Malcolm’s Topical Tips

Finally, the cold weather seems to have come to an end. Over the last month there has been heavy rainfall and the ground is moist. Temperatures have jumped and horse chestnuts and hawthorn are in flower. In consequence the bees are going crazy, and the nectar is flowing into the hives in great quantity.

Somebody once said to me that the difference between a good gardener and a bad gardener was one week. The same is true of beekeeping. Most of us more experienced Beekeepers are aware of what is going on in the environment and with this current flow we are sticking supers of drawn comb onto our hives. Personally, I expect this flow to continue for quite a while. This is because we have had such a rainy time recently and the moisture has gone deep down into the soil. Brood boxes are going to become nectar bound very very quickly. You may have to remove pollen banks or frames of stores and replace with foundation to keep the bees working and busy. You may also need to put your empty super just above your brood box. Or of course if your Bees have not swarmed this is an ideal time to put a super of foundation above the brood  box as it will be drawn out very quickly. Consider not putting the queen excluder on for three days to encourage them up if this is the first super of the season for that colony. Then go back after three days and put the queen excluder in between the super and the brood box.

For those of you who are just weekend Beekeepers please be aware that if you do nothing about this flow the brood box will soon become congested, and of course this will trigger the bees to divide, and you will find swarm cells in your colonies in next to no time.

Get those supers on NOW


Malcolm Wilkie – 29th May 2021

I have been hearing from a lot of people in the Association saying that their colonies are really low on stores. Colonies with supers on them will be fine but a lot of you will have colonies either that have not grown sufficiently to have had supers put on them, or colonies that have been split. If your bees have already gone into Swarming mode and you have taken the Queen out on a nucleus, then your old queen and that nucleus box may well need feeding. The same applies if you have done a Pagden split. The parent colony with a virgin hatching will probably have your supers on them and that will not be a concern, but your original Queen on the old site will definitely need to be fed. I always feed the old queen because she has a box of foundation but others sometimes just let them build up on the nectar flow with a super of honey (I have never got this to work myself). With the latter scenario, if you are not feeding, that could well be a disaster.

The irony is that we have now had a huge dump of rain. To be honest I have never seen anything quite like it. When driving back via Wadhurst the other day there were rivers of brown water pouring down the road carrying with it run-off from the fields. You will all be aware that the horse chestnut are now in flower and the bees avidly collect nectar from these trees. However temperatures are not great and the bees are not able to get out as much as they should. It’s not until the middle of next week that things are warming up and the bees will then be able to collect what is,in fact,  an abundance of nectar in the environment.

So if you have a nucleus box or a hive with only three or four frames of brood and no super, then you should think about feeding.

I am also concerned about any new Queens and whether temperatures are adequate for them to get well mated. People consider good matings happen when temperatures exceed 20°. I already know I have one partial drone layer :they are already building Queen cells to replace her but I may well just chuck them in the hedge. I have the old queen as an insurance policy anyway  so with all these boxes mushrooming around my apiary I am not that concerned! Let’s all pray for some better temperatures soon! Yet again we are having an exceptionally different and difficult year and a different set of challenges to cope with from any previous year I have known.


Malcolm Wilkie – 21st May 2021

I don’t know if you are like me, but I am just fed up with this long cold spring. My colonies, however, have steadily been growing and I have had to put supers on them. There has recently been a steady nectar flow which I presume is mainly from rape seed oil. Near Lesley’s garden in St Leonards there are five or six fields of rape and near my other apiary in Kent Street there are also yellow fields. A bit of a curse really as that honey will granulate in the comb unless I get it off next weekend.

Despite cold temperatures yesterday Lesley and I looked through the colonies in her garden. Five out of the six colonies are making swarm preparations (several eggs in queen cups and also charged Queen cells). Please don’t be fooled into thinking that the bees are not plotting just because temperatures are low!

