It has been a really good day today. I got up especially early, got my kit together between mouthfuls of breakfast, and headed for Dorchester to pick up the swarm I was told about last evening. It was in the garden of a flat above a shop in the main street, High West Street. I parked partly on the pavement and partly on double yellow lines.
A lady answered the door, accompanied by a small child, accompanied by a doll to whom I was introduced. The swarm, a small one, possibly a cast, was in an apple tree about 8 feet off the ground. I donned a tunic-cum-veil and grabbed skep, large Ikea bag and strap. I moved a garden chair to get me nearer the swarm but still had to do a little climbing. I jammed the skep strategically beneath the swarm, gave the branch a good shake which got nearly all the bees in and descended to place the skep in the bag. There was still a small knot of bees on the twig but, as I was fairly confident that I had the queen, I explained to the lady in the audience that I had about 98% of the bees and the other 2% would disperse and go back home in a couple of days.
She offered me money for the trouble I had taken but I spurned her offer as it had been a 5 minute job. Instead I suggested that she might like to make a donation to Bees for Development, explaining that they support beekeepers in the 3rd World where owning a hive or two can make the difference between your child going to school or not.
I drove out to Clyffe where I have a site in a wood. It isn’t usually very productive but occasionally I have had chestnut or heather honey. It’s a lovely place to go and chill, but I couldn’t stay long as my occult apprentice, ZoeAnn White-Witch was expecting me and had made promises of copious tea and cake. She visited the Clyffe site with me once and, where we parked, unusually, a cat came up to greet us. ZoeAnn knew the cat’s name! I knew that witches often have cats as ‘familiars’ but wasn’t expecting her to be on familiar terms with all cats! So I shook the swarm into the hive that was all prepared and went on my way.
I got a little lost as the big house is now screened by trees in full leaf. She wasn’t in the Estate office and for a while I wondered where she might be until I spotted her in her garden. We had two tasks: first to inspect the hive that had been banished from William Barnes’ garden a few weeks ago for being too stroppy and, secondly, to start the process of extricating a colony from the wall of a barn above the beam above the entrance, about 10 feet up.
We thought the hive might need a super so dug one out of a shed and found some empty frames and some foundation. We spent a very pleasant hour in the sunshine at a garden bench assembling the kit while enjoying tea, cake and natter. Then it was time to look at the stroppy hive.
Although the bees were busily bringing in loads of pollen, there was no brood at all. There was an emerged queen cell and another that was chewed away at the side. Clearly they had swarmed. Often I have noticed that a new queen doesn’t start laying until all her siblings have emerged and that may be the case here. ZoeAnn was wearing thick leather gauntlets but they were unnecessary as the bees were very good tempered. I suspect that the bad temper that had caused them to outstay their welcome at Barnes’ was caused by a breakdown in efficient distribution of queen pheromones that eventually led to swarming.
Next we went to the barn. ZoeAnn found a ladder while I dug my adapted nuc box from the car. There was a platform on the beam where the bees were flying. ZoeAnn had built it 4 years ago when she acquired her first bees from there and hadn’t got around to removing it, just as she hadn’t got around to filling the cavity with squirty foam. I butted my nuc against the hole most in use and secured it with a bungee cord.
Time was passing and ZoeAnn wanted to see my Top Bar Hive. She quickly prepared a picnic lunch for us to eat en route and we headed for Ourganics at Litton Cheney. There I opened the hive, removed the first few bars from the rear for examination, then stood aside to allow ZoeAnn to continue. It is some weeks since last I was there and the brood nest, which was almost from end to end, was much reduced. The bars at the back contained only stores and it wasn’t until almost half way that we found worker brood. We shut the the hive up then as we were in a hurry, ZoeAnn needing to collect her children from the local Hogwarts Prep, knowing that, if she didn’t get to them in time, they would make their own way home, bringing yet more soot down the chimney where the kitchen range used to be.
I drove us back to her place and said goodbye as she got into her car to collect the kids. I got the ladder out again and put a lid on the nuc. Good thing I did as I can hear it chucking down with rain as I type.
I titled this entry Three Firsts for ZoeAnn. What were they? 1. Her first encounter with a top bar hive. 2. The first time she has handled bees without gloves. 3. The first time she has seen a hive being opened without using smoke.