Yesterday I had a phone call about bees from the gardener at Chantmarle Manor about 5 miles up the road from me. Last time I had a call from there, it was in 1992 when the Head Gardener at the time told me there was a swarm from the bees in the Manor chimney and that, by banging on a sheet of galvanised iron he had managed to get them to come down to land in an apple tree in the kitchen garden. I mentioned this to the late John Atkinson at the National Honey Show soon afterwards and he told me that he used to live nearby and that there had always been bees in the chimneys there until he left to do his National Service in 1948.
I first visited the Manor half a century ago when I had a red-headed girl friend living there, Wendy Mills. I wasn’t into bees at the time and was more interested in the newts in the moat and her Mum’s strawberries!
This time the gardener, Hayley, showed me a colony of bees in a fruit tree. They had been there for some time as they had plenty of comb drawn, complete with stores and brood. Some windy weather had dislodged them and some of the combs had fallen to the ground where they’d been badgered, but there were still a couple of large combs up in the tree, just within reach, covered with lots of bees.
Having done the recce, we returned to the car and got Hayley clad in a ‘spaceman’ bee suit. She had fetched a pair of garden loppers to help make the colony more accessible. I’m still hobbling a bit from my broken leg and was glad that my friend, Ann, had also come along to help.
With team work we transferred the two large combs, complete with bees, to a nucleus box. Hayley fetched a wheelie bin to sit it on so it was just below where the colony had been. She also lopped off the branch where they had been clustered as bees kept returning to it. I showed her bees fanning and displaying their Nasenov glands at the entrance of the nuc, indicating that the queen was within.
We went back to the house and Hayley pointed out bees flying from beneath the roof of a more modern part of the complex of buildings that may be demolished before too long, now that the Manor has reverted to being a private house after spells as a college and as a hotel. She asked if I would be willing to try to remove the bees if necessary and I assented. I did hint that she might like to take up beekeeping. She didn’t leap at the chance but said she’d be happy for me to keep bees in the grounds, which I’d like to do as it’s a lovely place to visit and the nearby agriculture isn’t too industrial.
I pointed out to Hayley that Chantmarle is on the ley line of feral colonies, mainly in churches, running between Evershot Church, where the colony is in a gargoyle, to Upwey, where they are in the tower.
We left the bees to settle down for some hours, returning at sunset when nearly all the flying had ceased, and I blocked the entrance with a piece of sponge and strapped up the elderly nuc, which has a tendency to fall apart as it is several decades since I made it. We took them to their new home, not too far from mine, strapping them to a milk crate and removing the sponge at the entrance.
This afternoon we gingerly removed the combs from the nucleus and tied them into National brood frames placed in the centre of the nuc with a frame with starter strip on each side. They were remarkably docile. They were uniformly dark bees which suggests that it might be worth taking a closer look at wing veins etc to see whether they are likely to be natives.
I don’t normally feed my bees but, as these have lost lots of their stores and comb, I shall make an exception and give them syrup for a while, although there should be plenty of ivy etc to forage on. I saw elsewhere today a bank of dandelions such as you’d normally see in spring.Times and weather are strange.