first catch your bees – plan B

having had my first swarm disappear in a reswarm I was (foolishly) beginning to think I might have got the hang of this. A far more unnerving challenge was about to present itself – a colony in a chimney which needed to be demolished.  Guided by Trish (who’d done this once before) and Tony (a roofer, who watched her do it) my hive was lifted on the scaffolding and then (with considerably more effort) I climbed up to join her.  The two youngest roofers,  dressed in bee suits, started to dismantle the brick work and handed pieces of the comb from the 2m long colony to Trish and I.  We tried to place the cone with obvious brood into the hive using the comb-strengthening struts extending down from the top bars to create bee space between the pieces as we could.  The honey-filled cone was laid onto the scaffolding in the hope that the bees would harvest the honey from there.  There were bees everywhere yet only one sting all morning.  The final pieces of comb reached us in a large bucket and at no point did we spot the queen but hoped throughout that she was safe and somehow had found her way to the hive.  By lunchtime the builders had had enough, the chimney was down and the comb was (mostly) in the hive.  Large numbers of bees were clustered on loose bricks around the ex-chimney – so brave Trish climbed up to pass them down so they could be laid next to the honey comb in the hope that they too would recognise their new home.  That was all we could do for now.

So the next challenge, and the one I need advice about is getting them down.  The plan is to leave the hive there overnight and the tomorrow evening close to sunset, secure the roof with ratchet straps and block off the entrance with cork held in place with gaffer tape.  Then lower the whole thing down from the scaffolding on two ropes very carefully, put into a van, stabilise the legs so it wont move about and then drive v slowly the 4miles to my house and then return the hive to the lovely tranquil  orchard at the bottom of the garden.  Is this too soon?  It will be 60 hours after the bees were first moved.  I was reading the thoughts about moving and the advice to wait as long as possible but this isnt an option since the roof needs to go back onto the building before it rains and the roofers are anxious about working up there with the bees still nearby, albeit in a hive rather than the chimney.  How will I or can I know that the queen is in there?  Today the bees have apparently been in and out of the hive, working on the comb laid nearby to get the honey off and taking no notice of the space where the chimney used to be and the opening.  But bees have been spotted in small clusters in the nearby trees according to anxious neighbours.  And, assuming the plan to get them down and hive back home, when should I remove the corks from the entrance?  That night or early the next morning?

And after that what, if anything, should I do about the muddle inside this hive?  Leave the bees to sort it and not open it at all?  Ever?  Trish suggested that any not quite empty bits of comb from the scaffolding should be brought across and put out under the hive so the bees can continue to retrieve honey.  And, given that the comb I did put into the hive filled it up completely, might they swarm this year? And if so, should I get another hive ready just in case?  All thoughts that I would have time to work all this out as I went along seems now to have been wishful thinking.  Major hand-holding is needed please!!!


About walthambees

I am a complete novice to bee keeping - eager to learn, willing to try, happy to acknowledge that I know little and prepared to write about that in the hope that others will share their wisdom and experiences!
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7 Responses to first catch your bees – plan B

  1. ingrid says:

    Good luck with it all. I will be thinking of you moving your hive as we negotiate the potholes and bumps in our roads bringing my hive home. The more I get involved with this bee business the more I chuckle at the “SImple Bees” idea.

  2. walthambees says:

    planning to move them tonight so I’ll let you know how it goes…..

  3. Paul says:

    If you are moving them more than 3 miles (and you say 4) you will break their map so there should be no bee-psychology problem moving them, apart from the mechanical issues of physically transporting the hive.

    Whenever you catch a swarm or move a hive some bees are off out shopping, or whatever, and return to the old site. Sad but too bad. This one sounds like a monster colony and the disassembly was perforce messy and piecemeal, so there are lots of clumps. Can’t be helped. Think of the colony as a superorganism: save the colony, don’t worry too much about individual bees. The alternative, after all, was that the whole superorganism died when the chimney was demolished.

  4. FollowMeChaps says:

    walthambees (just a first name would be nice)
    It sounds like you did a really great job. Well done, what fantastic experience you gained. Hve you any photos you could share?

    You say “having had my first swarm disappear in a re-swarm “; this seems peculiarly common this year, I can only put it down to the hot then cold then hot weather. I had one re-swarm 3 times until I put a stop to it by using a queen inclder (an excluder on the entrance hole to stop the queen leaving – see photo click to enlarge). I normally advise against these but this year…..

    You had no choice other than to get the hive down and I like Paul’s comments about saving the superorganism – he’s 100% correct of course – don’t beat yourself up about it.

    I hope all goes well and look forward to your next report.


  5. walthambees says:

    many thanks for all the advice and support. hive closed up after dark with (we thought) lots of bees inside. journey from the top of the scaffolding to my garden was achieved with care – the really hard part was overcoming my fear of heights to get up on the scaffolding. Got up at 4am to take the gaffer tape off the openings – no sign of bees, no noise. 9am – still no bees and no noise. ARe they sulking or not there? the roofers did say that there had been some groups of bees in a neighbours garden but that they had cut off the branch and put the bees into the hive. And last night there were many bees about – were they settling for the night in their new home or returning to gather what honey they could from the comb and then scooting back to the new venue they’d found for themselves? Gareth, maybe you should rename this ‘Really rather complex and confusing (to me) bees’?

  6. ruth talbot says:

    The hive has now been back for 4 days. There are a few bees lurking but only 1 or 2 going into and out of the hive. Through the observation chamber I can see the occasional bee inside but the majority of bees nearby seem interested in the underside of the hive where honey is dripping down from the comb. The stragglers from the swarm that got away are still huddling near where the hive was before and I now suspect that the hive returned here empty and that the bees I am observing are from the stragglers group. So yesterday afternoon while it was warm I opened the hive. There seemed to be no more than about 30 bees in there and their focus seemed to be the honey cells. No new comb has been built. The bees in there are not grouping together at all and there seems to be little organisation about what they are doing. I think these are straggler bees foraging honey but that there is no colony in there. Does anyone have any thoughts?

    meanwhile, the swarm officer has suggested that before I think of taking another swarm that I should get a queen includer. Is this a good idea? surely if the queen doesnt want to stay she has a reason? But if it is a sensible thing to do, what does one look like and where can I get one from?

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