Eight of us met at the pavilion of an eco park within walking distance of the centre of Oxford where Ann is involved in the beekeeping group. This comprises several acres of low lying land which acts as a soakaway for the city in times of heavy rain, but it was pretty dry when we visited. Due to a lack of buildings and a somewhat exposed, flat position it is very windy – so much so that there is a modest wind turbine, which was whirring away energetically all the time.
After Ann reset the pavilion alarm I’d managed to set off(!), we headed to the nearby apiary. The area is largely grass for sports, with some land used for allotments and plenty of random but somewhat neglected trees, brambles and undergrowth. It looks out over fields of, I think, grass. So what with the wind, the low temperatures, about 10C, and the apparent lack of forage, it was delightful but slightly surprising to see the single occupied hive very active, with lots of calm bees zooming in and out. This is a WBC hive managed by a conventional beekeeper – the other colony on the site was basically drowned in floods last year. The local beekeeping group have put impressive effort into preventing that from happening again (see photo). WBC’s are double walled hives, good insulation is probably essential given the wind chill of the site. There will also be Warres here now some leasing issues for the site have been sorted out.
We disassembled the unoccupied Warre to show those unfamiliar with its construction the principles of its operation. After discussing hive construction and how to tell how the bees are faring by external observation, we headed indoors and discussed what our bees had been doing over the last week. It’s been too cold to open hives, so we’ve been watching their behaviour outside the hive. All our living colonies are calm, gathering pollen and some of us have seen short orientation flights near the hive by newly hatched bees, so it looks like the queens are OK. However this is the time of year when colonies can die if there’s a patch of bad weather, as they have depleted their winter stores and are raising new brood, so it won’t be until April that we’re sure they’ve got the critical mass to survive the year.
There was a general discussion where we traded tips such as Peter’s advice on using hairdryers to revive bees. Helen described a hybrid Top Bar / Warre hive she has built, and we debated whether it was best to get new bees from swarms or by buying a nucleus. The two university students present, Jack & Edith, asked some probing questions such as “how do you know your low intervention approach is best?” which led to discussion of natural cell size versus foundation and approaches to varroa management, and we talked briefly about the forthcoming DEFRA National Pollinator Strategy (see previous post and more on that in a separate post). We agreed it looked like swarms would likely start in early April as some colonies are building up quickly due to the early start to the year, despite the occasional week of bad weather.
Oxford City Council has asked for input from interested parties on how to make the city more pollinator friendly. We pooled ideas for what we would like to see done (more on that in a separate post). This led on to discussion about how the eco park vegetation could be improved for wildlife, and the University grounds. Edith & Jack had some really interesting input here, describing how to get discussion points onto the agendas for University & College administration.
Following this we moved to Ann’s house where she has a couple of healthy, occupied Nationals in her back garden, currently covered in a layer of polystyrene insulation. These are windowed and it was the first time some of those present had seen inside a hive. No one bothered wearing protective gear as the bees flew past our faces – these bees haven’t been put on guard by constant intervention.
Many thanks to Ann for organising the food and facilities and her forebearance about the business with the alarm. The next meeting is likely to be at Sarah’s (near Wheatley), date TBD.