National Trust Swarm

Continuing with the feral bee theme, Paul had put up bait hives in Market Wood in the hope of enticing a swarm from one of the nearby oak tree colonies. Sure enough, there was lots of activity and bringing in of pollen when he checked after a week or so.

We decided that these bees should be brought back to my apiary, so that I could keep an eye on them and collect some information before finalising their permanent location. They were transferred to a smaller nuc for transporting from Winchelsea, and then put in to a National on arrival at mine.

Given they had been rather messed around, the bees were incredibly accommodating, and there was no attempt to sting even though they must have been hot and uncomfortable in the boot of my car!

There was some nectar-filled comb in the bottom of the bait so I put an empty super above the crownboard and sat the comb on that. I had a very quick glance at the combs and saw eggs, but we suspected the swarm was a prime rather than a cast anyway so no need to check for the queen as the bees were behaving so coherently.

It is easy to forget, because we see the bees as individuals, that we need to view the bee colony as a system rather than a collection. Looking for a queen is said to be the best way to determine if a colony is sound, and much time and energy is wasted looking for her, marking her, and generally singling her out for attention. In doing so, we expose the combs to outside conditions, which they were never evolved to do and for what? Surely the skill is in reading the whole colony to work out if they are queenright? The workers behaving strongly as a unit, and the building of new comb are two factors which simply do not happen if the queen isn’t delivering a decent input of queen substance, the pheromone which keeps the colony as a working entity.

I left the bees till the afternoon before going back to remove the empty super. I don’t like leaving too much roof space, especially with comb in there as sometimes the bees can decamp upstairs and build their colony in the attic. That was unlikely given the presence of combs in the box but it’s best to remove such options! I put a varroa board in under the mesh floor so I can see if they have mites. They’ve never been treated and we are really interested to see if they have any.

I will check it in a week and see what is there. In the meantime I will leave the bees to build out the rest of the box. I usually regard the brood box as the bees’ territory and only check if I think there is a problem. They are building in a slightly wonky fashion as the bait hive wasn’t quite level, but this doesn’t matter. Having this valuable resource from a long-standing tree colony is worth a bit of cross-comb!

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