Living with a perfectionist is not easy at times but when entering the National Honey Show it is a distinct advantage.

Over the past few years Lesley and I have entered our honey into the Sussex classes at the National Honey Show. Our attitudes to entering are a little different. I am just pleased if I have something acceptable to enter whereas she studiously reads up online exactly what she needs to do to satisfy the judge.

This difference was highlighted this year in the wax block we both made. I mistakenly thought the quantity of wax would impress the judges and made a 1 kilo block (only a 1lb block was required). I used some brood frame wax and passed it twice through some old t-shirts in order to clean it up. I thought the wax looked good but despite all my efforts to clean it up there was one of my eyelashes on the surface of the block and an evident black speck on the rim. Lesley polished it for me with some silk and I felt pleased. The wax Les chose to use was more yellow in colour and I cleaned it up for her : twice through an old t-shirt. She poured her block and it was evident it was not clean enough. So once again I melted her block and passed it through another piece of t-shirt. Is this really necessary, I thought?

On a trip to Eastbourne she purchased a metal pie dish and used this for her mould. The wax was cleaner this time but despite having used washing up liquid to grease the dish the surface was mottled and the wax did not come cleanly out of the mould. I was all for entering it anyway but Les is determined and does not give up. The next attempt was a Pyrex bowl. A bit better but the surface was a dull matt and the wax stuck to the mould. The fourth attempt was on the Tuesday night. And I was taking the exhibits up the following day! Before pouring the wax this time Les placed her Pyrex dish in hot water and then poured the wax. The next morning we placed the bowl in water, hoping the wax would float out. It didn’t! So Les gave it the ice treatment. Presumably this shrinks the wax away from the sides of the bowl. An hour later (Les was at work) I gave it an almighty thump to get it out. Nothing. Then another almighty thump. Still nothing. It came out on the fourth attempt. And the top was shiny and smooth except for a few imperfections. Hallelujah, I thought. I dried off the wax and gave it the silk treatment.

Rob Gore also enters and he and I were whatsapping each other about our relative progress on the wretched wax block. On Tuesday his was looking worse than ours ( that’s good I thought). He was evidently going right up to the wire as he was still cleaning up the wax in the small hours of Thursday morning. By then my entries had already been delivered to Sandown.

In the event he was unable to enter his block as it resolutely refused to come out of his mould in the early hours of Thursday morning. We had a good laugh about that. In fact he did take it up to the show on Thursday morning still in the mould in the forlorn hope that it might release on the way up. It didn’t!  During the heat of the day, however, it fell out of the mould in the car! But too late to enter the block! Rob, it’s all about the wax block!

There is a friendly rivalry between Rob, Les and myself. Rob got the top cup (the Lady Denman cup) last year as he gained the most points for his entries ( and he entered loads of classes including all the wax classes) so we weren’t going to get caught out this year. Both Les and I entered everything we could. I had even bought a display case so at least one of us could enter a whole super frame. I had stupidly extracted all my frames so I entered her Manley frame (believing however that it would not be judged as the rules stated it needs to be a wired frame). This was a last-minute decision as I had to collect the display case from the glaziers at 9am on Wednesday morning before setting off for Sandown. In the end Les got a second for her unwired Manly frame and 5 points, which was crucial.

If you have not made soft set honey before, it’s quite easy. We had kept some rape honey from the Spring with a fine granulation. We each chose the strongest tasting honeys we had and gently heated these in the warming cabinet to dissolve all sugar crystals. Then two days later gently heated the rape honey for a couple of hours and mixed the two together. The honey that you are going to make into soft set needs to be room temperature as it is important the rape is not dissolved as you mix the two. Too hot and the crystals you want will be dissolved, too cold and the two honeys won’t mix together very well and you may risk frosting as the honey granulates unevenly. You want the crystals of your entry to be the size of the rape crystals thereby guaranteeing a smooth texture on the tongue. The honey once combined went into plastic boxes with ice blocks as granulation takes place most rapidly at about 14 degrees. These were repeatedly renewed and it was touch and go whether the honey would set properly as October temperatures were way above the norm. The warming cabinet was used for this as it helps keep the honey cool once the cabinet is switched off.  In the event both honeys did set but Les’s was firmer and she got a second in the Sussex soft set class behind Rob. Rob had made his a few weeks previously so it was perfect and when he let us taste it after the show we could see why he had been given the first. It’s great when members of the same association go up as at the end you can taste each other’s award-winning honeys and compare notes.

