Category Archives: Auntie B

Uncle Drone’s tips for feeding your colony in early Spring

More bees die in March and April than at any other time during the winter, and the majority of these die of starvation. This is because the colony is trying to expand quickly and using food fast in anticipation of more coming in as the spring approaches. Unfortunately the season and type of stores often frustrate the bees intention.

At the beginning of March a colony should have 4 or 5 combs with good sealed liquid stores – this gives them 9kg/20lb of honey. The colonies I looked at today had enough frames BUT the honey was granulated and therefore not usable by the bees, they only had one side of one frame with good fresh stores that were usable. Problem.

These colonies will need slabs of fondant continuously until later in April when we can feed syrup and it will be necessary to get the colony on to new foundation as soon as possible so plan for re-waxing the entire brood box.

Note. Do not go opening the brood area of colonies unless the day is warm enough ie 15C or more, and be very quick, and very, very careful but you can move the non populated frames and have a quick peep to check stores.

So where did my granulated stores come from? The bees are in an area with a lot of Ivy and my guess is that the bees stuffed the cells with that. Had they been fed with more syrup ie a gallon or two in September this would have limited the amount of Ivy nectar stored, the Ivy pollen would have been good and complemented the sugar syrup. I will make a note for next year.

Uncle Drone

Uncle Drone and the pot of honey

Dear Uncle Drone
I hope it isn’t tempting fate, at this stage of the winter, but IF I was able to get a honey crop this coming summer I’d like to get some honey jar labels printed. I’ve read all the info about what needs to be included but do you have any tips or general principles about what works well for a label design, or what to go for in ordering a quantity in from a printer?

‘A beekeeper’

Uncle Drone replies:

Honey labels are important as they must identify the producer and the product exactly and by law. Putting the honey into the jar is just the start but that process has to meet exacting requirements of weight and hygiene, meaning the jar has to be at or above the stated weight and have been adequately strained to eliminate the odd bee wing or leg!

So to the labels, these can be purchased via most equipment suppliers either blank or over printed with the beekeepers details. I suggest a county label that contains the weight in metric and imperial is good.

If the beekeeper is not going to produce masses of honey it is acceptable to get the county labels as blanks, then get a rubber stamp with the beekeeper’s details on it to mark them up as needed each year.

A copy of the regulations, from the BBKA, is attached here.

Uncle Drone

Timely tips from Uncle Drone

We are now past Xmas and if you have not had a quick peep to make sure your bees are OK then you should have. I do not mean an open hive inspection, just a visual apiary check that they have not been blown over or smashed by trees and no nasty birds have drilled a big hole in the side of the box. Such checks should really be done every week or two at this time of year. While you can get used to them not getting blown over, the bird and animal issues are too variable to call.

Looking over the records of my solar panels reminded me how poor the latter end of the the autumn was but at the same time how warm. Seldom did it get near freezing which would have made the cluster tighter and helped stop the queen laying so she could have been laying all through the winter so far. This will have used a lot of food up so be prepared to heft the hive and put a chunk of fondant on when you visit, better to over-feed than let them starve.

Uncle Drone

Uncle Drone considers some seasonal tasks

Dear Uncle Drone

What are the key things that a beekeeper should be doing or looking out for at this time of year?

Uncle Drone answers:

Well, the bees should not be disturbed at this time of year so the main thing is to observe and protect.  As part of the observe bit you should also make notes of what you see, such as the time of day, temperature, what is the bee activity level.  Also within this observation look carefully for signs of dysentery as this is often an indication that nosema will be a problem and if the bees are messing on the front of the hive take some scrapings and get a nosema check done on them.
Unfortunately if nosema is confirmed it will not be possible to cure it at this time of year but having the knowledge does give you some guidance as to one of the tasks to be undertaken in the spring.  The nosema spores are often present in many colonies but do not cause a problem till the bees get dysentery often from stores that have started to ferment, the tidying up of the mess spreads the spores and so it goes on.

Turning to protection.  This must take the angle of keeping pests out and two stand out as they can and do destroy hives and colonies, Mice and Woodpeckers.  Make sure you have good mouse guards in place firmly on the front of the hive, while mice seldom manage to move them, rats can if they are in the area so be warned.

