By the end of May, colonies will be at their peak and, if they have not already swarmed, expect them to be raring to do so. Certainly, in May most years, my colonies usually pack in the oilseed rape (OSR) nectar. There is always some within range. Then they make swarm preparations. I realise not everyone has OSR nearby but for the many who do, it can be a good big crop, if a difficult one because, being high in glucose, it quickly crystallises. Its honey potential is high: 101-500 kg/ha. While the neonicotinoid ban has meant less is sown, there is still plenty near me.

Writing in mid-March, the season seems much more advanced than usual, so it would not be surprising if the OSR finished flowering much sooner than usual at the end of May. If there is OSR near you, keep an eye on the colour of the field. As it begins to turn from yellow to green, check the honey in the supers for ripeness by giving combs a really good shake. If little comes out, it will probably be good enough. You could use a refractometer; they are not expensive. Honey cannot be sold as ‘honey’ unless the water content is 20% or less. Worse, wet honey ferments, I have had that happen, so I would rather collect some slightly wet honey than have to deal with crystals in the comb.

Clearing bees from supers

I never use Porter escapes with this crop as they are not quick and, without the bees’ warmth, OSR honey crystallises. Even if you have other clearer boards, I suggest you shake the bees off their frames in front of the hive and brush off any stragglers with a handful of grass.

If you are late to extract, it may have to be scraped out, or melted down, comb and all. This can be done in a Pratley tray, if you have one, but is a waste of valuable comb. If your honey has partially crystallised, you will not be able to spin it all out. Your extractor will be out of balance and may ‘dance’ as it rotates; so, start it slowly. If that happens, extract what you can, then dip combs into a bucket of water before returning them to their supers and then to the colony for the bees to clean out. Try not to leave any OSR honey in the combs as it may cause later crops of other honeys to crystallise too.



As soon as the OSR is over, colonies tend to swarm. Swarming is a great leap of faith; when they go, only the scouts know where they will finish up. In the wild, colonies swarm every year and only 20% of them collect enough food to survive to the following spring. They reproduce not as individuals but as colonies; this Darwinian selection ensures the fitness of their species.

Queen Rearing

Please do not stop reading! Raising your own queens is one of the most delightful aspects of beekeeping. May is when the bees want to raise new queens themselves. And if you have a nasty colony, you can re-queen it. All that is needed is a spare box with both a dummy board, to restrict the volume around the bees against one side of the box, and an entrance block, with a small entrance they can defend. Go to a colony you like and select a frame of eggs and young brood. There is no need to find the queen. Shake off all the bees. Put that frame into your spare box. Take a second frame, this time of food, both pollen and honey, and after shaking off all the bees, add it to your box. Again, shake off all the bees. Now go back to your original colony’s brood box, add a queen excluder, your new box, a crown board and roof. Nurse bees will ascend to cover the brood in the upper box. After half an hour or so, the new box can be removed and, as the nurse bees will not have flown, it can be put anywhere you like.

The bees in the new box will quickly make some queen cells. Choose how many you want. If only one, as they are already on two frames, for economy of equipment you might move them into a nucleus box. If you raise two cells, you have the second to re-queen that ‘nasty’ colony. After finding and killing the poor queen, requeening is best and most surely done, by uniting a laying queen in a nucleus to the full colony. So, that second cell must also be put into another nucleus. Follow the same drill to make a second nucleus and add your queen cell, protected with silver paper leaving the tip clear, or shake some young bees into another nucleus box and add your second queen cell. With a gentle shake, the older bees fall off, leaving the youngsters still adhering.

Photos:  Jeremy Quinlan