Wednesday, 10 June 2009


A quick interim post.

Strange fruit, on the magnolia.

I was, having a peaceful time writing copy upstairs in my office when a neighbour banged on our door to inform the Photographer General that our house wall was crawling with bees, and that they seemed rather agitated.

We've had honey bees nesting in the cavity of our wall for some time, so I wasn't alarmed until I went out to have a look and walked smack into a whirring, buzzing mass of bees. Some were beginning to cluster on a branch of the Magnolia x soulangeana 'Rustica Rubra' which a predecessor, here, had stupidly planted smack against the wall of the house. (And I'm too stupid to cut the gorgeous thing down!) They looked like a strange fruit - though not in the sense of Billie Holliday's horrible and lugubrious song about lynchings.

A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon.

'They're just swarming,' I said, breezily, 'They won't harm anyone, when they're doing that.' This was not based on knowledge, but on a tendency I have to put an apron over my head, in any kind of a crisis, and go straight into denial.

The PG, made of much sterner, more rational stuff, immediately phoned round until she discovered the whereabouts of the nearest beekeeper. Soon, an impressive lady called Beverly arrived with all the necessary kit, glad, no doubt, to have another swarm of bees to add to her apiary.

She donned something left over from the Apollo Mission to the moon and asked for a step ladder and a pair of secateurs. Moving slowly but deliberately she advanced on the bees, snipped off the grape-like clustering swarm and deftly transferred it to a large cardboard box.

This, she inverted over a board, wedging one side up a little, with a stick to allow bees in and out. The bees were agitated in general, but quite unperturbed by her handling them, and began to go in and out of this makeshift hive as if they had been born and bred there.

Beekeeper Beverly, with her booty.

'Is the queen at the centre of that lot?' I asked.
'I won't know that until later, when they've settled down,' said Beverly.

Apparently, it is usually an old queen which leaves the colony to start an new one, leaving a younger queen(s) behind. I was anxious for at least some of the bees to remain in the wall. I like having them there. Indeed, I'd keep bees myself, if I didn't react so very badly to their stings. Having bees on the premises - but at their behest, rather than having to look after them in a hive - is a happy situation, for us, although it would be good to have the honey.

The swarm, about to be lowered into the box

Beverly returned in the evening and gathered up the box, containing the bee swarm and, presumably, their queen. Meanwhile, there are plenty of bees left and normal traffic is buzzing in and out at the hole in the wall. Beverley says they may swarm again, later in the summer. Not so good, I suppose, because the rhyme goes: A swarm of bees in July, ain't worth a fly.

I'm just off to Valencia.

I'm listening to cock blackbirds having a singing duel outside the office window.


  1. What lovely pictures. Quite took me back. My father was a beekeeper and I have mixed memories of being involved in swarm catching and honey extraction as a child! Val

  2. I bet you didn't know this bit - for new beekeepers (of which there are a growing number) to buy a swarm it is over a hundred quid. That beelady just made a quick buck!

  3. Fabulous pictures there of the bee lady and her frenzied swarm.

    I can't believe people will pay £100 for a swarm? That's just craziness! Oh well, no silver spoon this time!

    I hope to keep bee's one day and this fuels my appetite even more!


  4. What a fascinating post, thank you. I've always been intrigued by the swarming of bees.

  5. I've no doubt that a swarm of bees has financial value, but seeing them go to a good home was value enough, I think. Perhaps the bee lady will call with a pot of honey later in the year.

  6. That's amazing!

    And fascinating.

    More dramatic even than Valencia.

    If the Queen is older, does that mean her colony will be less long lived . . . or the honey less sweet . . . or doesn't it work like that?

    I would think it is worth giving away a swarm for the sake of the interest and the lack of bee-stings. Most china shop owners would be happy to pay for any wandering bulls to be take away.


    P.S. Enjoy Valencia!

  7. What a scary but interesting post, Im still afraid of bees even though I never been stung. (Maybe thats why in still afraid...). Your papaver post was really inspiring too! So this goes straight in to my bookmarks:)
    /Utblickaren (eng. The lookout)