I had a call from my former apprentice, Nicky, whom I seldom see nowadays, although we had fun last year garnering a swarm that had established a nest on a branch of a tree with a long drop below. She, being younger, lighter and fitter than me, had shinned along the branch and dislodged the swarm for me to catch. We hived them at her place but they soon scarpered.
She wanted to borrow a bee suit from me for a friend to wear so she could show him her bees in a Zest hive near her old home at Minterne Parva. Of course I agreed and asked if I could come too as I have never had a close view of a Zest hive being opened.
We met up at 1pm. The day was cool and grey and the temperature was about 50F, much cooler than I would normally open a hive, but Nicky said she wasn’t going to do a full inspection, just show John the inside so he could take some photographs. John is an artist and photographer in Bridport and my full length suit fitted him perfectly. He had a posh camera with a long and wide lens.
We strolled across the field to the hive. I asked Nicky what the honey crop was like She astounded me by saying that somebody had opened her hive and stolen the honey and she had had to feed them! When she took the corrugated sheet off the hive we could see a couple of honey jars inverted over holes in the concrete blocks. One of them still had some honey in it.
The Zest hive is a long deep hive built of concrete blocks. The frames are plastic with 2 ‘H’ shapes vertically, extending about 2 feet (I didn’t measure them). When the concrete blocks forming the ceiling were removed, we could see the cluster covering about 4 frames, which is as good as any other hive I’ve seen so far this year.
Nicky gently removed the first frame with bees on the comb. The bees were a mixture from dark to yellow striped and so mongrels and therefore probably more versatile and able to cope with our currently strange weather. Although the comb had bees, I saw neither brood nor stores except a small patch of nectar. John was busy leaning over the hive taking photos, fascinated by what he was seeing for the first time.
I took out an empty frame to give Nicky more working room, enabling her more easily to replace the frame she had and to remove the next. This one had a palm sized patch of sealed brood that looked healthy enough, but I didn’t notice any unsealed brood. There were no drones to be seen but there were some capped drone cells. I pointed out several bees with deformed wings and John took photos, including some video footage I think. At one stage there was a bee wandering over his lens which might make an interesting effect.
We’d seen enough for a cool day and started reassembling the hive. It was then that I realised that Nicky hadn’t used any smoke and didn’t have her smoker with her! Neither was she using ‘liquid smoke’, which is what I normally use, not having lit a smoker for a couple of years now. Nicky told me that she hadn’t been forgetful but she doesn’t usually use smoke at all.
This helps support my theory that the main purpose of smoke in beekeeping is to calm the beekeeper and prevent him/her from giving off ‘anxiety pheromones’ that would upset the bees. I suppose it’s a form of placebo effect. As both Nicky and I were perfectly calm anyway, we didn’t need it. John, wearing a spacesuit and seeing Nicky and I unworried, would also not have been anxious. I think he may well be getting a bee suit of his own before too long!
As we went back to the cars, Nicky told us that, although nowadays she lives a long way from Parva, she loves it there and likes to have an excuse to visit sometimes. It is a lovely site in a peaceful woody valley with plenty of wild flowers around At the moment there is masses of wild garlic in flower, scenting the air: lovely!
We had timed out visit right because, as we stripped off, it began to rain and has been ever since which is why I’m sat here blogging rather than being busy outside.