Oxford Bees

out apiary

Submitted by will on Tue, 14/08/2018 - 16:51

There is very little to report from my hives in Oxford. They're bringing in pollen; there are Drones leaving and returning; there are very few Varroa falling onto the base board*; there are lots of wasps but none getting into the hives.

It's all very calm.

* maybe a dozen between the 4 hives

Submitted by will on Sun, 05/08/2018 - 06:36

My hives are surrounded by at least half a dozen wasps which want to rob them. They zig-zag in front of the entrance; they crawl in under the Varroa screen; they wait at the edges and drink from the water tray. They want the honey but they can't get in.

All of the hives in central Oxford have small doors and strong guards. Three of the four have at least 20 bees visible on the outside of the hive entrance. One hive had fewer visible but appeared to be just as effective at guarding.

Having so many Wasps around makes it hard to open the hives. Once robbers get in they are more likely to return. They're as happy to gain entry from the roof as through the door. I think that they're also more likely to successfully return and re-enter the hive because they smell of the honey from that hive. Robbing can become a storm which only abates when the hive is moved out of range of the robbers. That's a lot of work just for a look inside.

Robbers notwithstanding, I took a very quick look inside the hives in central Oxford to check that none had run out of space. They all have sufficient space for the moment. They are also all dropping pollen, which suggests they're still laying and there  is forage for them. There is plenty of door activity at all the hives. I found no Varroa mites on the base board. I was some evidence of Wax Moth and some evidence of new comb.

Colony 1 in Headington is also faring well. There are some wasps, but fewer than in central Oxford. There is pollen being dropped and plenty of door activity.

Colony 11 arrives in a Nucleus

Submitted by will on Thu, 24/05/2018 - 06:50

Colony 11 appears to be a feral colony which was forced out of a roof by building work. It was collected by a member of my bee group and put into a nucleus box. Unfortunately the colony was behaving very aggressively so she gave it up.

I collected the colony last night in its nuc' box. As I gently wheeled it on the back of my bike I could smell the alarm pheromones coming from the ventilation on the top of the box.

When I arrived at my out-apiary I moved the hive box from the stand where Hive C was positioned. I then placed the nuc' on top and went home.

This morning I awoke to fairly heavy rain. There were puddles showing that it had been raining for some time. The nuc' box is ventilated at the top so that rain can get in. I decided to move them to a hive with a roof as soon as possible.

The nuc' box does not have frames in it, so the bees are building comb which is anchored to the box. This presents a tricky problem: How do I transfer them? The lid of the box -- which the comb is fastened to -- fits across about half of a national hive body. I decided to move the roof of the nuc' into Hive C and pack the remaining space with framed comb. I took a large piece of wood which will pack the top of the hive so that it is level with the nuc' roof. Put together the hive is part nuc lid with free comb and part framed comb. I hope that the bees will prefer the framed comb. Experience has taught me that they seldom do what I hope.

I arrived at about 0530 this morning. The temperature was around 10C and it was raining steadily. The bees were not flying. I moved the nuc' off its stand; arranged the framed comb to the correct size and then lifted the lid into the hive. Some of the free comb stayed attached to the body of the nuc'. A large number of the bees stayed in the nuc' box too. I didn't try to find the Queen. I just placed the nuc' body on top of the area of framed comb, secured it with a hive strap and left them to work out what was best for them*. I'll go back later today to see what they've done. If the Queen was on the comb then I hope that they'll move down to her. If she's still in the nuc' body then I'm not sure what I'll do. The bees were seen bringing in pollen before I took the nuc' box last night, which suggests brood. She should be with the brood, which give me hope that she's inside the body of the hive rather than the nuc'.

1st Feb 2018 -- all hives in the out apiary showing signs of activity

Submitted by will on Fri, 02/02/2018 - 14:00

It's cold, so there isn't much to see at the hives. I'm still keeping an eye on the colonies by inspecting the removable base boards.

All the hives (C, D, E, F, G) are showing evidence that they're uncapping honey and eating it. There are some darker cappings which indicates that brood may be hatching. The colour of the wax suggests that it is from brood comb but the cause is not certain. They might be tidying or repairing damage. Midwinter brood is more common than some literature suggests so I'd be confident that they're still rearing.

Varroa drop count is very low (<10 per hive). That's also not much of a surprise. If there is brood then it's likely to be very heavily infested with Varroa. I'll look out for crawling bees showing signs of Deformed Wing Virus. I didn't see any this time but the numbers are low enough (and the ground wet enough) that I might have missed them.

