Oxford Bees

B Hive

Submitted by will on Sun, 16/09/2018 - 07:15
Dead bees on the landing board of a hive which had just been combined with another

A week ago I brought Colony 11 back to my apiary in Headington and combined it with Colony 1. I'm not sure whether to call it a success or a failure but it is now done.

I moved Colony 11 again from its temporary location back to Headington on the evening of Saturday 8th Sept. Early the next morning. I removed the top of Hive A and Hive B. I placed a sheet of newspaper over the crown board. I cracked the body of Hive B from its base and placed it on top of of the newspaper. The hives were now separated but joined.

Twenty four hours later, on Monday morning, there were the corpses of 2 or 3 dozen bees on the landing board. I suppose that these were casualties from the combination which had been dragged out of the hive and left for later disposal. Later that day they were all gone. This pile of corpses was alarming but it was not a huge number of dead. I don't know whether this is normal.

Colony 1 seems untroubled by the combination. It is still strong, with bees flying on foraging expeditions and pollen coming in. The base board shows some wax moth but very few Varroa. I took the body of Hive B off yesterday. It still had some honey in it but the Commercial frames are too big for my extractor. I put it away from the hive and allowed the bees to rob the remainder from it.

I have misgivings about encouraging robbing but there is only one hive in my Headington apiary so it shouldn't trigger the worst aspects of contagious robbing. I don't know how else to remove honey from a hive which will be empty over winter. It makes sense to remove the honey to deter Wax Moth and to reduce the risk of spreading disease. I wanted the bees in Hive A to move it but they were reluctant to move sealed stores down into their main area. I would have had to unseal the honey cells which is difficult with my tools (ie a knife).

The task is almost complete and mostly successful. I'm sorry that Colony 11 didn't make it. It was a survivor colony -- untreated and with low incident of Varroa. I would have been interested to see how it fared.

The end for Colony 11

Submitted by will on Sat, 08/09/2018 - 17:54

I moved Colony 11 to another site in the hope that it would recover. I put honey in a feeder to bolster it. It didn't stop the robbing, although it did significantly reduce it.

Yesterday I plucked up courage and actually examined the comb in the brood area. There were no brood and I couldn't find a Queen. I decided that there was no point feeding wasps or other bees. It was time to combine Hive B (Colony 11) with Hive A (Colony 1).

Last night I shut the hive. At 7pm there was a great deal of activity at the hive entrance which suggested robbing by bees. I came back after 9pm and all was quiet. This morning at 5am I moved the hive back to my home apiary.

I used the newspaper combining method. Take the top off the destination hive. Place a sheet of newspaper over the top of the hive. Remove the floor of the source hive. Place on top of the destination hive so that both hives are separated by the newspaper. The smell of the two hives should mingle so that there won't be fighting once the newspaper is punctured.

I opened Hive A but left the crown board on top. I placed a  thin stick on the crown board and laid the newspaper over it. I then cracked Hive B off its floor and placed it on top. The smell of banana wafted up from Hive A as its bees signaled alarm but only for a moment. The two hives were joined in under 5 minutes. The only near upset was when the newspaper blew off. Once Hive B was on top I made a tiny adjustment to its position and then regretted doing so. Newspaper is very easily torn so it would have been better to place it badly and leave it than to rip the paper. I think that I got away with it.

The bees from Hive A were flying strongly at 6:30am. I didn't see any evidence of fighting. I'll look again later in the day.

A final reorganisation for Colony 13

Submitted by will on Sun, 08/07/2018 - 08:23

This morning I worked on colony 13. I hope that this is the last time I have to make a significant reorganisation of their hive. I hope that I've corrected for the mistakes and difficulties which developed from having a nucleus roof with comb attached.

This is a summary of the colony before and after I did the work this morning:

Before After
  roof
roof crown board
crown board C Hive body
empty super containing comb cut from the nucleus roof Ashforth feeder containing comb cut from nucleus roof
B Hive body (including Queen and brood) empty super containing frames
queen excluder queen excluder
C Hive body B Hive Body (including Queen and brood)

The main problem before the reorganisation was that the brood nest was above the Queen excluder and so on the wrong side for Queens and Drones to leave the hive. Another possible problem was that the brood nest was too far away from the hive entrance. I have seen that brood nests which are too far away from the entrance may be more vulnerable to robbing. This happened to Colony 9.

