How to manage a large colony


Last summer one of our colonies grew quite large to an extent that we provided it with a second brood box. Whilst this gave extra space for the queen to lay the second box was predominately used by the colony for stores. This was useful over the winter as it provided a good supply of food.

The colony is now (in April) expanding rapidly but we are concerned that the queen does not have much room to lay as both boxes still have a high percentage of stores and her laying is spread out over both boxes.

So we are wondering if it might be prudent to remove a number of frames that are mainly made up of stores and replace them with new frames and foundation.

We are also wondering that if we did this whether there would also be some merit in temporarily restricting the queen to one brood box. We are also giving some consideration to acquiring another queen and using some of the brood from the existing hive to establish a new colony whilst easing the crowding in the existing hive.


Sounds like a good question. You don’t mention supers. I would be tempted to:

  1. Take out half the brood frames that only have nectar & honey and place them in another brood box that goes on top of an empty box above the crown board. Hopefully they will think this is outside their nest, rob it and store it elsewhere leaving you with drawn brood comb – a valuable asset.
  2. Immediately below the crown board I’d have space for honey. SBs with foundation or drawn comb and of course the Qx below that.
  3. Now for the brood boxes. I’d keep this as a double BB for now. There will be vacant spaces where the brood frames containing honey came out. Assuming the colony is large I would place new foundation every third or even every other brood frame. A strong colony will quickly draw this out giving the q somewhere to lay. I wouldn’t worry about breaking up the brood nest.

In summary then and this time from the bottom up:

  • Floor
  • Double BB with some new foundation
  • Qx
  • Super(s) with room for nectar
  • Crown board (with holes left open)
  • Empty BB or SB (to create a gap)
  • BB with brood frames containing honey & nectar

How to Perform a Shook Swarm

How to perform a shook swarm to replace old, possibly diseased comb with nice, fresh comb. The shook swarm is much quicker than the Bailey comb change, but it’s much more stressful for the bees.

This should be done in the early spring, but late enough for the bees to build up strength.

In the case of EFB, the shook swarm should be done under the supervision of a bee inspector.

It’s not recommended to perform a shook swarm when bees have nosema, as it’s too stressful for the colony.

Thanks to Bronwen White for the following demonstration:

How to perform a shook swarm:

  • Move the entire hive to one side and take the roof and crown board off of the hive.
  • In its place, position a new hive with a clean floor.
  • Put a queen excluder on the floor underneath the brood box (to stop the bees from swarming during this process.)
  • Take about four frames out of the center of the clean hive and set to the side.
  • Take one dirty frame at a time and shake the bees into the clean hive, and brush in any remaining bees.
  • It’s best to have a spare box to put the dirty, bee-free frames in while you work through the frames.
  • Gently place the four clean frames back into the clean hive.
  • Place clean crown board on top of the clean hive.
  • Feed bees using a contact feeder.
  • Place a super and roof on top.


How to Perform a Bailey Comb Change

How to do a Bailey comb change to replace old, dirty comb with nice clean comb in the Spring.

The purpose of a Bailey comb Change is to get your bees onto nice, clean comb. This should only be done on a strong colony early in the spring.

If you think you have diseased comb, you can learn more about replacing your comb with a shook swarm here.

Thanks to Bronwen White for the demonstration:

How to perform a Bailey comb change:

  • Place a brood box of clean frames straight on top of the original brood box with dirty frames.
  • Place crown board on top
  • Feed with a strong sugar syrup with a contact feeder (as the weather could be cold.)
  • Put a super on the hive with some insulation
  • Then place the roof back on

After one week:

The queen should have moved up into the clean frames (in the top box) to lay, so we need to:

  • Inspect the top box to check that this has happened (and make sure the queen is in the top box.)
  • Place a queen excluder between the boxes (to keep her in the top box.)
  • Put an eke with a small entrance on top of the QE.
  • Put clean box on top.
  • Close up the bottom entrance completely.
  • Place crown board, feeder, super, and roof back on. Continue feeding until the foundation is built out.

After another three weeks:

All of the brood in the bottom box should have emerged, so we need to dispose of the bottom box:

  • Remove roof, feeder, + super.
  • Move the entire hive to one side.
  • Put a clean floor in place
  • Lift our nice clean brood box with our queen and new brood onto the clean floor.
  • At this stage, the brood should be drawn out and we don’t need a feeder anymore so we can put our roof back on.


Notes from the hive: September 6, 2018

We checked the colonies where we’d found two queens and moved one to a queenless hive: The original hive was left with the new queen and this was doing very well with lots of eggs and brood at all stages. The mother queen (Queen Mother?) had been placed in an introduction cage in a queenless colony. She was now out and walking around quite confidently – BUT no eggs. We were hoping that she might still be laying and might produce enough for her new family to utilise in making queen cells. Sadly it seems she has has stopped laying altogether. We’ll give it another few days and then unite the colony with another…

Preparing a double brood for winter


We currently have double brood boxes below our QE. There are mostly stores and some brood in the top box. There’s mostly brood in the bottom box.

For winter, do we need to rearrange the boxes so the stores are below the brood?

Last winter we had a slightly different setup, so we put the brood box with 100% stores under the brood and it worked really well.

Not sure if it’s worth messing with this year?


