ONBG meeting – Sunday 18th May 2014


The gossip begins

16 people were able to attend the meeting at Sarah’s house, including many new faces. And some ‘Unplanned Events’, made it probably the most exciting meeting we’ve had.

The unplanned, but happy, events were  swarms!


I brought along a swarm I had just collected half an hour before the meeting. My hives were all occupied, but I knew there would be members present in need of swarms. Natural beekeepers prize swarms because they have almost always come from a healthy, thriving colony; if from a feral colony, they will have pest-resistant genes and behaviour; and starting a hive with a swarm means the bees start with a very low varroa count. If the queen is a virgin queen, the colony will take longer to build up as there will be a significant brood break and again, this hinders varroa. Finally, unconventional hive shapes mean it is very difficult to buy a nucleus and fit its standard frames inside, so swarms are a very convenient “starter kit”.

The following gallery showing its collection and hiving – I’d never seen a swarm on the ground before, I improvised by gently picking up the densest clumps of bees and placing them in the box. Second guess lucky, I got the queen, and thereafter the bees followed her in – it took about 40 minutes to box them up. Pictures 3 and 6 are practically mirror images of each other as the bees first march into the box, then out again! They just want to be with Queenie.

But that wasn’t the only swarm at the meeting! Sarah had cleverly arranged for one to coalesce on a neighbour’s tree about 30 mins after we met up! We never found out where it had come from. But we had the right tools (bucket on a stick) and knocked it off a branch and collected that too: an impromptu training session for those who had not seen it before, and entertaining street theatre for the neighbours.

The swarm from the tree was taken to Ann’s apiary after the meeting, and due to time pressure, simply poured gently into a Warré. It was still happily in there a day later, building comb.

And finally, shortly thereafter, Peter showed up – with the third swarm! He’d been called home from the start of the meeting when his wife noticed a swarm emerging from one of his own hives. As he had placed it in a top bar nucleus hive, he handed this one over to Joshua, a new member who has just built a couple of TBH’s, and probably wasn’t expecting to get bees quite so soon. Joshua can now just lift the top bars out of the nucleus hive and deposit them in his own TBH.

Apart from these off-script interruptions, the meeting itself was a good one with good company and stimulating discussions:

  • People introduced themselves and linked up with nearest-neighbours.
  • Helen described how her modified TBH using the Warré gapped bar & top quilt principles had solved her cross-combing problems and was producing beautiful straight comb
  • Will discussed how he might convert his Nationals to use low-intervention principles, such as foundationless natural comb
  • Ann explained that she already runs two Nationals in this way, without frames. Her third hive is a Warré.
  • Gino exhibited his customised top bar with holes to allow access to a feeder under the roof
  • Shirin described how she introduced some bees into a Warré a year ago and has just left them to it. They are calm and vigorous and build good straight comb, with no intervention required from her.
  • Helle’s Warré is also thriving
  • Shadiya described her unexpected discovery of a bee colony in a tea chest on her property. (It had housed a colony a couple of years ago, which died out, but it has been covertly recolonised.)
  • There was a general question and answer session where Sarah, Shadiya, Helen, Peter & Gino shared their experience and insight with the newcomers on subjects varying from “why keep bees if you don’t prioritise honey?”, “how do you control swarms?”, “what’s an eke?” and “are badgers a problem?” to “what do I do with this swarm I’ve just been given?” and explaining about how no-treatment beekeepers give bees a suitable environment to control varroa by themselves.
  • Sarah had done a varroa count on her hive and showed us the paper with the mite fall – ten in 3.5 days, which impressed the conventional beek present.
  • Also, the potluck “bring and share” lunch was delicious.

Sarah then showed people her empty TBH, which was the first time some people had seen one. After explaining the general principles of operation, she then opened the end of her occupied one. This is a thriving hive: she’s given away a swarm and two casts from it this year. It’s a bit cross-combed though, so we only opened it part way. As she’s not too interested in harvesting honey from it, she prefers to let them do their own thing in there as the colony is obviously thriving.

The meeting broke up slightly early as people were anxious to hive their newly acquired swarms.

Many thanks to Sarah for hosting such a successful and extraordinary meeting!

Next meeting – tba..

This entry was posted in Apiary visits, Meetings, Swarms, TBH. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to ONBG meeting – Sunday 18th May 2014

  1. solarbeez says:

    Hey, I like that bucket on a stick idea. Gonna make me one, but I’m hoping swarm season is about done here. I got three swarms and gave away two, but I saw a total of about 6 from my hives. My wife says she can’t wait for swarm season to be over. I agree.


  2. Paul says:

    Some more details / pictures on the bucket-on-a-stick here: https://oxnatbees.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/april-2013-meeting/ but basically, the “bucket” is a water cooler bottle with the end sawn off, the pole is from a hardware store and is sold for things like windw washing tools, and the bit that screws in the end of the pole is epoxy-resined into the neck of the water bottle. There are YouTube videos showing how to make this kind of thing. I needed an awful lot of glue!


  3. lindarowan says:

    Thank you Paul for your excellent write-up, as always. I did hear what an excellent meeting this was – I didn’t go because I wanted to be here to catch my second swarm. They had been preparing for a while (one of the joys of the Warre hive, looking in the window to see what they’re up to). A cluster was accumulating in the third box, and one day they did swarm onto a nearby tree – only to all go back again into the hive, summoned by a great throng of bees on the landing board humming and fanning. Maybe one of them had read the weather forecast for the following day. They did eventually swarm a couple of days ago, when the rain had stopped. I thought they were getting busier – and then suddenly the energy changed, and a great whooshing like the sea, they all came pouring and pouring out of the hive. What an extraordinary phenomenon swarming is – I just stood there as they whirled about. It’s a very joyful event – the thought of people trying to stop it…anyway, I tried to persuade them to choose a convenient bush, but they chose a branch quite high up. It would have been possible with a ladder if they had been near a solid trunk, but they weren’t. So this is where the bucket was invaluable – I have Gareth to thank for this inspiration, and fortunately I had made one myself. They were soon down in a skep, and a few hours later I ran them into the hive. This is another magical event – they run up like a great wave. A few bunched up by the door and I put an umbrella over them for the night. They really did not want to go in until the sun was warmer the following day. I felt that they were a kind of welcoming party for foragers, to tell them where the new home is. Again, it is wonderful to look in the window and see the first signs of pure white wax appearing on the glass as they start to build. We are certainly very fortunate to experience all this. Looking forward to hearing how the new colonies are faring.


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