James

Being furloughed from work presented the ideal opportunity to start keeping bees – something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time, but I had no idea where to start. A neighbour, a Meridian member, kindly offered to teach me the intricacies of the art.

A paced and measured experience followed – beginning in the Spring, up until the current day. I even achieved my first colony!

Like lots, the bug was well and truly caught, and the desire to increase and diversify built. This was coupled with the offer to keep some bees in a natural woodland – an offer too good to be missed. More bees were needed!

A natural bee keeper in Surrey had developed a severe reaction to bee stings, and while on holiday, her empty equipment had been colonized by a swarm – I was later to find out this was some three years previously, and not on a more recent excursion, as I’d initially believed.

My mentor was on holiday but the bees were not to be missed! Having read-up thoroughly and persuaded a friend with a truck to provide transportation, the bees were safely moved in the depth of night and deposited in the woods, to be further assessed the next morning.

The ‘challenges’ then began.

On inspection the following morning, the area surrounding the hive was awash with honey. But why? All the rules had been followed. The hive had been handled with the upmost care, securely strapped in the truck, driven at a gentle speed and the owner although a natural bee keeper, had assured me on this occasion she’d placed frames in the hive on discovering the swarm. What had gone wrong?

I had to admit I was out of my depth, and although my pride was at risk, the welfare of the bees was paramount. A hurried email and pictures to Louise and Howard resulted and ‘Bee Rescue’ in the form of Louise and Lisa dispatched! (Imagine Baywatch with Smokers!)

When opened, the hive was full of brace comb, and although some frames were present in the brood box, these were old and broken. There was no queen excluder under the two supers, so in essence, I’d picked up a huge brood box now dripping with honey!

The hive was dismantled with the upmost care. Louise decided to leave the old brood box as was, and create a new brood box above. This was filled with some drawn comb which we brought with us and lots of disintegrating brood comb from one of the supers which we pressed into frames.

While challenging (and sticky), our production line worked. Louise selected sections of brood, Lisa transported it and I eased it into empty frames, with numerous elastic bands to secure. The bees were pretty patient with us all told – while busy and excited, they didn’t display any amount of aggression.

A crown board with an empty super went on top of that and all the remaining comb with honey was placed there for the bees to retrieve. Another crown board was added, which we smeared with all the remaining honey from our tools and the table we’d been working on. Finally, the roof went on, the entrance restricted and a huge sigh of relief went out.

On inspection with Howard, a couple of days later, we were greeted with positive behaviours. One of Louise’s major concerns was that the queen had perished in the move and subsequent collapse. But the bees were frantically busy, with lots of pollen being collected. We left the bees well alone to do what they do best. As a new beekeeper, I’m desperate to know what’s going on inside – but the biggest lesson I’ve learnt so far in this journey, is that bees like to be left alone. So my curiosity will have to wait until the Spring!

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