There I was at home, avoiding the solar flare by having a tidy up, when the phone rang. There was a swarm in a garden in Sydling, a village in the next valley to me. I put some socks on and headed that way, ringing for more precise directions when I was in the village. I found the house and it looked familiar: I had collected a swarm from that garden before, quite a few years ago.
The swarm was dangling from a branch of an evergreen tree, about 8 feet up. The gardener had spotted it whilst strimming the grass beneath it. While I was getting kitted up and fetching a skep, the lady found a set of steps and placed it next to the tree. It was a simple job to shake the swarm into the skep and get down the steps again. I lowered it into a large Ikea bag and, having a bandaged thumb, asked for assistance in looping and tying binder twine around it to keep them in. The lady wasn’t good at knots, but her gardener managed. I placed it in the back of the car and placed a large black bag loosely over it all to keep them in the dark.
I headed westwards, pausing en route to ring apprentice Sarah, to tell her to expect me with the swarm in half an hour or so. I asked her to prepare a site adjacent the stand she had made for the new experimental TBH which is still in my conservatory. There were bees trying to get out of the back window of the car and, in the mirror, I kept count to see whether they were increasing, remembering the occasion when the back window had been completely obscured with bees when the skep had been wrapped in a blanket that had a hole in it. On this occasion numbers settled at a couple of dozen.
The day being the hottest of the year, I drove at first with the windows open, then with the air conditioning on, to prevent the bees becoming over heated. I got to Sarah’s Bee Happy Plants nursery in a little over half an hour and found that she had done a good job, by using pallets and concrete blocks to make a platform for the skep immediately in front of where the entrance of the new hive will be.
I took the skep across to the site and got my kit on while Sarah got hers on also. We undid the twine and, gently, I lifted the skep of bees, tilting it to give Sarah a view, then placed it on the deck. There was a little space allowing the bees to come and go. There were few dead ones where that had bees trapped twixt skep and cover and squashed by the twine.
We left them to settle while we headed for Sarah’s caravan for a cup of tea and a natter. We diverted via her Manuka plantation where the bees from the established hives were busy foraging on the flowers: I hope it doesn’t taint the honey! We discussed our plan for the DARG meeting to be held at Buckfast Abbey this coming Sunday. There is no information in my diary as to the time of the meeting so Sarah emailed Richard Ball to ask him. Unless we hear differently, we assume that we should get there at around noon, complete with sandwiches and veils.
DARG (Devon Apicultural Research Group) is visiting Buckfast so that the apiarist, Claire Densley, can update us on her experimental application of mites that attack varroa mites. If any of you readers are in range, you would be very welcome to join us; to learn and to get to know us, maybe even being inspired to join DARG.
Sarah gave me bags of buckwheat and of sainfoin seeds from the sacks in her living room to enable me to do some allotment and/or guerilla sowing close to home to improve forage there. We looked for a plastic bucket or other colourful container to put on top of the skep to waterproof it and to act as a distinctive marker that could be put on the hive when the bees are transferred to it. We found two: one green and one blue. Then we strolled along to the apiary to see how the bees had settled in.
The skep was empty! The bees had flown! I soon spotted them dangling from an ash tree a little above head height. We kitted up again and Sarah produced a handful of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), whose scent imitates queen pheromone, with which we wiped the inside of the skep. She also produced her camera to snap the first swarm she had seen.
Working together, we easily dislodged the swarm into the skep and placed it back in position. This time, we could soon see bees next to it exposing their Nasenov gland and fanning: a good sign that the queen is within and that this is considered to be home. There was still a small cluster attached to the ash and I gathered a couple of handfulls and shook them next to the skep,watching them scurry inside. I guess that they were bees that had been out scouting for a new home when I took the swarm. Sarah cut off the branch and we laid it over the skep to move any lingering scent there and also to provide some shade in the hot weather.
I have just a couple of days left in which to complete the hive by adding comb building guides to the top bars. The paint I applied to the hive was smellier than I had anticipated but the stench has almost gone now. The plan is that we will take the hive to Buckast to show it off to DARG and then bring it back and set it up on the stand Sarah has made, then hive the swarm in it. We shall, of course, bear in mind the fate of the best laid plans of mice and men!