The Wonder of a swarm!

Writen by Avena Rawnsley

Wonderful news! We have bees!
I have been visiting my family in Cornwall this week, I love it here, especially in the spring! All the flowers are blooming and the apple trees are filled with blossom. It’s been beautiful sun all week, which makes it even more lovely and means we can eat outside.
It was here that the log hive making course took place last month. Since then, hives have gone up around the country and an older one that we have has been erected here. It towers on its three legs above the wildflowers, with a dustbin lid hat to protect it. We’ve had this hive for about a year now but it has not been set up and it has thus remained empty.
For the last couple of days, we have been seeing scout bees checking it out, so we have been keeping our eyes peeled for a swarm. It’s prime swarm time of year and the weather has been perfect: Warm and still and golden.
And then today I heard the buzzing. It was low but loud, hard to place and yet clear in the light breeze of the sunlit day. I went out of the back door and the air was thick with bees as they swooped and circled in their mad dance.
It was pretty clear that they had come from our existing hive but, as they flew off, the bees left in the hive resumed their normal day of gathering nectar from the flowers, seemingly unperturbed by the swarm that had just left them.
We followed the swam through the garden, away from our waiting, empty hive, and watched with disappointment as they gathered in an awkward place. A hazel branch, deep inside the hedge. Bees are not aggressive when they are swarming so I was able to stand close enough to see as they clustered together to protect their queen.
It would have been easy for one of us to put on a bee suit, pick the cluster of bees up, and move it to the new hive, but we didn’t really want to interfere. So, we called our favourite bee expert… Matt Somerville! He said that often bees will swarm and then settle a little way from their starting point and then, probably an hour or so later, they will take off and head over to a new home.
So, we all dissipated through the garden to wait. I went to do some revision for upcoming exams and it was while I was writing about the odyssey that I chanced to glace across the garden and the bees were in the air again! I sounded the excited alarm and we gathered to watch them fly to their chosen sight.
Matt had said that if there is more than one viable home for them they will send scouts to each who will explore and then come back with information. The bees will then make a democratic decision and go to the best hive.
We were still all scattered through the garden, but as each of us watched it was clear where the bees were heading for. Our waiting log hive.
The air was thick with wings and the bees flashed golden in the afternoon sunlight. The incessant hum drowned the sound of the river until all that could be heard under it was our cries of excitement and bird song.

We gathered on the slope as the bees reached the new hive. We were standing in the swarm as the bees flew all around us. One decided to rest on my hand and though it startled me a little it was so sweet. The whole experience was magical, we watched a colony of tiny creature choose a place that we had created with love, for their new home. We had made a habitat that the bees actually wanted to live in.


The bees clustered on the log, crawling inside, danced in the air waiting to get in, and alighted on the grass all around us.
I was filled with excitement and delight, the joy of spring and a sweet happiness of watching something natural and ancient and primal and so perfectly coordinated. It felt like a blessing for us all on a stunning spring day. None of us stopped smiling for the rest of the day.

Log hive courses 2018

Following the success of the course run in March 2017,  the bees discovered and thrived in these hives, I will be running two more next Spring 2018.

Hampshire course: 7th – 8th April

Cornwall course:      14 – 15th April

Price: £200 which includes all materials, lunches etc and an evening meal on Saturday.

For those wishing to camp, that is also included in the price.

Both locations have log hives and we should be able to observe the colony which is a  very different experience to the lifting of frames in a conventional hive.

For more details write to beekindhives@gmail.com

 

 

Log hive course, October 2017

This Autumn, I ran another course in log hive making. It was a great success and hopefully, they will all be up high for the bees to find next Spring. More information on log hive making can be seen in the earlier post.

Log hive courses are being planned for 2018 in Ireland, Spain, Cornwall and Hampshire.

More details to follow soon.

Growth of a colony in a Golden hive

A swarm of bees, collected in a woven straw skep was tipped on a sheet covered ramp and the bees soon ran into a Golden hive.

After a few weeks, I checked the colony to see whether it needed any more combs. This is a 13 deep frame hive and initially, the size is kept to 8 frames using a dividing board.

