AUGUST

I decided to begin my day with a visit to The Station. It was two days since I’d found the swarm and I was keen to see how they were doing in their new home. At least as well as the nuc. at “C”, I was hoping as I made my way to the apiary and hive three. All seemed quiet at the nuc. entrance, unusually so I thought as I bent to remove the roof. Removing the roof and crown board immediately revealed the reason for the inactivity, not a bee in sight, the nuc. was completely empty. My first thoughts were that they had most likely had a change of heart and retreated back into the hive so, first task, open hive three. A thorough examination revealed strangely, no queen cells and although there was plenty of sealed brood, there appeared to be none unsealed suggesting that they had been without a laying queen for at least a week. The number of bees suggested that they had in fact swarmed so, why no swarm cells. I spent the next hour going back and forth through the brood box in search of a queen, I even went through the supers just in case she had managed to slip through the queen excluder, to no avail. I hadn’t really expected to find her up there but by now I was running out of ideas. I finished by sieving all the brood frames back into the hive through a queen excluder which only left me with an excluder crawling with drones. The strangest thing was that with all this interference from me, the bees remained extremely placid and good natured. Certainly nothing like a colony which had been queen-less for some time, which past experience has taught me, are usually quick to show their displeasure at being interfered with. I decided the best way to prove whether or not they still had a queen would be to leave them with a frame of eggs and young brood from one of the other hives. We know that a queenless colony will always endeavour to produce new queens if presented with a frame of viable brood, and this was my thinking behind that decision. I decided to leave them with their new frame of brood and return in a couple of days to see what they had decided to do with it.

From The Station I went next to “C”, and more specifically, hive four where I was keen to see the progress of the queen cell I’d left them with. All seemed well as I approached the hives, plenty of activity around the entrances, always a good sign I feel. And, so to four. Remove the roof and crown board, bees seemed happy enough so, no problems so far. Quick puff of smoke to keep them settled and straight to the frame with the queen cell which I’d previously marked. This was to be a brief visit as I didn’t want to risk losing my new queen, just long enough to satisfy myself that she’d emerged successfully. Now, I don’t know why I was surprised to see that the queen cell had been broken down, especially judging by the day I’d had so far, but I was. The bees obviously didn’t agree with my choice of queen cell, the one I’d left them with certainly seemed to be the best of the bunch, but, obviously not in their eyes. One thing this has taught me is that removing all but one swarm cell only gives the colony one option if they disagree with your choice whereas, by leaving them with two, if they take exception to one and break it down, they still are left with the cell of their choice with which to produce a queen. I certainly know what I shall be doing in the future. Later that day I returned with one of the Station nuc’s and united them.

Some ten days now since I last put pen to paper, as it were, and a busy few days they’ve been, at least, when the weather has allowed. The first thing to report is that I now have a laying queen in hive four at “C” which, along with two and three which were also successfully united with nuc’s containing new queens, earlier in the season, for once, fills me with optimism for next year. On then to The Station, and more specifically, hive three, where I fully expected to find sealed queen cells on the brood frame that I’d left them with at my last visit. I had a friend with me on this occasion, which as it happened, was just as well. Whilst I was once again ploughing through the brood box, in search of some signs of queenly activity, I heard a voice excitedly enquiring, ” have you seen this”? My friend was on her knees indicating that as a matter of some urgency, I should have a look underneath the hive. Not being one to disappoint a lady, I did as I was bid and the sight I witnessed, surprised even me.

Hive 3 swarm under stand Station 011

Hive 3 swarm under stand Station 001

THE SIGHT I WITNESSED SURPRISED EVEN ME. A FULLY FLEDGED COLONY ABOUT THE SIZE OF A FOOTBALL.

So, the swarm from three that I’d left entering the nuc. had, as soon as my back was turned, decided to set up home under the hive floor. Returning, as I did, the following day to find the nuc.empty, I’d immediately assumed they had set off for pastures new. Stupidly, it didn’t occur to me to take a look under the hive, had I done so, I would have seen, what was by now, a fully fledged colony of bees about the size of a football. With the bees apparently entering and exiting on the same flight path, it didn’t occur to me that half of them were in fact, not entering the hive but instead, going under it. The fact that the swarm hadn’t left any queen cells behind should have alerted me to the fact that something unusual was occurring and the fact that they hadn’t started any queen cells on the frame of brood that I’d given them, should have re-enforced that fact.

Looking closely at this colony of bees suspended beneath the hive, I was immediately struck by the beauty and symmetry of the structure. Pure white comb and living proof, if proof were needed that bees, if left to there own devices, will always observe a perfect “bee-space” between combs.

Removing underfloor swarm hive 3 004

PROOF, IF PROOF WERE NEEDED, OF NATURAL ”BEE-SPACE”.