I thought through my operations carefully before I started work. Even then, I initially left the queen excluder in the wrong place. I moved the B Hive body and the super above it off the hive. I then removed C Hive body and replaced it with the B Hive body.

When I had chopped the comb out of the nucleus roof I had laid it flat in the super above the B Hive body. All the brood had hatched from this so I scraped it off the top bars and put it into the feeder box.

I assembled hive with an empty super above the brood nest. I hope that the bees will move the honey down from the feeder box and from the comb in C Hive body into this super. We'll see whether that happens.

An unpleasant lunchtime with Colony 11

Submitted by will on Mon, 18/06/2018 - 19:17

Colony 11 is complicated. I may have just made it better, or worse.

The colony was probably evicted from a roof in the Grandpont area of Oxford by building work. A member of my bee group said that the colony was too aggressive for a domestic garden so I gladly took them. They arrived in a nucleus box which had no frames.

I had already moved them out of the nucleus body and later I tried to extract the nucleus lid but couldn't complete the task. Today I tried again to get the lid out. I succeeded, if success is about objectives. It wasn't an unqualified success.

I prepared, giving extra attention to my feet and hands and to ensuring that the wind didn't blow my veil towards my face. I then opened the lid and lifted the nucleus lid to look. A cloud of bees unhappy bees took off. It really was rather busy.

I had chosen the middle of the day because I hoped that more of the defensive foragers would be out of the hive. This is a colony which feels massive. Whether they were in or out it still felt massive.

As I lifted the lid I found that the comb was arranged across the lid of the nuc' rather than in line with it. When I lifted the nuc' lid It caught the edge of a frame and a large slab of comb with brood and honey came away. I wanted to recover the comb; I wanted to remove the lid; I wanted an orderly hive which I could expand when I needed to. The more I wanted, the more complicated things became.

Another slab of comb came away and so the thing was decided. The lid comes out entirely.

I ran to get more hive parts. I placed the comb in sections on top of the frames of the hive body and then in a super. I don't expect most of the brood to hatch out but they might. I then put the hive back together and left the area.

Looking back, I probably should have stopped when I saw the brood. The bees were very upset, understandably.

Hive H is stable after move

Submitted by will on Tue, 29/08/2017 - 22:09
a simple wasp guard made from pieces of National brood frames.

Hive H has settled in and has brood and stores.

It absconded in early August. I returned the colony to the same hive and then moved it to Headington. I put the frames to the front of the hive; fed them with Honey and made a very small entrance. This has encouraged them to produce brood and defend their entrance. I've seen lots of wasps around but none appear to have got in.

The neighbouring hive - Hive B - has absconded or failed. I suspect robbing. Both hives are very near an apple tree which attracts wasps. The return of Hive H to health suggests that they are now willing to defend against wasp attacks.

Submitted by will on Tue, 29/08/2017 - 21:27

The colony in Hive B has failed or absconded. The hive is now completely empty.

The colony has always been small. In a year they built only 5 frames of comb (on National deep frames). I thought that maybe the effort of being at height had over-stressed them so I moved the colony from the out apiary to my back garden. I placed them under an apple tree in the hope that they would recover. There is good forage and they were at ground level.

I had seen some coming and going at the hive entrance in recent weeks. It all looked like normal activity. I saw no wasps going in or out. The entrance was partially concealed by apple tree leaves so I thought the colony was ok. I didn't open it.

The position under the apple tree may have encouraged robbing by wasps which I hadn't noticed. The colony may have lost its' Queen. It may even have been the move which killed her - although I was gentle.

Whatever the cause, I noticed unusual activity at the hive entrance yesterday. I checked the removable base board and saw a large amount of sugar on it - clear evidence that there was robbing of crystallised honey. Today I opened the hive and found it utterly empty: no bees; no Queen; no brood; no stores. I have no idea where the Queen and the other bees went.

Submitted by will on Thu, 25/05/2017 - 07:36

Two out of the three established colonies in my roof top apiary are big and vigorous. Meanwhile Hive B has stayed small since it was caught as a swarm a year ago. Why?

I've been told that some colonies are smaller than others. The bees like it that way. I'm willing to trust the bees to right-size their colony but I'd like to understand what causes the differences. I wonder whether Varroa and its diseases might be an explanation.

Since moving Hive B back home to ground level I have seen evidence of comb building in Hive B. This is co-incident with a nectar flow so I'd expect there to be some increase in storage space. I have also noticed an increase in the defensiveness and a high rate of Varroa mite drop on the hive floor, relative the colony size.

