Thursday, 13 May 2010

A bale of hay

I'd just said to the Sage that I was going to get changed, ready to leave at 6 o'clock to meet my friends for dinner, when the phone rang.  It was Al.
He'd been out to check the bees and found that a swarm was clinging on to one of the hives.

He knew they were about to swarm so had split them already - an artificial swarm, that is, you bamboozle them into believing that they have swarmed and, among the ones left behind (the queen and half the bees take half the food with them to set up a new home, leaving queen larvae and enough workers and food to keep the colony going) the new queen will hatch, fly, mate and return to the hive to spend the rest of her life laying eggs. Evidently, they had not been deceived.

By the way, Blue Witch, I'm sure this is only vaguely connected to the actual process, but bear in mind I don't really know what I'm talking about. I'm not the beekeeper of the family.

He was wanting the Sage to babysit while he and Dilly went and dealt with the swarm, but he soon realised that it wasn't going to be easy. The bees were all over the back of the hive with the queen somewhere in the middle and they were going to have to be coaxed into a new home. So he got in the car and drove off to Pob in Boringland to ask his advice. Pob lent him another hive and some tools to help and back he came.

In the meantime, of course, I'd been out to have a look but then had to leave for my evening out.

The other thing is that Al didn't know which colony had swarmed. It was probably one of the established queens, but occasionally a left-behind colony will swarm - this is beyond even my vague understanding so I won't try to explain - anyway, it could have been any one of the five, three of which are presently hatching out new queens (or two of them, anyway) and mustn't be disturbed. And evening was drawing on and the swarm might take off at any time to find a refuge before the air chilled. If they flew before he returned, nothing could be done.

Anyway, I got back just before 10 o'clock and hurried indoors. "Did they catch the bees?" I demanded. They did, said the Sage, and have put them in the hive lent by Pob (who is a long established beekeeper with a hundred or a hundred and fifty - can't remember - hives and provides all the honey for Al's shop.

The title of the post is from the rhyme
A swarm of bees in May is worth a bale of hay.
A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon.
A swarm of bees in July isn't worth a fly.


Mind you, it's not that Al has gained any bees, just that he hopes not to have lost any. All he's gained are some grey hairs and some more worry lines.

19 comments:

Dandelion said...

Such excitement! Glad it worked out. Has he found out which colony it was?

Gledwood said...

I don't get how they take half the food with them. Where do they keep it?
Do they fill up their little nectar-straws with honey, ready to spit it back into new wax cells as soon as they've made them?... surely that takes time.
I wanted to keep bees for years, but was put off reading books that insisted I HAD to handle them bare-handed. Covered up to the wrists in protective clothing but BARE hands. Now I've never been stung by a bee in my life and thought if this happened for the first time when surrounded by 20,000 buzzing insects, with their house wide open and a frame in hand I might drop it on the floor ...
Surely if they fly away you can often get them back? So I've heard?... With step-ladders and poles etc. I heard newly swarmed bees form a docile ball you can simply pick up with bare hands?

Sorry there you are saying you're not the expert and here's me with all this {%-&...

Gledwood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mago said...

WIth all protective gear imaginable I would not go near a swarm of bees. "Der Bien", the king of bees, a literary figure, comes to my mind.
Good to see that they are housed in now.

Dave said...

I decided some time ago that bee-keeping wasn't for me. Mind you I've just had honey for breakfast, so clearly I've nothing against apiculture in principle.

Blue Witch said...

Does Al not clip his queens? Usually, with clipped queens, bees on the hive (or clustering nearby) will be without queen. Makes management *much* easier.

Most beekeepers give up on artifical swarms. I think they're a joke invented for beginners. A bit like the 'long weight' that engineering apprentices are sent to the stores to get.

Blue Witch said...

Oh - and - a bee brush (or large goose feather) and an old sheet to brush them onto before placing the new hive/cardboard box etc over them, propped up with a bit of tile so the stragglers can get in, is the easy way.

Sorry, I've collected too many swarms from wild bees/mis-managed colonies over the years...

Blue Witch said...

And and... rather than doing an artifical swarm, next time he seees a colony he feels is too strong, try giving a full frame of their larvae (uncapped or just capped, depending what is happening, with all the bees shaken off) to another weaker colony, and replacing it with a frame of foundation (good beekeepers will aim to replace brood frames by the third year anyway, so it helps this process). Put the foundation fram in two or three frames in from one end - so as not to split the brood nest.

