Malcolm’s Topical Tips

Comb I have cut up

A frame I have spun and then cut in two to show you how much honey is left in the comb

In my opinion, after having tried to extract 13 supers of the bloody stuff, it is definitely a curse. My bees are right next to 6 or seven fields of oilseed rape and ,of course, they have been busy taking advantage of this bonanza.

Traditionally one waits for the flowers of rape to start to go over before taking the honey and extracting it. However I knew I had a lot of capped frames and so on Tuesday I decided I would have to do an extraction. The disadvantage being that they are still going to collect more of the stuff and I will have to do another extraction in a week or two. Now I knew that the problem with oilseed rape is that it granulates in the frames. What I did not know was that even when granulation hasn’t fully taken place the honey still will not spin out of the frames. Below are two of the frames that have already been spun and ,particularly in the top frame, the honey just won’t come out! Even in the bottom frame about 40 to 50% of the honey would not come out!

The trouble for me is that the honey in those frames is going to set rockhard and that means that those frames won’t be able to be used by the bees later in the season to collect me another crop. That’s what I mean by a curse! We all know how costly it is for the bees to draw out wax and once one has drawn comb that is a real blessing. How annoying to find that all of that has been destroyed by this crop of honey.

The other problem is that I was unable to pass the honey through a double sieve because of the granulation that was present already in the crop that was coming off the frames. This means that I am going to have to put my honey buckets into the warming cabinet and once I have warmed this honey I will then be able to pass it through the finer part of my double sieve. Of course I had no idea about all this until I spoke to our honey Queen. I had also unwisely and in desperation used a spatula to try and pass the honey through my coarse sieve. This means in some buckets there are fine pieces of wax. If only I had been a bit cleverer and when I decided to use a spatula I had then put the sieve over a fresh bucket and then kept back that honey for my own consumption! Easy to be wise after the event!

I asked Helen what I should do with these frames. To be honest smashing them up and warming them gently in the oven just didn’t seem an option. After all there were 13 supers of the bloody stuff! What I have done, and I don’t know if that is a good idea, is that I have cut up some of the worst offending frames and put them in buckets. I intend to give this back to the bees when there is the June gap. Let’s hope they will be able to lick it all out at that stage!

(Combs cut up to put in a bucket to feed back to the bees)
The difficulty for me does not even end there. With rape you really need to soft seed in order to get an acceptable granulation, so I will have to be using my warming cabinet and using some of last year’s soft set heather honey (what a shame! ) to turn this crop into something more acceptable for sale.

A curse or a blessing? Definitely a curse!!! I may have 160lbs worth of honey but I wish I hadn’t got it.

Malcolm Wilkie 9th May 2019

All my colonies are in one apiary and every single one is now making preparations to swarm. They are just next to acres of rape seed oil. Yellow as far as the eye can see!

Temperatures are not ideal and Saturday it is wet and windy. However everyone would be well advised to carefully check their colonies as soon as they can. 13° with sunshine and not too much wind makes it possible to go in and have a look. You really need to look into those queen cups to see if there is an egg.

My own colonies on 14 x 12’s have between seven and nine frames of brood. There is an amazing amount of nectar in the environment currently and they will be off. Be warned!

If you have sealed Queen cells don’t dig them all out and render your colony queenless. Someone has already done this, much to my own despair. Just remember the colony won’t appear to have swarmed because there will still be thousands of bees but if you have sealed queen cells the Queen has GONE. You cocked up this time. Not a problem as long as you learn from your mistake.

Malcolm Wilkie 26th April 2019

Just a reminder to everyone about doing an artificial swarm using the Pagden method.

Below is a link to my Topical Tip from last year, which includes a video:

However I repeat to you what I do differently from the video. And I shall explain why.

Once I have the old Queen in a new box on the old site, I add a piece of plastic Queen excluder over the hive entrance (not sure this will work on a poly hive). This is because if I have transferred her to the new box on a frame of eggs and these get chilled, the bees will probably abscond; there will be no brood to anchor them to the box. By placing a  bit of plastic Queen excluder across the entrance they cannot leave as Queenie cannot get out (unless you are a bad carpenter and there is another hole in your box somewhere). Or you have a leaky WBC hive! The disadvantage (there is always a disadvantage) is that the drones cannot get back in. The old Queen in her new box on the old site is the box I feed generously with sugar syrup. Those of you at the swarming session saw how big my feeder was. This is logical; you have put her in a box with frames of foundation and they have no frames with stores  on them.

I remove my bit of Queen excluder after three days.

The youtube video suggests that you should put the super on the old Queen in her new box on the old site. Rubbish. When I did that the bees didn’t bother to draw out the foundation as there was drawn comb in the super above the Queen excluder. They cleared out space in the super for the Queen to lay not understanding that there was a Queen excluder preventing her from getting upstairs. Remember you understand that a Queen is too big to get through a Queen excluder but the bees do not. And you risk the Queen impaling herself on the excluder in her effort to get upstairs. Even if there is one frame of brood downstairs they tend to ignore it. Look at it from their point of view. There is drawn comb already in the top box(super), stores to keep the new brood warm and they don’t need to draw out all that new wax which is stressful for them, particularly as the bees are mainly older foragers and these are the ones that are not such good wax makers. Why wouldn’t they try and make a brood nest upstairs? The only thing that is preventing them is your bloody Queen excluder! And they don’t understand excluders. They are clever creatures BUT NOT that clever.

