Two Swarms, and a non-Swarm

Although I have stacks that I want to post about, once again, today it’s bees, and swarms again, and I’ve spent the whole day, in a bee suit, in the sun, and I feel like I’ve got a hangover before I sink the first glass of red.

Today was not all successful, and I wanted to make sure that I record my failures as well as my successes, so here goes…

My day started yesterday, preparing two hives to move, one to an out apiary, and one from the out apiary, to deliver to a customer. Having blocked the entrances the night before, I was able to stay in bed until almost six, which is a luxury. The moves went OK, although the transfer of the sold bees into their new hive took a little longer than expected, while we ‘optimised’ the new hive.

I got home after ten, and quickly checked my own hives. The one hive that I think has yet to swarm, was very busy again, and yesterday appeared to be about to swarm twice. A quick cup of tea, and I went to check the farm hives, and asked my wife to check mine again while I was away. On arrival at the active farm apairy, I could tell that there was a swarm out before I saw it, as there were one or two bees flying into a tree. Sure enough, there was a moderate sized swarm sat at a convenient height, on a very cuttable branch. The only problem was that my employer/apprentice is away, and I couldn’t get hold of any one from the farm to ferry me about, so I had to get my wife to assist. It takes about 15 minutes to walk home, took another 15 minutes to get everything sorted, and we drove back to the apiary. I got Bev to start clearing the undergrowth, whilst I suited up, but just as I finished, the cluster started to take to the air, and within ten seconds, we were surrounded by thousands of whirling bees. I thought that the swarm had found a new home, but they started to settle in another tree, way out of reach. Whilst they were gathering, the farm wagon pulled up and said that there was a swarm up by the farm. Two swarms at once. Don’t you just love keeping bees? My first thought was either that they had seen scouts from this swarm, or that a feral swarm had found a new home there. I left my wife to watch the first swarm, in case they moved down, or to watch which direction they headed in, and went to the farm.

On arrival, it was obvious that I had got it all wrong. A small swarm had settled in a small sapling, right next to the barn. What this means is that there is a colony of bees,probably within 30 meters of the sapling, that nobody had spotted all year. It is also likely that the colony had already swarmed at least once, and nobody had noticed.

First dilemna. Two swarms, but only one hive set up ready (not part of my job unless asked). With the smallest swarm accessible, and the other settling out of reach, I boxed up the small swarm, and with a bit of gentle persuasion, got them into the available hive. During this time, worried that my own colony may have swarmed, and with the first swarm out of reach, I sent my wife, well asked her nicely, to go and check my own bees. Whilst I was dealing with the small swarm, my mobile rang, and I heard that there were a lot of bees, hanging under the alighting board. My initial reaction was that this was just a ‘tailback’ of foragers, attempting to get through a restricted entrance. However, on getting home, there seemed to be too many bees there, although not enough for a decent sized swarm. I guess that I was just hot, and a bit hasty, but I decided to brush the bees into a box, and put them into the hive that was waiting nearby for the next swarm.BIG mistake. As soon as I started it was obvious that this was not a swarm, as the whole bunch went on the attack.

bees clustered on hive

bees clustered on hive

The photo above shows what the bunch looked like a couple of hours later. I think that the hive is too full, too hot, and these were tired/resting foragers. In fact my wife has just come back in and told me that although it is now dark, and most of the bees are gone, there are still some bees on the outside of the hive. My worry is that the foragers go into a very deep sleep state, and need quite drastic ‘shaking’ to wake them up in the hive. The ones outside will be easy pickings for wasps, who are active later, and earlier in the day than the bees. Having found a food source, the wasps will keep returning. Not such a worry whilst the hive is strong, but once it has swarmed, possibly twice, there will be significantly less bees to defend themselves.

Next I set up a bait hive, hoping that the out of reach swarm might find it, and fly in. Finally we went back to see whether it had come within reach, only to watch the back end of it heading into a nearby wood. I wish it well, and am glad that it didn’t choose a house for a new home, and end up poisoned.

Finally, after we got back, I noticed scout bees checking some old comb. Again, no swarm from the one colony left, and nothing else. Either there is a swarm out, or there is a colony thinking about swarming. Looks like tomorrow will be another busy day.

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