“Taking the queen out on a nucleus” - by Malcolm Wilkie

 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

“Preparing for Swarm Control” - by Malcolm Wilkie

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

“FEED a pollen supplement NOW” - by Malcolm Wilkie

Below you will see a picture of the pollen supplement that I use to feed my bees. Now is the time of year when Queens are beginning to lay eggs and there is some brood hatching. Colonies are desperate for fresh pollen but with this wet weather they cannot get out to forage. This is particularly the case if you have your colony in a cold, or windy, or exposed, or damp site.

Below you will see a picture of how I prepare my pollen patty. Unlike fondant, which I place above the crown board, I roll out my pollen patty as if it were pastry.

Try and get the patty as thin as possible. This is because I am going to remove the crown board, smoke the bees down and lay the patty directly onto the frames. I then squidge the crown board down and replace the roof.

I roll out the pollen patty on top of parchment paper. I liberally sprinkle the parchment paper with fresh icing sugar and this enables me to use a rolling pin without too much of the patty getting stuck to the pin.

If you have a small colony or a nuc they will not cope with a whole patty. Don’t bother to separate the parchment paper from the patty - the bees will chuck it out themselves. 

Colonies do vary in size and you will only be able to make the correct decision about how large a patty to give once you remove the crown board. The colony below is not as large as I would like and did not get a whole patty.

The nuc below is not one that I thought would be doing well. The bees chucked out Lesley’s marked queen only a month ago so I am assuming that perfect supersedure happened in the autumn and that there have been two Queens in this small nuc. When we last looked in September the only brood was a small circle and there were barely 2 frames of bees. So the picture below is amazing considering....

Of course I did not look through the colonies. But with the nuc above I did put the cellotex dummy board to the outside of the nuc and I placed the outside frame next to the bees. It looks like they might need the space! A polystyrene nuc box placed in a good sunny sheltered site with a young vigourous queen seems to overwinter well.

No doubt many of you will be curious why I bother to roll the pollen patty out and place it on top of the frames. With a super strong colony there is probably no need to do this. However with a small colony like the one pictured above, or with a nuc, it really makes a difference. The uptake of the patty if done this way is always excellent.

Finally if you were really mean with your bees last autumn and did not feed them, then you must heft your hive and must put on fondant.

Below is a picture of my bees munching on fondant. Colonies collapse in March if there is no food in their box!

Malcolm Wilkie - 25th February 2020