By lifting the edge of the top cloth it is possible to look at the last frame without disturbing the main colony. If I see any comb growth, I add another frame. When there is an abundance of flowers comb growth is rapid and frames added every week.

Swarm

This year was relatively quiet for swarms, but I was lucky enough to be in the orchard when a beautiful swarm erupted from a Freedom hive. This landed on a nearby apple tree and I was able to catch it and then the following day, transfer to a Golden hive.

Bait hives

Over the last few years, I have been placing Freedom and log hives locally on farms with the intention of creating a community of bees which are healthy and able to live without our intervention.  Aswell as providing strong drones, I would hopefully be able to catch swarms to use in other types of hives. In remote locations, the easiest way of doing this is with a bait hive. This is a box of approx 40l with a small entrance hole. I place a few drops of lemon grass at the entrance to attract scout bees. The gallery below describes this in detail.

Log hive making course

 

In March 2017, I ran my first log hive making course.

Both the log and freedom hive have been very successful in attracting bees. By attending a course I hope that I can show how, using a few tools, to make a hive and then give advice on making it attractive to bees and the best places to site the hive. My inspiration for making such hives has been to look at the wild bees in my area. I am so lucky to have found many, living in both trees and houses and if the weather is good, I hope to show some of them, which have survived many years without human intervention.

Thomas Seeley, an American scientist who has devoted his life studying wild bees has just published a paper, on Darwinian beekeeping, suggesting how we need to rethink how we “keep bees”. The article can be read here or you can visit the Natural beekeeping trust website and read more about the science behind this approach to beekeeping.

Film maker Tanya Cochrane made this short film on this year’s course.

Course Update July 2017

The great news is that everyone who made a log at the course and put it in a tree or on legs has had success, and are overjoyed by the arrival of a swarm. Some actually witnessed the bees disappear like a vortex into an entrance hole.

Keith Emerson, who attended the course, describes how it felt to witness such an event:
 “When my swarm arrived it was literally a moment when you just have to say wow!
It was like a dream with the air filled with bees and the sound of humming everywhere.
I was gob smacked and totally enchanted with the magical theatre before me.
A moment to always treasure and never forget.
The second swarm I caught the tail end of.
I watched it powerless as thousands of bees controlled the air and all around them.
It was once in a lifetime thrill that everyone must experience.
It felt like a baptism .”

 

4 weeks later on removing the base, you can see the beautiful new comb growing down from the top.

As a result of this course, I am planning to run small courses in the Autumn and early Spring and encourage more people to get involved and bring bees back into the wild. If interested please contact me for more details.

Spring Inspection

Early Spring is an anxious time for a beekeeper. As I do not feed the bees sugar or apply any chemicals to control Varroa mite, I am relying on the bees having collected enough food in the Autumn and being able to survive until the first flowers of Spring. It is great to see them collect orange pollen from the first snowdrops, followed a few weeks later by an abundance of yellow willow pollen. From observing this, I know that the queen has started laying again and that soon the population will be increasing after feeding off these fresh stores. This puts a pressure on the colony and often, while rejoicing that they have survived, it can be sad to see life dwindle at the entrance and the colony fail due to lack of honey.

I don’t open the hive but it is possible to put an ear to the entrance hole and hear the murmur of life within. This year all my hives survived as well as the dozen wild colonies which live in cavities in roofs, old chimneys and trees around my village.

I wait until April to remove the base of the hive and look up to see how the bees are faring. On the video below you can see that the bees are already building new comb. It is an awesome sight. There wasn’t a loss of heat or pheromone and I was able to put my head right up to the hole and film without any bees getting aggressive.

 

I couldn’t see any signs of condensation and the base board was dry. A few Varroa mite could be seen, but the majority of debris was wax scales which had been dropped by the bees. It will be interesting to see whether they have been picked up on the next inspection.

Swarm choosing Freedom

Here is a short clip in real time of a swarm moving into a hive. I had set the hive in an ash tree approximately 5m above the ground at the beginning of April. Nothing happened until July… two days after I had put some more lemon grass oil in the entrance.

 

This swarm moved into the hive mid-July. I revisited in early October and was amazed by what I saw. As it was so late in the season, I wasn’t expecting to see much growth, but the colony had now expanded to half of the hive.