The heading is a quote from Wedmore who, 81 years ago wrote his Manual of Beekeeping, which, in my opinion is still one of the best bee books. I was pleased to get a first edition a while ago.
Yesterday, I went to Halstock to see whether my bees there were still alive. They were very weak last time I looked a couple of months ago. I was astounded, when I approached the apiary, in a corner of 35 acres of organic apples, to notice that clinging to a fence post within 6 feet of the hive, a National, was a cast (a small secondary swarm). I checked the hive. It had a few dead bees, head in cell, indicative of starvation, despite there being some stores a few frames away. Therefore the bees hadn’t come from that hive but possibly they were there because they were considering moving in.
I cleaned up the hive and placed a couple of frames against the cast, which was at about knee height. The bees climbed on and I transferred them to the hive. They started coming out again and returning to their site on the pole. I brushed them away and applied a squirt of repellant to the spot that they favoured. They re-grouped towards the top of the post.
I checked the next empty hive, a CDB in need of repair. I added a phial of swarm attractant to the brood box. Then I returned to the post and started gently scooping up the bees in my hands, moving my fingernails up the post at a rate of about a quarter of an inch a second. The bees felt all warm and tickly, like a nest of kittens. When I had a good number I took them across to the CDB and shook them onto the alighting board and then went back to the post to repeat the process.
Soon I could see bees on the alghting board exposing their Nasenov gland and fanning, a homing signal and sign of content. Some were entering the hive; and yet bees were still settling on the post and I spotted a cluster on the ground which readily mounted my hand.
Eventually I gave up steering them towards a home of my choice and left them to sort themselves out. I shall go back in a day or two to see whether they stayed in that apiary.
The previous earliest swarm I have personally experienced was on 24th April 1984 so these beat them by a day. As they were a cast ( I checked very carefully for a queen), the prime swarm would have left some days earlier. I’m wondering whether/how a new queen will get mated. Although I saw a drone or two at about the turn of the year that was very unusual and 30 miles away. I have seen no drones recently and, at a BKA training session last night, several hives were opened and no drones were seen, only some drone brood.
My guess is that it is unlikely that the cast will survive.It was small, even for a cast, as it would barely fill a mini-nucleus box.