Malcolm’s Topical Tips

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

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

Below you will see a picture of the pollen supplement that I use to feed my bees. Now is the time of year when Queens are beginning to lay eggs and there is some brood hatching. Colonies are desperate for fresh pollen but with this wet weather they cannot get out to forage. This is particularly the case if you have your colony in a cold, or windy, or exposed, or damp site.

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Below you will see a picture of how I prepare my pollen patty. Unlike fondant, which I place above the crown board, I roll out my pollen patty as if it were pastry.

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Try and get the patty as thin as possible. This is because I am going to remove the crown board, smoke the bees down and lay the patty directly onto the frames. I then squidge the crown board down and replace the roof.

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I roll out the pollen patty on top of parchment paper. I liberally sprinkle the parchment paper with fresh icing sugar and this enables me to use a rolling pin without too much of the patty getting stuck to the pin.

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If you have a small colony or a nuc they will not cope with a whole patty. Don’t bother to separate the parchment paper from the patty - the bees will chuck it out themselves. 

Colonies do vary in size and you will only be able to make the correct decision about how large a patty to give once you remove the crown board. The colony below is not as large as I would like and did not get a whole patty.

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The nuc below is not one that I thought would be doing well. The bees chucked out Lesley’s marked queen only a month ago so I am assuming that perfect supersedure happened in the autumn and that there have been two Queens in this small nuc. When we last looked in September the only brood was a small circle and there were barely 2 frames of bees. So the picture below is amazing considering....

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Of course I did not look through the colonies. But with the nuc above I did put the cellotex dummy board to the outside of the nuc and I placed the outside frame next to the bees. It looks like they might need the space! A polystyrene nuc box placed in a good sunny sheltered site with a young vigourous queen seems to overwinter well.

No doubt many of you will be curious why I bother to roll the pollen patty out and place it on top of the frames. With a super strong colony there is probably no need to do this. However with a small colony like the one pictured above, or with a nuc, it really makes a difference. The uptake of the patty if done this way is always excellent.

Finally if you were really mean with your bees last autumn and did not feed them, then you must heft your hive and must put on fondant.

Below is a picture of my bees munching on fondant. Colonies collapse in March if there is no food in their box!

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Malcolm Wilkie - 25th February 2020

In the last missive that I sent out to you I recommended that those who have wooden hives wrapped those hives in breathable roofing membrane. I am glad that I made this recommendation as November and December have been really really wet! Bees can put up with cold but wet always seems to lead to lots of fungal infections in the brood nest.

Colonies (unless they are very large) will have had a brood break. This has enabled those who were unable to get varroa under control in August, to do so now by sublimating the bees or trickling oxalic acid onto them. Those who have done this will have seen a huge drop.

It has been unseasonably warm and yesterday with the Sun shining the bees have been extremely active.

Video 1

Not a lot of pollen has been going into the hives but the bees are all over Mahonias (‘Charity’ or ‘Winter Sun’ are good forms) or early flowering camellias (‘Cornish Snow’ is the best as it produces a myriad of smaller flowers at this time of year each with a pollen and nectar reward). If you are going to plant these in your garden, make sure that the Sun at this time of year will be hitting the blooms and a sheltered site out of the wind is always preferable – it really does make a difference to the bees!

Mouse guards (if you have used them) need to be checked regularly. You can see from the following video that my bees are able to go in and out of their entrances easily.

Video 2

 Sometimes (in fact frequently)  bees die in the entrance and block it up, and if this happens you will need to remove the corpses. if you have an entrance block with several settings, then it may be sufficient just to use the smallest setting and no metal mouse guard.

This time of year is also good for assessing where you have sited the beehive/s. On a sunny day like yesterday it was clear which nuc boxes and which hives were being warmed by the weak winter sunshine. I have unfortunately placed two nuc boxes too close to each other and the front one shades the back one. Notice how few bees are coming out of the nuc box in this next video.

Video 3

And then compare this video with the number of bees going in and out of the nuc box which is being sufficiently warmed by the sunshine.

Video 4

It is amazing just what you can tell by watching the activity at the entrances of your hives. If you look closely at the bees, they look active and furry. This is an indication that they are young and this bodes well for next year.

What else can you do at the present time? Well now, it is a good idea if the hive is at all light to add some fondant. I always buy this from a bee farmer as they add something to the sugar which makes it soft and it doesn’t dry out too quickly. This makes it easier for the bees to eat. If you make your own fondant or buy it from a baker, make sure you wrap it in clingfilm, leaving a portion open for the bees to access the sugar.

