Copper Bee Apiary

A garden apiary in Whittlesford, Cambridge, UK - honey bees and their beekeeper Hilary van der Hoff.

Roar of the Bees

We had a good spring for honey, but it seems to be a poor summer. The supers are light - very little honey in them. And the colonies are relatively small. It used to be that the bees would overflow when I opened a hive - not so any more. Now I can lift out frames without even having to nudge many bees out of the way.

With autumn on the way, the colonies are shrinking fast. You can tell this by looking at the brood frames even at a single point in time. A brood nest full of eggs and young larvae indicates an expanding colony, whereas a nest that has more capped brood than young larvae indicates that the queen's rate of egg laying is decreasing. In the Pond Hive brood box, almost all the brood is capped - I had to search hard to find eggs and larvae. The current capped brood will emerge as new adult bees that will become autumn foragers, but there will be fewer and fewer young bees coming through after that.

Varroa mites - and the viruses they transmit - may be reducing the strength of the colonies. In the Pond Hive I saw evidence of deformed wing virus, manifested by flightless bees with shrivelled white wings. So, despite the misfortune that befell the Cedar Hive when I last used this treatment, I applied MAQS to both the Pond Hive and the Copper Hive, as an anti-varroa measure.

The formic acid fumes from the MAQS are supposed to be able to get through brood cell cappings and damage mites within the cells as well as those loose in the hive. If you've not smelt formic acid, the closest thing would be to put your nose into a bag of salt 'n' vinegar crips and inhale sharply - it produces the same sort of nasal sting! And the bees clearly hate it. They react as soon as you take the MAQS out of the packet. After I put the MAQS on the Pond Hive brood box and closed up the hive, a loud roar could be heard from the brood box. The sound was probably caused by the workers fanning their wings to try to drive out the fumes - they had turned up their hive air conditioning to maximum.

I took this sound recording, holding the microphone near the hive:

(As usual, whenever I do a sound recording, someone flies an aircraft overhead.)

Then - brace your ears - I put the microphone under the mesh floor of the hive to hear the bees more clearly:

Not much chance of hearing aircraft over that.

I hope the treatment does the colonies more good than harm, but I'm sure it doesn't feel that way to them at the moment.

Writings, images and sound recordings are by the beekeeper unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.

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