Malcolm’s Topical Tips

There are two sessions organised by the HWBKA for our members. Both of interest to everybody.

The first session is on Thursday week (26th of September). Maggie Pratt has agreed to talk about preparing honey for showing. The session is useful because it teaches you how you should present your honey for a judge. Lessons learned by doing so will help you to present your own honey for sale. The session will also cover how to make soft set honey. This is something that every beekeeper in our association should know how to do. Out of a less than decent honey you can make a superb product.

Then on October 15th we have Mike Cullen talking about the BBKA exam system. His talk will centre around the basic assessment.

I suspect a lot of you will just think that this is not for them. How wrong you are! Once you have been a beekeeper for one or two years, it is very difficult to know how to progress any further. Sitting the basic (a purely practical exam) will help everyone of us to improve . You open a hive with an experienced well qualified beekeeper and have a chat about things like swarming or honey labelling.

This exam is for anyone who has kept bees for a full year and has extracted a honey crop. It is straightforward and not at all difficult. But it helps you to centre on what is important. In a sense it is more like a chat and an exam. And you always learn something!

 I am very keen that as many of you as possible sit this exam. So in the New Year Peter Halford and myself will run a session about the exam and then afterwards (for anyone interested) in people’s apiaries or at Slab Castle, small groups can take a mock exam.  You will then be able to sit the basic sometime in the summer.

This is not only for people who have done the beginners course but for anybody in the Association who keeps bees and has kept bees for a year or two. You will be a much better beekeeper in consequence. Come to the talk! He is a wonderful, experienced, competent and nice master beekeeper. And he has said that he will concentrate on the basic exam and what is required for that. You should all come and find out.

Sign up for both sessions by following the links below:

Malcolm Wilkie 18th Sep 2019

At present you have a window, but that window is fast disappearing

I am talking about feeding your bees. In August you will have done your autumn treatments if you discovered that there were a lot of varroa on your bees. Now once those treatments are finished, is the time when you should calculate the stores you have on your hive. In a 14 x 12 deep national brood frame, there can be 7 pounds of stores. But that is a brood frame crammed, stuffed, chockablock with honey. In an ordinary national brood frame, there can be 5 pounds of stores but it has to be a really full frame.

An ordinary colony needs 40lbs of stores in order to overwinter successfully. That is quite heavy and it should be difficult to lift the brood box because of the weight.

The problem for beginners is that they often don’t have a large, prosperous colony. They won’t have a 14 x 12 brood box crammed full of bees. They still need to feed, however. But there is one proviso. Be careful that you don’t feed so much that the bees stuff the brood nest with your sugar syrup and put the Queen off lay. A better strategy for those of you with only six or seven seams of bees is to feed some syrup every other day. This will mimic a natural nectar flow. But you had better get on with it now. The window of weather is fast disappearing and before you know it temperatures will be too low for the bees to be able to convert your sugar syrup into stores.

There is another benefit to feeding regularly at this time of year. Ivy has started to flower and ivy honey granulates rock hard in the comb. The Ivy honey will therefore be mixed with your syrup and will be much easier for the bees to access during winter.

But what about my super, I hear you cry? Remove it (if you are wanting the bees to have it over winter) store it , feed and then put it back on. That will guarantee that your sugar syrup is put directly into the brood box.

You may even decide to under super. This isn’t at all difficult as long as there are two of you. The advantage of under supering is that the bees will probably take the honey up into the brood nest, which is where you want it during the winter. If you leave the super above the brood nest that probably will be fine as long as the brood box contains sufficient stores. Have you been through and calculated? You will need to remove the queen excluder (ALL Queen excluders should be put in the shed!), and you will need to be vigilant. As soon as it warms up in March you will have to pop that queen excluder back in, making sure that your queen is downstairs and not upstairs.

If you need to do a winter treatment because of varroa, it is much better not to have a super on the bees. Margaret Mawson who runs colonies on 14 x 12 boxes never leaves a super on the bees. Why is this? It’s all about managing them and giving oneself options. So much easier if there isn’t a super because then if you need to treat you will be able to do so. You won’t, however,  if the super is on the hive, or if you do treat them any honey in that super will not be fit for human consumption. I myself never leave supers on the hives. I have 14 x 12 boxes and an additional super is a hell of a large volume for a colony. Our president, Peter Coxon, who does not treat his bees always leaves his super/s on his hives. He whips the supers off in March/April and extracts the honey. But he did have a problem this year because a lot of ivy honey wouldn’t come out of the combs. BUT he does not treat.

Finally I want you all to look at this video.

One of our members has already been informed by the Yalding Association that there are Asian hornets in Ashford. In order to cope with this exotic pest we will all need to keep large colonies. I don’t think I have very many large colonies myself and all of us are going to have to decide what we need to do to ensure that our colonies are large, prosperous and capable of coping with the harassment from this very nasty hornet.

This Asian hornet was caught by Kate Lawes in Normandy during our visit to French beekeepers there. Forgive my enthusiasm, but I was delighted that we had actually seen one and seen it hawking. Apparently if there are five Hornets hawking outside the hive, then the bees no longer go out and forage, and no longer collect pollen, and that is why colonies collapse. I’m sorry but I cannot feel sorry for this Asian hornet. Asian Hornets are going to prove a headache for us all and I suspect many of you may even give up beekeeping.

Malcolm Wilkie 11th September 2019

Just a reminder to everyone in the Association that there is the National honey show at the end of October which is held at Sandown Park racecourse in London.

