The weather has suddenly begun to warm up and several of us have had a quick look into the brood box to see what the bees are doing. If you put in your inspection boards as I suggested last time you will know, anyway, how many frames of brood you will find in your box. If you are in the lucky position of having a strong colony Helen suggests that you put a queen excluder and a super of drawn comb on top of the excluder so that the bees can begin to fill this up with nectar.
How do you decide if you have a strong colony? Out of my six hives I have two colonies that I would consider to be strong colonies. Remember I have 14 x 12 brood boxes. These two colonies already have five frames of brood and the Queen will soon be laying up more frames. If you are a beginner you will not have drawn super comb. You will need to put a box of foundation on top of your brood box. Remember that the foundation needs to be fresh and if you made the frames up a couple of months ago you will need to refresh the wax lightly with a hairdryer. Personally if I only had foundation I would not put a queen excluder on top of the brood box. I would wait until the bees had started to draw out some of the foundation. At that point I would slip an excluder between the brood box and the super. Drawn super comb is like hen's teeth but once you have got some you will be able to use it for several years.
Now how about colonies that are not strong colonies? Many of us will have colonies with just two frames of brood. Is there anything that we can do to ameliorate the situation? Perhaps you have put on fondant or Neopoll and the bees just do not seem to show much interest. This is not your fault : it just means that the bees are not numerous enough to take advantage of the offerings that you are giving them. Experience teaches one that a hive needs to get to a point where they feel they can
expand. You might be tempted to give them sugar syrup. Keith, however, would tell you that this will only place a small unit under even more stress. If they have got honey stores they will use those when they are ready. And sometimes a small unit,once it reaches the tipping point, can expand extremely quickly. It might seem at the moment like gloom and doom but things can turn around in the space of three weeks. In this scenario you won't get a honey crop from spring flowers.

This month the weather will  allow you to look into the brood box. Please check, beginners, that the queen does in fact have enough space to lay. If you overfed your colony in the autumn and there are a lot of frames of honey, you may need to take out a  frame of stores and add a frame of foundation. Place this on the edge of the brood nest and the bees will draw it out so that the Queen can lay in it. Remember one of the triggers for swarming is congestion in the brood nest and if your brood box is loaded with old honey stores then the poor Queen has nowhere to lay! Once you have allowed the bees to get congested they will probably go down the path of swarming and there will be very little you can do about it even if at that late stage you give them extra space.

And we are now coming into swarming season. I say this because I opened a colony on Saturday and there was a whole frame of drone brood and several drones were already walking around on the comb. If they have just hatched they will take 12 days to reach sexual maturity. So, theoretically, if a virgin queen flies in the middle of April there will be drones around with which she can mate. I would not be surprised to see swarms in late April this year. Be warned, and make sure you give the Queen space now so as to delay this swarming as long as possible. And make up those brood boxes and frames of foundation if you have not already done so! I am afraid this is a case of do as I say, don't do as I do because I still have got boxes to sterilise and frames of foundation to make. Once you have your hive ready, go and place it in your apiary ready to do the manipulation you have decided upon. You will add the frames of foundation at the last minute. A timely reminder that we have a session on swarm control on Thursday April 14th. This is at the Rose and Crown in Mayfield and will start at 7:30 PM. Keith and I will cover once again the artificial swarm and I will quickly show you another technique which can be used if you have a strong colony and want to do something before you go away on holiday.
Malcolm Wilkie
3rd April 2016

Subject: Topical Tips - Shopping list for Heathfield
Here are a few ideas for anyone who has just started keeping bees or has only been keeping bees for one or two years. It will help you plan for the season ahead. Perhaps also a reminder for those of you who have kept bees for a longer time.
Apiguard (a type of thymol gel) to treat colonies in August for varroa
An eke for each colony (to apply the Apiguard). If you are good with your hands you can make one yourself
Super frames and wax foundation (in the hope your bees will make you some honey)Make up the frames but don't add wax until you are ready. Keep the wax indoors in a dry but cool place but not near a heat source. Under a spare room bed is ideal.
A contact feeder. Everyone should have one. This is the feeder with the fine mesh covering a central hole. To use you need to have an empty super placed on top of the crown board.
2 Queen clips. Make sure the spring works really well. If in doubt ask Helen or Keith
A spare hive tool. As brightly coloured as possible
What would be good
A polystyrene nucleus box. Contact Paynes beforehand so that they put it on their lorry. Specify size ie ordinary national, deep national, commercial, WBC. The owner of a nucleus box can get themselves out of so much trouble. Every new beekeeper should have one. They are not that expensive
A plastic rapid feeder for each colony. Never buy wooden; they leak and that causes robbing. Make sure the feeder you are buying is the right size for your hives!
What I would be cautious about buying
Bad quality equipment in the auction
A honey extractor in the auction that does not work. Why do they allow them to go into the sale?
A colony of bees without a Queen. How can beekeepers allow a beginner to waste their money in this way?
A colony of bees on the wrong sized frames for the hive type you have purchased. Only a strong colony can be shook swarmed.
If you are thinking about buying bees at least check on the Internet what price a colony or nucleus usually is going for. Don't pay a lot more than you need to pay. Don't get carried away by the fact the bees are being auctioned.

As far as equipment to make increase is concerned, far better to wait until October and get the equipment at the national honey show, or wait until one of the autumn sales and buy the equipment at a fraction of the price at that moment( unless you have a strong colony and will have to divide it to stop swarming). But a nucleus box would get you out of this difficulty. Remember most beginners who manage to buy a whole colony at this time of year loose most of them in a swarm about a week after they have bought them Your choice, but not having the possibility of dividing a colony will get you into trouble. Beginners you are warned.

Paynes 01273 843388
Ben and Maggie Pratt 01323 841249

And finally some plants for the bees. Or just some plants. Keith always comes up with something quirky.

Malcolm May 10th 2016