Tuesday, 2 July 2013

First catch your swarm - natural beekeeping

 I can now add the miracle of having hived a swarm of bees to my list of natural wonders witnessed at first hand.

I've been keeping bees for a year now in a hive designed by a French priest, Emile Warré in the 1920's. It's a more sustainable way of beekeeping that puts the health of the bees uppermost. Everything you need to know about this way of keeping bees is at http://warre.biobees.com

Sadly the swarm I hived last June didn't survive our long cold winter. They made it through til April but then for some reason dwindled away so that by the beginning of May I had an empty hive and a box full of dark comb honey of an intense and nutty flavour.

I put my name down on the swarm list of my local beekeeping association and waited http://thesundew.co.uk/el-beeks/.

My hive is right outside my bathroom window, so the silent hive was a daily reproach.

On Sunday morning I got the call, there was a swarm impossibly high up in a bendy pine tree in the garden of a towerblock in Stoke Newington. Two fellow beekeepers had seen them swarm out of one of their hives and followed them, now they were trying to work out how to get them down. The more experienced swarm collectors were unavailable as were their arsenal of cleverly designed tools for reaching high up spots. I climbed the ladder to take closer look, the swarm hung plum like and beautiful swaying gently, seething.

The swarm was right at the top of the middle tree
Sally had assembled various tools 

We pushed branches into the bucket & lashed it to a broom.

We thought we had failed as only a few bees fell into the bucket. But when we took away the ladder all the bees left in the tree flew up into the air. It looked like they were swarming again but soon they were reassembling around the bucket.

About ten minutes after Sally brought the bucket down.

I came back three hours later to take the swarm back home by putting a box over the bucket and wrapping it in two sheets. I drove home very slowly. When I got home I shook the swarm out in front of my hive.

They didn't go in straight away but spent the night in a sheet across the front of the hive, then moved slowly up to form a large round beard like shape. They were investigating the hive all day and then suddenly started scurrying down mid afternoon. By early evening they were all inside the hive, scouts continued to return until night fall. Watching the bees rushing towards the entrance of the hive was a truly thrilling sight.

The swarm made a sheet over the front of the hive

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