“A swarm in May is worth a load of hay.
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon.
A swarm in July isn’t worth a fly”
But what about a swarm in April?
I blame an unseasonably warm Spring. I simply wasn’t prepared. All of that sunshine, all of those flowers and as much pollen and nectar as a honeybee could possibly want. It shouldn’t have happened in a damp little country like this, but it did.
Ireland had a tropical couple of weeks last April and my bees went a little bit crazy. Everyone’s did. Springtime in Johnswell turned into Swarm time. All of my friends and neighbours who keep honeybees on their land saw them rise up and abandon their hives. A lot earlier than they should have.
Honeybees swarm for a number of reasons. Some because it’s simply in their nature, others because their home place is getting a little too crowded and sometimes it’s down to the fact that their queen is past her prime.
A sure sign your bees are getting ready to swarm is when they start building new queen cells – as this means a new queen is on the way. Queen cells, which contain the queen egg, are larger than worker cells and hang vertically on the frame (all other bee cells are horizontal). 16 days after an egg has been laid in this cell, a new queen emerges. And around this time, the old one decides to flee. These ladies will never, ever, share a hive.
So, when I went into my solitary bee hive last April and saw a handful of queen cells, I panicked. My bees were very crowded in there and were busy making a new queen. That could only mean they’d soon be swarming and I’d end up losing a huge number of my bees.
One frantic phone call later, and a very kind and very experienced local beekeeper, John Ryan, paid an emergency visit to the 3 acres. And helped me avert what could have been a disaster.
What we did was quite simple. Under John’s guidance I placed a new, empty hive next door to the very crowded one. Into this hive I placed a few frames of fresh brood (or cells of fertilised eggs which are sealed and ready for metamorphosis). I also transferred a lot of worker bees, simply by shaking them out of the old hive, into the new one. If I didn’t have worker bees to care this new crop of babies, then it was very unlikely they’d survive.
And finally, my new hive would need a new queen. So, very gently, I took one frame containing a lovely big queen cell and placed it snugly into the new home. In just a few weeks, fingers crossed, this second hive would have its very other mother bee.
After killing off all the other queen cells in my first hive, to make sure the original queen woulnd’t be threatened, all I could do was wait and see. And wait some more. Had I cunningly created two lovely beehives at the bottom of my three acres. Or had I ruined the one good hive I already had?
All will be revealed – and soon I hope.
About 10 years ago, I did something I never thought I would and returned home to live in my native county Kilkenny. Myself and my family set up home just one mile outside a beautiful little village called Johnswell. And we’ve never looked back.
For a living – I work as a freelance broadcast and print journalist. I’m a presenter on Ear to the Ground, RTE Television’s farming and rural affairs programme, write a weekly column for the Kilkenny People newspaper and recently co-devised a new Irish reality TV programme – ICA Bootcamp.
And for fun - I keep bees, grow all my own fruit and vegetables and putter around my polytunnel.
Kilkenny, June 2011
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The 3 Acres Bees
The 3 Acres