Hungry New Zealanders hunt for food

Today I had a little crowd of watchers round me as I opened up our hive, including a newbee and a professional photographer named Megan who is documenting Ealing’s ‘sub-cultures’. She is hoping to visit some Ealing monks next! I hope she got good photos of beards and tea drinking.

Our bees are doing well. I put their second Apiguard (thymol based varroa treatment) dose on; hopefully in two weeks time they will have cleaned that out and we can start feeding sugar-syrup to help them fill up the brood box with stores before winter. Sadly not all the hives in the apiary are doing so well:

I had visited earlier in the week and assumed that these piles of dead bees in front of John’s hive of yellow New Zealand bees were drones being kicked out. But as Andy Pedley pointed out, none of the other hives have such huge piles of bees in front of them, and not all of these bees are drones. Many were not yet dead but crawling around in front of the hive very lethargically. I asked Andy if they could have been poisoned; however when he inspected the hive the answer was found inside: the bees had hardly any stores – they have been dying of starvation.

Andy showed us a very interesting technique to help bees which need emergency feeding – I will try my best to remember this. Before putting a contact feeder with sugar-syrup on top of the frames, he poured some of the syrup into a couple of empty frames and tilted the frames up and down, so that the syrup ran into the empty cells. This should be done over the hive, so that syrup is not spilled elsewhere, which could encourage robbing.

Rocking the frame back and forth, getting the syrup to fill the cells. The bees started drinking immediately. Hopefully this will save them from starvation – but unfortunately they have already started robbing other colonies for food.

I found this cluster of New Zealand bees patroling a small gap in my hive, trying their best to force their way in through a tiny gap. Their bright yellow colour gives them away compared to our dark British mongrel bees. I stuffed some leaves in to try and put them off.

New Zealand bees trying to find a hole in our hive.

They were also trying their best to get in under the hive, but the open mesh floor should prevent that. Poor hungry ladies, but my ladies need their honey too!

I went to a talk in March on ‘Improving your bees and beekeeping‘ by Roger Patterson, in which he mentioned that he has noticed that the darker British style bees tend to pack more honey stores around the brood in the brood box, whereas the more prolific yellow Italians, such as those bred in New Zealand, tend to fill the brood combs with brood and put all their honey up in the supers. This means beekeepers need to be extra careful with Italian bees when removing supers to ensure that the bees have enough stores left in the brood box.

I’ll leave you with a few photos from a recent visit to the lovely St. Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital near Aylesbury.

Think she’s a common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum)?

And the bumble I see the most, the Buff-tailed bumble bee (Bombus terrestris).

And finally, the rare great black bumble, viewed from a distance. She looks rather like a cute duck struggling to get back up on her feet, but I assure you this is a bee. Hunted almost to extinction by over-enthusiastic collectors, this species now exists in only a few isolated pockets of southern England. Do not let her waggling feet fool you, this young lady is perfectly equipped to forage from flowers using her long neck and large proboscis.

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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28 Responses to Hungry New Zealanders hunt for food

  1. willowbatel says:

    How sad! Hopefully no one else in your apiary will get New Zealand bees then, given how poorly they’re performing here. At least your bees are doing well.


    • Emily Heath says:

      The New Zealand queens are often purchased by beekeepers here in the spring. They are said to have some good qualities, such as a gentle temper and being prolific layers, which helps ensure good honey production. I’m sceptical about their overwintering abilities though. Yes, good that ours are finally back on track!


  2. disperser says:

    I live by a simple rule . . . if it looks like a duck . . . well, you know the rest.


  3. I could not but fell sorry for the hungry bees. 😥


  4. ceciliag says:

    Oh no, I have not started feeding sugar water as the bees still have piles of clover in the fields, but mine are Italians. i shall check..
    We had a big rain today and a bucket that i had used to carry some honey laden frames to the house had filled with water, this evening i noticed it black with dead bees.. awful.. they must have dived in thinking it was honey and all drowned hundreds of them.. so sad, i cannot think hoW i could have avoided it as the rain was torrential and the bucket was empty yesterday, they all drowned so fast.
    All my hives have three full big supers for the winter, i hope that is enough, it is still hot and they are still busy.. well thank goodness you discovered yours were only hungry, at least this is something you can fix. c


    • Emily Heath says:

      It sounds like yours are fine if they have three supers on – more than fine – set up for winter already! These bees (they’re not ours, but another beekeeper’s) had no supers on, it has been a hard year here. I think maybe one super had been taken away from them in August, which had probably contained all their honey stores.

