It’s the time of year when beekeepers are buying in new queens and are faced with the uncertainty of whether or not the queen will be accepted in her new colony. The following method was first described by L.E. Snelgrove (1) in 1940 who claimed an almost 100% success rate.

The method is based on the principle that the new queen should adopt the receiving colony’s odour before being introduced.

The colony should be showing signs of queenlessness before carrying out the operation; this usually takes from a few minutes to as much as half an hour after removal of the old queen.

The “one-hour’’ method

  • Release the bees escorting the new queen from the cage in which they arrived.

  • Take a matchbox and place it three-quarters open over brood comb in the receiving

    colony at a point where the bees are thickest.

  • Gently close it with about 20 bees inside.

  • Put a pin through the side to keep it closed and put it in your pocket for 5 to 10


  • At the end of this period partly open the box with your thumb over the opening and

    drop the new queen in among the bees.

  • Close the box leaving a very narrow opening for ventilation, put in the pin and return

    it to your pocket for half an hour.

  • The bees confined in the dark with no food will be more interested in trying to get out than the presence of the new queen.

  • The queen and the bees will soon have the same odour thanks to the warmth in your pocket.

  • Give a little whiff of smoke through the hole in the crown board to clear the way.

  • Place the matchbox upside down over the hole in the crown board and open it gently

  • The new queen and her new escort will then safely make their way down into the

    queenless hive.

  • Close the hive and don’t disturb for a few days.

    Essential points :

    • The queen acquires the odour of the hive before being introduced.
    • She is hungry when she enters the hive.
    • She enters the hive accompanied by a friendly escort.
    • The hive is in a state of distress and looking anxiously for their queen.

    (1)  L.E. Snelgrove The Introduction of Queen Bees Furnell & Sons Aug 1940

    Alan Baxter 21 April 2024





There have been many reports of winter and spring colony losses this year for which there could be any number of causes. One answer to the mysterious death of a previously productive colony is infection with a microsporidian, or spore-forming pathogen, called Nosema.

Two types have been identified in Britain, N.apis and N. ceranae. They are similar in many ways but the main difference between them is the seasonal nature of their impact on colonies. N.apis can almost disappear in summer wheras N. ceranae is active throughout the year and its impact is often more severe as a result.

What does it do?

Nosema affects the ability of the larva and the adult bee to absorb nutrients, shortening its life and preventing the winter bees from surviving until the following spring. They are also unable to produce enough brood food for the larvae resulting either death or a slow buildup of the colony.

There are often no obvious signs of infection, although occasionally it is accompanied by dysentery, in which case there may be staining around the entrance and on top of the frames.

How do you know you’ve got it?

Diagnosis is by laboratory analysis, but you can carry out a rough test in the apiary:

  • Take a few young bees from the centre of the brood nest and kill them

  • With forceps gently pull out the intestines from where they exit the body near the sting


  • The midgut, which is normally brownish in colour, in the infected bee is white and

    often distended.

    To confirm the infection, take a sample of 30 bees from the centre of the brood nest and euthanize them in the freezer and send them to someone with a microscope for analysis. If you have your own microscope it’s quite simple:


  • Cut off the abdomens and crush them in a mortar and pestle. Add a few drops of distilled water and stir.

  • Take a drop of the soup and place it on a slide. Allow to dry

  • Examine under a compound microscope at x 400. Nosema spores look like the image below.

  • How do you treat it?

    There is no specific treatment for Nosema but it can be reduced by strict apiary hygiene, feeding and comb change. A less stressful method is a Bailey Comb Change for a weak colony. In some cases changing the queen can be effective.

    Bailey comb change for a weak colony

  • Place a clean brood box beside the colony

  • Find the frame with the queen and place in the new brood box

  • Add a frame of sterilized drawn comb either side of the frame with the queen

  • Add dummy boards either side and centre them

  • In the original brood box remove any frames with no brood and destroy the comb

  • Centre the remaining frames with dummy boards

  • Close the entrance

  • Add a Bailey board

  • Put the new box on top

  • Add a feeder with sugar syrup

  • Close the hive

    Day 8

  • From the original brood box remove all frames with no brood

  • From the new box remove the frame that had the queen and place in the lower box

  • Centre the frames so they chimney upwards

  • Add more frames of drawn comb to the upper box

  • Check feed and top up if necessary

    Day 15

  • Repeat as above

  • Day 28

  • All the brood in the original box will have emerged and the box can be removed

  • Put the new box on a new floor on the original stand

  • Add any supers

  • Close the hive

    All the old comb should be burnt and the brood box and frames cleaned and sterilized for reuse.

