Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The Trials and Tribulations of Beekeeping

We started keeping bees in 2014 after Wilma completed a beekeeping course run by the local beekeeping association. The first year went really well and we harvested about 60 jars of honey. We thought that beekeeping was a dawdle!
In 2015 we split the colony artificially to provide us with a 2nd colony (and also to prevent swarming). For various reasons (mainly weather related) neither colony managed to produce a lot of honey so we only harvested a small amount and left most of what the bees had produced in the hives for the bees to survive on throughout the winter.
In 2016 we were unfortunate to lose the 2nd colony while we were away on holiday (possibly they left of their own accord but we don't really know) but the original colony fared well and supplied us with about 40 jars of honey.
This year our surviving colony seemed to be doing well and we were thinking about performing another artificial split so we would have a second colony again , and also to prevent swarming if the hive had become too crowded.
However before we could do that we were on our way back from a visit to family in Yorkshire when we were informed that there was a swarm of bees on the roof of a house in the village not too far from Pentre Bach. As soon as we got back home, we went to investigate and found that the bees had settled inside a chimney that was now disused. Not the easiest place to retrieve them from! You watch YouTube videos etc and see beekeepers just shaking a branch and dropping swarms of bees into a box and then taking them away to rehouse them in an empty hive. But no that wasn't going to happen here!  Mike had to suit up, climb up a ladder to the roof, pull up a roof ladder, then come back down to then carry a bait box (complete with frames of honey inside) up onto the roof, below the chimney, in the hope of encouraging the bees to choose our nice dry box with stores of honey to live in, rather than a cold , draughty chimney.
A few days later we could see from the ground that the bees were still coming and going from the chimney so ........ plan B....... again after research on the Internet we discovered that you could buy a substance called swarm lure that imitates the pheromone that the queen exudes , causing her colony to stay with her. We ordered a pack and as soon as the 3 tiny tubes arrived we went back to our neighbours' house where Mike yet again climbed up to the roof and smeared some lure at the entrance to the bait hive as well as remove the cap from the top of the chimney , again to try to discourage the bees from remaining inside the chimney.  We left them to it, convinced that this would do the trick.
1 or 2 days later we had a surprise visit from 2 members of the village community council, who came to find us because a swarm of bees had been spotted in the village play park! So .....suits back on, smoker stoked, we set off like something from Ghostbusters
to the play park to rescue/collect the swarm. Were they hanging handily from a branch ready to pop into a box this time? Oh no, this swarm was right in the middle of a huge wild bramble bush! So ..... we had to cut, slash and shear our way into the centre of the bush, jungle-like, until we were able to get anywhere near the huge ball of bees in the centre of the bush. Meanwhile hundreds of the bees were getting decidedly agitated, unhappy at having their new temporary home disturbed. We managed to manhandle the majority of the bees into a cardboard box, hoping that the queen bee was amongst them and then left it beside the bush for nearly an hour, until the majority of the remaining bees decided to join the queen in the box.
Safely taped up in the cardboard box we returned home with them and deposited them carefully in our empty hive , complete with a few frames of honey 'borrowed' from the other hive along with a number of frames of fresh foundation (wax).
Where had these bees come from? The obvious answer is from our hive but its impossible to tell as we still appeared to have thousands of bees in our existing hive. Interestingly though , when Mike climbed up yet again onto our neighbours' roof, he found out that the bees had indeed left the chimney but had not gone to live in the bait box either. So had the swarm in the chimney moved to the play park in the hope of finding a better home? We will never know.  
But the story didn't finish there. A couple of days later when Wilma was away, Mike got another call about yet another swarm on the edge of the village. Bravely Mike set off by himself in his bee suit to try to collect this latest swarm. Fortunately for him this swarm was conveniently located in a tree and he was able to easily collect them in a cardboard box and bring them back to Pentre Bach. All he could do was deposit them into our polystyrene nucleus/bait box along with some honey on frames, to use as a temporary home until we can get another hive. Did this swarm retrieval all go to plan? Not quite. When Mike later went back to the car, he found that there were hundreds of bees all over the inside of the car. These bees must have made a last bid for freedom and somehow sneaked out of the taped up box while still in the car without Mike noticing. Undeterred Mike donned the bee suit yet again , opened all the doors and left the cardboard box outside. There must still have been the queen's scent inside which eventually enticed most of the bees into the box. From there he took them to be reunited with the main swarm in the bait box located near the other hives in the walled garden.
A few days on and all 3 colonies seem to be quite happy in their present homes but who knows?...........
Oh and if you happen to come across a swarm ....... don't call us!!!!!