In a day or so night-time temperatures are going to jump to 8 or 9° and daytime temperatures are going to go to 15 or above. What is the consequence of that? Well, this hike in temperatures (although it is not a huge hike) coupled with some rainfall later tonight is going to give us perfect conditions for colonies to divide and propagate their genes. So, I bet your bottom dollar that if you have a large prosperous colony then they will be off before you can say Jack Robinson.

I am not thrilled about all of this as Thursday and Friday are not predicted as good weather and yet I am going to have to go into several colonies in order to take the Queen out on a nucleus. At least all my Queens are marked so I am hoping I’m going to find them without too much difficulty. This year I decided not to move the Queen out until the Queen cells are well developed as I wanted to guarantee that they would be of the very best quality. Let’s see if that makes a difference. But the disadvantage is that I may have a devil’s own job in finding the Queen. She will have been slimmed down for swarming and if she is laying no eggs then it will be much more difficult to find her among the 60,000 bees that Lesley has got in some of her colonies. Let’s hope I don’t have the scenario that I had once where I had to search for a whole hour for the Queen, only to find her eventually on the inside of the box! When it comes to swarming time, queens are not always where you think they might be!

So, my advice to everyone is to be on the qui vive. Once you have got a nice, charged queen cell, then divide or take the Queen out on a nucleus.

Please don’t forget the parent hive. Mark your chosen queen cell with a drawing pin placed into the top of the frame where it is situated. Then five or six days later go back and remove all emergency Queen cells that the bees will disobligingly have created for you, leaving only the chosen queen cell that will now, at this stage, be sealed and about to emerge. Respect your timings or you will be in trouble.

Rape Field
Rape Flower
Rape Flowers
Rape Field2
Rape Field3
Bee on Rape1
Bee on Rape2

Malcolm Wilkie – 3rd May 2021

At the moment competent Beekeepers are all looking closely at the weather forecast. Most Beekeepers only will open up and inspect their bees once the temperatures have risen to 15°. However if you have already missed the boat for inspections when we had a spell of warm-ish weather, you may now be getting nervous.

If you have your bees in a sheltered site and they have been building up nicely you will notice that there is a lot of activity and a lot of pollen going into the hive. So what should you do?

Well this is what I would suggest. Everyone has the option of lifting off the roof, lifting off the crown board and looking at the cluster of bees. I am not talking about doing an inspection and breaking the propolis seal between the frames, I am talking about observing how many seams of bees there are in your hive. This sort of quick look can take as little as five minutes and doesn’t really bother the bees at all! Do use a smoker though.

So what is the point of doing this? Well, if you have eight or nine seams of bees then you can pop on a queen excluder and pop on a super of drawn comb. The very presence of lots of bees is telling you that they need a super. Another indication may also be that they are building brace comb in the hole in your crown board. This is a message that they need some more space. Or worst case scenario there are hundreds and hundreds of bees milling about on top of your crown board. The latter scenario means the bees definitely need a super NOW!

The trouble is that the conditions we are experiencing at the moment are forcing the bees to stay at home. Margaret Mawson (one of our more experienced members) always says that if the bees are forced to stay at home early in the season, this encourages early swarming. It is as if they get fed up with mother and therefore decide to divide. It may also be because if the foragers cannot get out the bees feel cramped for space. Congestion leads the bees down the path of early swarming.

You can also get yourself ready. Build the frames that you have bought and place foundation in those frames. Once conditions warm up in a week or so you will be able to do an inspection. If you find that your brood box contains too many frames of stores you will then be able to remove one or two frames (put them in the freezer). Then discover where the edge of the brood nest is and place one of the frames of foundation next to the brood nest. If you have a prosperous colony with lots of young wax builders then they will draw that out for you and this will give the queen room to expand.

I suspect in a week’s time once temperatures jump there will be a big nectar flow. There are lots of blossom trees out at the moment and once temperatures rise above 13° the flow should be enormous.

