Saturday, 30 May 2009

Another swarm, not mine

Margaret gave me a lift to the Ealing Apiary for another practical session today. As we got out of thte car we were greeted by a junior beekeeper who is also a local allotment holder. She had a swarm in the allotment and needed us to collect it. It was probably from the apiary, we guessed. Great! - a swarm for me - how lucky! But no, whilst this lady had not got a current colony nor anything to wear to collect the bees, she did have a hive and was asking us to collect the swarm for her. Drat. It was still a lot of fun though. Quite an easy one: hanging on a bush only about 6 feet off the floor. I had to prune back quite a bit of bramble to get there, but once that and a few branches were gone, it was a simple shake of the tree to get the swarm into the box which Margaret held waiting. Job done, and good luck to another new beekeeper. But not me....I am still living in hope, and am getting stupidly impatient. I keep telling myself that it's reasonable to have to wait for such things, but I am so very keen to get cracking on having my first colony.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

A site for bees

Great news!
I've recently been doing some nature conservation volunteer work with the BTCV, and today we were working on a site where bees were kept many years ago. I'd already mentioned to the group leader that I was keen on investigating opportunities to keep bees on a site in the area and this one looks perfect. It's in Maida Vale, only about half a mile from my house. It's lovely, with a tranquil pond and a monsterously beautiful copper beech in the middle dominating proceedings. It's designated a Nature Reserve, though the site is rarely every opened. And it's quite overgrown and overhung by trees. Whilst this is not necessarily great for the bees and hives themselves, it makes the site quiet and discrete from neighbours. Now, why is this good news for me? Because I called the guy who manages the site and he's given me permission to keep bees there! WOOT. I've now got the hive and other gear on order and am ready to go. Ah.....apart from one important lack of bees. Such a shame I had to give that swarm away last week. I really hope I'll get the chance to take another. It's swarm season, so fingers crossed!

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Second swarm - on my street!

I should perhaps mention at this point that the reason my house in Maida Vale is a great place to see swarms is that the next door neighbour has a wild colony in a chimney, and a few houses further down there is a wild colony in a tree. And on top of that some of the communal gardens nearby have kept hives (sadly not the one I live on). Anyway, here's today's story of when I was walking home along my street and saw a bit of a buzz going on inside an old, hollow, Victorian balustrade . . . the question to answer is: How can this one be collected !? Like this . . .

1) Tell the small crowd to stand aside. Blag that "I'm a beekeeper" and desperately think who to ring to help me on a bank holiday weekend. I mean, I don't even own a veil! Smile and weakly try to look relaxed. Sprint home for some more phone numbers. Eventually get hold of someone who knows someone.....who's not sure.....she rings back.....YES, she's on her way!

2) Greet Nicky. Lovely lady. She hands me a veil and a smoker and explain that my job is to keep the flies off while she deals with the bees (the flies being the passing pedestians with their incessant comments "oohh - I don't like wasps;" "tell me what's it's like to keep bees?" "do you have the time, please?" "I could put you on at the Edinburgh Festival;" and so on). Nicky holds a box and politely asks the bees to go into it. No dice.

3) Plan B. Stick some rolled up foundation (wax) into the hole the bees have found whilst I smoke into other holes on either side underneath the balustrade. Carrot and stick - not my idea, and I think it sounds a bit far fetched, but I have no better ideas and this woman clearly knows her stuff.

4) Next, watch the bees as they start to realise "mmmmmm, nice wax; ooh you know there's not much space in here anyway, and it has started to get terribly smokey; Edinburgh Festival sounds good, but I was planning a few foraging trips around then - perhaps this box is a better idea?"

5) Brush the bees like fury, keep smoking them out, brush some more and hope the queen's in there. Flip the box up and rely on their natural desire to go up, up, up into warm cosy spaces.

6) Wait for the rest of em to crawl up into the box (presumably following the queen who we never saw) and then flip the box flaps closed and wrap the whole thing up in a sheet. Then, and very importantly, stand back and pose for a picture to celebrate a job very well done. Nice one, Nicky!

7) Take the box back home (few doors away), shake the bees into a nuc and set it up in my back garden for the one and very only night I will ever have bees there. The garden is too small and there are too many kids around in it and also in the communal garden out the back to make keeping bees there a viable option. Oh well, maybe in my next house then.

8) Next day give the bees away to a lovely man I recently met called Malcolm at Ealing Beekeepers. I delivered them up to his house and got the chance to help him put them into his new hive. He was very happy, as was I for a job well done. A great shame that I did not have a site for them myself, though......and this is to be the next battle.