Malcolm’s Topical Tips

At present you have a window, but that window is fast disappearing

I am talking about feeding your bees. In August you will have done your autumn treatments if you discovered that there were a lot of varroa on your bees. Now once those treatments are finished, is the time when you should calculate the stores you have on your hive. In a 14 x 12 deep national brood frame, there can be 7 pounds of stores. But that is a brood frame crammed, stuffed, chockablock with honey. In an ordinary national brood frame, there can be 5 pounds of stores but it has to be a really full frame.

An ordinary colony needs 40lbs of stores in order to overwinter successfully. That is quite heavy and it should be difficult to lift the brood box because of the weight.

The problem for beginners is that they often don’t have a large, prosperous colony. They won’t have a 14 x 12 brood box crammed full of bees. They still need to feed, however. But there is one proviso. Be careful that you don’t feed so much that the bees stuff the brood nest with your sugar syrup and put the Queen off lay. A better strategy for those of you with only six or seven seams of bees is to feed some syrup every other day. This will mimic a natural nectar flow. But you had better get on with it now. The window of weather is fast disappearing and before you know it temperatures will be too low for the bees to be able to convert your sugar syrup into stores.

There is another benefit to feeding regularly at this time of year. Ivy has started to flower and ivy honey granulates rock hard in the comb. The Ivy honey will therefore be mixed with your syrup and will be much easier for the bees to access during winter.

But what about my super, I hear you cry? Remove it (if you are wanting the bees to have it over winter) store it , feed and then put it back on. That will guarantee that your sugar syrup is put directly into the brood box.

You may even decide to under super. This isn’t at all difficult as long as there are two of you. The advantage of under supering is that the bees will probably take the honey up into the brood nest, which is where you want it during the winter. If you leave the super above the brood nest that probably will be fine as long as the brood box contains sufficient stores. Have you been through and calculated? You will need to remove the queen excluder (ALL Queen excluders should be put in the shed!), and you will need to be vigilant. As soon as it warms up in March you will have to pop that queen excluder back in, making sure that your queen is downstairs and not upstairs.

If you need to do a winter treatment because of varroa, it is much better not to have a super on the bees. Margaret Mawson who runs colonies on 14 x 12 boxes never leaves a super on the bees. Why is this? It’s all about managing them and giving oneself options. So much easier if there isn’t a super because then if you need to treat you will be able to do so. You won’t, however,  if the super is on the hive, or if you do treat them any honey in that super will not be fit for human consumption. I myself never leave supers on the hives. I have 14 x 12 boxes and an additional super is a hell of a large volume for a colony. Our president, Peter Coxon, who does not treat his bees always leaves his super/s on his hives. He whips the supers off in March/April and extracts the honey. But he did have a problem this year because a lot of ivy honey wouldn’t come out of the combs. BUT he does not treat.

Finally I want you all to look at this video.

One of our members has already been informed by the Yalding Association that there are Asian hornets in Ashford. In order to cope with this exotic pest we will all need to keep large colonies. I don’t think I have very many large colonies myself and all of us are going to have to decide what we need to do to ensure that our colonies are large, prosperous and capable of coping with the harassment from this very nasty hornet.

This Asian hornet was caught by Kate Lawes in Normandy during our visit to French beekeepers there. Forgive my enthusiasm, but I was delighted that we had actually seen one and seen it hawking. Apparently if there are five Hornets hawking outside the hive, then the bees no longer go out and forage, and no longer collect pollen, and that is why colonies collapse. I’m sorry but I cannot feel sorry for this Asian hornet. Asian Hornets are going to prove a headache for us all and I suspect many of you may even give up beekeeping.

Malcolm Wilkie 11th September 2019

Just a reminder to everyone in the Association that there is the National honey show at the end of October which is held at Sandown Park racecourse in London.

There are a program of lectures and workshops and all you need to do is google “the National honey show“ to find out what is on offer. Bookings for workshops start on the 1st of September and you need to be quick if you want to get the workshop that you would like to do. If you are interested in soap making Sarah Rob has a workshop called pampering potions but you definitely need to book that one up on the 1st of September. There looks to be a good workshop by Phil McAnespie on swarm control and that will get booked up very quickly.

Apart from the lectures and workshops there is the trade Hall. Helen and I buy our jars for the next season, frames that we will be able to make up and there are just thousands of other items that can be picked up at reasonable prices. For instance I bought a really good 6 frame mating hive   with a division board allowing me to raise two queens. I purchased a sheriff bee suit and that was specially adapted for me as I have extremely short legs! Measurements were taken at the show.

