As Andy has already written in his blog today (what do you mean, you haven't read Andy's blog today? Well, you better had because I am not repeating what he said and if you don't read it then some of what I am going to say will not make sense, but then does it ever??) we received a phone call late yesterday afternoon to say the top bar hive and one of the three National hives appeared to have residents once more after more than a year of being vacant. So off we went to investigate, having dug the bee equipment from the loft where it had been retired when we became bee-less.
Of course, we didn't know if the residents were actually bees. They could have been wasps, or hornets, or badgers...okay, probably not badgers, but you know what I mean. And as it was, it turned out they WERE bees. Quite a few bees. More than quite a few bees. This wasn't a small party of bees making a temporary stop during their Grand Tour of Kentish Orchards. Oh no...these bees were homemaking. There were honey stores, freestyle comb-making and capped brood and a lot of purposeful bee activty occurring.
And they were very placid bees, too. Buzzed a bit when we prised open the lids, but settled quickly and didn't bother about us doing a quick check to see what was occurring therein.
Anyway, the farmer requested that we move the hives as he wanted to use the area they were in for a new farming-type enterprise and as it was his land he was quite within his rights to make such a request. How quickly did he want them moved, we asked. The digger is coming tomorrow, said he. Oh, said we. Right, said we. It's okay, said he. You can still keep them here on the farm. It's lovely to have them back. But could they perhaps go over there? And he waved his arm in the general direction of a little meadow about 100 yards away.
Well, as the beekeepers among you will know,there is a rule that says you can move bees either less than 3 feet or more than 3 miles - any distance in between and they will become lost and confused. So we had a potential problem.
However, if you read bee keeping books from America, they observe the 2 feet or 2 miles rule. And what, I thought, is the difference between a bee in America and a bee in England that would mean the difference of a foot or a mile? It just did not add up. Literally. Unless there is some peculiar space/ time continuum occurring between us and our transatlantic cousins. Which sounds highly unlikely, even when you are married to a Doctor Who fan and these kind of things feature large in your day-to-day life.
So we did some more research. And all over the place there were bee keepers saying, 'I moved my bees 100 yards/half a mile/eight feet and they were fine. And this is how I did it...' It seemed this piece of theory was being blown of the water, to use a trout and shotgun metaphor.
Well, we had no choice. We had to move the bees within 24 hours. To that meadow there 100 yards away. And this is what we did, using a pinch of innovative bee keeping theory and a fair dollop of instinct. And a little prayer to whichever Saint keeps an eye on bees.
Firstly, the weather was on our side being dull and a bit chilly, which meant the bees were hived quite early in the evening. There were one or two returning as we arrived to make the move but most were safely tucked up in bed. So we taped the hive entrances and carefully carried the hives to their new site, which was okay with the National because it was a single storey about 2 thirds full, but a different kettle of fish with the top bar which, by its nature, is two National hives' worth and fairly full of bees and therefore weighed a bit of a tonne. We had to stop and rest every 10 yards or so and we were sweating buckets by the time we reached the meadow BUT we did it! Phew!! Twice phew, in fact.
And then we piled lots of grass and hedging material and some lemon balm (which I brought from home, don't know why, seemed an instinctive thing to do, Andy thought I was mad, what's new?) in front of the National hive, and faced the top bar towards a barrier of tall grass in front of a tall hedge, the theory being that the bees would have to negotiate themselves past the foliage barriers and then fly straight up thus forcing them to take time to orientate themselves to their new surroundings. And then we left the hives to settle for half an hour before opening the hive entrances.
Apparently, this has worked with other beekeepers who have been in our situation of having to make awkward and less-than-ideal moves with hives.
We stood and watched a while. The bees in the top bar stayed put. Not a one emerged. I think the close proximity of long grass and hedge helped. I like to think the guard bees looked out, saw the jungle and thought, 'I really can't be bothered with checking that out tonight. I'll have a look tomorrow when the weather has cheered up a bit.'
And on opening the National, a handful of bees emerged, got tangled in their lemon balmy undergrowth, struggled a bit, broke free, did their figure of eight orientation dance and mostly went back into the hive. Except for one or two who flew up and away. Awkward sods.
Back at the original site, a dozen bees were circling looking confused. They might fly around and scent out their home just across the meadow. Apparently, this could happen. I hope so. But we shan't know. It will be do or die for those girls.
Will these hives survive the move? I don't see why not. They have healthy numbers. New babies will be hatching over the next weeks or so and they will know no other home so when they emerge from the hive they will learn afresh where to come and go. The top bar bees will do their own thing anyway. You can't do very much to manage top bar bees, but then that is the whole point of beekeeping the natural way.
We shall check them next weekend.
It's rather nice to think we have bees again.