Keeping woodpeckers out and away from the hive can be done cheaply by removing the roof then wrapping the hive with a strong polythene sheet before replacing the roof.  Without anywhere they can get a toe-hold they cannot bang a hole in the hive but please make sure that the entrance is not covered and that the bees are free to fly.

Wind can blow hives over or blow roofs off, either can cause the loss of a colony so make sure the hive stand is solid and place an extra weight on the roof, a brick or two will do the job and keep checking the apiary on a regular basis (weekly) throughout the winter.

Uncle Drone’s tips on autumn work with the hive

Dear Uncle Drone
I’d like to make sure I’m doing everything that needs to be done for my colonies at this time of year. Could you supply some tips on things to make sure of?

Thank you

A Newbie

Uncle Drone answers:

During September colonies will need preparing for winter, this means three jobs – a varroa treatment, feeding, and then securing the hive.

Varroa treatment: By now (September) all supers should have been extracted and dried out. This makes it simple to put MAQS Strips on the top of each brood box, cover with the crownboard
and leave for a week. It is recommended to increase ventilation at this time so the entrance block can be removed for strong colonies or just widened for weaker ones. This is wise even if there is a varroa board in place of a floor board, and you do need this on at this time to assess the varroa drop/kill.

Feeding: Please keep in mind that bees do not work wax below 60F/15C so do not give them feed where day or (more importantly) night temperatures are close to this, hold back until it is warmer. The reducing temperatures will cause the workers to cluster and not clean the cells and this slows the Queen in laying. Once it warms up they need RAPID feeding of a strong warm syrup. Also remember that reducing temperatures means the bees are less active and will not be defending the entrance against predators so much, please reduce the entrance to keep out wasps and mice.

Ashforth feeders or Contact Bucket feeders are best for autumn feeds as these deliver a mass of syrup which will be taken down quickly and stored rather than turned into more bees. Always put this volume of syrup on in the evening/late in the day as the intense excitement it causes can start mass robbing and always use HOT water for the mix, it will normally still be warm by the time the bees get it and this will encourage quick storage. At the end of feeding you should have a brood box that weighs around 15-20kg or more.

Securing the hive: This should be second nature. Reduce the entrance. Confirm the hive stand will sustain the weight of the hive in winter winds and the roof will stay on, put bricks or blocks on the roof for extra security. Wrap the hive in a material that woodpeckers cannot rest on, plastic sacks are good, tie/staple these firmly. Also do check the area surrounding the hive, are trees likely to need trimming, could branches fall on the hives? Consider all options.

Look forward to a successful wintering, but do remember the bees and have a cursory look around them regularly.

Uncle Drone

Uncle Drone’s double floor for drying wet supers

The following instructions are for Modified Commercial hives but will fit National equally well.  Other hives will need to adapt the dimensions to the size of their brood boxes.

Using some board (MDF, ply, fibre-board etc) about 16mm thick (this is not critical but it should not be too thin) which will not be affected by getting a little damp, cut out a section 1.02m * 0.46m.  Save spare bits as some will be needed later.

Use batten to edge the timber – see photo 1.  I used some 18mm * 34mm * 2.1m batten as this was laying around spare but any spare timber of similar size and thickness will do, it just has to allow for a bee space.  Screw this into place leaving about a 5-6 cm gap for the entrance to the brood side, marked with a B in the photo below.

Super drying floor 1

Now to put the divider and its cover between the area for the brood box and the stack of supers.  Measure and mark a point 18 1/4″ from the left hand side of the top batten and mark this point.  Repeat this for the bottom batten.  Do the same for the right hand side (where the arrow is).  This will make the area you have to cover between the brood and supers very obvious.  In the picture above this space has blocks marked with masking tape filling it, leaving a 10cm gap between them for the bees to get to the supers.
Until now all this woodwork has been on one level. Now, you need to have a section of board that covers this strip between the two blocks you have just fitted.  This needs to achieve a bee tight fit between the brood and supers being stacked on it.  The finished board should look like that below.
Super drying floor 2

This board is purely for drying extracted supers.  While the standard recommendation is to place wet supers back on the hive they came from (to prevent disease spread), if you have several hives it is simpler to work on an apiary basis rather than hive.  You will also need to have a stand capable of supporting a double-width floor-board.

