Module 1 Paper 5

1. How would you recognise an outbreak of robbing?

  • Bees fighting/tumbling at the hive entrance
  • A colony struggling to maintain stores
  • Bitten through and messy cappings on the stores
  • Visibly short flight paths between hives
  • Destroyed comb in particularly bad cases
  • Bees visibly carrying propolis away from the hive
  • Highly stressed colony that’s more aggressive than usual


  • Honeybees
  • Wasps
  • Ants
  • Wax Moth Larvae
  • Mice (other small rodents)
  • Badgers
  • Woodpeckers
  • Deaths-Head Hawkmoth

3. When would you expect the honey flow?

  • From Autumn Sown Rape = Early Spring
  • From Spring Sown Rape = Summer (recent growth in popularity despite lower yields)

4. Robbing

a) What do you understand by the term robbing and when is it likely to occur?

Robbing refers to bees from one colony stealing resources from another colony.  The victim often becomes overwhelmed and is usually weaker and unable to protect itself.

b) What beekeeping practices might lead to robbing?

Feeding bees is the primary cause of potential robbing, when filling up feeders the bees from nearby colonies are attracted to the potential resource and particularly if the feed has been spilt in and around the hive.  Once nearby bees learn the location it doesn’t take long for them to recruit others and overwhelm a weaker colony.

Splitting colonies is a common problem where the split colonies returning flyers might signal the smaller split as a potential source of food, particularly if the split is fed immediately.  The combination of a weaker colony, fresh food, and returning flyers will put the split at risk of being robbed.

c) How can robbing be prevented and curtailed?

Prevention is much simpler than the cure so taking care when feeding can help avoid this problem, particularly if you feed when the bees are not flying, either early morning or later in the evening, bees are then unlikely to notice the potential source of food.  Take care when feeding the bees and have the means to clean up any spillages to prevent it from attracting nearby colonies.  

When making splits you should wait 24 hours before feeding so that the bees leaving to return to the parent colony won’t signal the split as a food source.  Reducing the entrance on splits will also make it easier for the new colony to protect itself until it gets up to size.

If robbing has started then the only practical way to curtail it would be to move the victim colony out of reach, at least 3 miles away in case you accidentally trap the robbing bees inside when moving.  After a week you can return the victim colony to the apiary and to the same location.

d) What are the concerns of robbing?

Robbing will quickly deplete the victim’s food stores making it unable to feed its young and sustain itself, this will inevitably lead to colony collapse if not dealt with in a timely manner.

In severe cases, I’ve seen significant damage being done to comb which is an important resource for the beekeeper, aggressive robbing will see the bees cut through wax quickly to reach as much of the honey and nectar as possible.

The final concern is that of disease and pests.  As bees move between colonies there’s the potential to spread diseases and pests across bees from multiple colonies exacerbating a low-lying problem and creating a much larger and widespread issue to contend with.

5. How would you manage the following...

Your main honey flow extends from late June to the middle of July. How would you manage the following situations found in the first week of June?

a) You had a clipped queen but find emerging virgins.

Look for the clipped queen to see if she’s still present within the hive, are there still eggs that might indicate that she’s still present and active?  In all likelihood, the clipped queen has probably attempted to swarm and as a result, has perished leaving new queens to emerge.  There’s a strong compliment of bees as the swarm will have returned to the original colony so in this situation allow the virgins to mate, there’s still a good chance that plenty of honey will still be brought in.

b) The queen was unclipped, and on examination, you find both sealed and unsealed queen cells.

Highly likely that the queen has swarmed or will imminently.  Look through the hive for the queen and if found perform an artificial swarm by splitting her away with something like the Pagden method.  Look to combine a few days later to help maintain the workforce and keep the laying routine going.

If not found assume that the colony has swarmed.  In this scenario, go through the hive and ensure that you have a good queen cell so that she can emerge and get mated quickly, for speedier results a mated queen can be purchased and quickly introduced using a push-in cage.

c) Having destroyed queen cells on previous inspections, you now find there are no eggs or unsealed brood.