    Alan Baxter April 2024


Signs of dysentery                                                                                          Nosema spores

Bailey Comb Change for a weak colony




    23 March 2024

    Another milestone today. It was the final theory examination for the Master Beekeeper Qualification, results in early May.



    The swarming season has been particularly intense this year due to a long, cool spring followed by a sudden spell of warm weather. Although the worst seems to be over there are still some swarms around and the season is by no means over so there is no room for complacency.

    In an earlier blog I talked about the basic theory of swarming and some of the measures you can take to prevent or control it. In this paper I’ll expand on the mechanics and timings of swarming, the differences between prevention and control and the precautions to take against casts or secondary swarms.

    In order to deal with the ever-present threat of losing half your bees and terrorizing your neighbours, it’s useful to understand the swarming process, the key indicators to look out for and the prevention or control measures you can take.

    In the chart below you will see the progression that occurs. I’ve divided it into two parts – the times when you can take prevention measures, and those when control is necessary.


    Prevention requires regular, thorough inspections and careful observation, at least weekly unless your queens are clipped in which case every 10 days will do. Anticipate and act are the key words.

    Here are some simple but effective measures you can take:

    1. Mark your queens
    • If you can’t find the queen get another pair of eyes or two to help you
    • The earlier in the season the better when there aren’t too many bees
    • Do it in the warmest part of the day when the maximum number of bees are out foraging
    • Or move the brood box to one side and put a super on its original stand to divert all the flying bees and give you more room and quiet to look.
    1. Clip your queens. This involves gently cutting off the end third of one wing. It isn’t to everyone’s taste but there are no nerves or blood vessels there – it’s like cutting your toenails.

    If you’re struggling with any of these, get a more experienced beekeeper to help you. People are always happy to lend a hand.

    1. Give them more space by adding supers early
    • The bees need room to live and to store incoming nectar and pollen
    • Nectar contains about 80% water and requires a greater volume of space than honey which only contains 20% or less
    • The queen needs more space to lay her eggs
    • Add a super as soon as the brood box starts to look crowded. When the flow starts they will be bringing in nectar very fast
    • If there are no supers they will store nectar in the brood box, thereby depriving the queen of laying space and the workers of living room
    • Remember that during the day, a lot of the bees will be out foraging. At night they need somewhere to sleep
    • Replace surplus frames of honey with drawn comb or foundation
    • Replace damaged comb which can’t be used efficiently
    1. Have your equipment ready in advance to take off the pressure when the time comes to act.


    Once the queen cells have been formed, the time for prevention has passed and control measures are needed. I prefer to use either the nuc or the Pagden method if I want to make increase from the colony, or the Demaree technique if I don’t want any more hives or to breed from that particular queen. All three are described in my earlier blog or can be found on numerous websites and on YouTube.

    Beware the cast or secondary swarm

    After the first swarm has issued, all the sealed brood that the queen had been producing in the period before the swarm will start to emerge (remember those big slabs of brood about 3 weeks ago?). This could mean that newly-emerged virgin queens might trigger another swarm.

    To reduce the risk of secondary swarming:

    • remove all the sealed queen cells
    • choose the best two unsealed ones, marking their position on the frame with a drawing pin
    • One week later go back and remove any more queen cells that have been made and
    • remove one of the marked ones
    • Make notes in your hive records of the dates – it can take longer than you think for a new queen to be mated and start to lay.

    Don’t be beguiled into thinking that your colony haven’t swarmed because the hive is still full of bees – it’s all that brood emerging after the main swarm has left.

    If they have swarmed, treat it as the parent colony and remove all the queen cells except one. Don’t be tempted to leave a second one as belt and braces.