1. Check the supporting stand can hold the double floor-board.
2. Exchange the current floor-board for the double one around mid-day and block the passage way to the super area with a wet sponge
3. During the evening (after flying has ceased), remove the wet sponge, add an empty super with a queen excluder on the top of it to the (arrowed) super side of the floor-board.
4. Add the wet supers over the queen excluder and cover with a secure (bee tight) crown board and a roof.

5. Add some weight to the top of both roofs if in a windy position to ensure they do not get blown off.

The limit on number of supers is your height and the amount of supers you think will stay on the floor, I tended to leave it at 6-8 and add weights to the roof over the supers.

How long do you leave these?  Well this depends on temperature, if it is comfortable wearing shorts and T shirts, then 2-3 days should be more than enough as the bees will rob most of the residue overnight.  Check before removing.

When the supers are removed you will find a lot of residue, wax etc on the floor of the Super area of the double floor board, please remove this asap even if you intend to use the floor for a second or third set of supers as wax moth can invade this wax and cause problems later.

That’s all there is to it,

Uncle Drone

Uncle Drone answers a question about how to manage ‘wet’ supers and colonies in late summer

Dear Uncle Drone

I’ve just taken the honey crop from a hive and put the supers back afterwards for the bees to clean up. I’m a little concerned, however, that there are so many bees still in the colony (plus more brood to hatch) that if I take the cleaned supers off for winter storage as recommended, then the bees will be more than a bit crowded in being restricted just to the brood box. Should I have left it till later in August to take off the honey? Will the bees feel so crowded they might try raising a new queen and doing a late swarm if they’re restricted back to brood box space only?

Uncle Drone answers:

While the bulk of new beekeepers are ok with things like swarm control, handling, diseases and even extracting honey, there is often some very varying advice on what to do with wet supers.  In principle you want to feed the stores remaining in the comb back to the bees for them to store as winter food.

Firstly, when do you do this?  Well that is going to depend on when you extract.  If it is early due to OSR or similar crops, then the supers can be put back on the hives for refilling.  If it is later, say August/September then there can be a lot of bees in the hive and there is a danger of starting a robbing session (chaos) if not done properly.

Before extracting you must make sure that the honey is ripe, that is, its water content is below 20%.  How can you measure this?  Well for accuracy you need a refractometer but in reality few people will need to purchase one of these as the bees seldom cap honey with a high water content as anything over 20% is likely to ferment so capped honey is ok.  Uncapped honey that will not drip out of a comb when a frame is held horizontal and shaken gently is usually ok, but do not have too much of this in any extraction.

It is good if there are many bees in the hive in August but please remember that there will be a high mortality of those bees that emerged in July when they get to 6 weeks old, the bees emerging in August and September or later will last for many months and there needs to be enough to cover around 6-8 combs to ensure good winter survival.

If you think there is a lot of bees in the hive and pushing them down onto a brood box would be too much then leave a super on but over a queen excluder as space for them to hang, you can always take it off later.  After many, many years of keeping bees, I have seldom found it necessary to leave this on for long.  One big drawback of doing this is that the super will get in the way of rapid feeding the colony in September to make sure they have adequate stores for the winter.  Remember that you should NEVER feed colonies with a super on as the bees can store the syrup in the super and get it mixed up with honey.

The BBKA web site ( advises replacing the wet supers back over the brood and other boxes on the hive they came from, over a queen excluder but above a piece of thick polythene with a finger sized hole in it.

One option that I used because I had so many supers to dry, was to make a double width floor so that the supers could be placed alongside the brood box and were secure from robbing as it was part of an extended hive (the entrance was reduced).  I will publish plans for one of these shortly.

Uncle Drone answers a question about beekeeping literature

Dear Uncle Drone,
Last winter we had an interesting talk by an experienced beekeeper, during which he told us that old beekeeping books are available free online. I wonder if you can tell me how to go about finding these books?

Uncle Drone answers:

Dear Beekeeper
I have researched this and found the following:  While the talk you mention suggested that there was a need to use a Tablet or Kindle to see these books I have found that this is not completely necessary, you can also access and read them on any Android machine, Mac, PC, iPad or iPhone but you do need to have an Amazon account.

