Introducing our bees
There was a disease in the early 1900's called 'Isle of Wight Disease' which killed a lot of native bees. Beekeepers imported Italian and Mid-European queens so most of our bees are cross-bred. We also have some Australian and Carniolan (Mid-European) queens and they are really gentle and productive.
Where are our bees
We keep our bees in five separate apiaries. This ensures that there is enough forage all the year round to support the colonies. Bees travel up to three miles to collect nectar and pollen so it's very important to keep the apiaries at least three miles apart.
When we move bees, which we have to do when re-organising the apiary, we have to move the hive either three feet or three miles otherwise they get lost and return to their original location. So we try not to re-organise the apiaries too often!
All our apiaries are within 15 miles of Oswestry.
- Canalside apiary near the Montgomery Canal on a mixed arable and dairy farm
- Riverside apiary on an organic farm at Llantsantfraid near the River Vyrnwy
- Mountainside apiary on an organic smallholding at Rhos-y-Brithdir near Llanfyllin
- Garden apiary at my home near Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant
- Farm apiary on an organic farm near Crickheath
All these apiaries contain a number of hives and colonies.
We often get called when people think they've got bees swarming into their garden, they're often wasps but sometimes they're bees. You can easily tell - if they're hairy then they're bumble bees. If they're bright yellow then they're wasps. If they live in the ground then they're masonry bees or bumble bees. If they arrive in a great noise and all settle together then they're a swarm.
When we are called out to reclaim a swarm we tend to bring it back to our Garden apiary where we can keep a good eye on it and ensure that it will develop and the bees will build up.
My friend Chris told me this swarm-catching story, I'm not sure it's totally true but it made me laugh.
He was called out by a Mr C from Shrewsbury. When Chris arrived at Mr C's house he went into the beautifully laid out large garden and hanging about 30 feet up at the end of a branch of a beautiful cedar tree over the immaculate lawn was an enormous swarm.
Mr C said 'We've got to get this swarm today, my wife told me not to do anything with it, but she's out and I want to get the swarm into a hive'. Mr C had a long ladder but it was about 7 foot too short to reach the branch. Chris got kitted up in his bee suit and set to work.
Chris threw a rope over the branch and pulled the branch down so that the ladder would reach. With Mr C and Chris pulling down the rope they bent the branch down so that they could tie the end of the ladder to the branch and Chris could undercut the branch and lower it gently, with the swarm attached, to the ground by the rope.
Everything went well, Chris was at the top of the ladder tied to the branch sawing away carefully when disaster struck. Mr C cried out "I can't hold it!" simultaneously letting go of the ladder and the rope. At that precise moment Chris had finished cutting through the branch, which plummetted to the ground, the branch embedded itself in the immaculate lawn, the bees fell off in an angry, boiling swarm and Mr C immediately ran off into the shrubbery.
Chris carefully climbed down the ladder but was still about 8 feet from the ground. So rather than dropping off onto the branch, the swarm and the rope, he decided to swing the ladder and jump off at the end of the swing. Everything went well. He let go at the end of the swing to miss the debris of the branch and the swarm, unfortunately he then bounced over the lawn, through a picket fence, demolishing the fence, the beautiful herbaceous border and knocking over the sundial. Fortunately, apart for a few bruises, he was OK.
Limping back to the swarm which by this time had collected itself over the queen, since it was now raining, he said 'Where's the hive?' to Mr C, "Oh, I haven't bought it yet" came the swift reply!.
So Chris got a cardboard box, fortunately beekeepers carry all sort of junk in their cars, and scooped the enormous swarm into the box and popped them into the summer house out of the rain, shutting them in, said farewell to Mr C and went back to his car.
At this point another car drew up, Mr C vanished into the shrubbery again and a large irate woman got out. "Hello" said Chris. "Where is he?, I told him not do do anything, you just wait till I get hold of him" was the angry reply. Chris got out of his beesuit. As he was doing this Mrs C imperiously swept past him with a large white wine in her hand and stomped into the summer house, closing the door firmly behind her.
Chris feeling that discretion was the best part of valour, jumped into his car and drove off rapidly, with the sounds of the screams dwindling behind him.
He phoned Mr C the next day and asked "How is your wife?", the reply was "She's a bit bigger than she used to be!". Apparently the swarm's doing really well - Chris retrieved it on another day, but that's another story.