This long period of cold and wet weather has been an uncertain time in terms of beekeeping. Normally at this time of year the queen is furiously laying eggs to get the colony up to maximum size which, in turn, will ensure maximum productivity.
However, the miserable weather has meant that food is not as abundant as it should be and, where it is, the rain has prevented bees from getting out to collect it. The news from around the Beekeepers Association is that a number of colonies are actually beginning to experience food shortages.
Lack of food means the queen slows down her egg laying and, consequently, the colony grows at a much slower pace too. The knock on effect of this is that there have been fewer swarms – because bees haven’t been forced to look for larger homes to accommodate their growing numbers.
Until Wednesday, that is, when the weather took a sharp turn into summer mode!
Less than an hour after telling a neighbour that it would be a while before we saw any swarms, I heard a loud buzzing in our back garden. And there they were – in their thousands, hovering above the vegetable garden!
My first reaction is to panic – on the grounds that it might be my bees that are swarming. So I went out to check my hive to see if this was the case. Thankfully it wasn’t. I had put swarm management strategies in place a few weeks earlier anyway – specifically, giving them more space to expand – but there’s no telling with these sly buggers. No matter what is says in the beekeeping literature, they’ve all got minds of their own!
Therefore I moved into the second phase of my response – panic in case the neighbours were watching all of this! Thankfully they weren’t and the whole episode had concluded before a single neighbour came into sight.
As I walked over to my hive I observed an interesting little interaction going on between ‘my’ bees and the swarmers. I’m guessing the swarmers had decided to check out this wooden space that smelled so strongly of honey to see if it would be a suitable new home. Clearly my girls had seen them off as the swarm moved away from the hive quite quickly.
One of two of my girls seemed to follow them out of curiosity but as the swarm moved further and further away it became clear that the majority were just carrying on with their normal routine: out of the hive and off along the established flight path in search of food.
As for the swarmers, they decided to settle at the top of a tree just outside our garden. They were far too high to reach so I decided to go for Plan B – try and lure them into a spare hive.
And so I set about my devious ways. Firstly I set out a hive filled with frames of wax, some of which had been drawn out into honeycomb (and one or two of which contained some honey). I left the lid off for a while in the hope that the scent might waft up the tree – more an act of desperation than science! I even wafted a couple of frames around too, just in case.
It attracted one or two interested parties but not enough to make any impact on the larger swarm perched high above. So I put a frame of wax on the roof of the hive…and a container of old honeycomb…and a pot containing some recently melted wax. If I’d been a bee I would have found it irresistible on looks alone!
But not the swarm, who stayed resolutely up the tree for another half hour or so. And then, as quickly as they arrived, they flew off en masse over the roof tops and into the distance.
Ironically, in the middle of all of it my partner rang to say there was another swarm settling into a tree across the road from his office. Clearly a lot of colonies have been waiting for the weather to change so they can go off in search of pastures new.
As long as my colony doesn’t decide to join them.