Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Bees again!

I had yesterday all planned out. Basically, to work all day and really get ahead with a chair that is promised for Tuesday next week. Things didn't work out that way...

On Monday Max took a call from a friend of ours saying that there was a lot of trees being cut down in a wood near her and there was a swarm of bees - could we collect it? Well, yes please and for several reasons. Firstly we've never taken a swarm before and getting some experience with a swarm at ground level is always better than one twenty feet up in the air! Secondly, I really want to increase our number of hives this year and swarms, if you can get them, are free. Thirdly, well, the chair is well on the road to being finished and I could work a bit this weekend...

So off we went. A-L wasn't there but a retired neighbour had been asked to look out for us and he solemnly took us to this swarm...which had flown away. A little disappointed we removed what remained of the honey comb and decided that wild honey made the trip worthwhile.

However, it turned out that Roger knew of a second swarm, this one inside the trunk of a tree which had been felled and, if we didn't take it the forestry company would simply gas the bees. (And I thought killing bees was illegal...) We went to have a look and realised very quickly that there was no way we were going to be able to get our hands through a hole the size of a tennis ball and remove a swarm of bees who had most likely been in residence for many years! Yes, they seemed quite docile but we were 100% certain that any enforced eviction order would soon change that!

Disappointed, but still looking forward to the wild honey, we went away swarmless. Roger rang us in the evening. He'd spoken to the forestry people and they were quite happy for us to chainsaw the trunk and take away the log with the swarm inside. The fact that the trunk is about a metre in diametre and we were talking about a log approximately 1.5 metres long didn't seem to worry Roger one bit. His 70+ years are not for nothing and he'd worked out a system to get it into the back of our (small) van.

Max went along this morning early (before the bees were awake was, I think, the theory!) and the operation was carried out after plugging the entrance with a piece of wood. Of course, Max and Roger could only estimate how much space the bees had created for themselves on the inside; they didn't want to cut right through the middle of the swarm and nest. Roger tackled the trunk with his chainsaw and was clever enough to notice that the sawdust changed indicating the proximity of the bees. So he moved up a bit and tried again. In this way they managed to cut the log leaving the nest inside completely intact.

There was, however, a hole at both ends where the wood had rotted so bees started to get a little interested in the proceedings - still very calmly though. Max put a cotton sheet at each end. That was the easy part of the operation; now for Roger's cunning system to get this trunk into the back of the car. It turned out to be a tractor with a grab.

The log rolled out of the car and lifted upright in the field. The top hole is cleary visible, as is the bees side entrance

When Max came back we then managed to roll it out into the field near the other hives and lift it upright; we put a lid temporarily on the top hole to stop any heat from coming out (the bottom hole I'm not worried about - all our hives have open mesh floors which are presumably the same thing) and then took the wood out of the entrance hole. A wedge under the front will prevent it from toppling over. So far so good.

The bees natural entrance

However, the top lid was not ideal as it had plenty of gaps between it and the trunk and I was worried that all that precious heat would be lost out the top; the nights are still cold at the moment, something had to be done.

We hummed and haahed and finally came up with a solution that "will either work or it won't". Max cut a piece of wood to fit over the trunk and cut a medium size hole in the middle. We then screwed this to the trunk. On top of this wood we put a super (which is where hived bees store surplus honey, ie. ours) with frames and then the crown board and finally the lid.

Max standing next to the final des res with adjoining larder.

We hope we have created an ideal home with attached delux larder for these wild bees. There is no guarantee they will stay of course; in fact they will almost certainly swarm in April and as far as I know we will have no way of preventing it as we can't get into the nest. If they go we will at least have the most amazing tree trunk to keep us warm in the winter - after extracting any remaining honey of course! I'll keep you posted on how this "hive" continues.


borderglider said...

Well done, you saved a colony that would have died. If you place a complete hive above the hole - with frames of comb or foundation, the bees will move-up into the new hive in a matter of a couple of weeks. Bees always 'work upwards' and they will not be able to resist a nice new space.

Up The Garden Path said...

Oh, I do hope we have saved it. It would be so satisfying! I will try and change the super for a brood box (getting low!) but I only have frames of foundation - no comb. Unless I try and make a frame of comb from all the bits and pieces we took from the first, departed, swarm?

Lorna said...

wow, that is fascinating. Do let us know how it goes. Well done

Polly Pierce said...

And I thought the photo's alone were good, that is one amazing and inspiring tale. Well done on rescuing and cultivating a wild swarm like that.

Borderglider's advice makes sense, in which case you would be able to isolate the queen and prevent swarming, maintaining the strength of the existing colony.

What I can't get over is how early these colonies have swarmed compared with our June swarmings! Still, having been in your neck of the Loire a couple of years ago, your climate is quite different from our lovely 'soft days' at this time of the year!