Glad to report, almost without exception, the colonies have continued to work on filling their supers. I, on the other hand, have been kept busy chasing swarms around the surrounding villages, most of which were either in the upper branches of trees, too high for me to get to or had de-camped by the time I had arrived on the scene. Such was the swarm I was called to attend yesterday. When asked, the caller told me that the swarm had set up temporary home in a shrub just outside the back door, less than six feet from the ground I was assured. With nothing else planned for the morning, I jumped into the car and headed for the location of the swarm. I shouldn’t imagine more than half an hour had passed from me taking the ‘phone call to arriving on the scene. I was met in the driveway by the lady who had called, “I’m sorry but they’ve moved” was the message she greeted me with. “Don’t worry” I replied “they often do, where are they now”. She led me into the back garden. “Look, there they are”. In the centre of the lawn was just about the tallest tree in the garden and suspended below, on one of it’s thinnest branches, was the swarm. It was, at a guess, at least twenty feet above the ground. There was no way that branch was going to support a ladder, even if I could have reached it so sadly, another one for the failure box. Sad really because it really was a fine looking swarm. The lady was really apologetic and thanked me for responding so quickly. “No need to apologise, it happens all the time” I replied, “and don’t worry, the scout bees that the swarm will have sent out will report back shortly, and they’ll be off to their new home”. I’ve been called to four swarms already this week, one of which had absconded by the time I’d arrived on the scene and another, like yesterday’s, which would have required a cherry picker to reach. I did collect a very nice swarm on Monday. I had been called out Sunday afternoon and after retrieving them from a rather dense conifer hedge,
BEES VISIBLE AFTER NUMEROUS NUMBERS OF BRANCHES REMOVED
had left them overnight in my upturned skep, this to allow time for the flying bees to join their sisters. The numbers of bees fanning at the entrance of the skep, as I left, showed me that this was happening.
BEES FANNING OUTSIDE UPTURNED SKEP
I returned early the next morning and with only one or two bees flying, removed the skep, wrapped in the blue sheet, and took them to the meadow. There I gently eased them into a hive that I’d prepared earlier. Along with a frame feeder and some frames of foundation there were three frames of drawn comb which the bees were already busy exploring before I’d replaced the hive roof. I always like to give newly hived swarms a feeder of syrup, not as a welcoming gift, but to take away the pressure of having to immediately go searching for forage. Expecting to return in the evening to collect this swarm, I hadn’t brought any syrup with me. So, about an hour later I was back at the meadow, standing beside the hive, this time with a gallon of syrup. I had placed the feeder against one of the hive walls so it was just a case of remove the roof, slide the cover board to one side, thereby keeping any disturbance to a minimum, and fill the feeder. However, I needn’t have worried, to my amazement, the hive was now empty, the ungrateful little beggars had gone. All that effort for nothing, I must have spent well over an hour hacking away at the shrub in order to be able to get my skep close enough to be able to dislodge them into it. I just stood there in disbelief muttering expletives that I can’t put into print. I’m well aware the one thing that all of us beekeepers have eventually to come to term with is that our bees will always find ways to confound us, and we’ve to always expect the unexpected. Sitting here now, it’s easy to say, but when it happens,………..
Pleased to report, the swarm that I collected at the beginning of May, now hived at the meadow look to be going from strength to strength. A brief examination last week revealed three very nice looking frames of brood and lots of bees. They appear very placid so, a good find.
Just passed the longest day and it’s more of the same, swarms, swarms and yet more swarms. Yesterday, having spent the best part at the meadow waxing up empty frames, I had just walked in the front door when the ‘phone rang, “Hello, is that Geoff”. I knew what the next line was going to be, “I’ve just got your name off the internet, we’ve got a swarm of bees in our garden”. My reply is always the same, “what do they look like, where exactly are they and how long have they been there”. From the answers to these questions I can form a pretty good idea as to whether they are in fact honey bees and whether or not I’m going to be able to get at them. “They arrived about half an hour ago and are in a shrub in the front garden, about four or five feet above the ground”. I pulled up outside the house about thirty minutes later and, there they were. Just as the caller had said, in a shrub forming part of the boundary between the front gardens.