This morning in Lesley‘s garden in St Leonards the bees were going mad. There had been a frost and temperatures were cold but the Sun now has heat and the bees became active by 9 am. Observe the following videos and see the amount of pollen going into the hives.

You will also find that if you have put out water trays the bees are collecting water and taking that back to their hives in order to dilute their stores. They are building up quickly and before you can say Jack Robinson they are going to be needing that super and if you don’t give them that space then you know what the consequences are going to be......

Hope this helps,

Video – Nucleus colony

Video – An old queen that has undoubtedly been superceded

Video – This colony was only a 3 frame mating nuc with onr frame of brood 5 weeks ago

Video – Look at the pollen going in – The entrances on some larger colonies need to be made larger

Video – Bees collecting water

Video – A water collector bee

Malcolm Wilkie – 13th April 2021

If you drive down country roads at the moment you will see that the pussy willow is in flower. This is a great source of pollen for honeybees and they will collect that pollen in quantity. As a beekeeper I breathe a great sigh of relief once I see yellow pollen going into a hive in quantity. It means that my queen has come through the winter and that the colony is expanding. March is always a tense time because winter bees that have survived for over five months are having to raise brood: it is a crossover point for the bees and is stressful for them. If temperatures are not good, or if the weather is too wet, or if the beekeeper did not feed them properly last September this can adversely affect the colony at this time of year.

The $64 million question for each beekeeper, however,  is when do I put my super onto the bees. As with everything in beekeeping it all depends. If you have your bees in an ordinary national hive then you will be adding a super sooner rather than later : they are going to need the space. 

Otherwise one has to assess the size of the colony. If they are covering eight or nine frames of comb in the brood box, then it is a good idea to add a queen excluder and a super. If they need the super they will soon go upstairs into it.  If you have a very small colony, though, you need to wait otherwise the bees won’t expand outwards in the brood box. The difficulty for all of us is that bees naturally want to put more brood above the brood they already have. Why is this? It is simply because the warmth and heat from the brood below will help heat the brood above and the bees instinctively know this. The trouble is you have put a Queen excluder between the brood and the super and inadvertently you may find that the bees will feel congested because they can’t expand the brood upstairs. Perversely they don’t always seem to expand outwards if there is space above the brood. Come on you all know Beekeeping is never straightforward. 

A beginner will just have to accept that if they have a small colony they will have to wait until that colony has become big enough before they think about honey (in other words before adding that super). It is very frustrating because all of us want a spring honey crop. However it is only once one successfully can build up a colony over winter and that you have a large foraging force that you will be able to collect a spring honey crop. Not all my colonies collect me a spring honey crop! And certain strains of bee just do not build up quickly in the spring and are probably only going to give you a honey crop in July. Learn to work with the bees that you have.

The second $64 million question is when is it appropriate for me to open up the hive and examine the frames? Ideally it needs to be about 15°, a still day and bright sunshine. I myself will open up a hive quickly when it is only 13° as long as it feels warm, the hive is in the sunshine and the bees are flying strongly. Beekeepers who don’t work are at an advantage because they can choose their moment.

The following videos will give you some pause for thought

1. A nuc box last Sunday. Every beekeeper should overwinter a nuc of bees in a polystyrene nuc box. They will quickly expand and give you a summer honey crop. Notice the amount of pollen going in and the enthusiasm of the bees. There is evidently a queen and from the bees enthusiasm I know she is vigorous.
Video - 1

2. A picture of what happens if you don’t get a super on early enough. These were very vigorous bees. If only I had taken a peek three weeks earlier I would have known they needed space from the number of bees above the crownboard. I could have popped on a super and Queen excluder without even going through the brood box! As a beginner I was always nervous about lifting the roof off. Not the case any longer. I enjoy watching the bees munch my fondant and pollen patty! 
Image 1 - Image 2 - Image 3

3. No reason really for this video except I’m trying to rival Rob Gore and his wonderful photographs.
Video - 2

Malcolm Wilkie – 16th March 2021