12 of us gathered at Shadiya’s farm on a delightful Summer’s day. We kicked off with descriptions of what we’d each been up to.
A theme which emerged was that Gareth, Peter and Gino – who’ve maintained several hives for several years without treating for varroa – have no or few varroa. Helen’s bees have none. Mine are possibly decreasing compared to last year when I treated with Apilife Var etc. This reinforces our belief that varroa treatment is actually counterproductive and developing tolerant / resistant bees is straightforward and pretty quick. No doubt more evidence needed yet to convince others.
Paul – described the honey trap-out box he built (discussed in separate post); we discussed how taking unripe (uncapped) honey can lead to fermentation and reduced shelf life. Paul recently interacted with 2 experienced conventional beeks (30-40 years’ experience) both of whom seem very laid back about varroa, compared to the paranoia promoted by the BBKA courses. They do one treatment with Apilife var and one with oxalic acid a year, otherwise reckon the bees can look after themselves and are somewhat bemused by the modern trend of constant interference. Paul’s other news is that he will be a panelist representing natural beekeepers in OBKA’s annual Q&A session in August.
Shadiya – has left bees alone since Spring when she gave them some fondant. It was noticeable that there was plenty of fondant left when we checked the hive later. Bees proved happy and seemed healthy when we checked them. 2nd TBH almost ready. Gino explained you can buy fondant, much easier than making it.
Jay – his British Black Bees arrive from Isle of Man next week. One Warre hive at University, one at home (allotments). Allotment users happy as there is a theory that bee pheromones stimulate flower (fruit, veg) growth. Has added a varroa box (mesh floor) at bottom to optimise ventilation. We discussed Warres and explained some details of this hive type, particularly ventilation, to others.
Melvin / Harry – have been working closely with Friends of Earth (FoE) on the bee action plan / petitions / raising public awareness campaigns esp about neonics. They report that Fiona (a coordinator at Foe they have worked with) attended a meeting with Lord de Mauley (minister) and she reckons the government is actually serious about its Pollinator Plan, to be in place next Spring. “FoE have really got their teeth into this one and won’t let go.” Melvin has been enjoying himself wearing a bee costume a lot to promote the FoE Bee Action Plan.
Helle – new greyhound, stung 5 times so far, slow learner! Her hive swarmed and ended up on the side of her house; Gareth gave advice by telephone but before they could be recovered they took off, never to be seen again. Suspect they overheated in the sun and had to move before Robin could get up to them. The hive swarmed again 7-8 days later – but the hive didn’t look any less full, there were so many bees in it! Helle is doing the OBKA beginners’ course and reports they keep banging on about opening the hive every week, she is being teased by others re: not doing inspections.
Anne – her colony died in the Easter cold snap. She restocked with a nuc from Viktor & Lucy at www.honeybeesuppliers.co.uk a month ago and they are doing fine. She is trying to get them to use top bars in her National hive, but so far the bees have other ideas. [Comment from Paul: this form of hybrid natural / conventional beekeeping is probably the way beekeeping will evolve, blending the best practices of both traditions, so she is something of a trailblazer here.]
Helen – 1 TBH – illness disrupted bee care and building of 2nd TBH – has had probs with cross-combing. Gareth came round to help sort this out the other day and spotted a more serious problem – the hive is queenless. They’d tried & failed to make a queen. The bees are a good strain : varroa free, good natured. She’d decided not to buy a pre mated queen from Viktor & Lucy and is on the lookout for a queen cell. Hive survival uncertain. Note: she has since obtained a queen cell so we will wait and see how the hive fares…
Sarah: Originally got 2 swarms from Peter a year ago, one passive – which died out – and one aggressive, which has thrived. Hasn’t opened her TBH since feeding it in March, so it’s all cross-combed up and uninspectable (no window). Lives near Helen so invited her over to pool their knowledge, sort out the cross combing with enthusiasm and brutality, and hopefully loot a queen cell.
Peter – bad Spring for his 6 colonies. Admittedly some were tiny and he did not expect them to survive but the false start to Spring in March fooled them all into starting to lay, next to the entrances of course. Then they tried to keep the brood warm when the cold weather returned… and it didn’t let up for weeks… and even the strong colonies with masses of stores burnt through all their stores and all but one died.
Gino – His 4 colonies died out over March’s cold spell. He had an instructive story. He got a *large* prime swarm a week ago. After catching them in a basket he put them directly in a hive rather than walking them in, i.e. they did not go in of their own choice. They left the next day, he caught them and put them in again, but this time blocked them in (taking care they were not in direct sun and had water in the form of syrup). Two days later he unblocked the hive. A few days later they absconded and vanished. Lesson #1: always walk them in if you can. Lesson #2: Peter says the German technique is to block them in and do NOT feed them for 3 days, this forces them to commit their resources to comb etc. Giving them the syrup allows them to refuel and fly on.
One third to one half full of bees (whereas my own TBH is longer and crammed so perhaps this one has swarmed?)
Hefting it showed it was a bit light for this time of year
Bees remarkably unbothered by humans. No trouble at all. We took suits off towards the end. this implies health and lack of stress (not starving, not being predated)
Opened it with 3 objectives (Shadiya – one should always have a reason to open a hive)
1. Check health / teach less experienced folk techniques
2. Harvest honey
3. Obtain Q cell for Helen
Retrospective observations: side entrances. Only one should be open (or, if lots of bee traffic, more than one but close together on same side). On opening hive there was lots of empty comb at one end, as if it had had honey at one point but then been emptied. In general with side entrances, you use divider to make bees see a vertical wall next to entrance. That way they begin building flat comb next to entrance along that wall. I think here we were seeing the combs somewhat fanning out from the entrance as there was nothing to stop them doing so – no wall to build against.
When we opened one end there was significant mialignment of comb. Always a potential problem in unframed TBH’s. This meant to get to the core of the hive we would have to cut a lot of comb. This comb was empty. Covered it up and started again at other end. This end had honey, but none ready to harvest – only had capped honey at top of comb, just nectar below. Replaced combs. Returned to first end to try for queen cell again. Realised the comb misalignment was more severe than first thought. Decided going deeper into nest would cause lots of distress & disruption to otherwise healthy, happy colony and there was no guarantee we would discover a Q cell; no need to inspect for disease as colony is medium sized but obviously generally doing well; decided to back off and close hive.