A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Hayley, the gardener at a large estate a few miles away. Her boss wants bees around the place so would I like to place a hive or two there? I went over and, keeping our distance, walked around the garden/park and I selected a spot by a gap in a hedge up out of the frost pocket and where flight lines wouldn’t be a problem.
I went home and started to dismantle the empty bait hive in my back garden, only to discover that it wasn’t empty! There was a tiny, fist sized, cluster of bees in the super with a little comb with sealed brood. I’d seen the occasional bee there but thought they were just looking. It must be a cast, a secondary swarm. I’ve never seen one as tiny!
I moved them to the new site and put a feeder on them. Then Hayley suggested a second site a couple of miles away so she led the way in her garden truck while I followed in my car. After going through the next village there’s a half-mile long, bumpy farm track to reach the farm house, which I think has just been converted for a holiday home. We looked around and I selected a site at the edge of a lawn, again facing a gap in a hedge.
I went home, gathered parts and returned to set up the hive. Next day I split one of my hives in the village, taking a nucleus, including the marked queen. As I was closing up, I noticed a bee on the hive fanning and displaying her Nasenov gland, which made me wonder whether the queen had escaped from the nucleus.
I drove to the site but found the farm track was occupied by a bulldozer and digger so I had to drive across a field, hoping it wasn’t too rough for the bees. I transferred them to their new home without mishap or sting but couldn’t see the queen. The frames I had selected had plenty of food and brood, including eggs and young larvae and it occurred to me that, brain being occupied with what I was taking, I hadn’t thought of ensuring that I’d left behind brood from which the parent hive could produce a new queen.
Next day I went and checked and found that I had taken all the young brood so I went back to the farm and found the gate closed and locked. I contacted Hayley who kindly drove over and brought me a key. The track was now quite smooth.
I opened the nucleus, saw the queen and removed a frame with eggs and young larvae, brushing the bees off. I went back to the parent hive to put it in, which I did, but the bees gave me a pasting! I received about a dozen stings. I’d forgotten that queenless hives can get stroppy. I shall leave them alone for a month, when I shall look for pollen going in before I open them again.
Yesterday I had a call from a lady to say there were bees in my bait hive in their wild flower meadow at Neal’s Copse. I visited and, yes there are bees but they aren’t in the hive, they’re UNDER it! They’ve been there some time because there’s lots of drawn comb suspended under the floor. I have yet to decide what to do about it.
Down by the house, in some wasteland just below the haha, I have a hive which had lost it’s queen and just had a few laying workers a couple of months ago, so I went to check that they were now all dead. A swarm has moved in! They’re doing well with brood in all stages but not a lot of food and they’re not using the supers.
As I was using my hive tool to lever and loosen the propolised end frame I managed to prise the brood box apart, only slightly and I was able to bang it back almost into position without upsetting the bees, but I ought to swap that brood box for another one before too long and repair it.
I drove on over the boundary into darkest Somerset as I’d been sent a photo of a swarm in an apple tree in the cider orchard and also a video of bees entering my bait hive there. The hive was empty, although there were a few bees investigating it. I walked all round the orchard looking for the swarm without success, so I guess they’ve found a new home elsewhere. I don’t know where they came from but, last time I was there I noticed a colony was occupying the Church Hall, not far away.
As you can see, I’ve been kept quite busy during lock-down!