ONBG meeting, 26th May 2015

Mo delivers an impromptu lecture on swarm collection

Mo delivers an impromptu lecture on swarm collection

A dozen folk gathered after work at Helen J’s to inspect her TBH, discuss swarms and meet other natural beekeepers. The meeting kicked off with a demonstration of how to get a loose swarm into a box for hiving, then Mo Leen (OBKA’s Swarm Liaison Officer) gave a talk and some tips from his swarm collection experience.

Mo’s swarm tips

Mo Leen is the main contact for swarm reports for most of Oxfordshire, and each Spring as the temperature hits 70 – 75F (21 – 24C) he gets 120- 150 calls a day. Of these, only 5% are collectable honeybee swarms and a further 5% are honeybees which have gone into a roof, wall cavity, chimney etc – leave these as inaccessible. Most of the remainder (~90% of calls) are bumblebees, and wasps, which of course beekeepers can’t do much about. Bumblebee nests are too delicate to move, and wasps … no one wants wasps!

  • When a member of the public rings, most of the time they have a problem and just want you to sort it out; so asking them “is it honeybees?” will always evoke the reply “yes!” So never ask a question which can be answered with a yes/no. Always ask them to describe what they can see.
  • Callers are often panicky and misrepresent the height the swarm is at. Ask them “could you reach it? …How tall are you?” Don’t go for swarms above head height – it’s not worth the risk. There will always be another swarm.
  • For some reason, swarms from chimneys and from the Kidlington area always seem to turn out to be vicious.
  • When collecting a swarm, take sharp secateurs and also take loppers (for branches just out of reach). There is a public safety responsibility to consider when collecting a swarm, so it is desirable to collect all the bees rather than just 90% of them, and in warm weather this is tricky – there is no great incentive for the bees to huddle for warmth, although they won’t fly away en masse if there is only an hour’s light left. In this case, leave the box with the queen in it at the site and return later, when it is coolest – Mo has gone back at 5AM(!). Every bee will be huddled in the box.
  • In Mo’s opinion, the technique of “walking them into the hive” using a white sheet is for fun and public spectacle and ultimately no better than pouring them out of a box straight into a hive as they’re robust.

Helen J’s TBH inspection

Nice straight comb

Nice straight comb

Helen had populated her hive a few weeks before with a nuc of Buckfasts. This came on frames. Rather than disturb the bees with the “crop and chop” method, she simply laid the frames at an angle in the base of the hive. Within a few days they had decamped to new comb built exactly where you want it, along the top bars. It must be said that Helen’s bars have a good sharp triangular wedge underneath, which she added a starter strip of foundation to, so the bees had a clear indication of where to build new comb. She then removed the frames. Anyway, Helen’s method worked perfectly, and seems the easiest way to introduce frames to TBH’s.

Gino’s TBH comb examples

Top bar with ridge formed from twig

Top bar with ridge formed from twig

Classic TBH comb

Classic TBH comb

Gino showed us a little nucleus TBH he’d made. He never has trouble with misaligned comb, he gives the bees a clear signal of where to build by stapling a thin twig along a bar. He then showed us a full comb from the nucleus. It displays many classic characteristics of natural comb, including a patch of large drone cells, the dark area where brood were raised, and some queen cups along the edges. There was also something unusual. Gino indicated near the centre, showing some dead bees (drones in cells). He explained the reason this colony had died was, it went queenless and the workers began laying drones in cells too small for them, until they all died out.

Thanks to Mo, Gino, and of course to Helen J for being an excellent host.

Next meeting

27th June – joint meeting with Hampshire Natural Beekeeping Group at Acorn Education‘s skep apiary near Reading.

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