Helen taught me to put my super on the ‘parent box’- in other words the box with all the brood and the Queen cells (there is a very good reason why I call Helen ‘Our honey Queen’, just remember that).

Why does this work? Because if you do the manipulation correctly and only allow one Queen cell there will be thousands of bees hatching who will have nothing else to do but collect you honey. A virgin takes at least 3 weeks to come into lay (and if you have a big box of bees, sometimes even longer) and so what do the bees do while waiting for her to start laying eggs? They go out searching for nectar. Make sure you give them enough supers though because if you don’t they will fill up your brood box with honey and there will be nowhere for a new queen to lay eggs!

Although you should never disturb a box with a new virgin in it, you can look at the super without any danger of crushing her and if they are filling it up you MUST give them another empty super, preferably just above the brood box.


P.S. I hope the above is clear. It should be clear at the very least to those who came to my talk on swarming. I suspect many of those who are inexperienced and didn’t come to the talk will be blissfully unaware of what is about to happen and what to do about it! Perhaps the video below may help you.

P.P.S. Remember capped queen cells means there is a 95% chance that the Queen has swarmed with half to three quarters of your bees and your honey crop has disappeared over the hedge. Sorry, you cocked up this year, better luck next time!

8th April 2019

Hopefully all of your bees came through winter successfully and are now bringing in lots of pollen. Please do keep a check on their food stores as there is still a risk of starvation, especially if we have a cold snap and there are more mouths to feed. If needed, you can either continue with fondant or give them a thin syrup mix (25% water).

With the improved weather you should be able to carry out your first inspections. Choose a dry (sunny?) day, 12 degrees or more and no wind. I use cloths to keep the frames covered and only expose one frame at a time. Although the queen should be easy to find, the reason for the inspection is to confirm the state of the hive.

  1. How many frames of brood are there and in what stage (eggs, larvae, capped)?
  2. Is the brood healthy or are there any deformities?
  3. How many frames of stores do they have?
  4. Importantly, how much space is there for the queen to lay? If all frames are full, remove one frame of capped stores (or pollen) and replace with a fresh frame of foundation. Put this next to the brood. If an outside frame has space, move this next to the brood.
  5. Consider putting on a super. If the brood box is cramped then this is a must. As well as storing fresh nectar, the bees will move honey up from the brood box creating space for the queen to lay.
  6. Finally, check for play cups / queen cells. There is an expectation that the swarming season will be early this year so you need to be prepared. Have you got equipment ready for immediate use and a plan of action in place? When I checked my hives yesterday, one colony had eight large play cups (almost queen cell sized)!

I hope you all have a successful season and get pleasure from your Beekeeping.

Steve Davies 29th March 2019

It’s now time to have the first inspection. Temperatures are about 14° and on a nice sunny day without much wind you will be able to have a look at your bees.
If you wrapped your hives in breathable membrane, that should be removed now. I find the bees start to chew it and get caught in the woolly strands.
There is a nectar flow on at the moment and colonies are expanding rapidly.

My Buckfast colony had built comb above the crown board. I should have been lifting the lid weekly to check what they were up to.

Colonies  that are prosperous need to have a queen excluder put on them and a super of drawn comb above the queen excluder so that they collect you honey. Any delay in putting on that super at the moment could cause them to swarm early. Be warned!

If you are a beginner and do not have drawn comb then you will be putting a box of foundation. If it is foundation that you have to use, make sure that the wax is fresh or has been refreshed, and don’t put the queen excluder in. Go back after three days and check if they are drawing out the foundation. If they are drawing out the foundation at that moment you can pop in the queen excluder.

If like me you did not mark your Queens in the autumn (a sensible decision because you would not want a queen to be killed in the autumn) now is the time when you can mark your Queen. The colonies are about to explode in numbers but at the moment if you know how to look for your queen you will probably find her. She is dominant because she has survived the whole winter and that means that if you mark her they are extremely unlikely to ball her and kill her. Marking your queen makes swarm control so much easier, believe me!

For marking your queen you will probably be using one of the pens that one buys from a bee farmer. Be warned they can be leaky, so try it out first on a piece of wood. You don’t want to drown your queen! Yes I have done it, and no I wasn’t pleased with myself!

I have learnt with bees that if I think I should be doing something, then I need to get on with it straight away. For example I found comb above the crown board yesterday and so I went back later in the afternoon and gave them a super straightaway. There were just so many bees I was astounded, and it was a little bit messy because I should have put the super on last week.

Be proactive everyone and prosperous colonies will collect you a Spring honey crop.  Any delay now in giving the bees room and you are going to be in trouble.

Malcolm Wilkie
27th March 2019