Category Archives: Responsibility

Too many honey bees (in town)?

Synopsis : Honey bees compete with native bees. How many hives are too many, resulting in damage to native bee populations? Probably fewer than you think.


Several years ago I visited Montréal to speak at an international symposium. It was a big conference with a very busy programme but I still managed to sneak away and see the city. We had a week or so of stunning Indian summer weather so I walked almost everywhere; along the banks of the St Lawrence and Prairies Rivers, through the Botanic Gardens and the Mount Royal 1 Park.

Montréal Olympic stadium from the Botanic Gardens

If you’ve not been I can recommend it.

However, I didn’t see a single honey bee.

I wasn’t specifically looking for honey bees, but beekeepers tend to notice these things.

In retrospect that wasn’t too surprising. At that time there were just a couple of hundred hives within the city, which covers an area of 430 km2 .

I did see monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in the gardens, stocking up on nectar before starting their migration back to Central Mexico.

Monarch butterfly, Montréal Botanic Gardens

This was early October. Had there been lots of honey bees in Montréal I’d have expected to see them on the same asters, competing for the nectar with the butterflies, piling in the stores before the coming winter.

And competition isn’t always a good thing.

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Poly nucs and winter losses

Synopsis : Save money. Take your winter losses now. Unite weak colonies or those headed by dodgy queens … and some thoughts on poly nucs for overwintering.


With apologies to Winston Churchill:

“Now this is not the end. It is perhaps the beginning of the end.” 1

And even a cursory look through couple of colonies will confirm this. They are shifting from their summer labours to the late summer preparations for winter.

The signs are easy to spot.

Colonies with ample super space are beginning to backfill the broodnest with nectar. You can see it sparkling in the sun.

Backfilled cells (and a drone or two)

You also see this when the colonies have nowhere else to store fresh nectar, but my supers are disappointingly full of space this year 2 ) so they’re opting to keep it close. The brood pattern can look a bit spotty, but the queen is ‘missing’ the cells because they’re already full.

Most of my east coast colonies have stopped, or almost stopped, rearing drones. There are still plenty of drones about but they’re not producing any more this season.

This makes sense. Drones are ‘expensive’ in terms of the resources (pollen, nectar, time, workers) needed to rear them and the chance that they will successfully complete a mating flight this late in the season is limited.

They’re not chucking them out yet though. On a warm afternoon the distinctive sound of a thousand drones going out on the pull fills the air.

Ever the optimists 😉 .

Colonies are still strong and busy. They contain a lot of brood, but the laying rate of the queen is slowing and – presumably 3 – they will very soon start rearing the long-lived winter bees that will take the colony through to next spring.

Take your winter losses now

And, as the colonies segue from producing summer bees to winter bees, I’m also starting to plan for the winter. This involves preparing the colonies I want and getting rid of (i.e. uniting) those surplus to requirements or underperforming.

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Swarm control – it’s not rocket science

Synopsis : Successful swarm control involves regular, appropriately timed, colony inspections and some simple colony manipulations. Understand the principles and you’ll realise it’s not rocket science.


The majority of visitors (~85%) to this site are from the Northern hemisphere – the UK, USA, Canada and Ireland. Everyone is welcome of course, but the reality is that the topical posts that appear are in sync with the season in the Northern hemisphere, so they tend to get read more. Nowhere is this more apparent than during the period when our bees are swarming – or attempting to swarm.

I wrote Queen cells … don’t panic! back in June 2018. It described what queen cells looked like and what to do if you find them (Don’t panic!). It wasn’t read much that year but has gradually gained ‘traction’ and last year accounted for ~4% of all visits 1.

Seasonal reading about queen cells

The page views show distinct seasonality, with peaks in May coinciding with beekeepers panicking when they find queen cells our swarm season in the Northern hemisphere.

This year, swarming in the UK made the news with an article on the BBC about Midlands beekeepers running out of equipment. It was an enjoyable read – I used to keep bees there and know the beekeepers – not least because of all the errors made by the reporter. I counted about half a dozen clangers 2 in under 300 words.

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World Bee Day … save the bees!

Synopsis : Bentleys, beewash, robotic hives and why most initiatives are trying to save the wrong bees. Something for everyone for World Bee Day tomorrow.


The Bentley Continental GTC convertible is a fantastic example of a luxury car. Gorgeous inside, with split leather upholstery, a 46-speaker Hi-Fi system and the very finest wooden veneer finished with unobtainium trim. Stunning outside, with a gloss carbon fibre body kit and lashings of ‘racetrack attitude’ 1.

And the performance!

The 6 litre, 650 bhp engine delivers 900 Nm of torque, giving a 0-60 mph time of just 3.6 seconds and a top speed in excess of 200 mph.

Of course, all that performance comes at a cost … the fuel consumption is at best ~20 mpg and the CO2 emissions exceed 300 g/km 2.

Those last two figures are unlikely to trouble most purchasers, but – as the world races towards exceeding the 1.5°C threshold by 2027 – they do contribute to climate change.

Brrrm brrrm!

Fortunately, Bentley are doing their bit to reduce the carbon footprint (of manufacture 3 ); the Crewe factory site has been certified carbon neutral since 2019 and they’ve created a ‘green wall’ containing 2600 plants to filter out toxins and dust, which also produces 40 kg of oxygen a year 4.

And, of course, they’ve also got bees.

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Site and smell

Synopsis : Where should bait hives be located to capture your own lost swarms? 1 Can you omit the old brood frame and still make the bait hive attractive?


Social media can be seriously misleading for beekeepers. For months now it seems like I’ve been reading about boxes bulging with bees, third supers being added, swarms swarming and the oil seed rape bonanza.

For a beginner living anywhere north of Watford 2 this must be a major distraction.

Is the season passing them by?

Perhaps there’s something wrong with their bees?

With luck they’ve resisted the temptation to go rummaging through the brood box. Twice, because they didn’t see the queen on the first run through. Or the second. Should they buy another queen ’just in case’? 3

Old lags, by contrast, give a resigned shrug knowing that the season will be along in due course.

In its own good time … 4.

There’s nothing to be gained by trying to force things. Why open the box, why search for the queen, why risk chilling the bees and brood? There’s pollen going in on the few days good enough for flying, the water carriers are water carrying, the hive has stores (or you’ve quickly added a kilo or two of fondant under the crownboard) and things are progressing much as they should be … though definitely not in lockstep with events reported by the Twitterati in warmer climes.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do.

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