Deborah Park joined us this year and entered loads. She discovered how precise you need to be in presenting the honey and had a good half hour discussion with Hazel Blackburn, one of the main judges at the show. You have to fulfill the criteria set otherwise the jar just won’t be opened! Rob, who got the top cup in Sussex last year for the most points in the Sussex classes had clocked up those points without winning a first in any class. He was able therefore to enter the Berry cup this year and robbed (no pun intended) Deborah of that particular glory. She came a well-deserved second.

In the end due to the wretched wax block Lesley got 29 points and Rob only 27 points. How different that could well have been. I myself had only a dismal twelve points well behind Phil Edwards. Becky Champion (some may have taken the basic with her),  however, deprived Phil of getting the third cup, the Lady Matthews cup. If he had just had a few more points for the honey he entered he would have pipped her at the post. She is a seasoned competitor who only entered four classes but got a first for each entry. She therefore achieved 24 points and the third cup. He did however get the PJ cup for his mead : he is an excellent mead maker.

What were the highlights for me? Jo Gore’s honey sponge was just amazing. This got a first in an open class which is no mean achievement. Rob entered a photo of a crowd of honeybees on a Passion flower. This also was an open class and he too got a first prize. It’s an amazing photo. And finally, I too managed a first in class 5 which is an open class. Achieving a first against 30 other entries is no mean feat. However, although the honey was lovely and gleamed, it did smell of old socks to my mind. There is no accounting for a judge’s taste! In her comments she even said the honey had a pleasant aroma - not sure about that!

Now we have our honey show on the 27th of November. Surely everybody you have got some honey this year? Enter it. In the end it’s not you being judged but your bees. I look forward to seeing you all and comparing notes. The different honeys that turn up from members of the High Weald never cease to amaze me. Come to the show and showcase the effort your bees have made for you this year. It’s the least you can do to show your appreciation to the bees for what they have done. Look forward to seeing as many of you there as possible.

Malcolm Wilkie – 6th November 2022

Yet again this season has turned out to be like no other. As the bees were in condition I got a good spring honey crop, but what is so amazing is that they have continued to collect copious amounts of nectar even though the temperatures have been high and the soil dry. In the 14 years that I have been beekeeping I have never seen such a sustained and lengthy nectar flow. I do not really understand where the bees are going to collect such copious amounts of nectar, do you?

The problem for me is that I have just run out of equipment. I don’t have any supers left, I don’t have any super frames left and I certainly don’t have any wax foundation. In fact, I have been building foundationless frames and placing these between drawn out frames both in the brood boxes and the supers. This has worked fine but even though I am doing this brood boxes are nectar bound and the bees continually start to build comb above the crown board. Lesley has gable roofs and yesterday the bees had built comb up from the crown board right into the apex of the roof. As I refuse to spend any more on equipment I am left with no choice but to continue to extract as frequently as I can. The buckets are just stacking up! And I am exhausted!

Girls, Girls, Girls enough is enough : I Don’t Want any more honey!

In a usual year I am struggling to get the bees to cap the honey. However, this year I have whole supers where every single frame has been capped, even the outside frames which normally have very little honey or nectar in them. The bees are also drawing out further any super frames where I have left them space and some of those super frames are extremely heavy. In desperation I put some old stale wax and old frames on top of a colony - even that they have drawn out.

Helen suggested that I go and talk to the bees and ask them to take a holiday. I have done so. But you know what? They just seem to have ignored my suggestion and they are just continuing to collect. Hardly surprising as this is what bees are programmed to do when the conditions are right!

What are the consequences of all this? Well, if you don’t give the bees enough space and the brood box becomes nectar bound, eventually the cramped conditions will lead to them wanting to swarm again. Of course, we are not in prime swarming season but if there really is no space for them, bees may well swarm again. The other more concerning consequence of a brood box being nectar bound is that there won’t be enough space for the Queen to lay. August is a time when winter bees are being raised and if not enough winter bees are being raised then a colony could collapse later in the year because there are just not enough of the type of bee that will survive for five months and ensure the future survival of your colony next year. All very well to have thousands of summer bees (which live for only six weeks) but that counts for nothing unless you have a good number of winter bees with all those extra fat bodies and the capability of living for up to five months. Those are the bees (and they are physiologically different) that will be able to kick start the birth of a new generation next March.

