ONBG Meeting, 1st Dec 2018 – insulation and instrumentation

Wifi temperature sensor module under TBH quilt

Eight beeks and some interested neighbours gathered at Gilliane’s house on the edge of Oxford to see her hive upgrades with cork insulation, how she remotely monitors the temperatures inside them, and to swap bee stories.

Gilliane has already blogged about her initial insulation and measurement experiments here, and has since been working on insulating a second TBH – which is unoccupied so she can do a more extensive job on it. Continue reading

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Learnings from the Learning from the Bees conference

Some of the 300 delegates relax, mix and learn from each other

In my earlier post on the Learning from the Bees conference, I discussed the “who was there and what it was about” aspects. This article covers what I actually learned about bees.

I always particularly enjoy lectures and books covering “weird stuff I have seen over many years which you won’t find in any book” and there were several speakers on this, and opportunities to learn about exotic situations from foreign beekeepers.

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Meditations on the Learning from the Bees conference

At the end of August the world’s first major international gathering of natural beekeepers, Learning from the Bees, took place in the Netherlands. The atmosphere had a festival vibe and concentrated on healthy bees and improving the environment, rather than the commercial / honey emphasis of most major bee events. The subject that kept coming up was natural selection.

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Presentations ranged from research scientists like Professor Tom Seeley (famous for his studies of wild forest bees in America) and Peter Neumann (molecular geneticist, President of COLOSS) to environmental activists like Terry Oxford (US pesticide campaigner), Deborah Post and Tom van de Beek (planting / education initiatives in Holland and Germany), and well known authors like Jacqueline Freeman. There were also artists and poets, reminding us of the impact of bees on human cultures.

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Posted in Ecology, Experimentation, Honey bee research, Log hive, Pesticides, Research, Skeps, Sun Hive, TBH, Warré | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Hive insulation using cork

There has been considerable interest over the years in the use of hive insulation to provide an environment for the bees that is closer to their natural habitat of the interior of a hollow tree trunk. Reported benefits include reduced expenditure of energy by bees in cold weather and fewer condensation problems, leading to lower colony losses over the winter in insulated hives.

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ONBG meeting, 22nd Sept 2018 – hive hacks and natural selection

Gareth checks state of Einraumbeutes (Golden Hives) with finger in entrance. One has cork insulation, the other is a control.

16 beekeepers clustered at Gareth’s house (warm and dry) and his experimental apiary (damp and chilly) to discuss bees and eat cake. Gareth, who’s kept bees since at least the 1970’s, recounted experiences from the recent Learning for the Bees conference in the Netherlands, where he was an invited speaker and moved several grown men to tears. He showed us his experiments with hive entrance positions, Golden Hives (Einraumbeute) and hybrid Warre-Einraumbeute styles, cork insulation, easier honey harvesting, and answered a mass of questions on hive design, wasps and varroa.

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Posted in Apiary visits, Experimentation, Hives, Honey, Honey bee research, Local lore, Meetings, Pests, Stings, Warré | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

ONBG meeting, 22 Aug 2018 – TBH special, wasps, and insulation

10 beeks gathered at Helen’s on a sunny Saturday afternoon for heaps of cake and biscuits (thank you Helen, Jane & Anne!), a bit of bee nattering and a peer at Helen’s hives. The attendees were mostly TBH users, so that hive type dominated the discussions.

Gino illustrates comb management with a Top Bar bait hive

Gino explained how he feeds bees in his TBHs using bars with holes leading to a feeder in the roof space. Then he showed how to ensure comb is built straight, along bars: the key is to only give the bees a narrow gap to build in, between barriers which are already straight, like the end wall of the hive, or by moving already-straight combs apart to create gaps. You eliminate their options to build in any other direction. Other aspects of comb management in TBHs were covered, such as moving comb for winter so all the honey is at one side of the cluster (so they don’t eat their way to one end then starve, unable to cross a cold void to reach remaining honey); and gently squishing early comb when soft to ensure the first couple of combs are built straight, along bars.

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Other uses for drones (hive 3 always was a bit different…)

Heap of guard bees. Click to enlarge

The wasps probing my hives are being put off by masses of guard bees at the entrances. Watching the way they approach then suddenly veer off, I was struck by this pile of living bees at the entrance to hive 3. These bees are all alive, and they seem calm and happy – no struggling. But why are they piled up in a heap?

The photo reveals what my eye didn’t spot. There are 2 layers of bees. The upper ones are female – guards with stings. The underlayer is drones. It is not the famous “drone exclusion” when the drones are booted out after mating season: everyone is calm and purposeful, and there are only a few drones. I can see two reasons for the stingless drones to be here:

  • They keep the guards warm! Warm bees can launch into the air immediately. On cold days, bees need to sun themselves a bit before taking off.
  • They add to the apparent numbers of guard bees. Fooled me, probably fool wasps. A deterrent.

Propolis and wax entrance barrier

It’s odd that this is the only one of the 4 hives that does this though. Today I rechecked. It’s colder, earlier in the day and there is a bit of rain so the guards (and wasps) were not yet present, but I noticed something else different about hive 3, which its neighbours lack – they’ve built an entrance reducer. Unlike other times I have seen this, the colony is strong, and it is not under attack.

There is one other thing worth noting here. A couple of the bees are holding their wings out in a V. I’ve seen this with a few other bees on this hive’s landing board recently. It’s a sign of a viral disease, but there’s nothing I can do about it so I am leaving them to sort it out. One way bees do this is that bees which feel unwell instinctively leave the hive to die outside, and the queen lays replacement eggs. They only live a few weeks anyway and the queen can lay 1500 eggs a day; so whilst ruthless, this slight speeding up of the egg production line is efficient at removing infection.

Observations on wasps and bees

It’s interesting that as soon as the ivy started flowering here, the wasp attacks ended. It is easier to get nectar from ivy than steal honey from a defended hive. I assume they will return later in the season, as other food supplies disappear.

The ivy is densely covered in wasps, flies, hoverflies, I even saw a hornet. Yet the wasps are not attacking the other insects. Now they have finished raising young, their priority is not protein, but keeping their bodies going with carbohydrates.

There are no honeybees on the ivy. Bees forage up to 3 miles from the hive, I think they have found a better food source: they only seem to forage on ivy as a last resort. It forms poor quality honey, which crystallises rock-hard in the cells. Wasps and small flies have a short flying range – wasps are very territorial and risk fights if they go into other nests’ territory – and have to forage on what is nearby.

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