Oxford Bees

Colony 01

June Harvest

Submitted by will on Wed, 05/06/2019 - 05:50
louvred comb

On Sunday I harvested two supers of honey from Colony 1. They had filled three supers during the spring and had started building comb on top of the crown board.

Harvesting is fairly straightforward now. Cut; spin; strain; put into containers. Easy.

At the edge of one of the supers there was some louvred comb. This is where the bees cross-comb at the edge, reorienting their comb in a direction which looks like it's part of a circle. I cut this out. It's one of the downsides of comb without foundation. Over time I'm building up straight comb to put back into the hives so this happens less.

I also successfully extracted the foundationless comb without any damage to the comb: spin slowing on each side. Then a second spin on each side to get the remainder.

The first Wasp

Submitted by will on Sat, 01/06/2019 - 15:00

I saw the first worker wasp of the season. She was hovering near Colony 1.

Earlier this season we saw a lot of Queen wasps. This suggests that it may be a waspy year. There have also been lots of aphids for the wasps to feed on. Wasps require mostly protein early in the seasons which they use to feed their brood. They switch increasingly to needing sugar during the season, which is why they try to rob honey bee colonies.

I have annual problems with wasps. These are most noticeable in central Oxford. I've seen wasps trying to rob my hives at dawn (6am), at dusk (10pm) and all through the day. This continual onslaught would destroy a weak colony so I stop down the doorways to a space about 9mm by 25mm. Even so the wasps still get in and may even be attacking the bees through the Varroa screen under the hive. It's brutal.

Three full supers on Colony 1

Submitted by will on Mon, 27/05/2019 - 13:17

Colony 1 has been very busy. I opened the top today to find three full supers. The bees were even building above the crown board and would very soon have run out of space.

I lifted off two of the three supers and put two new ones in their place. Then I put a Canadian Clearer Board and replaced the two full ones on top. In a day or two there will be an early harvest.

We had a taste of the fresh honey from on top of the crown board. It had a light colour and subtle aroma which probably indicates Horse Chestnut. The taste had the intensity which only fresh honey can deliver.

Crawling bees and signs of Deformed Wing Virus prevalent across hives

Submitted by will on Sun, 26/05/2019 - 07:00
Dead bees outside the hive. They have likely died after being severely infected with Deformed Wing Virus

Colony 1 has been continuously occupied for over 6 years. Every spring, except 2018, there have been bees crawling around outside the hive -- stricken with Deformed Wing Virus or some other paralysing virus. These bees became food for Sparrows.

This year seems worse than previous years. There appear to be more bees crawling and for longer. This might not be worse than usual but it feels it. In April it was mostly Drones which were crawling around. Now it is more likely to be workers.

Last season had a very cold spring. Four out of seven colonies died from starvation or isolation starvation (ie there were too few bees to reach the few stores that were left). There was a definite brood break which will have reduced the number of Varroa and may have been the reason that there were very few crawling bees that season. Observing crawling bees is confused by the Sparrows eating them. I think that in 2018 there was very little Sparrow activity.

This season there have been warmer temperature. I can't say for sure whether there was a brood break. There have been higher than expected levels of Varroa this season which suggests that any brood break that did happen had a limited effect on Varroa numbers.

All this points to higher stress in the established hives this season. Conventional wisdom would suggest that there will be colony failures. Perhaps this will happen. I would expect that this would be seen as colonies succumbing to robbing by wasps or other colonies if it does. We'll see what happens.

Varroa fall is worryingly high for Spring

Submitted by will on Sat, 13/04/2019 - 19:38

I have seen a worrying number of Varroa bodies on the floors of my hives. This is particularly concerning at the start of the season because it suggests much higher numbers of the mites later in the season. If I was a conventional bee keeper I would treat the hives now. I'm not going to. We'll see what happens.

I periodically look at the removable floors in my out apiary in town. I've seen Varroa bodies on the floor of all the 3 hives there. I haven't been able to count the rate of fall yet but there were enough bodies to be a concern. There are also Varroa bodies in my hive in Headington. This afternoon I cleaned the hive floor and, 4 hours later, found 2 new bodies. This rate of floor is alarming.

The hives which contain colonies 8 and 12 were insulated with cork last Autumn. It wasn't the best job ever but it might have raised the temperature of the inside the hive so that more brood were raised. This would provide a great opportunity for Varroa to breed through the winter. I don't have evidence whether the insulation worked. I will try to count mite numbers to see whether there is a clear difference between insulated and uninsulated colonies. Colony 01 is uninsulated and has the very high mite count. Confusing.

Around the start of April there were also piles of dead bees outside the front of my hives in central Oxford. These were not fresh. It wasn't clear whether they died in the hive and were dumped by undertaker bees during the cold weather, or whether they crawled out. Either way it's not good news. Colony 8 had more dead than colonies 4 or 12.

I don't know what these bees died from. There were non-flying bees outside the hive on the ground. They could be suffering from a paralysis virus. There were no obvious signs of Deformed Wing Virus. I just don't know and I'm not likely to find out now.

The season has definitely begun

Submitted by will on Sat, 30/03/2019 - 10:44

All four hives which went into winter have survived. All four are now busy and apparently thriving.

There is dropped pollen on the base boards. There are dropped brood cappings. There is evidence that they're cleaning out old cells (the fine brown dust on the base board). There are also wax moth droppings -- showing that wax moth move in while the bees are in their winter cluster. I didn't see any ejected wax moth larvae. I did seem some dead Varroa.

There is lots of blossom around. The season is underway.

