We had our first warm sunny day today. It was a pleasure this morning to sit in the garden with my back to a cotoneaster abuzz with bees, both bumbles and honeybees. A few were investigating an empty hive close by.
I wasn’t idle as I was assembling National frames that were given to me by John Molyneux who, approaching 90, had retired from beekeeping. That was about 1985! He told me that he had received some training from Herrod Hempsall, who was a prominent beekeeper and bee-author in the 1930s. The frames were of a type seldom seen nowadays with a split top bar which is eased apart to slot the foundation in.
The phone rang. It was my first swarm call of the year. I chucked a skep and other kit in the car and headed for Preston, on the outskirts of Weymouth, finding the address without difficulty. The bees had taken over a dustbin, probably yesterday as there was a piece of comb about the size of the palm of my hand that dislodged when I lifted the lid to which the cluster was hanging.
I shook them into the skep but, as the day was warm and many bees were out foraging I placed it on top of the bin with the black wrapper loosely about it and left it with the intention of collecting them in the cool of the evening. The owner of the house and bin wanted to pay me for my efforts but I refused, suggesting instead that he went on-line and made a donation to Bees for Development.
I went to Greenwood Grange, a holiday village where I already have three hives with bees and also a couple of empty ones and prepared one of them for the bees. I don’t normally keep that many hives on one site but it’s lovely and convenient and Zoe, the manager, buys lots of my honey to sell on to her visitors. If it’s produced on-site it should enhance the value.
I returned to pick up the swarm in the evening when my cotoneaster had gone quiet. All but two bees were in the skep and I took and wrapped it without protection, even showing the owner the cluster in the skep. I drove them back to Greenwood Grange, took the roof and crownboard off the hive and shook the bees in. At first they covered the entire top over the frames to a depth of maybe a couple of inches but they soon went down and I was able gently to add the crownboard and roof without (I hope!) squashing any.
I’d better check my bait hives soon. Yesterday I was at a frolic at Shepton Montague in Somerset: a party to promote the apple juice and cider from the orchard where I have two bait hives set up. I counted 11 eggs in the top bar hive! Unfortunately they were laid not by a queen bee but by a blue tit! The other bait hive, a National, was being inspected by waspishly-striped honeybees.
On my way home I diverted via Chantmarle Manor where I have a bait hive set up with the intention of obtaining bees from the feral colony that has been occupying the Manor for approaching 80 years. I saw some bees inspecting the hive and, by contrast to those described above, they were large and black. I hope that there’s a chance that they may be largely our native bee, Apis mellifera mellifera. Counting chickens, I should be able in due course to check their wing veins which are an indication of race. I don’t have the resources to do a DNA check though.