Oxford Bees

Colony 08

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.

Varroa drop not quite zero

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.

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.

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 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.

Starvation alert, again

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.

Trying to prevent wonky comb

Submitted by will on Mon, 12/06/2017 - 06:27

I looked into the out-apiary hives yesterday. I found about 20 frames of honey which can be harvested. I also found wonky comb in the super on top of Hive E.

I really want the comb to be built in a regular pattern. The comb from the new swarms in Hives F and G are beautifully straight and regular. This is the comb within the Commercial brood bodies. Large, flat sheets of comb which is at least as good as you'd get with foundation.

My approach now is to 'seed' each super with at least one frame of comb. This, I hope, will act as a guide. I hope that it will also attract the bees across the queen excluder and encourage them to build and store in a new super.