ONBG meeting – 17th August 2013

Janet, Dawn, Deb, Helen, Linda, Sarah, Jess & Anna arrived at Paul’s for a couple of hours of animated bee gossip. This was the first time Dawn, & perhaps Deb, had seen a non standard (Top Bar) hive.

Linda told us how the recolonised nest in her wall is thriving. Helen reported that her queenless hive is pretty much dead now, the attempt to reboot it with a queen cell didn’t work. Dawn explained she has received training from a conventional beek and is choosing a hive type for her garden. Janet still doesn’t seem to have put a colony in her TBH since taking on yet more responsibilities: she is now events co-ordinator for OBKA.

It was too windy to open one of the garden hives for inspection, so we watched the bees through the observation windows, discussed how to gauge colony health without opening a hive by signs such as gathering pollen and smell, and why the new small hive’s comb is being built in the wrong place from the human operator’s perspective; then used the empty bait hive in the house to explain the principles of a Top Bar Hive and low intervention beekeeping to our newcomers.

The comb in the wrong place is an interesting thing. In the hive housing a small cast, the first few combs have been built , not quite on the bars – there is some misalignment and distortion. In particular for one comb, they are avoiding the reinforcing dowels. I realise now that there’s no point using reinforced bars for brood comb, or any comb near the entrance, partly as brood comb is stronger and lighter than honeycomb and doesn’t need reinforcement; but also because the bees need one comb with a “dancing floor” of free hanging comb near the entrance, i.e. among the brood comb. The bees communicate the location of nectar, etc by their waggle dance and this works best on free hanging comb, which can vibrate naturally. Otherwise the vibrations are muffled and fewer bees can feel the directions given by the waggle-dancer. This is why bees often chew an area of comb free from its frames in conventional hives. In my case, the bees were trying to avoid the reinforcing dowels I’d put in the way of the dance floor!

By the way, a few hours later Ged Marshall gave me the following tip at the OBKA meeting – if you find your comb is being built at an angle to the bars, rotate the hive by the same angle. The bees use a magnetic sense to decide what orientation to build comb in, and if they’ve settled on some odd angle then this can correct the misalignment inside the hive.

I’d set up some vaselined paper to catch varroa falling through the hive mesh floors. We did a varroa count, with a powerful magnifying glass; this was the first time some of us had seen varroa. Confident the varroa were being handled by the bees without human intervention, I was a bit crestfallen to see the count had increased from ~19/day to ~30/day in a week, but it is important to be honest about results. I shall try a sugar dusting and watch the trend. We didn’t have time to check the other hive which descends from a varroa resistant colony of Gareth’s. At least there’s no wing damage visible when I look in the hives.

The day before, I’d harvested three honeycombs from the larger TBH and placed them in the trap-out box described in a separate post – this permits bees to exit but not re-enter. There were now very few bees left in the box and after removing these, we harvested the comb, i.e. after cutting out some actual comb for old-fashioned honey, Jess & Dawn mashed them up and put them in a strainer to drip through. This was a gratifyingly sticky experience.

We then proceeded to the OBKA meeting at our local pub (see separate post). Apologies for lack of photos this time but you probably know what a bee looks like by now!

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