As I mentioned yesterday, I had a phone call to tell me that my good friend, Jean d’Cruze had died that morning after a long and painful illness. I have just returned from visiting her bungalow to tell the bees of her demise and to warn them that they may be in for unpleasant times to come.
The bees have occupied the ceiling of the flat rooved kitchen continuously for well over a quarter of a century. There has been no break and re-occupation as is often suggested when feral bees have been on the same site for years, at least during the last decade or so when I have been a frequent visitor at all seasons.
I think it must have been the bees that got us acquainted as the soffit board along where the gutter should be was rotten and needed renewing. I did it with the assistance of Len Watts, a fellow beekeeper and retired carpenter (he must have been gone about 5 years). We drilled 3 holes about 10 feet apart for the bees to use as entrances. All three were busy today, plus a couple of other cracks.
Sometimes the cracks in the plasterwork ceiling opened up enough for bees to get in and I applied duct tape where necessary. The smaller cracks have festoons of black fluff dangling from them: evidence of the role of wax moths in comb renewal. Rats and/or mice may also have had a role in this as they could be heard from time to time.
Jean’s land extends to about 4 acres on top of Rampisham Down around the 700 foot contour. She had no neighbours for miles and I know of no beekeepers close by. She invited me to place hives there but I declined as I didn’t want to spoil things by bringing pests, diseases and the wrong genes to contaminate the existing stock. They must be within drone-flight of other colonies as I have noticed more yellow banded bees in recent years.
I once took a swarm from a fence post there and hived it on site, making the mistake of sitting it on an oil drum to provide a raised entrance which bees prefer. They did very well for a while but were overturned by a winter gale and I didn’t realise until it was too late.
I took another swarm more recently, a couple of years ago, and placed it in a National next to her fence on the line that Jean told me was the direction in which swarms usually departed. The bees hated that hive for some reason and kept clustering outside it, eventually departing.
After that I constructed a bait hive of a pattern of which I think Tom Seeley would approve. It is an imitation hollow tree trunk made of pallet planks with a lid, below which I trickled lines of wax as comb building starters. The volume is about a bushel and the entrance is a knot hole at the bottom, about chest high to me when it was suspended from the roof of an out building. Despite baiting with lemon grass oil, I have seen only one bee showing an interest and that was last year. I have now brought it home and will have to decide what to do with it.
As I was about to leave, a strange lady appeared at the door. She told me she is Jean’s sister. I didn’t know she had a sister! There are also two brothers, one of which I knew. He’s Chris and is blind (his wife also) and lives in Northern Ireland. I know he and Jean spoke regularly on the phone. The sister told me that he is the principal beneficiary of the Will and, as he won’t be able to use the land himself, most probably it will be sold for demolition and redevelopment.
What about the poor bees!