Pink Flower

The accidental beekeeper

In the last few days I’ve been plunged back into the world of beekeeping. I arrived home after a day’s shopping to a note on the driveway warning me that there was a swarm of bees in my garden. Initially I couldn’t see them and felt disappointed that I had missed them. Then I looked again and saw a large cluster hanging down from the branches of a bush.

Swarm

I got in and spent a bit of time trying to get hold of a beekeeper to collect the swarm. However, as it was the Sunday of a bank holiday weekend I had no luck. In the end I found my bee suit (magically I knew where it was and it wasn’t in the loft!) and went hunting for a suitable “skep” to catch the bees in. Sadly I don’t own a skep but I did find a large plastic lidded box.

The actual swarm collection process was straight forward. The bees were easy to reach and calm. I placed the box on the ground under the cluster and cut off the branches the bees were hanging on – dropping them into the box (in hindsight I probably should have knocked the branches to get the bees to drop off, rather than cutting the branches – as the foliage left in with the bees caused problems later on).

Once the bees were in the box I dropped the lid on top – leaving it slightly skewed to allow any flying bees to enter. I then retreated to the back garden to check if I had any bees hanging onto me – no bees – so I was able to go inside and get ready to go out. 15 minutes later the bees in the front garden were calm enough that I could walk out of the front door without any problems. Two hours later I got home and was able to adjust the lid of the hive – leaving it propped slightly open to allow bees to fly in and out.

Bees in box

All night I could hear the bees buzzing in their temporary home…

So far so good.

By the following day I’d decided I’d like to keep the bees. So Monday was spent getting some essential equipment (a floor for the hive, foundation sheets of wax and frames) obtaining an electric heat gun, and clearing a part of the garden from brambles. There was a short break while I picked up my children from their weekend away, then I cleaned the old equipment (including sterilising it by scorching with the heat gun). In the evening I put the lid down on the box with the bees and transferred it to the back garden. I was unsure that the lid was fitting snugly on the box and that there wasn’t a small gap that bees could escape from (there was some foliage sticking out of the box). I also built some frames, but I was too tired by this stage to build all the frames so I only managed 5 of the 11 needed. I collapsed in bed at 2am.

Tuesday started early by donning the bee suit, finding a level surface in my newly cleared “apiary” to site the hive, putting the hive in place and finding a board and a sheet. I propped the board up at the front of the hive to make an entrance ramp, and put the sheet over this. I then opened up the bee-box and dumped the bees out onto the ramp. I have to be honest here and say I really dislike doing this. One moment there is a nicely contained box of bees, the next there are bees everywhere. I watched for a bit – they didn’t really seem to want to walk up the ramp to go to their new home – and then I retreated. When I checked at the front of the house I found that a large number of bees had congregated at their previous location – there were now a good number of bees flying around and looking lost right by the edge of my garden – next to the pavement! I’d placed a small box at the front, just in case, and the bees were investigating it (but not finding the queen anywhere). I put a couple of notes out warning passers by about the bees.

Over the course of the next few hours I went out a number of times to try and get the bees to go into the hive. I removed the vegetation that had been dropped into the box with the bees, as the bees were clustering around this. I removed the sheet, which seemed to be hindering and not helping (shaking the bees onto the ramp). At one stage I realised that the bees perhaps did not like the open mesh floor in the hive and so were avoiding it. This was easily solved by putting in the little draw that came with the floor1. At about this time I retrieved the bees that were in the small box in the front garden and added them back to the swarm in the back. The next time I checked the bees they were still ignoring the hive, but had formed an enormous cluster underneath the board. I swapped the board with another one I happened to have and shook the bees from the old ramp onto the new one. They started to walk up to the hive, then decided to walk to the bottom of the ramp and congregate there. I went back inside at this point despairing that they would ever go in the hive.

During this time I’d been exchanging emails with a friend about the bees and she enquired how they were doing – and I had to say they weren’t going in. I then went out and looked – and they were all gone! Did they go in the hive – or were they so fed-up of my homing attempts that they’ve gone to find another place to live? I hope they finally went in and are settling down. There were bees coming in and out, but not as many as I would have liked to see. In a few days I’ll add the missing frames and check. In the meantime I’ll watch the entrance and see how busy the bees are.

Hive

(Please ignore the mess beyond the hive – on Monday morning this area and the greenhouse behind couldn’t be accessed or seen because of the covering of brambles)

So, 9 years after stopping beekeeping (because of pregnancy and children) I’m embarking once again on this pastime. The children are fascinated! They were well behaved while I kept disappearing off down the garden in my bee suit (it’s half term so they were at home). My son got very good at checking me over for clinging bees before I came inside. And after all the excitement they sat and helped me make up some of the missing frames.

I’m now thinking hard about flowers that are in the garden (including wild flowers) or that I should add that are suitable for the bees.

Wild flower

Heartease

Bee gathering nectar

1 The Open mesh floor (OMF) is used to help with varroa control (varroa being a mite that badly affects bees and needs active control). Mites periodically fall off bees. If they land on the floor of the hive they can reinfect a bee. However, if the floor is a mesh the mite falls out of the bottom of the hive and can’t reinfect a bee. The draw is there so that mite levels can be monitored by counting how many mites have fallen off bees. The OMF helps to control mite levels but isn’t an effective treatment or control without other measures also being used.