Saturday evening I had a call from apprentice Sarah to say she was having trouble removing a large swarm from the base of a dense multi-stemmed bush in a garden in Axminster. As dusk was approaching and it was starting to rain I suggested she put a cardboard box over the swarm and try again in the morning.
The following morning I was half way through my meusli, curds and whey when the phone rang. The bees were still there so could I come now please? She gave me the address and I was there within half an hour. The first cardboard box was soggy and frail by then, but Sarah had a spare. She had started cutting twigs from the shrub while applied to the cluster a couple of old combs I had brought with me. I had cut them from a tbh months ago with the intention of measuring cell size before melting them down to recover the wax but has never got around to it.
With a combination of both methods we shook nearly all the bees into the box. The householder, who was watching from a safe distance, asked my for an estimate of the number of bees in the swarm. “9537” was my reply, which I think was not far out.
We closed the box and wrapped in a cloth, put it in the back of Sarah’s car and drove in convoy to her Bee Happy Plants nursery. We placed the box close to where in the apiary we intended to be their home then went to the nursery where was the top bar hive I had made for her a couple of months ago. Sarah had already, before the swarm arrived, asked me to pop over and help her to set it up.
She had all the tools and materials so we quickly built a stand with fence posts and wire, placed the hive on it and, with the aid of a spirit level, adjusted it until it was level. Then we dumped the bees in and left them to sort themselves out while we went for a late lunch.
Lunch was at Huge Furry Willingthing’s River Cottage restaurant at Axminster, courtesy of Sarah’s Mum. It was a family gathering to which I was added for the day. The food was quite good, especially the roast potatoes, but Sarah found her beef too chewy so took it home in a doggy bag for her dogs. We had pudding, a thing I rarely do: mine was 3 blobs of different ice creams. Best was the vanilla that had a sprinkling of real vanilla seeds in it.
After the party had broken up we went back to Sarah’s to check the bees. The new lot were flying vigorously from their new hive so we left them to get on with it. We checked the mite drop on the tray of my mesh floored TBH. 2 mites in 3 days – not a worrying amount.
Then we opened my original tbh and found the bees doing very well and getting short of space. I suspect they may be thinking of swarming as their temper wasn’t as good as usual and I got a few stings. I saw no queen cells though and the marked queen was still there. There’s a bit of cross combing which can be a problem with tbhs if you don’t visit often enough.
Then we opened the mesh floored tbh and they, also a little cross combed, were even crosser. Poor Sarah got a bit of a pasting despite/because of wearing gardening gloves. Her total score for the day was 27. Curiously, 12 of her stings were very close to where she had received stings from ants a couple of days earlier which were still painful. Maybe the skin was a little warmer there or giving off pheromenes.
As clearly the bees weren’t enjoying the examination any more than we were, we called it a day. It is most unusual for the tbhs to be poor tempered and I wonder whether they were feeling defensive because of the sudden arrival of the hived swarm just a few yards in front of them. Or maybe they don’t lie the scent of vanilla on our breath.
The following morning my scales told me that I was 2 lb heavier, for which I hold Sarah’s Ma entirely to blame!