I set up an empty hive in my out-apiary in case any of the colonies swarm in April. I've replenished the water spot too. I haven't fed them this spring, although I did feed some of the colonies in Autumn.

All hives have over-wintered. Can they over-spring?

Submitted by will on Tue, 05/03/2019 - 16:14

All my current hives (A, D, E, G) are upright (after the recent windy weather) and sound. The hives are fairly heavy, which is reassuring. A peak through the door shows the floor to be fairly clear. Their colonies (1, 4, 8, 12) appear to be fine. They were flying when the weather was warmer; there is evidence of activity on the base board.

The base boards have darker chewed wax which usually means brood hatching. It's hard to know when this was fell because I've only occasionally looked. It does suggest that there has been a slow but steady rearing of brood.

I can't tell much difference between the hives which are insulated and those which are not. Two are; two are not. One of the uninsulated hives had evidence of some condensation but not much.

Last spring was devastating for my colonies. Brood rearing had started to increase in the warmer weather but then it became very cold. Colonies which had insufficient stores or few bees starved. I hope that there will be sufficient honey in the hives to keep them fed. I was careful not to take much last summer and 2 of the hives are insulated. We should know in a month.

Colony 11 united with Colony 1 but was it a success?

Submitted by will on Sun, 16/09/2018 - 07:15
Dead bees on the landing board of a hive which had just been combined with another

A week ago I brought Colony 11 back to my apiary in Headington and combined it with Colony 1. I'm not sure whether to call it a success or a failure but it is now done.

I moved Colony 11 again from its temporary location back to Headington on the evening of Saturday 8th Sept. Early the next morning. I removed the top of Hive A and Hive B. I placed a sheet of newspaper over the crown board. I cracked the body of Hive B from its base and placed it on top of of the newspaper. The hives were now separated but joined.

Twenty four hours later, on Monday morning, there were the corpses of 2 or 3 dozen bees on the landing board. I suppose that these were casualties from the combination which had been dragged out of the hive and left for later disposal. Later that day they were all gone. This pile of corpses was alarming but it was not a huge number of dead. I don't know whether this is normal.

Colony 1 seems untroubled by the combination. It is still strong, with bees flying on foraging expeditions and pollen coming in. The base board shows some wax moth but very few Varroa. I took the body of Hive B off yesterday. It still had some honey in it but the Commercial frames are too big for my extractor. I put it away from the hive and allowed the bees to rob the remainder from it.

I have misgivings about encouraging robbing but there is only one hive in my Headington apiary so it shouldn't trigger the worst aspects of contagious robbing. I don't know how else to remove honey from a hive which will be empty over winter. It makes sense to remove the honey to deter Wax Moth and to reduce the risk of spreading disease. I wanted the bees in Hive A to move it but they were reluctant to move sealed stores down into their main area. I would have had to unseal the honey cells which is difficult with my tools (ie a knife).

The task is almost complete and mostly successful. I'm sorry that Colony 11 didn't make it. It was a survivor colony -- untreated and with low incident of Varroa. I would have been interested to see how it fared.

The end for Colony 11

Submitted by will on Sat, 08/09/2018 - 17:54

I moved Colony 11 to another site in the hope that it would recover. I put honey in a feeder to bolster it. It didn't stop the robbing, although it did significantly reduce it.

Yesterday I plucked up courage and actually examined the comb in the brood area. There were no brood and I couldn't find a Queen. I decided that there was no point feeding wasps or other bees. It was time to combine Hive B (Colony 11) with Hive A (Colony 1).

Last night I shut the hive. At 7pm there was a great deal of activity at the hive entrance which suggested robbing by bees. I came back after 9pm and all was quiet. This morning at 5am I moved the hive back to my home apiary.

I used the newspaper combining method. Take the top off the destination hive. Place a sheet of newspaper over the top of the hive. Remove the floor of the source hive. Place on top of the destination hive so that both hives are separated by the newspaper. The smell of the two hives should mingle so that there won't be fighting once the newspaper is punctured.

I opened Hive A but left the crown board on top. I placed a  thin stick on the crown board and laid the newspaper over it. I then cracked Hive B off its floor and placed it on top. The smell of banana wafted up from Hive A as its bees signaled alarm but only for a moment. The two hives were joined in under 5 minutes. The only near upset was when the newspaper blew off. Once Hive B was on top I made a tiny adjustment to its position and then regretted doing so. Newspaper is very easily torn so it would have been better to place it badly and leave it than to rip the paper. I think that I got away with it.

The bees from Hive A were flying strongly at 6:30am. I didn't see any evidence of fighting. I'll look again later in the day.

Robbery! Colony 11 not fine after all

Submitted by will on Sat, 01/09/2018 - 17:42
Guard bees fighting robber bees on the landing board

The unfortunate Colony 11 has been robbed today by Colony 1. I think that I've stemmed the robbing but I will have to move Colony 11 for the second time tonight.

The action began around lunchtime today. There was a big increase in activity at the entrance of Colony 11 and Colony 1. There were bees flying widely around my garden; their flight paths were hard to follow. There were bees behind the hive and under it too. They crawled under the base board. I thought this was strange but didn't see immediately that it was robbing.

All through this afternoon there has been lots of activity around Colony 11. There have also been crawling bees -- some of them tired; some appearing to have paralysed wings; one missing legs. I tried shielding the hive entrance with a wooden sheet (just visible in the photograph) but this didn't appear to stop the robbing. Eventually I stopped up most of the entrance. I've seen bees squeezing through the remaining gap. I haven't see whether this has stopped the robbing.