Oxford Bees


Feeding Colony 17

Submitted by will on Sat, 08/06/2019 - 05:52

I don't usually feed my colonies. I'm especially cautious about feeding swarms because they arrive with honey which can contain spores from a variety of diseases including the devastating American Foulbrood. The usual advice is to leave the bees alone for a week. They will build comb and use up the honey which they arrive with.

When I put Colony 17 into their Commercial hive body I had too few full-sized frames. I increased the number by putting in shallow frames from a super. Yesterday I quickly opened the hive to replace the shallow frames with full-sized deep frames.

It was quite cold yesterday, with the temperature only briefly climbing above 13C. The colony was clustered in one corner; there were very few flying bees; there was no sign of comb building. Had they run out of stores? There is still forage around -- the wild roses are in bloom and the Elder -- but we are approaching the 'June Gap'.

I decided to feed them with sugar. They discovered it very quickly. I hope that it will replenish their energy so that they can forage when conditions improve. I don't like feeding because it may disrupt the normal behaviour of the bees. On this occasion I've relented.

Whether to feed

Submitted by will on Sun, 14/08/2016 - 11:57

Everyone seems to feed their bees - even most of the low intervention bee keepers. I'm not convinced.

Bee keepers feed their bees for several reasons:

  1. to advance their brood production in spring
  2. to help the bees through hungry gaps during summer
  3. to ensure that the bees have adequate stores to survive the winter
  4. to compensate the bees for honey harvested in autumn (see 3)

I've read that I've spring feeding is ineffective (citation needed; I think it may have been Guide to Bees and Honey by Ted Hooper).

Feeding as a compensation for harvests is understandable but could conceivably reduce the nutritional quality of the honey. I have no evidence to offer to support this but it is my concern. I wonder also what proportion of the harvested honey will have come from bought sugars.

A colony will balance of brood production against foraging. Brood must be fed and kept warm. Expanding brood too quickly in spring will exhaust stores and tie up foragers keeping brood warm. If the nectar flow stalls there could be starvation. Slow expansion of the brood in spring will leave relatively few foragers when nectar flow is strong.

Feeding to ensure the continuation of the colony seems to do more than the vicissitudes of the environment. It risks changing the behaviour of the bees. My concern is that it supports colonies which over-produce brood. Feeding leads to more feeding.

3 of my 5 colonies are definitely from feral stock. I reluctantly decided to feed honey to B, C and D earlier this year during the June hungry gap. They were new colonies so felt it was justified.

With some reluctance I  have started feeding them for Autumn (for the same reason). I hope that I'll have the resolve not to do this in their second year.

Honey Bee Hungry Gap

Submitted by will on Sat, 02/07/2016 - 08:33

I see the following alert from the Nation Bee Unit (part of Defra)

Beekeepers may wish to monitor their colony food levels closely over the next month as many colonies, particularly those which are strong and had their spring honey crop removed, will be at risk of starving. In some parts of the UK, the weather is still cold and foraging opportunities for large colonies are few and far between. It is important to check and monitor all your colonies feed levels, if you do not wish to open them up because of poor weather, lift below the floor, in turn, on both sides of the hive to see how much it weighs.

I checked the three hives in my out apiary today. All are short on stores. I have fed them with honey from Hive A.

Feeding with honey from another colony is a risky business. Honey can contain pathogens which lead to serious diseases. AFB is one.

I believe that Hive A is only showing diseases associated with Varroosis: DWV and at least one of the paralysis viruses (K-Wing; Acute and Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus). I hope that my assessment is correct.

The honey in question is largely crystallised and stored from last year.

This is my mea culpa. I strongly suspect that I shouldn't be feeding old honey from a different colony to my bees. If it turns out OK then I've got away with it, but this is not best practice. Better to make mead with older, less palatable honey and feed the bees with syrup.

Summer Harvest

Submitted by will on Mon, 27/06/2016 - 21:48
Jars and empty frames after the harvest

We took some honey off our long established Hive (A) over the weekend. It amounted to 12Kg including extracted honey and comb. As always, it tastes fantastic. It's so strong that I can't eat very much.

I use National frames but mostly without foundation. There is evidence that chemicals leach from the wax in foundation and get transported around the hive (NB: I don't have a journal article reference for that claim, so treat with care please). I wanted to avoid that.

I was nervous because I haven't often extracted without foundation. I tried to use baking trays this time to support the frames but they blocked extraction and cut into the wax. I removed them and found that the comb didn't burst. I just spun it gently. Extracting the frames twice for each side - one gentle and one vigorous spin - is effective. It does take a longer to extract though. The most dangerous part is where there is a full side on the inside.

I don't feed the bees, except occasionally with their own honey. Everything comes from local flowers. I'm very grateful to the bees.