Modelling a Beehive


graph showing approximate hive population through a year

In the grey days between Christmas and the start of the New Year, I spent some time trying to develop a computer-model of a beehive. The first version had been very basic – it considered the egg-laying rate, the time that each bee spends in each stage of its life, and a death-rate. It gave an approximation of the population, but I understood that the processes in the hive were far more complex.

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“How many bees?”

Bees in an observation hive – but how many??

“How many bees do you have?”
“Just one hive.”
“But how many bees?”

It’s a question that I’m often asked, and one that I could never satisfactorily answer. I’ll usually explain that I don’t know exactly: “the population varies through the year – higher in summer when there’s a lot of work to do, and it falls in autumn so there are fewer mouths to feed through the winter”. The questioner often looks disappointed, as if I should count the bees out every morning, and count them home again each night.

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Open mating and genetics – Drones

Drones are as long as queens. Their huge eyes and stingless rear end give them a more rectangular shape than workers. Click for larger image.

Drones are as long as queens (though this queen has curled up in death). Their huge eyes and stingless rear end give them a more rectangular shape than workers. Click for larger image.

Conventional beekeepers aiming to maximise honey production suppress swarms, replace queens with ones from breeders, and cull drones as a “waste of resources”. This post covers some of the less discussed, subtle implications of drone genetics; and advantages of queens mating with multiple drones, colony control of supersedure or swarming, and allowing colonies to raise the number of drones they feel appropriate, as favoured by natural beekeepers – and bees. Continue reading

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Bees nest in a tree (not quite)

The picture shows an apple tree in the garden next door. Faith spotted the comb after the leaves came down in Autumn 2016. In between seeing it and taking this photo something has been munching the edges somewhat; it was originally a smooth shape. A beeline between this and our hives is about 20 metres. The builders at work next door last summer did mention bee activity around the loft conversion they built.

Following Will’s Headington colony in a tree this behaviour in Summertown shows some bees trying different tactics. They clearly failed this time but if it keeps getting warmer they may succeed in the future? Or, there were no tactics; it was a cock-up!



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ONBG meeting – and a Christmas quiz!

"Or is it six legs?"

Happy quizzers

On a freezing November night, ten folk gathered in the Victoria Arms in Oxford to review 2016’s beekeeping and discuss our plans for the coming year. Paul unveiled a surprise test… er, quiz… Continue reading

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“Imkers and Angels” – musings on a 1917 beekeeping documentary

It is winter. I have recently found a silent-film about beekeeping, a documentary entitled Het Leven der Bijen or The Life of Bees. You can watch it here.

lubert-hivesThe film follows a simple and repetitive structure. First a juddering title-card describes some action, and then we see the scene. “The beekeeper guides us around the hives” is followed by a slow shot showing Jan Luberti walking through a garden lined with upright hives. Another title-card appears. Then we see his springtime inspection. The film follows the keeper and his bees though the events of a year, and finishes with a grinning toddler eating bread and honey, with the wholesome intertitle: “honey on the bread, makes the cheeks red”. Continue reading

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New research on natural selection and honey bee health

An interesting paper by heavyweight apiology researchers Professor Peter Neumann and Dr Tjeerd Blacquière is being published in the mainstream, peer reviewed research journal Evolutionary Applications.

The paper recommends major changes to beekeeping practises in order to address various health issues such as varroa, and in particular a switch to using natural selection rather than tightly controlled breeds of bee. Topics covered include… Continue reading

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