Wednesday, 10 August 2011

How many bees make five?

Back in May I thought I caught a swarm of bees. Silly me. Turns out that was no swarm, just a few bees out on a jolly on a sunny afternoon. A REAL swarm is really big, huge, ma-hoosive, biblical, of epic proportions. No really, I’m not over-egging this.

Once upon a Saturday I went about my business as usual – changing beds, hoovering, nagging Dave, making cake – before taking Teri for a stroll up the lane. As I wandered back up the drive, dreaming of a cup of tea, piece of cake & some quality time with “Cosmos, Earth & Nutrition” (it’s a book about biodynamics, burying horns, planting by planetary movements and all that jazz), I became aware of a background hum, that became a buzz, that became a roar. Oh me, oh my, the sky was black with bees, a serious amount bees. Think Exodus and the ten plagues of Egypt! Obviously I remained calm and at no point did I suffer flashbacks from a night watching the 1970’s film “The Swarm” and I certainly didn’t run to the front door shouting “disaster, disaster, let me in, LET ME IN!”.

While I fumbled with my bee suit zipper, Dave watched in awe as the swarm condensed into a cloud & slowly drifted en masse over the roofs of the cottages, up the drive, looking for a temporary home. So there they were, tens of thousands of bees clinging in a clump 12 foot above the ground in an apple tree. And there was I, climbing up a ladder, sweating in my bee suit yet again (note to self, must get suit dry cleaned), box in left hand, brush strapped to a pole in right hand, heart in mouth. With every step up the ladder, the tree swayed and the curtain of bees swung & wobbled like a living jelly with multiple legs, wings & stinging things. Urged on by brave Dave standing at a safe distance, I looked a bee in the eye and swiped at the swarm with the brush. And again. And again. “You missed a bit!”, came the helpful cry from the ground.


The bees were now everywhere – the air, the box, the tree. I just had to hope that my swiping had knocked the queen into the box. We bundled the box into a blanket to create an enticing dark space with a wee gap to allow bees separated from the swarm to find their way back to the colony. All we could do now was wait and hope, and greet the arriving guests (of the paying human variety rather than the unexpected non-paying buzzing variety)!


Bees are truly amazing creatures. Word got round that the queen was in the box, and in they came, crawling through the gap in their hundreds, literally a river of bees flowing inside. An hour later, as dusk descended, we had a box full of bees, with only a few stragglers still hanging around the apple tree as the last wafts of the queen’s pheromones dispersed.


A few shakes of the box and some bee spillages into the grass later, the swarm was ensconced in a hive with a sugar syrup welcome hamper to feed on. And lo, two hives become three. I think that means I can now officially call that patch of field an apiary!




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