Oxford Bees

Swarm hiving

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.

Caught swarm settling in to Hive G

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.

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.

Another new swarm to collect

Submitted by will on Fri, 27/05/2016 - 17:20

I was called a second time to Risinghurst by Judith who gave me my first swarm to collect. The same feral colony had cast a second swarm.

This new swarm was in the neighbour's hedge. Again it was at a low height and very easy to collect. This time I made no mistakes collecting it and then tipped it into the brood box of the hive.

From getting the call to being back at my desk took 2hrs 15mins. Not bad for a swarm catch.

I do have am empty super on top of this hive too. This time I also have a queen screen. I hope that the bees will build comb where the queen is. If not then I've made another mistake.

Hiving the bees: Settling in; preventing AFB; minor mistakes

Submitted by will on Thu, 26/05/2016 - 15:51

The NBU Regional Bee Inspector advises not to leave any comb in the hive when hiving new swarms because of the local AFB outbreak. Two days ago I put the bees into the hive but I had to remove several frames. Today I opened the hive and put clean, comb-free frames back in.

The colony are settling in. They've been building comb, but in the wrong place. The hive is a Commercial body with a super on top. They were such a large swarm (football sized) that I put them in through the super. Unsurprisingly I found them today clinging in a ball to the crown board. They were building comb directly onto the crown board and into the space where the super frames should go.

I put the made up frames into place and very gently put the crown board back down. A piece of comb with fresh honey broke off.

I now have a hive full of frames but also a new problem: tons of space in the brood area but a Queen who'll be building in the super.

Catching and hiving swarm for my new apiary

Submitted by will on Wed, 25/05/2016 - 11:33
A honeybee swarm clings to the inside of a cardboard box before moving to the hive

I set up 2 hives a few weeks ago and registered with swarm officers. I've been waiting, but the weather has been relatively cold (air temp at 10am was greater than 15C only on 7th-10th and 12th May - source Radcliffe Observatory).

At about midday yesterday I was told about a swarm in Risinghurst. I took my swarm catching kit (bee suit; bee brush; cardboard box; gaffer tape) and found it in a very easy position. The swarm was on a hedge next to the pavement at chest level. I put the lip of the box beneath the swarm and gave a vigorous shake. In they went.

I was unsure about whether I'd got the queen so I shook and brushed the stragglers. I then propped the box with it's opening angled down to create a dark space. They coated the inside of the box (approx 50cm square). The flying bees continued to fly so I packed the box and drove to my out apiary.

At the out apiary I put the box with it's opening nearest the hive and hoped that they'd go in. I returned during the afternoon but they were still clinging to the inside of the box. I returned again as the sun was setting and they were still there.

The beekeeping books which I own are silent on to hive a swarm. Perhaps it's obvious? Time to get some advice. I called Paul.

Paul and I talked about walking them in with a sheet. It has downsides (the sheet falls off and they walk underneath; the sheet ruffles and they get trapped; etc). He recommended tipping the box in. It lacks style but does the job. I opened up, removed some frames to make space, then tipped with a sharp bang on the bottom of the box. It was done in a minute. Lid on and let them settle in.