Copper Bee Apiary

A garden apiary in Whittlesford, Cambridge, UK - honey bees and their beekeeper Hilary van der Hoff.


Yes, they have swarmed. First the Disc Hive, then the Pond Hive. These are the two hives for which I was unable to perform the intended version of the Snelgrove swarm prevention method because (i) on opening the hives I found swarming plans already well advanced and (ii) I couldn't find the queens. The modified version of the method that I then undertook evidently didn't cut the mustard.

Luckily the swarm from the Pond Hive does not appear to have made a nuisance of itself. After congregating in a neighbour's apple tree for a while, I think it actually came back home, returning to the hive. Perhaps the bees cannot agree on a plan.

The Disc Hive swarm was more determined.

The story in pictures of the Disc Hive swarm

Friday, 28th April, 13:29. I am at my desk at work when I receive this message from my neighbour:

Unfortunately your bees are swarming, I think it is the double height one on the gin terrace. Hopefully they will decide to go back into the top half but currently it looks like they are accumulating on the fence between our gardens....

I'm lucky to have a very tolerant, helpful, non-hysterical neighbour. She assures me the bees are not bothering her, and sends me a photograph of their state and location:

13:53 Friday 28th April

I'm also lucky to have work colleagues who, when I explain the situation, accept that I should go home and do not (openly) assume that this is a contrived ploy to bunk off early for the bank holiday weekend.

It's over an hour's journey from my office to my home, and by the time I arrive the bees have coalesced into a single mass, draped over the garden fence:


I put a skep (hand made by me, may I add) on top of the clustered bees, just in case they would be so cooperative as to climb up into it.


The skep is balanced by way of hooking it over the top of a step ladder on the other side.

View inside skep

The bees, however, are not interested in the skep. A few go up, but most stay put.

I then try brushing them into the skep. I get quite a lot in, but there are even more still on the fence, and they seem to want to stay there.

I change tack. Setting aside my part-filled skep, I place a cardboard box on the fence and puff some smoke underneath the bees to encourage them to move up into it.


This begins to work - the bees start moving up into the box. But as they do, their weight topples the box off the fence, casting the poor bees back out again. So, I gaffer tape the box to the stepladder.

And by this point it's time to go the opera. So I leave them as pictured. The evening is getting cooler, and I hope the bees will take shelter in the box overnight.

They do. When I return after Tosca, I find to my relief that the box is still on the fence, warm to the touch and emitting the quiet clicky-scuffling noise of a large cluster of bees. The gaffer tape holds fast even when a local cat, startled by my nocturnal appearance in the garden, leaps up to the top of the fence with a thump and a shake. Phew.

I carefully lift the box of bees down and rest it gently on the ground, next to the skep.

Goodnight, bees.


Next morning, the bees are still clustered peacefully in their skep and box. Just a handful remain on the fence.

06:07 Saturday 29th April

I carry both warm, heavy bundles back home and set them down in front of the makeshift hive that I assembled the previous afternoon.

There are (at least) two approaches to hiving a swarm. One is to tip the bees into the hive from above and then close the roof. Another is to tip the bees on to a sheet in front of the hive and set up a ramp for them to walk in though the door. I had two vessels of bees, so I thought I'd do it both ways. I emptied the box of bees into the hive, then I shook the bees from the skep on to a sheet. Then I sat back and watched.

06:24 Saturday 29th April

Below is a 7 minute video of the bees walking into the hive.

I also took this short clip of Nasonov fanning by the bees. See the bees that are standing head down, bottom up, rapidly beating their wings? They are producing Nasonov pheromone and fanning it into the air around the entrance to the hive, as a signal to the other bees: "this is where we are, come here".

The bees have stayed in this makeshift hive and I have seen them doing orientation flights around it, fixing its location in their minds, which is a good sign that they plan to stay. If the new queen settles down and starts laying then I hope to be able to transfer this colony to my new Thermosolar Hive, which should be on its way now from the Czech Republic.

Writings, images and sound recordings are by the beekeeper unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.

Logo artwork © 2015-2019 Susan Harnicar Jackson. All rights reserved.