Oxford Bees

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Very high Varroa count for city centre hives

I did a 24 hour Varroa drop count yesterday. This involves clearing the removable hive floor and counting the Varroa mites which drop out of the hive over a 24 hour period.

I counted

  • 15 Varroa on the floor of Colony 12;
  • 16 Varroa on the floor of Colony 4;
  • 30 Varroa on the floor of Colony 8.

These are very high numbers of mites for this time of year.

The modelling referenced by the National Bee Unit suggests that colonies starting the year with this many mites will be overwhelmed during the season. I'm not going to treat. I'll see what happens.

I did try to insulate 2 of these 3 hives before winter. The uninsulated hive had 16 mites. There isn't a noticeable difference in mite numbers between insulated and uninsulated which is counter-intuitive -- warmer internal hive temperature should encourage brood rearing which should give opportunities for mites to breed. This is a very small sample but I'm not seeing that correlation here.

Varroa fall is worryingly high for Spring

I have seen a worrying number of Varroa bodies on the floors of my hives. This is particularly concerning at the start of the season because it suggests much higher numbers of the mites later in the season. If I was a conventional bee keeper I would treat the hives now. I'm not going to. We'll see what happens.

I periodically look at the removable floors in my out apiary in town. I've seen Varroa bodies on the floor of all the 3 hives there. I haven't been able to count the rate of fall yet but there were enough bodies to be a concern. There are also Varroa bodies in my hive in Headington. This afternoon I cleaned the hive floor and, 4 hours later, found 2 new bodies. This rate of floor is alarming.

The hives which contain colonies 8 and 12 were insulated with cork last Autumn. It wasn't the best job ever but it might have raised the temperature of the inside the hive so that more brood were raised. This would provide a great opportunity for Varroa to breed through the winter. I don't have evidence whether the insulation worked. I will try to count mite numbers to see whether there is a clear difference between insulated and uninsulated colonies. Colony 01 is uninsulated and has the very high mite count. Confusing.

Around the start of April there were also piles of dead bees outside the front of my hives in central Oxford. These were not fresh. It wasn't clear whether they died in the hive and were dumped by undertaker bees during the cold weather, or whether they crawled out. Either way it's not good news. Colony 8 had more dead than colonies 4 or 12.

I don't know what these bees died from. There were non-flying bees outside the hive on the ground. They could be suffering from a paralysis virus. There were no obvious signs of Deformed Wing Virus. I just don't know and I'm not likely to find out now.

Drones emerging from Colony 1

Today I've seen several drones around Colony 1. This shouldn't be a surprise. April is swarming season so colonies which are preparing to swarm will be rearing Queens.

The drones have fully formed wings but appear to be unable to fly. I've found a few just walking around. I threw them into the air but they didn't fly. They might be suffering from a paralysing virus.

Early drones may be more likely to be affected by Varroa infestation because there are fewer of drone larvae early in the season, and the Varroa viral load can be more concentrated.

The season has definitely begun

All four hives which went into winter have survived. All four are now busy and apparently thriving.

There is dropped pollen on the base boards. There are dropped brood cappings. There is evidence that they're cleaning out old cells (the fine brown dust on the base board). There are also wax moth droppings -- showing that wax moth move in while the bees are in their winter cluster. I didn't see any ejected wax moth larvae. I did seem some dead Varroa.

There is lots of blossom around. The season is underway.

I set up an empty hive in my out-apiary in case any of the colonies swarm in April. I've replenished the water spot too. I haven't fed them this spring, although I did feed some of the colonies in Autumn.

flowers in bloom in the last week of March

Trees:

  • Plum
  • Cherry
  • Blackthorn (Sloe)
  • May (Hawthorn) -- seen in water meadows between Marston and Oxford's South Parks Road
  • Magnolia

Shrubs

  • Forsythia

Plants

  • Daffodil
  • Primrose
  • Dandelion (only a few at the moment)

There are some pollen producing trees but I haven't been able to identify them yet.

