Oxford Bees

out apiary

Activity in all 5 city hives (December 2017)

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

Wasp Attack!

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.

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.