Overflowing with enthusiasm and pride, I brought my first precious colony to their new home…..
Well, you do feel a bit conspicuous driving the car through Derby in a Bee suit…with the window down to keep the girls cool. But anyway, I was now a bee keeper and proud of it. The bees were in a polystyrene Langstroth, loaned to me until spring. I bought the girls from my tutor, who was down sizing her collection of 17 hives. The bees are the Buckfast strain, so even more special to me.
Its mid October, and the colony has had some syrup to support them in their new environment, Mouse guard is on, and all is well. the winter of 2011 was I suppose a typical winter that I remember as a Child in the 70’s, cold, miserable and snowy.
Regular inspections occurred throughout the winter with only one peek inside to apply Oxalic Acid.
Spring arrives and activity increases, this spring was particularly warm with record temperatures in March/April. It was the end of March and I contacted my Tutor with concerns about the number of Bees hanging around outside the hive. We met up and decided to do a shook swarm operation to move the girls from their winter quarters to my new hive. This should have kept everything stable for a considerable length of time….. seven weeks later they swarmed, and May was cold, so cold, the swarm stayed on a Current bush for a week on a neighbours plot. “Oh, your bees swarmed last week”, thanks I thought, too late to find them. But no, it was so cold they stayed put. So with box and smoker in hand, I set about collecting them. I read all the books I had, hmm, nice when they are hanging in a tree..easy, at ground level, not described, so….OK, get them in the box, right. I decided that if its to be better in the box than outside, it has to be pretty horrid on the outside, so smoke ensued, well it is in their best interest!. With shaking and smoke they begrudgingly moved into the comfort of a cardboard box. Once inside, I moved them to their new home, and with syrup, they were happy.
So, from having one colony, I had two. Oh, I didn’t mention the Queen has a name, not my doing, it came with package. Lucy, well its not her doing, she does not make the decision to swarm, the colony does, anyway, she and the girls were safe. OK, I now have a queenless colony in the original hive. So, what’s going on. I had been doing my inspections as instructed and not found anything of concern. It transpired that when extracting the frames, a group of cells containing queen cells at the bottom broke off and were not seen. So during the run up to swarming, I remember lots of bees on the outside of the hive under the mesh floor, keeping the queen cells warm! You live and learn.
Well, when I found this clump of cell, there was a sealed cell at one end. Using my hive tool, I scraped off the cap. Immediately a queen emerged on to my glove, what an experience. I let her walk into the hive, workers met her and were immediately excited, all is well.
A week or so later I had a call, your bees have swarmed….What?, how? what’s going on, are they mine? I think on reflection, there were two Queens in the hive. I was close by, so I could deal with the situation immediately. The swarm was in a trellis supporting a Gojiberry bush. That cardboard box came out and, with a big slap behind the mass, the swarm was once again boxed!.
I now had three hives, luckily I was able to procure some spare kit from my tutor to resolve the situational. All the books say ‘always have spare kit, just in case’ OK, but this is a bit excessive, especially in my first year!
So, There is Lucy, who was in Hive one, now in hive two. In hive one is…well in the year of the Royal anniversary, it has to be Lizzy. In hive three, well Lu Lu came to mind, not sure why, but it seemed right.
All should be quiet, and it was. 2012 became renowned as a cool wet summer, and on several occasions it was reported in the press that Honey production was down significantly. As an urban bee keeper, there are some advantages that the bees have a more varied forage than those in the countryside. The bees were producing high volumes of Honey and Supers were being added regularly. I have to confess, I was amazed by the relentless determination of the bees to travel in less than ideal conditions.
We extracted 190 lb of Honey from the three hives, which to me was beyond anything possible. I had a job to stop the bees filling supers and get their stores in the brood box.
Eventually, all was calm and the bees had reduced in numbers and I was able to give them their syrup and Verroa medicine. It was early October and the temperature dropped considerably. I was pleased that I had bought them some Ambrosia, which is partially inverted sugars, so easily dealt with at lower temperatures. Mouse guards are on and all is well.
On reflection, I think as a novice bee keeper, I had a serious initiation into the world of Bee keeping. I was probably very lucky in the way things turned out. But, all in all, I am proud of my Bees, not to mention my girls back home and the inspiration and support of my tutor.
Long live Apis mellifera mellifera ‘Buckfast’
Let’s see what next year brings, not only for the bees, but the vines and the vegetables.