Oxford Bees

Autumn Preparations

The Varroa finally appear

Submitted by will on Tue, 25/09/2018 - 05:51

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.

7 Hives at the end of the season

Submitted by will on Sun, 15/10/2017 - 20:28

I visited my out-apiary today and examined the removable hive floors for evidence of recent activity.

Three hives (D, F and G) show evidence of recent brood emergence. There were also hundreds of dead mites. Hive D had been especially prolific. There was also crystallised sugar which suggests that old honey is being eaten or cells are being cleaned out.

One hive (C) was so wet with condensation that it was impossible to tell what had fallen to the floor. There must have been wax and pollen. Presumably mites but it was hard to tell. The hive is ventilated but I assume that there has been a strong honey flow and the ventilation has been insufficient.

One Hive (E) was in crisis but activity seems much reduced. Fewer mites and fewer hatchings. This might mean that the crisis has abated or that the colony is in deep trouble.

The overall picture is that foraging is still strong during the warmer parts of the day. Brood rearing is strong which is supporting very high levels of mites. This picture is matched by Hives A and H in Headington. A is dropping lots of mites. Both A and H are bringing in large amounts of pollen. H is building lots of comb (which A doesn't need to do).

The Varroa population models suggest that colonies risk collapse when total mite numbers is greater than 1,000. I would only be confident that hive H has fewer than that.

What happens next? This is where my commitment to no-treatment beekeeping is tested.

A Dark and Windy Night

Submitted by will on Tue, 12/09/2017 - 21:59

It has been hurricane season in North America and the Caribbean. We get their weather second hand. No sharp edges or extremes, just a bit out of the ordinary.

Tonight we are forecast to have winds gusting up to 45mph (72km/h; 39 knots). That's a big blow for England but still only Beaufort Force 8 Gale.

I visited my roof top apiary this evening to fit the hive straps. It's bad news for the hives to blow over, but even worse if they break apart. They won't break apart now.

I have mixed feelings about the close down for the winter. I don't know whether the bees will survive the winter (or the more perilous early spring). I am unsure whether to feed them. This year I'm going to give them some set honey mixed with sufficient sugar to stop it re-setting. I'm generally against feeding but they feel light after a patchy season.

Closing down also has other downsides. I fitted straps tonight in the dark. There was a gusty cool wind and a smattering of rain. The undersides of the hives had thick cobwebs which I had to put my hands into. It contrasted strongly with this morning when I brought equipment up to the roof. Dawn brought a golden glow which lit up the still air. I had a coffee and tried to stay still long enough to enjoy it.

EDIT 13/09/2017: The hives were all upright the this morning but I'm still glad I fitted the straps to them. Also I was wrong about the weather being second hand:

The Met Office said there was no connection between high winds in the UK and the recent extreme weather in the Caribbean and the US. The UK's weather system is coming from the north, in the Atlantic, the Met Office added.
source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41241014