My apprentice, Gill, contacted me as she wants to learn how to do this. As I’m currently extracting a colony from what the builders tell me is a solid brick and flint wall at the Corn Store of the old water mill at Maiden Newton, about a furlong from this keyboard, I invited Gill to come and play.
First we went, not to the Mill, but to Frogmore Farm, an organic holding down a lane from Toller Porcorum, a couple of miles from here. I have an apiary in a corner of a paddock, unfortunately close to a massive badger sett, big enough to lose half a class of school kids down. They badgered my hives a while back, but I hope that the way I have pegged down the wire netting around the site has now made it badger proof.
Only one hive is currently occupied, the bees having hived themselves in my garden last year. When I looked at them the other day, they were running out of space in the brood box but were not going into the supers. Much of the comb was on the dark side so I thought a Bailey comb change would help them and me. I had spent the morning making up a brood box of frames with starter strips about an inch deep and we took it with us.
The bees still weren’t using the super. I started going through them gently. The brood looked healthy enough with an excellent pattern with few holes, but I did see one drone with deformed wings. There was quite a bit of sealed drone brood which probably is infested with Varroa but at this time of year it is important to have plenty of drones to impregnate virgin queens so I left it.
Gill spotted the queen, a fairly slim lady, about half way through so I placed the frame with her on in the middle of the brood box with the starter strips, using the one removed to make space to complete the complement of the brood box, placing it between the brood and the food. As we had the queen in the extra box, we placed a queen excluder between the brood boxes. The full sized comb will form a bridge for the workers to climb to get to the starter strips to draw them into comb. I checked the remainder of the brood to see whether there were queen cells. There was none. I selected a frame of brood, mostly, but not all, sealed, shook nearly all the bees off and placed it in a nucleus box I had brought for the purpose. Then we went home.
We walked round to the Mill. As there are builders on site who are working without protective clothing I had not, until then, worn a veil etc so as not to alarm them. This time, as were intending to open up and as Gill would need some protection to give her confidence we took a couple of hats and veils, which are far less dramatic to onlookers than the space suits that are now so fashionable.
The bees, as usual, had found or created gaps around the periphery of the trap box where it meets the wall, despite repeated applications of duct tape and even expanded foam. This time I had brought a sponge and scissors to seal the latest gaps. Gill climbed the ladder to gain access to the top of the box and I handed her the comb of brood which she placed inside the trap box. We sealed it all up and packed up.
I coud see the owner, Lily’s, car on site so sought her out for a chat to update her. She took us on a tour of the building and the conversions being done by the builders. Then we went round the back of the Mill itself, passing the massive, recently restored, wheel and the arrangement of sluices. The Mill is quite old, having been mentioned in the Domesday Book, but most of the building is much newer than that. There is one part that does appear to be ancient, built of stone and with a niche or alcove about 15 feet up that probably, before the Reformation, contained a small statue of a saint, the feet of whom could still be seen.