Beginners who come on Saturday have a program of lectures specially for them and these are held by master Beekeepers and are always useful.

If you are only intending to go for one day, then Friday is probably the best day before all the best bargains have disappeared.

I am hoping to be able to enter some of my honey. If you are thinking of doing so, then perhaps read some of my past articles about preparing honey for showing. If you are busy and cannot get up to the show then lectures are recorded and you will be able to listen to them at home on your computer or iPad. But you won’t get those bargains, of course.

Malcolm Wilkie Aug 20th 2019

At this time of year this is the question that I am most frequently asked by beginners and by more experienced beekeepers. If you follow these topical tips that I try and send out regularly, you will realise that there is often no one straightforward answer. It all depends on how you manage your bees.

Leaving a super of honey or taking the supers away from the bees all depends on how you wish to manage your charges. And I would argue it all depends on what the level of varroa is in your colonies and how many bees you have got in those colonies. If you have done as the BBKA recommends you will already have extracted your honey, and you will have left an inspection board in for one full week in order to calculate the natural mite drop in your colony. If your colony is a medium-size one or a small one, then you will have taken back the super/s after one day once the bees have licked out the honey left over from your extraction. This is an easy scenario because if you need to treat for varroa then there will be no supers on the hive and you can use a thymol product like Apiguard together with an eke and that will clean up the bees ready to go into winter.

If you have a super full of honey and your varroa drop is still high then you can always take that super away from the bees, treat, and then put the super back on them. This will have the added advantage of encouraging them to put any nectar they collected this time of the year into the brood box, which is where you want it. However, be careful how that is stored because wasps and local honeybees can move into your garage or bee shed if they find that honey! The difficult situation comes when you have an extremely large colony with three or four supers on them. Removing all those supers and crowding the bees into the brood box may not be a very intelligent idea. Crowding bees at any time of the year can encourage swarming!

A large populous colony will no doubt have varroa and that can be building up at this time of year. They may still be collecting nectar and making honey and some people will still be able to do an extraction in early September. The catch 22 is that a lot of the treatments against varroa mite only properly work when the temperatures are high enough. And so, this treatment should be carried out now in August. And those treatments cannot be used if there are supers on the hive.

It is because I often experience the above scenario that I do not often treat in August but sublimate with oxalic acid in December. I know our French counter parts would argue that that is not good because it is the winter bees being made at the moment that are the ones that are going to carry the colony through the winter. However, I make one proviso. That is that if I find a huge mite drop at this time of year and distressingly see that there are a lot of deformed wings, then I will make sure that I treat. That is a good tip for you all – look now for DWV on your bees. If you see it, alarm bells should be ringing. And if alarm bells are ringing, do something.

Malcolm Wilkie 17th August 2019

Today temperatures are going to reach 30° in some parts of Kent and Sussex.

Most of us keep bees in national hives and we have a flat or gabled metal roof on top of the hive. If you have your beehive situated in full sun, then this will be scorching to the touch. This is not good for the bees and will stress them out.

Most colonies will cope as long as there is a super above the brood box. However you will reduce their potential to forage because instead of collecting nectar they are going to have to go and fetch water in order to cool down the hive. In effect you are reducing their potential to collect you honey.

Smaller colonies that you are growing into a full sized hive are really going to suffer. This may well be the case if you are a beginner and have started with a nucleus. This is because your roof is directly above the brood nest. Just consider how hot that roof is getting in full sunshine and, of course, that high temperature is being transmitted to the brood frames below! In nature the bees would be in a hollow in a tree and there would be no metal to heat up anywhere near their nest.  If we do nothing to shade the roof we are creating the equivalent of the black hole of Calcutta for our bees. In effect you are virtually cooking them alive.

In fact I believe you will be stressing the bees so much that there is bound to be an adverse effect and that is that, in consequence of not being able to cool the brood to the correct temperature, fungal infections will set in -particularly chalk brood and sac brood. In past years this has been my experience where I have not shaded the roof.

This will not be a problem for owners of WBC hives because the outer skin created by the lifts shades the box. Owners of Poly hives may need to shade the roofs but you will not get the extreme temperatures created by pieces of metal heating up.

So what do you do? Use thick celotex either inside the roof or simply placed on top of the roof. If placed inside, make sure you cut out holes for the ventilation. Pictures of Lesley’s hives are included.

