It’s hot in a bee suit. One layer of clothes underneath. An all-in one cover on top – complete with closed in head-gear. Zips at the extremities. Leather gauntlets and wellington boots. After about 20 minutes you need a beer and a shower. Possibly two. Of each.
The swarm emerged at ten in the morning. Suddenly the front garden is alive with 20,000 flying bees sounding a bit like a motorbike on a hill climb. The trick at this point – as at every other point along the way – is not to panic. So I gathered my gear and climbed into the suit. The sun was shining. I’d had breakfast outside at 7 o’clock. I hoped this wasn’t going to take long.
The swarm decided to settle in the middle of a berberis. So no single branch to cut or shake. No matter. I clipped away the surrounding branches to get at the mass of the swarm and holding a box underneath shook a storm of bees into the opening. The key here is to get the queen. Once she’s inside the others will follow. I put the box on the floor with the lid slightly open and watched the bees start to climb inside. It was 10.25. I was starting to overheat but things were going well. What I didn’t know was that by the time I took my bee suit off it would be five in the afternoon and I would have lost about half a stone.
There was very little sign that these bees had read the books on swarm collection. For the rest of the day they were caught, boxed, and hived several times. Each time, just as it looked as if they were going to settle they set off again. At one point I tried the traditional method of running the bees up into the new hive rather than dumping them in at the top. This is a magical process where you fix a white sheet below the hive entrance, pour the bees onto the sheet and then watch them march upwards and into the empty hive.
The picture shows what happened. Instead of going into the hive the bees merely climbed up the outside face and sat there. I cunningly added another brood box balanced on the lid and for a while it looked as if they were finally gong to be lured inside. Ten minutes later they were all on the wing and we were back to where we’d started several hours before. By the time we’d finally got them housed – persuaded to stay by a frame of unhatched brood – Kate and I were exhausted.
All this was yesterday. This morning I’ve been through another hive which was preparing to swarm. This one had a marked, clipped queen. But despite going through the brood box twice we didn’t find her. We destroyed some queen cells. But this one could go at any time too.
Footnote: I was just about to post this when I looked out of the window to see the swarm on the wing again. This time they settled about 20 feet off the ground in dense branches overhanging the road. A call to our local Master Beekeeper produced some sound advice. Too dangerous to try to collect. Let them go.