Oxford Bees

H Hive

The colony in Hive H is dead

Submitted by will on Thu, 08/03/2018 - 07:00

The colony in Hive H is dead.

There was clear evidence that the colony starved. There were no stores, and there were numerous bees inside empty cells. I saw evidence that they were still alive quite recently. I think that the recent spell of cold weather finished them off

I'm unsure how to think about this. I'm sad that they're dead; I'm concerned that my actions may have been at fault; but I'm also aware that the colony did not act to build stores when it could have. I fed it in the autumn and saw them building new comb instead of making stores. For this reason I only fed them a modest amount. It's possible that they had filled their stores but when I opened I found 5 deep National frames of comb. That ought to have been enough for a colony of that size.

The colony in Hive H did not defend itself adequately against the wasps. I felt at the time that I had created that problem which is why I moved the hive and colony to Headington.

How much should a low intervention beekeeper intervene? When he has caused a problem? When there is a problem? Never? The colony in Hive H is dead. I'm not wholly to blame but I could have done more and less.

7 Hives at the end of the season

Submitted by will on Sun, 15/10/2017 - 20:28

I visited my out-apiary today and examined the removable hive floors for evidence of recent activity.

Three hives (D, F and G) show evidence of recent brood emergence. There were also hundreds of dead mites. Hive D had been especially prolific. There was also crystallised sugar which suggests that old honey is being eaten or cells are being cleaned out.

One hive (C) was so wet with condensation that it was impossible to tell what had fallen to the floor. There must have been wax and pollen. Presumably mites but it was hard to tell. The hive is ventilated but I assume that there has been a strong honey flow and the ventilation has been insufficient.

One Hive (E) was in crisis but activity seems much reduced. Fewer mites and fewer hatchings. This might mean that the crisis has abated or that the colony is in deep trouble.

The overall picture is that foraging is still strong during the warmer parts of the day. Brood rearing is strong which is supporting very high levels of mites. This picture is matched by Hives A and H in Headington. A is dropping lots of mites. Both A and H are bringing in large amounts of pollen. H is building lots of comb (which A doesn't need to do).

The Varroa population models suggest that colonies risk collapse when total mite numbers is greater than 1,000. I would only be confident that hive H has fewer than that.

What happens next? This is where my commitment to no-treatment beekeeping is tested.

Submitted by will on Sat, 14/10/2017 - 21:29

It's mid-October. The weather is supposed to be cooling but that's not what we're getting. Ex-Hurricane Ophelia is on its' way, bringing high winds and high temperatures. In Oxford we're forecast to get 40mph winds (fearties! fearties!) and 20C temperatures. The average October temperature is 10.1C (source: /node/191).

The weather must be helping the bees to forage because Hive H shows the tell-tale white wax platelets on the hive floor. These indicatethat they're building new comb.

October is also a time when there are some sources of nectar and pollen available. Ivy, Michaelmas Daisy; Evening Primrose and Golden Rod are in, or have recently been in, flower. The most significant is probably Ivy which can produce significant amounts of nectar. It isn't very nice honey to eat and it sets in the comb but it's useful for the bees.

I hope that this means that Hive H will survive the winter in good order.

Hive H is stable after move

Submitted by will on Tue, 29/08/2017 - 22:09
a simple wasp guard made from pieces of National brood frames.

Hive H has settled in and has brood and stores.

It absconded in early August. I returned the colony to the same hive and then moved it to Headington. I put the frames to the front of the hive; fed them with Honey and made a very small entrance. This has encouraged them to produce brood and defend their entrance. I've seen lots of wasps around but none appear to have got in.

The neighbouring hive - Hive B - has absconded or failed. I suspect robbing. Both hives are very near an apple tree which attracts wasps. The return of Hive H to health suggests that they are now willing to defend against wasp attacks.

Submitted by will on Sat, 12/08/2017 - 10:02

The 'swarm' which I caught two days ago turned out to be from Hive H. They had absconded from the hive leaving nothing behind - no bees; no brood; no stores - only a few wasps.

I returned on Friday morning before dawn. The box with the bees inside was sealed, so I brought them to Hive H with the intention of combining it. I had two empty supers, newspaper and a queen excluder. I planned to put the newspaper over the brood box, then put the supers with the excluder between them. This would create a space beneath the excluder through which the bees could move. I would have more chance of finding the queen and removing her (I didn't think that I'd be able to save her).

I opened Hive H to find it entirely empty. It was clear that I had re-caught the absconding bees. I blocked the entrance completely and then put the bees back in. I added honey onto the crown board and put the lid back on. They were sealed in, which seemed the best plan in the short term.

Even before dawn there were wasps around the hive. I saw 4 at once at around 0530hrs. Clearly the site has a problem.

I moved the whole hive, with bees inside, to my home apiary. I was all finished by 0640hrs.

They're settling back into their hive in its' new position. I've seen evidence that they're cleaning up cells. There have been dead Varroa on the floor. I've even seen a few new wax platelets. I haven't seen any pollen yet. Maybe it's too soon for brood.

There are wasps here too but I didn't see any getting in.

EDIT 29/08/2017: After I moved the hive and colony to Headington I saw undertaker bees removing dead brood. I think that they did leave brood which I hadn't noticed. That brood would have died from neglect. When they were returned to the hive they would have removed the dead brood. I also saw dead Varroa on the removable base board. This suggests that the brood and Varroa died at the same time, in the cell.

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.

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.

Submitted by will on Sun, 09/07/2017 - 19:44

I moved Hive H from my garden to my out-apiary on Friday 30th June. I looked at the removable floor today and found 1 Varroa mite. Just 1 in 8 days. Compare that to Hive H which was dropping 20 per day as a new swarm.

The colony in Hive H has been feral for some time. The colony in Hive F had been a standard bought Buckfast queen 2 or 3 years ago. It's possible that the feral colony is adapting to Varroa and has managed to limit its' numbers. The mite is still present - it's endemic and won't now go away.

I'll see how Hive H fares as it settles in.

Small bees, or, the vicissitudes of photography

Submitted by will on Sun, 25/06/2017 - 06:02
comparing 2 honey bees while they're cold from the fridge

The bees which I've just collected as a swarm for hive H appear small compared to those from established hives. I've found it difficult to provide a photograph to show this. It was obvious when I caught the swarm: these were tiny bees. I've been wrong before so I decided to compare.

I caught 2 bees - one from hive A and one from hive H - on their way out to forage. I put both briefly in the freezer in different sized boxes. The bee from hive H was in a tiny box. It slowed down but was largely unaffected. The bee from hive A was in a bigger box and appeared completely dead and curled up. I photographed them side-by-side but it showed nothing useful. The bee from hive H flew away quite quickly. After a few minutes the bee from hive A revived and also flew off.

The freezer didn't work. I tried the fridge instead. Two new bees in two identical boxes on the same shelf of the fridge. That worked and I got my photograph but I'm not certain which bee was which. Conclusion: I can't tell the difference in size between the two bees.

There is a difference in the coloration of the abdomen which is interesting. In an earlier post I wondered whether the colony in hive E - which came from the same feral colony - were dark bees. I concluded that they were not. This difference in colouration hints that I may have been correct before.