We are now in the midst of a nectar flow and the bees are making honey for you. Make sure that if you have a prosperous colony that they have enough space. You may be in the position of trying to get them to cap the honey. This can be tricky but you can help. Make sure there is a little space between each super frame. You might also consider removing the end frames of each super so that there can be a good airflow around the nectar that they are trying to convert into honey. During the next week or so temperatures are above 20° and the bees will want to convert that nectar into stores for the future. Help them as much as you can while the heat window allows. July is all about honey and then for most of us it is all over.


The better beekeepers among will have got large colonies and they are the ones that are going to make honey. A colony has to have an excess of foragers before they can make honey in any quantity. Well done if you are in the fortunate position of bees collecting you honey.

Malcolm Wilkie 29th June 2019

I don’t know if others have noticed, but we have recently experienced the June gap. Colonies in response to the dearth of nectar will have reduced the egg laying rate of the Queen or even put her off lay completely.  Other stronger colonies will have been eating stores from their honey super.

Experienced beekeepers with strong colonies and supers on their hives have nothing to worry about. Even if there is little in the brood box the super of honey will have sustained the bees - that is unless an extraction has already been done. However if swarm control has already been done by the more experienced among you there may now be a box of bees that is extremely light on stores, and this could also be a problem. Even more so with all this wet weather we are having because this is forcing the bees to stay at home instead of getting out and bringing back nectar. And if they stay at home, they munch.

So please check your colonies and the stores that the bees have available to them. If you don’t have a super on your hive yet and there are no frames of stores or at least capped honey around the brood nest, then you should feed.

Beginners often buy a nucleus which they then put into a full sized hive. So they too, more than anyone else, are in the above situation.

Are they feeding these bees? Are the bees being given the food necessary for them to draw wax and to build a full sized brood nest? Of course one cannot continually stimulate by feeding sugar syrup, otherwise your bees will swarm. However some stop start feeding to encourage them to build up sufficiently so that you are then able to put a super on is a good investment of money. Have beginners even noticed that their bees are struggling?

The above colony looks really prosperous. However notice how little honey there is. In fact I cannot see any honey at all! These bees belong to Lesley and are absolutely fantastic and prolific but they do not put honey above the brood nest on their 14*12 frames. Such a colony (and what a colony) could have great difficulty in finding enough food If they have no stores available to them or if we as Beekeepers have stolen the honey from them. Remember large colonies (without stores) are the ones that can starve the quickest as there are just so many mouths to feed.

Ironically things are about to change. The south east has been battered by storms and there is now a good reservoir of moisture in the soil. What does this mean? Once temperatures rise again anything in flower will exude nectar in abundance and there will be a huge nectar flow. Anyone with a large colony will be able to put supers on their hives and collect honey. Sweet chestnut and lime are preparing to flower as we speak.

You may therefore be wondering why I am sending you this topical tip if a nectar flow is just about to start. It is so that you know that each one of you should be looking carefully at the environment around them and what is in flower and how much moisture there is in the soil. I picked up last week that things were difficult for the bees and so I fed any boxes without supers. This will have kept the Queen laying eggs and means that when the sweet chestnut does come into flower these colonies will be sufficiently big for me to then add a super and to collect that nectar so that I get honey.

Bee farmers will no doubt be combining colonies in order to create a huge foraging force under a new queen. Why do they do this? In order to guarantee a good honey crop because it is only when the bees can collect nectar in excess of their own requirements that you get a good honey crop for the beekeeper. A strong foraging force is the key to good honey crops.  It is also, of course, a way of keeping down their colony numbers (those of you who are less squeamish then myself shudder at the thought of what happens to those old Queens).

One of the beginners on my course this year has just shown me his hive records. On it he does not mark the stores available to the two colonies he has. One should fill in this section as it helps you to assess whether any feed needs to be given. Now when I fill in my record sheet I put on my record sheet a number which equates to the number of super frames of honey available to the bees. So if I have a full super on the hive (11 frames) and two full brood frames in the brood box (14*12 so 2 brood frames would be equivalent to 4 super frames) I would write down under the ‘Stores’ section 15.
Such a system enables me to immediately see which are my most prosperous colonies. So one of my colonies at one stage had 44 frames of stores whereas there were others with only 12 or 13. Assessing how much honey a colony makes is information that can then be gathered at a glance.

If you are not already using one of the hive record sheets from our website, the BBKA does a good hive recording system which anyone can download. It is the clearest system I have yet found anywhere.

Malcolm Wilkie - 14th June 2019