BBKA – Beekeeping Year Planner

The BBKA have received a lot of positive feedback about the ‘Beekeeping Year Planner’ and accompanying ‘Notes’ that appeared in the January 2023 Edition of BBKA News.

Based upon a version originally developed by BBKA Past President Glyn Davis, and previously published in an adapted form by BeeCraft in 2020, the BBKA has been permitted to share their recently published version as a downloadable document for training purposes.


Click on >> (top right of viewer) for tools to rotate, enlarge, download, print  etc.

Do you believe this will be useful? Use the ‘Leave a Reply’ box at the foot of this post. (Ed)

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Basic Congratulations

Thumbs_UpA BIG thumbs up message from our County Exam Secretary and member of the BBKA Exam Board … Celia Perry … for Reigate Beekeeping Division candidates who took the BBKA Basic Assessment this July 2019 at the Henfold apiary..

“I am very pleased to say you all passed, so very well done, that is a credit to all your hard work”

With a pass mark being 50% and a credit being 70%, the following members now have their beekeeping ‘wings’.

Nick Clark, (Pass)
Lisa Gallo, (Credit)
Sue Hanley, (Credit)
Deborah Jardine , (Pass) 
Brian Kay, (Credit)
Andrea McIver, (Credit)
Richard Pfeil (Pass)
Helen Stocker (Credit)


“Your certificates and badges will be presented to you at the AGM in November”

And this from Andrew Cornwall

“Many Congratulations to all those who took their Basic Assessment this year. Another Full House of Passes and Credits. Well done to you all!
And thanks also to Colin Clement and Jim Cooper who deserve much credit for all their work tutoring on the hives & helping me in the Weekly Theme sessions.
Next year you’ll get the chance to either have a go at co-tutoring a Beginner’s hive or joining an Improver’s hive, under the joint direction of Vince Gallo & Mike Hill.
Thank you for being such a challenging and engaged group. You’ve kept me on my toes with your questions!
Many Congratulations again! Your hard work obviously paid off. You are now Beekeepers, no longer mere keepers of bees.”

Finally thanks, and well done to Andrew Cornwall and all the hive tutors for another great job with the Education Programme and once again to Celia Perry & Bob Maurer for providing the Mock Assessment experience.

Exams may not necessarily be the reason why people take up bee-keeping, but it is hoped that some of the candidates will want to go on and try either the Modules or the General Husbandry, or maybe both, in due course.

For more info on ‘life after the Basic’ Click here.

Module Passes

Thumbs_UpCongratulations to Keith Mackie and Trevor Keast for their achievements in the November 2018 sessions of BBKA Written Module Examinations.

  • Keith was successful in passing Module 1, Honeybee Management.
  • Trevor was successful in passing both Module 1, Honeybee Management and Module 2, Honeybee Products & Forage. 



BBKA Child Protection Policy

The British Beekeepers Association

Children, Young People & Vulnerable Adults Policy Statement

The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) believes that it is always unacceptable for a child, young person or vulnerable adult to experience abuse of any kind and recognises its responsibility to safeguard the welfare of all children, young people and vulnerable adults, by a commitment to practice that protects them.

[Links to Policy, Code of Conduct, Consent Forms and Incident Report Forms at foot of statement.] 

We recognise that:

  • the welfare of the child, young person or vulnerable adult is paramount
  • all, regardless of age, disability, gender, racial heritage, religious belief, sexual orientation or identity, have the right to equal protection from all types of harm or abuse
  • working in partnership with children, young people, vulnerable adults, their parents, carers and their agencies is essential in promoting their welfare.

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Flow Hive – Break Through or, Gimmick

Flow™-Hive-Full-Reveal-YouTube-262x262The “Flow Hive” is a huge internet sensation that during 2015 raised almost $AUS 13M in crowd funding for the development of a new concept in hive design.

Funding has come primarily from non beekeepers, who have always been fascinated by the promise of a hive from which liquid honey could be directly taken, without the need for actually handling bees.

Jack Chapman provides his opinions …

  [Read more…]

Setting Up An Apiary

So you have decided you want to setup your own apiary. There are lots of things to consider:

Home or Out Apiary?

