First Swarm of 2016

The swarm season is finally here. The cold spring we have been having has definitely set things back a few weeks, but yesterday afternoon I got my first call.

Obviously as a conscientious, well prepared and well organised beekeeper I had all my swarm catching kit in the car ready to go.

Being caught on the hop slightly I had to dash back to my apiary and load up the car, then I picked up my little boy from nursery. He got his own bee suit just a couple of weeks ago, so this was his very first swarm capture.

When we got there the bees were spread out on the grass, just 20ft from the parent colony living in the home owners chimney. My helper and I looked for the queen but never saw her, however the bees were pretty quickly marching into the box.

We popped next door to the pub to pick up takeaway fish and chips, and eventually staggered home an hour past the little ones bed time, exhausted but very happy.

I’ve decided that grass is probably about the worst situation to catch swarms from. They get all tangled up in it, they don’t march nicely, and you can’t pick them up and move them. I ended up poking them occasionally  to keep them all moving, as they seemed content just to hang out in the grass outside the box entrance.


Spring 2016 Update

So last year ended up being quite busy and very fun.

I expanded considerably and eventually went into winter with 7 colonies. I keep my bees treatment free, so hives that cannot manage their varroa levels on their own die off. This is a deliberate plan to breed for healthier bees, but in the short term it means that going into winter can be a bit tense. You never quite know which hives will come out the otherside.

In the final count 4 colonies made it through.

  • One hive died early in the winter, but it had been weak anyway for various reasons going into winter, having gone queenless for a period in the Autumn.
  • Another died around January time. It had been a booming hive all summer and filled three supers with honey, but its mite population exploded along with the bees. It was a classic varroa/virus loss – lots of honey stores left, but the cluster shrank and winter brood rearing failed.
  • The final colony made it through to spring but at some stage went queenless and was unable to requeen themselves. The recent cold weather has delayed the whole season, so even if they tried to replace her she would have been unable to find a mate. I merged the remaining bees into other hives.

The hives that are left have healthy queens which are laying well. They are a bit behind where we would usually like them at this time of year, but I’m putting that down to the cold spell in spring which has suppressed both foraging and brood rearing.

This year my objective is to go into winter with around 18 colonies, most of which will be smaller nucleus hives. I’ll be splitting my survivor colonies, catching local swarms and also raising my own queens. The long term aim is to develop a stock of bees resistant to varroa, which means building to a reasonable size over a number of years and studying my bees to determine which are best at handling the mites.

Bathroom Bees…

A couple of days ago I did my first cut-out of the season, and my first job working with my newly built BeeVac.

This colony had setup shop in a cavity above the plasterboard in a bathroom ceiling sometime last summer. Their entrance was on the second story with tricky access, so I approached them from inside the house by removing sections of plaster.

The whole process took about 6 hours, extended by the confined space to work, and the queen playing a game of hide and seek.

I hope you enjoy the pictures of the process.

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Spring stock-taking…

Last year was my first with bees after taking a considerable break from beekeeping, following treatment for a serious bee venom allergy. It was a load of fun; making hives, chasing down swarms and getting back into the swing of inspecting hives after such a long break.

Of the seven swarms I managed to catch last year only one made it through the winter (the trampoline swarm in my top bar hive). They were a strong colony from day one, drawing comb and building numbers quickly. The others languished for various reasons – one queen failed a mating flight, another two absconded and the others were just so small that they couldn’t get established properly and dwindled away.

The weather has been too cold to open the top bar hive and have a look yet, but the bees have been flying and we have good pollen (willow) and nectar around at the moment. I’m a little sad that more colonies didn’t make it through, but it is nice to start the year with one established colony.

In other news I am involved in setting up some hives at the school where I work, as an activity for the pupils. Two nucs arriving shortly, and they will be going in langstroth poly hives.

Fingers crossed the weather keeps on warming up so the bees can fly!

