On December 8th, nine of us gathered at Helle & Robins’ Oxford apartment to discuss the winter weather and our bees. After introductions, where new member Sarah introduced herself, and a novel top bar feeder, we reviewed the year – exceptionally damp – and colonies – somewhat struggling.
Gareth has already had to support a hive with fondant, whereas I just hefted my own hive (Jan 1st) and one end is too heavy to lift with one hand! Guess now I know who robbed the other hive that died out, but there is also an area effect here: Gareth lives in SW Oxfordshire where forage seems poor whilst north of Oxford it seems OK.
Speaking of robbing, Gareth put forward an interesting theory. Observing the not-too-bothered attitude many colonies have towards robbers, he suspects that bees have no strong sense of ownership towards honey in their apiary. One hive is as good as another. Sometimes ‘robber’ bees will smell honey from a neighbouring hive and seem to think, “this honey is in the wrong place!” and cart it back to their own hive to be stored ‘properly’. This theory is backed up by experiments with two Warre hives, one of which was robbing the other. By positioning the robbed hive on top of the robbing one (this is possible due to the modular construction of a Warre) he managed to calm down the Marxist wealth redistribution frenzy. In human terms, once the hive smells mingled, the robbers reckoned “oh that honey IS in the right place.” After a couple of weeks he was able to split them again.
Gareth then gave a talk on the cluster in winter and how the bees control temperature to survive, as far as they can. He warned us that a long hard cold spell would be trouble for the colonies but as of a month later, we’ve been spared that.
We then moved outside to look at Helle & Robins’ hive:
Gareth identified where the cluster was by feeling its heat, before removing a window. The braver amongst us revived some cold, torpid bees in our hands and popped them back at the hive entrance. The hive is near loads of ivy, good winter food and being in a town, is in an urban heat island and has a lot of gardens to supply more food. It’s doing pretty well as can be seen in the close up of the winter cluster below. This is a swarm donated by Linda around May, and it seems to have thrived despite the awful weather since then.
Other discussions revolved around the difficulty of getting good waterproof “marine” ply these days, and one on Neonicotinoids was a good recap and plenty of well read members of the group had things to say. We also talked again about the tricky business of feeding the bees, when, how, with what; there were ‘parental’ anxieties to do with keeping the little creatures alive. Gareth also talked about mild weather and how the bees can then eat more of their stores.
Next meeting: February – to be hosted by Gareth (or Paul if there are complications), date to be announced.