Ten days ago, on Sunday 4 July, Howard and I answered a swarm call from Botley. When we arrived, we were pleased to discover a reasonably-sized swarm had obligingly settled conveniently close to the ground; ‘this is going to be a doodle’ we thought! It was an easy enough job to collect the bees; they’d settled on one of those electricity board switch cabinets you see on street corners and it was a simple matter to brush them into a cardboard box just before the rain started again.
It was already passed 7pm, so we decided to hive the bees immediately in a Standard National box. To prevent the possibility of the bees absconding the following day, we placed a queen excluder between the brood box and floor.
As it’s later in the season, our plan was to restrict the bees with a dummy board to five frames set warm way at the front of the box; less comb for the bees to draw out and space to keep warm!
When it came to closing the hive however, there was a large clump of bees including the impressive looking queen clustered on the back wall of the box. We decided therefore not to fit the dummy board immediately to make it easier for the clump of bees to access the frames.
Over next few days (in the brief intervals between rain storms) the hive seemed very active with plenty of pollen going in. All seemed well!
We didn’t get round to checking the bees again until today, ten days later, 14 July. We went in to remove the queen excluder and to belatedly fit the dummy board but when we lifted off the roof, we found the bees had decided not to utilise the frames of fresh, golden foundation we’d furnished them with but had crawled up through the vent in the crownboard and built a nest directly under the roof! How ungrateful!
Mistake number 1:
With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been better to have pushed the frames to the back of the box where the queen and other bees were clustered or to have fitted the hive with a full set of frames like we usually do!
All is not lost, we thought, we’ll cut the comb out of the roof and secure it into frames with elastic bands. Fixing natural comb into frames. So we hastily made up some frames without foundation, gathered together our equipment and set to work.
These turned out to be the nicest bees in the world; they didn’t once complain or become agitated throughout the entire operation!
Once the comb had been cut away however, a close examination revealed there was no brood or eggs, only a meagre quantity of pollen and nectar in otherwise empty comb. We concluded the queen had either not yet regained laying weight (unlikely after ten days) or was unmated.
Mistake number 2; leaving the queen excluder between the floor and brood box
If the queen is still a virgin, the excluder would have prevented her from getting out to mate in the days since the swarm was collected (ten days ago) and to make matters worse, in all the excitement, we’d forgotten to remove it again!
So we went back and took away the queen excluder and quite quickly, all seemed calm in the hive again!
Mistake number 3; not leaving the queen excluder between the floor and the brood box!
About a hour later, Howard watched the bees swarming out of the hive. All that disturbance had been too much for them and they decided to abscond. The fact she could fly is further evidence that the queen is probably still a virgin as she was clearly still at flying weight.
Very quickly, the swarm settled on a flexible young branch of an adjacent Poplar tree about four metres off the ground. It was already about 5pm and we decided the bees were unlikely to leave that day. We would try to retrieve the swarm after dinner.
The plan was to throw a weighted rope over the branch to pull it close enough to the ground to get the swarm into a box. In the end, it was necessary for Howard to go up a ladder a couple of metres while I pulled on the rope to bend the branch down. Howard managed to knock about half the bees into a cardboard box (which he then banged into the hive) but half the colony was still up in the tree!
The behaviour of the bees at the hive (Nasinoving and marching in) suggested the queen was probably in the brood box but we couldn’t be sure as there was still a worryingly large clump of bees in the tree.
My husband Rob offered to go up the ladder and saw off the branch. We thought he was somehow going to hold onto the cut branch (whilst balancing on the ladder and holding a large saw in his other hand!) and gently ease it to the ground but instead, it came crashing down in the adjacent field. The bees were immediately in the air of course and we thought all might be lost, but miracle of miracles, they returned in droves to the hive.
An hour later, all was calm again. The queen excluder has been temporarily re-fitted and will be removed again after two nights; let’s hope it’s not too late for her to get out and mate!