    Happy beekeeping!

    Enormous thanks to Christine Coulsting, Master Beekeeper, for her excellent guidance on this and many other topics.

    by Alan Baxter





    There is a lot of controversy about the feeding of pollen in spring.

    We all want to do the best for our bees, including making sure that, having survived the winter, they don’t succumb to spring starvation. We know there is very little forage available, but we see our bees becoming increasingly active on warmer days and we suspect the queens are already laying. Newly-emerged brood will soon be demanding to be fed. Worker larvae need lots of protein and protein comes from pollen, but do they have enough pollen stores and are the foragers finding enough sources of early pollen around? Snowdrop, crocus, willow, hazel….?

    So being caring, responsible beekeepers we top up the fondant and add a dollop of pollen mixture to the feed. We are careful to make sure that the product we buy is of good quality and that the ingredients are digestible by the bees without upsetting their tummies. 

    But is it really a good idea? Or is it even necessary? There are different schools of thought, widely varying in their opinions, but briefly they go like this: 

    The pro-pollen feeders: 

    • Feeding pollen will stimulate rapid spring build-up so the colony has a maximum workforce for the spring nectar flow, especially in areas where there is OSR. 
    • The queen has already started to lay and needs all the help she can get if healthy, well-fed workers are to be produced. 
    • Let’s give them some just in case and because it’s a ‘good thing’ to do. 

    The anti-pollen feeders may argue: 

    • The colony will develop or not in the spring according to the availability of food. This is the way that bees have evolved, to be in synch with the natural rhythm of the seasons. 
    • If we encourage the queen to start laying early, when the brood emerges there won’t be enough forage to sustain the growing population and more artificial feeding will be needed. 
    • An early boost in the amount of brood requiring care will outnumber the nurse bees needed to look after them, and the brood will either die of starvation or develop into undernourished, smaller, weaker adults. 
    • Winter bees nearing the end of their lives, but still needed for colony survival, will be required to do more work than they are capable of and will die earlier, leaving the colony short. 
    • We want our bees to adapt to changing climatic conditions, and by feeding them artificially we will only delay their ability to evolve, thereby making them more dependent on us. 

    For me the jury is still out and I’d welcome any thoughts members have on this topic. 

    by Alan Baxter




    I wouldn’t normally open my hives until the temperature reaches tee-shirt level. It’s not worth the risk of chilling the colony or accidentally harming the queen with no chance of the colony being able to replace her.

    In case of doubt, especially if you’re new to beekeeping, it’s better to wait for another week or so until the weather is consistently better.

    However, it managed to get up to 14 degrees for a few hours on Thursday in my sheltered south-facing home apiary and I carried out very quick first inspections, mainly to check for early signs of swarming. All was well except for one colony which appears to have a mixture of normal worker brood and a high proportion of drone brood.

    I suspect it’s a failing queen despite her being less than a year old. This is a colony that suffered an attack of heavy robbing last year and never recovered its original vigour.

    There are options :

    • 1. Kill the queen and unite them as they are with another colony
    • 2. Destroy the queen and all the drone brood, together with any varroa, then unite them
    • 3. Squidge the queen and give them a frame of brood from another colony
    • 4. Shake them out and let the bees take their chance begging for admission to the other hives
    • 5. Let nature take its course, allow the brood to hatch and see what happens.

    Factors to consider:

    • There are only 4 frames of bees
    • Most of them will be winter bees nearing the end of their lives
    • There won’t be enough nurse bees to tend to the emerging larvae
    • Drones are a drain on the colony’s resources at this time of the year, whilst giving nothing back in return.

    The remaining workers might be useful to a receiving colony if:

    • their hypopharyngeal glands are still active and they’re able to produce brood food or 
    • they could add to the foraging force

    These benefits are likely to be short-lived for the reasons stated above.

    Any new queens produced this early in the season would struggle to get mated.

    My preferred option is No: 2. This offers me the opportunity to give another colony a temporary boost and to carry out a bit of varroa control at the same time, but I would love to hear what other members think.

    by Alan Baxter February 2023



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