Swarming Bees

At this time of year bees swarm, it seems. That is, they produce a new queen by feeding one of the brood royal jelly, and this queen eventually leaves the hive and takes a swarm of young bees with her to form a new colony. Bee keepers who are keen on increasing the number of hives they have clearly love this time of year and are constantly on the lookout for wild swarms they can catch, as well as the new swarms from their own hives. As Bhola and I are very new at this game, we were interested to find out that someone had a swarm in their garden and wanted us to have a go at catching it. We asked our bee expert, Mr Mok, if he could come over to assist, but none of us had transport, so we tried to do it using his instructions over the phone. The swarm was about 12 feet up in a tree, so he told us to use one pole with a cane basket attached, and another with leaves attached to brush the bees into the basket: we attached a small brush. We managed to get quite a lot of the bees in the basket, but we couldn’t see the queen, and the bees kept going back to their spot on the tree. We tried about four times, then gave up, and that was when I made a mistake! Instead of telling Bhola to leave the basket up in the tree until the bees had settled, I told him to lower it, which he did, but somewhat too close to me. I got stung three times, one on the hand, one on the cheek and one on the eyelid before I scooted away to safety. Considering how much aggravation we’d caused the bees, they were remarkably placid. My face ended up looking like a balloon, but it wasn’t painful, and it’s all part of the learning process, as they say.
That was last week. A few days later one of our own hives – owned by John – swarmed, not once but twice. One swarm was at the bottom of a tree near the ground, so I put a hive there with a frame with brood in it from their original hive to entice the bees in. I should have brushed them onto a sheet near the entrance to the hive so they could walk in, but I was a bit wary of doing that having only just returned to looking human again. The bees were interested in the hive, and many went inside, but again we couldn’t get the queen to go in. If she’d gone in, the rest would have followed. Then, by chance, Bhola bumped into a Chinese guy, who he knew was a beeman, and he agreed to come and collect both swarms for us for free (someone else had offered to collect one swarm for $1400, more than the cost of the whole hive with bees and frames in it!)
So, when he arrived, he tied a small cane basket, covered in plastic to keep out the rain, just above the swarm, and then lit a few joss sticks and waved them under the bees for maybe an hour until all of them had moved up into the basket. Some of them he’d gently picked up in his hand and placed them in the basket to speed up the process, getting a few stings in the process. He then took them over to our empty hive and dumped them in there after spraying them with some water to calm them down. It was only at this point that he pulled his net over his face. He then went and did the same to the second swarm, which was 9  feet up in a tree, but this lot we let him take home as payment. We were pleased, and he was pleased, and the bees seem to have settled nicely in their hive, except that they’ve ignored the frames we put in there and are building a beautiful honeycomb attached to the cover of the frames – a wonderful, white oval.

I think Bhola and I are pretty well set now for when our other hive, which is literally overflowing with bees, decides to swarm. It should be any time soon, we reckon. We’re also dying to collect some honey once we get a sunny day when we’re both free, and the bees are out foraging instead of sitting in the hive to keep out of the rain. It’s an absorbing activity, as any good hobby should be, but this one is going to help us pollinate our plants, produce honey to eat and sell, and increase biodiversity in the area. It’s got no downsides, apart from getting stung, of course.


About transitionsl

I've been an English teacher for the best part of 30 years, teaching in England, Tanzania, Brunei, Australia and Hong Kong. I've always been interested in nature and environmental issues, but it was the discovery of Peak Oil about five years ago that galvanised me into trying to help my local community to prepare for what will be a dramatically different world to the one many of us have been used to. I've been helping to run a transition group, following the guidelines created by Rob Hopkins's Transition Movement in the UK. This blog is an attempt to engage in discussion with a wider group of people in Hong Kong on the ways to transition from our current oil dependency to a state of fossil-free local resilience.
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