  •  Home is probably most convenient, all tools, shed etc., no distance to travel
  • Can watch the outside of the hive fun and informative & share with your family
  • Might upset neighbours (Liaise with neighbours before getting bees!)
  • Might cause spotting on washing.
  • Out Bees will probably not disturb anyone, usually lots of room
  • But, have to transport tools often forget something.
  • Transporting supers/hives very heavy.
  • More prone to vandalism and theft

Apiary Site (Other Considerations)

  • Check if other apiaries are in the same area – only so much forage – can spread disease.
  • Check there would be enough forage nearby (at different times of the season).
  • Ensure there is water available nearby (this can be provided by you)……otherwise the bees may source a neighbours child paddling pool or, sandpit.
  • Fence off from livestock – may knock hives over
  • Out of public view – reduce risk of vandalism or theft
  • Try to make sure there is easy access (by vehicle if out apiary)…..carrying heavy supers long distances is not good.
  • There should be a windbreak to protect from winter winds.
  • Check if pesticides/insecticides are to be used regularly nearby, if you are near farmland/crops.
  • If near to neighbours ensure there is an understood time when inspecting the bees will not cause a nuisance
  •  Ensure there is comfortably enough room to inspect the hives (from behind or the side) without disturbing other hives. Also ensure there is room around each hive to set down equipment.
  • Ensure there is enough room for an extra hive in a suitable position in case of artificial swarms etc.
  • Cut grass around a hive at dusk or early morning or create a growth free area (weed barrier and bark, paving etc).
  • Make sure there is no risk of flooding.
  • If not your land make sure you have permission!


  • Ensure the hives are not directly under trees (too damp) & they perpetually drip through the winter.
  • Ideal to have early sun on the entrance and shade from the hottest part of the day(Not in full damp shade).
  • Entrance doesn’t point towards a path or washing.
  • Raised off the ground for ventilation. Can be hives own stand (WBC etc) or separate hive stand.
  • If second hand make sure you thoroughly clean and disinfect it (and any other equipment) before installing a colony.
  •  If you have more than one colony try and point the hive entrances away from each other to avoid drifting of bees between hives.
  •  Don’t orient the entrance towards prevailing winds.

 Sourcing Your Bees

  • Get them from a reliable source. At many Association auctions (including RBKA), the local Bee Inspector inspects hives for auction & provides a commentary on the state of each colony.
  •  If new beekeeper get good natured nucleus – easier to work with initially
  •  Ensure bees are healthy and strong….take along an experienced beekeeper to advise you
  •  Remember 3feet or 3 miles rule. If you get a nucleus or, colony of bees from someone within 3miles of where you plan to keep them, you would have to transport them in two moves (first to more than 3 miles away) or, the flyers will return to the original apiary (that’s 3 miles as the bee flies ie direct, not necessarily 3 miles by car!)
  • Register your colony with BeeBase (or update details) so you are on the Bee Inspector’s radar
  • Hives should have some sunshine and shade – protect from intense heat – hives which receive too much of either will probably under produce. Avoid low lying areas where moisture and particularly cold  in the winter settles.
  • Locate hive a safe distance away from other animals – horses, cattle, badgers, which may be inquisitive of smell or appears. Knocked over hives – bees may attack and potential kill an animal which could lead to legal action.
  • Check out with your neighbours – if they are close to your potential apiary site? That they are not allergic to stings, have young children playing close to area, and have caged animals/dogs chained. Answer questions and listen to concerns they may have, putting them at ease from the beginning.
  • Public access and right of ways should also be taken into consideration, not a good idea to place too close to passing public. Ideally you want to site 8+ meters away from public access – which should be a safe distance with a barriers such as a hedge in between. If no hedge /barrier site hives 15+ meters – erect barrier if permitted to do so. Local authorities may not permit hive on there sites, so you much check before you site any hives.
  •  Should the back garden or location chosen not be suitable – look at the countryside, farms, pastureland, wasteland, orchards – gaining permission first. Most farmers would be happy to accommodate, as your bees are helping pollinate there crops. However, do ask farmer to let you know the week before hand if they are going to spray crops near by, so you can protect your bees from potential poisoning, shutting them up or removing them from the site.
  •  Remember you have to carry or push your equipment to site – so access with a vehicle is favourable.

 Setting Up and Arranging Your Apiary:

  •  Elevate hives above ground level – place on hive stand, bricks & treated wood or metal frame.
  •  Stagger hives – arrange in semi-circle, or around trees and bushes – as drifting bees can transfer disease.
  •  If hives have to be arranged in a straight line – Mark entrance blocks with different patterns and/or paint the front of the hives a different colour, which allows bees to locate the correct hive.
  •  Ensure hives are ventilated – damp hives harbour disease.
  • Keep site free of debris from hives, cut grass regularly; in general keep neat and tidy.
  • Keep in mind – sources of nectar, pollen and water, even in the towns/cities there can be abundance, with fruit trees, flowers, vegetable, even weeds. Bear in mind bees forage in excess of 10 square miles from the location of your hive. Built up areas – remember to place water within close range of hive – so as not to pester/disturb neighbours.
  • Keep Beekeeping Association Membership up to date – it provides insurance should things go wrong.

Precautions to Avoid Honeybees Becoming a Nuisance

Liaise with your neighbours if you plan to keep bees in your garden (your neighbor may be severely allergic!).

