When we moved from an urban environment to a rural one four years ago, a local Wildlife Trust ran a course on beekeeping which I attended. I found it fascinating, and soon after had my first hive. Over the next couple of years this expanded to three hives, the number which many bee keepers regard as a sensible minimum.

My bees definitely haven’t read the same textbooks as I have, as whereas the hive kept for the beginners’ course followed the “normal” series of events, my hives have not. In the first year when I was starting from a “nuc” (a young colony only occupying about 4 frames) (a normal brood box contains 10 or 11 frames), the bees made enough honey to survive the following winter. However there was not enough to remove any safely, so we got no honey that year.

In the second and third years, we had incidents such as a swarm so the honey production was quite small. However what we did get was delicious!

On one occasion, the queens disappeared from both hives at the same time when I had two. Fortunately splicing in some brood with eggs from another beekeeper’s hive saved them. However their production was of course limited by this.

In year two, I caught a swarm from a garden a few miles away. Helped by a more experienced bee keeper, we found it in a small tree and were able to shake it into a box and bring it back home. Here it is in the tree –

In the next phot, we are encouraging some stragglers to go into the box which contains the majority of the swarm –

Here we have sealed the box, and then wrapped it in a blanket before the journey home. We kept our bee suits on, just in case some managed to escape!

When we got home, we opened the box and dropped the bees onto a board leading up to the empty hive. It was quite surprising to me how they just marched up the board and into their new home.

The following day, we observed that the hive was empty; they had swarmed again. Bees often swarm in two stages, first alighting nearby. We found them in a hawthorne hedge about 10m away. So, we got the box and caught them again. They went back into the hive.

We put them back directly into the hive into a frame-less super box on top of the colony, rather than let them walk in as on the first occasion. We thought it might help retain them and we placed a couple of twigs from the hedge in there too. The following day, when I lifted the top off to remove the empty box, I found this superb natural comb, hanging from the crown board, built in under a day –

Bees are quite amazing!

A couple of days later, we observed a cloud of bees over the hives, and it was this swarm again deciding it didn’t like its new home. They were flying above the hive, awaiting the scout bees coming back and telling them where they wanted to go. We wondered if a third capture would be possible, but they flew off. I was surprised at the speed with which they flew, with fences in the way we couldn’t keep up with them and they disappeared to hopefully a suitable home.