Varroa suck the bee's hemolyph whilst they are pupating in their brood cells and later while the mites cling on adult bees. The hemolyph is bee blood. Removing it weakens the bee, as well as transmitting viruses. My suspicion is that this colony in Hive B has a low resistance to the mite and is being progressively weakened by their action. Bees returning to roof top hives from ground level will have to ascend over 20 metres whilst carrying a full load of nectar. If the weaker bees were being lost this would limit the number of foragers. Younger bees would be promoted to foragers which limits the number of nurse bees available to care for brood. This would give a mechanism which explains why this colony, which superseded last year and are apparently happy with their Queen, haven't built up.

I will be watching whether Hive B builds up strongly at ground level and continues to shed significant numbers of mites. This would strengthen my suspicion that they lack the resistance to mite attack demonstrated in Hives C and D.

Moving hives

Submitted by will on Sat, 13/05/2017 - 11:06

Last night I moved Hive E to my out-apiary and returned Hive B to my home. The move went well with no problems.

Hive E contains the feral swarm from Barton caught at the very start of August 2016. It built up strongly before Autumn and is now a vigorous colony. I wanted it to be in central Oxford where its' strength is a match for the position - lots of forage but a big climb to the roof. I wanted Hive B to be in my garden where it can quietly tick along without bothering family or neighbours.

There are dangers in moving an occupied hive:

  • The colony can overheat in transit, causing the comb to soften and collapse. I read that this usually kills the colony.
  • The frames can slap together, damaging brood and bees.
  • A substantial bump can cause bees to fall to the floor, blocking the ventilation and causing the colony to overheat.
  • A bump to side of the hive can cause the boxes to slide and open up, releasing alarmed bees.

None of the above happened during my move.

It's usual when transporting bees to exchange the crown board and roof for a ventilated screen. I don't have one so I secured the hive together with straps and lifted it into the back of a car. I opened the windows and cruised down the hill.

My out apiary is on the roof of a building with an automatic door. It doesn't stay open for long enough for me to get the hive out of the car and inside the building. I had to put the hive down gently whilst I opened the door. I may have looked rather comical trying to get back in time. Last time I dropped an empty hive on the ground. Once, but not twice.

Up went the hive and into its' place. I opened the door and a few bees came out and milled around.

I then packaged up Hive B and did the same in reverse.

This morning I looked in through the door of both hives. The hive floor was clear in both, indicating that the comb had not collapsed. I think that all the visible bees were moving. I peered into Hive E using a strong torch while the sliding screen was out. The inside of the hive must have been cool because the bees were clustered as if in a swarm. They were beautiful.

Submitted by will on Sat, 08/04/2017 - 13:07

I visited the out-apiary today and opened the 3 hives there. There is evidence of brood, new comb and stores in all of them. There's evidence of a nectar flow, which isn't much of a surprise given that Oxford is swathed in spring blossoms.

Hive B is still relatively small but ticking along nicely. There are plenty of stores and reasonable coverage of brood. I haven't added space because there are empty frames in the brood area.

Hive C was busy and rather aggressive last year. They seem calmer now, but a couple of bees tried to sting my gloves. I over-wintered them with a National deep and a super box. This was partly because they hadn't built comb into the deep and partly because there was brood in both. They've definitely built comb into the deep box now.

Hive D produced so much brood last year that I wondered whether they would starve for lack of stores. I even caved and fed them at the end of the season. A fair number of bees died of unknown causes and were littered outside the hive. This hasn't stopped them. There are a lot of flying bees and they've nearly filled a super in 3 weeks.

I added a super without comb, separated by an excluder to Hives C and D. Hopefully that will keep them busy for a while.

Wax Moth

Submitted by admin on Sat, 25/03/2017 - 12:08

Hive B has a wax moth problem - or they're unusually good at coping with it. I'm betting that it's a problem. I'll know when it's warm enough to have a look inside.

I have found 4 wax moth larvae on the removable floor of the hive. I've been keeping the floor clear of debris so I don't think they hatched on the floor, unless there is more debris that I can't see.

My expectation is that this colony is tolerant of wax moth. That's not a good thing. This colony is small and has superseded at least once. It hasn't shown any characteristics which are obviously good from my point of view. I'm not going to destroy it but I wouldn't be sad if the hive became available during swarming season.