Oxford Bees

Colony 04

Submitted by will on Wed, 13/06/2018 - 07:18

Colony 13 is dropping Varroa. They are also cleaning out old comb so there is a lot of debris on the hive floor. I found 2 or maybe 3 Varroa bodies.

This colony is new to my apiary, having been established elsewhere. I haven't really included it in my Varroa Zero post because it's new. Hives D and G are included. There were no Varroa on the floor of either this morning. There doesn't appear to much activity in Hive D at all. I shall have to check them.

Varroa drop zero

Submitted by will on Tue, 12/06/2018 - 05:50

I regularly examine the floors of my hives. The stuff which falls out of the hive tells a story about what the bees are doing. I always look for Varroa mites. I've found none on the floors of any of my hives for several weeks. I don't know why.

Mites on the hive floor can indicate how many mites are living in the colony. Varroa live for between 27 days to about 5 months (source: Managing Varroa, National Bee Unit, 2017). The mites require bee brood to reproduce so it's not surprising that there are fewer mites in the early part of the year. What is surprising is that I'm finding no dead Varroa at all in well established and very active hives.

We had difficult weather in spring. The temperature started to warm and then fell dramatically. This led to a number of colonies dying of complete starvation or isolation starvation. Dead colonies don't support Varroa. Live colonies do, but only in cells with brood. I wonder whether this has interrupted the mite life-cycle and knocked them back. I do not expect to find any colonies where Varroa are entirely absent.

I have 6 occupied hives. Three of these are new colonies. I expect to have lower drop anyway because they arrive only with those Varroa which cling on to swarming bees (during the phoretic part of mite life cycle). I have one established hive where there is an Ant infestation. It's possible that the Ants are taking away the mite bodies. That leaves two established colonies which have brood but are dropping no mites. That's a small number of hives, but striking anyway.

There will be more to say about this later.

Submitted by will on Fri, 02/02/2018 - 14:00

It's cold, so there isn't much to see at the hives. I'm still keeping an eye on the colonies by inspecting the removable base boards.

All the hives (C, D, E, F, G) are showing evidence that they're uncapping honey and eating it. There are some darker cappings which indicates that brood may be hatching. The colour of the wax suggests that it is from brood comb but the cause is not certain. They might be tidying or repairing damage. Midwinter brood is more common than some literature suggests so I'd be confident that they're still rearing.

Varroa drop count is very low (<10 per hive). That's also not much of a surprise. If there is brood then it's likely to be very heavily infested with Varroa. I'll look out for crawling bees showing signs of Deformed Wing Virus. I didn't see any this time but the numbers are low enough (and the ground wet enough) that I might have missed them.

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.

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.

Submitted by will on Mon, 31/07/2017 - 08:54

I had a look into the hives in my out-apiary yesterday. There hasn't been much going on during July to comment on.

All the hives are showing activity. but either there isn't much nectar or they're working on brood production. All the usual pollen, Varroa and cappings which show brood activity. Very little new wax and generally little expansion in stores within the supers.

I think that there has been less nectar, or that the bees have had to travel further for it. Maybe they're expanding brood but I don't have evidence for that.

The wasps have arrived in force, and I found that Hive H was under attack. I had moved the colony from a nucleus hive (containing 5 frames) into a full sized commercial brood body. I placed the frames at the back, away from the entrance. The idea was to encourage comb and brood development at the front of the hive. The actual effect has been to leave the door less well guarded. I found several wasps inside the hive, and the bees were closely covering the brood comb. I moved the comb to the front and reduced the entrance to under 3cm wide.

Hive H has apparently produced no Varroa on its' removable floor. There is another possible explanation - that the wasps have been eating the fallen mites, along with some bees.

Elsewhere, I found that Hive D had a super which was almost full. I placed an empty super and a clearer board beneath it. I hope to have some honey from them in a week or so.

Similarities between colonies

Submitted by will on Sat, 17/06/2017 - 06:19

There are some patterns and similarities that emerge from watching a group of colonies in an apiary. Here are some from my out-apiary:

Temperament: the colonies are generally fairly calm. Some bees will almost always inspect me, bumping at my head to warn me away, so I always wear a veil. During the summer some of the colonies (D, E) become very defensive. They'll follow for 20+ metres from the hive and they don't readily lose interest. I've been pursued by a cloud of bees. This tendency to follow might be exacerbated by their position on a building roof - in line of sight with no trees or bushes to hide under/behind.