Ensure that you have good natured bees and always site hives where the flight path will not interfere with the public’s enjoyment of the countryside or, their gardens. (eg not in the flight path of their washing line).

Consider the direction of the hive entrance, as there will be activity on the flight path to the entrance.

Cover sandpits: Bees will visit to extract moisture from the sand.

Erect barriers to encourage bees to fly up out of the hive above head height.

Avoid sites bordering roads where pedestrians or riders might pass.

Try to make sure that the hives are not noticeable by passing walkers or traffic. Hives sometimes get stolen or vandalised.

Take steps to avoid swarming……. the latter usually causes public concern or, alarm.

Out apiaries should be fenced from livestock

Effects of Honeybee Sting

Bee Stinging

Bee Stinging

As a beekeeper it is important to understand & be able to describe the possible effects of honeybee stings on humans and to be able to recommend suitable first aid treatment. Take precautions not to expose yourself to being stung in the first place!!

  • Keep gentle bees
  • Gentle handling and correct smoking
  • Sensible inspection times and weather
  • Clean bee suits so there is no scent of sting pheromone to attract other bees

Carry a cell phone and know the post code or grid reference of the apiary.

Immediate Response When Stung:Bee Sting Ripped Out of Bee

Note: When the honey bee stings it is unable to remove the sting due to tiny barbs….as it struggles to release itself it rips out the whole stinger from its abdomen (see picture on right). This inevitably means the bee will die. The sting remains embedded in the skin with the venom gland attached.

DO NOT use thumb & forefinger to pull it out since, you will squeeze the venom sac & squeeze more venom into yourself! Use a credit card or hive tool to scrape it out! (see picture below)

  • Remain calm.
  • Remove the sting asap. Venom is injected within the first 20 seconds.
  • Scrape the sting out with a credit card or, hive tool. Don’t pull out the sting…you will squeeze the venom sac in the process & inject more venom.

    Using a Hive Tool to Remove Sting

    Using a Hive Tool to Remove Sting

  • Smoke the sting area to mask the alarm pheromone and prevent further stings by other bees.
  • Close the hive gently and move away.

 Effects depend on the individual:

  • Local reactions – pain, general itching (uticaria), redness, swelling, heat all of which tend to disappear after a few hours.
  • In a few individuals there is a Severe reaction – systemic shock includes any of the following… breathing difficulties, swelling of lips, tongue, or eyelids, vomiting, dizziness, pain.


Mild Reaction:

A quick search of the internet suggests several options & their efficacy is likely to depend on the individual:

  • Proprietary bee sting preparations available off the shelf (most beekeepers should have one in their toolbox
  • Antihistamines or calamine lotions (any calamine lotion with analgesic) help soothe the itching, while the tenderness can be relieved by applying a bee sting swab.
  • Ibuprofen and acetaminophen offer minor pain reliefs in case of bee stings
  • Rubbing a lemon slice and alcohol works wonders on the bee sting pain. Vinegar or, baking soda can also alleviate most of the bee sting symptoms, as apparently can toothpaste applied topically.
  • Hydrocortisone cream, when applied at regular intervals of 4 hours can relieve almost all symptoms.
  •  Sage tea is another home remedy, which is used as an astringent. by rubbing it on the sting site.
  • Aloe vera is one of the best anti-itch natural remedies, which can be rubbed on the sting.
  • Applying a few drops of pure lavender oil to the site can also provide relief from itching and pain as can crushed mint leaves when placed on the sting site.

Severe Reaction:

Call ambulance. Seat patient or, better still get them to lie down and ensure that they remain calm.  Loosen clothing. Encourage deep breathing.  Place in recovery position. Administer Apipen if carried by patient and use is confirmed by patient!

How & When to Feed Bees


  • Spring and emergency feed a thin syrup 1kg sugar/litre of water (bees can rapidly metabolise a “thin” syrup)
  • Autumn feed 2 kg sugar/litre of water, winter stores need to be 15 – 20 kg, at least 6 outer brood frames
  • Need to feed in spring or autumn if stores low, building up nuc or, to a swarm after 48 hours of housing/hiving
  • Feed full size hive via rapid feeder or reservoir
  • Feed Nuc or swarm via contact feeder to prevent robbing
  • Feed at dusk, and to all hives at the same time to prevent robbing

 Autumn Feed

A full colony will need between 15kg and 20kg of stores to see it through the winter. There will be honey and pollen in the brood box, so it is necessary to estimate the weight of this and consider it when feeding. As a rule of thumb, one fully sealed brood frame will hold about 2kg honey and a full super frame will contain about 1.5kg.

The syrup is made from ordinary granulated sugar from the local supermarket (never use brown sugar or other types of unrefined sugar). A large pan (jam making or similar) is required and into this put 1kg of sugar for every 600ml of water. Heat and stir at the same time until all the sugar is dissolved. Do not let it burn whilst heating it. The bees may then not touch it and it might harm them if they did.

