Recent Topical News Items

“I have messed up, I don’t have a queen and my colony is doomed”
Reply from an experienced beekeeper: “are you absolutely sure?”
Newbee: “Yes I am absolutely sure”
Experienced beekeeper (thinking to themselves) “Here we go again, yet another one who thinks they don’t have a queen”

I suspect most of you will have noticed that there is no let up with the nectar flow. Today I saw my honeybees working a huge eucalyptus tree that was in flower. Incredible what is in the environment when you start looking.

I have gone and helped a number of people including newbees who have gone into their brood boxes and just found the whole brood box clogged up with stores. They have concluded that they have no Queen, particularly if it is a new queen that they have not yet seen in lay.

Before going out and buying a queen they need to think logically about the situation. We have for the last couple of months had the most exceptional nectar flow and the bees, programmed to collect nectar, have done so daily. Some colonies have put off the Queen laying eggs in order to take advantage of these exceptional conditions. Other colonies, where splits have been done, have not bothered to get the new queen to do her job. They have been far busier taking advantage of the exceptional conditions in the environment.

Now here’s the rub. Owners of that colony panic. The thing is the bees aren’t panicking, it is the beekeeper! They examine their bees and conclude that there is no Queen. However if the colony is calm (and it does not have to be super calm) it is highly likely that there really is a queen after all. No evidence of eggs or brood is not necessarily a sign of a queenless colony. This is particularly the case if there are a lot of bees. When we artificially create a big colony by letting them have only one queen cell the bees are not really motivated to put their queen into lay. They know and she knows that they are big enough to survive the winter.

However you should be concerned if there is no brood at this stage of the year, even if the bees don’t seem to be so. This is because the bees that are hatching during August and September will ensure the survival of your colony next year. So you need to make sure that your queen comes back into lay. How are you going to do this? Well the first thing that you must do is create space in the brood box for your queen to lay eggs! Go through and remove the outer frames of stores. Put them in your extractor and spin out the honey. Then, replace them into the brood box in a central position. This will artificially create the necessary space for your queen to start doing her job. If your Queen has started to lay but the brood box is chogged up with too many frames of stores then these spun out combs can be placed next to the brood nest.

In addition if you have a new queen who seems reluctant to come into lay it is always a good idea to give her a frame of eggs or young larvae as this will often kick start her into laying. If you do this one week, the likelihood is that the next week she will be on that frame adding eggs around the edge of the brood nest. You can then stop panicking!

Just remember the bees know better than we do but you can help the situation by doing what I have suggested above.

Malcolm Wilkie 3rd August 2018

Hi everyone, those of you who are getting honey are wondering when the bees are going to finally cap it so that you can do an extraction.
Well, here is a tip from Keith that Helen has used to get her honey successfully capped by the bees.

She took a wire frame Queen excluder and added three pieces of wood on three sides. She then placed it above the brood nest, creating an extra entrance below all the honey supers but above the brood nest (this obviously replaces the Queen excluder she already had in place). This new entrance faces exactly the same way as the entrance below. This enables a lot of air to flow into the colony which is what the bees require to cap the honey. It also means foragers can go directly to the honey supers to unload nectar. A win win situation.

Another thing that you should do if you want your honey capped, is to rearrange the super frames. Place any that are capped on the outside of the honey super and those that need capping near the centre. Remove a frame or even two from the super in question and create space between the frames. All of this will help with capping.

Sorry, yet another thing to do in your busy schedule as a beekeeper!

Malcolm Wilkie 13th July 2018

Helen suggests that some of you might like to do cut comb. Make up some frames with just a starter strip of foundation and these frames should be placed just above the brood nest. Her suggestion to prevent them going wonky is to alternate one drawn frame with one frame with a starter strip.

In the brood nest the bees are chucking nectar everywhere. They are stopping the Queen from laying. You need to try and give her space. Nick frames of stores from the brood box and give the bees some foundation in the brood box to draw out. This will use up some of the excess nectar which is pouring into the hive at the moment.

Anyone with a big box of bees who doesn’t heed this topical tip, will find themselves in a pickle.