Size: The colonies are usually big. The exception was Hive B, which superseded twice after being established and may have been suffering more than usual from Varroa.

Brood production: The colonies produce lots of brood. The brood area is often full, with hardly any stores. They appear (to me) to produce too much brood but I haven't seen evidence of brood dying from neglect.

Honey production: modest but this might improve. This is only the second year since most of the hives were established. I'm putting in empty frames and I'm not usually feeding, so quite a bit of their forage is going on comb production. Between brood and honey production, I think that the colonies favour brood.

Response to Varroa: they tolerate the Varroa mites but they don't appear to manage them by hygienic behaviours. Lately I've seen very high mite fall in established colonies. Only Hive B seems to have been held back by Varroa.

Robbing: I see no evidence of the colonies robbing each other. I have seen a Bumblebee robbing this year. I saw some wasps last year.

Propolising: The colonies love propolis. A rich, red resiin is daubed over the frame tops; the brood cells and all the joints. The removable floor of Hive D is caked in it. The colony in Hive A carefully apply it where needed. The colonies in the out-apiary just slap it on everywhere. I assume that it comes from the Lime trees because they're so near.

Submitted by will on Fri, 16/06/2017 - 22:21

In July last year I wrote about angry bees and fear. I have the fear again.

Hive E is very cross. I think that it may be low on stores. I tried to take the lid off to feed it. They went for me in full attack mode. Buzzng my head and my hands. My legs had at least a dozen bees attached, all trying to sting me.

The fear is my own fault. My body is well covered in a bee suit. My hands are fairly well covered in leather gloves (but nitrile over the top would be better). It's my ankles. They sting my ankles. I went back in and put on thick socks.

I took the lid off and put a good dollop of set honey on the crown board. I was covered in angry bees. I put the lid on and ran round the corner. These bees stay angry and they follow for over 20 metres. I did an I'm covered in bees dance. Still covered. I hid in the corridor which leads to the roof and swept them off. Eventually I got them all off.

Cautiously I went back to the corner to collect my things. Oh dear. In my haste I didn't put the lid on properly. I walked back to the hive, replaced the lid and ran around the corner again. Once more the dance. Once more the lengthy removal of a dozen or more bees. Finally, I was free to leave.

Before I left I had a quick look at all of the floors. Hives C, E and F all showed very heavy Varroa fall. Hives D and G had very few Varroa, but I might have cleared the floor more recently than the others.

Edit: there was a very noticeable smell when I opened Hive E. I can't describe it but it wasn't nectar or one of the normal smells. I assume that it's the smell of alarm.

Submitted by will on Thu, 15/06/2017 - 18:36

The National Bee Unit issues alerts. I received an alert today (15th June) about starvation. I received one last year on 30th June. It's getting to be a habit.

I've been anticipating a nectar flow from the Lime trees next to my out apiary but it now looks like that won't happen. I visited the hives this evening and it looks pretty certain that the two newly established colonies (Hives F and G) have very low stores.

I don't like feeding. It's an intervention and, like all interventions, I'm reluctant to interfere*. Feeding will change the bee's behaviour. I suspect that once you start feeding you'll have to continue. It's the same with watering plants. Let the bees/plants adapt to their conditions. Another gripe is that sugar from feeding may end up in harvested honey.

I've put the case against feeding. Now the case for in favour: I don't want the two new colonies to die. I think that C, D and E will have sufficient stores. F and G do not. Hive F is the one dropping dozens of Varroa. I could bear to let that fail - except that it might spread those Varroa. The colony in Hive G is different. I think that it has come from one of the feral colonies. It's showing characteristics similar to Hive D and has relatively low Varroa.

The more you want for the bees, the more you'll intervene. A low intervention bee keeper should try to want less. I want some honey. I want it to be fantastic. I want the bees to be healthy. I want them to survive. I'm always drifting towards increased intervention.

I will probably feed Hives F and G. I have some 2016 set honey which is suitable.

* Yes, I take honey and that is an intervention. Yes, I muck about with queen excluders and I rearrange the supers. Yes I do look at the brood combs.