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A standard start to 2023…

Having carefully tended our two colonies through what was a fairly benign winter, we hoped that our burgeoning bee-keeping knowledge would be rewarded. Ha! Fat chance…

First inspection

Many bee-keepers at our stage in the journey of learning to keep bees find that the spring days when the weather is consistently warmer brings with it a daily temptation to crack the hive, and see what lies within. Fighting this temptation, we waited for a settled period of warmer weather, dusted off our equipment, fired-up the smoker, and opening Holly.

We were greeted with the brilliant sight of a beautifully healthy colony, building up nicely, and with no obvious sign of disease or other problems. We inwardly and outwardly smiled at nature, rejoiced in the happy antics of the girls, and moved to Ivy.

Ivy was equally in rude health, and the only noticeable difference was they scarcely lifted a collective wing to say “Hello”. All was good in the world. We were smart, caring, and capable bee-keepers. We ordered a bulk lot of jars, and put our metaphorical feet-up.

Swarm in a tree

Our first Snelgrove

Working as I do at home, overlooking the garden, I’ve grown used to detecting the signs of an impending swarm. The girls get a bit tetchy, we get more in the house (scouts presumably), and the colony changes its temperament.

Seeing the signs, and having missed our opportunity to Snelgrove through a degree of complacency last year, we resolved to be better – and get it done in time. The weather conspired against us, and the previously settled weather turned to crap with a chance of scattered shit. Knowing that we were likely to be sitting on a bee-bomb, we looked at the rain radar, and seized our moment.

Now, a Snelgrove is not putting someone on the Moon, but it was our first time, and so we were apprehensive. We lined up a prodigious amount of kit, suited up, and entered the apiary. Opening Holly, the previously sanguine collective had been replaced with a buzzing mass of exuberance. I was mightily glad of my Chernobyl suit, and double-gloved hands. Inspecting and manipulating the hive became comical – given the number of bee bottoms and faces 3 inches from my face. Those girls who weren’t exploring my face were in the air, in my armpits, on my gloves, and generally making merry.

With a healthy portion of the colony airborne, and with the hive at its most disassembled and vulnerable, the un-planned rain arrived in stair-rod fashion. Jen hoofed it to the garage and grabbed two golf umbrellas, and we did our best to keep the worst of nature’s waterfall off our ungrateful and soggy girls.

Fairly stressed (us and them) we completed the procedure, got chased to the house by Holly’s entourage, and hid inside.

Swarm in an apple tree

And, here we go again…

Over the next few days, the girls made it clear just how unhappy they were. I could scarcely leave the house without being attacked – including amazingly in the front garden. The only way to get any gardening done was in my bee jacket. It was at this point that I read that bees can learn to recognise human faces (and I guess, smells) and given how much grief I’d given them, I can only surmise that they were letting me know how they felt.

Now, having had 4 swarms in 2 years, I spend an unhealthy amount of my work days in April and May looking up the garden towards the apiary. And it was with one of these glances that I saw the familiar sight of 10’s of thousands of bees up in the air. With accepting resignation, I suited up, and walked up the garden to see the show. Being in the middle of a swarm is something to behold – given the sheer quantities of bees, and the noise.

In huge sweeping circles it was evident that they were heading due South – to our neighbours, where they settled in an apple tree. I collected my equipment, went next door, muttered something about “bloody bees” to my neighbour, and collected them – just to give them away.

And, here we go again…

With the swarm dealt with, we thought Holly would be settled. Ha Ha Ha. As if. 16 days later, history repeated itself, and instead of my neighbours apple tree, they shaved 6 feet off their flight, and landed in our apple tree. I tetchily rang Jen, nearly broke a wrist and a foot tripping down some stairs with collecting our swarm equipment, lopped half our apple tree off in order to get the swarm boxed, and re-homed them as well. If they try the same tune a third time, I may get the pressure washer out, or a Nerf gun…


The girls are settled. The new Holly queen should have hatched by now, and we hope to goodness that she stays the rest of the season. The brood box is choked beyond belief with stores, and a frankly insane amount of drone. Based on their size, some Guildford virgin queens are going to take a right battering…

Ivy is nearly through a Snelgrove – courtesy of a kind friend. The new colony is short on stores, but we hope has enough. The original Ivy queen is seemingly slender, and has been laying in the supers, so any thought of getting much honey this year is fading rapidly.