Malcolm’s Topical Tips

“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

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