Malcolm’s Topical Tips

The weather has turned unseasonably cold for this time of year. I myself have had to feed some of my hives copious amounts of sugar syrup so that they could gain weight ready for the onslaught of winter. The BBKA recommends there should be 40lbs of stores. This is for a really big box of bees and the hive, if it weighs 40lbs, will feel as if it is nailed to the hive stand. Some of you will find your site is so good that you don’t need to feed, for others the converse will be true.

Many of us have smaller units and I myself have only one or two hives that have achieved this weight!

A more accurate measure of the hive’s weight can be ascertained by using luggage scales. Lift one side of the hive with the scales and take a reading. Then lift the other side of the hive and take a second reading. Add the two figures together. Then allow for the weight of your floor, brood box and roof (if you are weighing the hive with its roof on) and this will give you a rough estimate of how heavy your hive is.

Do I do this myself? Well yes I do sometimes but I also just heft the hive. If I can lift it easily then I know I should be concerned and I proceed as follows.

In early September I feed thick syrup. If I feel the weather is not warm I might consider feeding invert sugar syrup which can either be purchased from a bee farmer or as Deborah Park pointed out to me can be made yourself by adding lemon juice to the syrup. I don’t know how to do it but she assures me it is straight forward. BUT I am keeping an eagle eye out for what the weather is doing. And unfortunately the weather is not good at present. Bees are programmed to collect and so they may well take an offering of syrup and place it into the combs in the hive. However if temperatures do not rise sufficiently then you may inadvertently create a problem for your bees. That syrup, if it cannot be converted to stores, may sit there in the frames and it may turn alcoholic. This in turn will upset the digestive system of the honeybee and nosema (a microsporidian fungus) will invade the digestive tract of the bees. This will give them a runny tummy. In the depths of winter when bees cannot get out to do cleansing flights this can cause a serious problem. Bees are designed in winter to allow faeces to build up in the abdomen and then on a warm day they will fly out and void this away from the hive. Or if you are unfortunate over your neighbour’s washing! However if nosema sets in bees have to void the faeces in the hive. Other bees then clean up the mess and the problem then worsens as this spreads nosema throughout the hive. In Spring you can tell this may be a problem as the landing board and front of the hive will be spotted with ‘bee poo’.

A word of warning however. Bees do recover from nosema particularly once the weather warms up in Spring. However hives that have suffered from nosema often have the problem of black queen cell virus. BQCV is a curse because if you are doing a split and you as the beekeeper choose to leave only one queen cell in the parent hive and that one happens to be dead, you then render your colony queenless.

So if your hive is light now you may consider your best option is to add fondant. Fondant can be purchased from a local baker if ordered in quantity but in my experience this turns rock hard more quickly than fondant purchased from a bee supplier. That makes it more difficult for the bees to use. Keith always told me that the best way of overwintering bees was to have lots of bees and stores around those bees so as to guarantee that the bees are well insulated from the cold. But fondant is definitely better than nothing else if the hive is light.

If you have wooden nationals or deep nationals your hives will also benefit from being wrapped in breathable roofing membrane. This keeps the hive dry but allows the moisture out! Remember it is not cold that kills bees (think of the temperatures in Canada over winter) but wet. Last winter proved to be particularly wet but I had wrapped my wooden hives and this kept the bees dry.

Keith also recommends using two crown boards. This is because condensation will form on the upper crownboard and drip onto the crownboard below and not onto the bees themselves!

Below are some pictures of a hive Lesley and I wrapped yesterday. Make sure you leave the entrance free for the bees to go in and out and don’t block it with the membrane!

I won’t be putting on mouse guards yet as the ivy is still in flower or coming into flower and I don’t want pollen knocked off the bees corbiculae as they enter the hive.

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Hope this helps. Bee banter tomorrow on zoom so we will all be there to answer questions.

Malcolm Wilkie – 28th September 2020

“Disease Inspection” - by Malcolm Wilkie

By now most of you will have taken your summer honey crop off your hives. You will have given the supers back to the colonies so that they can lick out the wet frames and a couple of days afterwards you will have removed those supers.

Your records will show the quantity of stores in your brood box and it may be that you will have to feed so that the colony can gain a bit of weight. However it is now very important to ascertain the disease status of your colony. This is because from August winter bees which contain more fat bodies are being raised. These are the bees that will survive for five months and so they need to be super healthy.

Last week I put in my inspection trays in order to count the natural mite drop of varroa. It is also a good idea to thoroughly examine your colony and shake the bees off the brood frames and have a good poke about. This will give you an idea whether you need to do something now. A lot of treatments depend on temperatures being high enough and you will only have a window through August and into early September if you do need to treat your bees against the varroa.

Below are a set of short video clips. I went and helped Mark (one of this year’s beginners) and we did a full disease inspection of one of his colonies. I hope this gives you some ideas what you’re looking for.

N.B. It is best to put the Queen in a Queen clip before doing these manipulations:





Malcolm Wilkie – 5th August 2020

Over the last few years more and more people have joined our association and there are now over 200 members.  In part the increase has been due to the number of people successfully completing the beginners course and who have understood how to overwinter colonies.

 However there has been a new development because one of our members, John Miller, has started to do some Queen rearing. As those of you who have been to Norman Beresford’s talk on Queen rearing and my own talk about the use of apidea mating hives, Queen rearing is difficult. You need strong colonies, healthy colonies and time. It is an activity that is difficult to fit around a regular job! I myself have tried several times and it has never really worked!

