Bee abundance 2015

Caravan bees

It began on a sad note with my four year old bees fading away in early spring. I bought this and another colony from a retiring commercial beekeeper for £180 each. One went to the garden at work then died in the second year when the field next door grew rape. Coincidence? The other lasted until now and has appeared to be thriving with loads of honey overwinter but the queen couldn’t quite make it to spring. I waited and waited in case a near-miracle supersede occurred but it didn’t and just a few bees were coming and going by mid-May.
Last year I brought a new swarm back from Andover, it’s purported to be feral, and they live at work. It’s very busy thankfully as, in May, it was my only remaining colony. It’s in old commercial boxes, a stack of two. There was a huge sense of loss at the thought that I wouldn’t have any bees in my home garden, it really feels that something is missing. I had to hope I could gather or collect a swarm. The natural beekeeping group has a swarm list so I put my name down and crossed fingers.
Next came a request to help collect a swarm in a rose bush. I’m a real beginner at swarm collection but I have been talking to a neighbour about bees and he has an attractive WBC just waiting to be populated. So we went over early evening, tried placing a box over the swarm in the hope they’d move up into it (I didn’t dream that advice did I?). Came back, they hadn’t moved an inch! Began the tentative removing of branches by torchlight and long-story-short put them in the hive after 11.00 PM! They weren’t happy about something however and moved off the next day. I wasn’t around and by the time the new beekeeper arrived and they had gone. Not looking good.
Then began the abundance. One afternoon in the greenhouse at work I heard the growing hum of bees that pricks up a beekeeper’s ears. Bees completely covered the garden and I thought I’d follow them just in case I could have a stab at collecting. I had left a bait hive on top of an old caravan and they did show interest, in fact they completely smothered the box. I was delighted!
Fresh from an absconding swarm though I wasn’t counting my chickens and indeed, the next day they looked set to move on. But stayed. And the day after that they also threatened to go, but again went back in. The third day it rained and yes, they’re still there. I nadired a couple of weeks after they settled in as it was a large swarm (pretty tricky up a ladder, stung through gloves, not recommended) and now I will leave them quite alone.
A friend from the natural beekeeping group said he’d take a couple of boxes and a hive swarms for me so I gave a commercial (kit we were given and so I’ve always got spare boxes) and my first Warré. One is now housed in the commercial at a new site on Cools Farm, an organic dairy farming not far from me. And I’ll receive the Warré this weekend.
Another friend who is rapidly establishing a Warré apiary ‘phoned with the offer of a swarm as she had run out of kit. I had my newly made skep handy so off I went. This swarm was the easiest to collect I’ve been involved in so far. Text-book shake off branch, fall in skep, turn over onto sheet, moving to skep. So my skep is populated and apparently going like a train! I collect it next weekend and will romantically shelter it under a compost dalek. This will have to be at home as I wouldn’t inflict this aesthetic on anyone else.
Oh, and after Chelsea flower show I planned to dismantle the failing hive but when I came back there was new activity, a swarm had arrived while I was gone and was busy kicking out the old bees.
So from one colony to six in a year, I can’t quite believe my luck. When I went to remove my name from the swarm list – it wasn’t there! I could’ve been sitting waiting, and waiting and then it would all have been too late. It will be fascinating to compare the different sites and hives as they progress.

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