This year has been extraordinary for swarms. Our apiaries are growing faster than I can build hives and the bees still seem to be going. For me swarming is sign of health, it is the birth of an new organism, so swarming is a delightful moment to be around bees. It also has a certain intensity. Excitement and wonder are often part of my emotional response to a honeybees swarm but this season, for the first time, I’ve found myself wondering ‘how much excitement and wonder can I take?’.
The intensity, in part, comes from the bees and the process itself. Twenty thousand bees co-coordinating a whole series of complex behaviours most certainly has an energy to it. Ask anyone who anyone who has every been around a honeybee swarm and they’ll agree. The sheer noise of that many vibrating wings is certainly enough to catch your attention and invariably whatever you were doing before gets put on hold. However a honeybee swarm isn’t at all a frantic affair. If you stumble upon the bees in the cluster phase of this process notice a stillness and peace that is hard to put into words.
The franticness and intensity for the most part come from the human world not the bees. Often the swarm call comes in a spectacularly inopportune moment and is followed by a series of phone calls rearranging meetings, apologising for inevitable lateness and sweet talking bee-loving friends with vehicles. Then, for me, there tends to be an excited cycle ride, often going slightly too fast for comfort, to pick up the assorted bits of technical equipment – namely a few old sheets and a appropriately sized cardboard box. After all this only arriving in the calm presence of a honeybee cluster can settle me down.
Sometimes you get lucky and happen to be around. Standing in the apiary next to a hive as a swarm left the parent nest has been one of the highlights of my beekeeping year so far. Me and Rosie were in the apiary doing the weekly observation of the hives and just finished writing ‘will swarm soon!’ in our records as the blue hive started to swarm. I had the amazing opportunity to crouch down next to the entrance as what seems liked an improbable amount of bees streamed out of the hive. We then stood smiling in the middle of swirling cloud of bees waiting for the mother to land and a cluster to form around her.
This swarming season I’ve been involved in catching 13 swarms, so far. When I think back each one has been a opportunity to connect with people and talk bees. Some swarms have arrived in expected places and other have drawn me off my expected swarming map. I’ve made many new friends and hopefully a few now feel more connected to honeybees. Having said all that moving into July comes with a sigh of relief as it marks the swarming season drawing to a close and the yearly cycle moving into a different phase.
I’ve included a selection of photos from some of the swarms I’ve re-homed this year with slight embarrassment. As I look through my camera roll at the endless pictures of bees I’m reminded of new parents inflicting untold pictures of the little one to friends and family whether they like it or not. So please feel free to smile and nod, feigning interest as best you can.