The syrup is given to the bees by means of a feeder. This can be a tin or plastic container with holes made in the lid. When full of syrup, it is inverted over the holes in the cover board. A better feeder for use when feeding large quantities of syrup, is the ‘Ashforth’ type. This is a box the same size as a super and fits on top of the hive. It has a slot in the floor that leads to a passage between two boards into which the syrup can seep and the bees have access. They are thus able to take the syrup without drowning in it.

If treatment for Nosema is necessary, then Fumidil B can be added to the feed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. (Please note: The Veterinary Medicines Directorate has announced that the marketing authorisation for Fumidil B expired with effect from 31 December 2011. Consequently only existing stocks of Fumidol B can be used. Consequently beekeepers should now rely good husbandry ie. regular comb change or, a Shook Swarm procedure to minimize the incidence of Nosema)

Winter Feed

Candy can be used if the stores are light later in the winter and this can be obtained from the local bakers (or, beekeeping suppliers) or, made at home. To make it, you will need 2.5kg of sugar to 500ml of water and a teaspoonful of Cream of Tartar.

Boil the mixture until the sugar is dissolved and simmer for 10 minutes. The temperature in the panshould reach approximately 120ºC and a jam-making thermometer should be used if available. Take care not to burn the mixture. If you don’t have a jam-making thermometer, place a drop of the boiling liquid onto a cold plate. When ready it will solidify immediately to a soft consistency. Allow to cool but, before it sets, pour into suitable containers: old margarine or ice-cream tubs will do, or metal trays lined with greaseproof paper. When set, invert and place over the feed hole with the candy exposed to the bees.

Spring Feed

A spring feed may sometimes be necessary. To stimulate the Queen to lay, to replenish stores when foundation needs to be drawn out, or, to cope with the “June Gap” in nectar availability. A Spring feed should be made of syrup but, the sugar content would be less i.e. approx. 1kg sugar to 1 litre of water .

When to Add Supers

The Need:

Honey bees need space for themselves, their brood and the storage and processing of what they bring into the hive. A lot of space is required for food stores as they need enough to see them through the winter when there is little forage and the weather is unsuitable for foraging.

As the brood and stores increase, there is no room in the main brood box for the extra stores being brought in so supers are added to give them space in the brood box for the expanding brood population. Nectar brought into the hive contains 50 – 80% water and the bees process this into honey which contains only c. 18% water. The nectar obviously takes up more space than honey and when there is a strong nectar flow more space is required to store and process the nectar as well as storing the honey.


A super should be added when the main brood box has 6 or seven frames of brood and when viewed from above the bees are thickly covering 8 or 9 of the frames. The physical timing of this depends on how prolific the queen is, the weather and forage availability. As a general rule of thumb, the next super should only be added when the last one has 7 out of 10 frames full of liquid.

Adding supers too soon  has a number of downsides:

  • More air to keep warm – could chill the brood when weather bad
  • Unnecessary woodwork to move when inspecting
  • Foundation may be chewed & deformed
  • Stores can be scattered throughout several supers making it awkward for the beekeeper

One Method of Swarm Control

Why do we want to prevent swarms?

Swarming results in the loss of a large proportion of the flying bees and the interruption of the brood cycle, until a new queen emerges from a queen cell, successfully mates and starts to lay. Swarming in the month before or, during a nectar flow will significantly diminish the foraging population and therefore your honey yield.

Think of the colony as if it is made up of 3 parts:

  1. The Queen
  2. The brood and its nurse bees
  3. The flying bees

Swarm control involves separating one of these 3 parts from the other 2 parts.

The Nucleus Method

This method only works if you are able to detect queen cells before they are sealed. If you find one or, more sealed queen cells, your colony has already swarmed!

It’s best to be prepared and avoid panic by having a nucleus box full of frames or a brood box with 4/5 frames + dummy board, ready for when you find queen cells.

If you find unsealed queen cells during an inspection, transfer one frame of food plus the bees on this frame into the nucleus box.

Find the queen and put her and the frame she is on into the nucleus. Remove any queen cells on this frame. This frame should contain a patch of brood the size of a hand.

Put in another comb from the other end of the brood box, containing lots of stores.

Shake/brush all the bees from two or more frames into the nucleus, fill the box with frames, stuff entrance with grass and cover with the roof.

Check the frames in the original brood box carefully. Do not remove any queen cells you find but, mark these frames to enable you to find them easily.

Push the frames together and fill the gaps with the other frames you brought with you.

Put the nucleus to one side or on another stand. Allow the grass plug to wither or remove after 48hours.

