ONBG meeting, July 2020: a Bee Tea at Dee Cottage

This was the first ONBG gathering this year as our normal annual cycle of events was interrupted by lockdown. Our last meeting was in October last year! Precautions were taken: access to handwash, masks, social distancing, everyone took their own mug etc.

Examining a TBH – photo courtesy of Patrick

11 of us gathered for a lovely day with tea, cake and bees in the delightful Oxford garden setting of our hosts Jane and Patrick (thank you!)

Many of the group had done an orthodox beekeeping course but had gingerly stepped back from the process of serial housebreaking of their hives.

Everyone admired Patrick’s construction skills: his bait hive, Freedom-style hive, Top bar hives. We were allowed a peek into his Freedom-style hive and its colony indeed compared favourably with photos of Matt Somerville’s Freedom hive at Waterperry.

Jane demonstrating bee DIY (embedded pine needles) at the centre of the table and different coloured / scented wax of different ages. We had lovely day in a delightful Oxford garden setting.

We discussed the perennial problems of cross combing and Jane showed us some comb where the bees had somehow dragged up long pine needles/sticks she had packed deep in to the ecofloor of a TBH. They had incorporated these as reinforcement into one of the combs at its lowest part. Clearly this had been a team effort to drag the sticks up and embed them into the comb. We were enchanted by their ingenuity.

It was agreed that removing only a few frames from a Warré led the bees to create extraordinary comb, reminiscent of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona. The take home message (as Paul has already reiterated):

  • If harvesting a comb or two at a time: use the TBH.
  • But if taking a whole box: use the Warré.

We discussed the ancient practice of “tanging” i.e. banging loudly and rhythmically on a metal object (like clapping the NHS!) for swarms.

Several of us noted its use to (apparently) settle a swarm or even encourage them back into their hive, if caught early enough. This is not something we are likely to wish to do. The suggestions were made that it might be to claim ownership of the swarm or simply warn the neighbours.

This led to the discussion of drumming a swarm of bees up into a skep, etc. Gareth does this successfully but even the legendary Helen said it had failed for her.

Helen explained how her modifications to her TBH and its “Warrification” i.e. Warré cloths above plus an eke had made for a more tranquil life both for her bees and for her.

Zsolt regaled us with tall tales but true of his father’s and his grandfather’s industrial level beekeeping back in Hungary and their harvesting pollen using a screen, a little like a queen excluder allowing the pollen to fall into a small box below.

Enjoying the garden and each other (c) Patrick 2020

Bait hives including Patrick’s were discussed. Jane told us that theirs, placed just over two metres off the ground was often inspected by scout bees but never actually populated. We noted that the Great Beasts of Homeopathy had advised they should be five metres off the ground, as in nature. This was a ”hive too far” for the group to contemplate..

A lovely day and a great meeting.

Posted on behalf of the author, Eric

This entry was posted in Apiary visits, Hives, Meetings, Swarms, TBH, Wax and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to ONBG meeting, July 2020: a Bee Tea at Dee Cottage

  1. Gareth John says:

    At Paul’s suggestion here is a copy of a post I have just added to the group’s email list. It is relevant here.

    Comb Orientation

    A few weeks ago there was a discussion on comb orientation in newly hived swarms. Early in July I had two swarms from the same colony on two subsequent days. I hived them both in the skep below. This skep has no internal guidance for the bees at all and I was keen to see the direction in which the bees built their new comb. The comb in the hive from which the two swarms issued runs NW-SE and is at right angles to the SE facing entrance (so-called cold way). The entrance to the skep in which the swarms were hived faces due south. Hence the bees had a choice. They could follow the orientation of the comb in the parent hive with respect to the entrance, which would result in comb running N-S or follow the compass setting of the parent colony comb, which would give rise to a NW-SE orientation. I have been looking up under the skep for a couple of weeks in the hope of seeing comb. I could see that the cluster was expanding downward as comb was built but could not see the comb itself due to it being covered with too many bees. Yesterday enough bees were flying to allow me to glimpse the combs. I could see several and they all ran in parallel, NW-SE. So the swarm was following the compass direction of the comb in the parent hive, just as the published research suggests.

    BTW, I have a source of supply of skeps such as the one in the photo if anyone is interested.


    I see this has been mentioned as coming up in yesterday’s meeting. I have tanged swarms for about 3 or 4 years now, and use a large lightweight metal pan. It is, in fact, the pan from a Thorne’s steam wax extractor. Although it does not work all the time, I find it causes swarms to settle often enough that it is worth the effort. I would guesstimate around half of the swarms respond by settling within 5 or so minutes, sometimes almost on me! I have tried different rhythms and different “drums” and a steady rhythm with the current set up gives the best results. I tried a bodhran on a few occasions; when it worked the bees responded with great excitement, far too much in fact and I had excited bees all over me and a number of stings. A very dull sounding drum, such as a large plastic bucket, seems not to work at all. I concluded that there has be some “edge” to the sound and probably the right mix of harmonics. The bodrhan has many harmonics but I wonder if the sound has too many low frequencies; perhaps too reminiscent of thunder?

    As to whether the technique actually works or whether I would get the same results by chance, is an interesting question. I only tang when the swarm is high and shows little inclination to settle. How many such swarms would I expect to land by chance in the absence of tanging? Experience suggests few and most of these would settle well out of reach rather than low down. Those that settle during tanging almost always, in fact I would say without exception, settle low. Put it another way, when I tang, the bees either settle low or they ignore me altogether and disappear over the top of the trees. So I consider the effort worth while.

    On the related topic of drumming bees from one container to another, I find one has to be persistent. It can take 10 to 15 minutes before anything happens. Also, some bees are apparently more responsive than others. For example, bees with a high proportion of native British bee are said to be more responsive than Carniolans. I suspect the role of sound on bee life could be usefully explored in more detail than heretofore.


    Liked by 1 person

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