Oxford Bees

Swarms

A swarm, a rainstorm and a complicated start for Colony 18

Submitted by will on Fri, 14/06/2019 - 05:36

It has been raining, windy and cold this week. From Monday 10th June to Thursday 13th June the number of flying hours may have only been 12 hours out of a possible 66 hours*. The constrain on flying hours is only hours above a minimum temperature:

date site day length 10C or more 11C or more 12C or more 13C or more 14C or more 15C or more
2019-06-09 Headington 16.6 hours 14.5 hours 14.3 hours 14.0 hours 12.8 hours 11.3 hours 10.0 hours
2019-06-10 Headington 16.6 hours 8.5 hours 6.8 hours 2.8 hours 2.2 hours 1.0 hours 0.0 hours
2019-06-11 Headington 16.6 hours 9.8 hours 0.8 hours 0.0 hours 0.0 hours 0.0 hours 0.0 hours
2019-06-12 Headington 16.6 hours 14.3 hours 12.3 hours 9.0 hours 6.2 hours 3.5 hours 0.0 hours
2019-06-13 Headington 16.6 hours 15.5 hours 12.8 hours 8.8 hours 3.5 hours 0.0 hours 0.0 hours
2019-06-14 Headington 16.6 hours 16.3 hours 16.3 hours 13.8 hours 10.8 hours 10.0 hours 8.3 hours

The rain and wind would have been additional constraints.

On Thursday lunchtime I went to check on the bees. I was concerned that Colony 17 might be starving. While I was there a swarm was pointed out to me. It was clinging to a tree about 6m up.

The weather had been so poor that they must have swarmed on Sunday or early on Monday. There were small mounds of bees on the floor looking very cold and wet. There were very few flying bees.

After some thought I decided to catch them. I reasoned that they had probably used up the honey in their stomachs. In this starved state there was a low probability that they'd be able to find a new nest site, occupy it and forage enough to survive. Stuck on a tree in the rain they might fall and cause a hazard for passing pedestrians.

On Friday morning I called the Oxford University Parks department. They were great. They arranged a team with a cherry-picker to come out. I really appreciate their help.

Once there I went up; shook the branch twice to get the bees into the box; and came down again. The catch couldn't have taken more than 5 minutes once the cherry picker was in place.

I had a hive ready. It had some comb from a previous colony. I also put in a tub of thick (but not fully set) honey. I tipped the bees into the top of the hive. There was no prospect of them walking in. I then did something unusual. I completely shut them in. It was a lock-in.

This morning I checked on them. They had moved up onto the comb. I removed the honey and opened their door. We'll see how they fare.

 

* Flying hours assume that the minimum temperature for flying bees is at least 13C when measured in Headington. The Headington weather station is a little over 4.5km away from my out-apiary site. The climate in Headington is noticeably warmer than in the valley where my out-apiary is sited. This apparent temperature difference is caused by humidity from the river. I do not have the data to support exact number of flying hours at a particular hive.

Arrival of colony 15

Submitted by will on Tue, 21/05/2019 - 17:08

Yesterday I collected a swarm in a box which originated in Tackley, near Bicester, Oxfordshire. The swarm was collected by Paul from Oxford Natural Beekeeping group.

Paul believes that it is a prime swarm and that it comes from an established feral colony. This is great news; I believe that feral colonies have adaptations which make them ideal for low intervention beekeeping.

I was unable to hive the swarm last night but they were safe in their ventilated box. They stayed outside at my out apiary over night. This morning I was up early and watching the temperature rise at my local amateur weather station in Headington. The temperature eventually crawled above 9C and I got to work.

I spread a thin cotton towel in front of the hive, tucking it in between the lander board and the entrance. I then opened the travel box and gently poured out the bees onto the towel. Member of my group recommend the walk-in method of hiving bees. I usuall favour using the big opening at the top of the hive instead (ie take the lid off and tip them in). Today I felt like trying it their way.

Walking in is more theatrical and it does ensure that they've willingly gone into the hive. I recently lost a swarm which I tipped in. I think that they would have absconded anyway but getting them to choose the hive might have improved the chances of success.

