A swarm in September

It was Tuesday morning (21 September) when Michel phoned and said his friend in Royan had a swarm of bees on his drainpipe. We were all surprised. Bees swarm in the spring. However, all three of us sprang into swarm catching action and we picked up Michel outside his front door and headed to Royan, thirty minutes drive away on the coast. This was the latest swarm Michel had ever come across in his years of bee keeping and we were regaled with bee stories until we reached his friend’s house.

The three of us were lost for words when we saw the “swarm”. There are not enough bees to form a colony that would last the winter. We could not assure that there was even a queen present.

So what to do? They were cold and not flying around. We presumed they would not last long. The ruchette was there so Kourosh picked them up in his hand and gently placed them inside. They accepted their warm polystyrene shelter with good grace.

Once we got them back to the garden we decided to look for a queen. Without a queen there would be no point in going on any further. To our surprise there was a queen! Can you see her?

Here is a clue.

Here she is close-up.

The weather was fine and they seemed to be making a go of it, so on Sunday, Kourosh cracked and stole a frame from one of our hives. It was a difficult decision to make as he took a frame with some brood and young bees which could leave the original hive short for their winter supply of bees.

The frame and young bees were powdered with icing sugar to confuse their odour and then added to the polystyrene ruchette with the queen and her small court. We closed the ruchette and kept it in an outbuilding for two nights in case the young bees wanted to return to their original hive. All was quiet and when we opened their door in the morning there were no signs of battle. They new girls had been accepted.

On Wednesday we were excited to see that they were making the best of the good weather and bringing in pollen. At a guess I would say that it is gorse pollen, there is plenty of ivy around and our other hives are bringing in some ivy and some of this lovely orange pollen.

Kourosh has reduced the entrance to make it easier for them to guard against robbers or worst of all the Asian hornets.

Then on Wednesday our friend Christian phoned to see if Kourosh could help with a swarm that had to be re-homed. The bees had set up home behind closed shutters in an upstairs bedroom with the window blind closed. This would have provided a good spot in the summer and they had gone undisturbed for two or three months as the house had not been occupied.

Sorry about the quality of the photograph, but Kourosh’s flash did not go off.

This was a different proposition and Christian was prepared with frames on which he could fasten the already formed brood nest. The frames were placed in a ruchette and left until nightfall for the colony to enter. In the evening of the same day the ruchette was brought back to the garden, and we are now the adoptive parents of this colony until the spring when they can be moved. Christian will be away for six weeks and the colony will need feeding and protection during this time.

So this is Christian’s ruchette (it will be secured to the poles in due course to protect it from high winds).

And this is the tiny colony. Will either of them survive the winter? The chances are low – approaching zero for ours, much better for Christian’s. It will depend on the weather. At the moment our weather has changed from sunshine and mild temperatures to rain and cloud. We will see.

A queen is born

Perhaps it was only the beginner’s luck, but last year we had three bee swarms that all came directly to a six frame hive that we had placed outside to attract them.

This year we thought we were well prepared with our three polystyrene hives to attract any new swarms.

Swarm fever seems to have been contagious.

Between 14th April and 27th April, we collected a total of nine swarms on trees close to our hives! A couple of days two swarms arrived on the same day.  Three of the swarms came from our own hives.  There are one or two professional beekeepers near us who keep their hives at the edge of the woods.  I assume that the swarms came from there.  We gave all the swarms to our beekeeper friend, Michel, to whom we have always relied for help.  The last swarm we kept for our friend, Angélique, from the bee school.

Queen Angélique for Angélique

When we first noticed a queen cell in Amelia’s favourite hive, Violette, we divided her.  A week later we saw more queen cells and divided her once again.  I know experienced beekeepers would have told us that a division might not prevent swarming – and they were right.  Violette swarmed a week later.  It was a risk, especially as we appreciate that divisions in hives are not always successful.

Three weeks later we inspected all hives as by then all should have had new queens.  To my dismay, there were no brood as yet either in our three hives, nor in the two nukes that we have made divisions.  I was disappointed, but then I read  the very informative blog by Rusty, on ‘When will a newly-hatched queen begin to lay?’   Rusty’s response to that question was:  ‘Holy guacamole, give the woman a chance!’  Despite my impatience, we did exactly as Rusty ‘commanded’.

On 20th May we opened all the hives for inspection.  They all had two or three large frames of brood.

Brood on the newly divided bee hive

I was especially pleased to see that both divisions from Violette had each three frames of lovely brood.  In fact it was not until afterwards that I looked through the pictures Amelia had taken whilst I inspected the hives, that we noticed the new queen.  We placed the first division of Violette into her own 10 frame hive which has now been named Pissenlit, as at this time there are a lot of dandelions growing  in the countryside around us.

New queen bee

The bottom of our garden is once again adorned with active hives, all with new queens.  We will wait for another week or so before we place the second division into her own hive (any suggestion for a name?)

Our beehives at Virollet

The second hive from the right is Queen Angélique, which will be transported to our friend’s house early tomorrow morning.

One final note, I must mention that a couple of weeks ago we attempted to extract honey from one super.  At that time the nectar was mainly from rapeseed flower.  As all beekeepers know, it crystallizes very quickly and is very difficult to spin out in the centrifuge.  We did make a small quantity of honey, and cut up the rest to be used by ourselves and our grateful neighbours as we all love comb honey.

