Oxford Bees

Swarm catching

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, 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...

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.

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.

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.

Third swarm

Submitted by will on Sun, 05/06/2016 - 12:57
Swarm of Honey Bees building comb on a Mahonia bush

I collected my third swarm yesterday. I was called in the late afternoon by John. The swarm was in his back garden in Headingon. They had settled on a Mahonia bush at about eye level.

This ought to have been a very easy collection. The difficulty was that I could see that they'd started making comb on the stem of the bush. There were obvious waggle dances on the outside of the cluster and behaviour which I was sure was foraging. If I took the swarm immediately the foragers would return and cause a nuisance to John. I agreed to return towards dusk when the foragers were in.

At 9pm I cut through the stem of the bush and put it, with bees, into a nucleus box with 3 empty frames. There were a few flying bees but these quickly settled into the nuc. Lid on; strap it up and off I go.

If the swarm had not been foraging things would have been easy: tip them into B Hive and let them settle in. Unfortunately John's house was in range of my Headington apiary so I took them down to my out-apiary.

Today I settled them into B hive in the out-apiary. The bees had mostly abandoned the Mahonia stem which we'd placed in the nuc. I moved the frames across and gently shook the bees in. I even saw the Queen, which was nice. She is unmarked.

I had a look in the other two hives. They were both fine - developing comb; storing pollen and honey. No sign of brood yet, as far as I can tell. It's noticeable that C Hive has made more comb than D.

I'm not being sufficiently careful about hygiene, given the current risk of AFB.  I open hives in sequence without disinfecting. Not good practice and I'll have to improve my process.