Oxford Bees

Swarm hiving

Colony 17 arrives

Submitted by will on Thu, 06/06/2019 - 06:05

I was called by Mary, a member of my group. She had caught a swarm from her top-bar hive in Headington. She kindly offered me the swarm, knowing how much I value untreated colonies.

The swarm is from a colony which Mary has kept, untreated, for about 2 years in a Top Bar Hive. Before that they came from a feral swarm somewhere near Steeple Aston in Oxfordshire.

I took the swarm down to central Oxford in the early morning and walked them in. They went in very willingly. The swarm was a reasonable size. I didn't see the Queen going in.

They seemed agitated in their box. Every movement causing them to buzz loudly. This might be a sign that they are not Queen-right (ie they have lost their Queen). A knock on the hive wall is the usual way to test whether they have their Queen. They'll buzz but calm down quickly if they do have a queen. I think that they'll need to be left for at least a week before I do that test.

Colonies 15 and 16 getting settled

Submitted by will on Fri, 24/05/2019 - 16:50

I took a quick look at the stuff which has been falling out of Colonies 15 and 16 today.

The removable tray under Colony 15 had lots of new wax platelets, indicating that they're busy building comb. There were also at least 3 Varroa bodies. This shouldn't be a surprise. Varroa are in all the colonies which I've encountered. This period after swarming has no brood so all the Varroa in the hive are clinging to the bees. Every mite which dies now does so before it can infest a brood cell, which is good news.

While Colony 15 had very little comb in their hive, Colony 16 had lots. Much of this was brood comb from a previous colony. It was beginning to suffer from wax moth and was heavily propolised (brood cells are lined with propolis). After only 16 hours were was a thick mess of dropped comb on the removable tray. There were half a dozen wax moth larvae in various stages of development -- a vigorous swarm doesn't tolerate them. The detritus was so thick that I couldn't tell whether there were any Varroa. I'll have another look in a day or two.

One method of detecting Varroa mites amongst a thick layer of muck is to use Methylated Spirits (a mix of Methanoic and Ethanoic alcohol). This separates the mites from the muck, making them easier to see.

edit 25/05/2019: the flight patterns of colony 16 appeared to be the increasing circles which indicate orientation flights. It's hard to be certain. Individual bees are hard to see -- they are small and dark; they move quickly across a patterned background and there are lots of them.

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.

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.

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.

Queenless? An inauspicious start for Colony 13

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.

An attempt to extract the nucleus lid from Hive C

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.

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.

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.