I have bees in my hive again! I am so excited. Dad brought the dog for his morning walk and noticed some activity around the hive. He decided to open it to see what was happening and a swarm had arrived and taken up residence sometime between my leaving for work at 7.30 and the dog walk at 10.
I was thrilled because I lost my bees over the winter. I don’t know what happened. My parents are bee keepers and they reckoned it could have been the really severe frost and snow we got last winter because we don’t normally get such sub zero temperatures in this country. They couldn’t rule out sickness, but because one hive is on a shed roof and the other was in a protected corner they didn’t think it was a spray or anything along those lines. But I lost both hives and it hurt.
The funny thing is I never meant to be a bee keeper. It was on my mind when I saw all the devastation the bee populations worldwide are suffering and a T.V programme showed how bees were doing really well in suburban areas. The opinion offered on this show was that farmers are using so many sprays now and that they are using such huge tractor machines to spray the bees are caught up in a mist of chemicals they cannot escape from. A huge big sprayer coming along at speed leaves no place for a bee to escape to protect itself. So the idea was suburban bee keepers would help the population.
As it happened Dad decided to repair one of his hives while staying with me as mum was in hospital. He did cleaning and repairs and decided that as he had time he would set the hive up and then he would be ready to just bring home and place on its stand. He then thought that it needed to dry out a bit and as I had my beloved late dog Shankly at the time who was starting to go a bit blind he would put it on top of my shed in case Shankly walked into it or did what dogs do when something new appears in their garden.
It wasn’t too long later, maybe a week two, and we were in the kitchen one morning. I thought it was going to rain as suddenly the kitchen got very dark. I then noticed a weird shadow on the floor that seemed to be moving. Looking out we saw a full swarm of bees in the back at the shed. It was Hitchcock-esque. The whole roof and garden was blacked out with thousands of bees. It was spectacular to watch. Here was this arrangement of black dots swirling and spinning as though in a kaleidoscope dancing into pattern changes and arrangements of their own making.
After watching them for what felt like an age each movement thinned out and they all made their entrance into the hive on the shed. I had bees. They chose me. I was delighted.
They settled in well. They were happy enough and had a lovely nature. I could go in and out of the shed and they never got upset with me. The neighbours were never bothered either because native bees don’t as a rule want to interfere with people. However, the weekend of the famous ash cloud over Europe last summer the bees got very upset and did come out in larger numbers and seemed a bit confused. Something wasn’t right in the atmosphere and they let us know that!
I have to be honest though I don’t handle them. While I love having them Dad looks after them. I am not really the bee suit and smoke gun type and while I have dad I leave it to him to open the hive and check on the goings on. I know down the line I will have to get the finger out but I am hiding behind daddy for now. I did make their syrup for the winter feed though so at least I did something.
Last year I had two hives. When a new queen is born the old queen is kicked out of the hive and a few hundred bees go with her. They take residence on a wall or a tree nearby until someone hopefully a bee keeper comes and takes them. In my case a hive was set up for this possibility so when they landed on Katie, my elder tree, Dad was able to move them from tree to hive.
I got the loveliest honey last year. It was a pale yellow flowing soft honey. It was a gentle tasting honey too which I loved. I had to hide it as it got very popular and would have been eaten in a week if I wasn’t careful. At least by saying this was the last jar it got used sparingly and then I could miraculously produce another last jar and everyone got more enjoyment from it.
But then we opened the hives this year and nothing. Both colonies were wiped out. I was gutted.
I missed them. Apart from being part of the garden and part of my mornings they helped with the laundry. Bees are a great indicator of rain. When I had washing on a cloudy day I watched the bees. If they are happily coming and going then it isn’t due to rain. If it clouds over and you notice bees go in hurriedly but not come back out then it will rain within the next five minutes or so. I never got my washing rained on while I had my pals there.
Dad had set it up again new sections and new paper and left it in place. The idea being that a worker bee goes ahead of the full swarm to check out new accommodation. The often find somewhere like my hive and will go in and see what is in there and is it what the colony need. That is why bee keepers often have an empty hive so a swarm will find a place to go.
This may seem like robbery but unlike a lost dog or cat which you return to the owner when you read the collar how do you give bees back. It is acceptable in bee keeper circles that swarms go and who finds them minds them. All beekeepers accept that as it is part of bee keeping.
I hope these new friends are happy here. They seem happy so far. I’ve been in and out to the garden and they don’t mind, I don’t interrupt them with my presence. Since this morning they have cleaned out the hive and deposited the rubbish on the shed roof so the birds can pick it up. Nature is doing its stuff. I feel the gap in the garden life has been sorted and we are all one again. I will keep you all posted on their progress as the year goes on.