07 August 2017


It's been almost ten years since we first began trying to catch a swarm of bees to live with us. Look back on the blog, and you'll find some of the close encounters we've had -- catching a swarm and then losing it. Eventually, disheartened, one gives up, despite the fact that we live directly in a "bee path" -- a route they use year after year after year in their migrations. Even the local bee guru, Owen, has described us as "the unluckiest bee catchers in history" after he has generously helped us out -- on several occasions -- preparing and siting some catch-boxes -- and still coming-up dry.

The hive-stand - repairs and mods in progress
About a year ago, I decided to try once more, and built a mobile stand so that we could experiment with placing catch-boxes in different places around the farm. It's a lightweight structure that is not intended to hold a fully-laden brood box, but it is easy to move around and useful as a temporary support. I duly set up a catch-box -- a smaller brood box than usual, holding only five frames, and, in theory, easier for a small, juvenile swarm to manage and defend. The catch box was well cleaned and prepared, with freshly-waxed frames and liberal quantities of propolis applied to its walls and floor to make it fragrantly alluring to bees. Months went by, and still no bees settled in. Eventually I lost hope and my visits to the box grew further and further apart. And then stopped altogether.

Then, just the other day, I decided that the mobile stand was just the thing I needed for another project, so I wandered down into the wild part of the plot where I'd left it.
There I found the stand, collapsed, maybe broken, lying on the ground. The catch-box lay forlornly upside down, lid stuck in the mud. Well, nothing really new for me where bees are concerned, and, anyway, it was the stand I wanted. I briskly turned the box right side up on the grass, and tugged at the lid -- with a certain caution in case a snake had decided, as they often do, that a catch-box would make a fine winter home. It wouldn't budge. Well, it always did get a bit stuck. Catch-boxes rarely have a lot of effort put in to their construction quality. Tugged the lid again and it finally came free, only to reveal,... a LOT of bees!

Now I'm standing there in jeans and T-shirt and no protective gear to be had. And these bees are Apis scutellata capensis -- those ones everybody hysterically labels "Killer Bees". I quickly shove the lid back onto the box and beat a hasty retreat. The stand will have to wait for another day, since the catch-box -- now upright, at least -- is still settled quite squarely atop the stand.

Fast forward a couple of days to today. It's time to get the bees out of the mud, at least, and retrieve the stand so it can be repaired and beefed up a bit. Suitably armoured in my bee outfit, hive tool and smoker in hand, I traipsed down to the wild side once again. It was late morning, and a fine, warm winter's day. The hum of bees foraging in the flowering shrubs is loud, and a sure indication that most of the workers will be out of the hive and hard at work. The best circumstances for opening the hive up for a look.

Catch-box, now lifted up off the ground, and less vulnerable
to ants and other pests. Trust me that it's full of bees!
The first thing I did was lift the box up off the ground and onto a couple of logs, being careful not to alter the direction it's oriented -- bees don't like that much. I was probably being over-cautious. This swarm has already had their house turned completely upside-down at least once already. There's not much that's going to phase them.

With the box no longer atop the stand, I retrieved that and moved it out of the way. Then it was back to the box to take a wee look at what we have in there...

After a bit of smoke, I lifted the lid. It's full of bees. They're making a most peculiar noise, something like a dog, half growling in the back of its throat with warning. The feeling I get from them is that it's simply a warning -- "There's smoke about" -- but not any sense of anger or panic.

They've emphatically welded all the frames to the box with copious quantities of propolis, to the point where I fear breaking the frames if I apply too much force trying to break them free of the box with my hive tool (a suitably modified horseshoe, really). Not wanting to disturb them too much -- after all, how many swarms have we already lost? Don't want to take any chances pissing this one off! -- I replace the lid and leave them to their own devices.

I did get a sense that it's getting slightly crowded in there, but, as I didn't actually lift the frames out to check I'm not sure... In a month or so, as Spring weather begins to get a proper grip, I'll rehouse them in a full-size brood box. I'd do it now, but there's cold weather predicted for next weekend, and I'd not like to put them in a situation where they abscond because I put them in a box bigger than they can warm.

Meanwhile I shall construct a permanent, Baboon-resistant, Ratel-proof stand nearby , and rehouse the swarm into a full-sized brood-box. I figure that if they're happy in that place, who am I to argue?

Mood: Ecstatically happy!

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