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.