Preparing for swarm season

Swarm on grass walking into box with queen

Swarms begin around late April in Oxfordshire, first in the warmer southern part and the heat islands of the towns and cities, then a couple of weeks later in the rural parts.

In earlier years we’ve written on this blog about how to attract swarms to bait hives, how to catch, and how to hive them. Rather than re-write from scratch, I’m going to simply point at a few exceptionally useful OxNatBees articles from times of yore:

  • This article covers the key info you need to know: tools, baiting hives, etc.
  • This post has some juicy stories about how things can go horribly wrong. Learn from our fails.
  • Here are some useful tips about dealing with the public.

Hope that helps. Any other stories, folks?

A detachable swarm lure on a post at an apiary. Placed where the swarms head anyway, it provides a convenient way to pick them up and place them in a box.


…It has just occurred to me that with everyone locked down right now, they might see more swarms from their hives than they expected… and be surprised by just how many got away while they were usually at work.

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Covid-19: evolution in action

Ferals under slate roof, entrance below gutter. Picture enabled by handy scaffolding!

I can’t help wondering if the lockdown will make people reassess high-intervention beekeeping.

This lockdown is going to exert heavy selection pressure for colonies that can fend for themselves.

Continue reading

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A new hive design: the Drayton hive

A new hive design has just been launched by OxNatBees member Andrew Bax – the Drayton Hive.

Overwintering Drayton hives nestle behind a screening bush

His new design consists of a deep horizontal hive which combines some of the best features of modern apicentric hive design such as excellent insulation and a window for non-invasive inspection, with convenient features like no heavy lifting and (foundationless) frames. What stands out about this design is that you aren’t tied to either interventionist or hands-off beekeeping, but instead you can experiment and find the style balance that appeals to you.

I asked Andrew about his beekeeping experiences and the story behind the hive.

How did you get into beekeeping and how long have you been keeping bees? Continue reading

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Victorian Twitterstorms

Wherein may be found some fine forgotten lore alongside various engagingly heated debates of the Victorian era

Outrage and apoplexy predate the Internet. Beekeeping has always been a hive of differing opinions, and I’d like to share some examples from a book called Bee Keeping by The Times Bee-Master, published in 1864 in the marvellously florid writing style favoured by the Victorians. The author wrote a column about beekeeping in The Times and got many impassioned responses. In the preface he mentions:

Anonymous troll, c. 1864

Continue reading

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Top Bar Hives, warts and all

This article first appeared in BBKA News, January 2020.


Over the 9 years I’ve been using horizontal TBHs (HTBHs), I’ve seen many experiments in design and use. This article is intended to help those considering one find their way through conflicting advice.

Some early HTBH guides essentially promoted a gentle style of conventional beekeeping in an odd shaped hive which was regularly manipulated. Since then, enthusiasts in the UK have consistently found that allowing local bees to largely run the well-insulated non-framed hive, which is not treated with miticides and only opened occasionally, makes varroa a non-issue.

This survival rate graph indicates this ‘natural’ or low-intervention approach creates colonies at least as resilient as the more intensively ‘farmed’ bees. (Though BBKA surveys ignore colonies under 5 frames going into winter.)

Allowing the bees themselves to determine how the colony is run, and taking a ‘survival of the fittest’ (Darwinian) aproach, I do not replace queens. With six hives, I view a colony failure as simply weeding out the weak and an opportunity to restock with a swarm from a stronger strain. I do not merge weak colonies as there is no way to tell which queen is fitter. Continue reading

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ONBG meeting, October 2019: Hive envy!

Hive envy. Centre: Einraumbeute; behind it, an Eco Tree Hive from; either side: sections of Roseland Hex Hives

17 folk converged on a north Oxfordshire village to share lunch, view some stunning and unusual hives, discuss When Honey Goes Wrong, and view the feral colonies round the village.

Well, that was the plan. The schedule was instantly junked as people spotted the weird hives in the garden and gathered there like bees drawn to honey to peer and prod, and listen to their makers discuss the finer points of how they dealt with condensation, the suitability of cork as a building material, single vs double walls (bees can’t get to outer walls to seal cracks vs rain so careful construction is required), and general operating principles. Continue reading

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Convergent theories

Not the usual haunt of natural beeks

A potential problem with a natural beekeeping group is: members never talk to conventional beekeepers. So 14 of us visited a large (80 hive) commercial apiary… with a twist. It’s run by the Swindon Honeybee Conservation Group, headed by Ron Hoskins, who has been keeping bees since 1943 and is as skeptical about conventional beekeeping practises as he is about ours! However he came to some similar conclusions… about 20 years before natural beekeepers did!

Ron is famous for observing – way before anyone else, back in 1995 – that some of his hives were naturally resistant to varroa, and then using conventional bee breeder techniques to meticulously conserve and amplify these traits. He’s also the most experienced beekeeper I know so well worth listening to for the gems he drops into conversation.

The key difference between his system and ours is that he selects the parents of their bees, based on rigorous measurements of varroa resistance traits in their parent hives, whereas we natural beekeepers permit open mating and let natural selection winnow the unfit ones out. So you would expect the Swindon bees’ varroa resistance to be much stronger than our bees’, and to arrive at it faster, but our bees to have more genetic diversity. The truth is more nuanced. Continue reading

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