December meeting report

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:

Everyone crowded round the rather nicely made Warre

Everyone crowded round the rather nicely made Warre. No protective gear needed in winter – no bees flying.

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.

The hive with observation windows removed. Plenty of stores above cluster.

The hive with observation windows removed. Finger indicates mouse guard.

Close up of (perfect) winter cluster.

Close up of (perfect) winter cluster. Plenty of stores above cluster.

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.

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3 Responses to December meeting report

  1. itsonlyausername says:

    It was a good meeting and very enlightening as usual. Nice to see a lot of familiar faces as well as some new ones.
    It was also good to see a Warre hive up close and in use and to see what a good cluster of bees actually looks like in winter mode. I have no windows on my hives so am clueless as to what the bees in my hive are doing. Other than a quick peek through the entrance holes, which requires a cut cork to be removed first. Not ideal.
    One thing that seems to be raising continual confusion and concern is how to feed a top bar hive during winter. We don’t really have the multi storey flexibility of Warre hives so it would require the lid to be lifted and this runs the risk of chilling an already cool colony further. This in turn requires more food to be consumed to regenerate the lost heat and in turn reduces the food supply for the winter. Sorry to state the obvious but I am also aware that our blog is read by a number of people who do not actually keep bees, are beginners or are simply interested in the way bees live.

    Anyway I digress. My point is I am designing a simple box to fit on top of my top bar hive, which is so I can get my bees off the standard frames (they still refuse to build free comb on the bars) and into free building mode. However it suddenly occurred to me that the top box idea could serve a dual purpose in light of our discussions relating to bees not having the ability to travel horizontally in a top bar hive during cold weather and starving as a result, even though there is food right next to them.

    So I will write up a piece on this little project soon. With pictures. 🙂 The crucial bit is the roof. I have yet to see any plans which have what I call a fully functional roof that allows bees to thrive, food to be given, exposure to cold air to be minimised, flexibility for inspection purposes and of course the rain to be kept off. Even Gareth has mentioned this to me in converation so i know its not just me that thinks there is some room for improvement here.
    So my mad mission is to try and resolve some of the issues I have with the top bar hive roof and incalcitrant bees who simply won’t play ball. Hopefully it will provide some solutions for other top bar hive keepers into the bargain.
    Watch this space. 🙂


  2. itsonlyausername says:

    PS Good write up Paul. And very good pictures too. The pictures I took are not a patch on these.


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