Oxford Bees

F Hive

The colony in Hive F is dead

Submitted by will on Sun, 04/03/2018 - 12:30
A honey bee colony which has suffered isolation starvation

I opened the hives in my out apiary to put extra food in. I found that the colony in Hive F is dead.

This colony was given to me last May. It had been untreated for 2 years. Before that it was in an intensively managed colony.

I think that the colony died of isolation starvation. During a cold period the colony forms a cluster. Stores are used to keep this cluster warm. If the temperature in the hive is too low the colony may be unable to move around the hive. They eat the honey where they are. When this is finished they starve and then die of cold.

I found fewer bees than expected when I opened. They were all dead. There were several with their heads stuck in honey cells -- a clear sign of starvation. There were some dead bees on the floor and the remains of a significant number in front of the hive which had died some months before. I didn't find the Queen, although I might find her when I look again.

This colony was under quite severe stress from Varroa. They may also have been harder hit by wasps than I'd realised. There were plenty of stores but clearly not enough bees.

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.

7 Hives at the end of the season

Submitted by will on Sun, 15/10/2017 - 20:28

I visited my out-apiary today and examined the removable hive floors for evidence of recent activity.

Three hives (D, F and G) show evidence of recent brood emergence. There were also hundreds of dead mites. Hive D had been especially prolific. There was also crystallised sugar which suggests that old honey is being eaten or cells are being cleaned out.

One hive (C) was so wet with condensation that it was impossible to tell what had fallen to the floor. There must have been wax and pollen. Presumably mites but it was hard to tell. The hive is ventilated but I assume that there has been a strong honey flow and the ventilation has been insufficient.

One Hive (E) was in crisis but activity seems much reduced. Fewer mites and fewer hatchings. This might mean that the crisis has abated or that the colony is in deep trouble.

The overall picture is that foraging is still strong during the warmer parts of the day. Brood rearing is strong which is supporting very high levels of mites. This picture is matched by Hives A and H in Headington. A is dropping lots of mites. Both A and H are bringing in large amounts of pollen. H is building lots of comb (which A doesn't need to do).

The Varroa population models suggest that colonies risk collapse when total mite numbers is greater than 1,000. I would only be confident that hive H has fewer than that.

What happens next? This is where my commitment to no-treatment beekeeping is tested.

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 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.

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.