Flowers in bloom in late March

Flowers seen in bloom in the last few days around Oxford and Headington:

Plants

  • Daffodil
  • Hyacinth
  • Primrose

Trees

  • Magnolia
  • Plumo
  • Blackthorn (Sloe)

I've started to see a couple Dandelions. They'll be in force soon.

Storm Gareth and a knock down for hive D

More extreme weather this week as Storm Gareth hit the UK. Oxfordshire experienced high winds gusting up to around 40 knots. This caused Hive D to blow over.

I discovered the stricken hive on Monday afternoon. The hive straps had held it together so it had only fallen over on one side. I put a veil on and placed it on its stand. Amazingly no bees came out of the hive. When I looked in through the door there were no bodies on the floor of the hive.

I returned to check the hive a couple of times during the week. There was pollen going in and no outward sign of distress. All seems fine.

That this hive blew over while the other two stayed upright suggests that it's much lower on stores. Heavy hives are harder to knock down. I'll keep an eye on them during the spring.

Flowers in bloom in early March

Seen in flower in the last day or two:

  • Plum
  • Daffodil (and Narcissus)

Now finished:

  • Snowdrop
  • Crocus

Mostly finished

  • Hellebores

 

All hives have over-wintered. Can they over-spring?

All my current hives (A, D, E, G) are upright (after the recent windy weather) and sound. The hives are fairly heavy, which is reassuring. A peak through the door shows the floor to be fairly clear. Their colonies (1, 4, 8, 12) appear to be fine. They were flying when the weather was warmer; there is evidence of activity on the base board.

The base boards have darker chewed wax which usually means brood hatching. It's hard to know when this was fell because I've only occasionally looked. It does suggest that there has been a slow but steady rearing of brood.

I can't tell much difference between the hives which are insulated and those which are not. Two are; two are not. One of the uninsulated hives had evidence of some condensation but not much.

Last spring was devastating for my colonies. Brood rearing had started to increase in the warmer weather but then it became very cold. Colonies which had insufficient stores or few bees starved. I hope that there will be sufficient honey in the hives to keep them fed. I was careful not to take much last summer and 2 of the hives are insulated. We should know in a month.

Bees flying and foraging at Headington Hill Hall perpetual hive

The bees in the perpetual hive in Headington Hill Hall park were flying at 1pm today -- 13th February.

There were flights every 3-5 seconds and I saw one bee land near me which had dark red pollen baskets. I couldn't check that she was carrying pollen but it seems the most likely. There were red Hellebores nearby which I think were probably the source of the pollen

The flowers in bloom nearby were

  • Hellebore (half a dozen or so within 20m of the hive. Some were red)
  • Snowdrop
  • Crocus (several hundred in flower within 150m of the hive)
  • Mahonia (very few flowers)
  • Lawn Daisy (very few flowers)

Pollen is usually a sign that there is brood in the hive.

November weather

It's been windy and rainy recently. I checked yesterday on the 3 colonies in my out apiary. They're all upright (which is nice) and ticking over. There is evidence of brood emerging, with lots of Varroa mixed into the chewed cappings. The cold spring must have knocked back the Varroa but they built up again in the Autumn.

So far, so fine.

The Varroa finally appear

The weather has turned colder, with only a few hours when it's warm enough for the bees to fly. Yesterday they were very busy in my out apiary.

My bee group remarked that their hives had a lot of activity at their entrances, with lots of orientation flights. They suggested that there had been a burst of young bees hatched in the previous days and these were getting to know the area. The drop off in brood rearing may also have been releasing nurse bees to fly.

There were a lot of chewed brood cappings on my hive floors showing that there have been lots of hatching. The flip side of this was that there were finally a few more Varroa bodies to count. The volume of hive floor debris made it hard to count accurately -- I would have needed to mix the debris with Methylated Spirits to see them clearly. I estimate that there were 2-4 dozen mites on the floors of colonies 8 and 12. There were only half a dozen or so on the floor of colony 4. I suspect that colony 4 had less because their dearth of stores may have reduced their number of brood.

All the hives look fine. All had strong defenses and plenty of flying bees. There was not very much pollen coming in, nor was there much pollen on the hive floors.

