Oxford Bees

E Hive

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.

Fear 2017

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.

Same news from the hive floor

Submitted by will on Mon, 05/06/2017 - 07:41

I had a look at the hive floors in the out-apiary this morning. In the order which I looked at them:

Hive G: lots more comb built. Small numbers of dropped Varroa.

Hive F: lots more comb built. Large numbers of dropped Varroa.

Hive D: lots of activity - evidence suggesting a large number of emerged brood. Large numbers of dropped Varroa.

Hive E: quieter than C and D. Some evidence of brood emerging

Hive C: lots of activity - evidence suggesting a large number of emerged brood. Relatively small numbers of dropped Varroa.

An early morning viewing

Submitted by will on Mon, 29/05/2017 - 08:50

I went to the visit the bees at my out-apiary this morning. I took the lids off the hives but left the brood area alone (except for Hive F) because the air temperature was cool. Everything was finished by 0630.

A side effect of looking at hives in the early morning is that all their flying bees are still in the hive. These are the bees which are most likely to defend the colony. As a result the bees seemed noticeably more angry when I opened the hives.

All the hives have plenty of space, with the possible exception of E.

Hive D. The hive floor had evidence of a lot of activity: comb building; hatching of brood; Varroa mite drop and a couple of dozen antennae. The antennae are interesting. Gareth says that when brood are ejected from the nest the antennae are pulled off first, where they fall to the hive floor. The body is then removed and will be disposed of by undertaker bees away from the hive. The brood may have been diseased or have been chilled. I would expect disease - specifically the effects of Varroa and their diseases. This hive needs further inspection into the brood nest. In any case, this is the hive where I was having difficulty with the Queen excluder so I ought to check that all is well.

Hive E. There seems to have been bearding yesterday. Bearding is when bees gather in large numbers outside the hive. This behaviour allows more space to cool the hive and suggests overcrowding. There were still bees outside the hive this morning looking wet and unhappy from the overnight showers. The hive floor had several splotches which I assume are bee poo. They may be pollen which has become wet. If they're poo then this suggests dysentry. Bees normally evacuate outside the hive. I need to read about dysentry and maybe have another look in the hive. I didn't look at the brood comb so I don't know whether there is more poo on the comb.

Hive C. There are signs that there's been a lot of activity in the hive. There are quite a few Varroa on the hive floor. This hive has a super which can be taken off.

Hive F. This is the recently established colony which swarmed from Helen's Top Bar Hive. There are still lots of Varroa on the hive floor but the rate of drop seems to be decreasing. This may not be a good sign because they're probably reproducing inside brood cells. It will be interesting to see how this colony fares. They have plenty of space. I get the strong impression that this colony is more aggressive than the others.

Hive G. This is the recently established colony which was caught as a swarm on the tree in front of my apiary. I gave them a Commercial hive with a super on top - and a Queen excluder. They have built loads of comb including new comb in the super. This shows a preference for building vertically through the boxes, rather than across the brood box as we might want. The colony looks very healthy. It has plenty of space and is dropping very small numbers of varroa.

New swarms looking agreeably settled

Submitted by will on Sun, 21/05/2017 - 19:28

I opened all the hives today to look inside. Apart from the issues caused by queen exclusion, everything seems to be going well.

Hive G is building comb and looks healthy.

Hive F is building comb but still dropping lots of Varroa.

Hives C, D and E have space and show evidence of recent comb building.

They're all going well. I still see no evidence that any of these colonies swarmed to produce Hive G. I assume that it was a coincidence. That means that it has not come from an untreated colony.

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.

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.