One week later:

Visit on day 8 or 9 before the queen cells hatch. Check through the original colony & choose one queen cell. Ensure you remove all others!

Leave the colony alone for 2 to 3 weeks, after which time the new queen should be laying. This colony should not try to swarm again for the remainder of the season (there are few absolute rules in beekeeping!!)

The nucleus with the old queen can build up or unite with another colony later. You now have 2 viable colonies and you have prevented the loss of a significant proportion of the foraging bee population.

Swarm Capture & Care

Equipment needed to capture a swarm:

  • Swarm box
  • A board slightly larger than the box
  • A loose-weave sheet
  • A wooden block
  • A wastepaper basket
  • A scoop
  • Soft brushes
  • A pair of secateurs, string, a water spray
  • A smoker, matches and fuel
  • Access to a ladder or, an extendable pole with a net/basket attached

The swarm box is usually a Nucleus Hive or, cardboard box. An ideal size one is a wine box as this it will fit into a National hive box when trimmed down to 11-12 inches (28-30cm). The box should be liberally painted inside and out with melted beeswax (a hair drier can be used to help the wax soak into the cardboard). Holes 4-4.5mm diameter should be drilled in the sides and bottom of the box to ensure ventilation for the swarm whilst in transit.


Is the swarm on private property? Do you have permission to enter?

If necessary warn neighbours and/or bystanders of possible risks if they do not move away.

Put on your bee suit. Most swarms are not aggressive but not all!

Unless it is late in the day or the weather is cold or wet, spray the swarm gently with clean water. This will hold the swarm in place.

Light the smoker in case it is needed.

Lie the open sheet on the ground near the swarm (preferably in some shade) and place the wooden board plus the block of wood in the middle.

If the swarm is in a shrub or tree you can usually shake or gently brush the swarm into the box.

Some pruning with the secateurs may be necessary to gain access or to position the box directly under the swarm. If the swarm has settled in the middle of a hedge, the only option (without ruining the hedge) is to place the box as close as possible above the swarm. It may be necessary to secure the box in place with string. Gentle smoking may be used to drive the bees up into the box. This can be a slow process.

Occasionally a swarm will settle on the ground and then it is just a matter of placing the box over it and letting the bees climb up inside.

When as many bees as possible have been transferred to the box it should be gently inverted on the board. The wooden block is placed under a corner of the box to provide an entrance. The sheet should be folded over the box on three sides leaving the entrance side clear for bees to come and go.

The wastepaper basket and/or scoop can be used to capture any stray groups of bees which should then be shaken in front of the box.

You will now need to make sure that the queen is in the box. If she is then the bees in the air and at the original clustering site will gradually move to the box and the bees will start to fan at the entrance.

If the queen is not there the bees will move in the opposite direction and the process will have to be started again. It may take up to half an hour to be sure of the outcome.

Ideally the swarm should be left in position until dusk when all the bees have settled in for the night.

The wooden board should now be removed and the sheet tied firmly over the opening. The box should be turned with the opening at the top to allow ventilation. It can then be moved to where the swarm is to be hived.

 Hiving the swarm:

There are two ways of hiving a swarm – the traditional method and the quick method.

The traditional way is as follows:

A board at least 18 inches (460mm) wide is placed leading up from the ground to the entrance to the hive. The board should be covered with a cloth that hangs down to the ground on either side. This is to prevent the bees wandering off and forming a cluster on the underside of the board. The board should fit snugly to the entrance to the hive, make sure there is no gap where the queen could get under the floor.

At dusk shake the swarm onto the board somewhere near the top. Their instinct will be to move uphill and they should then locate the entrance and start to walk in. It also helps to raise the brood box slightly to enlarge the gap. Once the bees start to fan at the entrance the rest of the swarm should start to move in the right direction. Once the queen is inside the swarm has been successfully hived.

The quick method of hiving a swarm is to place a floor on the hive stand with an empty box (en eke) on it. Use a shallow box for a small swarm and a deep one for a large swarm. Shake the swarm into the empty box and quickly (before the bees climb up the sides) place the box of foundation on top, followed by a cover board and roof. Leave until the next morning and then, using a smoker, drive the bees that are hanging from the bottom bars of the frames up and remove the eke.

Aftercare of the swarm:

The swarm should be hived in a minimum volume hive and kept that way (no supers added) until all the frames of foundation have been drawn. They should be given a generous feed of syrup to help the bees accomplish this task as quickly as possible. A contact feeder containing four litres of medium strength syrup (1kg sugar to 1litre water) would be sufficient.