Colony 11 united with Colony 1 but was it a success?

A week ago I brought Colony 11 back to my apiary in Headington and combined it with Colony 1. I'm not sure whether to call it a success or a failure but it is now done.

I moved Colony 11 again from its temporary location back to Headington on the evening of Saturday 8th Sept. Early the next morning. I removed the top of Hive A and Hive B. I placed a sheet of newspaper over the crown board. I cracked the body of Hive B from its base and placed it on top of of the newspaper. The hives were now separated but joined.

Twenty four hours later, on Monday morning, there were the corpses of 2 or 3 dozen bees on the landing board. I suppose that these were casualties from the combination which had been dragged out of the hive and left for later disposal. Later that day they were all gone. This pile of corpses was alarming but it was not a huge number of dead. I don't know whether this is normal.

Colony 1 seems untroubled by the combination. It is still strong, with bees flying on foraging expeditions and pollen coming in. The base board shows some wax moth but very few Varroa. I took the body of Hive B off yesterday. It still had some honey in it but the Commercial frames are too big for my extractor. I put it away from the hive and allowed the bees to rob the remainder from it.

I have misgivings about encouraging robbing but there is only one hive in my Headington apiary so it shouldn't trigger the worst aspects of contagious robbing. I don't know how else to remove honey from a hive which will be empty over winter. It makes sense to remove the honey to deter Wax Moth and to reduce the risk of spreading disease. I wanted the bees in Hive A to move it but they were reluctant to move sealed stores down into their main area. I would have had to unseal the honey cells which is difficult with my tools (ie a knife).

The task is almost complete and mostly successful. I'm sorry that Colony 11 didn't make it. It was a survivor colony -- untreated and with low incident of Varroa. I would have been interested to see how it fared.

Ivy Honey

Ivy is a major late crop for bees. There is a lot available around Oxford and the bees love it.

The problem for bee keepers is that the Ivy honey sets very hard and doesn't taste nice. The taste is not much of a problem because the honey won't spin out in an extractor but the hard set makes it less useful in Winter for the bees.

Honey which sets releases water during crystallisation which can ferment inside the cell. Apparently the fermented liquid can give the bees Dysentry.

The bees have to work quite hard to clear out crystallised honey from cells. I frequently find sugar crystals on the hive floor which have been laboriously excavated by worker bees.

The end for Colony 11

I moved Colony 11 to another site in the hope that it would recover. I put honey in a feeder to bolster it. It didn't stop the robbing, although it did significantly reduce it.

Yesterday I plucked up courage and actually examined the comb in the brood area. There were no brood and I couldn't find a Queen. I decided that there was no point feeding wasps or other bees. It was time to combine Hive B (Colony 11) with Hive A (Colony 1).

Last night I shut the hive. At 7pm there was a great deal of activity at the hive entrance which suggested robbing by bees. I came back after 9pm and all was quiet. This morning at 5am I moved the hive back to my home apiary.

I used the newspaper combining method. Take the top off the destination hive. Place a sheet of newspaper over the top of the hive. Remove the floor of the source hive. Place on top of the destination hive so that both hives are separated by the newspaper. The smell of the two hives should mingle so that there won't be fighting once the newspaper is punctured.

I opened Hive A but left the crown board on top. I placed a  thin stick on the crown board and laid the newspaper over it. I then cracked Hive B off its floor and placed it on top. The smell of banana wafted up from Hive A as its bees signaled alarm but only for a moment. The two hives were joined in under 5 minutes. The only near upset was when the newspaper blew off. Once Hive B was on top I made a tiny adjustment to its position and then regretted doing so. Newspaper is very easily torn so it would have been better to place it badly and leave it than to rip the paper. I think that I got away with it.

The bees from Hive A were flying strongly at 6:30am. I didn't see any evidence of fighting. I'll look again later in the day.

Ivy is flowering

I smelled the first scent of Ivy flowering today. There was also appeared to be a bit more activity at the hive entrances. There is a lot of Ivy around Oxford.