If all colonies are overly strong, amke up a nuc of 4 or 6 frames, one form each strong colony, but leave the bees on (bees from more than two hives won't all fight as they're all new together).

Z said...

I'll be back later and will let you know what the outcome is.

Unfortunately, foxes ate our large goose, which was the reason that Al had to get *whatever he used* from Pob. I'm afraid that I have no idea what clipping a queen means - and I'm not likely to find out, the bees are Al and Dilly's and I'm happy to remain ignorant.

Ah, another comment.

Z said...

Thanks, BW - I'll tell him.

Blue Witch said...

Clipping a queen is a painless process whereby you cut off part of their wings, so they can't fly. Then, when they try to swarm (with the old queen, as happens often when they have sealed queen cells), when the bees settle, they find they don't have a queen as she's fallen on the ground, unable to fly, so the bees go back to the hive.

Sometimes the old queen finds her way back in, and sometimes she doesn't. If she does get back in, chances are they'll swarm again the next day. If she doesn't, problem solved when the virgin queen hatches (unless there is more than one and one leaves rather than them having a girlie fight to the death to ascertain the strongest).

Some people think it's 'cruel' to clip queens. I think it's unfair to other people not to (local people will be scared/inconvenienced, and other beekeepers will end up collecting their swarms - or you will get wild colonies,which spread disease), because you can't be there watching your bees every minute of every summer day.

In summary, I was taught (by Ted Hooper (RIP recently) and Clive de Bruyn - Al will probably have their books, they're two of the best beekeepers of current times, and, happily for us, very local) that if one keeps bees, one has a duty of care to everyone. That means taking sensible measures to limit swarming ie inspecting thoroughly every 9/10 days through the summer months and clipping queens. Performing this simple, painless procedure is just part of confining bees to boxes. As Clive once said at a class I was at, "If you don't like the idea of clipping wings, then you shouldn't be keeping bees."

But, custom and practice methinks.

Roses said...

I like the honey, I plant flowers for the bees, that's as much as I know.

Have fun.

Does beekeeping give you a bit of a buzz?

Pat said...

We had a swarm outside the drive and phoned the house opposite to warn them. Turned out they belonged to them.

Rog said...

I suggested a little honey for breakfast would do Dave the world of good.

Dave said...

You are a tease, Rog.

mago said...

... bzzzz ...

Z said...

It does take time, Gledwood, so if you check your bees regularly you know when they are planning to swarm and try to pre-empt it. If they are on a branch or something, they form a ball and you can get them quite straightforwardly but, as you can see from the picture, they were on the side of a hive so it wasn't so easy. Al hasn't identified the colony yet - he checked the hive he thought was most likely but there were lots of bees so he didn't think it was them - he'll probably leave them to settle down for a few days, I expect. I've spoken to Dilly, but not to him. She knows about clipping a queen but they haven't tried it yet - last year's queen was really edgy and the bees were not safe to go near, but the two this year have been calm and placid, so they quite wanted to keep them for now.

I'm not getting involved with the beekeeping, except babysitting every Sunday while Al and Dilly check the hives and do whatever. They've done the beekeeping courses and they go to bee meetings every month, not me.

I use honey in cooking but I don't often eat it on bread or anything - it's wasted on me really.

Though, as it's a small swarm, I wonder if it's one of the new colonies rather than the last-year's queen. If Al has spare colonies, he'll sell them - there is a new group wanting to start up an apiary out in the Saints who would be glad of them.

Blue Witch said...

It could just be beees who have come in from elsewhere. Often happens.

If they can't be sure they are form their own colonies, i'd suggest that they treat them with Apiguard or something if they rehive them, just in case they were feral and are covered in varroa etc etc.

Z said...

It was one of his hives - so he's gone from 2 to 6 in the last two or three weeks.

By the way, Gledwood, although the bees do eat the honey, they don't then spit it back out as they need lots of energy to start up a new hive. They have to build up wax cells as quickly as possible so that the queen can start to lay eggs again.

One of the hives had a big varroa problem, which was odd as they'd both been treated the same - but he's on top of it now, for the present at any rate.