Malcolm’s Topical Tips

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

Helen has opened up her hives and there are already drones. She has poly hives so her bees will have been kept snug over the winter and will be ahead of colonies kept in wooden hives.

Last year the poly hive at Slab Castle had drones in early in the season and they swarmed in April. I suspect Helen will not be the only one who has found drones at a time of year when one would not be expecting to see them. Be warned, the season is early.

Do your calculations. For a drone to be produced it takes 24 days. So during that warm spell in February the bees had already started their plotting. Those drones will perhaps not yet be mature enough to mate but in another 10 days or so they will be mature. That means by mid-April the bees can produce Queen cells and they can swarm. I hope you all heeded my advice and have cleaned up your equipment and started building those frames.

A Nuc Box in March - video

A Nuc Box in April – video

Several of you took my advice and overwintered small colonies in poly nuc boxes. It’s incredible how bees prosper in these! This is the way to go if you want to sell nucs! People who have done this are now finding that there is incredible activity at the entrance with bees piling into the nuc with their pollen baskets fully laden. You are going to have to do something soon. Either you sell your nuc, or you hive it to let it expand naturally. Here is my advice if you do hive it. Place one frame of foundation next to the sunniest side of your box, place your bees next to that (the nuc will be exploding when you open it up and there will be bees on top of the frames, if this is not the case don’t hive them yet), place another frame of foundation on the other side and then a cellotex dummy board. In other words only give them two pieces of foundation to work on for the time being.

To encourage them to draw out the foundation you can feed them syrup now. However be careful what sort of feeder you use. A doughnut feeder would be good but a contact feeder would be a mistake. That is because with such a contrast between day time temperatures and night time temperatures a contact feeder can sometimes empty its whole contents over the bees and you will drown your colony and probably kill your queen.

A lot for you all to think about. I hope you all are ready for the inevitable.

The session on controlling swarming is on the 3rd of April.

There is also a talk in Uckfield about dealing with the Asian hornet. If that becomes a problem over here I suspect over three quarters of you will give up keeping bees so if you can get to the talk, it would be a good idea to go and hear how they have coped with the invasion in Jersey.

March 22nd March 2019