I learnt things this weekend. The first thing I learnt was that even when you’re topping up a feeder (which doesn’t involved opening up the hive completely), just a veil is not sufficient. Stings 13,14 and 15 acquired on the forearms, 16 & 17 on the left and right armpits respectively, no more T-shirts for the beekeeper.
I also found queen cells – a sign that the colony is feeling overcrowded and that they should have more space. I should have listened to my instincts last week and added a super ( a small box filled with frames for honey collection ) rather than going for the book learning view that they hadn’t filled out quite enough comb in their brood chamber yet – add a super too early and the bees have trouble maintaining hive temperature.
I also shouldn’t have hesitated – I took out some of the queen cells then panicked – I couldn’t see the old queen and being a clumsy oaf it was just possible I’d accidentally killed her. No queen plus no queen cells = dead colony – no one to lay fresh eggs. As queen cells in the hive weren’t sealed I had a little time before I had to act. So I left a couple of cells and sought advice – the sensible thing to do (in my mind anyway).
I got my advice but it was too late to open the hive that day – all the worker bees would be home and the brood wouldn’t appreciate being waved around in the cold evening air, I figured I had 48 hours to do something so yesterday I dashed home a little earlier than usual ready to put plans into action.
Things were quiet around the hive – too quiet – and then there was a knock on the door
“Do you want your Queen back?” says a cheerful neighbour
I didn’t even know they’d noticed I kept bees. I’d been three hours too late, my queen, half the workforce and all the loot they could carry from the hive were in next door’s tree – about 10 foot higher than the tallest ladder anyone could muster.
Panic, flap, run around, panic, grab things, phone random beekeepers begging for help. Swarms aren’t supposed to happen to a new colony! So I’d been led to believe and I was ill equipped to deal with one barely three weeks into my apiary career.
The trick, according to the books is to give whatever they’re resting on sharp smack and they’ll all drop off into an waiting container. A makeshift bucket on pole got a tablespoon of bees down – who promptly went back up to the rest. A local beekeeper ( thanks Jan! ) arrived with a spare nuc box ( mini hive ) and some experience.
How about hooking the branch and pulling it lower? I’ve done a bit of tree surgery in my time, sycamore is quite brittle but an hour had passed, people were watching, I was tiring of apologising to the neighbours and we wanted our damned bees back so the branch was hooked by some sort of implement on a pole.
It looked good for the first meter or so, then…. Crack!
Well, I like to think our marriage is strong, if you’d like to test your relationship maybe you’d like to try dropping a large branch and five thousand bees on your partner’s head. I thought she took it rather well and everyone watching scattered. The bees, suddenly finding themselves on the floor dished out a few stings, took to the wing and returned to the tree. Aside from the brave band of warriors that found their way inside our bee suits.
We gave up, I’m not normally a quitter but enough was enough….
As soon as we turned our backs, the bees descended to a lower branch and conveniently one no longer attached to the tree, merely wedged in place having just been broken.
Now we could actually do what the text books said to do – collect the branch with no fuss or drama and place it gently on a sheet, wrap up the sheet and carefully carry it, buzzing like fury through the street getting stared at by dog walkers.
Once in position, the sheet is carefully opened up in front of the new hive. The bees, sensing the aroma of old wax and propolis are supposed to think it’s a good place to live. It usually works, not always though.
A few workers investigated the hive and did appear to start to move in – they must have been getting desperate as itwas getting on for 9pm and on the floor at night is something bees don’t like the appeal of.
I checked this morning at 6 and there were still a hell of a lot of bees on the floor, I don’t know what they’re up to. Maybe it just got too dark and cold last night so they stayed put. Maybe they don’t like it. As I left for work there were bees coming and going from the inside of the nuc box and it was starting to rain. I hope the bad weather and the luxury pad right in front of them will persuade them to stay – I don’t want to lose my bees!
I’ve set a time lapse camera on them – I can’t control what they do but at least I can find out what happened.
Sorry neighbours, I owe half the street honey now.
Sting count 24, I doubt it will stay at that for long.