My portable, wireless, telephone has been playing up today so I took it to the phone shop in Dorchester and left it there while a young person waved a magic wand so that, half an hour later, it was working as it should. There was a backlog of recorded calls and text messages, notably from my apprentice, Rosie. She had left messages to tell me that a swarm had appeared at the Lodge, close to her and Nicky’s home at the Bothy at Minterne Magna. They had gone off to Corscombe where a friend had offered the use of a second-hand hive.
I semaphored that I was on my way. They were on their way back. I got there first and negotiated my way past the dog, which didn’t bite me this time, so the girls found me dozing on a sofa when they arrived. They took me to see the swarm, which was clustered at the lower end of a loose fence post in the Lodge garden. It had been raining earlier and was threatening to do so again so there was little activity. Clearly there was no great hurry for us to hive them.
The apprentices showed me the hive they’d been given/lent: a WBC, long past its prime. We drove in convoy to Parva, unloaded the bits of immediate use and carried them across the field to the apiary. Nicky had yet to do the day’s check on the floor debris of the hive already there so we did that first and she took a photo of it. There’s still no fallen mite but lots of wax scales. Bees were observing us from the entrance but there was very little flight.
I had deliberately set up the National in a corner of the pallet so there would be room for another hive. The WBC floor was too dilapidated to use so I used a National one which, of course, didn’t fit, so I set it up slightly askew so as to provide an entrance and a vertical alignment for the combs. The brood box was added, lifts, crown board and roof.
Then we went back to Magna, the local metropolis (it has a Church, a Big House and maybe a dozen minor residences). The apprentices complain how noisy it is compared to little Parva (excuse the tautology!) where Rosie used to live and where they keep their horses. We donned bee kit. Nicky wore hedger’s gloves whereas Rosie, who, last year, followed my example in inserting her bare hand into a swarm and was tickled by the experience, was naked from the wrists down. Then we walked through the grounds, carrying skep and cover cloth, to the Lodge.
The swarm was as we had left it. We placed the upturned skep close by, with a cover cloth adjacent. Gently, I lifted the post, singing to the girls as I did so. I suspended it above the skep and then, with a violent jerk, shook them into the skep and rapidly covered it with the sheet.
A handful of bees was left on the ground at where the base of the post had been sat. Nicky went to my car and brought some pieces of old and smelly brood comb from the boot. One at a time, we gently laid them on the cluster, waited a while until each was covered in bees then chucked them into the skep. We got nearly all of them and so wrapped the skep, moved it to the passenger seat of my car, put the seat belt on (I’m not sure whether the law applies to non-human passengers!) and drove back to Parva.
Anxious to give the girls hand-on experience, I let them carry the skep across the field. I entered the apiary first so I could be handed the skep over the fence. Nicky got her camera ready. I unwrapped the skep. The bees and I posed and were snapped, then I lowered the skep onto the top of the brood box below. We placed the lifts around it and the roof on top and went our way back to the Bothy. Tomorrow we will discover whether the swarm has made its way down to the brood box or hung on in the skep and act accordingly.
Nicky and I went back to the Bothy while Rosie stayed behind to put her horse to bed, but soon caught up with us. Nicky opened a bottle of Champagne to mark the occasion of them becoming beekeepers in their own right! She also produced locally baked bread and a variety of cheeses on which we supped and around which we nattered until dusk.
It’s the first time I’ve tasted Champagne in years, although, in my youth, I used to drink it by the pint from a silver tankard. Whilst typing this, I’ve had my first draught of this year’s elderflower wine. I know which I prefer!