ONE DOWN – HOW MANY TO GO?

I went to pay some rent for an apiary – at a jar of honey/hive/annum it works out at about £77,000 an acre! – and, on the way called in to see the bees and give them a dose of oxalic.  I saw a bee flying so put on my veil, then started opening the hive, which was well propolised. I was surprised that I didn’t stir them up but then it gradually it dawned on me that the bee I saw had been the only one, maybe a visitor at that!  I know that there are other bees nearby as these bees arrived last year as a swarm with the queen ready marked!

I tried to do a post-mortem but there were precious few corpses.  I counted 18 dead wasps on the floor and not many more than that of bees.  There were corpses outside in front of the entrance but they were almost at the compost stage.  I found a couple of combs with sealed brood, arranged in rings so they had been laid by the queen rather than the more random scatter of laying workers.

The hive had 3 supers, 2 of which had been put back after harvesting, and 2 brood boxes.  There was some woodpecker damage to the supers and I suppose it is possible the bird got a meal or two from bees defending the small holes it had created.  Beneath the supers are 2 brood boxes which have plenty of stores in the shape of ivy honey.

If I was in America I would claim CCD!  However, last year, or the year before, that entire apiary, then having 4 hives, was wiped out by wasps. I know because I saw them at it and couldn’t do anything about it.  That time they took everything: bees, brood and stores.  Why didn’t they rob out the hive this time?  I suspect because what they want is nectar/liquid stores and there was plenty of that available on the trees without having to crunch up the honey.

It was a very warm, late autumn this year and we’ve had only a couple of light frosts and so the wasps lasted a lot longer than usual, so I’m blaming them. Has anybody got a better diagnosis?

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About chrissladesbeeblog

I have been keeping bees since 1978 and currently have about a dozen hives. I am a member of the BBKA where for many years I represented Dorset at the Annual Delegates' Meeting. I am the co-author (with Dave MacFawn of of S. Carolina) of "Getting the Best from Your Bees" and am working on a book of my own poems : "Bee People".
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5 Responses to ONE DOWN – HOW MANY TO GO?

  1. Emily Heath says:

    Sorry to hear this. Was there any cluster at all in there? I’ve heard the ivy honey can granulate really hard, making it difficult for the bees to feed. Perhaps this could have contributed to the problem or been the reason the wasps avoided it?

    I have been given your book for Christmas. I haven’t read very far in yet, but so far I’m enjoying how practical it is.

    • There was no cluster at all, dead or alive. Our native bees have been overwintering largely on ivy honey for the last 10,000 years (ie since the most recent Ice Age – note that I don’t say ‘last Ice Age’ as there are more to come!). I suppose it is possible that bees originating from Italy, for example, might not have had so much ivy available and thus not be able to cope with it. However, it can’t be more difficult to dig out of cells than pollen and mixed with a bit of spit as with any other honey the sugars should become available. Honey is ‘hard tack’ for the bees, whose preferred food is nectar, and needs to be diluted in any case before digestion, so it being ivy should make no difference.

      Congratulations on your Christmas present. I hope a lot more people were given it too as we need to sell a few hundred to break even. I wonder whether you’ll notice the printer’s howler, probably put in by a computer’s spell-checker!

      • Emily Heath says:

        I was thinking of warnings I’ve received from local beekeepers about ivy stores and also Ted Hooper, who says in his book that ivy honey “very rapidly granulates and has been known to dry out so that the bee was unable to use it during the winter. There have also been cases of bees being found with the honey granulated in their honey stomachs, but whether this is cause or effect of death is not known for certain.”

        I enjoyed the bits of humour in the book. What’s the howler?

  2. Robert says:

    Last summer was really bad for wasps, so you may well be right.

  3. Emily, if you turn to the chapter on Beekeeping Equipment and raise your eyes to the top right of each open spread you will see the howler. The eye sees what the brain expects to see!

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