Beginners who have just bought a nucleus may think this doesn’t concern them. How wrong they are! If you are trying to get the bees to draw out wax and you are feeding them, stop now. If you feed when such a humongous nectar flow is going on there could be swarming even from a nucleus box!

Malcolm 29th June 2018

I don’t know whether everyone has noticed, but there is a crazy nectar flow on at the moment. Lime is in flower and only exudes nectar when the temperatures are in the 20s and this also applies to clover. I had put a super on a badly diseased colony (chalkbrood) that I had just treated for a month with Apiguard and they filled it with honey in a week. I could barely lift the super and it had been empty last week!

In my opinion this nectar flow is going to continue for a while as sweet chestnut is just coming into flower and the temperatures don’t show any signs of dropping. When I inspected my hives yesterday a lot of the colonies were chucking nectar into the brood nest and, of course, one of the colonies had built queen cells.

The danger is that eventually if we get no rain the bees will have nothing to collect. However at the moment I’ve got honey coming out of my ears!

What do you do if you suddenly find Queen cells and you have absolutely no equipment left? Well, you commit the ultimate sin. You remove frames of stores and then you break the brood nest with frames of foundation. Basically you try and give the colony a lot of work to do and that can be successful in taking their minds off swarming. You will have to put those stores in a sealed plastic box and it would be a good idea to spray them with Certan against Wax moth. Don’t sin if the colony is not strong. However, if they are thinking of swarming, they must be strong!

The other thing you should do is extract the honey if the super frames have been capped. Then they will have space to collect all that nectar.

Enjoy the current flow and put supers on urgently. People say about gardeners that the difference between a good gardener and a bad one is a week. The same applies to beekeepers. The good ones have picked up that the flow is humongous and are busily putting supers on the hives. It may have dried up by next week but at the moment it is crazy. The bees are probably out from 4:30 in the morning until nine in the evening! Don’t forget we are also very near the summer solstice and that means that the hives contain the maximum number of bees, so the foraging force is at its very highest.

If you don’t do anything about this flow, then your bees will become congested in absolutely no time, the Queen will have nowhere to lay and the consequence of all that is that you will lose a prime swarm and, of course, your honey crop. Good luck everyone! The bees are giving us all a headache so make sure you return the compliment so that you don’t lose a swarm.

Malcolm Wilkie 29th June 2018

“Queenright or Queenless?” - by Malcolm Wilkie

A lot of Beekeepers have colonies at present that have been split or have swarmed. A new Queen takes at least three weeks to come into lay and this is a tense time for the beekeeper and for the bees. Many beginners assume they have no Queen and quite often go and purchase one needlessly from a beefarmer.

If you know that your box has swarmed, you will roughly know when this happened and so will know when you can start to look for eggs and young larvae i.e. three weeks after your Virgin has hatched.

A box that has swarmed or has been split and is raising a virgin, should initially be left well alone. You don't want to confuse a virgin returning from a mating flight. If she gets lost due to your 'fiddling', you will then have a Queenless colony. However once those three weeks have passed you do need to start to look.

If you see eggs and larvae, then all is well and you will then need to assess the brood pattern. However more often than not you will find no eggs or larvae. This does not mean that your colony is Queenless however. This is the moment when you need to carefully inspect the brood frames. Blow or smoke the bees out of the way.

A Queenright colony will be preparing a brood nest for their new Queen and everything is alright if you see an area of cells on a couple of frames that have been cleaned out and polished in readiness for the new Queen to start laying. There will probably be pollen above these cells and stores in the corner of the fames. In other words the bees are organising themselves and it is order that you will see within your hive. But if you do not see this order after three weeks and you can still see nectar chucked randomly into cells, then there may well be a problem and you should give them a frame of eggs from your other hive. If they raise Queen cells, then evidently they were Queenless. If they seal the brood without creating Queen cells, then you may have a virgin or you may have cussed bees who have decided they no longer want a Queen.

If you get into this scenario, and still after several weeks you can find nothing, then your only hope is to try and get hold of a failing old Queen from someone and come and ask me how to introduce her. She will have low pheromone levels and could possibly be accepted by your Queenless colony. Once the old lady starts laying it will then be possible to bump her off and introduce a Queen. A scenario to be avoided if at all possible as it is difficult to bring back a colony from the brink.

Reposted from June 2017