Submitted by will on Sat, 20/01/2018 - 19:17

I checked on Hive E today. There was evidence of uncapping which suggests that the bees are still alive. There was also some small pieces of broken comb which is unsurprising following a knock down. One unexpected find was a wax moth larva.

All the other hives in my out-apiary are showing evidence of recent uncapping. I assume that they're ok

A winter honey feed for Hive E

Submitted by will on Mon, 01/01/2018 - 16:00

I don't really know how to heft. This means that I've been concerned about the stores in a couple of the hives for a few weeks. Today I visited and put some honey in to feed them. They honey had set to a stiff paste or fully hardened.

I took a super which had empty comb. I removed enough frames to fit 2 tubs and a jar. I then quickly popped the lid off; placed the super and honey and put the lids back on.

It's said that a colony never freezes but it can starve. It all comes down to stores. This is an admission that I probably took a bit too much honey from them. I wasn't intentionally greedy but the colony may have put stores above rather than adjacent to their brood frames. That would have left them lighter than intended.

I didn't have a spare super to sort out Hive C. I'll take one up and add some honey in for them soon.

Submitted by will on Thu, 07/12/2017 - 08:57

Storm Caroline blew through overnight. It was worst in Scotland but we had higher winds. All 5 hives in my out apiary stayed upright. During my check this morning I also found evidence of activity in all 5: brood and honey cell cappings on the hive floor. The entrances are all clear.

I hefted and found that Hive E is a bit light. I really need a comparison. The complete Commercial hive weighs at least 20Kg according to Thorne. The guidance is that a colony needs 25Kg to see it through the winter. I don't think that Hive E has enough. I'm not sure about the others. Luckily I've held back some solid honey which I can give to them.

A Dark and Windy Night

Submitted by will on Tue, 12/09/2017 - 21:59

It has been hurricane season in North America and the Caribbean. We get their weather second hand. No sharp edges or extremes, just a bit out of the ordinary.

Tonight we are forecast to have winds gusting up to 45mph (72km/h; 39 knots). That's a big blow for England but still only Beaufort Force 8 Gale.

I visited my roof top apiary this evening to fit the hive straps. It's bad news for the hives to blow over, but even worse if they break apart. They won't break apart now.

I have mixed feelings about the close down for the winter. I don't know whether the bees will survive the winter (or the more perilous early spring). I am unsure whether to feed them. This year I'm going to give them some set honey mixed with sufficient sugar to stop it re-setting. I'm generally against feeding but they feel light after a patchy season.

Closing down also has other downsides. I fitted straps tonight in the dark. There was a gusty cool wind and a smattering of rain. The undersides of the hives had thick cobwebs which I had to put my hands into. It contrasted strongly with this morning when I brought equipment up to the roof. Dawn brought a golden glow which lit up the still air. I had a coffee and tried to stay still long enough to enjoy it.

EDIT 13/09/2017: The hives were all upright the this morning but I'm still glad I fitted the straps to them. Also I was wrong about the weather being second hand:

The Met Office said there was no connection between high winds in the UK and the recent extreme weather in the Caribbean and the US. The UK's weather system is coming from the north, in the Atlantic, the Met Office added.
source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41241014
Submitted by will on Thu, 10/08/2017 - 22:00

My out-apiary is under sustained attack from wasps.

There are dozens around the apiary. They concentrate their attention on the weakest hives. This has turned out to be hives F and H.

Poor hive H is getting a kicking. I initially put the frames of brood at the back. That was a mistake. The bees did not adequately guard the entrance and this set up the cycle of attack and robbing. I found a large number of bee heads and legs. The bodies will have been eaten - presumably by wasps because I haven't seen any hornets. I moved the frames to the front of the hive and reduced the entrance to about 1cm wide. That stopped the build up of bee body parts. It hasn't stopped the robbing. I saw a wasp enter the hive without being challenged during the 5 minutes that I was watching (near 9pm when the flying bees should have been home).

What to do now? I would like to move the hive away from the wasps but I don't really have space to put hive H at home. I could set up a wasp trap but it won't stop the robbing. I could reduce the entrance way even more but that's pointless if they're not guarding.

Submitted by will on Thu, 10/08/2017 - 21:59

I caught a swarm today. It was small - perhaps about the size of an orange once it had clustered. It was stuck to the side of the building where my out-apiary is. I suppose that it came from one of my hives.

I boxed the swarm this afternoon and then moved it to the roof this evening.

The swarm is surely too small to survive the winter so I'm considering adding it to hive H, which is has too few bees.

EDIT 12/08/2017 - this colony of bees had absconded from Hive H.