Oxford Bees

Swarm hiving

Submitted by will on Fri, 08/06/2018 - 21:52

This afternoon I returned to the box within a box which contained Colony 13.

It was placed with it's opening almost directly in front of Hive H. How could they not be delighted with the hive and march straight in. Perhaps the bees had other things going on. I decided to act.

I brought a large white board up to the mouth of the hive and bridged it with white paper card. I then carefully removed the inner box and shook it onto the board. To my dismay the bees started going over the edge of the board but not into the mouth of the hive.

I took the bee brush and brushed some towards the hive mouth. All of a sudden the march into the hive  began. A stream of bees walked in, leaving some behind to fan the signal where they were. Hived!

Hived? There was a striking bee corpse on the white board. It was a Queen. She was larger than the others and had the distinctive rounded thorax (middle part of her body) and longer abdomen. Some bees clustered around her.

I moved her body onto a piece of white paper on top of the hive. Then I went away to eat. The bees were  gathering on the paper and flying wildly around. I went back to the hive and put the corpse and the paper into the body of the hive. Within a few minutes almost all flying had ceased.

My bee group says that it's not uncommon for a cast to have more than one virgin Queen. Prime swarms are led by the old Queen and are very unlikely to have any other Queens with them. Virgin Queens will fight, so perhaps this Queen was killed by a rival. She didn't appear to be damaged, but the double box arrangement was not a good idea.

Later the same evening I put a hive strap on to the hive and took it down to central Oxford. It'll take a few days to find out whether this swarm will survive. I don't have much expectation if it's a small-ish cast swarm in June.

Swarm on the pavement

Submitted by will on Fri, 08/06/2018 - 16:00

I was called today to an unusual situation: a swarm on the pavement outside a house on a fairly busy street. When I arrived the bees were like a splat on the ground. They were next to a low Privet hedge, so I suppose that they'd fallen out of that.

I spoke to the house owner and got a box. This covered the splat while I went for my swarm catching equipment. When I returned they had started to cluster on a flap beneath the box. I had brought a larger box so I carefully placed small box with bees inside the big box.

I moved the big box off the splat site and laid it on its side. The unboxed bees started to march inside. Some stayed to fan the direction to the others. It was all very orderly; very calm.

Once enough bees were inside I gently closed the flaps and took the box home. I'd spent less than 45 minutes, including getting my equipment. At home, I propped the big box next to the entrance to Hive H. When I get home they may have marched into the hive; they may have found somewhere better; or they may still be there.

The source of the swarm is unclear. I've been called to other swarms on the same road so either someone is keeping or there is a feral colony along the street. It could be either.

Submitted by will on Sat, 02/06/2018 - 21:38

Colony 11 arrived in a nucleus box from a member of my bee keeping group. The box did not contain frames so the bees had started to build comb on the roof of the box. Today I tried to remove the box with mixed success.

Mission not accomplished. I now have a double height hive with the Queen in the top part.

When I received the nucleus box I took the bees out of the body of it and placed the roof on top of a Commercial hive body. The remaining space was packed with framed comb. The top was packed with a wooden board because the nuc' roof sat on top of the hive body.

I hoped that the bees would move onto the framed comb but it seems that they have started filling it with pollen and honey. There is sealed brood on the comb which is attached to the nuc' roof.

My aim today was to place another commercial box on top of the first. The Queen would be on the framed comb in the lower box; the nuc' lid would be in the upper box. The sealed brood on the nuc' roof would hatch out and then I could remove it at leisure whilst the Queen worked in the lower box.

Some of my plan happened. I placed a Queen excluder on the ground and placed the new box on it. I removed the packing wood and then gently lifted the nuc' box lid out. There was very little damage to the comb. I looked at the comb on the lid and saw sealed brood but didn't see the Queen. I placed the nuc 'lid in the new box and packed the lower box with framed comb. I packed the upper box with framed comb up to the nuc lid. I put the two parts together with an excluder between them.

I had hoped that the Queen would run out of the nuc' lid into the darker body of the lower box but it almost certainly didn't happen. There was no safe way to extract.

I'm no closer to removing the lid or the comb attached to it. I now have a hive whose internal organisation is disrupted. They may settle down nicely but there's a danger that they won't guard their doors adequately because the brood nest is too far from the entrance. That mistake may have compromised Colony 09 in Hive H last year. I don't know how to sort this out now.

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.

Swarm caught: Colony 10 has arrived

Submitted by will on Sat, 05/05/2018 - 21:50
Bees fanning to indicate that the Queen is inside the hive

I was called today at about 5pm about a swarm in Barton. It's from a feral colony which I've caught from before and they seem pretty robust. They've been feral and untreated for at least 3 years.