A large swarm will simultaneously draw all the frames in as little as 48 hours. Smaller swarms will only attempt to draw some of the frames and will leave the rest untouched. When they have drawn an initial set of combs they will start to use them for brood and food storage and will not attempt to draw out any further foundation until they need to – which is when they have fully utilised what they have already got. The rest of the syrup will be stored in the initial set of combs and could later find its way into the honey supers. To avoid this problem the frames should be re-arranged, with at least one drawn frame being moved out on each side of the box and frames of foundation moved in towards the centre adjacent to combs on which the queen has started to lay. This manipulation may have to be repeated until all the frames have been drawn.

When this has been accomplished the syrup should be removed, and then a queen excluder and supers may be added.

During the first three weeks the number of bees in the hive containing the swarm will decline. Numbers will only increase when the first batch of brood starts to emerge.

Is Your Colony Queenless?

IMG_0985Signs of a queenless colony are:

  • Sealed Queen cells in the brood area.
  • No larve/eggs. (In a queenright colony an egg stands up in the bottom of a cell. By day three, the egg has laid down on the bottom of a cell and hatched into a larvae. You can see the royal jelly surrounding the larvae)

Even if a mated queen is present but you see no eggs, the colony is effectively queenless. Memo: It typically takes a new queen around 3 days to start laying after mating but, it can be longer!

A queenless hive usually has a louder roar, and usually appears more disorganized. If you do not see any eggs on any frames, then you have a queenless hive.

Signs of queenlessness:

  • No eggs, larvae or capped brood cells (though just no eggs & larvae can mean virgin queen)
  • Colony more irritable than usual
  • Bees seem less well organised on the frames
  • Very few brood cells polished up ready for queen to lay egg
  • Pollen in brood nest will be shiny from being covered with honey in order to preserve it
  • Possibility of multiple eggs/cell from laying workers
  • Stores not being built up

Method of confirming queenless condition:

  • Remove a frame of eggs and young larvae from another hive.
  • Shake off bees
  • Close up frames and add frame of foundation to outer area of brood box
  • Insert frame in middle of queenless brood box
  • If after several days workers make queen cells, indicates queenless

Laying Workers & Drone Laying Queens

New Beekeepers can find it difficult to identify a situation where a normal laying queen is not present, when brood is still being produced . There are two situations where this can occur. An improperly mated queen can start laying exclusively drone brood or, in the absence of a queen, the female worker bees can start to lay. In the latter situation only drones are produced.

If you identify that only drone brood is being produced it is important to identify the source so that corrective action can be taken.

The following are similar for both laying workers & a drone laying queen:

  • Brood: Only drones laid and worker cells employed
  • Drones: Small and abnormal
  • High proportion of drones in the colony

Differences :

  • Drone Laying Queen:  Brood Pattern is even and normal

    Drone Laying Workers(Multiple Eggs/Cell)

    Drone Laying Workers
    (Multiple Eggs/Cell)

  • Laying workers: Brood Pattern is random
  • Drone Laying Queen: Single egg per cell… laid in bottom of cell
  • Laying Workers: Multiple eggs in cell, some laid on the side of the cell
  • Drone Laying Queen: Queen present
  • Laying Workers: No queen or queen cell present

Re-queening colonies with laying workers is difficult so, the first step is to remove the laying workers from the colony & leave the colony without any new brood (eggs). The entire hive should be moved at least a hundred yards from its original location, preferably in a field. Take each frame and brush all the bees from it on to the ground adjacent to the hive. Brush all the bees off every frame & also the inside of the brood box. Normal & laying workers look identical so it is important to remove every bee from the hive. The hive  should then be re-assembled on its original stand. The flying bees, but not the laying workers will return to the hive.

The above manipulation should be timed so that within a few hours of completing it you are able to either introduce a new queen (in a Butler Cage) or, a sealed queen cell. The period you need to leave the bees queenless before they will accept a cell or another queen depends to an extent on how long they have been without a queen, but there are no female eggs in the hive at this stage or, any larva that are young enough to become emergency queens. So a few hours to a day should be enough, but, be aware that some workers may be already on the point of turning into ‘layers’ and any prolonged period without a queen could result in all your hard work going to waste..

Queen Introduction

Ensure that the colony is actually queenless, has no queen cells and no laying worker. If any of these are present the colony will reject the new queen (and probably kill her). The colony should be queenless for at least 36 hours. The bees will detect their queenless state and be more prepared to accept a new queen.

Is there a good nectar flow on or, do you need to feed the bees? A good supply of food makes for a more positive environment to then introduce a queen.

If your queen has arrived through the post she may have attendants and it may be best to release these as you do not want them reacting to the new colony, causing rejection.

Butler Cage

Butler Cage

Ensure the queen is in (or place her in) a protective introduction cage. There are many different types of cage made from different materials etc, the Butlers Cage  is the most popular in the UK. It is made of wire mesh formed into a box shape, 94mm by 20mm by 12mm, bunged with tin or wood at one end and open at the other. Once the queen has been placed inside the open end should be sealed with candy or with newspaper held in position with an elastic band.

