October 2011

In previous reports I have talked about this year having been a swarmy season for bees, so much so that you must think that nothing else happens with them. Well, it appears that it doesn’t! Last week I had a call from a St Mawes householder saying “We have a swarm of bees in a ceanothus bush – can you come and remove them?”. Yeah, yeah! The swarming season is normally April to July, so I was very dubious about this. But, having quizzed the caller for about 5 minutes, I decided I should go over and have a look, even if it was just to show willing.

When I arrived I was shown the bush and there, under the outer covering of leaves and twiggy branches, were 7 combs of pristine wax totally covered in bees! I was astounded! The bees must have been there for weeks and must also have endured the unseasonal weather during August, yet they had drawn 7 combs of wax in the open air. These were not small combs, either – they were over a foot deep and intertwined amongst the ceanothus twigs and offshoots, thus making it impossible to cut out individually. Nothing for it but to cut the complete branch at its base and place the whole lot into a cardboard box. The bees didn’t budge! They stayed on the comb, no mad flying about – they must have known their outdoor sojourn was coming to a happy conclusion.

The box was then balanced on a stool to bring it up to the original height of the colony (asanything more than 2’ away would have made it difficult, if not impossible, for the bees to find, having already fixed their home location in their in-built sat-nav system). They were then ready to take away once they stopped flying for the night and at about 8pm I returned, closed up the box and brought them home. Next day the combs and ceanothus branch were placed inside a large brood box with another box of combs on top, in the hope that the bees will eventually move up into the combs and the ceanothus can be removed. They are currently very happy and active in their new home – but they are so lucky they were spotted in time. Much later in the season and they would most likely have perished from the cold.

Then, the following afternoon, the same householder called me again! “We have another swarm!” I didn’t believe it, as it could not have had anything to do with the colony I removed the previous day. But we went through the question and answer thing again and, yes, I agreed, it sounded very like a swarm – though so late in the season.

When I arrived, there it was, hanging in traditional fashion like a bunch of grapes, in a camellia bush about 10 metres away from where the 7-comb colony was pitched the day before. I duly cut off the branch and lowered it carefully into my swarm box (luckily emptied into the big hive that morning!), again with no flying or disturbance from the bees. I returned that night (at about 10.30pm, after our Roseland Beekeeping Group meeting!), wrapped the box and brought it home.

Next day, as I was hiving them, I noticed no sign of wax having been drawn into comb in the swarm box, whereas normally I would expect to see a piece the size of my palm, made overnight. They were very quiet, but refused to draw any comb until I fed them 48hrs later (to limit the possibility of disease transmission). It was then that I realised they must have been a colony of bees absconding through lack of food (remember, August was not a brilliant month yet the wasps were flying and looking for trouble throughout – perhaps they had robbed this colony of all its stores, which is why it had left). Anyway, after feeding them for 2 days, they started to bring in pollen and draw comb and have by now settled in very happily in their new home.

Then, two days ago, a call to say there was a swarm in a chimney at Pendower! (Is there noend to all this swarming?). Over I go and, sure enough, there are the bees flying to and from this chimney, which was capped with a cowl with small holes around its perimeter. There weren’t many bees, but they were certainly bees and bound to perish if there were so few and unmanaged. To cut another long story short, three separate ladders allowed me to reach the chimney pot – which was built as a single unit, so I had to use a stone cutter (at precipitous height!) to remove the cowl to give me access to the inside of the pot. A five-inch diameter pot barely allows a two-handed approach to cutting out comb – and certainly not wearing gloves! So I had to endure a few stings before I bare-handedly retrieved the combs – and the bees – and placed them in a small hive which I then placed atop the chimney pot (minus its cowl).

Two nights later, they were collected and brought home. Time will tell whether they will survive the winter or whether I will need to unite them with another colony. I will let you know next month – and also update you on what I’m doing with my bees – when I am allowed time!

Colin Rees – 01872 501313 – colinbeeman@aol.com

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