Beginners always ask me how to put this on the hive. As with almost everything in beekeeping, it depends. If you have a national hive, then add an eke and place half a packet of fondant next to one of the holes in the crown board. Obviously the exposed sugar should be nearest the hole. If you need to feed a nuc box, then make sure you remove the centre part of your feeder, so that the bees can actually access the fondant that you are giving them. Each feeder has a different system so use your common sense. Below is a picture of what I have done with a Paynes nuc box.

If you have a national hive but a gabled roof, you do not need an eke. The gable of the roof gives you enough space to put your fondant on top of the crown board. With this scenario you will have no problem getting the roof back on the hive.

For the moment I have no other advice. Keith would recommend you hefting your hive, perhaps fortnightly. Fondant would need to be added if the weight of stores falls below 10lbs. This happens in March if you are not keeping a close eye and that can lead to a colony collapsing due to starvation.  Above all this would be something to watch out for if we had a particularly cold and wet March. As I have so often said every beekeeper needs to keep an eye on the weather and make decisions based on their observations of their own garden and what is happening to nature in their neck of the woods. If you have not ordered a pollen pattie (neopoll is the best in my opinion) for February, do so now. If February proves to be wet and cold a pollen pattie really does make a difference to the colony.

Finally you should be cleaning equipment and making up frames now (don’t add foundation yet as it will go stale). You do want to begin the season with equipment ready to be used. Don’t get caught out! Do as I say, not as I do! I really do need to get into that garage and start cleaning......

Malcolm Wilkie December 30th 2019

Christmas is nearly here and finally it is a quiet time in the apiary for the beekeeper. Autumn has been wet and like many of you I have wrapped my hives in a breathable roofing membrane. This keeps my wooden hives dry but lets out any moisture that the bees are producing.

Above is what Helen did for her bees at the end of October. You have to cut out a section so you don’t block up their entrance, of course. Keeping the bees dry really does make a difference as wet hives encourages fungal infections to grow on the bees and colonies will suffer. Even at this late stage this is something you could do on a dry day. I just fix the membrane on with drawing pins and crudely cut a section for the entrance.

If you have a WBC hive or a poly hive then this is not something you have to do (the outer skin of the WBC keeps the inner boxes dry and a poly hive sheds water, unlike wood which can retain moisture even if you have been careful and treated it with linseed oil).

All may be quiet with the bees (although these exceptionally mild temperatures are encouraging them out ) but there is still something you can do to help colonies. Bees often decide to take a brood break between mid-December and very early January. Because this is so this enables one to treat a colony with bad varroa with oxalic acid, either by the trickle method or by sublimating them. Please refer to my article last January if you are going to sublimate them, and make sure you have the right mask. By doing it now when there is no brood you will kill 96% of the mites. There is no real difference in efficacy between the two methods although if you are using the trickle method a Queen can only be treated once in her lifetime so write down in your records what you have done in case you are tempted to use this method again next year. With sublimation the number of times a Queen is treated does not seem to matter.

I have found boxes of bees that have been treated with either method have done really well and have romped away in the Spring. Keith would encourage you to monitor your natural dead mite drop for a week and then to go on bee base and use the varroa calculator as he does not like bees just being treated prophylactically. And he is absolutely right. Count the drop, do the calculation and then only treat if you need to.

If you decide on the trickle method it would be best to buy oxalic acid already mixed in to sugar syrup. Let the bee farmer get the correct concentration for you as otherwise you could kill your bees. The trickle method works because the bees pass the syrup containing the oxalic acid between themselves via trophallaxis. However some bees will get a higher dose as they will have come directly into contact with your syrup and so inevitably there will be some casualties. But for the greater good of the colony........

Colonies should be going into winter with 40lbs of stores. You can heft your hives using luggage scales if these are robust enough. If each side registers 20lbs or more, you will be fine. The hive should still be difficult to heft as it will be heavy. If this is not the case, feed fondant above the crown board as although this is not as good as their own honey it will keep them going. No syrup though as this will give them runny tummies and the bees will suffer.

Finally an idea for a Christmas present. If you have been keeping bees for a year or two and have not read Bill Turnbull’s novel ‘The bad beekeepers club’ then you should ask to be given the novel for Christmas. It is hilarious. I suspect most of us will recognise aspects of our own beekeeping in what he recounts or even things we may have done ourselves. However on no account should it be given to the wife or husband of the beekeeper unless they have a good sense of humour!

Happy Christmas everyone and happy beekeeping.

Malcolm Wilkie - 30th November 2019