Oxford Bees

B Hive

Knock down update - no visible problems in either hive

Submitted by will on Wed, 01/03/2017 - 10:47

I've been keeping an eye on the two hives which were blown over during Storm Doris.

Neither is showing any significant visible sign of damage:

  • There were no dead bees on the floor of the hive (as far as I could see).
  • The fall of wax cappings appears to be the normal.
  • Hive D had some drops of honey on the removeable hive floor, but only just enough for me to taste (yum)

I'll see in a couple of months how these hives have fared. I'm still seeking data on the peak wind speed.

Hefting Data

Submitted by will on Thu, 09/02/2017 - 13:52

I returned today to the out-apiary and hefted all 3 hives there.

I used a digital scale to weigh each side. The reading varied considerably during each heft - maybe by as much as 250g each way. I did my best to get an average reading. I think the variability must have been due to the way I was using the scale.

The results show more or less what I expected:

Hive Name Hive Type Left side Right side
B National deep box with insulated eke 8.9 Kg 15.2 Kg
C National box with 2 national super boxes >25 Kg >25 Kg
D Commercial box with 1 national super box and insulated eke 17.8 Kg 16.6 Kg
Hefting weights for hives in Kg

The weight of each type of hive, given for shipping information by Thorne, is:

National + 2 supers 25 Kg
Commercial + 2 supers 27 Kg

My conclusion from this is much as I expected: Hive B is small and may not have enough stores for the spring. Hive C has tons of stores and is fine. Hive D may have enough and needs monitoring.

I checked the varroa floors. All hives are consuming stores as expected. Hives C and D are making new wax, shown by wax scales amongst the capping detritus. Also C and D had a couple of Varroa each, which is quite a high fall rate.

Bees flying in February (out apiary)

Submitted by will on Tue, 07/02/2017 - 14:52

It's a warm day today (10C-12C). The bees are flying from all 3 hives in my out apiary. Presumably they're going on purging flights. I didn't see enough activity to rule out pollen collection but it seems unlikely.

I keep the removable floor in, so I was able to see tidy mounds of chewed cappings. There were some flakes of fresh wax amongst it in hives C and D, suggesting that there has been some brood rearing. I didn't establish how much, nor whether it's going on now.

There were a few stranded bees outside hive C. They'd grabbed the bright yellow hive strap and then become too chilled to move. I moved the strap so that it was out of sight. There was no way to save the stranded bees. There were quite a few dead bees outside the front of hive D. It's a bit more worrying because the undertaker bees usually dump the bodies away from the hive. I removed the floors and looked up at the Varroa screens. There were no dead bees on the screens, showing that the undertaker service is still working within the hives.

It's a good sign that all the hives have flying bees, but it's not a guarantee that they'll survive the winter. Spring is a time of expansion. They need stores for brood. If there isn't forage, or they can't get it because of cold then they can starve. Foolishly I forgot to heft.

Preparing for winter

Submitted by will on Sun, 25/09/2016 - 20:39

I seem to have taken a break since the end of August. Today I sorted looked in on the bees.

They won't have been swarming so late in the season so there won't have been much doing (I think) besides a nectar flow from the Ivy. If they fill their stores with Ivy honey it won't be terrible (except that  Ivy sets hard).

I have some eke's (low rise boxes usually used to house feeders). I've stapled some hessian into them and filled the cavity with straw. I wanted sawdust but it wasn't available. These are supposed to insulate the roof of each hive.

I took a look at the out apiary and hefted the hives. Hive D is feeling heavy. I put one an eke on top, hoping that it will be the last time I disturb them until spring.

Hive C is feeling heavy too, but Hive B is light. I'll feed them, but I'm unsure whether this colony will ever be successful. The queen (which I saw some months ago) looked beautiful. It would be ideal to swap this colony from Hive E, which was another feral which I took at the end of July. Hive E looks vigorous and ready to survive the winter already.

Back at home I looked in on Hive E. I'd given them the empty boxes after the honey harvest to clean up. It was done. The insulating eke is on and (I hope) they're also ready for winter.

An inspector calls

Submitted by will on Sat, 27/08/2016 - 20:50
The Regional Bee Inspector looks at brood

The Regional Bee Inspector visited my out-apiary today.

We went through all 3 hives and checked all the brood. There were occasional dead brood which had advanced DWV - evidence of varoosis - but thankfully there were no other diseases. Best of all, the colonies are clear of AFB.

The major threats to honey bees from pests in the UK are varroa and AFB. We await the arrival of the Asian Hornet and Small Hive Beetle. The Asian Hornet is in France, and has been found in Guernsey but has so far not come been found on the mainland. Small Hive Beetle originates in Africa and has spread to several countries including USA. There was a small outbreak in Italy which, it's hoped, has been contained.

There was a thunderstorm as we left my out apiary. We'd hoped to inspect my home hives but it hasn't happened. Next year...

Whether to feed

Submitted by will on Sun, 14/08/2016 - 11:57

Everyone seems to feed their bees - even most of the low intervention bee keepers. I'm not convinced.

