Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Three Hives, Four Hives

Oh blimey! You go away for a nice long weekend in a posh cottage in Hereford, you travel home, arriving at lunch time and you're in the kitchen making yourself a piece of cheese 'n' chilli jam on toast when this happens...

'The bees are sounding very loud,' I say.
'Yes,' says Andy. 'There's rather a lot of bees by the greehouse.'

I wander to the front door and look out onto the front garden and driveway in a nonchalant and vaguely curious way.

'Bl**dy, flippin' Nora Batty!' I say (and possibly scream and/or screech I don't remember, the last eight hours have been a bit of a blur.)
'What's up?' says Andy, who is on grill duty.
'The front garden is full of bees, the bees are gathering on the front wall, there are bees EVERYWHERE!' says I, again with a possible note of hysteria in my voice, I don't remember rightly because I've only just stopped quivering with the trauma of the last eight hours.

'Are they swarming?' says Andy.
'Possible...defintely...yes,' says I.

We gather up a skep and a cardboard box, because the bees are settling into two distinctive groups, one the size of a large melon (say honeydew) and the other the size of a medium melon (say cantaloupe). We don our bees suits, gather up two bed sheets and head off out front to gather bees.

We draw a bit of a crowd as people stop to watch the malarkey. Someone comes out to take photos. We discover that gathering bees from a flat wall is a tricky business.
'I thought bee swarms were supposed to settle in trees and dangle from a convenient branch,' says I.
'Clearly not our bees,' says Andy.

Gradually, by a cunning blend of gentle coaxing and luck we manage to get the two casts into box and skep. The box bees go in easily, forming an orderly rank and file marching troupe. We think we may have caught the Queen quite quickly, as they follow their leader and are very obliging. Difficult to tell, though, what with there being a gazzillion bees and all.

The skep bees are slightly more tricky. They are more spread out. Also, we discover that although bees in straw skeps is a combination as old as the hills, they are a sod to remove from the skep into the new hive because bees stick to skeps like Velcro.

Anyway, bees in box and bees in skep, we wrap box and skep in the sheets and transfer into back garden. Now is not the time to do a comedy trip and fall over. Skep bees sound especially angry. And although I have appeared on the outside to be an oasis of bee-keeping calm, inside I am a quivering wreck. I am only glad we managed to recapture the bees before the local schools turn out.

'We can't keep four hives in our garden,' I say.
'Especially if they are going to try swarming again,' says Andy, because once a colony starts, they often keep going throughout the season. We could be knee-deep in hives by July.

We decide we need to consider our careers as urban bee-keepers. The experience has scared us just a tad. We can't be having bees swarming in a built up area, no matter how interested an audience we attract.

But then! Oh joy and brainwave!! My cousin Richard lives out in the sticks, 8 miles away, on a huge farm with orchards. I call him and explain out predicament. He says he will speak to the landowner. Within ten minutes he returns my call - the landowner is more than happy to accommodate our hives on his land! Oh, the relief! Thank you God of Bee-Keepers! Thank you, Land Owner!

As dusk falls, we head into the garden to rehive the bees. We are armed with the bait box that failed to bait anything whilst parked on the flat roof, and foundation attached the frames designed for the top bar Andy made last year. And icing sugar and a sieve to dust over the bees to distract them from being banged uncermoniously into a new home.

We decide the box bees (cantaloupe melon size) will go into the nuc box. We are more convinced they have a Queen. The dodgy honeydew melon cast will go into the top bar. Before we start we decide who is going to do what. We work slowly and methodically. As usual, the bees haven't read the books and some just sit on the unwrapped sheets going, 'Oi! Shut the box up, it's chilly in here.' A firm rap gets most of the bees into their new home but not all so I invent the Andy 'n' Denise Method of rehoming reluctant bees which is scooping up blobs of them in the sieve and plopping them in after the main melon body. I think that of all the gazzillion bees we have handled today, we've lost about 30. The box/ nux bees are in the greenhouse because they are small in size and we need to keep them warm if they are to survive. The skep/ top bar bees are wearing icing sugar coats and will no doubt keep themselves warm with all the grooming and a sugar rush.

And on Friday, the plan is to take three of the four hives to a new home in an orchard. We are going to keep the top bar at the back of our garden for a while and see how they do.

But any more Malarkey and they will be orchard bound too.

From one hive to four in the space of a year. We'd rather we hadn't, but we did, and we've managed and now, it seems, we have a Much Malarkey Manor Apiary. Today we have learned that a bunch of bees can be remarkably heavy. That a handful of bees is remarkably warm to hold. That although one may be seething with nerves inside, it's best not to let the bees know.

And now I need to go and lie down in a dark room and try and stop quivering.


LynneFtWorth said...

Bless your heart, I think you may need to sample some of Andy's homemade moonshine.

Good Luck!

Denise said...

Thank you kindly! Moonshine and bees - now there's an interesting combination!

The bees seemed to have settled into their new abodes, but to be honest, I shall be relieved to move them out of the suburbs and into back-of-beyond countryside territory.

There is only so much excitement I can cope with!