A big thank you to Hayley, who hosted the meeting in Westwell. Ten people assembled and there was much talking and pointing.
Inspection of dead hive: we looked at her empty hive first to try and figure out why the bees had left. Due to rain it was brought indoors, fortunately there was a solid floor so we could sweep the earwigs up as they fell out! Like wax moths, earwigs are one of the natural clean-up squads which move into empty hives.
Several of us had brought magnifying glasses and pored over the baseboard and combs. Only one varroa mite was found. The hive had some pollen stores but no honey. Then it was realised the hive was damp inside – the roof had been leaking and this has been a record-breaking year for rain. It was concluded that the colony had absconded due to poor forage and the leaky roof. Colonies sometimes do this as a last resort when they cannot make a success of a location. Painting the roof and perhaps covering it with a layer of something should address the damp problem, and future bees will benefit from feeding with syrup.
Forage: This brought us on to the subject of forage and feeding. Comparing notes, it is apparent that the bees belonging to the members in the west Oxfordshire region are having terrible problems finding food, and need a lot of feeding. But bees in Oxford seem to be doing OK – lots of gardens, and an urban heat island effect – and the three members from North Oxfordshire have found their bees doing better lately, perhaps because of the hillier terrain leading to different farming practises. Gareth explained that a major bee nectar source at this time is brambles, and like many other plants its flowers point up and collect rain. The nectar and pollen are getting diluted and washed away.
His favoured syrup recipe is sugar + water + nettle tea (for micronutrients) + a pinch of organic vitamin C (ascorbic acid, the only vitamin found in any quantity in nectar) + some lavendar (so the bees can smell it). No need for lemon juice.
Hive construction: There was animated discussion on wall thickness, entrances and other carpentry points. A specific question arose about optimum entrance size. It was explained that at this time of year, one needs to begin thinking about reducing entrance sizes to help guard against wasps, and adding mouse guards.
Neocotinoids: we debated the various stances taken when these are discussed. Most agreed that adopting an absolutist approach is unconvincing without definitive proof as although evidence is mounting that they harm pollinators and other non-target species, the case is not absolutely proven due to flaws in research to date – see here. However, it was suggested and generally agreed that the best approach was to support a moratorium on their use, as the risk / benefit balance of continued use is disproportionate: i.e. there is some preliminary research indicating they could do massive damage to pollinators and may persist in the environment for many years, and farmers could use alternative pesticides while further research is conducted.
Converting standard nucs to TBH’s: Kevin has a nuc of British black bees which he wishes to get into a TBH. After discussion on this blogsite and by email, he’s now not keen on the “crop and chop” method. Alternatives were considered but there’s no straightforward way to do this, for example he can’t easily attach the flimsy plastic nuc box to the outside of his hive as he sometimes gets badgers in his garden. This is an ongoing issue for users of non standard hives, there’s no easy way to adapt framed combs to top bars of different dimensions, and no doubt we will come across this problem again.
Next meeting will be hosted by Melvin & Harry who can show us Warre hives – date to be decided.