I’ve done many things in my life but there’s one boundary I never thought I would cross. I can almost hear them at the BBKA whispering across the back row about me.
“I hear he’s an indoor bee keeper”
It all started a couple of weeks ago with a knock at the door that wasn’t about a swarm. It would appear I have made an enemy. A bloke in some nearby flats who’s ‘upset’ to put it mildly about bees dropping ‘pollen’ on his car.
I had a rare attack of common sense and didn’t correct him with details of hymenoptera digestion and the bees requirement for regular cleansing flights – which happen to be directly over his car. I also didn’t query the frankly stupid claim that they’d done thousands of pounds worth of damage. Better to let this individual – who has offered to ‘take care of the problem’ himself if I don’t shift them and looks like he dines on steroids, lager and probably lard too – think he’s won.
Mr Soft Top overlooks our garden which means any plan has to be cunning, subtle and so absurd that an aggressive petrol head couldn’t possibly conceive of it.
I have ‘two hives’ ( 2 hives is beekeeper for mostly less than five ) in the garden, one is moving to the allotment soon anyway but what about the second? I’d like to keep it by the house but I can’t just simply hide the bees.
Or can I?
Introducing the Stealth Hive
When I was a kid growing up in Hereford the local Library/Museum had an observation hive made of glass with a pipe to the outside so the bees could come and go.
I don’t have a spare museum and I don’t think my wife will let me keep bees in the bedroom, or living room for that matter. But, I have a workshop down the side of the house. I’m amazed it’s actually standing ( I built it myself by buying two shed kits and ignoring the instructions) but it will do…
I had a dry run of carrying an empty super through the workshop, it seemed easy enough so after a few entertaining moments with a drill I had a row of holes at hive height, an offcut of wood for a landing board on the outside and a substantial wooden letter box affair to screw onto the hive and line up with the holes. What could possibly go wrong?
Time to move them – with help from my patient and lovely wife. First we blocked the hive entrance with a foam sheet that wouldn’t stay in, then resorted to the dog’s towel which wouldn’t either but fell out more slowly. Trying to ignore the roaring bees in the hive ( I am a convicted queen stealer and they know it.) I screwed on the letter box .
We picked up whole assembly and walked confidently forward into the workshop to discover it wouldn’t go round the corner. Sighed ( swore actually ) and put the increasingly upset bees on the garden table. Moved the workbench. Retrieved the now barely confined bees, aligned the hive with the holes and went inside for a slap up meal and celebratory drinkie. The bees were very much indoors.
That brought the number of garden hives down to one, um, two-ish ( three actually ) and didn’t get me any further to reversing the creeping hive situation. The hive that’s just been concealed is queenless ( and queenie is doing fine in her new home ). Time to shift the colony from the little WBC Hobbit house hive.
Uniting two hives is simple – put one brood box on top of the other with a sheet of newspaper separating them. The bees chew through the paper and the colonies mix in an orderly fashion. What could possibly go wrong? Actually, nothing – after two days there was a nice pile of dust under the hive and the bees had adjusted to their new situation. I left them to it for a while.
Sunday in our household is hive inspection day – open them up, check for brood, fail to spot the queen, remove queen cells and all that jazz.
One thing that puzzled me about that observation hive when I was a kid was how you checked it without getting bees all over the place. The answer is – you don’t.
It was an observation hive, small and not too troublesome – mine has two brood chambers and one super, that’s a hell of a lot of bees, also let’s not forget the smoke. I hadn’t thought about the smoke.
By the time we’d finished the first box everyone was getting a little tetchy ( especially the bees ) and it was getting loud. As well as the buzzing there was a constant pinging of bees bouncing off the metal walls. Smoke a pipe in a car whilst playing a kazoo in a hailstorm and you’ll get an idea what it was like. The bees do have exit holes at strategic points but it takes a while for a few thousand bees to find them all.
Remember I’m bad at tucking in. With that many confused bees something’s bound to happen.
Be warned, I’m going to show you some cleavage. There’s something particularly troublesome about a bee down the trousers – the cold carapace of the bee nipping neatly down between the cheeks – and the knowledge that doing anything about it will just let more of them in. You just have to wait – it’s inevitable – at some point the bugger is going to sting and this one felt like a nail gun. Sting count 32.
Next weekend I’ll build a bird table – big one to stand where the hive used to be, I’ll put plenty of rich food on it for the local pigeon population. Look out Mr. Soft Top, hope you’ve got a good valet.