It is customary for me to visit the land owner who is good enough to allow me access
to his fields for my bees to pollinate his crops. After producing some of the products
of the hive as an appreciative rental the conversation develops into what was the
yield like against expectations, what are you growing next time etc, etc?. From my
point of view I like to give an update of events and how the last season has gone.
Sadly this year he told me that he was only growing rape and wheat, I expressed my
disappointment being swift to point out that my bees with the best will in the world
could not suffice over twelve months on just six weeks of rape, as the productive
season runs for eighteen weeks out of fifty two they certainly needed to be where
there was an ongoing foraging crop to work.
It appeared that in conversation the farming industry had attempted to follow the
government edict of growing more rape not only for cooking oil but also for bio fuels
as a result the crop rotation had been shortened and as agronomists now realised
had created problems which meant that a longer period of time would be needed before
rape could be grown on a field again.
Bending his ear still further and explaining that this was making beekeeping more
difficult he did agree that he had some useful contacts and would make enquiries
for me. True to his word he came up with contacts that I pursued, one was producing
winter beans that were already in flower but adjacent to where race horses were trained,
from experience I took the view that may be if bees were located there perhaps the
horses would run faster; on second thoughts perhaps not.
What luck, the second farmer was growing spring beans approx 170 acres. I viewed
the site and was greatly pleased with what I saw, now I appreciate that not every
season the right weather comes along to give a bumper crop despite the bees efforts,
this was also adjacent to a disused railway track which had been given back to the
farmer when the line closed and yes I could place them on the railway embankment.
I could not hide my excitement when I realised that this was formerly a main line
that I had worked on half a century ago, being a third generation railwayman I had
travelled on this track many times and such expresses as “The Master Cutler, The
South Yorkshire man” and the best loaded cross country train of the day “Newcastle-
Poole” with the Southern Region green livery alternating with the Eastern Region
red and cream immediately sprang to mind along with 9F wind cutters heading to and
from the local marshalling yard.
Well, as you know this season lifted off around the middle of May and we enjoyed
a two month period of intense activity, routine visits to the site on a 1in 176 gradient
brought back many memories; the bees performed well and were now gathering pollen
and nectar aplenty from the overgrown embankment.
As I lapsed back in time I checked my watch and could hear the signal wire being
stretched along the pulleys for the signal to be raised then hear two bells ring
out from the block instrument panel in the local signal box as the train entered
section, the shrill whistle of the A3 locomotive as it flashed by at speed with that
unmistakeable smell of steam and smoke followed by the ticketty tock of the coaches
going over the gap between the sixty foot lengths of rail, a final look at the last
coach with tail lamp attached as it receded into the distance, the 15.20 from Marylebone
on time again (Leicester men you know!).
I would never have entertained the idea of being a beekeeper then but fifty years
on I count myself privileged to have worked that part of the route for a very different
cause as well as the bonus of nostalgia and sentimental reasons.
Now as I come back to earth, just where did I put that hive tool.
Hiving The Alien Swarm.
It was the 6th of July, about 7 in the evening. I was about
to sit down and watch Uruguay v Netherlands, having just prepared my evening meal.
I decided to go out to my recycle bin and noticed this rather odd, helmet shaped
‘bump’ under a more or less empty hive (the hive had about ½ frame of bees inside
which had been given to me a month earlier and sadly were not doing very well).
On closer inspection I could see it was a swarm! What should I do? Well, for 5 minutes
I ran around like a headless chicken then decided to make phone calls, after 3 attempts
to speak to someone I got fed up with no answers and message machines. I ran around
for another 5 minutes then made the decision to ‘do it myself’ since I had read about
how to deal with a swarm both in books and on the internet.
I got rapidly into my bee suit then after removing the roof and brood box, I carried
the floor on its stand, with the swarm hanging underneath it, over to a vacant hive,
luckily had one standing about. Then I brushed and shook the bees into my yellow
Next I put a large white tablecloth in front of the hive entrance, hanging down to
the ground, and shook the bees from the bucket onto that. Then I stood back to watch.
By now I was really hot and sweating profusely and felt as if I had run in a marathon
with a beehive on my back!
Over the next 30 minutes or so they trooped through the entrance and I was feeling
happy enough to take photographs whilst avoiding flying bees. By 8pm they were mostly
all in their new home, apart from some still buzzing about and some on the ground
it appeared I had hived my first swarm!
(The time stamp on the first photo of the swarm under the hive was 19:13 and on the
last was 19:56 so all this had taken less than an hour to do).
At this point I heaved a sigh of relief and feeling hugely chuffed with myself phoned
the training officer to let her know what I had done. My dinner had gone cold but
I was still in time to watch the 2nd half of the football!