The queen cage should be placed snugly between two frames of brood where there are plenty of young bees (newspaper end down. This can be done by gently pressing the cage into the comb or hanging the cage using a matchstick or something similar between the two combs. The Queen will solicit food from the young house bees and gradually the bees will get used to her scent. The worker bees will slowly eat their way through the candy or paper, releasing the queen.

Do not put the queen on the top of the frames (especially in cold weather) as there is a danger she will be ignored.

Leave the colony alone for at least five days. The more they are disturbed the greater the risk they will turn on the new queen. Then check that the queen is laying eggs. Leave them alone for the next 10 days and then check for sealed brood. After the next 10 days the bees emerging will be from the new queen and the colony can be treated as a normal colony.

Queen Marking Colours

Set of Queen Bee Marking Pens

Set of Queen Bee Marking Pens

Queens tend to progressively lose productivity in egg laying after a couple of years (Note: there tends to be wide variation in productivity between different queens). To assist beekeepers in “remembering” the age of a queen in each colony, a system of Queen marking colours has been  adopted.

The Queen is marked with a spot of paint on her thorax (the black glossy area behind the eyes) using a marking pen with the current year colour. The colours for 2019-2023 are shown below:-

2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
Green Blue White Yellow Red


These mnemonics may help you

to work out the correct colour.

Be Warned You Require Gloves
Blue White Yellow Red Green
0 1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9


Will You Rear Good Bees
White Yellow Red Green Blue
1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 0


Wasp robbing


Robbing occurs when wasps or honey bees from other colonies try to steal honey from a hive.

Weak or, small colonies (eg a Nuc) are vulnerable to robbing.


Potential Impact:

  • Weakens the colony
  • Spreads disease
  • Can lead to fighting


  • Reduce entrance size using a block.
  • Ensure there is no other entrance (eg through ventilation holes in the roof). Keep hives in good condition.
  • Reduce the entrance after removing the supers
  • Be aware of hygiene and tidy beekeeping Don’t spill sugar syrup or leave wet supers or honey lying around where bees can find them
  • Consider apiary lay out to prevent drifting
  • Feed in the evening and feed all the hives
  • Protect the hive during inspections eg by covering frames with a manipulation cloth
  • Consider moving a hive in a situation of silent or, friendly. robbing
  • Ted Hooper suggests leaning a piece of glass against the entrance to confuse the robbers.

The hive occupants will learn to fly around it. If bees have succeeded in robbing out a nuc, leave a comb with a small amount of honey on it. The robbers will work on this until it is exhausted and then return home. Removing everything encourages searching and further robbing.

Uniting Two Colonies

Uniting is the name given to the operation where two separate colonies are joined together to make one stronger colony. A weak colony consumes most of the nectar its bees gather in order to maintain the brood temperature. It rarely produces a honey surplus and is much more likely to die out during the winter than a strong colony. By uniting two such weak colonies the beekeeper increases the honey-gathering potential and the chances of survival.

There are other good reasons for uniting and more than one way of doing it, but uniting by the “Newspaper Method” is the safest and easiest.

Potential reasons to unite two colonies:

  • To create strong stock from a weak colony
  • To introduce a queenless colony to a queen right colony
  • To make a queenless colony ….queen right


  • if combining 2 queenright colonies, remove one queen (choose the least productive queen or one with poorest characteristics or, they will fight each other).
  • Remove the brace comb or one brood box will not fit snugly on top of the other
  • Perform this manipulation in the evening, when flying bees are in the hive or, this will make the flying bees from the top box homeless!

Prior to implementing the “uniting” process both colonies are inspected. The queen which is to head the united colony is checked to make sure she is laying well. If recent worker brood is observed the colony is said to be “queen-right”. The other colony is then inspected and the queen is found and removed. (If you have difficulty finding this queen,  put the hive to one side. On the original site now place an empty brood box on a floor and place a queen excluder on top. Put the brood box & frames with the illusive queen , plus bees, on top of the queen excluder. Remove one frame at a time & shake all the bees on the frame into this top box. Continue this process until all frames have been removed & the bees shaken into the top box. Gently smoke the bees after each shake to keep them in the box. Once all the frames are removed gently smoke the bees in the top box so that the majority go down into the bottom box. You should then find it easier to find the queen, since she is too large to follow the bees through the queen excluder. Once you have found the queen & removed or, dispatched her, reassemble all the frames in the bottom box with the bees. A sheet of newspaper is pinned over the top of the brood body of the queen-less colony (note this can be difficult on a breezy/windy day so, if possible choose a calm day to carry out this procedure) and the brood body of the queen right colony is taken from its floor and placed directly on top of the newspaper. The crown board and roof are replaced on top of this double brood body and the first manipulation is complete.

