Oxford Bees

Colony 01

Five different honeys

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.

Deformed Wing Virus appears to be seasonal in Hive A

Submitted by will on Wed, 31/05/2017 - 06:40

For at least the last 2 years I have observed a definite pattern in Hive A. In spring there are lots of crawling bees outside the hive. Some are clearly affected by Deformed Wing Virus (DWV); others maybe by another paralysis virus or by exhaustion.

They crawl around near the hive. If you launch them into the air they fall back to earth. They never make it back to the hive and have probably been ejected by the other bees. The Sparrows eat some of them. The others presumably die out of site.

By mid-May they have all disappeared. Mite drop on the hive floor has diminished so much that I've started wondering whether Ants are removing them.

I don't have an explanation. Maybe there is greater transmission of viruses when the bees are confined to the hive during the early spring build up. Maybe these bees have been in the hive for a while and are only ejected in spring.

I'm going to write to a DWV researcher to ask whether seasonal expression of DWV and other diseases is usual, and if she has an explanation.

More wonky comb

Submitted by will on Wed, 31/05/2017 - 06:03

Hive A has delivered another super of honey. Unfortunately it is crooked and cross-combed.

The bees built the comb relatively quickly. I'm not certain why it isn't straight. Strong nectar flows induce the bees to build on several frames at once and I think this encourages straight comb.

There are a couple of options for extracting the honey. It can be cut out into plastic boxes or pressed using an apple press. Neither option returns reusable comb which is disappointing.

Sparrows

Submitted by will on Tue, 02/05/2017 - 14:09

For the second year running the Sparrows are foraging.

There were quite a few bees crawling near my home hives in a state of moribund helplessness. There was no chance that they could get to the hive entrance and even if they did I doubt whether the guards would have let them back in. Some may have been exhausted, but most either had deformed wings or paralysis. No way back.

Their distress has attracted a few sparrows who feed on them. They perch on nearby fences; they perform a fluttering swoop to grab a bee on the ground; they fly off quickly.

This arrangement probably suits all. The sparrows get a meal. The bees are put out of their misery. The grass is cleared of bees which sting bare feet.

The bird which I saw today was a male House Sparrow.

Hive A dropping one Varroa mite per hour

Submitted by will on Sun, 23/04/2017 - 21:40

I've been looking at the removable floor of Hive A. There is a steady fall of Varroa mites there. I checked three times and the average is about one mite falling per hour. Some were still alive; a few were clearly immature.

This rate of mite drop puts the colony at severe risk of colony collapse, according to the BeeBase document "Managing Varroa".

I have seen quite a few crawling bees around the hive. Some have deformed wings, but not all. I'd be more concerned if this hadn't been the same last year.

We'll see what happens to the colony. My expectation is that it will not collapse, and that this rate of mite drop is seasonal and bearable.

If this colony survives this round of severe Varroa infestation then I'd say they have developed tolerance

A tall storey

Submitted by will on Wed, 19/04/2017 - 15:03

Hive A is a little embarrassing. It got too tall. I over wintered it with a National deep box and five supers. There were reasons, of course. Now has come the time to reduce it to a sensible height.

A little about those reasons first.

I took out the queen excluder. The idea was to allow the bees more freedom within the hive. I was trusting them. They did the most sensible thing: moved the brood nest to the top of the hive where the temperature was most suitable. Every time I put a super on they moved upward. It's now so remote taht I'm not even sure whether the deep box is in use.

I should have reduced the height last summer but the hive is in a suburban garden where the gardens are used a lot during the weekends. I did open up enough to inspect for brood and disease, but I never managed to reconfigure things to move the brood and the queen down. I'm not sure that I cared very much about the height. I just trusted the bees to do their thing.

This season has to be different.

I was given a lovely Canadian clearer board. It works! I have already recovered a super which was over half full of honey (see Wonky comb. I've put it back on to get another full super. That's definitely an upside.

Wonky Comb

Submitted by will on Wed, 19/04/2017 - 14:16
Frames without foundation and without guides lead to wonky comb

I stopped putting foundation in my hives a while ago (see Frames without foundation). Foundation seems unnecessary to the low intervention bee keeper. Its principal benefit is to make extraction and inspection easier. I outlined in the article how shallow frames can be extracted without wired foundation. Inspection is also much the same. You just have to be slower and more gentle.

The hive still has frames, so I still want to be able to take them out. That means I need reasonably straight comb. Each frame has 2 lolly sticks which act as guides and anchors for the comb building.

The lolly stick guides have generally worked well. I've seen some very straight comb. I've also seen some wonky comb, where the colony built more slowly. I'm not sure why, although the wonky comb was in a persistently small colony whilst the straight comb was in a busy one.

I also hastily put in a super without any foundation or lolly stick guides. The result can be seen in the image. Very wonky, so that the comb is anchored to two frames. I harvested early so that I could reduce the height of Hive A. I couldn't put wonky comb in the extractor so I just cut it into slabs as comb honey.

EDIT 04/052017: Paul from my bee group tells me that bees build straighter comb when there is a consistent nectar flow. When the supply is stop-start the comb is built in stages and may be less straight and regular.

Bees flying on Christmas Day

Submitted by will on Sun, 25/12/2016 - 22:18

Temperatures around 8-12C meant that the bees went out on purging flights today.

There've been some high winds lately. The temperature has been fairly cold but I've only needed gloves when cycling on a couple of mornings. I think that means > 5C for at least a fortnight. Benson's weather suggests it hasn't been down to 0C during December