Oxford Bees

Problems and mistakes

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.

Fear 2017

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.

Mistakes and interventions

Submitted by will on Sun, 21/05/2017 - 19:10

Today I sorted out the queen excluder issues in Hive D. It wasn't pretty.

I have made mistakes. A surprising proportion have been to do with the use of queen excluders. This time I had left the excluder out and found brood in the super above the capacious brood box.

Eleven days ago I put the excluder back in, making sure that the queen was in the bottom box. I looked later and found that a substantial proportion of the brood were Drones. The Drones don't fit through a queen excluder so they'd need to be taken out later. I also found a Queen cell. A virgin queen above an excluder might lead to all sorts of issues. A swarming colony leaves with the mature queen, expecting their newly hatched queen(s) to mate and take over. If she's trapped above the excluder they might swarm whilst she is unable to mate.

I took the super frames out one by one and shook them above the entrance. When I was finished there was a puddle of milling bees in front of the hive, including quite a few drones. I hope that they'll make it in. During the transfer I deliberately destroyed the Queen Cell. I'm unhappy about that. I also removed a frame which had several dozen Drone Cells. I'm also unhappy about that.

I am supposed to be a low intervention bee keeper. This means trusting the bees and allowing them to organise their hives as they wish. I hope that the intervention of having a Queen Excluder is balanced by using a Commercial box which gives a very large comb area for brood. The harvest which the excluder makes possible will be, I hope, a genuine surplus. Opening the hive regularly and changing its' configuration is not low intervention. Today was a disappointment.

A swarm settles in and I fail to recover it

Submitted by will on Fri, 19/05/2017 - 06:17

There is a swarm near my out-apiary which may have come from my hives. I tried to retrieve it this early morning.
I think that these bees have ceased to behave like a swarm and will settle on the tree. They didn't move yesterday when the weather was good. It's due to be showery again today.

I went back to the swarm this morning at 0430hrs. It's about 8m from the ground, on a tree immediately outside the building where my apiary is sited. The thought struck me that I might get it down with some fishing line and a spoon.

I threw the spoon and line out over the branch and let it trail to the ground. I cautiously dropped the spool of line and then went down. I put a white sheet out and a box. I gave the branch a good, hard shake. It turns out that bees hang on very tightly.

After a few more hard shakes my 5.5kg mono-filament fishing broke. I tried again with the same result. Stronger line might have helped.

A few bees fell out. I've put them into my bait hive in the vague hope that they'll tell the swarm. I don't expect that to work but it was somewhere safe to put them, away from people.

My concern is that this colony will become a nuisance once it starts getting robbed in earnest. It's 8m from the ground, so maybe not. I would prefer not to find out. I wonder where to get a Cherry-Picker...

Cleaners and robbers

Submitted by will on Thu, 20/04/2017 - 11:45

Taking honey out of a hive will inevitably lead to equipment, empty comb and wax which is covered in a residue of honey. I don't like to waste this so I have put this in the hive or nearby for the bees to lick clean. I'm beginning to think that this is a bad idea.

The first problem is hygiene. Honey can transmit serious bee diseases such as American Foul Brood. This won't be a problem if you're able to return honey from the same hive, or at least the same apiary but it can be catastrophic.

The second problem is nuisance. I put a large tray of cappings out in my garden for the bees to clean up. It attracted hundreds of bees and some wasps. This is disconcerting for people nearby.

The third problem is robbing. Free honey will attract wasps and bees from all over. Guard bees are said to permit or reject incoming bees on the basis of smell. Inside the hive the bees are passing around the fresh nectar and honey to each other so that they all smell alike. I think that when robbers get in and steal honey it masks their smell and makes the other bees more likely to accept them. Robbing can get out of hand, presumably because the robbing hive smells like the robbed and is waggle-dancing that it's the best place to forage.

The latter paragraph about robbing is informed guesswork.


Submitted by will on Mon, 18/07/2016 - 07:16

There are times when I'm scared of the bees.

Two of my hives contain very large colonies and, this season, they've been unhappy when I've looked inside. They've also been unhappy when I've watched from over 2 metres away - a bee will investigate and then attack. This is new behaviour from my home hive and fear is a new feeling for me.

The defensive behaviour of Hive A might be due to the time of year but I suspect that they've replaced their Queen. Her temperament should be the same as before but she may have mated with a drone with a more defensive temperament.

The colony in Hive C was feral so I'm not surprised that they're defensive. They have the unpleasant habit of following for up to 20 metres. I've had to go indoors and stand in the dark to get the bees off me.

What to do about fear? In time I will overcome it In the meantime, fear makes good observation difficult. I hurry and make mistakes. I get forgetful and sometimes clumsy. That can make things worse. I need better technique and better tolerance. I'll look at getting more training and hopefully share inspections with a more experienced bee keeper.

Swarms, Casts and Virgin Queens

Submitted by will on Tue, 14/06/2016 - 05:13

I received some useful comments from my bee group about swarms: the first swarm to emerge from a colony is the prime; subsequent swarms are casts. A cast swarm will have a virgin Queen so it will take longer to build up because the Queen has to mate.

My intervention of putting brood into Hive D - which appeared to have no downsides - was probably at least premature. It was pointed out that brood must be cared for. They need warmth and food. This takes bees away from foraging and other duties. This can be difficult for a small cast which is slowly building up. The introduced brood can partially die by chilling or starving.

I think that this cast was strong enough to cope with the shallow frame of brood which I introduced. Much of that brood was already capped, which should give them a quick boost. Be that as it may, there's a good chance that my move was unnecessary.

Stung in the face

Submitted by will on Tue, 07/06/2016 - 19:01

I made a foolish and unforced mistake today.

The bees have been really easy going. I've had the lid off without smoke and been around them without a veil. Just not at the same time.

Today, just before dinner and just before a thunderstorm, I decided to quickly put a crown board with butler bee escapes in between two of the top supers on Hive A.

I did this without a veil and without smoke. I tried to rush. The bees were furious.

I was stung on the ear and the eyelid. Maybe somewhere else on the head but I can't tell because my eye and my ear hurt more.

A sting in the face is quite unpleasant.

Hiving the bees: Settling in; preventing AFB; minor mistakes

Submitted by will on Thu, 26/05/2016 - 15:51

The NBU Regional Bee Inspector advises not to leave any comb in the hive when hiving new swarms because of the local AFB outbreak. Two days ago I put the bees into the hive but I had to remove several frames. Today I opened the hive and put clean, comb-free frames back in.

The colony are settling in. They've been building comb, but in the wrong place. The hive is a Commercial body with a super on top. They were such a large swarm (football sized) that I put them in through the super. Unsurprisingly I found them today clinging in a ball to the crown board. They were building comb directly onto the crown board and into the space where the super frames should go.

I put the made up frames into place and very gently put the crown board back down. A piece of comb with fresh honey broke off.

I now have a hive full of frames but also a new problem: tons of space in the brood area but a Queen who'll be building in the super.