Karl Colyer

As the queen’s egg-laying rate reaches its peak, some beekeeper interventions are most useful this month.

Although the maximum bee populations within a hive may occur during July, the eggs, larvae and pupae to produce these bees are most likely to be in the hive during June. Are your bees thriving, balanced and healthy?

Bees should be thriving
Are your bees good-tempered? Have they obtained adequate stores to support the colony through periods of poor weather? Are they coping OK with Varroa? Is the brood pattern even and easily contained within the brood box? If yes, that’s great news. If no, some kind of intervention may be called for. Your bees should, ideally, be adapted to your local surroundings. A need to feed your bees is an indication of a lack of forage and/or overly-prolific bees and/or too many colonies in your area.

Balanced hives = happy hives
If there is a lot of brood, consider splitting the colony into two or donating some frames of sealed brood to another, weaker colony. If there is a lot of brood and a distinct lack of food, it may be worth considering if these are the right bees for your area. If your bees seem overly defensive compared to other bees, are these the right bees for you as a beekeeper and for your neighbours?

Bees require enough space. An overcrowded brood area may prompt the swarming impulse. As for supers, if they are full you can add more supers or you can harvest some of the honey. Leave at least one full super of honey on the hive for the bees, the rest is available for removal.

Fresh drawn comb
If you still have a nectar flow in your area, the bees will be able to draw out the foundation in supers. To help them out, you can swap alternate drawn comb with new frames and foundation, putting the drawn comb into another super, again alternating with new frames and foundation. Thinking ahead, you could even put a brood box of frames or foundation above the queen excluder for them to draw out. The bees tend to draw them out cleanly, that is, with worker-sized cells throughout the whole box. These frames are very useful when replacing brood frames in the future or making splits to create new colonies. Arguably, drawn comb is one of the most valuable hive resources.

Healthy bees
With the mass of sealed brood and larvae, Varroa numbers can escalate and start to put the overall colony health at risk. Assess the situation before signs of infestation start to become obvious. There are several methods to detect the mite level including counting dead mites on the hive floor and live mites inside sealed brood cells. The aim is to keep mite numbers below the level where they will harm the colony. The danger level is put at 1,000 mites per colony by the National Bee Unit (NBU). Control methods are based on the level of infestation and whether there is honey on the hive. MAQS are approved for use in the UK when there are supers on the hive. Follow the instructions carefully, never exceed the recommended dosage and keep a detailed record of all treatments. Alternatively, use biotechnical methods such as drone brood removal or comb trapping. There is a lot of useful information on BeeBase.

Again, with so much brood available, you can do a thorough inspection for European foulbrood on open brood, and American foulbrood on sealed brood. If there are any issues, they will be most noticeable now and must be reported to the NBU. You can read more about diseases and pests at:



Get to know your bees 

Most UK beekeepers have ‘mongrel’ bees which, on average, may contain around 45% of Apis mellifera mellifera genetics. The percentage will vary depending on what other genetics are imported into the area. The genetics of your colonies are likely to be the result of queen matings from supersedure, swarming or emergency queen rearing. Genetics can be a complicated topic to get into, but the simplest summary for us mere mortals could be interpreted as:

  1. If your bees exhibit the same characteristics from generation to generation, the genetics in your area are most likely to be stable.
  2. If your bees noticeably change behaviour with a new queen, it is likely that new genetics have been introduced into your apiary. You will need to assess the characteristics of your colony with each new queen and deal with any undesirable results.

If you have brought in bees of another pure(ish) strain, or a hybrid variety from elsewhere, expect future generations to exhibit different behaviours, because the one thing that is almost certain, is that the next generations of queens will behave differently and not necessarily better.

Photo:  Karl Colyer