ONBG meeting, 11th July 2015

18 folk gathered at Gareth’s Burford apiary of ~20 hives, which include Warrés, octagonal types, and a Sun hive – a lively meeting with useful demonstrations and discussion:

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The hives are on the East side of trees, to shield them from sun from midday on. The cross-comb visible in the picture above has been suppressed by a new design of bar (see below).

There was a preliminary discussion of why we prefer swarms to be re-housed locally – because their breeding schedule and immune systems are adjusted to the local conditions, which could be quite different 10 miles away.

Then Gareth described how his bee year started well, with 15 good early swarms – this would normally mean plenty of time for most of them to build up to big, healthy colonies – and he gave some away. But then the situation changed with lack of forage and several failing queens. He noted the nectar flow in his area dried up on June 3rd, and pointed out how now, 3 weeks later, there were very few bees flying: they don’t waste energy when there’s nothing to gather. He concluded he may even have to feed some colonies. He observed there are very few other insects around, and even the clover isn’t yielding much nectar. Several of his queens have failed – eaten on their mating flights, or not mated, which results in drone laying queens. So, despite all the promising early activity, he now has a few empty hives.

During the swarming this year he saw an unusual event – a swarm which would not settle. He noticed the queen had settled on an empty hive, but the bees kept flying. Then he saw there was a second queen, which happens sometimes (two casts take off together and merge). The second queen landed and the two queens fought, the first time he’s ever seen it. After a while one got on the other’s back, probed with her sting, got it between the scales of her rival and killed her. The workers just kept flying and did not interfere. Once there was just one queen, she went into the hive and the workers all followed.

He then opened a Warré and showed us capped worker and drone cells, and a possible supersedure queen cell. (It was not on the bottom of the comb, so was not a queen / swarm cell.) Prime swarms are often superseded.

Gareth, who started keeping bees in 1970 and is our most experienced member, then discussed and answered a number of queries from those present about his experience with various hive types and why he had switched to Warré hives. He also described a Warré manipulation used to ensure your top box is just honey – you move a box of capped honey to the middle of the stack. The queen won’t cross honey, so any boxes above it are filled with pure honey.

Gareth has been making experimental octagonal hives. These have a lower surface area for a given volume and mimic a hollow tree even more closely than a rectangular Warré.

He’s found that using very thin Warré bars stops the false floor (“stuck box”) effect where bees seem to mistake the bars in the box below them as a solid floor, and rather than build in the next box down they swarm. Gareth has found that by making them thinner this solves the misassumption and by adding a really deep, sharp edge the bees don’t build cross comb either.

The interchangeable sections of the octagonal hive above, hold bees for a mobile demo hive he is building for exhibitions such as Art in Action:

Gareth uses really thick wood for his hive walls, 28mm, which he sources from Acorn Timber Supplies, Kingston Bagpuize.

If you want to really optimise your hive shape to the bees’ preferred cavity shape, you can try a Sun Hive, which has been modelled on the catenary curve which a colony will build comb in when it is hanging in a large dry cavity (like off the branches of some dense fir trees). Gareth has one of these, but the carpentry is beyond even his skills – it was made by a specialist. Here, again, the bars are thin and have a single sharp edge. Because the walls follow the natural curve of the comb edge, the comb is not attached to the walls and can be lifted out – the bees leave a space round the edges.

A final tip from Gareth – the best swarm lure is the crumbly debris left after wax moths have disintegrated old comb. It’s even better than brood comb, and pathogens have been eliminated.

Gareth is running a weekend course on natural beekeeping on 5th & 6th September in Burford.

Next meeting date / location – Tuesday 25th August, 18:00 to 20:00, Summertown

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