The bees in the top box find themselves imprisoned and start to chew their way through the newspaper. Some beekeepers stab a few small holes in the newspaper to ease the bees’ task but, this is not strictly necessary. By the time the two lots of bees have chewed through the newspaper, the different smells of the colonies will have intermingled. The queen-less colony will be keen to rectify their deficiency, and the two colonies should unite without fighting.

After two or three days the hive is opened up and the frames are reorganised. The queen and all the frames containing brood are placed together in the bottom brood body. Frames of food are put on either side of the united brood nest to fill this brood body and the second brood body, and any extra frames are taken away for storage.

Clearing Bees from Honey Supers

M7418-500x500It’s honey harvesting time and you have decided to remove supers filled with sealed honey.

But, the supers are still full of bees!

What do I do?

A Canadian Clearer Board is very effective and rapid way of clearing bees. The cones sufficiently disorientate the bees so that they are temporarily unable to find their way back into the supers. However they should not be left on for more than six hours.

The use of Porter Bee Escapes  (see image above) in a crown board, placed between the supers & the brood box, is an effective “one way valve”. Place the escapes in the crownboard slot/s with the top hole uppermost. Check that the stainless steel springs are 3mm apart. This provides just enough tension for the bees to pass through but, prevents their return. Remove the queen excluder and put the crownboard in its place below the super/s to be cleared. Bees leave the super, pass through the 22mm diameter hole and into the chamber of the escape. Once there the bees have two escape routes through the springs. If used properly, bees should clear supers over a 24 hour period.

A non-toxic blend of natural oils and herb extracts called “Bee Quick“, can also be used for clearing bees quickly from supers. Safe to use for both bees, beekeepers and all hive products. Using fume pads or a fume board, spray Bee Quick evenly in a zig zag pattern onto the absorbent surface ensuring the liquid reaches the edges.

Remove all hive parts until you reach the honey supers. Place the soaked pads on top of the frames. Supers should be cleared in 2-5 minutes. Repeat as required. Best results will be obtained on a warm day when the vapours will evaporate more quickly.

Extracting & Bottling Honey

2014 Extraction 09Make plans to extract honey. The first week in September is a traditional time but, sometimes honey is taken late Spring too, if good weather prevails.

Choose a warm day if possible. The extraction of warm honey will make the whole process easier Choose a suitable hygienic room which is bee proof (the smell of honey will attract every bee & wasp in the neighbourhood!) and cover the floor with newspapers or, plastic sheeting. Set out the equipment listed below.

Wash your hands and have a bowl of water and towel available.

For the whole procedure you will need:

  • Extraordinary care, otherwise honey will drip everywhere & create a very sticky environment!
  • The honey supers
  • The extractor
  • An uncapping knife
  • A bowl to hold the wax cappings
  • A board to rest the frames on whilst uncapping
  • A coarse meshed sieve/strainer to sift out wax particles from the extracted honey
  • A finer mesh sieve for smaller wax particles
  • A settling tank or large container (the extraction process creates lots of tiny air bubbles in the honey). These will eventually rise to the top where they can be skimmed off
  • Some jars and lids.

Firstly start by uncapping the combs using a bread knife or special forks/heated knives for this job. Secure the frame on the board over the bowl and with a sawing motion side to side the caps should fall into the bowl. Uncap both sides then transfer the frame to the extractor. A damp clean cloth is very handy throughout to mop up any drips and prevent too much sticky mess occurring!

Extractors are dustbin like containers which come in different sizes, can be manual or electric with a tap at the bottom to run the honey off from time to time. They are radial or tangential, both types use centrifugal force to empty the combs of honey. Load the frames to balance the weight in the extractor or it will move around the room when at speed. Keep an eye on the level of honey and run it off regularly.

It is useful to have help or a little production line as the extractor and buckets can become very heavy.

Coarse straining filters out pollen, wax, bee parts etc. stir occasionally to enable a steady flow and prevent clogging.

If you intend to sell the honey it is necessary to remove smaller pieces of wax and debris with a second filtering through a nylon mesh or muslin cloth, the honey needs to be kept warm to allow air bubbles to rise slowly (ripening) over 24 hours. If you only have one hive you may prefer to fill jars/bottles immediately after the honey has ripened. Beekeepers with more hives usually transfer ripened honey into food grade, plastic honey buckets. Jars can then be filled as needed. This can be advantageous where the honey harvest contains a rapidly granulating honey source such as rape seed oil….where you only bottle honey for immediate consumption.

If using for your own consumption any clean jar or container will do. Clean jars and lids with attractive labels will show the honey to its advantage.  Cleaning up is best done with copious amounts of cold water, and damp cloths for surfaces etc. Super frames can be returned to the hive for cleaning up by the bees or stored wet with honey securely covered in a safe place.