Malcolm’s Topical Tips

Finally, the weather has settled. The majority of my colonies have had the queen taken out on a nucleus. The parent hives have requeened themselves and as some of the colonies are very populous, nectar is pouring into the colonies.

Some have only one super, others two and yet others three. Lesley has two colonies with four supers on. Nothing like the Honey Queen who has had eight supers on a hive in the past, but I am quite happy with what I have.

Here in St. Leonards and at the out apiary at Kent Street the flow is tremendous. If you shake bees off a frame nectar wets everything including the bees.

So now it becomes a management issue. Bees need space to put all that ingress of nectar somewhere and so one needs to check they still have room to put it somewhere or otherwise they will chuck that excess nectar into the brood nest and stop the queen laying. And worst-case scenario, that could trigger swarming for a second time. They need warmth (good that there are high temperatures at the moment), and they need good air flow around the super frames so that they can more easily ripen the nectar into honey.

So, make sure there is no vegetation under the hive, that the entrance block is on a larger setting and look carefully at your super frames.

Helen advises one to remove the two outside frames to allow a good airflow. I also separate the frames a little to help this process as well. If I have two or more supers on a hive I am thinking about the contents of each frame. If I want the honey capped, I place it right above the brood ( the warmest place). Then once it is capped, I may move those frames up into a top super and move others that I want to be capped down just above the brood nest.

Adding another super or not is a fine judgement call. Too many supers and they chimney the honey and you don’t get the outer frames filled. But you always have the option of course of removing a super with only three frames of nectar and exchanging those frames for empty ones in the super below.

In many areas in the High Weald the summer flow goes on until the end of July and then that’s it! So, decisions made in the next two weeks are crucial. We need to help the bees to cap that honey ASAP so that it can then be extracted, enabling us all to then get on those summer treatments : thereby ensuring we get healthy winter bees with minimal levels of varroa.

So, my final tip is to order your treatments NOW. A lot of you use thymol products and these are brilliant if used when the temperatures are high. But using them in September when night temperatures start to drop is much less effective. So, if at all possible, get those treatments on in August ( supers removed of course). By doing so you will have strong colonies that will overwinter better and will romp away in the Spring.

What an odd season this has been. One or two of Lesley’s colonies have wanted to swarm twice. Boxes of bees are mushrooming all over the place in her garden and in the out apiary. We have had to contend with rape honey (but at least I was on the ball, and we did two early extractions using the refractometer on uncapped honey).The honey set in the jars overnight but it is absolutely delicious and naturally soft set.

We are now getting really high temperatures and colonies could overheat so do shade roofs. But for the moment it’s all about the honey ….

Malcolm Wilkie – 19th July 2021

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