by Kevin Sefton
The rain had kept us away for a couple of weeks, so Deena and I went to visit our hive this afternoon at Manor House unsure what to expect.
Even from a distance it was clear that something was seriously wrong. As we drew up, we could see our hive, exposed, its top layer missing. The roof was upside down on the ground, half full of water. The feeder lay at an angle in the mud. The bricks the colony stood on were at rough angles. The frames where the bees live, store food, and raise young, were fully open to the sky.
Normally we wouldn’t leave our hive so exposed for more than a few minutes while working on it in dry weather. We had no idea how long ago this had happened, and it had hardly stopped raining for the last few weeks.
Luckily, we had an open floor which meant any rain would have drained straight out, and a few bees were walking along the open top bars of what remained of the hive. Signs of life.
We suited up and took stock.
Given how weak the hive had been last time, following a swarm and with a period of poor weather, it was incredible that they had survived.
Yet as we worked through each frame it became evident that they had not only survived, but had done so in fine shape. At each step we saw signs of life that had been missing from our last visits - young larvae which look like small caterpillars at the bottom of a hexagonal cell, sealed cells while the larvae metamorphose into bees, and a magical moment where we spotted a bee emerging from its cell, seeing the world for the first time.
It all meant that the new queen had started laying. And the bees she was producing were beautiful and strong, many with bright yellow abdomens.
It was to get even more positive - after about 8 frames, we saw the queen herself … very dark, and very active. We caught her in a wire trap, a balance between not injuring her and keeping her still enough to mark with nail varnish (favourite quiz question to anyone visiting a hive - how do you know which one’s the queen … she’s the one with the red varnish on her head). I pushed harder with the frame to keep her still, but as the wax gave way I was worried I might have used too much effort, so abandoned the plan and was relieved to see her walk away apparently unharmed.
We left the reassembled hive, happy and relieved. A much stronger colony than we had expected, even after all the upset.
So why the chaos when we arrived?
If it had been a deliberate act of vandalism, it was poorly executed.
We guess that someone might have let curiosity of a wooden box hidden behind a fence get the better of them. Taking off the lid and top layers, they would have been startled by hundreds of bees appearing over the top of the frames and flying around agitatedly. I’d have liked to see their faces. Maybe it was a dare, only they know.
Whoever it was, they should join the others to get in touch and arrange a proper visit - it’s much better to look at bees with other people, and in a bee suit too. They’d be very welcome. Just let us put the roof back on next time.