Season’s End: The Wild Bees & Bee Health.

Wild Bees.

The wild bees I found a couple of years ago are thriving and I’ve never seen them so busy. The photo directly above shows them catching the February sun. Curious to know where their nest is, I borrowed Mac Card’s amazing wee infrared camera and Linton photographed the tree from the front, first photo, and from the back looking south, see below.

I think that the nest must be directly behind the entrance and quite low down according to the glowing yellow light. Athough perhaps not totally conclusive it’s fascinating never the less using modern technology to solve puzzles in nature. The following photo by William Hesbach shows where the winter cluster (bright light yellow ball) is situated in a winter brood box for comparison.

If they have swarmed they haven’t used the des res situated a couple of hundred yards away in the oak tree which is disappointing. I’ve worn a path to the tree and sat on the stone dyke watching scout bees take a look inside.

last year, this same bait hive situated in the garden attracted a prodigious swarm that turned out to be one of the best stocks in the apiary.

Sugar Roll Tests.

I’ve spent most of the week doing sugar roll tests to get an idea of varroa levels in the colonies so that the winter bees can be as healthy as possible. You can see how I do them on this previous blog.

Once you get the hang of doing them they don’t take long at all but I can understand why people with many colonies might use the alcohol wash method. When you shake bees into your bucket they regurgitate nectar and the bucket needs to be cleaned between colonies. Icing sugar at this time of year attracts wasps, as does having a hive opened up for too long so working with as assistant is helpful to get the job done faster.

At my new out apiary, I helped Sally harvest honey then she and her visitor came to help me sugar roll test my 2 colonies. Martin assisted and took control of my stop watch as I shook vigorously for 2 minutes. I was tickled pink to learn that he is an official timer of athletics at the Olympic games. Beat that beekeepers!

One of my other assistants this week couldn’t believe that my 1/2 cup measuring tool held 300 bees and suggested that I might be using the wrong cup. The queen bee, who has been doing this for years, was not amused but not prepared to prove the number! So, I was more than delighted to see my Facebook friend Michael Lancto’s post yesterday announcing 346 bees and 3 varroa in his sample. Michael used the alcohol wash method otherwise it would have been impossible for him to count the bees. See his photos below.

The Significance of Monitoring Bee Health.

I’m aware that this is only a snap shot of varroa on bees from one brood frame but it gives an estimate and, along with counting daily varroa mite drops over a week, it is a useful tool. I am delighted that 2 is the highest number of varroa in the samples so far, and I am not seeing deformed wing virus. However, the colony in the quarantine apiary is not thriving and has just superseded its queen for the second time this year and I’m seeing crawling bees suggestive of chronic bee paralysis virus. They were placed on fresh new brood frames earlier this year but I didn’t re queen then with new stock because I wanted to assess them. Now I shall get a replacement queen and see if they improve but I will not be sacrificing another colony by uniting this with a stronger one. If they are unhealthy then sadly they will dwindle but there are no other colonies near this out apairy. Varroa levels are miminal.

Honey Harvest.

Well alas, the thundery weather I reported on last week continued another week with heavy rain interspersed with warmer drier days and so the super frames are still not quite ready. I think that the honey is probably ripe, but for cut comb I want it sealed to present nicely to the customer so I am waiting patiently for the second heat wave due to arrive next week. For us, a heat wave means temperatures above 18 degrees Celsius!

The ling heather is blooming in the woods which confounds my plan of extracting pure lime honey, from some of the wired frames, easily as it will be mixed with heather. So, what I must do is remove the extractable honey first then go back over the frames and agitate each cell with my hand held heather loosener and extract the frames again to remove the thixotropic honey which remains liquid for about 10 minutes after stirring up the gel.

One of our visitors to the apiary this week was a small boy visiting his aunt for the summer and they both watched a hive inspection and sugar roll test. The bees we looked at are the calmest and most prolific colony with hygienic behaviour too, and even in dodgy weather threatening rain they were calm, apart from the bees returned to the hive after the suger roll test and shaking in the jar. Even without studying my hive records, I’ve picked this colony as one I want to rear queens from next year.

The highlight for Luke was when I got spoons and collected some honey from bulging stores on a brood frame. He ate honey in the garden warm and straight from the source. Even the aunt who doesn’t like honey tried some.

Pollinator’s Paradise.

The goldenrod, Solidago spp. patch is in full bloom and I’ve spent a lot of time watching in sunshine with powerful perfume all round me and the insects clamouring over the bright yellow blossom. Irridescent blue and green flies, hover flies, bee flies, solitary bees, honey bees and bumble bees are bumping into each other so this is an ideal venue for sharing viruses and diseases. This year, I saw my first sighting of a tree bumble bee, Bombus hypnorum in Nairnshire. They have been moving north through Scotland with our warming climate and I’d seen them in Dumfries 2 years ago for the very first time.

