Malcolm’s Topical Tips – 2016 May 31

> By now if your colony has been strong you will have been through the swarming scenario. This May has been good from the point of view of the nectar flow as there has been moisture in the ground and high temperatures, and those of you with strong colonies will have had supers filled with nectar which will now be being turned into honey by the bees.
> I personally am not in that category. If you do have a colony that has not built up as it should, then you need to ask yourself various questions. Firstly it may be the case that the brood frames in the colony are just too old and this is spreading infection into the bees and preventing them from building up as they ought. What is the brood pattern like? Is there evidence of chalk brood (this is a fungal infection and the spores may be killing off a lot of the larvae). Or it may be that nosema is present and this explains why some of the eggs are dying and that there is a spotty brood pattern. Nosema damages the bee's digestive system and shortens their life.
> In a previous email I explained that a colony needs to reach a tipping point in order to expand. It may be that debilitated by this microsporidian fungus the bees just cannot expand as they ought. This box of bees will no doubt dwindle as the summer continues and will die out in the autumn or winter. There do not seem to be any recommended treatments but 'hive alive' does seem to have some positive effect on colonies according to some.
> The frustrating thing for those of you with colonies that are similar, is that when queen cells are made, then a good proportion of them are not viable. We cut out queen cells that we do not want and there is nothing more frustrating than finding the queen cell is not alive. If you have done a split, then you probably can re-combine the two boxes and the old queen will continue as best she can. Or you could try buying in a queen. Sussex University (LASI) are selling hygienic Queens. You can buy a virgin for only £20 and she will be accepted by bees who have not been able to raise a new queen as long as you haven't left them broodless for a month. No need to remove the accompanying bees. Just break the tab so that the colony can chew out the fondant and accept your new queen with open arms, or perhaps I should say claws!
> It is also important to leave a little space around the Queen introduction cage so the bees in the colony can smell that there is a virgin in that cage. If you have brood, then place the Queen introduction cage next to the frame of brood. You can test whether your purchase will be accepted by placing the cage on top of the frames. Bees that have a virgin already in the hive will be aggressive towards you purchase. Bees that are hopelessly queenless will surround the cage and you will see their little antennae and heads pointing towards the cage showing great interest. If that is the case you are onto a winner. One caveat is that you should not try and introduce a Buckfast queen into a box of mongrel bees. Even if they accept her, they are likely to kill her in the subsequent weeks and raise Queens cells. For some reason they don't seem to speak the same language!
> Beginners find it very difficult to gauge whether a split they have made is queenright or queenless. Once you have calculated the date of the emergence of a queen cell, go in a day or two later and check the queen cell you have marked has been opened. The virgin,if emerged, won't be taking mating flights for a day or two. If you have missed this window then examination should be done in the morning to avoid disturbing a virgin going out on a mating flight. Or alternatively after 6 PM. If the queen cell is still there, don't do anything. Go back in another two days time and check. At that moment carefully open it up. If there is a dead body, then you are going to need to either recombine this unit or get hold of a virgin queen or a mated Queen. Both will be accepted. If you are into not spending any money and you have a second colony, you can give them a frame of eggs. Or you can cut out a section of eggs and young larvae and place it in one of the frames of the queenless colony. However if your queen cell was not viable, perhaps the next ones they raise will not be viable either! A headache! However, you need to do something!
> Some colonies are expanding rapidly still. Add supers so that they can store the nectar for you. Put a frame or two of foundation above the brood nest. They are likely to draw out wax in this warm spot and fill it with nectar. It is good to keep a prosperous colony busy making wax and collecting nectar by putting in some frames of foundation among the frames of drawn comb, but they find it easiest to draw out wax above the warmth of the brood nest. A big colony however will draw out a whole box of foundation for you. Lucky you if you are in that scenario!
> Good luck with your honey production this month. As I speak the rain is falling and that means that if temperatures go up again the nectar flow will continue. Just remember to check the supers and give them space.
> Malcolm 31st May 2016

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