Well, what a difference a day makes! One minute it was freezing cold and not possible to examine the bees’ nests to check for hygiene and swarming preparations; the next it was baking hot and the bees wanted to swarm! And swarm they have! Because of this, I go walk about in my home apiary every morning and lunchtime, just to see what’s happening at the “doorstep” of the hives and to have some warning of what the bees might be intending.
About 2 weeks ago, at about 1.30, I took my usual stroll, after returning from Truro with my first collected swarm, and was stooped down alongside one of the nuclei I had prepared, just to see that all was well from the outside. The bees were flying well, there was pollen coming in on the bees’ rear legs (always a good sign when you’re waiting for a virgin queen to mate), when I suddenly heard a buzzing noise, louder than the foragers yet not loud enough to be drones returning to the hive.
Then I saw a long, black abdomen disappear under the porch roof of the entrance – a queen returning from mating! A wondrous sight – only my second such sighting in 19 years of beekeeping. Sad, I know, but I felt really elated, a) that I had seen her Ladyship and b) that she was a Cornish Black! Exciting (at least to me)!
Since then, it’s been non-stop swarm calls from members of the public or from my own home apiary. Very strange, but most of them have been at ground level or very low to the ground so far, whereas bees normally fly and swarm at about 12′. Perhaps a reason will become clear later in the season, but the Truro swarm I referred to was at the foot of a down-pipe, in the drain (and up in the pipe!).
I collected them and hived them into my Warré hive, as it was not a particularly big swarm – a cast, most likely, with a virgin queen. Over the next few days, whilst watching them, I could see something was amiss – they were crawling all over the hive and not flying in and out with nectar and pollen as would be expected of a swarm.
Then, about 4 days after hiving them, they disappeared! No idea where they went, other than possibly they had been, or become, queenless and had inveigled their way into my other hives. Ho, hum – so much for being a beekeeper. If the bees don’t like what you give them, they will go.
A few days later, a call from St Mawes to a swarm about 1′ off the ground in a conifer tree. Collected that, no problem, and decided to try the Warré hive again. When I reached it, there were bees flying in and out of it! One of my colonies had obviously swarmed and found a very nice hive to go into, thank you very much!
So, Plan B – the new polystyrene hive – except, like one of my swarms last year, they didn’t want to go in. A group of them just accumulated around the entrance, blocking access to the remaining bees! I even saw the queen, scooped her up and placed her inside the hive, but it made no difference. So I left them to it. By the morning, they were all inside – and obviously loving it! I really am looking forward to seeing how they progress in this new environment.
Whilst taking another walk about a day or so later, I saw a lot of activity from beneath a blackthorn bush alongside one of my hives. Another swarm! So, Swarm Box over them, covered with a white cloth to keep them cool, then hived that evening into an empty hive. On the site of this hive was a colony of laying workers (doomed, as they had lost their queen a few weeks back), so I moved that colony to a new site a few hives along the row and placed my empty hive on the vacated site.
I hived the swarm, no problems, knowing that the flying bees from the laying worker colony would return to that site and augment the swarm. I could then ditch the laying workers (they can only lay drones, so would be of no use to another colony, and anyway would kill any queen therein as they were quite capable of laying eggs, thank you very much!). Job done. So the following day, went down to check. Yes, swarm flying as you would expect – but found another swarm on the ground!
I would hive it in the hive with the laying workers after I had ditched the laying workers at the bottom of the field – except they seemed to be flying normally, which they weren’t before. I therefore did a quick examination of the brood frames – and found a queen! So this might have been the original Truro swarm that decamped from the Warré I really have no way of knowing – and I had just very cleverly depleted that swarm of its flying bees by moving the hive to its new site (I never did say beekeeping was simple, did I – and are you keeping up at the back?!).
Next was a call from St Mawes again, with bees in a traditional “bunch of grapes” cluster in a clematis plant trained around an oil tank to disguise it. Rather than cut the plant and spoil its look, I squeezed the Swarm Box into the bush and shook it very hard so that the bees lost their grip and fell in, then inverted the box onto a white sheet at the foot of the clematis, where the bees started their fanning to say “the queen’s here, girls, come on down”- which they duly did.
My most recent call was to a swarm on a wall just outside Portscatho, which made me think Oh no! One of my Portscatho out-apiary hives must have swarmed (in fact, I checked them the following day and they were all fine. Phew! How embarrassing would that have been?). I said I would finish my dinner (this was about 6 o’clock in the evening) and come out afterwards, as the bees would be unlikely to decamp at that time of day. v
Then, about 45 minutes later, the caller rang again to say the bees had gone inside and perhaps it wasn’t worth coming out. However, I called in on the way back from the St Mawes swarm retrieval to assess the situation and initially felt they were irretrievable. However, overnight I thought, if it was a cast rather than a prime swarm, there would be a virgin queen who needed to mate, so she would come out of the hole in the wall to fly.
By placing a one-way valve over the hole and placing a box of combs and brood alongside, the bees, having been denied access to the wall, would go into the nuc box. So this I have done and am reviewing progress over the next day or so.
My wife, Lin, says I spend all my time on beekeeping, to the detriment of everything else. I am beginning to think, particularly at this time of year, that she might be right after all! This is partly because, in addition to the swarm situations, some of which are re-told above, I have been creating nuclei (small bee colonies) for sale and to re-queen some of my other colonies. Well, if you’re going to do anything at all, you may as well do it properly! Oh, and I’ve removed my first super of honey already, so hopefully that will keep Lin sweet for a while!
So, despite all the above, if you see a swarm, still give me a call and either I or another beekeeper will come and retrieve it. Happy swarm spotting!
Colin Rees 01872 501313 firstname.lastname@example.org