Oxford Bees


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.

Making space for Drones part 2

Submitted by will on Wed, 10/05/2017 - 19:55

I've made a small adjustment to the Commercial frames which should work just as well in an National deep (brood) box.

I took an old National brood frame and removed the two bars which are set at the bottom. These are 6mm x 8mm x 360mm. I cut them into 4 equal 90mm lengths. I glued and nailed these to the sides of the top bars. I made these adjustments to 3 of the frames.

The result is that the frames are spaced at 12mm apart instead of 8mm. The Commercial box fits 11 instead of 12 frames.


First look inside Hive E

Submitted by will on Mon, 08/05/2017 - 15:15

Hive E was populated from a feral swarm at the very start of August 2016. Eight months have elapsed since they were moved from the Nucleus hive into a National brood body. Yesterday I opened up.

The purpose of the inspection was two-fold: to check the condition of the colony and to reconfigure the hive.

I want to move this hive to my out-apiary so I needed to know that it is in good condition. It is. There is plenty of brood and signs of recently laid eggs. There are drones in the hive and drone brood. The brood is laid in solid blocks, suggesting healthy Queen and healthy brood. The arrangement is a little confusing - spread over almost all the frames in the hive. The comb was almost all very regular. One frame had a bulge of less than a centimetre at one side which was matched by a couple of adjacent combs further out.

I have a longer term plan to standardise on Commercial brood frames. These are too big for National brood bodies so I've bought a Hamilton Converter from Thorne. It allows fewer frames but they're larger. I will have to swap out the National frames for the Commercial ones over time. In the short term the National frames just fit on the runners. They too short and too narrow at the sides so I'm expecting the bees to build extra comb to fill the gaps. It's a little messy but not a big problem.

I opened the hive and lifted all the frames out into a Commercial body. I then fitted the Hamilton converter. It was a tight fit which gave me the fear. I didn't want to start woodworking on an open hive with bees everywhere. I pushed and it fit into place. I put the most used frames back into the converted hive, leaving 2 out. Irritatingly one of the frames had a substantial number of eggs and very young brood. I put an eke on and wedged the frame into it at the top of the hive. The nurse bees might find and raise the brood but I'm not optimistic. Not my best work.

The temperament of this colony is very calm. They just went about their business. One bee stung me through my glove but that was all.

Making space for Drones

Submitted by will on Sat, 06/05/2017 - 13:18

Thorne, the equipment supplier, have been sending newsletters recently. The latest contains an interesting article about increasing the number of drones in a hive.

The article points out that the Drone population in feral hives is up to 20% of the total. Drones are males and are necessary for the less visible part of sexual reproduction in the colony which happens in flight. Having an adequate number of Drones will improve the chances of a colony passing on its' genes. It may also improve temperament and reduce swarming, presumably because the colony is achieving its' biological need to reproduce.

Framed hives discriminate against Drones because the Hoffman spacing is too small to accommodate the deeper cells. Drone brood are pushed to the margins of the brood area, reducing the number of Drones which can be produced.

Interventions performed by conventional bee keepers further reduce the population of drones by damaging cappings during inspections and by bio-technical controls (ie Drone uncapping to manage Varroa). These don't apply to my bee keeping.

Adapting a framed hive to allow for deeper cells should be easy enough. Wider spacers can be used, either as glued on blocks; frame spacers or nails which set width. I will look for a way to adapt existing frames, starting with the glue method. I will report on this in a later blog post.


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.

Frames without foundation

Submitted by will on Fri, 21/10/2016 - 22:02
Frames without foundation

Foundation is a layer of wax which is placed in a frame. It is printed with hexagonal cell guides. The bees build their comb from it into the spaces between the frames. As far as I know nearly everyone who uses framed hives uses foundation.

Foundation should encourage a more regular comb shape and get the bees to build the comb sooner than they might in an empty cavity. Cell width can be forced by printing the hexagons at different sizes. There's been some discussion about what the 'correct' width should be and the advantages of different sizes. I'm not going to discuss that here. The crucial advantage for harvesting beekeepers is that wired comb is supported and won't burst when spun in a radial extractor.

Foundation is produced from beeswax gathered from many hives. It's been shown that chemical contaminants (ie treatments for Varroa etc) are spread readily from foundation around the hive (citation needed). Since my hives are treatment free I wanted to exclude chemicals which could leach from foundation. I also want the bees to make comb which suits their needs.

I decided not to use foundation. The main reason was to find out whether, and how, it would work.

Bees are said to 'prefer' a sharp edge to build from. I modified my frames by nailing in 2 wide lolly sticks where the foundation would be fixed at the top of the frame (see image). The modification is very simple and requires no woodworking besides basic nailing.

The results seem good, although the sample size is very small. I've only done this for the brood area in 2 hives. The first (Hive D) is very vigorous and produced excellent, straight combs. The second (Hive B) was a much smaller nest, shaped like a ball. The outer edges of the comb bulged to form a sphere and so each layer was progressively distorted. Hive C was inconclusive because they didn't build into a cavity in the same way.

I've used these frames in Hive A in supers with good success. I've spun foundation-less and extracted honey without bursting the comb. The precaution is to spin gently on each side before spinning at full speed. This nearly doubles the time spent spinning each comb, and so it is unlikely to work for high volume extraction. I use a tangential extractor. I haven't tried this in a radial extractor.

I will continue to use frames without foundation. I'd call my experience a success even allowing for the small sample size.