Malcolm’s Topical Tips – 2017 Apr 08

Are you denying your honeybees their human rights?

Of course I am being somewhat facetious in suggesting that honeybees have human rights. Perhaps I should have said animal rights or even better insect rights. In fact perhaps I should rephrase my question and say instead, are you denying your honeybees their insect rights? Let's hope that by posing such a silly question you will dismiss this article and read no further. Perhaps if enough beekeepers ignore my advice then there will be some good swarms that the beginners might be able to get hold of to start beekeeping. That's what I am hoping for anyway. So please don't  read any further than here, and thereby you will be letting your colony swarm and Peter will have some good swarms to collect.

During this current nectar flow young bees have an absolute need to make wax. Your colonies are expanding at an exponential rate. Your queens are laying eggs on almost every frame. Congestion is taking place in your hives. Those of you who have heeded my warning about loving your bees too much have already done something to avoid congestion in the hive, and you have taken out a frame of stores and added a frame of foundation next to the brood nest. If you still find that a big colony needs more space you can, in extremis, commit the ultimate sin. You can (it has to be a strong colony) split the brood nest by placing a frame of foundation in the middle of the brood. I now expect salvos to be launched at me by the more experienced among you, but I know this is what some bee farmers do.

But how about our honeybees insect rights? Imposing congestion on your bees is a far worse sin than the manipulation mentioned above. When you impose a small space onto a large colony, they then set about swarming. Supering and supering at the correct moment allows your bees to expand and decongest the brood nest. In the past I have sometimes found the bees putting nectar on top of eggs they had so little room. How terrible is that?

You are the sort of beekeeper, of course, who takes the trouble to provide fresh wax for your bees to work on during a nectar flow. Old wax is refreshed with a hair dryer, Kemble wax is given to the bees because you know it is better. You check your supers regularly and you become aware when the bees have completely filled the super with nectar and are crying out for more space and room. You are the sort of person who would then put on a second super. You place this directly above the brood nest so that if there is foundation in the super then the bees can draw it out as quickly as possible. The warm spot above the brood nest is the place where the bees will find it easiest to draw out the wax.

By proceeding in the fashion suggested above you are allowing your hive to breath. A lot of space is needed for nectar to be stored before it is turned into honey and there needs to be space in the brood nest for the Queen to continue laying, otherwise the bees vote for Brexit. And once the bees have decided on Brexit, there is no going back. Your job as the beekeeper is to keep your charges busy working for you and making honey. Don't even let them think that Brexit is a possibility!

It may be a good idea to alternate in your second super frames of nectar, with frames of foundation. By doing so the bees will instinctively draw out your foundation for you, particularly if the foundation is just above the brood nest. Distract them, by forcing them to work. Margaret Ginman says that you should think of your bees in the same way as you would think of a group of adolescent boys. If you don't give them something to do, they will misbehave. And in this context misbehaving means swarming or put another way, Brexit.

So are you respecting your bees fundamental needs to make wax? Are you checking that the Queen has room to lay? Are you giving the bees adequate space by supering at the right moment? Are you alternating frames of nectar with foundation to force your honeybees to work to their maximum potential? What do Syrians do when they are treated as they are treated by Assad? They leave! What will your honeybees do if you treat them badly by forcing them to live in a box that is just too small for them? They will leave! And you can't really blame them either! They would have loved to make you honey if only you had managed them better! So they will seek refuge elsewhere. Perhaps they will find a better beekeeper than you. And he may be a Trump-like figure, who bangs the box and is rough handling them, but if he gives them space that is what they really want.

Listen to what your bees want. Pop off the roof and look how many of them are milling around above the crown board. If there are more than a few doing so, they need space!!! Give your bees their insect rights, give them space and by doing so you will get honey. However if your unit is only a small unit, hang back and let them build up naturally without adding draughty supers that they will ignore anyway.

A note of warning. Currently a lot of the nectar is coming from oilseed rape and this will not stay in flower for ever. Once you see the fields of oilseed rape going over, you need to extract the honey ASAP. Oilseed rape honey sets rockhard in the frames and is useless to the beekeeper and it is useless to the bees. If you are in the Groombridge area you need to keep a very careful eye. If you are in the Eridge area, ditto. Will you be able to get hold of an extractor when you need to extract? Could you combine with another local beekeeper and both of you extract on the same day using the same extractor? Ask yourself these questions now, otherwise you will be in a mess.

Malcolm Wilkie April 8th 2017

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