Malcolm’s Topical Tips

“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

“First Inspections” - by Malcolm Wilkie

 First inspection of a large colony

  1. Video-1
    Lesley checks Queen excluder having lifted corners with her hive tool.
    The paper on the hive is non-stick greaseproof paper and there are the remains of a Neopoll pollen patty beneath which was added in February.
  2. Video-2
    How to remove the first frame with a J tool.
  3. Video-3
    Using the wedge hive tool and removal of the dummy board.
    Removal of the greaseproof paper.
    Using the smoker correctly.
  4. Video-4
    Calculating stores for the record card.
  5. Video-5
    Evidence that a nectar flow has started. These pictures were taken on Sunday, the 5th of April. Evidently a large colony is going to need a super. This Colony already has a super although they are not in it yet!
  6. Image-6
    A picture of worker brood and larvae above. The bees look healthy. No K-wings. Many bees look furry, so they are young bees. A good sign.
  7. Image-7
    Picture of some drone brood at the bottom of the frame. It takes 24 days to raise drone. These cells are sealed. In 12 to 14 days the drone cells will hatch. Then it will take another 12 to 14 days for the drones to sexually mature. In theory new virgin queens can then mate with these drones. This makes swarming possible from early May (2nd/3rd/4th of May). It makes swarming likely in the week of the 18th of May with a large colony.
  8. Video-8
    Correct use of a smoker and wedge. How to correctly manipulate a brood frame in order to inspect both sides.
  9. Video-9
    Looking for an unmarked queen. She appears at the end of the clip. However if you are observant she briefly gets into the camera shot about halfway through. See if you can spot her. If you can find and mark your queen now it is so much easier. If marking multiple Queens make sure you clean the crown of thorns and/or the Queen clip in your soda solution. If you transfer Queen pheromone from one queen to another the second colony may kill your queen! The good thing about marking a queen at present is that she is dominant in her unit and there is less likelihood of an accident when re-introducing her because of you having marked her. When putting her back in the hive always introduce her between  two brood frames.  And watch her like a hawk to make sure she goes down and doesn’t fly off! Also liberally use cool smoke to cover up the fact that you have been touching her.
  10. Video-10
    Correctly calculating how to disturb the bees the least possible once an inspection is over. Using the wedge to create space for the dummy board; notice how Lesley levers the frame away from the side of the box.
  11. Video-11
    Cleaning the queen excluder so as not to crush bees.
    Top/bottom bee space and correct use of a wired queen excluder. As Lesley has bottom bee space, notice which way up she puts her wired queen excluder. This helps prevent crushing bees.
    [Link to article on: Bee space]

Inspection of a small colony

  1. Video-1
    Opening a hive containing a small colony Use of a frame support. This colony does not need a super.
    [Link to article on: Let your bees go outwards before you let them go upwards]
  2. Video-2
    What to do when there are too many frames of stores
    [Link to article on: Can you love your Bees too much?]
    [Link to article on: Steve Davies - First inspections]
    [Link to article on: Brood boxes are meant for brood]
  3. Video-3
    A marked and clipped queen, gentle on the comb.
    Lesley now marks all her queens blue. She finds the pale blue marker pen stands out well and makes the Queen easier to spot.

Malcolm Wilkie - 6th April 2020