Holidays are an awkward time for beekeepers. The thing is, it takes around nine days to produce a queen, so if you’re going away for a week or so, you need to time your final inspection before departure to perfection if you’re going to avoid the embarrassment of coming back to find that your precious colony has decided to swarm.
I did manage to carry out a full inspection on Sunday June 1st and all seemed fine and dandy, although I didn’t actually spot the queen herself (but that happens). I also intended to give the colony a quick once-over on June 4th, the morning of our day of departure. Unfortunately, it was raining quite hard, which meant that all the bees were at home instead of out foraging. And you know what it’s like when everyone in the family is stuck in the house: you tend to get a bit tetchy.
And my bees were in a truly horrible mood. I didn’t have time to get the smoker going – not that it would have been much use, because as soon as I opened up the hive, they went into full attack mode. I didn’t get stung (thanks to my nice new gauntlets) but I did end up covered in angry bees. Discretion seemed to be the better part of valour, so I hastily put the lid back on and went off to finish packing.
So I went away with a potential time bomb ticking in my hive.
We got back on June 11th, and within an hour of our arrival, our neighbour across the road dropped in to say that he had a swarm of bees in one of his trees, and were they mine? My heart sank. Then my mind turned to practicalities. I have a rough idea of how to collect a swarm, but I’ve never tried it and in any case I don’t have the equipment to do so. But fortunately some mutual friends of ours who are far more experienced at this kind of thing agreed to come over the next day.
So on June 12th, they duly went off to collect the swarm, while I went to take a look in my hive, dreading what I might find. Or rather what I might not find.
Oddly enough, everything looked fine. I didn’t manage to spot the queen, but I’d missed her before, so I wasn’t too bothered about that. Moreover, the colony seemed to be around the same size as before. So I began to feel a bit more hopeful.
By this time, the swarm collection was done, and it was agreed that we should all take another look inside my hive. The first thing they noticed on seeing my bees was that they were a different colour altogether from the ones in the swarm. They also noticed some new eggs, which I hadn’t picked up on. And then finally one of them spotted my queen, still there and still laying.
So, much to my amazement, I still have my bees. And if you’re interested in taking on a swarm of unknown provenance, do get in touch. I may know some people who can help you out…