Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A baptism of fire, swarming bees, woodland walks, and jolly nice tea and cake at an NGS garden in Dulwich

The weekend started well, sun, warmth and the prospect of 2 days doing productive things in the garden. Even the slaves were back from Scotland so could help create a woodship path round the far end of the garden, almost completing a track round the outside. I had even encouraged Steven to don the bee suits and have a look as I inspected the hives which all went well with nothing worrying to note. Steven didn’t go rigid with fear and enjoyed seeing our little friends at home.

whats not to like about a penguine sculpture by a pond! beauty at the Alleyn Park NGS garden opening

All was well, but as usual a simple bit of digging turned complicated as we dug up lots of bricks, rubbish, barbed wire and a long fetching piece of red polkadot carpet. Then mum said how the bees were very busy today, and looking there was a lot of activity with bees all around the entrance. Then as I watched there was ALOT of activity, and more and more bees were flying round the hive with the air becoming filled with a loud buzz. S*** I thought, what the hell is going on, as despite reading books and looking at the internet, when stuck with something new I was a little stunned...... I learn more about the bees every week, but things are still very new as they have only been in the hive a few weeks, we meet and start our relationship with our bee mentor on Tuesday.
So quickly I dashed to phone Charlie who I keep the bees with, whom was on a charity walk from London to Brighton...no answer, tired Hannah his girlf, no answer. Went back outside, and the air was full of thousands and thousands of bees, making this tremendous low buzz, sounding a bit like your granny hoovering next door.
Bizarrely the parents and Steven took notice but just carried on gardening, where as I was a bit like f*** *#@!:!:!## as I realised that they were swarming, and slowly they seemed to start flying towards the top of a large Sycamore tree above the hives. There they settled into a ball of bees a bit the size of a watermelon.
Swarming is a natural phenomenon, and is about them finding a new home and reproducing.  Its easier of you think of a hive of bees as one organisism, and what happened was that my hive decided that after being cooped up in the hive that this sunny day was perfect to find a new home and split the colony in 2, in essence reproducing.  Basically all the flying bees then left the hive with the queen... leaving behind lots of unborn bees and the bees that don’t leave the hive/fly yet. A new queen will then be born in the old hive, and the swarm will find a new home

So panicking I called the LBKA swarm control line....this is a free service they offer if you ever have a swarm of bees close by, most other associations do this. They came in about an hour much to the amusement of the parents, who felt they should have had a blue flashing light at the top of the van.
Then ensued the refined and highly scientific process of capturing the bees

1)      Climb ladder with a large water cooler bottle with the end cut off on an extendable stick.
2)      Ram the bottle underneath the swarm
3)      Bees lose their grip and fall into the bottle

That brown mass is a solid ball of bees
4)      Quickly climb down ladder  and empty bottle quickly into a waste paper bin which is then put upside down on a sheet
5)      Repeat until there aren’t many bees left

All I can say is that I’m glad I wasn’t the person on top of the step ladder ramming sticks into a bee swarm.....they weren’t very happy!
What then happens is that if they have got the queen is that the others will then come to her and all nestle up in their new home (the bin). There is actually a very good blog post with pictures of lots of bees swarming and marching up to their new home here
So all seemed ok, but lots of bees stayed in the tree making the swarm people wonder if there were 2 queens....after a while the bee people left with the bin (one of whom was also called Clive (first Clive I have met in many years) and apparently there are lots of bee keepers called Clive!)
Although there were lots of bees left in the tree after the bee patrol left they returned to the hive like naughty schoolgirls....
So a huge baptism of fire, but an amazing phenomenon to see. Do I feel a bit rubbish and inexperienced...yes, has it put be off bees....no,

After all that stress, and an evening with a bottle of wine, it was jolly nice to have a quiet evening, and then have a nice Sunday with lots of gardening and a trip to see a very pretty garden in Dulwich on Alleyn Park Road. It was a huge house with a large lawn and established flowerbeds with low growing plants splattered with interesting sculpture. Go next year if you are local, as it is one of the better ones
Lovely cake (mmmm brandied date cake) and Steven had a fabulous slab of Victoria Sandwich with fresh fruit and cream. All in all they made £1350, bravo! A good London start to the NGS season!

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness, how scary. I had thought about keeping bees, butif this happened, living in the middle of nowhere, I would probably have no one to call that would come quickly. Instaed I shall follow your adventures!!!