Oxford Bees

Colony 01

Submitted by will on Mon, 20/08/2018 - 20:00
Honey comb if it had been designed by Gaudi

I harvested a super of honey from Colony 1 a couple of weeks ago. I also had some uncapped honey in frames which had been Hive C containing Colony 11 before I went through all the complicated rearrangements.

The conventional view is that the bees will thoroughly and carefully clean comb if you put it on their hive. In my wisdom I found an exception to this view.

I put an Ashforth style feeder on the hive and then placed the hive parts on top. An Ashforth completely covers the top of a National hive body so it all fitted together neatly. The bees could get to the comb to clean it. Everything should have been fine.

The problem was that, while the bees did move up into this new addition to their hive, they did not remove the honey from. Instead they just sat around. Some of them built a weird structure in the feeder. It looked like honey comb which had been designed by Gaudi.

The comb was built around some wax which I'd given them to clean up. They encased it and built comb up over it. I have an idea that the bees only build straight comb when the smell of the hive is right. Sometimes they go haywire but usually, if there's a nectar flow going,  they'll build beautiful straight and regular comb. Not this time.

After a few days I took the 2 boxes off the top of the hive and took the risky step of setting them outside to be robbed. I placed them uncovered over least 5 metres from the hive. The bees went nuts and had cleaned out all the honey in a few hours.

The wasps set about robbing too. It's my belief that the smell of the wasps is made acceptable when they've been eating honey. If they've been robbing then they acquire that smell. This made me concerned that they might then successfully rob the hive but I've seen no evidence of them getting in.

Submitted by will on Sun, 05/08/2018 - 06:36

My hives are surrounded by at least half a dozen wasps which want to rob them. They zig-zag in front of the entrance; they crawl in under the Varroa screen; they wait at the edges and drink from the water tray. They want the honey but they can't get in.

All of the hives in central Oxford have small doors and strong guards. Three of the four have at least 20 bees visible on the outside of the hive entrance. One hive had fewer visible but appeared to be just as effective at guarding.

Having so many Wasps around makes it hard to open the hives. Once robbers get in they are more likely to return. They're as happy to gain entry from the roof as through the door. I think that they're also more likely to successfully return and re-enter the hive because they smell of the honey from that hive. Robbing can become a storm which only abates when the hive is moved out of range of the robbers. That's a lot of work just for a look inside.

Robbers notwithstanding, I took a very quick look inside the hives in central Oxford to check that none had run out of space. They all have sufficient space for the moment. They are also all dropping pollen, which suggests they're still laying and there  is forage for them. There is plenty of door activity at all the hives. I found no Varroa mites on the base board. I was some evidence of Wax Moth and some evidence of new comb.

Colony 1 in Headington is also faring well. There are some wasps, but fewer than in central Oxford. There is pollen being dropped and plenty of door activity.

Busy but steady across all hives

Submitted by will on Sat, 21/07/2018 - 20:06

Things seem to be going well in all my colonies. They're all busy at their entrances. There are wasps near the entrance to every hive but they don't appear to be getting in. The Varroa counts are very low and there's pollen on all the base boards.

Colony 1 still has ants infesting the base board so it's hard to be confident that I'm seeing the whole story. Certainly the bees are still removing and dropping crystallised honey -- presumably from last season. They are bringing in pollen which suggests they have unsealed brood. There are brood cappings which suggest that they also have emerging brood. All good signs. I saw what I took to be wax moth around the hives but I may have been mistaken.

Colony 11 is still vigorous. It has pollen and cappings on the base board. There was a smattering of wax platelets indicating new comb. I looked hard and found one solitary Varroa mite. It was alive.

Colony 04 is collecting pollen again which suggests that it now has brood again. I suspect that it took a break an unconfirmed swarming event in late June. There may be some wax moth in the hive but otherwise everything looks good. I found one solitary Varroa mite in this hive too.

Colonies 08 and 12 are doing fine. Bringing in pollen; keeping out the wasps. Colony 12 had about half a dozen Varroa mites, all dead.

I'm curious about why there are so few Varroa mites visible on the base board. The season is getting on and I would expect to see a lot more. I have ideas about what is going on which I'll put into another blog post.

Anti-Ant (Part 1)

Submitted by will on Tue, 05/06/2018 - 20:37
Pine Tar (branded as Stockholm Poultry Tar)

Colony 01 has an infestation of black Ants.

I find hundreds of them on the base board. I find very little pollen and no Varroa. I think that they harvest these. I don't know whether they're a serious pest but I would expect to find them throughout the hive. In any case, the base board is the place where I do most of my inspections so I need it to be intact. At the moment it's being reorganised by the Ants.

My solution is to apply Pine Tar (branded as Poultry Stockholm Tar) to the legs of the hive. I've heard that Ants sometimes create nests inside the hive but I haven't seen any in there when I looked earlier in the season. I think that they're entering via the legs.

Poultry Stockholm Tar stays wet but sticky. I don't expect it to affect the bees because it's outside the hive. I will report back.

No crawling bees outside Hive A

Submitted by will on Mon, 07/05/2018 - 07:19

For at least the last 2 years there have been flightless bees crawling around outside Hive A. These bees were clearly suffering from Deformed Wing Virus or another disabling virus. This year there are none.

The cause was explained to me by a researcher at University of Salford. All winter the Varroa mites feed from worker bees. They accumulate DWV virus particles. In spring, when brood production increases they rush in to infest the new brood and transfer more virus to them. These bees show visible signs of DWV -- deformed wings or an inability to fly.

The absence of crawling bees can be explained in several possible ways.

  1. There are fewer Varroa mites in the hive. I usually check this by looking at the removable floor of the hive. I've found dozens of ants on the floor so I don't know whether they've been taking the Mite bodies away. I don't think that this is what's happening.
  2. The overall number of virus particles has fallen in the hive. It was very cold in April this year. This should have stopped the bees rearing brood. Virus is removed from the hive by bees or mites leaving the hive. If more mites died during April then it might explain some of the reduction.
  3. There are fewer brood this year. This seems most likely. The activity at the hive entrance is quite slow. I did look inside the hive and found only one frame of brood which was capped. I may have overlooked uncapped brood but it points to there being fewer bees and fewer brood. They're taking longer to build up this spring.

On reflection I think that Colony 01 is smaller this year which would mostly explain the absence of crawling bees.

Activity in all 7 hives

Submitted by will on Sun, 26/11/2017 - 21:11

The colonies in all 7 hives are quiet this week. The weather is between freezing and 10C.

I checked the removable screens below the brood boxes. There appears to be activity in all the hives. I cleared away evidence of brood hatching from some of the hives but I don't think that I'll see much more hatching for a while.

Hive A appeared to be very quiet but the base board is frequented by ants and slugs. It's possible that they have been clearing away wax and sugar which drops from the hive. They don't remove the bodies of Varroa as far as I can see.

7 Hives at the end of the season

Submitted by will on Sun, 15/10/2017 - 20:28

I visited my out-apiary today and examined the removable hive floors for evidence of recent activity.

Three hives (D, F and G) show evidence of recent brood emergence. There were also hundreds of dead mites. Hive D had been especially prolific. There was also crystallised sugar which suggests that old honey is being eaten or cells are being cleaned out.

One hive (C) was so wet with condensation that it was impossible to tell what had fallen to the floor. There must have been wax and pollen. Presumably mites but it was hard to tell. The hive is ventilated but I assume that there has been a strong honey flow and the ventilation has been insufficient.

One Hive (E) was in crisis but activity seems much reduced. Fewer mites and fewer hatchings. This might mean that the crisis has abated or that the colony is in deep trouble.

The overall picture is that foraging is still strong during the warmer parts of the day. Brood rearing is strong which is supporting very high levels of mites. This picture is matched by Hives A and H in Headington. A is dropping lots of mites. Both A and H are bringing in large amounts of pollen. H is building lots of comb (which A doesn't need to do).

The Varroa population models suggest that colonies risk collapse when total mite numbers is greater than 1,000. I would only be confident that hive H has fewer than that.

What happens next? This is where my commitment to no-treatment beekeeping is tested.

Submitted by will on Wed, 30/08/2017 - 05:30

I harvested 5 different honeys this season. It's been a privilege to compare them and see the differences.

There were 2 from Hive A. The first was a spring honey, collected in April and harvested in May. The likely nectar source was Horse Chestnut which flowers around this time and is in a nearby park. The second was some old, dark honey which I removed from deeper in Hive A. I'm not sure when it was harvested. It was less distinctive than the other honeys. The bees were very reluctant to clear from the super, perhaps because the frames had been used for brood at some point.

There was a peculiar honey from Hive E. It seems to have been collected in a single nectar flow but the comb was bizarrely wonky, almost making a star shape. The honey was dark and viscous with a flavour described as caramel or stewed fruit. I wondered whether it might have been from Honeydew. The bees were very defensive around that time which may have been related.

There were 2 supers of honey from Hives C and D. I took one from Hive C in June which was light and tasty. It appears to have been collected in May so Hawthorn may have been a large part of the nectar. The second was from Hive D, harvested in July. It had a slight minty taste.

Comparing the honeys showed their differences. The colour varied significantly; the clarity varied according to the granulation of the honey; the flavours were very distinctive. The favourite honey seems to have been the spring honey from Hive A, probably from Horse Chestnut. The dark honey from Hive E split opinion.

In trying to write about the flavours, I'm reminded how difficult it is to describe flavour except by simile: all flavours are described as being like some other flavour. This makes a merry-go-round of the description. I can say with confidence that these all tasted very much like honey.

The colour of honey

Submitted by will on Sun, 25/06/2017 - 08:22
two colours of honey in one jar

I recently took some honey from Hive A. Most came out as comb but there were also a couple of jars.

Yesterday I returned to Hive A. Some time ago I had put some broken comb pieces onto the crown board. In the usual way the bees had built a large slab of comb around it it and started to fill it. I cleaned up the crown board and then hung the crunched comb in mesh bag overnight.

The honey drained into a jam funnel and into a jar. After filling one jar I started top up a half empty jar which contained honey mentioned in my first paragraph. The two honeys didn't mix, leaving a contrasting layer.

I'm not sure why there is a difference in colour. The lighter honey probably was made during a nectar flow and may be largely monofloral - perhaps from the Horse Chestnut trees which flower around here in spring. The darker honey was there for quite a while and may have been hotter and from a wider variety of plants.

Small bees, or, the vicissitudes of photography

Submitted by will on Sun, 25/06/2017 - 06:02
comparing 2 honey bees while they're cold from the fridge

The bees which I've just collected as a swarm for hive H appear small compared to those from established hives. I've found it difficult to provide a photograph to show this. It was obvious when I caught the swarm: these were tiny bees. I've been wrong before so I decided to compare.

I caught 2 bees - one from hive A and one from hive H - on their way out to forage. I put both briefly in the freezer in different sized boxes. The bee from hive H was in a tiny box. It slowed down but was largely unaffected. The bee from hive A was in a bigger box and appeared completely dead and curled up. I photographed them side-by-side but it showed nothing useful. The bee from hive H flew away quite quickly. After a few minutes the bee from hive A revived and also flew off.

The freezer didn't work. I tried the fridge instead. Two new bees in two identical boxes on the same shelf of the fridge. That worked and I got my photograph but I'm not certain which bee was which. Conclusion: I can't tell the difference in size between the two bees.

There is a difference in the coloration of the abdomen which is interesting. In an earlier post I wondered whether the colony in hive E - which came from the same feral colony - were dark bees. I concluded that they were not. This difference in colouration hints that I may have been correct before.