Copper Bee Apiary

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

Swarm Collecting

Dog and I went for a walk around the village this afternoon, setting out in the sun but under a sky which was black on one side, so we knew what was coming. We’d had a mixture of sunshine and downpours all day. My hat kept off most of the hail, and Dog didn’t mind the weather.

As the sun began to reappear after an episode of hailstones, I was able to lift up my head a bit, and saw a dark shadow in the hedge. My brain has wired itself to recognise this particular type of shadowy shape. And indeed, investigation of the far side of the hedge revealed this:

A swarm of bees. Hanging on a low branch.

I think that every year since I began beekeeping I’ve seen at least one swarm of bees on the first May bank holiday weekend.

Since these weren’t my bees, their discovery didn’t fill me with the usual sense of urgency to act before they rehoused themselves in a neighbour’s chimney. But I decided to find them a home, and more immediately to shelter them from the intermittent downpours.

Here’s my swarm collecting adventure. Play the videos for the narrative.

Bees in the box

Then I went home.

In the evening, I returned, to be met by one of the following scenarios:

(a) the bees were clustered inside the undisturbed box;

(b) the box was where I left it but the bees were gone;

(c) neither box nor bees were anywhere to be found;

(d) the box was overturned and surrounded by an angry mass of flying bees;

(e) other.

I will finish the story when I know the answer (it’s not dusk yet)…

Update 5th May 2019

The story continues, and the answer is:

(a) the bees were clustered inside the undisturbed box.

Initially I suspected (b) (the bees were gone), because the box was cold to the touch and not very heavy. But a peek inside showed a dark mass, looking like more than the few bits of hedge.

We (my long suffering husband and I) brought them home. I had thought twice about collecting this swarm myself, given the ongoing infection at our home apiary, so I had initially offered them to a beekeeping friend in the village. However, he was away and unable to collect them, and a beginner beekeeper that he contacted was also away, so the bees came home with us.

A box of bees

Bees crossing

I put them in the clean hive that I had previously got ready for Queen Mab’s shook swarm. They were too cold to walk in, so I removed the central frames and poured the bees into the gap. There were still many bees clustered on the hawthorn branches, so I rested those on the top bars and put the roof on without a crownboard.

Today, it’s still cold. Barely double figures. I opened the hive to see if I could remove the hawthorn and add a crownboard and feeder. The bees were clustered en masse in the roof space, with a slim golden queen among them. If they are a cast swarm then she’ll be needing to mate this week, but there’s not much sign of mating weather (warm and sunny) unfortunately. Even if she is mated, she’ll only be able to lay if the bees can draw comb, which is also quite a lot to ask under these cool conditions. Anyway, I’ve given them some sugar syrup so at least they can feed. Who knows how long they were hanging on that hedge, but it’s not good foraging weather and they may be close to starvation.

Update: Long Live Queen Uma!

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.