolm’s topical tips. Scroll back through the tips and see for 2019 and 2018 the tips that were given in February, March, April, May. This will help you understand what you should be doing. All topical tips are dated to help us all compare what happened last year or the year before and what is happening this year.

Have enough spare equipment to do a split. A poly nucleus box can also be helpful. Just be prepared to act once you see the bees making queen cells. So have enough brood frames made up with fresh wax so you can do a split.

Hope this helps. All topical tips from the past three years are on the website. It is a good resource if you have not yet found it! This year will be different but there will be similarities.

Watch this final video.

The bees are creating a chain which means they are wanting to make wax - an indication that they are ready to expand. This was recorded last Monday. Most colonies won’t be huge but if you lift the crown board and the box is full (lots of bees between all frames) then you may need to add a Queen excluder and a super of drawn comb. With temperatures dropping you may be nervous about opening them up BUT at the very least there can be no harm just lifting the roof. Then if lots and lots of bees are milling about on the crown board you will just have to remove the crown board, add a Queen excluder and get that super on ASAP. By milling about in large numbers they are telling you they need more room.

Be warned though that it is unwise to add that super if the bees have not already filled your brood box. I refer you to my article ‘ Let them go outwards before you let them go upwards’. By adding a super too soon you will prevent them building up as quickly as they might.

Malcolm Wilkie - 26th March 2020