The bees on the towel started to climb upwards. This led them to the door. Some went in; then more. Within 10 minutes there was a crush at the entrance to the hive. I kept an eye out for the Queen and for workers fanning to indicated her location. Eventually, after at least half of the workers were crowding the door, I saw her. She crawled up and around the crush and disappeared in through the door. A little while later there was a bit of fanning, but not much.

I left for work and returned at lunchtime. The colony was now getting organised. There was busy traffic at the door and the crush at the door had cleared. There were very few dead workers left on the towel, which recommends Paul's ventilated box (he uses wire mesh taped to the inside of a cardboard box). On the removable base board there were signs that the bees had been cleaning up -- fragments of comb and propolised cell linings cleaned up from the previous occupants. Also they were building -- there were platelets of new wax on the base board. The wax is especially encouraging because it suggests that they will make their home in the hive.

Possible swarm left from Colony 4 at the end of June

Submitted by will on Fri, 13/07/2018 - 09:51

I was away from Oxford for the last week of June. It seems that there was a swarm on the tree in front of my out apiary on 28th June. I suspect that this was from Colony 4.

I have no real evidence that this swarm was from any of my hives. There seems to be less going on in Colony 4 -- less pollen on the hive floor for example -- but I can't be sure.

Occupation or Robbery pt2: Welcome to Colony 12

Submitted by will on Thu, 31/05/2018 - 06:14

The evidence on the floor of Hive E pointed to an occupation. That is exactly what has happened. At some point in the last few days a swarm has occupied Hive E. Welcome to Colony 12.

The signs that this was not a robbery included detritus which looked too dark to be from capped honey. That was a sign. The most striking thing though was the Wax Moth larvae. An infestation of Wax Moth must have been under way because there were 3 or 4 larvae on both times I looked.

I don't know the origin of Colony 12. I haven't seen evidence that it has come from one of my hives. If it had then Colony 04 in Hive D would be most likely. I don't see evidence that has happened, although there was less dropped pollen than on the floor of Hive G.

Colony 12 seems to be a decent size. It has arranged itself vertically through the hive, which has a Commercial brood body and a super on it.

I took the lid off to check that they really were occupying but I didn't lift out any frames. Their temperament seems fine. They didn't attack, even though I didn't use smoke.

I put a feeder on the hive with some of last years honey in it. I was concerned afterwards that this may be improper haste -- the settling swarm probably won't have exhausted the honey in their stomachs so there may be a greater risk of bringing a disease like AFB. On balance I don't think that I've done anything silly. The swarm wouldn't have needed to build comb so I'd already missed that opportunity to empty their stomachs. There have been few sunny days lately and lots of rain. The last of the spring tree blossom has gone so feeding looks like a good way to encourage brood rearing. I'll inspect in mid-June to see whether there are any disease signs.

Colony 10 has absconded

Submitted by will on Thu, 10/05/2018 - 06:57

It would appear that the hive which I put Colony 10 into didn't suit them. I checked this morning and they've left.

This isn't a big surprise. Swarms can be actively looking for sites even after they're put into hives. I did open the hive the day after I put them in and saw them mostly stuck to the hive wall. That suggested that they hadn't accepted the hive. I don't know why they didn't like it.

This morning there were 3 or 4 groggy and cold bees still there but it was otherwise empty. I think they may be scouts which were still out when the swarm left.

A swarm in central Oxford

Submitted by will on Thu, 25/05/2017 - 07:36

Our bee group was alerted to a swarm in Golden Cross square right in the heart of Oxford yesterday. The swarm had mustered under an umbrella at eye level. We scrambled to find somebody to collect but someone from outside our group attended before we could get organised.

Where there are swarms there should be colonies nearby. To have a swarm within metres of Carfax Tower (the 'centre' of Oxford) suggests roof-top hives since the nearest garden is a few hundred metres away (Jesus College; Christ Church College; Lincoln College; St Peter's College). It is possible that there are ground level hives but it would be harder to place them where they wouldn't be a nuisance to people.

Tags

Caught swarm settling in to Hive G

Submitted by will on Sat, 20/05/2017 - 11:48
New caught swarm clustered in its' hive

I visited my out-apiary this morning to see how the new swarm was doing. I arrived early - about 6am - when the air was still chilly.

There was evidence of comb building on the floor of the hives: wax platelets which are dropped when wax is produced.

