On the previous inspection I was excited to see how fast the colonies had developed. It was the fifth week since the nucs arrived. The brown hive girls had finally moved onto their new frames, made side-to-side capped brood and I’d taken out what looked like queen cells. In my records I wrote ‘looks like they’ve taken off at last’ and messaged Patrick to share my excitement at their progress.
I went home happy to think how well we’d all done. I’d overseen the transfer and development of two healthy colonies, and survived my first bee sting. What more did I need to be a successful beek?
As a newbie I was still living in the moment. I hadn’t mastered the art of looking backwards and forwards at the same time, and didn’t understand how essential these skills were.
The day after the inspection there was an explosion of buzzing and I saw the apiary area full of flying bees. Most of the activity seemed to be coming from the pink hive, although with hindsight (which is a wonderful thing) I realised this was down to colour contrast. They simply showed up more against pink than brown! However, regardless of which colony it was, the bees were out and about in numbers I hadn’t seen before.
Being unsure of what was happening, I panicked and sent Patrick a photo. He suggested they could be feeling short of space, following their rapid expansion, and advised making a split sooner rather than later.
I raced home to get my gear, heart thumping and stress levels rising, but by the time I returned everything was calm.
Lifting the roof, the pink hive appeared much as it did before. There were a similar number of bees, none of them overly bothered to see me back again. Whatever caused the flurry of excitement seemed to have passed. The weather had been dull for days, and they’d emerged just as it became brighter and warmer. Maybe they hadn’t wanted to miss an opportunity for some sun. Feeling silly for getting into a panic, I closed the hive and went home.
Next morning, all was quiet when suddenly the bees began to fly again. I took a short video and sent it to Patrick, with a casual comment about enjoying the sun.
Obviously this was what bees did now and then. I was determined not to be panicked by these unexpected bursts of activity.
At no point did the connections occur to me.
I’d taken on board Patrick’s advice to split and had spare equipment ready. I knew the brown hive was full, and had worked out for myself that I needed to split this colony first, but at the back of my mind, I didn’t really believe there was any immediate rush. I’d only had the bees five weeks, so they couldn’t be thinking of swarming, could they? Besides, I’d taken queen cells out the day before, so that would have bought me some time, wouldn’t it?
With the bees buzzing in the air, I went home, planning to do the split later in the day. As I walked through the front door my phone rang. It was Alan from the allotments, saying the bees had gathered into a large black cloud, hovered a few minutes over the apiary area, and flown off.
By the time I got back it was all over. John, to the right of me, had sat and watched them, loving every minute. ‘It was amazing’, he kept saying, ‘absolutely amazing’. Others had been less keen and rushed off to sit inside their cars. No one had filmed it and I missed what must have been an incredible sight. However, there was no time to think about the loss on any level, because I had work to do.
Allotments are public spaces. The last thing I wanted was a complaint to the council about a beekeeper who was turning into a bee-loser, so I visited everyone on their plots, explaining what had happened and why. I’d read that when bees first swarm, they don’t go far, so I was sure they were close by and thought I might find them. The problem was, I’d never searched for a swarm before, so had no real idea what I was looking for.
The next post will cover the following days and subsequent events with the pink hive.