Saturday, 2 June 2012

Bee Gone

So, Andy was at home the Wednesday before last and there was a knock on the door. It was our neighbour, Lynn.
'Have you lost any bees?' she said.

Yes, it seemed we had. Queen Olga of the Top Bar Hive had vacated the building with some troops and they were dangling in a long dangly manner from Lynn's lilac tree which overhangs the bottom of our garden.

I was at work. Andy texted me. Something along the lines of 'Our bees have swarmed.' I didn't pick the message up until later when I switched on my phone (unlike the students, I obey school rules and keep my phone switched off and in the bottom of my bag during the day). I phoned at once. Immediately I was in 'GO HOME, DON THE SUIT, SHIN UP THE TREE, RECLAIM THE BEES' mode.

'They've gone,' said Andy. 'They stayed about 2 hours, and then they left.'
'Were they gettable?' I said.
'If you'd have been here, yes,' said Andy. 'I wasn't going up a stepladder to get them on my own.'
'You should have called Reception,' I said. 'I'd have come home. Far more worthwhile than trying to wade my way through this pile of delegated and pointless work I seem to have picked up.'

Ah well, it was too late. We imagined Queen Olga leading the swarm into the park and taking up residence in a nice, sheltered hollow tree to live a life wild and free and building a massive bee empire.

This Wednesday I got home from work.
'Bees were noisy today,' said Andy.
'Oh yes?' I said. 'What's for dinner?'
'Quiche and chocolate brownies,' said Andy.
'Sounds like you've covered all the healthy eating food groups there,' I said.

On Thursday I was home from work first. And there I was, sitting in my arty-crafty writing room grabbing a twenty minute reading slot and I happened to glance out of the window and...

'What's that hanging in next door's tree?' I thought. 'That brown mass the size and shape of a rugby ball?'

It was the bees! They'd swarmed AGAIN! Only this time they were in Lynn's willow tree and they were right at the top. Hanging precariously in the wind.
'That's it,' I said, 'I'm going to lever the top off that hive and see what's going on.'

Being a top bar hive a la natural bee-keeping mode, it has been left undisturbed. We've had an occasional peek, but when it started to fill up with free-form comb, the logistics of checking for brood and Queen cells became impossible. But I was determined. I was thinking, 'Two swarms in eight days - I bet the hive will be empty.'

Off came the top. Many, many bees stared up at me. 'What do you want?' they said. 'We're busy.'
The hive was chocka-full of comb. Beautiful heart-shaped comb dripping with honey. And, as I levered some out as carefully as possible, plenty of capped brood and larvae. And I was sure I heard a Queen piping, too.

'Bloomin' heck!' I said, or words to that effect.

Off with the suit, I grabbed a jar of honey and zipped next door to see Lynn.

'For you,' I said, 'for tolerating our bees using your trees. They might do it again. The top bar hive is full.'

Luckily, Lynn is very keen on bees. She was very excited about the first swarm, and just as much by the second. 'I don't know what you're doing,' she said, 'but it must be something right. Every time I see reports on the news about the declining bee population I think, we'll be okay in Kent!'

She was more concerned about us attempting to retrieve the second swarm because the willow tree isn't very stable, being all flimsy and willowy.

'Don't worry,' she said, breezily, as I apologised again. 'They'll soon go I expect.'

Except they haven't. Two days later they are still hanging in the tree. The weather hasn't been great. They've been blown about in the wind. Last night they tolerated a fairly hefty bout of rain. They're there now. I can see them. Just dangling. Loitering. We've set up our spare hive. Baited it with lemon grass and wax. I've stood under the willow tree, stared up at the swarm, tried to be a bee-whisperer. 'There's a new house for you over there,' I've said. 'All ready to move into. Look, next to the honeysuckle. You'll like it there.'

They're not budging. Today there has been talk of calling the local fire brigade station and, if they've got a spare five minutes, p'raps they could pop around with a sturdy ladder. We're watching the skies for signs of warmth and sunshine that might encourage them to go. We're listening to the air, waiting for that sudden and magnificent roar that says, 'We're on our way - woo-hoo!!' We're hoping, because we are optimists, that they make a diagonal swoop from the top of the willow next door to where the baited hive is waiting in our garden. There have been a couple of honeybees hanging around the hive front; there has also been a bumblebee doing the same except it is too fat to get inside.

What's going to happen? I have no idea. I'll let you know.

And God bless our neighbour, Lynn, for her enthusiasm and patience and for being an all-round bee-friendly person!


Olly said...

Gosh - just bear in mind they'll be pretty grumpy after a couple of days hanging around in a willow tree! Mine swarmed last year and I couldn't get them for similar reasons (6' fence, stepladder, absent neighbours and nobody available to help) but on the bright side, you should be left with a new queen. Bees round here have been swarming with a vengeance.

The Anonymous Blogger said...

Ha that's great. You have a wonderful blog.

-The Anon Blogger

Denise said...

Hello Olly!

Yes, and this morning they are soaking wet, too, because it chucked it down last night enough to refill our almost empty water butt.

I thought that, too, that we've got a fresh Queen. The bees in the top bar have been so calm and gentle that I hope new Queenie is as good a Mum as Queen Olga was.

Denise said...

Thank you, Anon Blogger. Clearly you are an enigma wrapped in a mystery who has very good taste!