This weekend saw the completion of the cycle of beekeeping – harvesting the honey. But first, let me go back a couple of weeks.
A hot Saturday while working on the chicken enclosure near the bees, we heard the loud buzzing of bees, but ignored it as it was coming from the direction of the hives. Suddenly, we looked up into the orchard and, to our astonishment, there was a large swarm hanging from the pear tree.
Chickens – you have got to wait now! Quickly we donned our bee suits and collected the vital equipment for swarm collecting: a large cardboard box, a white sheet (in this case, a brand new quilt cover), wobbly steps and a bee brush.
We spread the sheet out on the ground under the tree where the bees were. Of course, the ground was very uneven so my job was to keep the stepladder from toppling over while Derek clambered up to investigate. Holding the box above my head I was warned “It is going to get very heavy, very quickly!” as Derek grabbed hold of the branch and gave it a quick, but firm shake so most of the bees fell off the branch and into the box. I hadn’t held it exactly mid way and the sudden weight of the bees (about 15,000 of them – I didn’t stop to count them) tilted the box precariously over my head.
We quickly put it onto the floor, upside down on the sheet, with a gap that the bees could fly in and out of. If we had collected the queen, then the others would join her. We stood back, watched and waited…
Although a few bees returned to the pear tree, probably about a cupful, as the smell of the queen was still there (we pruned the branch off to prevent further return) we had captured the queen and her followers joined her.
The next step was to finish building the frames for the super (the box of the frames of starter wax) and to put a new hive into the orchard. It was later that day that I saw the most fascinating thing: we layed the sheet out in front of the new hive, so that it led up hill towards the door, and then Derek upturned the box, gave it a sharp tap on the bottom. Once the bees had recovered from their little shock, they began marching uphill, climbing over each other to help surmount the steeper parts, towards the hive. Thousands of them, all going in the same direction into our new hive. attracted by the scent of the queeen that was being spread by the rapid fanning of about half a dozen bees who were perched on the entrance, stings held high and furious fanning of the wings. I was told this was a very good sign that the queen was in residence. A little like, I guess, the royal standard over Buckingham Palace!