Big swarm catch…

I got a call this morning to a massive swarm. I’ve got used to minimising expectations when going to jobs, but the homeowner was right – this swarm was a beast.

They had turned up during a kid’s birthday party and camped out on their trampoline.



In this photo only a third of the bees are visible, even more are hanging on the underside of the trampoline in huge clusters, and there were lots of bees flying in the area.

trampolineswarm2The best way to get a swarm, if they are conveniently located on tree branch or similar is to cut or shake them over the hive box. They drop on mass. Here I had to sweep them into the box with my hands, getting them pretty riled up.

I got around three quarters of them boxed, but the rest were flying like mad and resettling in clumps. 30 minutes later I repeated the process, sweeping more clumps into the box.trampolineswarm4

With the majority of the bees caught it was time to use the bees own instincts to finish the job. Bees are strongly attracted to the pheromones given off by the queen. I left the box slightly open and placed it on the trampoline a short distance away. Almost immediately the bees started marching towards the box, a really good indication that the queen was caught.

trampolineswarm6At this point all that is left is to wait until dusk when the remaining flying bees settle down. At that point I will seal up the box again and take them away.

It is hard to say how many bees there are, but I’ll weight the box later to get an idea. It felt pretty heavy!

These guys will be going into my new kenyan style top bar hive.

Update – 10pm

I picked up the swarm earlier this evening. They were pretty much all tucked up for the night, with just a few flying bees still coming in. We weighed them at home, and they came to 2.4kg – around 20,000 bees!!

They will be transferred to their new home in daylight tomorrow.

A busy week… and charging for consultation visits.

I’ve had a busy week dealing with enquiries and checking on my own hives, as well as fitting around work and family. A combination of circumstances has led me to change my policy on free site visits.

  • My business is honeybees, and while I’m happy to advise on bumblebee and wasp problems a string of frustrating and futile visits to misidentified honey bees has taken a lot of time – 4 visits in a week that turned out to be bumblebees.
  • Bumblebee and wasp problems are unlikely to result in a paid job, so by offering free consults on these I end up out of pocket as well.

So in future I will still offer site visits, but will charge a nominal figure of £15 to cover my petrol and time. Should it turn out that you have honeybees and want to go ahead with a removal then the £15 will be deducted from the quote.



Swarm Update 3 – Barham

The swarm I hived back on the 6th of May are doing nicely.  They have been making good progress drawing out honeycomb and bringing in stores of nectar.

This picture shows nicely the difficulties of using top bars without foundation; the bees have their own ideas about the best direction to build out their honeycomb which may not be exactly what the bee keeper has in mind. Early intervention helps to get them straight, so that the next sheets of comb have nice straight lines to build from.

This hive is being transferred to it’s permanent home next week so I’ll be straightening them up at that point.


Incidentally these bees continue to be very docile – I opened their box up to take this photo without any protective gear, wearing a short sleeved shirt. They were very content.



The swarm are busy building out the comb for their new hive. It isn't quite aligned with the bars.

The swarm are busy building out the comb for their new hive. It isn’t quite aligned with the bars.

BBC News – “Swarm of Bees Surround Shop Front”

In the news today – A swarm of bees on a London shop front.


A small swarm on a London shop

A small swarm on a London shop

They look impressive, and their presence can be quite disruptive, but even a large swarm is actually very docile. You can walk through them without bother and even handle them.

Just remember that, while they are clumped like this they are looking for a new home. It is always better for them to be in the nice hive of a friendly beekeeper than in someone’s roof or chimney!

Barham Swarm – Update 2

Looking good today – I just briefly lifted the lid to check the state of things. The bees are bundled nicely in the same spot and have taken most of the syrup I left for them. I suspect that they are now drawing out comb and will need to get in soon to make sure the natural comb they are making is aligned with the top bars.

One of the hazards of top bar hives is that the bees make their comb in any old orientation – the bee keeper needs to intervene early to make sure they start off well aligned.