Oxford Bees

Problems and mistakes

Catching and Losing Colony 14

Submitted by will on Tue, 07/05/2019 - 05:22

Yesterday I went to catch a swarm in Summertown, Oxford. The swarm was hanging from guttering above a first floor window.

The person who called me helpfully had a large ladder. After quite a bit of work we fixed it to the house and I approached the swarm. I was not delighted with the place that the swarm had chosen. When you are balanced 5 metres above ground on a porch roof it's best not to think about the ground.

The bottom half of the swarm was easy to catch. A quick swipe and they fell into the box. The remainder were in and around the guttering. Some were covering the roof tiles. Some were in the gap formed by the tiles where they overshoot the eaves and between the fascia and the guttering. There were lots of places to lose the Queen. Was she in the box already? I didn't know and I couldn't see any bees fanning pheromone which would have shown that she was there.

I gave the bees a few minutes to regroup. The bees in the box stayed there. The bees around the guttering stayed there. I had another couple of tries. Then I climbed down and sealed the box.

The couple who called me out were lovely and offered Tea.

I took the box of bees to my city apiary. At dusk I came back and poured them into the hive.

Today I returned to inspect them. The hive was empty.

It's not unusual for a colony to abscond. It can happen because they have found somewhere better; because they don't like where they've been put; or because they haven't been moved far enough away from their original nest. Any of these could be true for these bees.

As for whether I captured the Queen, I'm still unsure.

Accidental Queen inclusion in Colony 12

Submitted by will on Sun, 21/04/2019 - 06:38

When I added a super to Colony 12 yesterday I discovered a problem -- presumably another one of my mistakes.

Last season I fed them and left an extra super on the hive over winter. I put it above a Queen excluder. Yesterday I opened the hive to put another super on and found that there were Drones above the excluder. Somehow the Queen had made her way into the super before I put it together.in

I moved the excluder above last the super which I put in last year. That will allow the Drones to hatch and move down through the hive. It'll take a while for the colony to sort itself out now. She has presumably been restricted for space.

I'm wondering whether I can encourage the Queen to move down to the brood box. Even if I do there will be Drones which need to be removed from the super later on. It's a mini-mess.

A final reorganisation for Colony 13

Submitted by will on Sun, 08/07/2018 - 08:23

This morning I worked on colony 13. I hope that this is the last time I have to make a significant reorganisation of their hive. I hope that I've corrected for the mistakes and difficulties which developed from having a nucleus roof with comb attached.

This is a summary of the colony before and after I did the work this morning:

Before After
roof crown board
crown board C Hive body
empty super containing comb cut from the nucleus roof Ashforth feeder containing comb cut from nucleus roof
B Hive body (including Queen and brood) empty super containing frames
queen excluder queen excluder
C Hive body B Hive Body (including Queen and brood)

The main problem before the reorganisation was that the brood nest was above the Queen excluder and so on the wrong side for Queens and Drones to leave the hive. Another possible problem was that the brood nest was too far away from the hive entrance. I have seen that brood nests which are too far away from the entrance may be more vulnerable to robbing. This happened to Colony 9.

I thought through my operations carefully before I started work. Even then, I initially left the queen excluder in the wrong place. I moved the B Hive body and the super above it off the hive. I then removed C Hive body and replaced it with the B Hive body.

When I had chopped the comb out of the nucleus roof I had laid it flat in the super above the B Hive body. All the brood had hatched from this so I scraped it off the top bars and put it into the feeder box.

I assembled hive with an empty super above the brood nest. I hope that the bees will move the honey down from the feeder box and from the comb in C Hive body into this super. We'll see whether that happens.

An unpleasant lunchtime with Colony 11

Submitted by will on Mon, 18/06/2018 - 19:17

Colony 11 is complicated. I may have just made it better, or worse.

The colony was probably evicted from a roof in the Grandpont area of Oxford by building work. A member of my bee group said that the colony was too aggressive for a domestic garden so I gladly took them. They arrived in a nucleus box which had no frames.

I had already moved them out of the nucleus body and later I tried to extract the nucleus lid but couldn't complete the task. Today I tried again to get the lid out. I succeeded, if success is about objectives. It wasn't an unqualified success.

I prepared, giving extra attention to my feet and hands and to ensuring that the wind didn't blow my veil towards my face. I then opened the lid and lifted the nucleus lid to look. A cloud of bees unhappy bees took off. It really was rather busy.

I had chosen the middle of the day because I hoped that more of the defensive foragers would be out of the hive. This is a colony which feels massive. Whether they were in or out it still felt massive.

As I lifted the lid I found that the comb was arranged across the lid of the nuc' rather than in line with it. When I lifted the nuc' lid It caught the edge of a frame and a large slab of comb with brood and honey came away. I wanted to recover the comb; I wanted to remove the lid; I wanted an orderly hive which I could expand when I needed to. The more I wanted, the more complicated things became.

