I‘ve been a beekeeper now for two months. I’m still at the early enthusiastic phase that accompanies any new hobby and if I could I would be out there every day, observing their fascinating endeavours. I’m acutely conscious though that I know very little about them, which is thrilling, but also at times unnerving. Picture a new father who worries that his child has stopped breathing because the baby monitor is quiet and you wouldn’t be far wrong.
To me the concern is justified as there are so many things that can go wrong. Bees need monitoring for disease, protection from wasps, feeding when its cold, and then just when you think its all tickerty boo half of them can up sticks and leave, which is precisely what happened last week.
We did suspect they were thinking about swarming when queen cells started appearing. This suggested the workers weren’t happy with their queen and wanted to send her packing. So in an attempt to satisfy their urge to swarm, we moved the queen cells to a new hive, along with some food and some nurse bees. We hoped this would deter the colony from swarming (nice) and start a second colony (also nice).
So it came as a bit of a blow last Thursday to see a swarm hanging in an apple tree in the orchard. The bees may have come from elsewhere of course and there’s no way of knowing for sure, but its very likely they were ours. Thankfully they were easy to get to, so after a quick google search of ‘how to catch a swarm’ we soon had them tucked up in a skep.
Our second hive didn’t appear to have a queen and was the weaker of the two colonies, so it seemed to be the best home for them (and was presumably where they had come from in the first place). We shook them into the bottom of the hive and they seemed to settle in well.
Until this Sunday, when the swarm returned to the very same tree! Clearly they weren’t happy or there was a queen too many. So we scoured the hive for a queen again. Even Granny had a go. But either the queen was out for the day or she was in hiding. Or more likely, our inexperienced eyes were simply not up to the job. Maybe we need to mark her with red and white stripes and then get some practice at Where’s Wally!