Oxford Bees

A Hive

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.


Submitted by will on Tue, 02/05/2017 - 14:09

For the second year running the Sparrows are foraging.

There were quite a few bees crawling near my home hives in a state of moribund helplessness. There was no chance that they could get to the hive entrance and even if they did I doubt whether the guards would have let them back in. Some may have been exhausted, but most either had deformed wings or paralysis. No way back.

Their distress has attracted a few sparrows who feed on them. They perch on nearby fences; they perform a fluttering swoop to grab a bee on the ground; they fly off quickly.

This arrangement probably suits all. The sparrows get a meal. The bees are put out of their misery. The grass is cleared of bees which sting bare feet.

The bird which I saw today was a male House Sparrow.

Hive A dropping one Varroa mite per hour

Submitted by will on Sun, 23/04/2017 - 21:40

I've been looking at the removable floor of Hive A. There is a steady fall of Varroa mites there. I checked three times and the average is about one mite falling per hour. Some were still alive; a few were clearly immature.

This rate of mite drop puts the colony at severe risk of colony collapse, according to the BeeBase document "Managing Varroa".

I have seen quite a few crawling bees around the hive. Some have deformed wings, but not all. I'd be more concerned if this hadn't been the same last year.

We'll see what happens to the colony. My expectation is that it will not collapse, and that this rate of mite drop is seasonal and bearable.

If this colony survives this round of severe Varroa infestation then I'd say they have developed tolerance

A tall storey

Submitted by will on Wed, 19/04/2017 - 15:03

Hive A is a little embarrassing. It got too tall. I over wintered it with a National deep box and five supers. There were reasons, of course. Now has come the time to reduce it to a sensible height.

A little about those reasons first.

I took out the queen excluder. The idea was to allow the bees more freedom within the hive. I was trusting them. They did the most sensible thing: moved the brood nest to the top of the hive where the temperature was most suitable. Every time I put a super on they moved upward. It's now so remote taht I'm not even sure whether the deep box is in use.

I should have reduced the height last summer but the hive is in a suburban garden where the gardens are used a lot during the weekends. I did open up enough to inspect for brood and disease, but I never managed to reconfigure things to move the brood and the queen down. I'm not sure that I cared very much about the height. I just trusted the bees to do their thing.

This season has to be different.

I was given a lovely Canadian clearer board. It works! I have already recovered a super which was over half full of honey (see Wonky comb. I've put it back on to get another full super. That's definitely an upside.

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.

Bees flying on Christmas Day

Submitted by will on Sun, 25/12/2016 - 22:18

Temperatures around 8-12C meant that the bees went out on purging flights today.

There've been some high winds lately. The temperature has been fairly cold but I've only needed gloves when cycling on a couple of mornings. I think that means > 5C for at least a fortnight. Benson's weather suggests it hasn't been down to 0C during December


Submitted by will on Sun, 25/12/2016 - 21:54

I tried hefting a couple of days ago in my out-apiary. I haven't felt it was necessary before. Hives C and D seem well supplied. Hive B is rather light, but it was always a smaller colony.

A bee got cross when I hefted hive D. It tried to attack me but was whisked away by the strong wind of Storm Barbara. Windy.

Hive A is unlikely to need any hefting as it's massive. I haven't tried Hive E, but I ought to. It's the most likely to be in need of help.

When will Varroa resistance emerge?

Submitted by will on Wed, 10/08/2016 - 06:50

Host parasite relationships can end in one of only three ways: extinction for either or in a balance between the two. The most likely outcome is surely to find a balance.

Varroa Destructor is an introduced pest to the Western Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera). The bee does not have strongly expressed resistance to mite. The most advantageous position for the mite is to be in balance with its host. Varroa rely entirely on the Honey Bee for their complete lifecycle. There's no point in exterminating yourself by killing your host. When will that resistance emerge? There are reports that it is starting around Oxfordshire already.

Honey Bee resistance could emerge through hygienic behaviours include grooming or removal of infected brood, or through immunity to the diseases which the mite carries and exacerbates. I don't know of any other ways, but there may be more.

In Swindon, a local beekeeper reports that his bees are ejecting infected brood and biting mites. None of my hives have collapsed, despite strongly expressed Varoosis diseases early in the season (DWV and at least one of the paralysing viruses). Evidence of those diseases stopped after May this year. Mite fall in Hive A had been alarmingly high. The fall of mites was much lower over summer, but that's probably due to them being within brood. It will be interesting to see whether mite fall rises into the Autumn.

I will comment on my own hives and pass on any credible reports of resistance in my area.


Submitted by will on Mon, 18/07/2016 - 07:16

There are times when I'm scared of the bees.

Two of my hives contain very large colonies and, this season, they've been unhappy when I've looked inside. They've also been unhappy when I've watched from over 2 metres away - a bee will investigate and then attack. This is new behaviour from my home hive and fear is a new feeling for me.

The defensive behaviour of Hive A might be due to the time of year but I suspect that they've replaced their Queen. Her temperament should be the same as before but she may have mated with a drone with a more defensive temperament.

The colony in Hive C was feral so I'm not surprised that they're defensive. They have the unpleasant habit of following for up to 20 metres. I've had to go indoors and stand in the dark to get the bees off me.

What to do about fear? In time I will overcome it In the meantime, fear makes good observation difficult. I hurry and make mistakes. I get forgetful and sometimes clumsy. That can make things worse. I need better technique and better tolerance. I'll look at getting more training and hopefully share inspections with a more experienced bee keeper.

Bee Roar

Submitted by will on Mon, 18/07/2016 - 06:09

Hive A was roaring last night. It had been a hot day* - maybe up to 30C - so I think that they were just cooling the hive. My concern is that they may be queenless.

* hot for England. We're supposed to be temperate in every way.