IN A SHRUB BETWEEN THE FRONT GARDENS
I have to say, this was one of the easiest swarms I have been called to collect, very good natured, Just as well really as being in the front garden, they had attracted a fair degree of interest from the neighbours, which the sight of what must have looked like a redundant Morris Dancer in attendance, did nothing to dispel. Also, the spot where they had decided to cluster meant there was no woodwork to hack through. The presence of several bees performing their waggle dance on the cluster surface suggested they weren’t going to be there for much longer so, with no time to lose it was on with the jacket and out with the skep and sheet. One good tap on the branch above the cluster and they were in the skep. The moment they were upturned and placed on the sheet, bees appeared at the entrance and began fanning. There were still a number of bees clustered in the shrub and these were easily dislodged into a plastic container which the lady kindly provided. As soon as I offered it to the entrance of the skep the bees obligingly marched in. It was almost as though they couldn’t wait to join their sisters. Once at the meadow I released them into hive 9, which I had earlier prepared in case of another swarm presenting itself. Not wishing for a repeat performance of the previous swarm’s hasty departure, this time I placed a queen excluder between the floor and the brood box before introducing the bees. Planning to return early the next morning with some syrup, I also blocked off the hive entrance. Upon my return I first removed the block from the entrance expecting to see bees queuing to get out. Imagine then my surprise when, rather than a mass exodus, not a single bee and when I removed the crown board, another surprise. Instead of masses of bees milling around, there was just a carpet of bees, almost motionless, over the top bars. I brushed them gently with my finger, still very little response. We know bees always fill up with honey before swarming, and knowing that I would be returning the following morning with food,I hadn’t worried too much about leaving them to their own resources, or, locked in, for that matter. Nearly a fatal mistake as it happened. I’m sure that had I not returned when I did, I would have lost them. I began by drizzling some syrup over the backs of the bees and then stood back to see whether it had the desired effect. Slowly, the bees seemed to awaken to the fact that there was food to be had and began to slowly move about. I fitted the crown board with the feeder above one of the escape holes. The feeder I used was one of the circular plastic, rapid type with a central pillar access. Before fitting the cup and lid, I drizzled some syrup down through the access hole in the pillar. Job done, I stood back and waited. Thankfully, after about five minutes, bees started to appear in the feeder,
BEES IN FEEDER
so, nothing more to do for the moment other than box them up and leave them to it. Bees from the adjoining hives, being ever opportunistic and quick to detect the smell of syrup, were by now, queuing outside the hive entrance, obviously waiting for my departure so they could get in and help themselves. Knowing that at this stage, this new colony wouldn’t be strong enough to defend themselves, before leaving, I closed up the entrance. The following day once again found me at the meadow, eager to see how the new acquisition was looking. With no robbers in evidence, I removed the entrance block, and what a difference. It was as though the bees had heard me coming and were waiting for me to let them out. Streaming out they began to circle in front of the hive, obviously getting their bearings, before returning to their new home. Below the crown board, again a very different story, this time, if you’ll forgive the pun, a hive of activity. Feeling a lot happier, I boxed them up and made for home.