Bee keepers feed their bees for several reasons:

  1. to advance their brood production in spring
  2. to help the bees through hungry gaps during summer
  3. to ensure that the bees have adequate stores to survive the winter
  4. to compensate the bees for honey harvested in autumn (see 3)

I've read that I've spring feeding is ineffective (citation needed; I think it may have been Guide to Bees and Honey by Ted Hooper).

Feeding as a compensation for harvests is understandable but could conceivably reduce the nutritional quality of the honey. I have no evidence to offer to support this but it is my concern. I wonder also what proportion of the harvested honey will have come from bought sugars.

A colony will balance of brood production against foraging. Brood must be fed and kept warm. Expanding brood too quickly in spring will exhaust stores and tie up foragers keeping brood warm. If the nectar flow stalls there could be starvation. Slow expansion of the brood in spring will leave relatively few foragers when nectar flow is strong.

Feeding to ensure the continuation of the colony seems to do more than the vicissitudes of the environment. It risks changing the behaviour of the bees. My concern is that it supports colonies which over-produce brood. Feeding leads to more feeding.

3 of my 5 colonies are definitely from feral stock. I reluctantly decided to feed honey to B, C and D earlier this year during the June hungry gap. They were new colonies so felt it was justified.

With some reluctance I  have started feeding them for Autumn (for the same reason). I hope that I'll have the resolve not to do this in their second year.

A visitor

Submitted by will on Tue, 02/08/2016 - 21:31

Paul visited my out apiary. I needed an experienced view of what was going on. He has Warre hives and so was interested in the site and the hives.

The inspection went well until near the end.

Hive B was still small but there was fresh brood, showing that their supersedure had been successful. They had formed a neat sphere of comb, more obvious because it was foundationless. They'll go into winter with sufficient stores but in need of insulation.

Hive D was busy. 16 sides with brood on them in various states. Quite a bit of store. Probably fine for the winter but they'll need an Autumn glut to balance things.

Hive C was where things went awry. The commercial box is at the bottom. They haven't built any comb in it. The deep box and super now have brood in unexpected places. There doesn't seem to be much order to it. I wonder whether they've become honey bound and the Queen has laid where she can.

The bees in Hive C didn't like us poking through several layers of hive. They got upset and mobbed us. Paul's suit protected him but I was stung on the wrists and ankles. After a while of this I lost my nerve and ran away. Paul said that he'd never seen anyone pursued by a cloud of bees. The angriest followed me for maybe 30 metres until I went inside. Two other non-beekeepers were also stung. One was at ground level 5 stories down. It was not my best work.

We discussed several changes:

  • Marigold gloves with disposable nitrile gloves over. He reckons that the bees can't pump their venom through both.
  • Spats or wellies to cover ankles
  • Inspections only when necessary. They only attacked after we'd been rifling through the hive for a while. Paul suggests that this is a learned behaviour rather than a defensive instinct.
  • A wind break for inspections might reduce the disruption to the hive smell. A manipulation cloth would also reduce the effect of wind. A table will keep the bees off the ground and away from ankles. A table will also prevent the queen escaping from under the hive.

The best news is that none of the hives have AFB. All are Queen right. Two are very busy and all look healthy.

Happy Bees, and a correction about roaring

Submitted by will on Tue, 19/07/2016 - 14:51

There's a honey flow on. All the hives in my out-apiary have stores now and there's a lot of activity. The bees are noticeably better tempered.

The roaring that I heard recently was probably the bees fanning, to cool the hive and evaporate excess water from the honey. I knocked on the side of A Hive this morning (the one which roared); they revved for a moment and then calmed down. Not queenless, just busy.

C and D Hives both have brood. I had a better look at C because it was easier to handle. Brood in various states on at least 10 sides of comb. These are Commercial depth frames but not completely covered in comb.

I'd put a deep super (ie a standard brood box) on C hive which the queen has evidently moved into. This is not great management. I saw patches of a few dozen larvae, honey-bound by stores. I'm sure that they'll work it out.

The worrying news is that B Hive is queenless. Their supersedure appears to have failed. They have stores which surround empty cells. I suppose that they'll get robbed by and then drift into either of the more successful hives.

An interregnum

Submitted by will on Mon, 18/07/2016 - 05:25
Supersedure in progress

I looked into Hive B a few days ago and found no brood and no Queen. The colony is quite small so she probably wasn't hiding.

Is there a virgin Queen waiting to take over? That would be reasonable following the supersedure which I saw in progress at the start of the month. I will have to look again to see whether brood returns. What happens if the colony is unable to create a new Queen? I'm unsure.

The colony in Hive B is small and hardly thriving compared to other colonies I'm working with. It appears to have been a cast swarm and this fact - followed by the hungry gap - may explain a lot.

Brood in every hive

Submitted by will on Thu, 16/06/2016 - 13:35

I had another peek into hives B, C and D today. I found brood in all 3 hives. This is not the same as the brood which I moved. It's new brood on the new comb. The brood in D must have been there last time I looked.

The bees are building fresh comb. Over time they line brood cells with propolis, causing it to darken. When it's fresh, the comb is very white and gives almost no contrast to the larvae. That might be why I missed it.

Brood should mean an active Queen and a hive ready to build up it's strength. That's welcome news.