Oxford Bees

Colony 06

1st Feb 2018 -- all hives in the out apiary showing signs of activity

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.

Hive E appears to be alive after knock down

Submitted by will on Sat, 20/01/2018 - 19:17

I checked on Hive E today. There was evidence of uncapping which suggests that the bees are still alive. There was also some small pieces of broken comb which is unsurprising following a knock down. One unexpected find was a wax moth larva.

All the other hives in my out-apiary are showing evidence of recent uncapping. I assume that they're ok

Hive E knock down

Submitted by will on Thu, 18/01/2018 - 07:15

Poor Hive E. It was knocked over last night during the high winds. I righted it this morning. No bees came out but that isn't conclusive. I'll check in a few days to see whether there is sign of life from inside.

Data for: Benson WOW station
Report Date / Time Wind Direction Wind Speed (kn) Wind Gust (kn)
Min SSW 19.1 31.3
Max W 29.6 53.9
Mean WSW 23.2 41.5
18/01/2018 06:00:00 W 19.1 40.0
18/01/2018 05:00:00 W 22.6 42.6
18/01/2018 04:00:00 WSW 29.5 53.9
18/01/2018 03:00:00 WSW 26.9 51.3
18/01/2018 02:00:00 WSW 22.6 37.4
18/01/2018 01:00:00 SW 20.9 33.9
18/01/2018 00:00:00 SSW 20.9 31.3


A winter honey feed for Hive E

Submitted by will on Mon, 01/01/2018 - 16:00

I don't really know how to heft. This means that I've been concerned about the stores in a couple of the hives for a few weeks. Today I visited and put some honey in to feed them. They honey had set to a stiff paste or fully hardened.

I took a super which had empty comb. I removed enough frames to fit 2 tubs and a jar. I then quickly popped the lid off; placed the super and honey and put the lids back on.

It's said that a colony never freezes but it can starve. It all comes down to stores. This is an admission that I probably took a bit too much honey from them. I wasn't intentionally greedy but the colony may have put stores above rather than adjacent to their brood frames. That would have left them lighter than intended.

I didn't have a spare super to sort out Hive C. I'll take one up and add some honey in for them soon.

Activity in all 5 city hives (December 2017)

Submitted by will on Thu, 07/12/2017 - 08:57

Storm Caroline blew through overnight. It was worst in Scotland but we had higher winds. All 5 hives in my out apiary stayed upright. During my check this morning I also found evidence of activity in all 5: brood and honey cell cappings on the hive floor. The entrances are all clear.

I hefted and found that Hive E is a bit light. I really need a comparison. The complete Commercial hive weighs at least 20Kg according to Thorne. The guidance is that a colony needs 25Kg to see it through the winter. I don't think that Hive E has enough. I'm not sure about the others. Luckily I've held back some solid honey which I can give to them.

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.

Mite Crisis in Hive E

Submitted by will on Tue, 12/09/2017 - 23:01

Hive E is having a Varroa mite crisis. I checked today and for the previous 2 weeks. Each time I found hundreds of dead Varroa mites.

High mite drop can be a factor in colony collapse. I don't expect them to perform well next season - if they survive through the winter. I expect them to be weakened, and any brood raised in early spring will be heavily infected with Deformed Wing Virus or other diseases symptomatic of Varroosis.

I had hoped that the colony would be better able to manage Varroa. They've been untreated for a significant period of time. The swarm came last season from a feral hive in Barton.

Earlier this season they were very bad tempered which may be related. I should have checked whether they were Queen-Right (you bang the side of the hive. If the roar calms down quickly then they have a Queen. If not then they may be in distress and Queen-less).

I doubt whether replacing their Queen this year would have led to this situation. Even if she had no mite tolerance there would have been a time lag to produce vulnerable brood, and then a further lag to build up mite numbers. It seems more likely that this is the difference between mite resistant and mite tolerant. In the former there are hygenic behaviours or adaptations which inhibit Varroa mite reproduction. In the latter the bees just tough it out. I suspect that Hive E is only tolerant. We'll see whether it is tolerant enough.

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.

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.