What’s the collective noun for ‘swarms’?

It’s happened again! Now we have a third swarm. Just seven days after Jean-Philippe called to ask us to help with a swarm near his hive, he was ringing us again (on the Emergency Beeline). Another swarm cluster was developing in roughly the same place, already larger than the first.

a second swarm cluster for JP

a second swarm cluster for JP

So, with the swiftness of a well rehearsed fire-crew, we bundled the necessary equipment into the Beemobile (a battered Renault Kangoo) and headed off to JP’s house, jesting that a yellow and black flashing light, complete with loud buzzing noise, would be appropriate.

This swarm was slightly more awkward than the previous two, in that it was higher up and the branch it was attached to was too thick to cut with secateurs – so we had to employ the old Shake and Brush into a Hive Lid Technique.

capturing the latest swarm cluster

capturing (and wearing) the latest swarm cluster

This swarm was also a bit more feisty than the others – however they settled quickly into the ruchette (nucleus), and immediately took up the offer of sugar solution. You may notice that we have discovered a new shade of hive paint – a rather attractive lavender colour.

So, this year, we have gone from one hive each, to two for us and now four for Jean Philippe.

Queen Bee-atrix Abdicates

On the very same day that her namesake in the Netherlands was relinquishing the throne, our Queen Bee-atrix has decided to abandon her principal residence in favour of one of her offspring, and has moved on, along with a considerable number of attendants.

strange formation near the bees

strange formation near the bees

It was all a bit of an unexpected drama.  I had beetled over to the hens to collect the day’s egg production (three eggs), when I noticed an odd shape on a tree branch adjacent to the hive. Upon closer inspection it was a seething, buzzing mass of bees – a Swarm!

don't panic!

don’t panic!

Still being a novice bee-keeper, I had little idea of how to interpret this development – so headed back to the house and the reference books. Andy had just arrived home from work in Colomiers, and we decided that the best course of action was to call our Venerable Beede (VB). He told us that we had to react immediately, otherwise the swarm could be off to pastures new in a matter of hours. So, off sets Andy back to Colomiers to pick up VB and returns an hour later, along with him plus a small nursery hive – I’m not sure what the correct term for this is in English, but in French its ‘ruchette’ , a word I like (and will therefore continue to use).

I had already got the smoker lit – I have recently hit upon the idea of using a blow torch to get it going, much less time-consuming. VB slipped on his wellies, whilst Andy and I covered up from head to toe in full bee-keeping regalia.

preparing the ruchette beneath the swarm

preparing the ruchette beneath the swarm

VB is not too impressed with the volume of this swarm, already having tended to some recently at least 10 times larger – in fact he wonders if its not a secondary swarm. There is much to ponder on the whys and the wherefores of this particular bee behaviour – but for the moment we must concentrate on keeping these bees chez nous.

cool as a cucumber

cool as a cucumber

The swarm cluster is actually calm – the bees dont have any brood or honey to defend. So a quick snip with the secateurs, and the cluster is laid on the waiting frames of the ruchette.

bee swarm gently laid on top of frames

bee swarm gently laid on top of frames

the smoker is used to encourage the bees to enter into the hive

the smoker is used to encourage the bees to enter into the hive

lets hope they like their new home

lets hope they like their new home

We shall keep these bees in the ruchette for 3 or 4 weeks, providing nourishment. And in the meantime have to get a second hive prepared, the same as the first one. This will be placed in exactly the same location as the ruchette – and when we feel that the bees and the frames are settled they will be transferred to their new permanent (hopefully) residence.

We shall also be investing in one or two ruchettes – so that, should there be another episode like this, we can handle it ourselves, having been shown the way by the Master!

you can't escape from us that easily

you can’t escape from us that easily

Once the bees had dropped into the box, a cover was added and then the lid – VB ensuring that every last, single bee had found its way into the ruchette – there were still some bees arriving late wondering what had happened to the swarm.