There are a program of lectures and workshops and all you need to do is google “the National honey show“ to find out what is on offer. Bookings for workshops start on the 1st of September and you need to be quick if you want to get the workshop that you would like to do. If you are interested in soap making Sarah Rob has a workshop called pampering potions but you definitely need to book that one up on the 1st of September. There looks to be a good workshop by Phil McAnespie on swarm control and that will get booked up very quickly.

Apart from the lectures and workshops there is the trade Hall. Helen and I buy our jars for the next season, frames that we will be able to make up and there are just thousands of other items that can be picked up at reasonable prices. For instance I bought a really good 6 frame mating hive   with a division board allowing me to raise two queens. I purchased a sheriff bee suit and that was specially adapted for me as I have extremely short legs! Measurements were taken at the show.

Beginners who come on Saturday have a program of lectures specially for them and these are held by master Beekeepers and are always useful.

If you are only intending to go for one day, then Friday is probably the best day before all the best bargains have disappeared.

I am hoping to be able to enter some of my honey. If you are thinking of doing so, then perhaps read some of my past articles about preparing honey for showing. If you are busy and cannot get up to the show then lectures are recorded and you will be able to listen to them at home on your computer or iPad. But you won’t get those bargains, of course.

Malcolm Wilkie Aug 20th 2019

At this time of year this is the question that I am most frequently asked by beginners and by more experienced beekeepers. If you follow these topical tips that I try and send out regularly, you will realise that there is often no one straightforward answer. It all depends on how you manage your bees.

Leaving a super of honey or taking the supers away from the bees all depends on how you wish to manage your charges. And I would argue it all depends on what the level of varroa is in your colonies and how many bees you have got in those colonies. If you have done as the BBKA recommends you will already have extracted your honey, and you will have left an inspection board in for one full week in order to calculate the natural mite drop in your colony. If your colony is a medium-size one or a small one, then you will have taken back the super/s after one day once the bees have licked out the honey left over from your extraction. This is an easy scenario because if you need to treat for varroa then there will be no supers on the hive and you can use a thymol product like Apiguard together with an eke and that will clean up the bees ready to go into winter.

If you have a super full of honey and your varroa drop is still high then you can always take that super away from the bees, treat, and then put the super back on them. This will have the added advantage of encouraging them to put any nectar they collected this time of the year into the brood box, which is where you want it. However, be careful how that is stored because wasps and local honeybees can move into your garage or bee shed if they find that honey! The difficult situation comes when you have an extremely large colony with three or four supers on them. Removing all those supers and crowding the bees into the brood box may not be a very intelligent idea. Crowding bees at any time of the year can encourage swarming!

A large populous colony will no doubt have varroa and that can be building up at this time of year. They may still be collecting nectar and making honey and some people will still be able to do an extraction in early September. The catch 22 is that a lot of the treatments against varroa mite only properly work when the temperatures are high enough. And so, this treatment should be carried out now in August. And those treatments cannot be used if there are supers on the hive.

It is because I often experience the above scenario that I do not often treat in August but sublimate with oxalic acid in December. I know our French counter parts would argue that that is not good because it is the winter bees being made at the moment that are the ones that are going to carry the colony through the winter. However, I make one proviso. That is that if I find a huge mite drop at this time of year and distressingly see that there are a lot of deformed wings, then I will make sure that I treat. That is a good tip for you all – look now for DWV on your bees. If you see it, alarm bells should be ringing. And if alarm bells are ringing, do something.

Malcolm Wilkie 17th August 2019

Today temperatures are going to reach 30° in some parts of Kent and Sussex.

Most of us keep bees in national hives and we have a flat or gabled metal roof on top of the hive. If you have your beehive situated in full sun, then this will be scorching to the touch. This is not good for the bees and will stress them out.

Most colonies will cope as long as there is a super above the brood box. However you will reduce their potential to forage because instead of collecting nectar they are going to have to go and fetch water in order to cool down the hive. In effect you are reducing their potential to collect you honey.

Smaller colonies that you are growing into a full sized hive are really going to suffer. This may well be the case if you are a beginner and have started with a nucleus. This is because your roof is directly above the brood nest. Just consider how hot that roof is getting in full sunshine and, of course, that high temperature is being transmitted to the brood frames below! In nature the bees would be in a hollow in a tree and there would be no metal to heat up anywhere near their nest.  If we do nothing to shade the roof we are creating the equivalent of the black hole of Calcutta for our bees. In effect you are virtually cooking them alive.

In fact I believe you will be stressing the bees so much that there is bound to be an adverse effect and that is that, in consequence of not being able to cool the brood to the correct temperature, fungal infections will set in -particularly chalk brood and sac brood. In past years this has been my experience where I have not shaded the roof.

This will not be a problem for owners of WBC hives because the outer skin created by the lifts shades the box. Owners of Poly hives may need to shade the roofs but you will not get the extreme temperatures created by pieces of metal heating up.

So what do you do? Use thick celotex either inside the roof or simply placed on top of the roof. If placed inside, make sure you cut out holes for the ventilation. Pictures of Lesley’s hives are included.

We are now in the midst of a nectar flow and the bees are making honey for you. Make sure that if you have a prosperous colony that they have enough space. You may be in the position of trying to get them to cap the honey. This can be tricky but you can help. Make sure there is a little space between each super frame. You might also consider removing the end frames of each super so that there can be a good airflow around the nectar that they are trying to convert into honey. During the next week or so temperatures are above 20° and the bees will want to convert that nectar into stores for the future. Help them as much as you can while the heat window allows. July is all about honey and then for most of us it is all over.


The better beekeepers among will have got large colonies and they are the ones that are going to make honey. A colony has to have an excess of foragers before they can make honey in any quantity. Well done if you are in the fortunate position of bees collecting you honey.

Malcolm Wilkie 29th June 2019