So, where do I go from here? This was the first question that came into my head. My first thoughts were that I had to somehow get this colony back into the hive, but how best to go about it. I knew there was no way I could achieve this unaided, so I did what I always do when confronted by a bee related problem for the first time, which as usual, begins with a ‘phone call to my friend Liz. Her response was, as always, exactly what I was hoping to hear, ” when would you like me to come over to give you a hand?”. The result of which found us, suited up and approaching hive three around eleven o’clock the following morning. To cut a long story short, we decided that the best course of action would be to somehow get the bees back into the hive from which they’d come, the question was, how. After some head scratching, we decided that the best way to do this, would be to remove this colony from the floor to which they had affixed themselves, get them into an empty brood chamber and then unite this to the hive.

Having decided on a plan of attack, this is how we set about it. It was obvious that the first job was to get the hive away from the floor, at least, this would allow us to see the wood from the trees. Placing a new floor next to the hive, the next step was to get the hive on to it. With two pairs of hands, this was quite a simple task and thankfully, throughout all of this upheaval, the bees remained remarkably placid. Now that we were able to look down through the mesh floor we could see that all but one of the combs were in fact attached to the mesh with only one attached to the stand.

Removing underfloor swarm hive 3 007

ALL BUT ONE OF THE COMBS WERE ATTACHED TO THE MESH FLOOR

Removing underfloor swarm hive 3 006

ONLY ONE COMB ATTACHED TO THE STAND

Thankfully we had a number of comb cages which I had made sometime earlier.

queen cell in cage 004

COMB CAGES MADE SOMETIME EARLIER

Having used on several previous occasions with a fair degree of success, we decided that to use these again would, was probably the best course of action, hopefully, enabling us to get all of the combs, complete with bees, into an empty brood chamber placed adjacent. It was quite a simple matter, using a sharp knife, to cut the one comb from the stand and get it into the comb cage. Having placed it into the empty

station swarm pics.enlarged (stills) 002

station swarm pics.enlarged (stills) 020

1ST COMB SAFELY INTO CAGE

brood chamber we proceeded to upend the floor and remove and cage the remaining combs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

JULY

Having spent a large part of last month chasing swarms around the county, and having convinced myself that this year’s swarmy season had at last subsided, I decided to take myself off to glorious Devon for a week. Arrived at the holiday cottage with not a bee in sight, great. The only objects resembling bees that I want to encounter this week are those that I take out of my fly box when I’m sitting in my boat on Wimbleball Lake.

Before leaving I had checked, quite meticulously, as I thought, each colony. Checking especially for any signs of queen cells and making sure that all had plenty of room, so imagine my surprise on arriving at Mendip “C” the day after I returned, at being greeted by the owner with the words, “I’m glad you’re back Geoff, I think the bees are swarming again”. And, she was right, one of the hives had attempted to swarm but instead of decamping to one of the garden shrubs as they had on previous occasions, they were clustered around one of the legs of the hive stand. The way that they had positioned themselves suggested that the swarm had issued with a queen that, for some reason, had been unable to fly, and which had then crawled up the stand leg in an effort to return to the hive. But, as there was a possibility that this was someone else’s swarm, I decided the first course of action would be to get them into a nuc. In addition to the bees clustered around the stand leg, there were a large number up under the floor of hive four, which not only made their removal a lot easier, as removing bees that have clustered around a pole, or similar, is not the easiest of tasks, it also gave a pretty good indication that this was the hive from which they had come. So, first step, position a nuc. with frames as close to the bees as possible and gently remove cluster from under the hive and deposit into the nuc. So far so good, now wait to see whether the rest would follow.

Station and Cameley swarms July 001

BEES JUST BEGINNING TO ENTER NUC.

At this stage, success always depends on whether you have managed to get the queen into the nuc. and plenty of bees fanning at the entrance is always a good indication of success.

Station and Cameley swarms July 002

THEY DID EVENTUALLY START FANNING, HONESTLY!

Satisfied that there was little more to be done at this stage, I left them to it and made for home to finish my unpacking. The following morning, “C” was once again my first port of call and pleased to see, no more bees clinging to the hive stand instead, all happily coming and going from their new home. I took a quick look up under the hive just to see whether there were any bees left and was surprised to find quite a considerable sized comb hanging there, suggesting that the bees had been there for a least a few days. I removed the piece of comb and inserted the floor slide just to deter any bees that might have had second thoughts about their move and proceeded to open the hive. The number of sealed queen cells confirmed that this was the colony which had swarmed.

Station and Cameley swarms July 011

THE NUMBER OF QUEEN CELLS CONFIRMED THAT THIS WAS THE COLONY WHICH HAD SWARMED.

I briefly considered putting the swarm back into the hive but discounted that idea after going through the colony which showed good numbers of bees had decided to remain. Past experience has shown that once bees have decided to leave, re-introducing the swarm to the hive does little to deter them and a new swarm generally issues within a day or two. I decided to wait until they had accepted their new queen and she had started laying and then to probably re-unite the two colonies. I removed all but the best looking queen cell and boxed them back up.