The catching was pretty easy. It was in a tall shrub, maybe 2-2.5m up. The swarm was about the size of a large Pineapple. I was lent a ladder; I took some secateurs. The rest was easy except that I never know how long to wait for stragglers. I probably only waited about 10-15 minutes for them to go in. When there were as many bees coming out as going in I shut the box. The stragglers will probably rejoin their old colony.

I hived them at dusk. None of this business of marching them in on a white sheet. I banged the box and most went in. It wasn't as perfect as I've done before. I gave it a wishy washy bang when a short, sharp bang would have been better. I've seen no evidence that they get harmed when they slide in as a lump. Some ended up under the Varroa mesh so I'll have to swish them off tomorrow morning.

Once most of the bees were in I saw them fanning to indicate where the Queen was. Job done.

Submitted by will on Fri, 23/06/2017 - 07:08

Last night I went to visit my out apiary. As I was pottering around I received a phone call. It's hard to answer when your phone is inside a bee suit.

The call was from the same people who had given me the colony in Hive E. I'd given them some honey and asked for them to call when the feral colony swarmed.

I arrived to find a football sized cluster on their apple tree. They say it's the first swarm of the season - prime swarm.

I made a mess of the knock into the box. Bees flying everywhere. After a bit of a muddle I had most of them in the box. I noticed that at least some of the bees were much smaller than I usual.

Why would bees be small? It could be a genetic adaptation. It could be that they're rearing bees in old brood comb which has been lined with propolis many times, reducing its' internal size. Or I might be mistaken about their size.

The new colony is in a nuc box in my garden. There are 3 empty frames inside so that the bees build comb and use the honey in their stomachs which can be carrier of disease. This morning they're starting on their orientation flights.

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.

Hive F settling in and shedding lots of Varroa

Submitted by will on Sat, 06/05/2017 - 12:37

I put the a swarm from Helen into Hive F on the evening of 2nd May. I had a look at the entrance and the removable hive floor this morning.

The colony appears to be settling in well, despite the colder May weather. There is shed wax on the removable hive floor; there are bees coming and going. It appears that they've been building comb and orienting themselves to their new area. I didn't look for pollen, but I wouldn't expect to see it this soon anyway.

I was very suprised to see a large number of Varroa on the hive floor. I counted 32, which is approximately 9 per day. A conventional bee keeper might urgently treat for Varroa in this situation. I'm inclined to wait and see what happens.

There may be exceptional reasons for the high level of mite drop in this new colony. They were contained for in the skep with a sheet under them before I collected so the varroa may have been shed over a longer time. I whacked the skep to dislodge them so that they fell in a heap on the hive floor. The fall of around 50cm may have dislodged more mites than would otherwise fall. Perhaps this colony is tolerating a higher number of mites. The parent colony seems to be thriving.

Introducing a new swarm to the apiary does raise concerns for me. This colony has not been feral for as long as the colonies from hives C, D and E. They may have genes which help tolerate Varroa and their attendant diseases but it is less likely. This colony may also introduce new strains of viruses which are present in the existing hives. There are known several strains of DWV. I consider this risk low because these strains tend to be geographically separate. It would be unlucky to introduce a new one. There is a risk of exposing the new colony to diseases already present in the apiary. I have seen evidence which suggests ABPV in Hive D.

I'll have to see what happens.

A bumpy start for Hive F

Submitted by will on Tue, 02/05/2017 - 14:47

I collected a new swarm today from Helen, another low intervention bee keeper who has a Top Bar Hive near the John Radcliffe Hospital. She had kindly caught them in a skep with a sheet under it. Collecting it was simple: tie up the sheet and carry it all away.

The colony from which it comes has been untreated for 2 years. Before that it was intensively managed by a keeper in Wolvercote.

I have placed it in my out-apiary in a new Commercial brood box: Hive F. I'm using frames without foundation, with only the lolly stick guides.

The arrival of the bees was easy; the arrival of the hive was not. I stacked all the hive parts together (roof; floor; crown board; brood box and 2 supers) and secured them with one hive strap. On arrival I hurried. I was afraid that the bees might overheat. The hive parts had been knocked askew so that that strap was slightly loose. Unsurprisingly the whole thing clattered to the floor. The damage was minimal: minor dings and dents and a slightly broken shallow frame. More haste gives less speed.

Dropping the hive was not the only unforced error. I meant to take a legless hive stand and some bricks to make a simple plinth. I forgot to take either. What will my bike feel like carrying 8 house bricks? I'm not sure that I want to find out.