Our LETS (Local Exchange Trading System) group had a gathering today at Ourganics, a 5 acre permacultural holding on former water meadow at Litton Cheney where my friend, Pat, has lived ‘off grid’ for about 15 years. I have kept a top bar hive there for most of that time. About 15 of us gathered for a shared picnic lunch and then Pat gradually showed us around the place over the next few hours. I know it well but still learned new things.
When the others had gone I checked Pat’s bees for her. They came as a swarm from my tbh. Unfortunately the tbh is queenless and broodless. Maybe the new queen was snapped up by a swallow or something. Luckily some of the frames in Pat’s brood box were shallow and so I was able to break off a chunk of newly drawn ‘wild’ comb containing eggs and very young larvae. I took it across to my hive, found a couple of suitable combs near the front from which I cut square holes with my hive tool and inserted chunks of new comb cut to the same size. I hope they’ll take advantage of the opportunity to raise a new queen from a ‘sister’ larva.
‘Ourganics’ is deep in the Bride valley and thus has a very poor phone signal. I was getting bleeps from time to time but wasn’t able to respond to messages from my apprentice, Rosie, that there was yet another swarm at Minterne. As soon as I was able I headed for high ground and sent a message that I was on my way. Rosie, by that time, had gone off riding her horse, but Nicky had been setting up a hive from spare equipment in just the place I would have recommended: beside the lake, beneath a tree, a site we’d considered when first getting the girls with bees.
This swarm was within yards of where the first one had been but up in a tree rather than on the ground. The patch is full or aromatic Box trees and I wonder whether bees find the scent attractive. The swarm was about 10 feet off the ground and the girls had already set up a ladder and tied to the tree, immediately adjacent the swarm, a cylindrical box with a capacity of about 3 pecks with an entrance hole inches from them. One or two were investigating but the cluster didn’t seem very interested.
Nicky and I dressed for the occasion and she produced a large cloth tub and a sheet with which to wrap it. I noticed that she has stopped using hedger’s gloves and so I annointed her paws with aromatic spray that I use instead of gloves. We went to the swarm, only yards from the house. I shinned up the ladder, positioned the tub under the swarm, gave the branch a good shake and descended to where Nicky was ready with the sheet. I collected a sting, the first I’ve had for ages and it hurt!
We carried the tub of bees for about a quarter of a mile through the ornamental gardens, crossing the lake by a turf covered bridge and wended our way to a young oak tree, at the foot of which Nicky had set up what will have to pass for a hive until they can build something better. It is a National floor with a WBC super sat on it, a crown board, a plastic sack and a dustbin lid! It is sat on a couple of pallets and Nicky scrumped a log to level them up. We hived the swarm uneventfully and made out way back to their Bothy for a cup of tea and a slice of banana cake.
Nicky wound up her computer and I steered her towards Dave Cushman’s web site and the hive plans. Both Nicky and Rosie are competent at making things and I’m sure they’ll soon be making all their own kit. I forgot to mention that they’ll need record cards. They can download mine from Dave’s site and, being young and clever, will be able to print them the right way round.
If I had consulted my own record card for the first swarm, which we hived at Parva, we would have treated them for (against!) Varroa a couple of days ago before they sealed brood. Nicky and I drove there and, as if by magic, Rosie appeared on horseback. We went the pretty way, through the wood, to the hives and I administered a dose of ‘Hive Clean’, the first time I have used that product which is alleged to encourage the bees to groom each other and chuck out Varroa mites. The girls are doing a daily floor check on that hive and so it will be interesting to see whether or not there is a sudden increase in fallen mite numbers.
I did a rapid check on the innards of the hive and found a piece of new comb askew so I removed it and took it back to the car. There I used the toothpick of my Swiss Army Knife to uncap the pro-pupae, the very recently capped larvae. I found 3 Varroa in all from about 30 capped cells, so the (fallible) indication is a 10% infestation.