Tree Bumble Bee.
Fly impersonating a bumble bee.

Family from the far south pay a flying visit and enjoy watching bees at the end of the day as I attend to the barbeque. As the week draws to an end, I prepare the guest room for a close friend who arrives from Cork on Monday and will be helping harvest the honey: Tricia doesn’t know this yet!

13 thoughts on “Season’s End: The Wild Bees & Bee Health.”

  1. You always manage to transport me to other worlds with your writing Ann. Beautiful. I envy you that wild colony to study – I can’t walk more than 10 yards in any direction here in Mid-wales without tilting my eyes to the heavens, looking in all the nooks and crannies of our beautiful trees! One day I will find a wild colony. I intend to move to a sugar shake for my varroa counts next year, so was very interested to read of your experiences. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Liz, for all your positive comments and your enthusiasm for my blog. I’ll be covering more in depth topics when the weather cools but I’m outdoors all day in the summer if I can. I wish I could help you with bee hunting but I’m not an expert on that. You can learn though how to do it through Tom Seeley’s book, “Following the Wild Bees”. You can get a lovely bee box from Hudson Valley Bee Supply which has a link on the web front page. As the nectar flow stops at the end of summer would be a good time to capture bees and give them a sugar feed. Re the dress and sandals that is for only very hot and sunny days when the bees are relaxed. It is amazing how quickly the mood changes when the weather cools and it is back to the conventional attire lickety split!

  2. Fantastic Ann that young people are getting a taste ( pun intended) of bee keeping from the best. It’s great to see the wild bees colony through an infra red camera at least to see where they are in the tree. I remember how tolerant they were when we were having a very close look!

    1. Thank you for your positive comments, Susan.I’m lucky to have so many interested young people around me. I’ve just taken on 2 young sisters from along the road to help me and to learn about beekeeping. More to come on the bee girls.

  3. Lovely to have a feral bee colony nearby. We used to have feral bees close to us – a neighbour had bees for a long time in their shallow attic – they didn’t bother to try and remove them – they liked their bees. But they seems to have died out. Perhaps they will come back. Without any varroa treatment they probably struggles. Thanks for reminding me about using the Sugar Roll Test – I have never done it but it sounds fairly straight forward to do. But the inspection boards are in – will check on Sunday (after a week in the hives) what the situation is, and treat soon after if needed.

    1. The season comes so quickly to an end doesn’t it. I am lucky to have the wild bees so close. I’m goiing bee hunting later in the month in the hopes of finding more.

      1. Happy to report that the mite count for all four colonies was only 2 mites found in all. The Winter treatment (2 sessions of Oxalic acid vaporisation in late December) seems to have cleared the mites, and no significant buildup over the Summer. Almost too good to be true. I might do a Sugar Roll just in case, to compare results. Have you found a good correlation between mite drop counting and the results from Sugar Roll mite counting? Any clear trend on possible differences?

        1. I’m sorry to say that I cannot answer that question, Paul, because I have never studied it carefully enough or systematically. But you have given me an idea to study it next season and document carefully. Someone like Randy Oliver has probably looked at this because he does alcohol washes rather than sugar roll tests. I gather that both these tests are more accurate than counting the natural drop. All I can say is that when you do a sugar roll test you are making the bees all hot and bothered and raising the temperature so it makes it uncomfortable for the mites who crawl out from between the sternites and tergites (cuticle plates on front and back) and get shaken off in the icing sugar because it makes them lose their grip. So, you are forcing them to fall off and counting them rather than counting the natural drop which is caused by bee grooming or varroa dying naturally. So, they are 2 different measurements.

          1. Thanks. Meanwhile I can start doing the Sugar Roll myself (well, not me, but me rolling the bees 😉 and start comparing with the “classic” tray inspection (7 days under the hive).

  4. Thank you, Ann and Linton, for sharing photos of the front (with entrance) and rear sides of the bee tree, and the side of one of your wooden hives. The difference between the front side and rear side photos from the bee tree is quite telling, for it shows how the entrance opening is a major pathway of heat loss from a colony. Perhaps even more telling is the comparison between the photos of the hive and the bee tree (side away from entrance). Both are images of solid wood walls (no entrance opening), but what difference in surface temperature! This shows beautifully how colonies can have far better nest insulation when they live in a tree cavity rather than a wooden hive.

    Nice to see, too, that you have some goldenrod (Solidago) for your bees.

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