Another slab of comb came away and so the thing was decided. The lid comes out entirely.

I ran to get more hive parts. I placed the comb in sections on top of the frames of the hive body and then in a super. I don't expect most of the brood to hatch out but they might. I then put the hive back together and left the area.

Looking back, I probably should have stopped when I saw the brood. The bees were very upset, understandably.

A bumpy start for Colony 13

Submitted by will on Wed, 13/06/2018 - 06:46

I don't hold much expectation that Colony 13 will thrive. It is a small colony and vulnerable. It is building comb, but I still don't know whether there is a Queen. I haven't opened the hive. I've only looked at the hive floor, where there were wax platelets.

I had put a feeder on the hive a couple of days ago. My intention was that they should use he feed to build comb and concentrate on growing larger numbers of brood. There isn't much forage around and this is a small colony.

The consequence, predictably, is robbing. Colony 11 can clearly be seen flying between the hives. This doesn't have to be a short term problem as long as there is food in the feeder. In the longer term I may need to move the hive.

There are also wasps around now. The conditions are getting tougher.

Sealing up Hive C

Submitted by will on Mon, 11/06/2018 - 06:56

The complicated rearrangement of Hive C left a problem: a gap of a few millimetres where the nucleus box meets the hive body. Every time I approached the hive the bees from inside behaved defensively and I smelled the distinctive alarm pheromone (it's an ester somewhat like Bananas).

I had tried to block the hole using a hive tool pushed up into the gap. The hive tool fell out. I shoved folded newspaper into the gap but the bees became so angry I decided to back off before all the gaps were filled. I thought that the gaps were filled but I was mistaken. The bees were quite cross.

This morning I returned with tape. The gaps are all now taped up. I hope that the bees calm down now.

Queenless? An inauspicious start for Colony 13

Submitted by will on Fri, 08/06/2018 - 21:52

This afternoon I returned to the box within a box which contained Colony 13.

It was placed with it's opening almost directly in front of Hive H. How could they not be delighted with the hive and march straight in. Perhaps the bees had other things going on. I decided to act.

I brought a large white board up to the mouth of the hive and bridged it with white paper card. I then carefully removed the inner box and shook it onto the board. To my dismay the bees started going over the edge of the board but not into the mouth of the hive.

I took the bee brush and brushed some towards the hive mouth. All of a sudden the march into the hive  began. A stream of bees walked in, leaving some behind to fan the signal where they were. Hived!

Hived? There was a striking bee corpse on the white board. It was a Queen. She was larger than the others and had the distinctive rounded thorax (middle part of her body) and longer abdomen. Some bees clustered around her.

I moved her body onto a piece of white paper on top of the hive. Then I went away to eat. The bees were  gathering on the paper and flying wildly around. I went back to the hive and put the corpse and the paper into the body of the hive. Within a few minutes almost all flying had ceased.

My bee group says that it's not uncommon for a cast to have more than one virgin Queen. Prime swarms are led by the old Queen and are very unlikely to have any other Queens with them. Virgin Queens will fight, so perhaps this Queen was killed by a rival. She didn't appear to be damaged, but the double box arrangement was not a good idea.

Later the same evening I put a hive strap on to the hive and took it down to central Oxford. It'll take a few days to find out whether this swarm will survive. I don't have much expectation if it's a small-ish cast swarm in June.

Cold Weather Starvation Anxiety

Submitted by will on Wed, 28/02/2018 - 17:14

The weather has become cold. There's heavy snow forecast and my hives are light on stores. It's an anxious time.

I don't like feeding but I will once the weather warms sufficiently. I've made up some fondant (the recipe didn't really work but it's good enough). I didn't think that I'd over-harvested but the forage was patch and the wasps were relentless. I misjudged.

For now, I wait. Maybe the weekend will be warmer.

Hive E appears to be alive after knock down

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

Hive E knock down

Submitted by will on Thu, 18/01/2018 - 07:15

Poor Hive E. It was knocked over last night during the high winds. I righted it this morning. No bees came out but that isn't conclusive. I'll check in a few days to see whether there is sign of life from inside.

Data for: Benson WOW station
Report Date / Time Wind Direction Wind Speed (kn) Wind Gust (kn)
Min SSW 19.1 31.3
Max W 29.6 53.9
Mean WSW 23.2 41.5
18/01/2018 06:00:00 W 19.1 40.0
18/01/2018 05:00:00 W 22.6 42.6
18/01/2018 04:00:00 WSW 29.5 53.9
18/01/2018 03:00:00 WSW 26.9 51.3
18/01/2018 02:00:00 WSW 22.6 37.4
18/01/2018 01:00:00 SW 20.9 33.9
18/01/2018 00:00:00 SSW 20.9 31.3