Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The honey bee and the sparrowhawk

Yesterday was the first day of spring.  It was sunny and calm with the temperature up to a heady 8℃ and the bees were buzzing after all the recent cold weather.  While I was watching the sparrowhawk a bee stopped for a rest on his perch.  The bee was completely unimpressed by the bird but the hawk was very aware of the bee and flinched violently when it took off.  I expect the hawk has never seen a bee close up before but knows instinctively that they are not to be messed with.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Bees on snowdrops

I look forward to this day all winter - the first time the bees come out for the snowdrops.  Today was mild(ish) at 7℃ with sunshine and a gentle breeze and the bees were out in force.  I have thousands of snowdrops less than 30m from the hives so I am sure the bees could smell them as well as I could.

The bees spend a lot of time grooming, often hanging by one front foot.

This one has hole in one front wing - it must be a very worn winter bee, having emerged last autumn.

This one was trying to get into a flower that was already occupied, even though there were thousands to choose from.

This one shows her proboscis in the folded position

and extended for taking nectar.

Here she is wiping her proboscis with her from legs, either to get the pollen off the proboscis or to mix nectar with the pollen to make it more sticky for packing in the corbiculae (or both).

Here is another doing the same.

I think the bees were making the most of it today as they had heard the forecast of cold weather for the next fortnight.  It may be some time before I see them again.  I think the hibernating bumblebees have also heard the forecast and are sitting tight.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Calendar girls

I am delighted to say that two of my photos have been chosen for the 2018 Vita Calendar.  This photo will appear for May.

And this one for August.

You can see all the competition winners and download a copy of the calendar here.  I wish you all a happy New Year.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Winter varroa treatment

The two websites/blogs I follow most closely to help with my beekeeping are written by the wonderful Rusty Burlew ( and the informative and entertaining David Evans ( Both are very much of the view that Varroa destructor is a serious and continuing problem for our bees, which makes a refreshing change from the views of these who don't count, don't treat, and say "Oh, I just keep strong colonies".  If you don't already read them, I encourage you to follow Rusty's and David's blogs.

Following their advice I decided for the first time to apply oxalic acid to my hives this winter to help control the varroa.  You can read what Rusty has to say about it here (she uses a slightly weaker solution than we do in the UK).  David has recently posted three articles on the rationale and technique of use of oxalic acid which you can find here, here, and here.  I bought Api-Bioxal, the form of oxalic acid now approved for treatment of varroa in the UK (generic oxalic acid was previously used as a "hive cleanser").  After discussion I decided to use the manufacturer's recommended dose of 4.2% w/v although David Evans argues in favour of the more traditional 3.2%.  The 35mg sachet is dissolved in 500ml of 1:1 sucrose syrup (made from 308g sugar in 308ml water). The dose is 5ml per seam of bees so this is enough to treat 100 seams, perhaps 12-20 hives.

I have four hives in the garden, all on double brood.  I waited until this week as the treatment is best applied in cold weather when the bees are not flying.  It is done in December when there should be little or no brood as oxalic acid can only kill phoretic mites, ie those living on bees rather than in brood cells.  I was a little bit apprehensive as I have never looked in a hive in the winter before but in the end it was all pretty straightforward. Having made up the solution I loaded five 5ml syringes before opening the first hive.  In two hives the cluster of bees was in the top box and the other two clusters were in the bottom so I had to split the boxes to get at them. There were 6, 7, 7 and 8 seams of bees in the four hives so I think they are all doing OK.  They seemed pretty active and were not as tightly clustered as I had expected, even though the outside temperature was only 1℃.  It probably took less than minute to trickle the oxalic acid solution along all the seams and close up so the bees didn't seem disturbed by the intrusion.  I was also able to judge that they all have plenty of stores.

Having treated all my hives I had used only 140ml or so of the solution so I had arranged to meet Sue, Ian and Jonathan at the association apiary where we treated another seven colonies.  They were a little smaller, perhaps 4 or 5 seams, but all seemed OK.  The advantage of the others being there was that I could take some photos, not really possible on my own hives as I was working quickly.  Here are the bees emerging from the hole in the crown board once the insulation has been removed

Here are two relatively small clusters of bees, each occupying around 4 seams.

Here are the bees in the seams between the frames.

We applied the oxalic acid with a 5ml syringe.

Here the bees are all discussing what has just happened to them.

All my own hives were treated last summer with formic acid (MAQS) as well so it will be interesting to see what the varroa counts are like next spring.  I am hoping they will be very low.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

December bees

We have had a lot of cold weather recently, with nighttime temperatures down to -5℃ and daytime barely above freezing so the bees have been confined to barracks.  This morning it was 12℃ and sunny so they came out in force to make the most of it.

The lazy ones were just sitting around in the sunshine, topping up their tans.

Others were hard at work and there was a surprising amount of pollen coming in.

All the pollen was this pale yellow colour.

There aren't many flowers for them to choose from at this time of year but the mahonia is out and they were busy visiting the flowers.  I expect this is where the pollen was coming from.

A few slackers had chosen the mahonia to soak up the sun.

Fresh pollen collection is said to be a sign that they are feeding brood but I doubt that that is the case at this time of year.  Still, at 55° North in mid December it was a very cheering sight.  By early afternoon it was cloudy and they were all already safely back inside.  Only two months and the snowdrops will be out.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Beehive

There are two pubs near me called the Beehive.  This is the Beehive Hotel in the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne.  You can see that the pub sign shows a bumblebee.  I decided against calling in the tell the landlord that bumblebees don't live in hives.

This one is The Beehive, between Hartley and Earsdon.  I had noticed that the sign shows a skep but it was only when I stopped to take a photo that I realised it also shows bumblebees and not honey bees.  Again I didn't call in to point out the error.

My impression is that most people - obviously including pub landlords and pub sign artists - have no idea what a honey bee looks like.  I kept track of calls I have had about "swarms" this year, my second year on the BBKA swarm collector list.  In all 12 of 14 calls I took were about bumblebees, presumably mostly tree bumblebees (Bombus hypnorum).  I don't always carry the phone so I have missed some calls as well but only two calls were about real swarms - I had more from my own hives.

I read that there are 67 pubs in the UK called The Beehive, making it the 70th most popular pub name (just ahead of Robin Hood).  It would be interesting to know how many of them accurately portray honey bees rather than bumblebees on their signs.  If I am still standing after I have checked them all I'll let you know.  (In case you are wondering, the three most popular pub names are The Red Lion, The Crown, and The Royal Oak.)

Friday, 27 October 2017

Still busy

It was a lovely sunny afternoon and pretty warm for the time of year so it was a good excuse to go and watch the bees.  They were making the most of it, perhaps having heard the forecast of the weather turning cold from tomorrow.  There was a lot of pollen coming in, all in the cream / yellow / orange spectrum, some of it in quite large loads.

I have had the hive entrances reduced for some time now and it looks quite congested in the photos but the bees have no difficulty getting in and out efficiently.

The next few days will be much colder so that might be their last busy day for some time.