Another swarm

My dad had been trying to ring me all morning, and my phone, until then on silent, showed five missed calls. It turned out that his neighbours had a swarm in the hedge next to the track leading to the field where they keep their horse. While a swarm is usually non-agressive — being too full of honey to be anything other than docile — I understood why they would want them gone. I assumed that this was the colony from Thursday, so I went down to investigate.

A swarm of bees hanging out in a hedge.
A swarm of bees hanging out in a hedge.

They were about 50m from the apiary, dangling from a couple of branches. The size of the swarm was perhaps double or triple that of Thursday's, so if they were the same, I can certainly understand why the nuc was far too small for the that swarm. It was much windier today and maybe when I collected them yesterday, many were out looking for food. I'm not sure.

So, after breaking off a few branches to get my bucket under, I gave the hedge a good shake, and tipped the bees into a much more spacious residence. I added a bag of Candipolline and popped the lid on, and then waited around for a few hours to let the bees move in. Every so often a few would head back into the hedge, and then a few more, and I'd have to shake them off and pop them onto the entrance ramp. However, many bees were at the entrance fanning, so things looked good.

All of this was down a track, and so I stood at where it met the road to put off anyone who might want to drive down there. Dave turned up to help out. It was great to just stand and chat. Every so often, a cyclist would go making a joke, clearly thinking they were the first to ever think of it. The best was an Austin Powers impression — Oh, *bee*-have! But it was good to just be outside on a warm summer day and have nothing to do but let the bees settle. One of the neighbours turned up — an organic farmer called Claudia — who had kept bees herself. She wasn't the one who had called my dad but she was interested to stop and chat. Standing on the corner of a road in a bee suit seems to be a good conversation starter.

The received wisdom seems to be that you should wait until the evening before moving the hive homing a collected swarm, so we continued talking until the temperature dropped a little. I strapped up the hive and blocked the entrance, and carried the whole thing over the road and into the apiary. The entrance block had swollen up, but we stuffed the entrance with grass to reduce it and left them to it.

It didn't take long for them to settle. While we were watching it seemed that bees were going in and out of the nuc, and we we were wondering how they seemed to be getting in and out of the back of the hive. It wouldn't be out of the question that I'd built the thing incorrectly. Earlier in the day I'd checked the nuc and, apart from a few bees around the ApiCandy, it seemed as though no-one was at home. So, out of curiosity at how the hive was constructed, I opened it up again.

And now for one of my characteristically spectacular mistakes. You may remember that the crownboard was being used as a ramp for the stragglers, and so it wasn't in the nuc. I learned what a crownboard is for as soon as, holding the nuc roof, I saw thousands of bees fall out of it and onto the grass below. Now, I'm not at all proud that that happened, and particularly to a recently-homed colony. However, as Dave pointed out, the speed with which they walked back in and fanned to each other means that by some miracle the queen was inside and safe in all this. I really must remember not to do that again, though.

A homecoming after an accidental eviction. (Photo by Dave.)
A homecoming after an accidental eviction. (Photo by Dave.)

I guess this means that the swarm that the call was for was likely not the one we collected on Thursday. The swarm may not even be from our bees — both of us haven't seen any significant reduction in bees in the hive, and both hives were well-provisioned with stores.

It's still of course possible that the nuc is too small for them. Apparently, scout bees will look for a cavity about 0.4m³, so a nuc is only going to be suitable for a very small swarm anyway. So, I'm likely to order a new hive next week, if only to have a fresh hive to house any future swarms we head of.

If both swarms stick around, we'll have four colonies. The apiary is getting full now, and we are seriously talking about how to expand. We won't be inspecting any hive now for three weeks or so — each one now has either a virgin queen in it, ready to mate, or a collected colony. They are just too delicate to be disturbed any more.

So, all went well in the end, with no horses stung, and two happy beekeepers.