My concern is that I still have a lot of supers on the hives. Once again, I have bought Apivar as my autumn treatment and I am conscious that that needs to go into the brood boxes soon. However, most of the colonies are extremely large and they are filling two or three supers and it is just not realistic for me to cramp them into a 14*12 brood box at the moment. I suspect that what I might do is pile up supers on certain hives so that I can treat those colonies that I really do want to survive this winter (those colonies headed by my most gentle and prolific queens). The remainder will probably have to be treated late August or early September. The one plus about Apivar is that it is not temperature dependent, unlike Apiguard or Api Life Var, so using it in September will kill the mites: I will just have to hope that enough winter bees will be being raised in September while my treatment is in place (ensuring healthy bees that are not infected with viruses ) to carry the colony through to next Spring. As I have said before nothing is straightforward in beekeeping.

So, what advice do I give you all?

Think about autumn treatments. Check the natural mite drop on your hives. Gauge when you are able to take supers away. Monitor the flow, just in case this incredible nectar flow suddenly dries up – after all there hasn’t been rain in certain parts for a very long time. Look closely for deformed wing virus as this is a sure indication that varroa really has taken hold. Observe the area around your hives and look out for crawlers. Perfect looking bees but bees that are unable to fly - that too is an indication that viruses are taking hold. Be aware that decisions you make now have a bearing on your colony’s survival. This is something that is so hard to explain to beginners, particularly when a colony at the moment seems so large and prosperous. But those of us who have been beekeeping for a very long time know that is no guarantee that the colony survives the winter. And in fact, large colonies may well have large numbers of varroa mites, which can put them particularly at risk if an Autumn treatment is not done.

Enjoy this exceptional year but be aware all this honey causes its own headache and management problems.

The positive is you will all have honey to enter into our honey show in November, won’t you?

Wild comb in the roof of a hive

One of the beginners nucs

Capped honey

Some massive super frames

Be careful not to leave wet super frames in a garage. This Video was in 2019. I wasn’t proud of myself!
Wasps not bees in this case

Remember - Enter into our honey show in November.

Malcolm Wilkie – 2nd August 2022

“Honey galore in sunny St Leonards” - by Malcolm Wilkie

Once again this season has been like no other. A very mild wet winter has meant that the bees have started building up really early and collecting a lot of nectar from spring flowers and trees : although we have had little rain so far the ground itself was moist and trees with their deep roots have been able to express nectar in great quantity.

The month of April was very kind from the point of view of the weather and so it is perhaps unsurprising that large colonies have wanted to swarm early. A few years ago the main swarming season was towards the end of May but this certainly hasn’t been the case this year for my bees.

My problem is that colonies on which I did swarm control by taking the Queen out on the nucleus have now built up to such an extent that they themselves also now need a super. Lesley and I now have 22 units between us, and those numbers seem to be mushrooming! As soon as the sun comes out Les’s garden hums so loudly that one thinks there must be a swarm somewhere. As our neighbour said when he looked over the fence the other day, the activity of your bees is rather like the M25 as there seems to be so much traffic.

Perhaps unsurprisingly I have run out of supers and a lot of the supers that I have on hives are so full of honey that the bees have nowhere to place the ingress of nectar. So I urgently need to do a honey extraction in order to create some space, because my concern is that new Queens will have nowhere to lay in the brood box and so that will trigger another round of swarming and of course that is what I want to avoid at all costs.

All of us as beekeepers need to keep an eagle eye on the weather. We have now just had a good dump of rain, and more is expected next week. The consequence of that, given the elevated temperatures, is that we will have the most humongous nectar flow and brood boxes will become honey bound if we are not careful. So if your bees are in condition, add supers and think about removing frames of stores from the brood box and replacing them with foundation. This will keep the bees busy and create space for a new queen to start her brood nest.