The ruchette was carefully placed on a new palette – I still had work to do making a syrup solution, and Andy was off for the third time that day on a Colomiers round-trip to take VB back home (after we had toasted the evening’s work with a small glass of vin cuit).

(to bee continued)

Bee Film : More Than Honey

Of Bees and Menif the bees disappeared...

Of Bees and Men
if the bees disappeared…

Last night we went to the cinema to watch a new documentary – Des Abeilles et Des Hommes (also called More Than Honey), reporting the decline in bee populations, and the multiple possible reasons behind this phenomenon. Swiss film producer Marcus Imhoof, journeys around the globe filming folk closely involved in bee-keeping – apiarists, honey producers, hive transporters, pollen gatherers etc, and each tells their story. The film lasts about 90 minutes, and comprises factual snippets, nuggets of information, some bee-keeping basics, all with beautiful cinematography including some amazing macro work.

The film begins in a stunning Alpine setting, with Fred who is out gathering a swarm, no hint of protective clothing. He is descended from a long line of bee keepers and can recall how things used to be. For him traditional methods are all important. Fred is fighting cross-breeding, striving to keep the local race of black bees pure. He discovers one of his queen bees has been interbreeding with a yellow bee from a neighbouring valley, and without compunction, squeezes off the head of this traitress.

The story moves to a vast almond producing area in California, and the associated honey producing / pollination operation. The scale is immense – and the driving force is money making. The orchards were alive with bees collecting pollen – but after just a short while the hives have to be transported on – as, once the pollen has been collected there is no more nourishment for the bees and for them it is has become a desert. The trees are fumigated during the day – and traces of fungide can be found in the resultant honey. Additionally the bees are fed antibiotics, to help assure the continued presence of this all important component of such industrialised agriculture.

We meet Heidrun Singer and her production line of Queen Bees – she gently transposes larvae into false royal cells, thereby tricking the bees into feeding them royal jelly. Apparently her queen bees are sold around the world – and we see them packaged up and hauled off by a courrier company.

Onto China, to an area where bees are so scare that pollination is done by hand – by human beings (mostly women). Pollen is collected and sold in small packets, and then a team of workers, armed with cotton buds, the pollen in a bottle round their necks, pollinate the trees, flower by flower.

Back to the US, to Arizona, where Fred (another Fred) works collecting Africanized Killer Bees. Having retrieved a swarm, he doesn’t destroy it, but rather keeps it – noticing that they are more hardy than their normal counterparts, produce good honey, but have to be treated with a good deal of respect.

There are further tales of Foul Brood, pesticides and the varroa mite. Evidence of stress sufferered when transporting the hives on the back of lorries for thousands of kilometers each year. Footage of bees fitted with tracking devices. We meet a German neuroscientist investigating bee brains. And much more.

This is not a film with a beginning, a middle and an end – it is educational, a neutral presentation of facts and information, from which we are allowed to draw our own conclusions. We see that traditional and natural methods, and unlimited growth may be unsustainable. Does the answer lie in a totally unexpected source?

The film is originally in German, and is available with French subtitles (there is a certain amount of spoken English).

So now go, get out the door

you’re not welcome anymore

Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent (Richard Dawkins).

The poor, sad drones are being evicted from the hive. We are now moving into autumn, and the workers are kicking out the drones because they have no use for them any more and they are considered to be a drain on precious resources.

The drone cannot feed himself – he doesn’t have a proboscis for sucking nectar from a flower. He cannot defend himself, as he has no sting. He cannot make honey. Luckily for him though, he is good for one thing – and that’s wooing the queen bee and seeing to her intimate, feminine needs.

However with the change of season, the queen is moving into a phase of celibacy – and just wants to spend winter with the girls. So, poor old Mr Bee, without even having committed any crime, is sent unduly packing.

I would like think that there is some sort of Winter Rest Haven for Bloke Honeybees – somewhere to repair to after a heavy, hedonistic summer of eating, drinking and lots of bee nookie (and precious little else).

we will survive