There I was yesterday afternoon, at Hooke Woods, just about to go and chill among the bluebells when the phone bleeped. It was Jenny, our BKA secretary, who wanted somebody to take a swarm, possibly with an audience of beginners. Of course I said ‘Yes’, even though Sutton Poyntz, where the swarm was, was half an hour’s drive away.  I had the necessary kit in my car as is normal at this time of year.

I found the house without too much difficulty. The owner, Derek, has 4 hives in his garden and doesn’t want any more.  He has a long, sloping, terraced garden, lush with flowers and vegetables. The swarm was about 8′ up in a bay tree, hanging from a stout branch.

I went and got a veil, a skep, a strap and a large Ikea bag. Then I discovered that I couldn’t get my jumper on over the veil, so I had just to tuck it in the neck and hope for the best.  Derek had placed a step ladder below the swarm so I climbed it with the skep, which I placed under the swarm, holding it in my left arm, while I gave the branch a vigorous shake with my right hand.

I felt the added weight of the swarm in the skep and descended to place the skep in the bag, propped up with a piece of broken flower pot.  I could see bees fanning so presume I had got the queen.  I also felt a few stings!  About a dozen, I reckon. I got most of them out rapidly, but it wasn’t until I was sat with a cup of tea that I found one or two up my sleeve, so my hands and arms are a little swollen today!

It is unusual for swarming bees to be so stroppy and I hope they aren’t going to be bad tempered.  They are strongly striped, almost wasp-like, and fairly uniform.  I wonder whether they come from an import and maybe I should take a sample and look at the wing veins to identify the strain.   I have a colony about a mile from there and they are black and peaceable, so maybe this is a cross cross.

Apart from Derek, the audience was a lass called Chris, wearing a very smart fawn space/bee suit. We nattered over a cuppa while waiting for the bees to settle down and the stragglers enter the skep.  I was impressed that she’s doing Latin at school as I thought they didn’t do that nowadays.  I told her that I had done only 2 years’ worth before being diverted towards Biology, but that, since leaving school, my smattering of Latin had been of much more use to me than my Biology O Level.

The bees were reluctant all to enter the skep and a fist sized cluster went back to the orginal site.  I shook them off occasionally but mostly they returned.  I gave up in the end, lowered the edge of the skep and, with Chris’ help, wrapped the bag around it and strapped it.

I took them to the allotment to re-stock my empty hive there. They went in uneventfully with no more stinging.

I have never known the first swarm of the season to be so late.  A few years ago, I went through about 30 years’ worth of records, noting and swarming incidents; gains or losses, and plotting them against dates, ranging from 24th April to 4th September.  There was a very sharp peak in the graph in the 3rd week of May, and we’re a week past that now.


About chrissladesbeeblog

I have been keeping bees since 1978 and currently have about a dozen hives. I am a member of the BBKA where for many years I represented Dorset at the Annual Delegates' Meeting. I am the co-author (with Dave MacFawn of of S. Carolina) of "Getting the Best from Your Bees" and am working on a book of my own poems : "Bee People".
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  1. Margaret Johnson says:

    So you don’t find your Biology lessons help you understand plants bees and disease then Chris. Or is it that it is so well assimilated that you don’t even think about it.
    I don’t have a full suit as I am a bit short for the sizing I have a jacket and veil maybe that would be a good investment for you too. or do you believe in the bee sting cooling theory?

  2. Biology was interesting but followed the curriculum rather than teaching you to think, although, amybe the baby in the bottle and the home brew weren’t in the curriculum! Talking last year with my Biology teacher from half a century ago, I discovered that he had bees at the school! We
    didn’t know about this in lessons.
    Latin, although I was no good at it and did only for a couple of years, does teach you how to play with words. I spend far more time playing with words then even playing with bees!
    I suggest you contact Vanessa, the Queen Bee at Buzz Beekeeping Supplies as she can do full suits of all sizes. My first apprentice, Laura, has a 3 year old daughter whom she wishes to introduce to bees and Vanessa thinks she has something that should fit. Mention my name and you might just get a discount!

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