Oxford Bees

Swarm catching

Two swarms, but neither for me

Submitted by will on Mon, 24/06/2019 - 19:44

Today I caught two swarms. It must be the weather.

Helen from my bee group is on holiday so I caught a very large swarm from one of her hives. It was tricky to catch. The swarm had settled around the trunk of a tree which had lots of stiff little branches. It was a little over 2m up.

Shaking the swarm at all was difficult. I upset the bees so much that I had to walk away for a while. Bees are supposed to lose interest if you walk under a tree. Not these bees. I swatted away with the low hanging branch of an Ash tree but they weren't having it. I was stung and then I found a couple of bees had found their way into my veil. I had to kill them. This was not my best work.

Somehow the shaking got the Queen into the box. From there I propped the box near the tree and let them sort it out. Five hours after the catch the tree had been deserted and most of the bees were in the box. They weren't happy when I sealed them in.

Top tip: use a box which opens on its shortest sides. If you try to seal a cardboard box along its longest side it may open and allow a few bees out. I can see them outside the window now. I hope they find their way home.

The second swarm couldn't have been simpler. I was offered a ladder when I arrived. I banged the swarm into a box from its branch in an apple tree. I let them settle a bit. I could see fanning. I could also see a lot of waggle dancing which I think meant that they were discussing a nest site. I shut the box sooner to end that conversation. Done.

This swarm was from the site in Barton where I've caught several swarms before. They are from a feral colony which lives in a capped chimney. The colony has been there since at least 2016. Sadly my 3 colonies from this source all died in spring 2018 during the very cold spring weather.

One of our bee group took both swarms. I hope they thrive in rural Oxfordshire.

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.

Welcome to Colony 16

Submitted by will on Thu, 23/05/2019 - 21:53
Walking Colony 16 into their new home

I received a call at lunchtime today that there was a swarm settled in Portland Rd, Summertown, Oxford. I went immediately.

The swarm was big. It was in the lower branches of an apple tree where it hung over a fence. I borrowed a ladder and just knocked the bulk of the swarm into the box and waited while they got organised. In went the remainder. Boxed.

Collecting could hardly have been quicker or easier. From phone call to me leaving with a box of bees was only just over an hour. Quick work given that I must have taken 30 minutes just to get there.

I was very grateful for the kind assistance of the neighbour Chris and to the home owner who gave us access. They were superb. This sort of help fantastic -- freely and kindly given -- and much appreciated.

I took the bees back to central Oxford where I left them, boxed, to calm down. At about 8:45pm I tipped them onto a sheet in front of the hive. The movement was immediate. In they started to go.

After a while the door became jammed with bees. More bees climbed up over the entrance and onto the front of the hive. It was a bit chaotic. The evening is still warm though so I hope they'll get organised before it cools down too much.

Catching and Losing Colony 14

Submitted by will on Tue, 07/05/2019 - 05:22

Yesterday I went to catch a swarm in Summertown, Oxford. The swarm was hanging from guttering above a first floor window.

The person who called me helpfully had a large ladder. After quite a bit of work we fixed it to the house and I approached the swarm. I was not delighted with the place that the swarm had chosen. When you are balanced 5 metres above ground on a porch roof it's best not to think about the ground.

The bottom half of the swarm was easy to catch. A quick swipe and they fell into the box. The remainder were in and around the guttering. Some were covering the roof tiles. Some were in the gap formed by the tiles where they overshoot the eaves and between the fascia and the guttering. There were lots of places to lose the Queen. Was she in the box already? I didn't know and I couldn't see any bees fanning pheromone which would have shown that she was there.

I gave the bees a few minutes to regroup. The bees in the box stayed there. The bees around the guttering stayed there. I had another couple of tries. Then I climbed down and sealed the box.

The couple who called me out were lovely and offered Tea.

I took the box of bees to my city apiary. At dusk I came back and poured them into the hive.

Today I returned to inspect them. The hive was empty.

It's not unusual for a colony to abscond. It can happen because they have found somewhere better; because they don't like where they've been put; or because they haven't been moved far enough away from their original nest. Any of these could be true for these bees.

As for whether I captured the Queen, I'm still unsure.

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.

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.

August swarm

Submitted by will on Thu, 10/08/2017 - 21:59

I caught a swarm today. It was small - perhaps about the size of an orange once it had clustered. It was stuck to the side of the building where my out-apiary is. I suppose that it came from one of my hives.

I boxed the swarm this afternoon and then moved it to the roof this evening.

The swarm is surely too small to survive the winter so I'm considering adding it to hive H, which is has too few bees.

EDIT 12/08/2017 - this colony of bees had absconded from Hive H.

The unexpected Hive H

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.

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.

A swarm settles in and I fail to recover it

Submitted by will on Fri, 19/05/2017 - 06:17

There is a swarm near my out-apiary which may have come from my hives. I tried to retrieve it this early morning.
I think that these bees have ceased to behave like a swarm and will settle on the tree. They didn't move yesterday when the weather was good. It's due to be showery again today.

I went back to the swarm this morning at 0430hrs. It's about 8m from the ground, on a tree immediately outside the building where my apiary is sited. The thought struck me that I might get it down with some fishing line and a spoon.

I threw the spoon and line out over the branch and let it trail to the ground. I cautiously dropped the spool of line and then went down. I put a white sheet out and a box. I gave the branch a good, hard shake. It turns out that bees hang on very tightly.

After a few more hard shakes my 5.5kg mono-filament fishing broke. I tried again with the same result. Stronger line might have helped.

A few bees fell out. I've put them into my bait hive in the vague hope that they'll tell the swarm. I don't expect that to work but it was somewhere safe to put them, away from people.

My concern is that this colony will become a nuisance once it starts getting robbed in earnest. It's 8m from the ground, so maybe not. I would prefer not to find out. I wonder where to get a Cherry-Picker...