 John did our beginners course only a couple of years ago. From the outset he has been successful. From a couple of colonies, he soon had 18 and I believe he is still expanding! However when you have this many colonies it gives you options, and when you have options it makes it much easier to Queen rear.

 John accompanied us to France last August and stayed with Christophe Gauthier. Christophe is a master beekeeper and raises numerous queens every year. John came back enthused and this year decided he would graft (like Christophe) and try and get a colony to raise two batches of 20 queen cells (40 Queen cells in total). He has used a cloake board and I believe combined three colonies in order to be able to have a strong enough unit to raise the grafts that he gave them. His partner, Sue, did a lot of the grafting . All is going to plan and his sealed queen cells are now in an incubator and should be hatching on the 11th of June. This is fantastic. I am in awe that he has achieved this.

 As all of you know having virgin queens is only the start of the process. These virgin Queens will need to go into mating hives and if they successfully mate they will have to be introduced to a Queenless nucleus.

However the very fact that there are going to be a large number of virgin queens in cells that can be easily transferred into mating hives is a great start.  John is using an incubator and Queen cell protectors so if all goes to plan there will be piping virgins emerging soon. And of course John has chosen a calm colony which is also a good honey gatherer and this is the colony he has grafted from. This has never happened in the Association to my knowledge. Other associations in Sussex do not raise Queens in this way. It is going to be so useful to association members and help those who get themselves into difficulty over Swarming. I am thrilled and excited that one of our members has got to this level in his Beekeeping.

 John can be contacted at

 As of today I can confirm that John’s Queens have hatched. You can see from the pictures below that the Queens have carefully cut around their cells in order to get out. John’s pictures are of cells that were in his incubator. My picture is of one of the queen cells I removed from one of my apidea mating hives.

  1. Queen cells in Queen cell protectors in an incubator.
    Picture 1
  2. Sue grafting.
    Picture 2
  3. Successful grafts.
    Picture 3
  4. The triple hive set up that enabled John to raise queens.
    Picture 4
  5. Queen cells that have hatched in John’s incubator.
    Picture 5
  6. Grafted Queen cell (from John) that has hatched in one of my apidea mating hives.
    Picture 6
  7. Activity at the front of the mini mating nuc this morning.

 Malcolm Wilkie – 16th June 2020

“Decisions about a box in swarming mode” - by Malcolm Wilkie

  1. Opening box. What order to examine the bees.
  2. Stores.
    Picture and enlargement Picture
  3. Eggs. You need to be able to see eggs to read your colony correctly. Let the sun shine into the bottom of the frame to give you a chance of seeing them. If necessary use your reading glasses.
  4. Drone larvae.
  5. Eggs and a queen cup.
  6. Larvae. Larger larvae to the left, smaller larvae to the right.
  7. Queen cup and egg standing upright. Laid today!
  8. A congested frame.
  9. Play cup with an egg. Excuse my French!
  10. Another congested frame.
  11. The queen looking for places to lay.
  12. Queen cups.
  13. Have you hatched a plan?
  14. Explanation of a frame. Sealed brood, arc of pollen, honey, larvae, Queen cups.
  15. A pollen bank. Temperament of a nice colony.
  16. Discussion of what to do.
  17. Discovery of a charged queen cell. Notice small “c” shaped larva swimming on a pool of royal jelly.
  18. The queen found and put in a clip. Notice the blue dot.
  19. Chaos. Now the queen is in the queen clip all frames can be shaken and all queen cups/ queen cells destroyed.
  20. The brood nest has been split with two pieces of foundation. The clean frame(marked 2019) can be easily seen. The other frame is three frames in from the front of the box. This was already in the hive at one end but has now been moved in order to split the brood nest and give the bees work to do drawing it out. I stress this can only be done with a really strong colony.
  21. How to keep the bees busy in the supers.
  22. Putting an empty super above the brood nest.
  23. Frames full of nectar.
  24. Checkerboarding. Trying to keep the bees busy and take their minds off swarming. Notice how Lesley manages to hold both hive tools in one hand. It is possible!

 Malcolm Wilkie - 12th April 2020

Just a warning to everyone that we are experiencing a huge nectar flow. Temperatures have jumped, trees are in flower, the ground is still moist from all the winter rains and the bees are busy.

Brood nests are becoming nectar bound. The bees are trying to create extra space and building comb. Remember that bees can fill a super in two or three days if they are a big unit so you may need to go back, check them and add an extra super.

Helen Hadley, our honey queen, is running around like a madman. She has large Buckfast colonies and they are already congested. Look at the photos.

The bees have even started putting eggs into Queen cups.

That means that because the box has been congested they have decided that they had better build queen cells and swarm.

She is going to have a devils own job to put them off. Once bees start preparations for swarming it is difficult to make them change their minds.

I have been helping Morris McGowern with his bees. On Tuesday he had half a colony of bees. There was at least six frames of space. Today the box was completely full of bees and all the frames were full of nectar. We had to put on a super. Even I was surprised at the rapid growth of this colony. As I’ve said before the difference between a good beekeeper and a bad one can just be a matter of a few days. Go and check your colonies now! I hope you are in time.

Malcolm Wilkie - 9th April 2020