  1. Using your chosen machine, log onto Amazon and search for “Kindle App”
  2. Select your machine type and download and install the Kindle App following the prompts
  3. Once installed sign in with your Amazon login
  4. Use the search facility to find the books of your choice

Books that are of interest to beekeepers who want to understand the wider picture of beekeeping and those who are interested in progressing their studies for the higher beekeeping exams include the following (not exclusive) list.

  • A Manual or Easy Method of Managing Bees by John Moseley Weeks
  • The Hive and the Honey Bee, A Bee Keepers Manual by Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth
  • Mysteries of Bee-Keeping Explained by Moses Quinby
  • New Observations on the Natural History of Bees by Francis Huber
  • The Different forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species by Charles Darwin
  • The Mason Bees by Jean-Henri Fabre
  • Bramble Bees and Others by Jean-Henri Fabre

Readers need to be aware that all these books relate knowledge of the time in which they were written and that this can and has changed in many instances, however, much is good information and even out of date information is useful for developing the more advanced beekeepers to understand the evolution of the craft.  Few developments ‘parachute’ into the craft they evolve from many years of observation and understanding.

While there are numerous free books available, others for which there is a charge are also available, to pay charges it can be necessary to have a PayPal account or use a plastic card.

Have fun – Uncle Drone

Uncle Drone answers a question about requeening

Dear Auntie Bee & Uncle Drone: In the event of a queen being past it (see previous query re a queen going off lay during treatment with MAQs) I would like to replace her with one from another hive that I have split in two to avoid swarming. In the top box with the old queen is a sealed supersedure cell, and in the bottom there were two queen cells which will have hatched and probably mated by now. Do you think I can take the new queen from the top box before I combine the two (having checked that there is a queen in the bottom) and should I move her before or after mating?

Uncle Drone answers:

Regarding re-queening, this should only be undertaken carefully and with adequate preparation of both the donor and recipient colonies otherwise total failure is guaranteed.

You mention a “top box” with an old queen and a supersedure cell and a second “bottom box” with two queen cells.  What you do not mention is how these boxes are separated.  Do you have a Snellgrove board, supers and queen excluders between these boxes?   On the assumption that these criteria have been met continue as follows:

Check for the new laying queen in the top box (if she is not in lay abandon this procedure) and mark her for the year and place her in a queen cage, resting this on the top bars of this box covering it with a cover cloth and placing it on the upturned roof.  Next remove and place the Snellgrove board, queen excluder, supers and lower queen excluder to the side of the lower brood box.  Check this box to ascertain that there was a young laying queen present and mark this queen.

At this point both of these brood boxes can be combined and one of the queens removed for introduction to another colony.

The recipient colony should be searched carefully, its queen-right status confirmed and then de-queened.  The new queen in her cage should be soaked in syrup, this to include the paper plug retaining her in the cage, then placed carefully between two frames of eggs/unsealed brood for her to be released by the workers.  The area around her and the adjoining frames should be liberally doused in syrup.  Close the hive and leave untouched for 10-14 days at which time you should take a quick look to confirm a laying queen (are there eggs present?).

There are many, many ways of producing and introducing queens, this version will work as will many others but is given as a simple way for newer beekeepers to re-queen stronger colonies without loss of crop.  Never try to replace a laying queen with a virgin queen this will always fail and can cause many problems that are not easy to correct.

Auntie Bee answers a question about using the new MAQs

A beekeeper asks:  Dear Auntie Bee / Uncle Drone
I treated my healthiest and most vigorous colony with MAQs a week ago and on opening the hive today I find only sealed brood to be present and the queen still in residence. Is there any evidence of queens going off lay during MAQs treatment? And if so, will her laying ability return?  There were two or three empty play cups  – nothing serious, and the bees were very good natured. I should add that an alarming number of dead bees were pushed out of the hive in the first days of the treatment.

Auntie Bee answers:

What you report of the queen going off lay for a few days after treatment with MAQS has been reported by other beekeepers but should be a temporary effect.  Also a few dead bees after treatment is common.  I don’t think there is any known reason for these effects as the mode of action of MAQS is not really known. I have used MAQs and found a good drop of mites from hives I thought were badly infected.  As with all chemical treatments it is important to follow the instructions carefully.