Sunday, 21 February 2016

Bee-ing Moved

The bees have moved, or rather the bees' house has moved. Houses. Three hives, one new apiary. They haven't moved far, just 15 feet or so up the field from the hedgeline. We sited our first hive along the field edge back in 2010, and in the intervening six years the hedge has done what hedges do, grown. As the trees grew, so did the length of the shadows they cast, and as the shadows grew the window of time within which the sun could shine on the hives got shorter and shorter, until in winter, when every scrap of sunshine is precious, there might be just a sliver falling across the roof.

With the flock now occasional grazing in the field, there was the added incentive of needing a barrier between the sheep and the hives that is more secure than a few hurdles. It's doubtful the sheep would ever be stung, a more likely outcome being defensive bees dying tangled in a woolly tomb or an entire colony finding itself upended into the grass. In my experience, a fat fleecy sheep isn't always aware of her own dimensions, and that awareness drops off considerably when said sheep is in deep in ruminative contemplation. The new apiary is enclosed by sturdy fencing, with just enough distance between hive and fence to ensure that no matter how far a greedy sheep stretches her neck in search of the greenest, sweetest blades of grass (you know who you are, Babette!), her nose won't (or shouldn't) reach the bees' front door.

The general rule is to move a hive a distance of 3 feet and under or 3 miles and over. A flying bee, absent on a foraging mission while her home is moved, will still find her front door if the shift is within 3 feet. Move it further than that and a bee on the wing, and even a bee leaving after the move, may return to the old spot logged in her navigation system as being home and not be able to find where her front door now is, with lost bees eventually giving up the search, clustering where the door should have been, ultimately dying. If the move is over 3 miles, whilst any still on the wing at the time the hive entrance is closed will be lost (minimised by closing up at the end of the foraging day), those still inside somehow know to reset their inner satnav on first leaving the hive at the new location and learn how to recognise their new environment instead. As we were moving our hives within that 3 feet to 3 miles danger zone, I decided to make that move during winter, at a time when the bees are foraging rarely and have not been flying at all for 2-3 weeks. With their hedgeline position having become so shaded and damp, I didn't want to wait any longer than necessary, but while we waited, and waited, and waited, for winter to arrive we prepared the new hive sites. Digging a level square out of a sloping field is an exercise in frustration, for what the spirit level says is a level patch of mud is strangely no longer level when a paving slab is placed onto the same patch of mud. Dig out a bit more mud here, add a little bit more mud there, wedge some stones in that corner, jump up and down in the other corner.

Whether you're moving a hive by hand across a short stretch of field or by car for miles, the risk of slipping, tripping and dropping is the same, and thus the precautions taken are the same. It's all about strapping and balance, keeping the hive level at all times, minimising disturbance so as not to break up the cluster. All of which is made trickier when your field is a hummocky mole hill minefield, one of the carriers has a dodgy back and the other is inexplicably prone to inappropriate fits of the giggles when moving heavy awkward objects.

As Dave prepares the strap for the move, Steve slinks off to avoid helping

The last hive in its new muddy but level location
All three hives are now in the new apiary. A couple of bees flew out and went back in. Then everything went quiet. Too quiet for my liking. Tap, tap, tap on the side, buzz, buzz, buzz comes back. But that buzz is getting fainter. It's late February now and the colonies will soon be gearing up for spring when, hopefully, the queen will start to lay again. After a wet, mild winter, there's no knowing what spring might have in store for us and the bees. Barbecues in March? Snow in April? Please, please, please let one of my colonies make it through.

No comments: