COVID has been responsible for a number of horrible things. It's also had an impact on our bee colonies.
In 2020, our beehives were located on our garage roof, so we could keep an eye on them, urban bee-keeping style, and, as we live rurally, they had access to lots of wonderful flowers and fauna. It worked well for us as we could keep a close eye on them, and we could climb out of the bedroom window to tend to them (it opens fully as a fire escape, it's not as dramatic as it sounds).
However, they were naughty bees, and had a tendency to swarm. Our neighbours were INCREDIBLY patient, but we know it's not pleasant for humans or pets to have a swarm of honey bees in their vicinity. We knew that we needed to move them (and apologise profusely - thankfully, everyone was absolutely lovely!)
COVID-19, unfortunately, interfered with those plans in 2020. The hives had to stay put. We all had to grit our teeth last swarming season (usually May and June, especially on warm but overcast days) because there wasn't anywhere we could move them to, until the end of the year.
This year we were determined to relocate the bees as soon as we could.
Thing is, bees don't especially like to be moved. As they are the ultimate free-range creatures, they tend to go back to wherever their hive used to be. Beekeeping wisdom also states you need to move the hives fewer than 3 feet, or more than 3 miles. So the hunt for a new spot was on.
Thankfully, some super kind farmers let us relocate the bees to their land and, in all honesty, we couldn't have wanted for a more idyllic spot. Hopefully the bees will help pollinate their fruit trees, so it should be a symbiotic relationship.
We weren't sure at first whether the bees would like their new home, despite it looking pretty idyllic to us as humans. Farming monoculture can cause problems for bees, and our local agriculture is mostly grasses, like wheat and barley. This can be problematic for bees as they cannot collect pollen from them. Also, the farm is just out of the village, so there are not as many gardens around - although bees can fly up to 5 miles for food, they tend to prefer what is on the doorstep (like most of us!)
As it turns out, we were worrying about nothing! The bees seem super happy with their new accommodation and are enjoying the local fayre very much. Phew! They are right underneath a huge hawthorn hedgerow which is currently in full flower, and is one of a bee's favourite foods. We also have lots of rape seed planted around here, which the bees love. This usually means our honey is set rather than runny. We can't legally call our honey 'rapeseed honey' as our bees are free range, and we can't prove where they have been. But we can tell it's largely made up of rapeseed nectar because of its texture - the honey crystallizes rapidly, so sets in the jar. Our honey is "raw" - we simply run it through a sieve to remove any debris like pollen or beeswax - we don't pasteurise or process it in any way. This means that all the vitamins and nutrients are preserved.
You may wonder why we have bricks on top of our hives? This is to ensure that they are not blown away in the wind. It doesn't happen often, but it has happened to us before, so we're over-cautious.
When we moved the hives, there were a few steps we had to take.
1) Wait until dusk - this is when the vast majority of bees are back in the hive for the night (we don't know what happens to the bees who are still out - I guess they fly around until they find another colony and then join them there. That's a whole Disney film plot, right there 😂)
2) Seal up the entrance to the hive, and tie a strap around the hive to keep all the 'supers' (the various floors of the hive) together
3) Put it in the car
4) Drive it to their new home
5) Leave the hive overnight, with their front door still sealed, so the bees can't get in or out. This means they have a bit of time to settle.
6) Next day, open their front door but stuff the entrance with grass. This makes the bees realise they have moved location. The bees move the grass / it gradually falls out, giving them chance to get used to the new smells and so on. By the time they can get out, they have got used to the idea that they're in a new place.
7) SURPRISE, BEES! The whole world has changed. Enjoy!
There was one occasion where the strapping around the hive was insufficient and the car filled with bees. Dom managed to stop quickly and safely. That was not an experience to repeat 😂 He was OK, despite being stung a few times (he's very used to that these days)
And there we have it - the bees are happy in their new rural home and are producing honey and expanding quickly - we now have 10 hives (this can fluctuate across the year - some swarm (although we try to prevent this), some sadly die, often over winter. Some split into 2 colonies, and we provide the second with a new hive, and we get called out to cases locally where unsuspecting members of the public find themselves with a swarm of pet bees they didn't ask for.