I took a swarm yesterday, 30th June. It came from the wall of a house at Uploders, near Bridport, three days earlier and sat high up in an apple tree, I guesstimate about 20 feet up. I was helped by my friend Liz, who lives nearby, who held the ladders. At first we had only a short ladder which just reached a lower branch, so I climbed to the top, walked along the branch, discovering that sandals aren’t the best footwear for this, ascended to another branch and then leaned at an angle with an old comb stretched at arm’s length to lean it against the cluster for a while to gather and then scoop a portion of the bees. Getting down with the comb of bees wasn’t as easy! The comb was placed in my travelling box and another selected to repeat the exercise. We did this several times before a neighbour produced a much longer ladder that I could scale and reach the bees from the top.
Liz fetched a cardboard box that she had used previously to hold bees so it should smell right. I was able to place it under the swarm, which is one of the largest I have experienced, and scoop the bees into it with the aid of a swan’s quill. Then it was a simple matter to shake them into the box. They fanned vigorously straight away so they seemed pleased with it. After a while we eased the lid part-way across and, later, I placed a car blanket over it to shade the meshed top.
I have lent Liz the box I have designed for the purpose of extracting bees from walls and showed her how to use it while she took notes. I’ll post the instructions here in a day or two. She’ll have to wait until the new queen is mated before using it.
I had other things to do in the afternoon, singing in the choir at a wedding, so I left the bees to settle down and draw in the stragglers. I went back in the early evening, closed the entrance of the box with a kitchen sponge and wrapped the blanket around the box to contain the bees still on the outside of the box. I drove them to my apiary at Halstock where I have several hives, all empty due to wasp attack last year. However I did notice that there were a few bees flying to and from a rickety CDB hive with the roof off. I’ll look at them tomorrow.
For simplicity’s sake I decided to hive them in a National. I took off the roof etc of the National and found it full of debris and a trapped mouse! I let him go and cleaned up the mess, fitting the hive with a mix of frames from that hive and from a CDB, where necessary cutting out old comb that had been bred in but leaving a good footprint to start them off on the right lines.
What’s the swarm worth? It is now July when, according to the adage, it isn’t worth a fly! The rhyme is very old indeed and, originally, a swarm in May was worth a cow and a botel of hay. A botel was Norman French (or Old English – I forget) for a bundle. The advice has been around for a very long time – back to the 1400s or earlier, and, having survived for so long, is likely to have an element of truth. However, in 1752, the government interfered with the calendar! They took out 11 days and this has had the effect of advancing the calendar by that amount ever since, so a swarm should be worth a load of hay until 11th June, and a silver spoon until 11th July.
People had to cope with this change to the calendar. The tax year always began on what was, until then, New Year’s Day which was Lady Day, 25th March, but if people had had to pay their taxes 11 days earlier, there would have been revolution! So they got around it by changing the first day of the tax year to 6th April and there it has been ever since. There were other practical problems too. My grandparents had grazing rights for their cows on Lenthay Common at Sherborne but they weren’t allowed to let their cows onto the Common until 11th May, which, before 1752, would have been May Day. Although flowering times are now going awry with our erratic weather/climate, the first Hawthorne (May) blossoms usually appear about 11th May each year. Make a note in your diary to see when the Michaelmas daisies bloom this year.