      Sad about the bucket! Perhaps they were trying to collect water for the hive if it is still hot.


      • ceciliag says:

        I know it was too strange, as it had been pouring that day and I have water trays and bricks everywhere for them so they won’t drown.. strange behaviour.. on my blog page today is a shot of them holding hands down the side of a super, any ideas why they would do that?.. c


  5. Bruce says:

    In our part of Canada (Vancouver) most beekeepers import bees from New Zealand in the early spring. I have done this with moderate success but have come to the conclusion that it is much better to develop a local survivor stock bee resource. We buy New Zealand bees which leave their home in late summer when egg laying is slowing down and foraging is preparing for winter and the temperature is 25 Celsuis. After a 48 hr trip they arrive in Canada where it will be between 0-5 Celsius. This is extremely stressful on the bees. In every community there are responsible beekeepers selling survivor stock nucs of bees in the early summer. I understand the British Beekeepers Association is promoting the breeding and selling of your native Black (Dark) Honey bee. More suited to the northern climate like ours I will watch with interest the success of beekeepers using bees with Dark honey bee genes. I extracted 25 kgs of honey from a hive this week and the bees are in full foraging mode for us until October when it slows down. We also have the rare “Great Black Bumble” in Canada which can be occasionally spotted thrashing around the flowers extracting pollen.


    • Emily Heath says:

      Hi Bruce,

      I agree, better to use local bees which suit your climate. I’ve never lost a colony of my dark bees overwinter yet, though admittedly I’ve only been beekeeping four years! We let our bees produce our own queens, though this does mean we can’t control which drones they’re mating with and they undoubtedly go off and mate with New Zealand drones. For the first time this year we’ve now ended up with a yellow rather than a dark queen, so I’m a little worried that we’ll have lost the line of dark bees somewhat.

      Good to know that the Great Black Bumble lives on in Canada too! Your blog looks great and I’ve signed up for email subscription to it.


  6. Hope all goes well with the bees. I’m a bit stunned I’ve been following a sub-culture.


    • Emily Heath says:

      I’d never thought of us as a sub-culture, but we must all be at least a little strange… especially when it comes to winter and we’re all sitting round drinking tea outside on benches in the snow!


  7. Thank you for protecting our bees against those naughty New Zealanders, Emily!

    But that is clearly a duck 🙂


  8. Pingback: The story of our summer bees | Miss Apis Mellifera

  9. hencorner says:

    Oh dear, I’m about two weeks behind….
    Only took off honey yesterday, they are cleaning the frames, then first Apiguard will go on on Tuesday…
    Please, a nice warm September (& October???)!



  10. beatingthebounds says:

    How does it feel being a member of a sub-culture? Is that a bit like a gang, but with extra tea, cake and stings? If you will, a sort of sub-culture club?


    • Emily Heath says:

      Extra tea, cake and stings… I think the tea and cake are worth it for a couple of stings a year!

      We’re not a sub-culture in the same way as the monks I don’t think… they must share many more values and communicate much more closely than a group of people who merely share a common hobby. But one of the things I like about going beekeeping is that I meet people of different ages and backgrounds, people that I’d never usually get to talk to.


  11. beenurse says:

    Thank you for sharing the emergency feeding technique. That may come very useful if my bees don’t want to take from the feeder immediately.
    Again, lovely pictures!


  12. Kathy says:

    Beekeeping is a sub-culture? That sounds so nefarious! So sorry that your bees are having such a bad year. Your pictures are great, as usual!


  13. Yes, reading of the association of bee keeping to sub culture did give me pause as well. Makes one wonder rather what the perspective of that particular article/photographic essay will be. Maybe you should get a nosering just to up the ante a bit…..

    It’s always surprising how quickly starvation can set in, but as the late, great Gilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, “It’s always something. If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.” Apologies if this is a vague cultural reference, but it’s the perfect motto for beekeepers everywhere. (

    Hope all goes well with his hive, and congrats on seeing yours through the worst!


  14. Gary says:

    Well Emily us New Zealanders need to be feed 🙂

    Great idea about pouring the sugar syrup on the comb, I guess you have to make it a strong solution.




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