On the way to my Station Apiary, I couldn’t help but wonder, had I missed the frame with the queen cells in my haste to begin my holiday. If not, they must have watched for me to turn out of the drive and started preparing to swarm the moment I turned out of sight. Probably the former I decided but it makes you think doesn’t it! At the Station the first thing I noticed was that the grass was at least two feet higher than before I had left, no need to guess what my first task was going to be. The second and almost unbelievably, hive three had swarmed and in exactly the same manner as the hive at “C” and had clustered around the leg of the stand.

Station and Cameley swarms July 005

Station and Cameley swarms July 006

HIVE THREE HAD SWARMED IN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY AS THE HIVE AT “C”

I decided to deal with these in exactly the same way as with the swarm at “C” and in fairly short order had most of the bees into a nuc. which I positioned adjacent to the hive entrance. I waited for the flying bees to settle which thankfully they began to do almost Immediately, most responding to their sisters fanning at the nuc. entrance by deciding to join them. Leaving them to get on with it I decided a cup of coffee was now the order of the day and made my way down the row of hives to my bee-shed, pausing momentarily at each hive just to observe the activity at each entrance which thankfully, looked pretty good. Over my cup of coffee I couldn’t help wondering what sort of odds I would have got from Ladbrokes on two colonies, some miles apart, behaving in the same way as these had. Making my way back to the car, I paused at the nuc. just long enough to check on how it was progressing. I could tell by a quick heft of the nuc. that most of the bees had by now entered, and a quick look through the vent in the crown board confirmed that this was the case. There were still a few stragglers on the leg of the stand which I brushed off before leaving for home wondering what to do with another swarm. That was a job for tomorrow I decided.

The following morning I went straight to “C” and immediately to the nuc. and the hive from which they had swarmed. The nuc., thankfully was looking really good, with it’s occupants behaving as though they’d been their for ever. I moved them a couple of feet away from the hive stand and turned my attentions to the hive and the frame of queen cells. So, how many cells to leave and how many to remove, always a dilemma. Most books on the subject recommend the removal of all but the strongest looking cell citing as the reason, leaving more than one cell will often result in the first queen to emerge issuing with a caste. So, who was I to fly in the face of so much expertise, although in the past I’ve invariably left the best two cells and they’ve seemed to sort themselves out ok, on this occasion, I removed all but the best looking cell. This was a particularly strong colony and I had no wish to lose any more of them so I departed, certain that on this occasion, one cell was the correct decision.

 

 

JUNE

Thankfully the early swarming seems to be over, at least for the immediate future. I did receive one call last week which, unfortunately I was unable to attend as I was on my way to see a friend in hospital, but I later had a report that a fellow collector had responded successfully. I did however receive one more swarm call, this time from a lady who runs a local play group to report that bees had taken up residence in the roof of their building. I knew from the details of the swarm that this wasn’t a honeybee swarm but as the lady was obviously a little agitated and obviously concerned about the harmful effect on her charges, I agree to take a look the following day. The building isn’t a million miles from my Station Apiary and knew it would set her mind at rest to have someone take a look, so, the following morning found me at the gate of the playground being greeted by several of the children. “You’re the Bee Man aint ya, we got bees in our roof”. I was being addressed by the oldest boy, obviously the ring leader, and before I could answer, “I bin frowin mud at ‘em”. My mind went back immediately to my youth and the “Just William” books I used to read so avidly. This was just the sort of conversation I could imagine William having. I began to explain that if you do something to make bees cross they might come down and sting you, but I needn’t have bothered. They had by now, lost interest in me and their bees and made off in the direction of the swings, and probably to find more mud I shouldn’t wonder. The lady who had made the call approached, “Thank you so much for coming, I see you’ve met the children” she said. I replied that I had and that she was welcome and as I had suspected, this was just a small colony of bumble bees and that left to their own devices, that they would eventually move on to pastures new. “Oh, that’s a relief, so they won’t sting anyone.”  I assured her that bumble bees seldom if ever sting, although, “frowin mud at ‘em” was probably not the best course of action. With a final look from her that suggested that I was ever so  slightly mad, I took my leave.

I’m continuing to keep a close eye on my colonies in view of the swarm situation so far this year and yet, as well as the Mendip “C” colony that swarmed earlier, it looks as though two from The Station apiary have also managed to slip below the radar. The swarms that I have collected this year have turned out to be a mixed bag thus far with only two looking as though they are going to make it. This despite having all been fed as required and in two cases, given a frame of brood to help them on. Even the swarm from “C”, now hived at The Station has not lived up to it’s expectations. It was a good job I took the decision to give them a frame of brood from their parent colony at the outset as, although they have been collecting plenty of stores and drawing out new comb, there has been absolutely no sign of fresh activity in the brood box. This despite the fact that they appear to have a very nice little queen, plump and very active but, not an egg to be seen. For that reason, I decided to remove her at my last visit and have given them a frame of brood from one of the other hives. This frame has plenty of eggs and very young brood in evidence so hopefully, at my next visit I shall find new queen cells.