I took off the lid and found lots of bees in a strong cluster. I had left out two frames to make room for the swarm when I had hived it the day before. I eased one of these frames in but the bees were too tightly clustered to allow the last frame. I put on a queen excluder and a super and then the lid.

I looked at the other hives and also saw evidence of comb building, which suggests that there is a nectar flow in progress. This should help to establish the swarm as a viable colony.

A swarm caught

Submitted by will on Fri, 19/05/2017 - 18:11

Today I caught the swarm which has been hanging next to my out apiary. It happened unexpectedly.

I had been worrying about whether the swarm would settle on the tree and then become a nuisance. The urge to build comb can be very strong so that the bees sometimes build in a place where they can't possibly survive. I saw this late last year when I attempted to recover an established colony which had exposed comb on an apple tree. They had been extensively robbed which must have aggravated the colony.

Today I asked about whether I could cut the tree which they were on. I also asked - because I felt I had to - whether they had a cherry-picker. The answer came back a few minutes later: "yes, our arborist will be there in 30 minutes".

I gathered my tools. This morning it had been: bee suit; box; sheet; gaffer tape; fishing line; spoon. This afternoon: box; sheet; secateurs; pruning saw; cherry-picker. Much better.

Up I went to the swarm, harnessed and suited. I tried not to look down. A wobble here; a wobble there and up to the swarm. A bit of light clipping and then a vigorous shake of the branch and most of the bees went into the box. I shut the lid and put the sheet over the box.

There were quite a few flying bees but very little aggression. The branch revealed that the swarm had not built comb. Possibly they would have moved on. I descended a little and brushed off the bees on my suit. A couple of minutes later I was on the ground with my veil off. The spectators, now entertained, dispersed.

Up I went to the apiary with the box. I opened the Hive G and gave the box a good bang. In went the bees, a few lumps at a time. Lid on; tidy up; get some lunch.

I'll look in on them tomorrow to see how they're doing.

Swarm in a tree but where did it come from?

Submitted by will on Wed, 17/05/2017 - 08:43

Yesterday I was called to my out-apiary because of a swarm. It had settled in a tree right in front of the building where my elevated hives are kept. The swarm was about 10m up the tree; the hives are at a height of about 20m. There was no way to reach the swarm.

I had a spare hive ready for this. I put it out immediately, ensuring that there was a bit of used comb inside to give it a more hive-like smell. All afternoon the swarm stayed on the tree. After nearly 6 hours I had to go home. This morning I'll find out whether they have moved on. Hopefully their scouts have found and liked the new hive.

Immediately after setting out the new hive I tried to see which of my hives the swarm had emerged from. I couldn't tell. The entrance traffic still seemed busy in each hive. I expect to see a large amount of capping wax on the removable floor after a swarm, dropped as they fill up on honey, but it seemed a normal amount.

I was cautious about opening the other hives. I supposed that alarm smells from neighbouring hives might put scouts off (although I've no evidence that it will). I had a look into Hive C but it seemed normal. I looked into Hive D and found that moving the excluder has trapped drones in the super box, and that the Queen appears to be in the lower box. I noted a Queen cell in the upper box, above the excluder. Hive F is still dropping Varroa, but I imagine that quite a few of the phoretic mites have infected the newly laid brood. More on that later.

Late swarm

Submitted by will on Tue, 02/08/2016 - 21:17

I was called today to collect a late swarm from Barton. The woman who called me says that it is the 5th swarm this season to leave a nearby feral colony.

The feral colony is living in an air brick in a house about 30m from the apple tree where the swarm was clustered. The swarm emerged on Friday. Today is Tuesday. She'd expected them to disperse but there they were.

Collection was simple. Shake them from a branch at head height into a nucleus box. Leave for 5-10 minutes. Thank everyone and remove.

Back home things are more complicated. I don't have a place for this hive. I'm wondering about AFB. They may swarmed too late to survive the winter - especially in a nucleus box. Plenty of room for error.

The likelihood of AFB seems low. They've been out of the hive for over 4 days so they should be very hungry by now. There were reports of AFB in the area in spring but not since. I'm hoping that things are ok.

The site should be ok. They're in a partially glazed and derelict greenhouse at the moment. It's sheltered, which is probably its only advantage. Shelter, feeding and insulation will all be necessary to help them through winter - assuming that I do help them.