Oxford Bees

out apiary

August swarm

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.

Late July inspection

Submitted by will on Mon, 31/07/2017 - 08:54

I had a look into the hives in my out-apiary yesterday. There hasn't been much going on during July to comment on.

All the hives are showing activity. but either there isn't much nectar or they're working on brood production. All the usual pollen, Varroa and cappings which show brood activity. Very little new wax and generally little expansion in stores within the supers.

I think that there has been less nectar, or that the bees have had to travel further for it. Maybe they're expanding brood but I don't have evidence for that.

The wasps have arrived in force, and I found that Hive H was under attack. I had moved the colony from a nucleus hive (containing 5 frames) into a full sized commercial brood body. I placed the frames at the back, away from the entrance. The idea was to encourage comb and brood development at the front of the hive. The actual effect has been to leave the door less well guarded. I found several wasps inside the hive, and the bees were closely covering the brood comb. I moved the comb to the front and reduced the entrance to under 3cm wide.

Hive H has apparently produced no Varroa on its' removable floor. There is another possible explanation - that the wasps have been eating the fallen mites, along with some bees.

Elsewhere, I found that Hive D had a super which was almost full. I placed an empty super and a clearer board beneath it. I hope to have some honey from them in a week or so.

A visit from my bee group

Submitted by will on Sun, 30/07/2017 - 16:38

Last weekend my bee group visited my out-apiary in Oxford.

It was a small gathering - 8 people. It might have been larger if I hadn't promised an Attack of the Killer Bees to all who ventured onto the roof. Hive E had been very stressed and its' aggression was difficult to handle.

On the day all the bees were very calm. I don't exactly know why. I think that the June nectar gap may have contributed. My interventions might also have been at fault.

We looked at all the removable boards beneath the mesh floors. I pointed out the evidence of various activities from the detritus which accumulates there. We popped the lids and made sure that the bees had sufficient space to expand.

I did show some brood, and the straight comb which new swarms build. Unfortunately I also found cross combing in the brood box caused by my bright idea to widen the intervals between the frames (to favour Drone production). That's another unnecessary problem caused.

There's a nice write-up about the visit on the OxNatBees blog.

Tags

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.

Swarm in a tree but where did it come from?

Submitted by will on Wed, 17/05/2017 - 08:43

Yesterday I was called to my out-apiary because of a swarm. It had settled in a tree right in front of the building where my elevated hives are kept. The swarm was about 10m up the tree; the hives are at a height of about 20m. There was no way to reach the swarm.

I had a spare hive ready for this. I put it out immediately, ensuring that there was a bit of used comb inside to give it a more hive-like smell. All afternoon the swarm stayed on the tree. After nearly 6 hours I had to go home. This morning I'll find out whether they have moved on. Hopefully their scouts have found and liked the new hive.

Immediately after setting out the new hive I tried to see which of my hives the swarm had emerged from. I couldn't tell. The entrance traffic still seemed busy in each hive. I expect to see a large amount of capping wax on the removable floor after a swarm, dropped as they fill up on honey, but it seemed a normal amount.

I was cautious about opening the other hives. I supposed that alarm smells from neighbouring hives might put scouts off (although I've no evidence that it will). I had a look into Hive C but it seemed normal. I looked into Hive D and found that moving the excluder has trapped drones in the super box, and that the Queen appears to be in the lower box. I noted a Queen cell in the upper box, above the excluder. Hive F is still dropping Varroa, but I imagine that quite a few of the phoretic mites have infected the newly laid brood. More on that later.

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.

A bumpy start for Hive F

Submitted by will on Tue, 02/05/2017 - 14:47

I collected a new swarm today from Helen, another low intervention bee keeper who has a Top Bar Hive near the John Radcliffe Hospital. She had kindly caught them in a skep with a sheet under it. Collecting it was simple: tie up the sheet and carry it all away.

The colony from which it comes has been untreated for 2 years. Before that it was intensively managed by a keeper in Wolvercote.

I have placed it in my out-apiary in a new Commercial brood box: Hive F. I'm using frames without foundation, with only the lolly stick guides.

The arrival of the bees was easy; the arrival of the hive was not. I stacked all the hive parts together (roof; floor; crown board; brood box and 2 supers) and secured them with one hive strap. On arrival I hurried. I was afraid that the bees might overheat. The hive parts had been knocked askew so that that strap was slightly loose. Unsurprisingly the whole thing clattered to the floor. The damage was minimal: minor dings and dents and a slightly broken shallow frame. More haste gives less speed.

Dropping the hive was not the only unforced error. I meant to take a legless hive stand and some bricks to make a simple plinth. I forgot to take either. What will my bike feel like carrying 8 house bricks? I'm not sure that I want to find out.

April build up

Submitted by will on Sat, 08/04/2017 - 13:07

I visited the out-apiary today and opened the 3 hives there. There is evidence of brood, new comb and stores in all of them. There's evidence of a nectar flow, which isn't much of a surprise given that Oxford is swathed in spring blossoms.

Hive B is still relatively small but ticking along nicely. There are plenty of stores and reasonable coverage of brood. I haven't added space because there are empty frames in the brood area.

Hive C was busy and rather aggressive last year. They seem calmer now, but a couple of bees tried to sting my gloves. I over-wintered them with a National deep and a super box. This was partly because they hadn't built comb into the deep and partly because there was brood in both. They've definitely built comb into the deep box now.

Hive D produced so much brood last year that I wondered whether they would starve for lack of stores. I even caved and fed them at the end of the season. A fair number of bees died of unknown causes and were littered outside the hive. This hasn't stopped them. There are a lot of flying bees and they've nearly filled a super in 3 weeks.

I added a super without comb, separated by an excluder to Hives C and D. Hopefully that will keep them busy for a while.

First peek inside a hive, 2017

Submitted by will on Sat, 18/03/2017 - 12:05

There was a strong wind last night - warnings of gusts up to 40mph. Thankfully my hives remained upright. The weather was still windy when I visited Hive D this morning at 11am, but it was just about warm enough to lift the lid.

I had been concerned that the bees were too cramped in Hive D. I also found wisps of the hessian which I've used to contain the straw in the insulated box. I imagined that the bees were brimming over and chewing through the hessian.

My fears were unwarranted. The cluster was toward the front of the hive. There was even space toward the back where they haven't built comb on the frames.

The bees were apparently unconcerned when I took the roof off. Some stayed on the excluder which I'd used to separate the brood area from the insulating box. The rest ignored me. I added a super which has 8 frames with comb and 4 without.

I'm surprised that there is a brood box frame which hasn't been built up with comb. I'd like them to fill all the volume. Perhaps the volume of a Commercial box is more than they need. I could probably encourage them to fill it by feeding, but then they'd also build up loads of stores and maybe make the brood nest cramped with stores. The super which I've just added makes it likely that they'll fill vertically.

As my bee group would suggest, I'm not going to try to manipulate the bees to build here or there. They'll work it out for themselves.