Possibly the cells have been misidentified as swarm cells and are instead supersedure cells, as a result of a failing or unwanted queen.  Add a frame of eggs from a donor colony to watch what happens and allow the bees to rear a replacement queen.  Another option would be to purchase a queen and introduce using the keepers preferred method.

d) The colony swarms but you manage to capture it.

Come back to this question.

6. Overwintering

a) List the key criteria for successful wintering.

  • A healthy colony of a good size
  • Free of pests and disease
  • Plenty of stores, enough to see them through the winter months
  • Protected as much as possible from the elements
  • Hive parts in good condition
  • Protected from mice, badgers, and woodpeckers

b) Describe how you prepare your colonies for winter to meet those criteria

Ensure that the colony has been well cared for through the season, any colonies that are weakened or much smaller should be combined to make a larger colony. If this isn’t possible I may be inclined to move a small colony from a larger hive into a nuc so that they can better regulate temperatures through the colder months.

Make sure you treat for pests following the honey harvest and potentially again at the end of the year, particularly in regards to varroa.

Calculate the necessary stores for your area and either leave enough honey on or prepare to feed. The syrup should be fed in the lead-up to winter followed by fondant as temperatures start to reach freezing.  Moving into the Spring is a critical time as the queen comes back into lay, keep a close eye on remaining stores before the flow.

Hives should be protected from the weather where possible, insulating and providing shelter. Sometimes hives might be relocated to address this. 

Protect further from pests where necessary, wire mesh to guard against woodpeckers for example.  Reduce entrance sizes to guard against rodents.  Ensuring that the hive parts are in good repair will help the bees guard against wasps and robbing from other colonies.

c) Why do some colonies manage to survive winter but then die out in early spring?

Colonies are most at risk of starvation as we transition into Spring.  This is largely down to the fact that stores are low at this time of year and the UK Spring weather can be largely unpredictable.  As such beekeepers must be extra vigilant and feed if necessary.

There’s also the possibility that a colony may have gone into the winter with a high varroa count which has hit the colony heavily and weakened it sufficiently to cause the numbers to decline gradually and die and out.

Another possible issue is that the colony went into winter without being queenright which prevented the colony from maintaining numbers and then building its numbers early on in the year, leading to collapse.

7. Moving Hives

a) What dangers or difficulties are there in moving hives of bees during the active season?

  • Bees should be closed up for transportation either early or late in the day, this ensures that you’re capturing the majority of bees.  Removing a hive in the middle of the day will result in foraging bees returning to a missing hive, sometimes the number of bees can be significant.
  • Hives during the active season will be heavy due to the number of bees and the amount of stores, the ability to lift the hive should be taken into account.
  • The active season will be very warm so it’s important to ensure that the colony is well-ventilated, particularly on lengthy journeys.  It will help ensure the bees can regulate their temperature correctly whilst preventing the wax from collapsing.
  • You must move the bees a distance of 3 miles to ensure that the bees do not return to the original hive location.
  • Frames should be parallel with the direction of travel to compensate for acceleration and braking to avoid excessive movements inside the brood box.
  • If the plan is to move multiple hives over long distances then adequate planning should be taken into account to ensure you have the tools, the help, and the correct means of transportation

b) Describe how you would move a colony of bees in a single-walled hive (giving all necessary precautions)

i) To another part of the apiary, several metres away.  
In preparation for any move, ratchet straps should be utilised to hold all the main hive parts together, at least two in a parallel position.  Moving short distances would require several moves of a couple of feet at a time so may take several days.  Given that we’re in the active season it may be prudent to move them to a different apiary at least 3 miles away, wait a couple of days and then move them back to the new location in the original apiary.

ii) 25 miles to another apiary (hot weather is forecast)
Plan the journey to be either early or late in the day.  The hive should have a ventilated floor and top travel board to maintain good airflow.  Strap each hive together tightly using two ratchet straps parallel to each other to avoid parts from slipping apart.  It’s important to ensure the entrances are securely closed using foam or other suitable material to prevent bees from flying around the vehicle.

Planning the route to your destination will help you to avoid delays and knowing where you’ll be unloading will avoid further delay during the