Eleven of us met at Helen’s house in Headington, where we had a good chinwag and lunch, and then walked over to the allotments where her bees live in two TBH’s.
Chris and Mary showed us pictures of a hive, modelled on a picture of a Victorian hive, they had put in their bee garden.
It had been intended as a purely decorative object and built by Chris without particular attention to bee requirements. To their surprise, once it was moved to the mature bee garden, it almost immediately attracted swarms. The first two swarms left; a beekeeper examined the hive, added frames (it had previously just been an empty box) and the next swarm stayed. The hive is basically a small National, but much prettier. We were concerned that the hive may overheat as it is painted a relatively dark colour and is in full sun, so may need a trellis or similar to shade it.
Tanya of Therapi has been keeping bees 25 years, and 7 years ago started using “low input” techniques. Unlike many large scale beekeepers, she accepted massive colony losses as she stopped treating with miticides; her colonies now are descended from survivor stock. She uses National hives but runs them with natural comb, i.e. foundationless, primarily from concern about contaminants in the wax; and she allows swarming. She trains other beekeepers, at an apiary in Gloucestershire.
Will uses Nationals in his back garden which is shared with his small children, so he prioritises mild temperament rather than honey in his bees. He avoids using swarms, whose attitude is unpredictable, and uses known calm pure strains of bee. He believes low intervention techniques will make them calmer yet, and is a bit sceptical of the intense management style he was originally trained in.
Alla has started with a National, intending to progress to a TBH later.
Alison has built a TBH and was given a swarm by Peter.
We now have several members who wish to use natural beekeeping techniques with their National hives. This is an interesting direction for the group, which started out as a Top Bar Hive mentoring network, then included Warrés as they too use natural comb. The original members don’t have much experience with Nationals, but Tanya does…
Discussion of TBH’s
We compared experiences of using TBHs in the British climate. Tanya reported wax melting within them – something I’ve seen recently in a hive with too little ventilation. They have a lot of cross combing issues unless you manage the combs fairly actively, or use relatively complex bar construction such as Helen is experimenting with (see below). I suspect they are very swarmy, because if the beekeeper does not keep on top of the bees’ need for brood space it triggers the “too crowded – must swarm” response; and many TBH owners are reluctant to open them precisely because of comb issues.
Discussion of Warrés
Fabian described how his bees are building straight from one box down to the next in one continuous comb, with no bee gap between. His bees do not appear to have read the rulebook.
Helle asked if you can simply put a box on top when the ones below are full, if you’re not intending to harvest honey. We think so, but their instinct is to build down and we think it will take them a long time to fill it.
Paul now has two Warrés in addition to two TBH’s.
People were shown various dead insects and asked to identify them. The most impressive responses were from Will, who hadn’t seen a hornet before but worked out what it must be from clues in the shape of various body parts.
Helen opened both hives. One hive has two colonies separated by a divider. The purpose was to see how they were faring as one had swarmed a lot and she suspected Deformed Wing Virus in another.
First hive is known to have swarmed 3 times recently and had queen cells, one still capped, but very few bees and no eggs or uncapped brood to make new queens from. In other words, it seemed queenless, unless a virgin queen was out on a mating flight as we were standing there. Helen’s new types of bars, combining the ideas of Top Bars, with partial frames down 2 edges, and Warré gaps / cloth above, seems to be working stunningly well, eliminating cross combing and preventing comb being attached to the walls.
Second colony appeared to have swarmed too – it was in a similar state. A DWV bee was spotted.
Third colony is a recaptured swarm from the first one. This seemed very healthy and we saw the queen, larvae and lovely new white comb.
Several of those present had not seen inside a TBH (or not for a long time) and found the demonstration of tool use, inspection techniques, and how Helen’s new bar / Warré cloth construction was working, extremely educational.
Rather than try to form a continuous ceiling of solid bars, Helen uses a deliberate gap between bars which is covered with a cloth as in a Warré hive.
Many thanks to Helen and Mike for being such welcoming and instructive hosts!
Due to various disruptions at our usual apiary meeting places, school holidays etc the next apiary visit will be in September, at Paul’s place in Steeple Aston. We will probably arrange one or two pub meetings in the interval (July / August).