Below are some pictures of Lesley’s garden. The supers are so heavy that it is difficult to lift them off the hive. We don’t think there is rape in the vicinity this year. However in my out apiary that may not be the case and if I am unlucky when I can do an extraction (which is not until next week) the honey may have granulated to such an extent that I won’t even be able to get it out of the frames. Jo Groom avoided this problem last week because she realised that the honey was granulating before her eyes. That’s the difficulty with rape honey because it will set overnight if you’re not careful. So it needs to be put into jars at the same time as you are extracting if at all possible. Otherwise you’re going to have to use a warming cabinet. At least (because she is on the ball) she has extracted the ripe honey from her frames and they can now be used again. If I am unlucky and the honey in my out apiary has set rock-hard in the frames I will not be able to extract it and all that drawn wax will be wasted!

Lesley and I have never had a spring crop like this one before. Honey galore! As long as I can actually get it out of the frames!

  • Video - Nuc boxes in a row as part of swarm control. This is only a part of the garden!
  • Image-1 - Swarm control!
  • Image-2 - The top part of the garden.
  • Image-3 - The bottom part of the garden.

Despite the number of hives, the bees let us mow and strim in the garden without bothering us. Some of those bees are from last year’s calm queen project.

Rape honey can be a blessing or a curse.

  • Image-4 - Jo Groom’s extraction from yesterday. Definitely rape - it granulates before your eyes.
  • Image-5 - Jo’s honey granulating as she is bottling up. It will be set within 12 hours.

Malcolm Wilkie (training officer) – 20th May 2022

You should be aware that this is shaping up to be a bad year for colony losses, seemingly due to very levels of varroa. No doubt the odd weather this year has had an influence.

There has been much correspondence on the HWBKA WhatsApp group about losses. Our own Honey Queen Helen Hadley posted she had lost 3 and now reckons it is 9 so far. John Miller has lost one …the only one he forgot to treat. As a result, I (PC) inspected my own colonies a couple of days ago and discovered to my dismay I have lost 7 out of 12 so far.

There had been some talk of absconding on WhatsApp and indeed some of my deceased colonies which were previously very strong had just a few 10’s of bees left and loads of untouched stores, which puzzled me.

I decided to contact the Regional Bee Inspector Dan Etheridge, sent him some notes and had very long and very interesting conversation with him. His first impression is that I experienced a 'varroa bomb' as Randy Oliver calls them. Apparently, he reckons we are having the worst year ever for varroa induced colony collapses especially in the south; quote ...’my phone has not stopped ringing since the Christmas break’. For those of you who have been very rigorous in your varroa treatments it may not be such a problem.

As some of you know I have for more than a decade now tried to practice a policy of minimum intervention in the hope that by not treating quite so vigorously and supporting strains unable to tolerate varroa we might expect natural selection to do what it should and establish a new equilibrium with more tolerant bees, plus there is much published literature that bees are adapting. It had been working out. After 10+ years with very few losses I suppose I had been lulled into a false sense of security. However, this time I have been caught out.    

Dan was at great pains to point out that he is not against 'natural beekeeping' in the slightest and indeed tried himself for many years.  However, he was also at great pains to point out, and this is the very important salutary lesson I will take away from this experience, that one must monitor varroa very regularly and accurately. At least once a month and preferably using the alcohol or sugar wash technique rather than relying on the sticky board which he has found unreliable, otherwise, given the right conditions the varroa numbers can explode ‘exponentially’. Had I done this more conscientiously I would not have been caught out as I have been. It's not necessary to treat with varroacides religiously, regularly, needlessly or prophylactically. But it is essential to treat when really needed.

So, I’ll be going out to treat my remaining 5 colonies with the vaporiser tomorrow, 3 times 5 days apart as I’ve missed the brood break …not there would have been one in this record-breaking warm winter.

The completely empty ‘Marie Celeste’ colonies you’ll see in the photograph, and which one might think have absconded are not so unusual apparently as in some colonies most of the ailing bees have the decency to do a Captain Oates and take themselves off to die elsewhere.

Malcolm has been in touch with many members and is finding that losses are mounting. Such losses are more typically seen in February / March … this not looking like a ‘normal’ year

So, the message is check your hives now, and if concerned, it might not be too late to rescue them with an Oxalic acid sublimation …using ApiBioxal the approved product of course!

Stores a plenty
No bees

Not a good start to the year!