Honey and Comb honey from rapeseed

Kourosh

 

The bees swarm again

A  few days ago I wrote how queen Violette decided to swarm and then changed her mind and went back.  Amelia and I opened up the hive after they settled down and made an artificial swarm, as we had found a couple of queen cells in the hive.  One was already closed, and so we expected a virgin queen to be born before too long.

We do not wish to count our chickens before they are hatched, so we have been reluctant to give a name to that small (six frame) hive until we are sure they have a fertilised queen.  That reminded us that when we lived in Athens, the Greeks would not name a baby until he or she was christened in church.  Until then the baby was simply called ‘το μωρό’ – the baby – pronounced as ‘to moro’.  So we also called the new hive ‘to moro’.

One week later we decided to open up Violette, as she has not swarmed for a second time.  This time we found six or seven queen cells on one frame.  We took the frame up with the nurse bees once again and placed it together with another brood frame from Poppy without her bees.  We made up another mini (six frame) hive.  ‘So what shall we call this one?’,  Amelia asked.  As I was born in Iran, I suggested we call her ‘pasfarda‘ – that means ‘the day after tomorrow’!  We closed up the little hive and housed her in the cellar once again for two night with the hope of placing her at the end of the garden.

The following day we checked on ‘to moro‘ at the end of the garden as well as ‘pasfarda‘ in the cellar.  We fed them both 2:1 syrup.  We settled down in the garden for a quiet lunch.

But ‘why’, I asked Amelia, ‘look at Sunflower.  She seems to be unusually excited.  I think she is considering swarming.’

Sunflower before swarming

So we continued eating our lunch with one eye on Sunflower.  Yes, it did appear that they were, as they call it here, were making a beard on the hive.

Sunflower 'faire une barbe'

However, by the time we finished eating, it seemed that once again the hive had become calm and we could not see many bees on the outside.  ‘Oh, well,’ we thought, ‘just like Violette, the queen in Sunflower must have gone back inside.

It was not until late afternoon that I put on my bee-suit to see how the little ladies were doing.  I approached Sunflower and saw something that I had not expected.  She had in fact swarmed, but the queen must have been ‘so attached’ to her old home that she had formed a swarm just under the hive.

Hive swarmed under her own hive

So another call to our beekeeper friend, Michel.  ‘How do we catch a swarm from under a hive?’  As he lives only a few minutes away, he turned up rapidly for a quick inspection.

Inspecting a swarm under the hive

Even he admitted that it was a bit tricky and as the evening was drawing in, he suggested we leave them until the morning and see what her majesty had decided to do.

Early in the morning, before breakfast, I visited the hive and found that the swarm had slept outdoors all night.

Swarm under the hive

I decided to close up Sunflower, and also the mini hive (to moro), next to her.  The latter I removed a bit further away so as she does not get knocked down.

Michel came a little later, armed with a pair of trestles, which we placed near the hive.

Step one in recovering the swarm

Next step was to place an empty mini hive under the trestle and then very gently lift Sunflower together with her super ….

Lifting the hive

…  and placed it on the trestle.

Placing the hive with the swarm on a trestle

Now we had to brush the swarm gently and let them drop into the empty mini hive.

brushing the swarm into the mini hive

Apart from a lot of bees on our clothes all went well and the mini hive ‘ruchette’ was closed up.

Swarm transferred to ruchette

Sunflower was lifted once again on her own stand and opened up.  The bees from the swarm that were still on the blanket and on the ground started marching into the mini hive.

Successful transfer of swarm to hive

I replaced ‘to moro’ back next to Sunflower and brought ‘pasfarda‘ out of the cellar.

The two ruchettes and the hive of Sunflower

The following day 14th April, the sky was cloudy, despite the 18 degrees temperature.  By lunch time it started raining lightly.  I suggested to Amelia that we go to our nearest big town, Saintes, as I wished to buy a few things.  We returned late afternoon and I went to empty the Asian hornet traps as I have caught a total of nine queens in the last week.  By then it was nearly 7 pm and I decided to go and have a last look at the bees before turning in.

‘Stop. Amelia’, I shouted.  This time Poppy has swarmed.  She must have swarmed whilst we were away as we had not notice them agitated around their hive.  They must have picked up the scent that Violette had placed on the quince tree and swarmed in the same place.

Poppy swarmed on the quince tree

Despite the lateness in the day, I needed to make another quick call to Michel.  ‘What would I do without you?’  He is always kind and calm.  ‘Qu’est-ce qui s’est passé?‘  I explained what has happened.

Once again he arrived in less than five minutes to give us assistance.  But before his arrival, Amelia and I prepared a ‘ruchette’ – a six frame hive.

Collecting bee swarm from quince tree

The bees were gently brushed into the empty hive and the frames inserted and the top closed.  We placed the hive at the base of the tree and the rest of the bees that were still on the tree and those that had fallen on the ground simply matched in.  In this short video you can actually see the rest of the bees walking into the hive.

I have promised myself not to keep more than four hives.  So I offered it to Michel.

swarm collcted. The rest of the bees simply marched into the hive.

I am beginning to wonder if we are too kind to our bees and they don’t really wish to go far away from our garden.

Dinner that night was rather late!   – Kourosh