I mentioned earlier how a previous swarm had de-camped before I had returned the same morning with syrup, well, before leaving the meadow later in the day, I decided to have a quick look in hive 8, the hive the bees had earlier decided was not quite to their liking and the first thing I noticed was that now there were a few bees around the entrance. I opened the hive and now, instead of being completely devoid of life, there were a handful of bees clustered on one of the frames. As I said, there looked to be no more than handful, so imagining that these were just a few bees that had been left behind when the swarm left, or a few flying bees that had been away from the hive at that time and had returned later, I left them to it. As there was little or no stores in the hive, I fully expected to find hive 8 once again completely empty when I returned a couple of days later. It was my intention to make ready the hive should I be called to another swarm, but I couldn’t help but notice, as I approached the hive, what appeared to be still more bees coming and going, and if anything, in greater numbers than at my previous visit. My first thoughts were that maybe a small swarm or caste had taken up residence, but no. A quick look below the crown board convinced me that it was neither of these. Yes, there were more bees in evidence but nowhere near the numbers you would expect to see if a swarm had moved in. I removed the frame that most of the bees seemed to be on for a closer look, no signs that they had been working the comb, just wandering about, totally oblivious to me. They gave the appearance of bees that had decided to take up permanent residence, and happy to do so. I decided to give them a chance and left them with a brood frame from a neighbouring hive. The frame had both stores and brood of all ages so, every opportunity to produce for themselves a queen if they really had decided to stay. Two days later and no signs that 8 were intending to produce a queen, I decided to give the hive a quick inspection. The swarm in 9 had by now been in residence the best part of a week so, I decided to have a quick look at them at the same time. Guessing that by now they both would have made serious inroads into the syrup that I’d left them with, I had made up some more earlier that morning. Opening 9, I removed the crown board complete with the feeder which was completely empty, so, just as well I’d brought more with me. Lots of bees moving around quite content for me to go through the frames. No brood yet but on frame three, a nice little queen scurrying around. Not wishing to tempt fate, and knowing that at this stage, she was still well capable of flying, I returned her and the frame she was on and re-fitted the crown board and feeder. After refilling the feeder, time to have a look at 8. Because we have quite a number of bulk feeders and ekes and because it’s easier than carting them back up the meadow when we’ve finished feeding, I quite often store them on my empty hives, in fact, an empty Adams feeder makes a very suitable crown board with the access hole blocked to prevent the bees entering the feeder. Hive 8 was one such hive. So, with no idea of what to expect, I removed the roof and the Adams feeder to one side. As expected , the frame feeder I’d left them with was empty but, unexpectedly, the numbers of bees appeared to have doubled since my last visit. and, like those in 9, seamed perfectly happy with my intrusions. First to the frame of brood I’d given them. No queen cells but lots of bees and still plenty of sealed brood. The bees had been busy working the next two frames with signs that they had been laying down stores and as I said, all of the time,totally oblivious to me. I wasn’t sure exactly what they were up to or why, they had made no attempt to draw out a queen but decided to refill their feeder and leave them to it. All of the time I’d been examining the hive, the empty Adams feeder had been sitting in the upturned roof on the stand beside the hive. With the feeder now replenished I went to reinstate the roof etc. and in doing so, couldn’t help but notice a couple of bees on the floor of the Adams feeder. Nothing unusual there and they normally fly off when disturbed, but, not these two. I lifted the feeder, intending to shake the bees off into the hive before replacing it and it was then I noticed that they were locked together, mouth to mouth. They weren’t fighting so, was one feeding the other, and if so, why?
SO, WAS ONE FEEDING THE OTHER, AND IF SO, WHY.
Well, the picture provides the answer as to why one bee was feeding the other and to the question of why they had made no attempt to draw out a new queen, and that is of course, they already had one, and here she was| Where she had come from and how she had suddenly appeared in the upturned feeder I have absolutely no idea. When I’m examining frames I always hold them over the hive body, as I’m sure we all do, and in the same way, when removing a crown board or queen excluder, I always dislodge any bees that are attached, back into the hive, just in case the queen is amongst them. Because of this and because the feeders are painted white, I am certain there were no bees on the feeder when I removed it. So, after recording the event in my imaginary folder marked “Another of life’s little mysteries”, I placed the bees on the brood frames where they quickly disappeared. Before leaving the meadow I took another quick look at 8, as much as anything to reassure myself that I hadn’t imagined the whole episode, but, I needn’t have worried, there she was on the first frame I removed, scurrying around as if nothing had happened. Have you ever wondered why most beekeepers eventually develop a bald patch, well I can tell you, it’s because the little beggars leave us so often scratching our heads.
Just time for one more visit to the meadow before the end of the month so, straight to eight and nine. I decided to begin with nine and work my way back up the row. The first thing I noticed upon opening nine was how docile they seemed to be and the second was a lovely plump queen sedately walking around on the second frame. I had come prepared with marking pen and cage and two minutes later, there she was, now sporting a bright red spot on her thorax and back amongst her subjects. Pleasingly, a large patch of brood had appeared since my earlier visit. It was a similar story with eight, no signs of brood yet but the size of the queen’s abdomen suggested it wouldn’t be long coming. On next to three, the home of the first of this year’s swarms. This hive is performing exceptionally well with brood filling five frames and all of the others pulled out with more than half of them filled with stores. The size of the queen made her easy to find and she now also sports a red spot. Four looks to be in the process of superseding so I’ll be keeping a close eye on them and apart from that, all’s looking good.