I went to Hardy’s birthplace at Bockhampton this morning by arrangement with Caps, my apprentice there, to take a nucleus from the apiary and take it to Hardy’s deathplace, Max Gate, to establish an apiary there also. Harriet, the gatekeeper, is getting interested in bees so I supplied her with a spare suit so she could spectate again. As it was early on a quiet day with no customers queueing she shut up shop briefly in the interest of her education, enabling her to be more informative to members of the public when they ask about the bees.
First we looked at the artificial swarm in a WBC hive on the original site. The bees have busily drawn out lots of comb and there was brood but none ready for sealing yet so we have postponed our planned Varroa reduction measure of removing the first brood to be sealed. Caps spotted the queen (she’s good at that) and we showed her to Harriet and also the honeycomb. She asked what the brown stuff was on top of one of the frames. Propolis! I chipped a chunk off for her and told her of its antibiotic, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anaesthetic properties.
We closed that hive and moved onto the next, a National containing all the brood from last week’s artificial swarm. There was a scattering of queen cells on 3 of the frames so we took frame no 2 with a couple of large, open, cells together with combs of stores (including pollen) and emerging brood, putting them into a 5 frame nucleus box that had been sealed up with Harriet’s sellotape (what a useful girl!).
Lastly we peeped into yesterday’s swarm, which is doing fine and had produced an amazing amount of comb in the 20 hours since hiving.
Then Caps and I went to Max Gate where we set up the nucleus in the paddock at the back of the house and then, over coffee, worked on a shopping list to enable Caps decently to house her growing charges.
Back to Bockhampton where Harriet told us that she had eaten and enjoyed the propolis, comparing the flavour with cinnamon. I don’t remember telling her how addictive it is. Hmmm.. I think I may have another apprentice soon. There is room for another beekeeper in her village and it is only 2 valleys from me.
Back home I labelled a couple of jars of honey for a customer in Weymouth, an elderly lady I hadn’t met before as, normally, a mutual friend does the honey shopping. When I got there, she told me that she had tried the most expensive honey that Marks & Spencer sells and found it tasted like water compared to mine!
Just as I arrived, my portable telephone rang. It was Caps. A lady down the lane with a bee-tree in her garden had found them to be swarming and Caps wanted to know what to do. I advised her. A few minutes later, when I was with the customer, there was another call, this time from Lower Waterston Manor to say they had a swarm. I drove there. I’d never been inside the gate before although I have driven past it many times. It is as big as a palace and, I guess, late Tudor.
I was greeted by a young lady who introduced herself as Caroline (I think). There was a chap in attendance whom I assumed to be the gardener. The swarm was about 15 feet up in the top of an elder tree next to a wall. The chap fetched a step ladder. It wasn’t long enough so he got another to lean against it. I equipped Caroline with a spare bee suit and, by raising her right hand and clapping it to mine, swore her in as ‘Ladder holder, second class’. “Why second class?” she protested, so I pointed out that she hadn’t the experience yet.
As I was about to climb, the phone rang. It was Caps needing instruction on taking and hiving the swarm. I multi-tasked, ascended the ladder with the skep and, jerking the branch, got most of the bees into it, then descended to place it in a large Ikea bag. I hadn’t got all the bees as soon there were clusters appearing on a couple of high twigs. Up the ladder again, I cut off the twigs with secateurs and, having demonstrated with the first one, handed the second to Caroline to deal with, which she did very competently with bare hands.
By coincidence, she had, only that morning, been contemplating taking up beekeeping. She asked if I knew James Fitzharris who (she asserts) can nowadays talk only about bees! I started him off! I used to keep bees in a paddock close to his house at Sydling. I feel that there may be yet another apprenticeship about to happen.
I drove the swarm to Sandhills,close to Cattistock, where another apprentice, Dave Cliff has a site but which was currently devoid of bees. He suited up and we hived the swarm.
I drove the couple of miles home and found a message on my answerphone concerning a swarm in the cavity wall of a house in Dorchester, but that’s a story for another day.