I was called yesterday morning to a swarm at Max Gate, Thomas Hardy’s old home. There wasn’t a swarm, but lots of bees were investigating every crook and nanny about the place. Due to inferior architecture and building, there are lots of crevices and potential entry points. I got a free tour of the place while we (my apprentice Caps, who gardens there had called me) ascended to the heights of the servants’ quarters (Hardy treated his servants badly: his parlourmaid used to pop across the road to my grandparents’ farm for a square meal! His under-gardener told me Hardy used to take an alternative route rather than talk with one of the hoi-polloi at work).
Right at the top was a garret with a tiny arched window about a span wide by a foot high. We could see from the outside that the bees were taking an interest there and 5 had somehow managed to find a way through the glass. I gave the window a squirt of smelly fluid to make it less attractive to them.
Lots of the bees were around the porch, especially investigating a letter box. Clearly the bees found the house attractive but hadn’t decided which bit was best. I put a skep atop the porch, just overhanging the roof to provide an entrance. I placed an old comb in the skep to act as a lure and left them to it.
I called in at William Barnes’ (a fellow poet of Hardy, better than him) rectory half a mile away, where another gardener friend, Marion Dove, keeps bees, to warn her in case her bees were the ones looking to swarm.
In the afternoon the phone rang again. The swarm had arrived and, before an audience, hived itself in my skep! I drove in to collect them – the skep fits nicely into one of those massive Ikea bags – and drove them to Hardy’s birthplace at Bockhampton where I help Caps with the apiary. One of the people who had seen the swarm arrive indicated the direction they had come from: not Barnes’ but possibly the local Farm Institute where bees are kept.
There was a shortage of equipment so we had to improvise. Caps had made a new National brood box but had only shallow combs in it. I found an old door in a shed and that was placed on a tree stump as a floor with the brood box offset slightly to provide a slim entrance at the bottom. A crown board was created from a cardboard box with the aid of my Swiss Army knife.
The gate-keeper, Harriet, was interested and so I lent her a spare tunic so she could spectate with her camera. I posed with skep poised a span above the brood box; then dropped it to dislodge the swarm. Lovely sight! There was a mass of bees about 2″ thick on the top bars between which they soon found their way. Those drifting over the edge were scooped back with the cardboard which was then very gently placed on top. A sheet of black polythene provided a temporary roof and light screen to persuade the bees to use the lower entrance.
I’m returning as soon as I’ve finished this blog as we intend to take a nucleus from the other hive there that we swarmed artificially last week. If they’ve read the books, there should be several combs with queen cells. We will doubtless take a peek at the swarm whilst we are there.