Yes, it’s worth messing around to get things right. I’ve consolidated some double BBs down to singles but I’ll wait until next month to put stores below brood nest, when I put on mouseguards.

If you have a question about beekeeping, please email us:

Room for bees after removing honey supers


How do the bees “fit” in the hive after you take supers off? (How do they have enough space?) Do we need to replace the full frames with empty frames just to give them some room?


The bees need space to hang out. Supers with drawn comb preferably, foundation if nothing else available. Extract the Honey ASAP and return the wet supers for them to fill up again.

If you have a question about beekeeping, please email us:

What to do about wasps?

Wasps can become a problem for us and our bees at this time of the year. To understand why and what to do, it helps to know something about their lifestyle. Wasps are carnivorous. The larvae are fed chewed-up insects by the adults and they exude a sweet substance which the adults lick up and from which they obtain much of their carbohydrate intake. When the breeding cycle comes to a close at the end of the summer, the adults no longer have access to their “sugar fix”. They raid our picnic tables and they raid honey from weak colonies.

The fact that wasps eat insects means that they do provide a beneficial service to gardeners in controlling aphids and greenfly during the summer. This function is no longer available at the end of the summer. Most people do not like killing (even!) wasps but you should be aware that the breeding cycle is over and the adult wasps have no further useful purpose to serve and they will soon die (the mated queens hibernate until next spring).

  • if your bees are being harangued by wasps, you can do one or more of the following:
    narrow the hive entrance to the smallest practicable extent (say 30mm wide)
  • ensure that your hives are bee & wasp proof (many old hives have broken corners or joints that are opening or roofs with ventilation openings that once had mesh over them but which are now open to wasps and bees)
  • if you’re feeding your bees, do so in the evening and mop up any spills immediately
    hang up a large grey bag stuffed with newspaper in your apiary (something the looks like a wasp nest). Wasps will be deterred from coming into the apiary because they will be fooled into thinking that there is a wasps’ nest and they are safer elsewhere. (I guess it doesn’t hurt to try!)
  • put up wasp traps. These can come in two forms – traps that kill and traps that trap insects without killing them. The latter are useful if you want to release insects other than wasps that have entered the trap. You will find examples of both on the web – see for a trap designed for hornet monitoring but which can also be used for wasps. Bait them with jam, beer – fermenting sweet concoctions of any type.

Notes from the hive: August 21, 2018

I was carrying out a standard inspection yesterday and noticed a queen that was, strangely, unmarked & unclipped. (I mark & clip all my queens). I didn’t have queen marking pen or scissors so carried on with the inspection. Two frames later I saw a queen, marked red (this year’s colour). A perfect supersedure no doubt. Since I had already inspected a queenless colony the “red queen” went into an introduction cage and into the queenless hive. Let’s see what happens!

What to do with crystallised honey in frames

October 2017


I had an exhausting day yesterday extracting honey from my first super!

I did notice that there is quite a lot of crystallised honey still in the frames – one or two have pretty much a full side, where as others have patches of it.  Quite a lot of “runny” honey still came out as well.

I can’t remember what you are meant to do if you have crystallised honey in frames, and the internet seems to be very divided!

If I gave it back to the bees would they manage to get it out? Or are the frames effective “wasted” to be recycled into wax?


In your neck of the woods your bees are likely to have access to Oil Seed Rape (OSR) which granulates very quickly. Usually it stays liquid whilst on the hive but supers need to be extracted within a day or so after being taken off the hives. You have several choices what to do with granulated honey, none of which produce honey for direct human consumption:

  • Use a heated extraction tray (or equivalent – say a jam pan on a low heat) which will melt the honey and the wax. When left to cool the wax will be set on top of the honey and the two can be separated. Since the honey has been heated to a fairly high temperature it is classified as “baker’s honey” and is only suitable for cooking with. If you jar it and label it it must bear  the words “baker’s honey” and “intended for cooking only” (more details here.)
  • Since the cells are uncapped you could place the frames in a container of water and let the honey dissolve out (I’ve never tried this myself but I am told it works). The resultant solution can be used as feed for your bees (but October getting too late for the bees to be taking liquid fed) or used as the basis of mead. If you want to us either solution for feed next autumn, you’ll have to freeze it to prevent it fermenting.
  • Place the combs in a box under the brood box. Whilst bees are not keen to take granulated honey they will utilise it when there’s no better alternative. It may help to spray the combs with water to help dissolve or soften the sugar crystals. Probably the best option!

Bad temper


I’ve just had a worrying experience with my hive (started as a nuc this year) – a big cloud of bees around my head and essentially attacking my head as soon as I took the (two full) supers off. I didn’t even begin the inspection – just closed it up and most of the cloud stayed around my head and followed me back to the back door of the house. This colony tend to be quite tetchy (the odd sting and follower) but never like this before. Any ideas about what I may have done? Weather etc. seems ok. I’m beginning to think I may not be cut out for this!


Your colony sounds as if it might be queenless but don’t panic yet (there’s nothing you can do at this time of year if they are queenless except to try and buy a new queen from somewhere.) The bad temper may be for other reasons so it might an idea to give it another go.

Light your smoker, use it liberally and make sure you are well suited up – and look for eggs and small larvae.