Malcolm’s Topical Tips

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

Below is a video of a female hairy footed flower bee. Lesley rescued her as she was clinging onto a crocus flower, completely frozen, which is a scenario you may already have come across with you own honeybees. This hairy footed flower bee was taken into the warm and given some sugar syrup and as you can see it revived her.

How is it that she became so listless? Well it is because the nights are still very cold and the current wet weather has brought down the temperatures considerably.

So how is this relevant to all of us? The problem is that during February we have had some record warm temperatures and the bees have started to raise brood. Most of you will have noticed your bees bringing back pollen baskets crammed full of pollen, and this is a clear sign that your Queen has come back into lay.

Wonderful, of course.
Well is it so wonderful? Such unseasonal temperatures have tempted some of you to open up your hives. Not a good idea as if you crush your queen inadvertently now they will not be able to make a new queen. Or if they do, there is no chance of her getting mated! You will also be breaking the propolis seal and be setting the bees back which is an unwise thing to do so early in the year. Keith says that there is no point in looking so early on because if something has gone wrong with your hive there is nothing you can do about it anyway! Better to leave well alone!

Our bees have responded to the environment because early spring flowers have come into bloom and nighttime temperatures have been well above average. The consequence of this is that there will be brood in those hives. And that brood needs to be fed and to be kept warm. And that is a problem for us all.

Go to your hive and look at the uncappings below your open mesh floor. Watch your bees gathering water from your bird bath. What does this mean? Well, it means that they are using honey in order to keep the brood warm and in order to make new bees. The energy from the nectar last year is being converted into new life. So that, of course, is a danger if you did not feed your bees adequately last autumn because they could run out of food. March is that critical moment when new beekeepers do not realise what is happening and let their bees starve! That is why I always put fondant on in January.

What else should one be doing? I add a pollen pattie (neopoll). If the bees manage to get out and collect pollen (some of it they will store as bee bread) this may be a waste of my money, but if for a whole week they are incarcerated in their hive due to bad weather then my pollen pattie will be a lifeline for them. Given the current cold weather I am jolly glad I put on those patties! I hope you all have done so too.

So why my title? Because it is a chance to talk to other experienced beekeepers and work out what is going on and what you should be doing. I learn a lot and a lot of what I have set down here is information gathered at the February bee banter. As for the furry footed flower bee, it is just that I couldn’t resist sending you my video and the fact that she had got chilled was sort of relevant.
Look at the environment around you and try and read the signs. You will be a better bee keeper in consequence.

Malcolm Wilkie
March 4th 2019

The Sun has got some warmth in it at last and the bees are coming out and looking for fresh pollen and nectar. I have seen them working camellias, hellebores and snowdrops. It is only flowers planted in some sunshine that are being worked.

If you have not already been busy preparing for the coming season, now would be a good time to start.

1) On a sunny morning check whether the bees are flying or if that is not possible then stick your ear to the side of the hive and listen for the gentle hum of the cluster. If you cannot hear anything, then gently tap the side of the hive and they will respond.
2) Make a plan for what you are going to do with your bees this coming season. If you are a beginner and have only one hive, then you will be going for increase. Make sure you have ordered a second hive and that you have sufficient frames and foundation to be able to do a split. Better to order all this now than to be caught out at the end of April. I will run a session on swarm control in early April. April 3rd at 7:30pm at the Cross in Hand pub.

(I am spelling out what I mean by the above so there can be no room for misunderstanding.

If you are doing an artificial swarm then you will need 11 frames and eleven pieces of foundation. When you do an artificial swarm the Old Queen is placed on a brood frame on the original site in a new box (new floor, new crown board and new roof). Have you purchased and built a new hive for this purpose? This new hive is filled with frames of foundation around the one brood frame where your old Queen is laying eggs.
You will also need a large rapid feeder. If you have not yet purchased one this will be necessary if you are going to make increase. You will have to feed them at least 8kg of sugar to get them to draw out your foundation. And this is best fed to them all in one go in the large rapid feeder. Just be prepared to avoid rushing out and buying everything at the last moment. When you leave everything to the last moment mistakes are made. And as the experienced know among you if a hive swarms and then casts, you can be left with so few bees that it may take you two years to get the colony back to being prosperous again! Any delay at swarming time can lead to disaster.)

On April 3rd I will also show you what to do if your bees want to swarm and you cannot find the Queen. It’s not as good as the Pagden method above but it should work.

3) If you have been keeping bees for several years you should have cleaned up all your spare brood boxes, floors, crown boards and roofs by now. You will have used a blowtorch to clean up any wooden equipment so as to ensure that no disease is spread to a new colony. If you use poly hives any spare equipment will have been cleaned with soda crystals and then a strong solution of bleach.

4) If you are Helen you will already have built frames for any increase that you are going to make but you will not have added the foundation as you will be waiting for early April. This is so that the wax does not turn brittle.

5) Now is the time where you could add some Neopoll above the crown board. If the weather keeps clement, the gathering of pollen will not be an issue. However if we have a long spell of wet weather, Neopoll can be a lifeline for your bees. It will certainly help them build up if they are a medium sized or strong colony. This will give you the best chance of gathering a spring honey crop.

6) There is now time to put order into your bee shed and check that wax moth has not done too much damage. Do it now because once the season starts you will just run out of time.

7) If you have a very small colony and are wringing your hands in despair, don’t. Bees are amazingly resilient and you will be surprised just how quickly they come back after a long winter. However some Neopoll might well help. But not too much! You don’t want it oozing all over the crown board and running down into the brood nest through the hole in the crown board.

If you haven’t treated against varroa in the autumn and were not brave enough to sublimate in the winter, then you need to think carefully what you are going to do. It may not be a huge problem but you will probably need to use something like varroa Med or hive alive every time you inspect in spring. If things are really desperate then in mid to late April you could use something like Apiguard. Difficult of course with a small unit because Apiguard will put the Queen off lay for about a month. Only you can make the judgement. And only you can put the inspection board in to see what the natural dead mite drop is.

Have a plan and if you haven’t a plan, make one. Order those bits of equipment now!

Malcolm Wilkie February 11th 2019

PS Hope you enjoy these videos taken today in St Leonards.