… in more ways than one.
Honey bees, honey (top, capped cells) larvae (brood) and pollen
First of all, we’re very sorry to be waving bye-bye to very good friends who’re moving back to the UK for a year or two. Getting Very Good Jobs is difficult in France if you’re not French and have no directly transferable diplomas or other qualifications – even if your French is very good and you’ve years of top-class, exceptional experience elsewhere.
And France doesn’t try to be friendly to small, independent businesses in the way that the UK (and no doubt other countries) is. A positive “can do” attitude doesn’t count for much here. Ability to pay about 50% of earnings in social taxes does. Anyway, having had a slew of Very Good Job offers back in England, our friends are putting their much-loved Normandy home to bed for a while and relocating to pastures new… but their little house will be waiting for them and we know they’ll be back!
Dusk, Thursday evening – three colonies of honeybees safely abed for the night
Part of putting their house to bed is re-homing their bees. They were kindly looking after two of our bee colonies over last year while Patrick became officially bionic with two new hips and now we’re returning the favour by looking after their Warre hive (the tall, elegant one) while they’re away. Well, not so much the hive but more the inhabitants and contents – honey!
Moving bees is a process. There are many different opinions, probably as many opinions as there are beekeepers :-) – for example in the link I’ve just provided, the recommendation is that bees are ideally moved in winter. That makes little practical sense as bees are often moved to where there’s a crop that needs pollination and will provide nectar which will produce honey – an orchard full of blossom; a lavender farm, an avenue of lime trees – and those movements necessarily happen in spring or summer.
Then there’s the three feet vs three miles rule of thumb: either move your hive less than 3 ft or more than 3 miles to avoid confusing and possibly losing your bees. But even so, allegedly you can move your bees more than 3 ft providing you force the bees to reorientate themselves on emerging the morning after the move. You can do that by putting a barrier in front of the exit.
This unexpected obstacle – a surprised “that wasn’t there last night…” is my anthropomorphic description of the reaction – forces a re-boot of each bee’s internal sat-nav. Before flying off in search of food, the bees will take the time to work out why there has been a sudden and major change so close to the hive and, if that’s new, what else has changed? Having re-established their location and landmarks, they’ll successfully find the hive again on their return. After a few days, one can safely remove the obstacle as by then, the bees will have established their new position and while they’ll notice the lack of obstacle, it won’t affect their arrival on the landing board at the entrance.
Travel board being fixed across the hive entrance which gives some ventilation to the hive but the holes are too small for the bees to be able to exit
You should only move hives in the evening when all the bees are done flying for the day and are home for the evening. You should only do it when the weather is sufficiently warm; it doesn’t have to be hot, but ideally you don’t move bees when the weather is really cold: no matter how carefully you drive, there’s a danger of the cluster of bees around the centre of the hive being jarred apart. If that happens, they’ll re-group but in warm springs, if they have already started raising the new season’s bees – the larva, the brood – is liable to chill and all that egg laying and nurturing goes to waste.
Dusk – bee hives secured for moving – strapped down to prevent sliding on the trailer base and all exits secured to prevent bees leaving during transit
There’s a big advantage – in our opinion – to moving the bees at dusk: you’re more or less guaranteed to move the entire colony. Call me an old softie but I hate the thought of late-returning bees arriving at an empty space if they’ve missed the departure. As far as I could see last night, only one bee left the building while the hives were being made ready for transport so only one bee will have returned last night to an empty tree stump to be left wondering where her home had gone.
So we drove them carefully to their new abode in our field near the workshop just below Perriers-en-Beauficel and in the dark we carried them on to their new stands. Can I say that unless you’ve rested your cheek against a buzzing box, you really haven’t… experienced fear! Very annoyed bees sound exactly that. Having located them on their stands, we left them to settle down and at 7am this morning, Patrick tiptoed over to remove the travel boards which enabled them, once the air was warm enough, to come out and greet the morning.
Two and a half bee colonies – the box on the left is a small colony which is in a half-size Dadant hive – they were a late swarm from last year and we’re delighted they survived the winter as we weren’t sure there was enough bee-mass to keep the interior of the hive warm and dry
Their location on our land in Perriers-en-Beauficel is as good as we could get it: north side they have a thick hedge so deflect the cold, northerly winds; east side is similarly protected. They get any winter sun all day but once the trees and hedges are in leaf, they’ll be protected from the full summer sun in the middle of the day.
The Warre hive will stay with us year round but the other hives will probably go on their holidays to the gardens of friends (both over 3 miles away!) where they’ll get a good variety of flowers, trees and shrubs. Then we’ll plan to bring them back to overwinter in the spot they’re in now.
The Warre hive at about 2pm this afternoon
All the hives were showing a nice level of activity this afternoon – it was breezy but sunny and bees were not only setting off to forage but they were bringing back plenty of pollen.
Busy bee with pollen saddlebags
The entrance guard is dual purpose – this way up it is a mouse guard and is used in winter to preventing mice nipping in and stealing honey; inverted, the smaller holes provide ventilation but not a way to exit the hive during, for example, transportation to a new location
The weather isn’t forecast to be so good for the next few days but the bees should still get some flying hours in and, depending on the temperatures, we may give them another feed of fondant – in which case photos will be taken and blog will be updated – to ensure they settle in well.
Bees in the full-size hive this afternoon – I love the two on the left who look as if they are having a real head-to-head confrontation… perhaps they are?
Dear me, bit of a marathon post this time. The thing is, bees are so interesting and there is so much to say about them that it’s difficult to be brief and pithy. If you’ve made it thus far, you deserve a pot of home-produced honey. Although… you do know that honey is more or less dehydrated bee spit? Don’t you? :-D And on that note…