Sunday, 9 September 2018

Another Buzzy Bees Year

Well its been another eventful year with the bees at Pentre Bach!

At the end of 2017 we finished the year with three colonies of bees, having collected two swarms earlier in the year. Unfortunately by the end of the winter in 2018 (remember the Beast from the East?!) we'd lost one of our colonies due to the extreme cold.

 However as the year went on and the weather improved , the two remaining colonies expanded and continued to thrive. The bees were able to get out to forage and start to make and store honey. We added a super (a section of frames where the bees can store honey , while the queen is excluded from this part and cannot therefore lay eggs here) to each hive and kept an eye on them. The wonderful weather in early summer was a real boost to the bees.

We did have one incident in early summer when we had a windy spell, which along with a rotting table upon which one hive was standing, caused the hive to lean over quite precariously. The whole hive in fact, was in danger of toppling over and completely collapsing. Unfortunately I was away at the time so Mike had to deal with it by himself. He had to remove each section one at a time from the table, remove the offending table and then carefully restack each section on a new surface. Quite a feat, by himself, dressed in a bee suit , in sweltering hot weather. As far as we know, no bees were lost in this operation!

One evening in late June we were alerted to a possible swarm in Heidi and Sion's garden in Godre'r Gaer. We were unable to go and have a look until the next morning when unfortunately by that time most of the bees had decided to move on and just a few stragglers and a bit of comb were left in the hedge.
So we posted a message on Facebook asking locals to keep a look out for the nomadic bees. Sure enough, the next day , we were informed by Pam and Roy, next to y Ganolfan, that there was a swarm in their Eucalyptus tree. So off we went with our bee suits, smoker and cardboard box. The bees were suspended very conveniently from one branch in an upside-down cone shape. We were then able to easily drop the majority of them into the box then leave them there for an hour or so, so that any stragglers could follow into the box where the queen was more than certain to be. Later that afternoon we sealed up the box and took them back to Pentre Bach where we 'persuaded' them to move into our nice empty hive.
Unfortunately they didn't seem to like the nice new empty hive as I found out a couple of days later when I checked up on them. The hive was empty again! They had scarpered!

So another request was put out on Facebook to look out for our bees with the wanderlust.
A surprisingly long week or so later (where had they been during this time?) we heard from Pam and Roy again that the bees were back in their Eucalyptus tree! So along we went, did the deed yet again and dropped the bees into the cardboard box (along with a bit of Eucalyptus branch for luck) and left the box in the garden to allow the rest to follow at their leisure.
We'd just got back to our house to get ready to watch England play Sweden in the quarter finals of the World Cup when we spotted another message on Facebook about another swarm in the Longworth's garden in Ffordd y Crynwyr. So off we went again, this time with a bit more haste, and found another swarm , again conveniently hanging in a couple of clumps from branches of a rose bush. We dropped them into another cardboard box and left it there , promising to be back later that afternoon (well over two hours later by the time England and Sweden got through their penalty kicks!).

Why do bees swarm?
There are various reasons why bees might swarm. It could be that the colony has just outgrown their present accommodation and decides to look for somewhere roomier to live,
It could also be that the existing queen is getting a bit past-it so the colony decides to raise some new queens. The first queen to emerge will subsequently kill any other queens that emerge as there can only be one queen in a colony. The old queen is then forced to leave but takes a big chunk of the colony with her, and tries to find new accommodation. Sad, isn't it?

Where have the swarms come from?
Well they could have come from one of my hives or they could be wild bees, or even come from further afield.

Are swarms dangerous?
The bees who leave a hive will have prepared themselves by gorging on honey before they leave, as they will not have ready-made stores to use wherever they end up, so they are likely to be sleepy and docile and just looking for somewhere to rest before moving on. They are unlikely to be aggressive if left alone.

Anyway, back to the story ……
We collected both boxes and transferred the first swarm (from the Eucalyptus tree) into the empty hive again. The second swarm (from the rose bush) had to be deposited into a polystyrene Nuc box (a box for small colonies or for transporting bees) and placed near the other hives. The decision as to where they would be housed on a more permanent basis would wait to see if either or both swarms were prepared to stay put.  A couple of weeks later and both swarms had stayed put. The colony in the Nuc box were quickly outgrowing their new home so we had to buy a complete new hive for them. It comes as flat pack so a few days later, after the hive had arrived and been assembled, we were able to transfer the bees into their new home. 

Happily all four colonies have stayed put. They continued to enjoy the great weather and at the end of July we were able to remove a number of frames and extract some honey. Of course we always have to ensure that we leave enough supplies for the bees to use themselves, when the weather isn't so good and they can't get out to forage.
Let's hope we don't have a repeat of The Beast from the East this winter and that all four colonies survive.

Oh and if anyone else finds a swarm in their garden, get in touch with  in Arthog because we don't have any more room!